Monday, December 25, 2023

Comforting Words

Around the time my Dad died, a lady in our church broke her ankle. This lady is dear to me and brings so much value to our body. I was so sad to hear she'd been hurt, but I was overwhelmed with everything going on in my own life. As a pastor's wife, I try to be attentive to the needs of our people and encourage them when I hear things are going on in their lives. I was sad when I realized quite a few days had passed and I still hadn't reached out to Janice to check on her and let her know I had been praying for her. I quickly composed a text and sent it off in the hopes that Janice would feel seen and encouraged. In less than an hour Janice had responded with her thanks and these words...

"Just take time to rest in the arms of Jesus. We will all be fine."

And there it was. Permission I had apparently not given myself. Permission to rest, and grieve and be comforted by the Lord without having to tend to the needs of others. Permission to do something I don't often do. I had wanted to encourage Janice, yet she in turn gave ME the gift of feeling seen and encouraged.

I really can't express what those words meant to me. Just 5 simple words with such a powerful impact that brought me to tears...

We. Will. All. Be. Fine.

I've thought about those words a lot over the last few weeks. I thought about them as we gathered for our first Thanksgiving without my Dad, our first birthday celebration without him and our first Christmas celebration since he went to heaven. Not just on the big days, though. There have been normal days that have found my heart heavy with sadness AND the weight of responsibility, but my sweet friend's words have echoed in my mind...

"We will all be fine."

Thank you, Janice, for the sweetest gift you gave me. I will forever be grateful.


Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Distracted By Grief

Grief. Such a complex and personal experience. One that no amount of mental or emotional energy can really prepare you for what to expect when you find yourself surrounded by it.

Living life, but especially life in ministry for close to 35 years, has allowed us the privilege of walking with so many people through times of profound loss and deep grief. We have rejoiced with those who rejoice, but we have mourned with those who mourn on many occasions. We have watched wives bury husbands and husbands bury wives. We have watched children bury parents and parents bury children...and all of it has been heart-wrenching. 

2 1/2 years ago I got a taste of personal grief when we lost my father-in-law. He had struggled with health issues for quite a while and we had to watch a deterioration of his body over time. I was deeply saddened by this loss because he was an amazing man and he loved me so well. Visits to my in-law's home were still so special, but there was always a sense that something, someone, was missing. We didn't grieve without hope, though, because we knew Big Earl was with Jesus.

A month ago one of our dearest and closest friends died after a year-long health struggle at 56 and we again were faced with personal grief. We watched his wife and children, people we have loved for decades, grapple with their new reality. It hurt deeply and, at the time, it felt surreal. It still does. We tried to love and encourage our friends while navigating our own grief, but again, our grief was most surely not without hope because of the assurance that Bengie was with Jesus.

On November 16, 2023, just 3 weeks after losing our friend, grief hijacked me in the deepest parts of my being as I sat with my Mom at my Dad's bedside while he took his last breath. I thought I knew what grief felt like. I know I have experienced it before, but something about this felt different. This was the first man who ever loved me unconditionally. This was the man who taught me, counseled me and helped form the essence of who I am as a person. Suddenly grief felt all-encompassing and mind-numbingly real despite, once again, being wrapped carefully in the hope that He was whole and healed and spending eternity in the presence of Jesus.

I have found myself doing what needed to be done in the days that followed ~ caring for my family, fulfilling commitments, helping my Mom with endless paperwork, laughing at the antics of my grandchildren, welcoming people to my home and being mindful of the pain of others ~ all with the sense that I'm in a deep fog. I find myself forgetting things I would (and should) normally remember, not caring about things that used to mean a lot to me and just generally going through the motions of life. I attributed all this to sadness and great exhaustion, but one day I was struck by what I sensed I was experiencing...

I was distracted by grief.

I was going through the familiar motions of life in an unfamiliar way because grief had caused the background of my brain to be always running, attempting to help me process, at any given moment, what a world without my Dad would now look like and how I would fit in it. Like the barely discernible hum of the refrigerator, my mind was in a constant state of trying to regain its emotional equilibrium after such a life-altering blow. 

I have so many things to be grateful for, not the least of which is a Dad who loved me so well, and I know I will be okay. I know there will come a time when I will not constantly be plagued by the sense that I have forgotten something that need not be forgotten. I know I will experience deep joy again. I know I will laugh freely, be surprised by joy and will be stopped in my tracks by a sense of wonder. I know all this because I know I walk with the One who is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. I know because I am assured  that He has collected all my tears in a bottle. I know because He says that I am blessed when I mourn, for I shall be comforted by Him and His comfort is unlike any other. 

I know all this will happen in due time, but until then I will be gentle with myself. Until then I will cry when I feel the tears spilling over and will sit and reminisce when the memories start flooding in. I will listen to my mom, my siblings and my immediate family process their own pain and I will be ever mindful  of this one thing...

that being distracted by grief is a small price to pay for experiencing such an extraordinary love!

Monday, July 10, 2023

The Lies We Believe

 I spent all but one year, out of 27 years, homeschooling at least one child. That run ended last year when Caleb graduated and, while there was great relief to finally be done, I also found myself filled with some angst and self-doubt about what my viable contribution to my family, our church and the general population as a whole really was now that I could no longer wear this label of "homeschooler". I found great joy and purpose in raising, teaching and training my children and suddenly felt a sense of purposelessness that seemed a little all-encompassing. 

I read some books and different articles and teachings on purpose and prayed desperately that the Lord would show me mine. One sort of questionnaire I read to help you hone in on your purpose encouraged you to ask some who were close to you what your "super powers" (things that stood out about you) were from their point of view. I asked Tim what he thought mine were and he said "hospitality" and "empathy". I totally expected the first word, but was surprised by the second...although I really shouldn't have been because I do recognize I can almost be empathetic to a fault sometimes.  I then asked 2 trusted friends who know me well and the first said "hospitality" (again as I expected) and the second said "empathy". "Okay Lord, you have my attention now!", I said with a chuckle. The first, again, was obvious, but the second I suddenly recognized as a helpful companion to hospitality, especially when you like to provide a place where people can share their lives and their stories for the purpose of learning to walk in freedom.

Shortly after these discussions happened, I began to read the book Living Fearless by Jamie Winship. I had taken it to the beach with me and started it, armed with it, a note pad and a pen. Throughout the book, Jamie poses questions that we are to ask the Lord that are to help reveal our true core beliefs and any lies that may lie therein. One of the first questions posed was...

"Lord, where in my life am I am not living in truth?"

Jamie encourages you to ask the Lord that question and then write down what first comes to your mind. My answer came quickly and clearly...

"I doubt that there is deep purpose for me besides just taking care of people's basic needs, especially in these later years in life."

There it was, written across my page like a painful confession. Even though I do see my gifts are hospitality and empathy, for some reason I saw them as somewhat small and irrelevant in the big picture of life now that my kids were grown and I had more freedom with my time. Nonetheless, my lie was out there and now I waited for the truthful response from the Lord to counter the lie. I didn't know how or when He would respond, but I had no doubt that He WOULD respond with His personal truth just for me.

It was, by now, late afternoon and I headed back to the house where we were staying to shower and get ready for dinner. My friends and I were taking turns cooking and cleaning up and this particular night I had dish duty. I was washing my cast iron skillet that I brought to the beach with me and was laughing to myself about bringing the "tools of my trade" with me on vacation. I mean, who the heck packs for vacation and says to themselves, "Oh, can't forget the cast iron!" Us foodies, of course! At any rate, I no sooner thought "tools of my trade", than I found myself giving a sharp intake of breath as the answer to my earlier question became clear to me.

You see, just a couple of weeks before, Tim had been teaching from Luke 7:37-38 about the sinful woman (she was a prostitute) who brought an alabaster jar of perfume and worshipped Jesus by anointing His feet with her hair and the contents of the jar. Tim had made the observation that this woman used the "tools of her trade" to worship Him. As soon as I had uttered those words to myself, "tools of my trade", my purpose became crystal clear.

My deepest purpose is to worship Jesus...

and that is what I am doing when I nourish and care for others, especially in my home. I believe there will be other things He'll have me do, but I don't have to search desperately for purpose. I just have to faithfully live out my purpose of worshipping Him according to the way He has wired and gifted me, which is unmistakably with hospitality and empathy! I found it so exceedingly kind of the Lord to give me an immediate, Truth-filled answer in such a clear and personal way, but I realized He was able to do it because I had recognized (through Jamie's book) the need to ask the hard questions and wait for the answers, whatever they may be. 

Are you struggling with wondering what your purpose really is before the Lord? There's no shame in the struggle and He's just waiting to guide you to the answer and to freedom from any doubts you may have that your existence matters and that you can make a difference in the lives of others. Ask him to show you where you are not living in truth and then wait, with an open and expectant heart, believing He will answer you.

"Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him."

Hebrews 11:6


 






Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Divine Appointments and Other Such Things

On any given day, for all of humanity, life can go from a joyful peace to filled with tragedy in the blink of an eye. As a result, there are some common questions that plague most of us and these are two of the biggies: 


Does God see me and what I’m going through? 


If He does see me, does He care? 


It doesn't matter who you are, if you have a pulse, you have asked both these questions at some point in your life and, depending on your perceived answer, it has either helped propel you toward an intimate relationship with the Lord or you have packed up those questions and tucked them away in a box and decided you will be the director of your own life. It’s happening every day all around us and I’m going to tell you a story that not only highlights these questions, but points to a resounding, “YES”, in response to both of them.


Jay grew up in Atlanta. His dad passed down his love of baseball and took Jay to games whenever he could. At a very young age, Jay desperately wanted to get close enough to one of the players to get an autograph, but he could never seem to make that happen…until he was 8 years old. 


Jay and his parents had stopped at a Waffle House for breakfast one morning and Jay quickly spotted Sid Bream and another man having breakfast in the back of the restaurant. If you know anything about Braves baseball, you know Sid Bream is an Atlanta icon and will forever be remembered for one of the greatest slides in MLB history. Jay was so excited and felt like this was the moment he had been waiting for. His parents, more understanding of the need for public figures to be allowed to lead private lives, encouraged him not to approach Sid for an autograph, but when Sid and the other man made their way to the front of the restaurant to leave, Jay could contain himself no longer.


Sid, being the gracious man he is, was happy to give Jay an autograph and grabbed the closest thing he could find, a Waffle House napkin.


“J.J.

Always give it 

your best & know

that God loves you.

Sid Bream

Matthew 5:16”


The other man who was with Sid had played baseball as well and he reached in his pocket and gave Jay a testimony card of his that told the story of how baseball had been the instrument used to introduce him to a relationship with the Lord. Jay could not have been happier to receive these two treasures and he went home and placed them carefully in his Bible. As life went on and Jay grew up, any awareness he may have had of the Lord faded and he left Jesus tucked away in that Bible alongside these two treasures.


Jay eventually married and had children of his own. When his son was 8, Sid Bream came to speak at his father-in-law's church and his father-in-law got a baseball autographed for Jay's son. Life had come full circle for Jay.


Shortly after, Jay’s sister-in-law Hannah became pregnant with her second child. Hannah and her husband, Stephen, had worked through a hard patch in their marriage and this baby was the product of their commitment to turn their hearts back to each other and to turn their hearts to the Lord who was doing a healing work in their individual lives and in their marriage. Everyone in their family could see that things were very different for the Vincent family. Sundays were now a day that began with church and Hannah and Stephen couldn’t wait to get there each week. Both Stephen and Hannah surrendered to the Lord and, as surely as Hannah’s body swelled with the sweet miracle of life that was growing within her, their hearts swelled with a love for the Lord and a love for each other. Life couldn’t be better.


Hannah’s due date was fast approaching when she started to feel sick. They managed her symptoms at home for a while before she was admitted to the hospital, but it soon became apparent that Hannah was taking a turn for the worse and it was time to take the baby. On November 16, Brayden Vincent was delivered via c-section 5 weeks early. Hannah was transferred to a hospital in Atlanta where she could receive more specialized care and Brayden was left in the care of NICU nurses. Within a couple of days, Hannah was placed on a ventilator and she was in urgent need of prayer. Those prayers seemed to work and Hannah got word on November 29 that she was scheduled to come off the ventilator the next day. This was so exciting for her family, for all those who were praying and especially for Hannah and Stephen Vincent who couldn’t wait for their family to be reunited. 


Tuesday finally arrived and Stephen felt an urgency to head to the hospital to visit Hannah. Mere minutes after Stephen entered Hannah’s room, her heart stopped and he pressed himself into a corner as her room was suddenly filled with medical personnel who worked to no avail to save Hannah’s life. Tuesday, November 30, 2021 Hannah Vincent went Home. It wasn’t the home everyone had hoped and prayed she’d return to, but she was Home with the Lord she had met, surrendered to and so joyfully worshipped for many months.


Word quickly spread that Hannah had died and all were left in shock. Many, including Stephen, eventually rejoiced that Hannah was whole and healed and basking in the presence of the Lord. Some, however, were left bitter and confused, mad at a God who would allow such a tragedy. How could a 22 year old girl who had everything to live for suddenly be gone, leaving behind a husband and 2 precious children? For some, like Jay, this only confirmed that their assessment was correct that God did, in fact, NOT care.


Friday was the day they would gather as a family with close friends to remember Hannah and to take her body to its final resting place. Jay arrived at the funeral home and took his place amongst the family. Anger had been welling up inside him since he’d gotten word that Hannah had died and he felt a growing resentment toward the God who seemed to care so little. A few songs were sung and then Hannah and Stephen’s pastor rose to speak. He introduced himself as Tim Cash, lead pastor of The Cross Loganville. 


Jay’s pulse suddenly quickened, the room began to spin and he felt like his body was being pressed back in his seat. He was instantly reminded of a testimony card that had been tucked carefully in his Bible next to the Sid Bream autograph. The unknown former baseball player he had met when he was 8 now stood before him, 30 years later. Jay struggled to keep himself composed as he felt his world tilt suddenly off kilter. 


Hannah and Stephen had become a vital part of their church family and a celebration of Hannah’s life was held on Sunday. It was a time of worship and celebration amidst the tears that flowed so freely. Those who were gathered were reminded that, because she had surrendered her life to the Lord, Hannah would now live for all eternity with Him. While there was still great sadness, you could almost reach out and touch the hope that was felt in the room.


As the service ended and everyone attempted to collect themselves, Jay asked the formerly unknown baseball player if he could tell him a story and they retreated to a private place. He quietly shared the story of their first meeting as he carefully turned over a Waffle House napkin and a testimony card with the pastor’s face on it. Circumstances that the Lord had set in motion in a Waffle House in south Atlanta had culminated in a funeral service 30 years later and Jay could no longer deny that maybe the Lord DID see him and maybe He DID, in fact, care. It didn’t mean he didn't still have questions and it wasn’t still a struggle to understand why a 22 year old girl with everything to live for had to die, but he knew something like what he had experienced could not just randomly happen. He told the formerly unknown baseball player now turned pastor that he was willing to explore what a life surrendered to the Lord might look like and that the pastor would see him at church very soon.


I admit, like Jay and many others, I don’t always understand how the Lord works and why some people get to be healed here on earth and why others must enter eternity to receive that healing. On any given day, my finite mind is put to the test to understand how life works, but of this I am very sure…


God DOES see all of us and what we are going through.


God DOES care.


I’m also keenly aware that the seemingly random encounters we have each day may actually be divine appointments and we should always be ready to give an account for the hope that is within us. We never know when the Lord may use one of these encounters to rock someone else’s world and point them to His deep love and care!!


Don’t believe me? Just ask Jay!!!



“In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”

Matthew 5:16







Thursday, April 2, 2020

April 3

April 3

                          

It’s a day that’s marked on the calendar with two simple letters…

CF.

It’s hard to imagine that two simple letters could rock our world in such a complicated way. Two letters that affect how we do life…every single day. Two letters that changed so much. Two letters that named our opponent and gave us a plan to compete on a more level playing field…finally!

Just. Two. Letters.

I’ve been anticipating this day for a while. Part of me would like to avoid it and let it pass on by without so much as a nod, but part of me knows we must do something to memorialize it and what it will forever mean to our family.

April 3.

I’ve been contemplating Joshua 4 as this day approached. Contemplating how the Lord commanded the 12 tribes of Israel to take 12 stones and build a memorial. A memorial to remember how He cut off the waters and allowed them to walk across the Jordan with the Ark of the Covenant. It was to be a powerful reminder of a powerful God. 

He wanted them to remember.

He wants US to remember, so…

remember we will. 


We’ll each have a rock. We’ll hold them in our hands as we share with each other what the Lord has done in our hearts and minds in the last year. Three of us bear those two letters deep within our DNA, placed there by the One who created us with two gene mutations each. Three of us, forever linked by blood…

and two simple letters.

And after we’ve shared, we’ll place our rocks in a jar. As a memorial. It will be a powerful reminder of a powerful God. We’ll put that jar somewhere that we can see it often. We’ll see it on the days when we are full of joy and we’ll see it on the days when we are full of pain and doubt…and it will be a powerful reminder of a powerful God.

April 3…

the day that changed our family forever.



You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
    as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed.
How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
    They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them;
    they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
    you are still with me!

Psalm 139:13-16




Friday, August 30, 2019

It's Doable!


I realized I have never fully explained how the phrase, "It's Doable", became our family mantra and the name of our team for the CF walk. As most people know, Wednesday, April 3rd of this year Hannah was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis and, as a result of her diagnosis, Caleb and I have been diagnosed as well. It has been almost 5 months and some days it seems like we're in a really good routine and CF hasn't changed that much and then other days it is overwhelming and I wish I could turn back the clock to those much more simple, pre-CF days! That, however, would mean going back to those days when Hannah was sick, struggling to breathe, coughing non-stop and rapidly losing weight so, of course, I'm deep down thankful for a diagnosis and a way to treat it.

The night I got the call after 2 days of testing at the Mayo Clinic, Hannah and I were at our hotel getting ready for bed. We had plans to travel the next day to visit some dear friends in Iowa. We were originally supposed to travel home the next day, but the pulmonologist had requested we stay nearby so he could see us on Monday and a road trip with the promise of sweet fellowship at the end of it seemed like a fun way to pass the weekend. Just as we were ready to crawl into bed, my cell phone rang and I recognized it as a Mayo Clinic #. I answered it and slipped out the doorway to the hall so I could speak to the Dr without Hannah in ear shot. I already knew what he was going to say, but hearing his confirmation was going to take a few minutes to fully process and I felt deep emotion bubbling just below the surface. He explained that Hannah's sweat test had come back positive and that she was a very sick girl. He wanted us to pack up that night and head to the hospital for at least a 2 week stay.


To say I was stunned would be an understatement. I definitely did not see the 2 week hospital stay coming and I was trying to wrap my brain around what we needed to do in order for that to happen. When I finished with the Dr, I called Tim and told him what the Dr had said and then I called our dear friend and primary care, Sandy. The whole time I was talking I was pacing the halls and I'd occasionally see Hannah pop her head out in the hall to see where I was. I'd motion for her to go back while I finished my conversations and she told me later that the amount of time I spent talking and walking in the hall didn't seem like a very promising sign to her and she had concluded she did, in fact, have CF.


After I had prayed, regrouped and worked up my courage to tell her, I went back to the room and let Hannah know what was going on. She, too, was taken aback by the 2 week hospital stay and called her Daddy and Kara, our youth pastor's wife who is her mentor. Kara prayed with her and by the time Hannah was done with her 2 conversations, she seemed much more settled and accepting of the situation. I watched her sit down on the end of the bed, pause and then say with a contemplative look...


"CF! It's doable!"

Really? 10 minutes after finding out she had a very serious lung disease, she had already come to the conclusion that CF, whatever it entailed, was "doable". I was amazed by her resolve that God was in control and that it was all going to be okay. This was her attitude then and during her hospital stay and it has remained her attitude over these last 5 months. These words have impacted our family, our friends and everyone who has heard Hannah's story. These words are a permanent fixture in our home as a constant reminder that what we are going through IS doable, and they became the name of our team in the CF walk. We have a logo, bracelets and now a beautiful new bag from the Georgia CF Foundation with the words, "It's Doable".




Whatever you may be going through now or may encounter in the future, I pray that you will look to the Lord to meet your needs and allow your heart to echo Hannah's profound words...


It's doable!!!

Friday, May 3, 2019

Why Not Us?

Surreal : marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream
Yep! That pretty much sums it up…the last 4 weeks have felt very surreal. 4 weeks ago today we had plans to fly home from MN and instead my phone rang and I stepped outside our hotel room to take the call. It was Hannah’s pulmonologist sounding very grim confirming that she did, in fact, have CF and was very ill. As I walked up and down the hall of the 4th floor of that hotel, processing the news that we would be packing up that night to head to the hospital for a 2 week stay, I stepped aside to let a family pass by. I remember thinking at that moment that I was having a very personal conversation within ear shot of strangers and how 3 days before I would have been very uncomfortable with that. Not anymore, though.
Our hotel was a home away from home for many patients of the Mayo Clinic. We met them at breakfast and compared appointment schedules, watched them shuffle down for free afternoon soup in their house shoes, heard their own hushed conversations about treatment options, saw them waiting for the shuttles that left every hour transporting them to and from the Mayo Clinic, watched daddies pulling weak children in wagons full of pillows and witnessed more than a few bald heads and pairs of sunken eyes. In that moment it hit me that we likely had a bond with that family and that they had probably had their own phone call at some point in their journey like the one I was on so what did it matter if they heard mine. Funny how such a sizeable shift in thinking can happen without you even knowing it.
I had talked to God often over the last few years about the fact that our family hadn’t really been personally affected by tragedy, severe sickness or death and how thankful I was for that. Tim and I still had both our parents, our children were relatively healthy, we had both made choices that led to us having a strong marriage and we all loved each other. I was thankful and yet I always felt that at any moment this life of relative bliss was subject to change. I’m not a big worrier by nature and I try very hard to reign my thoughts in and not borrow trouble, but I knew that we weren’t special. That there was no reason we should be exempt from suffering.
Why not us?
Why should Frank have to endure so many surgeries that it was hard to keep count…and not us? Why should Conner have a brain tumor that required Amber and him to have to spend weeks in the hospital…and not us? Why should the teenage boy in the room beside us be slick-headed and bloated from massive doses of steroids…and not us? Why should the family with the very sick baby at the end of the hall have to spend more days at the hospital than at home as a family…and not us? Why should we have friends who have had to bury their babies…and not us?
Why not us?
As I walked in church this past Sunday morning I spotted my friend, one of the ones who we’ve had the pleasure of walking beside in life for two and a half decades, and I made a beeline for her. She's my friend, that for some reason unknown to either one of us, is the one I’m most likely to cry with…and I’m not a big crier. As expected we embraced and both burst into tears, neither one caring that we were a captive audience. She held me and patted me and whispered that she wished we didn’t have to go through this, wished that we didn’t have to watch our baby struggle to breathe and wished that she could take away the pain and the suffering our family as a whole was going through right now. I told her I wished she could, too, but then I pulled back and looked at her and said, “But really…
why not us?”
Months ago Tim had planned to start a new series that very morning entitled, “The Struggle Is Real”, confirming yet again the Lord’s relentless attention to detail. I have no doubt that he could have done an amazing job sharing with our people that the struggle is real and we can struggle well without the events of the last few weeks, but apparently God had other things in mind. Suddenly, here we were as “Exhibit A” in the current examples of suffering. Hannah had been diagnosed with CF in MN, Caleb had been diagnosed with CF the week after our return and my diagnosis would be 2 days and a phone call away as well. Now Tim’s message wasn’t a theory or something he had observed on the pages of scripture or in others intimately walking with the Lord. It was a message shared as a member of the fellowship of suffering. 
Do I wish my babies and I didn’t have to become one of the 30,000 people in the US with Cystic Fibrosis? Absolutely! Do I wish Hannah didn’t have to spend hours a day doing treatments just to breathe well? Of course! Do I wish we had immune systems that had the ability to fight off germs instead of falling prey to so many different sicknesses? Without a doubt! But…
why not us?
As my BFF reminded me when we were in the hospital and I was processing the news about Hannah, CF is just a label. It’s a label that helps us identify why we’ve struggled with so many things for so many years. It’s a label that has given us a plan and a protocol for Hannah and will soon do the same for Caleb and me. We’re still the same people and it’s just a label that defines our issues, but does NOT define us!! Will we have hard days ahead? I’m sure we will. There’s a reason they call it suffering! One of my deepest prayers, though, is that we would always remember that God is sovereign and none of this has caught him unawares. We’re going to pray, we’re going to fight and we’re going to struggle well. What we’re NOT going to do is feel sorry for ourselves because really…
why not us?

Tri-Fecta

As expected, we won the trifecta and I, too, tested positive for CF. My genetic testing confirmed I have 2 gene mutations which definitely supports my clinical symptoms and explains my many breathing issues! They said I have a milder version than the kids, but will still need to get set up at the Emory CF Clinic. Thanks for continuing to pray for us!!! It is SO appreciated!!.

Hard and Dark Places

I had a friend text me this morning. She's not someone I see or talk to a lot, but we have a deep love for each other. She sent me a very encouraging note letting me know the things she was praying for us, and for me specifically, and we corresponded back and forth for a bit. One of the final things she said to me was that if I needed someone to come alongside me in the "hard and dark parts" of wrestling with God that she could handle it! I have found myself pondering that all day...
"the hard and dark parts". 
Finding out your daughter has CF is hard. Finding out your son has it, too...starts to feel a little dark. Spending 2 weeks in the hospital watching your daughter fight to be able to breathe well is hard and dark. Seeing her weight dip below 100lbs...was really hard. Learning a new normal is hard and I'm sure will be for a while. I haven't had too many dark parts, but I'm sure there will be more before it's all said and done. Hard parts? We have plenty of those. Just having her get a positive flu swab 2 days ago made me want to scream and hit something!
We've experienced an overwhelming out-pouring of love, encouragement, meals and offers of help over the last 3 1/2 weeks. We stand amazed at the people the Lord allows us to have as part of our community near and far. I know many of those people would totally be there for the "hard and dark parts", but there was something about my friend offering...going there with those specific words...that stopped me in my tracks. 
My friend is well acquainted with "hard and dark parts". She's had to fight her way through many of her own over the last few years and you can tell. The struggle has been real, but she has struggled well. She didn't avoid these spots. She didn't deny they were there. She waded in and did hard work and she has come out the other side with a beauty and a grace she probably never imagined could be hers.
My friend taught me something today. She taught me that a lot of people may offer assistance and genuine care, but it takes someone who has done their time in hard and dark places to not be afraid to go there with others; to name them and call them out! She taught me that these hard and dark places are never wasted and He will use them in my life and eventually allow me to use them to go there with others. My friend made me a little more brave today as I was reminded how she made it through her hard and dark parts and found joy in the midst of it all!!
2 Corinthians 3-5 ~ "All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too."
Thank you, friend!!! You encouraged my heart today and helped make me a little more brave!!!

In Hannah's Words Take 2



Well, we really are alike!!! KK and I BOTH have Cystic Fibrosis!!! So thankful that we have each other!! Some people may say, “that sucks y’all both have it” but really it’s amazing that we have each other to go through life with!!! God knew exactly what He was doing when He created us! I’m thankful God gave me KK as a brother and best friend!!!! Love you lots!!!

FC Twins




These 2 are 19 months apart and have always been best friends! KK once bought Hannah a sign that said something about his sister being his best friend and the lady in the store asked him if that was true and he said, “Yep! And now she has the sign to prove it!”
They’ve always liked to do everything together and now...we have the test to prove it!! Yep, KK’s sweat test came back positive and he, too, has been diagnosed with CF!! He actually says he’s going to tell people he has FC...since he’s dyslexic!!🤪
Truthfully, as soon as she was diagnosed I pretty much knew he would have it, too, based on his symptoms of “asthma” (which it can often be diagnosed as) and recurrent nasal polyps. We KNOW that Caleb is fearfully and wonderfully made and that this has NOT caught the Lord by surprise. We don’t really know what it looks like for him because he is generally pretty healthy, but he will begin attending the CF clinic every 3 months with Hannah starting May 14. 
We SO appreciate everyone’s prayers and encouragement and are so thankful for our community near and far!!! We love y’all!!

In Hannah's Words

This is something Hannah wrote. It is something that challenged me and, I imagine, may challenge you!!
So, as most of you know, on Wednesday, April 3, I was diagnosed with a disease called Cystic Fibrosis. CF (Cystic Fibrosis) is a lung and stomach disease. It can be very harmful to the lungs and cause a lot of damage. CF makes it hard to gain weight because your lungs are working extra hard, so all the calories that go in to your body go straight towards fighting off infection in the lungs, therefore you begin to lose weight or struggle to maintain weight. With having CF I have to be aware of my breathing and my weight so that my body can stay healthy. 
Some people can have a hard time with CF, so that’s why I don’t read about it on the internet. All that does is fill my mind with negative information that might not even happen to me. The night I got diagnosed, I called Kara (my mentor) and she asked to pray with me. As she was praying, she was asking the Lord to give me a peace that surpasses all understanding and just a peace of mind. Needless to say, I definitely have that peace. I keep second guessing myself and wondering if I should be more nervous about having the disease, but honestly why should I worry when I have God fighting for me? Why should I worry when God is the great physician? Why should I worry when I am grounded in my faith and I know who the TRUE healer is? 
Like my mom was telling me, God is giving me grace in this situation because He knows that I need it. I have truly used this opportunity to grow and to try and be an influence in other peoples’ lives. Not to brag but, while being at the hospital, many doctors and nurses have commented on what a good attitude I have had during all of this. The only reason is because I know that God is on my side and He will take care of me and, because of that, I have no reason to worry. Being in the hospital has given me an opportunity to ask the nurses what their stories are and I’ve gotten to know so many new people. In the hospital, I put scripture up around the room so that I especially could be reminded daily of what His Word says, but also I didn't know whether the scripture would make an impact on a nurse or someone else who comes in and out of my room. 
One of the biggest things that I have learned from everything I've been going through is this…if I can trust the Lord while going through this, then He can use me to be a light for others and to help challenge others to trust the Lord in every circumstance. I’m thankful for how He is using CF in my life already.

Genes

Gene ~ a unit of heredity which is transferred from a parent to offspring and is held to determine some characteristic of the offspring.
Today was the day we have been waiting for...the day Hannah's genetic testing would come back. It's a day I thought would never get here and yet that I was dreading at the same time. It was the day that we would know definitively that Hannah does or does not, in fact, have Cystic Fibrosis.
It may seem strange to doubt that she did after all we've been told, but there was one Dr, the one over infectious diseases, who just was never convinced she had CF. It never made sense to him that it took so long for her to be diagnosed and that she did not present in a physical way as the majority of CF patients do. So, while 99.9% of the Drs told us she DID have CF, I clung to hope that maybe the infection disease Dr knew something they didn't. I mean, I've never been one to follow the crowd, so why start now. 
I stayed at the hotel last night, as I am again tonight, but I made sure I was up and at the hospital in time for the residents and her care team to make the rounds. Deenah and Dr. Wang came in around 8 as usual and, during their daily assessment, casually mentioned that the genetic testing had come back and it was positive. The infectious disease Dr and I may have held out hope, but genes don't lie.
Dr. Pillai and later Brad, the guy over respiratory therapy, explained about the genes Hannah had and what that really meant. They named her genes and showed us how to enter them both in a database and and find out the characteristics of her particular gene set as well as the number of people in the world who have her exact gene mutation of CF. And you know what? There's a reason it seemed odd to the infectious disease Dr (who I promise has a name, but it's a mouthful).
There are only 24 people in the world who share G551D and 1717-1G>A gene mutations. There are about 35,000 people in the US with CF and about 75,000 in the world...but there are only 24 people in the world who are fearfully and wonderfully made with the exact same gene mutations as our Hannah. Wow!!!
I'd like to say I embraced this news with a joyful heart, but I must admit I felt the weight of each of those mutations pressing down on my chest as I listened to their words. I KNOW God made Hannah and He makes no mistakes! I KNOW this has not caught Him the least bit by surprise! I KNOW these things. But. I. Don't. Want. My. Daughter. To. Have. CF.
So, I listened to their words with a brave face and then I went for a walk and cried. I cried because all those Drs were right. I cried because I don't want my baby to have to spend hours a day doing breathing treatments in a vest that beats her around. I cried because I'm tired and claustrophobic and want to go home. And then I dried my tears, ordered lunch and spent the rest of the day enjoying time with 2 people who mean the world to me.
I want to be clear about something as I wind up my thoughts for today. It has never crossed my mind to be mad at God. I don't blame Him for any of this! I admit to feeling a tad bit of Mom guilt this week, especially once my sweat test came back, because it was confirmed that I contributed to her having jacked up genes. You know what's crazy, though. She had to get a jacked up gene from Tim, too, and I would never blame him for that! 
So I now no longer blame God OR myself for Hannah having CF. She IS fearfully and wonderfully made...2 genetic gene mutations and all!!

Rollercoasters

I’m not a fan of rollercoasters. I never really liked the idea of them, but a close call years ago sealed the deal. We were visiting my grandparents and the fair was in town. I was so excited to go and see what they were all about because I had never been to one. While we were there, I was somehow convinced to ride the rollercoaster. It was your typical fair rollercoaster with a track that creaked and groaned as you slowly ascended, leaving you with a less than confident feeling that it could withstand a train of cars hurtling around it at high speeds. I made it to the end and and resolved in my mind that that would most likely be the last time I ever rode a rollercoaster.
That night we were home at my grandparent’s house and, as was the custom, we were watching the 10 o’clock news before bed. I always loved going to visit my grandparents because we got to stay up and I felt very grown up watching the late news. The familiar intro played and Dan Miller filled our screen with the top story of the night...the derailment of a rollercoaster at the county fair!!! The very rollercoaster that I had clung to as it creaked and groaned it’s way to the top. Needless to say, I was traumatized. The knowledge that shortly after I disembarked it had left the tracks, injuring numerous people, ensured the end of my rollercoaster riding days.
Since then I have avoided them at all costs. Really high highs and rushing lows just aren't my thing. I prefer to live simply, with my feet firmly planted on the ground! If you know me well, you know this applies to life in general for me. I don’t need mountaintop experiences and I try not to wallow in the valley. I’ve had tough things to deal with in my own life and as I’ve walked with others, but I’ve often thanked the Lord that I haven’t had anything really hard happen to me or those I hold closest to my heart.
That changed on April 3, 2019 when my baby girl, Hannah, was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. I had seen the results of her sweat test and was pretty sure we would soon have a positive diagnosis, but all that was confirmed when the pulmonologist called me early that evening. In a grave voice he said she did have CF and he would like her admitted to the hospital that night because she was quite ill! I can’t remember all he said because I became less aware of his words and more aware of my own personal rollercoaster beginning to unlock and veer off the tracks. We thought we were going to have to stay in town a few extra days, and instead we were told she was being admitted for a 2 week stay at the Mayo Hospital.
The first couple of days were an overwhelming whirlwind of examinations, information and little to no sleep, but I felt at peace. This morning I woke up sad and mad and have had to struggle through the majority of the day. I take comfort in the knowledge that God is not offended by my struggle and that He is actually camped out in the middle of it with me. I know we are entering new territory with a huge learning curve and that there will be many hard days. I am confident, though, that God is still as sovereign as he was before we boarded that plane to head north and that He loves Hannah even more than Tim and I do.
We so appreciate all the calls, texts, meals, care, concern and especially the prayers. We are reminded, yet again, what an amazing community the Lord has allowed us to be a part of and we do not take it for granted! Tonight we take comfort in knowing we’re one day closer to coming home!

Friday, August 24, 2018

Things Pondered After a Jailhouse Visit


Yesterday I went to the Walton County Jail. I had only been there once before, to the morgue to hold up a friend while she identified the body of her beloved son, and those memories came flooding back as I drove in the parking lot. I was there to visit another friend which was almost as difficult as my first visit. This friend is someone I really love, but someone who has made some bad choices over the last couple of years. I was thankful I’d decided to forego breakfast because my stomach was tight with anxiousness. There’s something about a place like that that sets you on edge, especially if you’ve never been and are unsure of where to go and what to do. 

It took a couple of conversations through bullet-proof glass, after passing through secured metal doors that buzzed open and locked behind me, to figure out where I was supposed to go sign in and wait. I drove to the designated parking lot, left my purse and cell phone securely locked in my car and proceeded toward the walkway encased by chain link fencing. As I walked toward the entrance, I was struck out of the blue by a scripture I had learned years ago in an effort to try to parent well…

”When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong.” (Ecclesisates 8:11) 

It seemed like a safe parenting verse way back when, but suddenly I was wondering how many people were behind these walls because they had never experienced this verse lived out in their own lives. No judgment…just the pondering of my heart as I made my way to the door.

I entered the waiting room and passed through the metal detector, armed only with my car keys and a piece of paper with my friend’s inmate # written in the bottom R corner. No name…just a number to mark her place in the system. I filled out the paperwork with my personal information and surrendered my driver’s license through the tray beneath yet another piece of bulletproof glass. The deputy taking all the visitors’ information was the friendliest one I had encountered so far and I marveled at how she had maintained what seemed like joy in the midst of such a barren place. I completed the registration process and took one of the few available seats in the stark waiting room.

There were a lot of chairs in a very small area and I found myself with only a couple of feet separating those who sat across from me. Since it was my first time being in a place like that, I was unsure of the protocol regarding chatting with your neighbors. I’m one who tries to overcome my introverted ways and make a conscious effort to engage others and do what I can to encourage them. Since discouragement and downcast souls seemed to be the common denominator that linked all those who were waiting, I glanced at the floor and prayed for an opportunity to be His hands and feet. A sweet little one year old girl with beaded braids bounced around in circles and captivated the attention of most who were there, such innocence displayed despite her jaded surroundings. Another sweet girl soon joined the room and they played with a carefreeness that belied their reasons for being there…each waiting to visit their Mama. I gazed around the room and noted the tired eyes, many of whom wore their years and stories firmly etched on solemn faces. “Weary” seemed to be the word for the day.

A nervous woman randomly asked if she could sit beside me and I welcomed the chance to strike up a conversation. I asked her who she was there to visit and as she explained her situation, I realized she, too, was there to visit my friend, a step-mom come to see what she could do. Suddenly the “random” request took on a divine appointment and she expressed how thankful she was to not have to experience this  first time alone. So there we sat, strangers but moments before, both anxiously waiting for the same name to be called. Her name was called not long after and we walked through the heavy metal door and waited our turn to be searched with the wand that would signal we were safe to proceed ahead. We entered a cinder block room with 7 cubicles. I know because I found the need to count them, I can only assume, in an effort to bring order to my jumbled thoughts. Each cubicle was equipped with a phone and a heavy glass barrier that would separate us from our inmate. And suddenly there she was, not in the cute clothes I was used to seeing her in, but a state-issued jumpsuit identical to the woman next to her.

Her step-mom talked to her for 5 minutes or so and then left me alone to visit as we tried hard to hear each other through phone lines long out-dated. My friend wept bitter tears of regret and it was heart-breaking to realize this was her reality. I spoke firm words wrapped in grace and reassured her that her current circumstances did not change our love for her. I prayed with her, sensing the Lord was there, stretching His arms through the thickened glass connecting us to one another. Then a guard called “time” and we each hung up our phones, feeling the distance between us deepen, she heading back to a place of scary unknowns and me to the world of familiar. 

I passed back through the waiting room in a sea of mourning souls and heard a lady right behind me sigh and say, “It sure is hard seeing your baby girl in a place like this.” I turned and waited for her to join me, recognizing her need to speak forth the broken pieces of her heart after her painful visit. She shared her daughter's story, intertwined with her own, and I listened to a mama’s heart filled with regret. A mama who now has the responsibility of raising four teenage grandchildren because both their parents made selfish choices and find jail their current home. As I listened to her nervous words spill out I was reminded, yet again, that we all have a story and want someone to care enough to wade into it with us. We talked for 25 minutes, leaning against the chain link tunnel, and as we parted ways I hugged her and assured her I would pray for her.

It took me a minute once I got back to my car to collect my thoughts. I looked toward the building from which I had just exited and asked the Lord to use this time to bring my friend to a place of true brokenness and repentance. I finished my prayer with a sigh of my own and slowly backed out of my spot, my heart a little less anxious than when I drove in. I was thankful the nervousness had dissipated, but I found it had left a heaviness in its place. A heaviness that felt like a cloak wrapped tight and I thought...

I guess that’s what happens when love has to reach through bulletproof glass.