Sunday, September 30, 2012

Remembering the Miracle - Part 1

Two years ago today, Sept 30th 2010, we brought home Joanna from the hospital after 5 months in intensive care.  God had given us fresh eyes to see His gifts, His miracles, His perspective.  I was aware each day that I was holding a miracle, feeding a miracle, singing soft lullabies to a miracle that apart from the saving work of God, would not exist.

Yesterday, I read Dueteronomy 8.

 “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt..."

Do you know how many times the words "forget" and "remember" appear in the Old Testament?  If forgetfulness were an Olympic sport, I'd be the gold-medalist.  I'm amazed at my own propensity to forget the wonders and works of God, just like the Israelites quickly forgot the God who saved them.

So these next several posts are dedicated to my little girl, who helps me each day to apply Dueteronomy 8 and REMEMBER what God has done.  She is living proof of God's kindness and power, and through her, God whispers - Do not forget...  

This is Joanna's story:

Late April - flowers blooming, temperatures rising, little fists and feet kicking inside my growing belly. My heart was filled with a newness and beauty that matched the changing season.  I headed off on a weekend Women's Retreat with my church - the topic?  1 Peter and the Reality of Suffering.

I cried over coffee with a friend only a few days later.  What could God be preparing me for?  My fearful self reasoned that He would only teach me about suffering if He was going to introduce it, and soon.  Only later did I realize that He was feeding me with morsels of grace, long before I needed them.

April 29th, I woke up with a bit of blood, unconcerned, since it had happened earlier in the pregnancy. Off I headed to Target with a dear friend to complete a baby registry.  Heading to campus later that evening, at the encouragement of Dave, I called my doctor to tell her about the spotting.  She told me that I needed to come into the hospital, just to make sure everything was fine.  I agreed that I would, assuring my husband that I would see him at home as soon as they cleared me.  Dave was teaching that night on Romans 8.

Several hours later, I learned that I would not, in fact, be returning home. The IV rhythmically dripped medication into my exhausted body as I was placed in the ambulance and transported to a larger hospital.  My body was going into labor; I couldn't feel it, and I could do anything to stop it.

"23 week babies don't normally make it," we were told.  "And if they do....well, life doesn't often look too great for them."  After poking and prodding and needles and fasting, I was told that I would have emergency surgery to stop our daughter from being born.  I woke up from anesthesia, and never has a single word held so much discouraging weight - unsuccessful.

"Just hold her in as long as possible," I was told.  "Every day will help."  And so I did.  How does lying still so long produce anything of value?

For the next ten days, I would cry each morning at 5am, when they would come in to draw my blood.  We'd pray against infection.  I would cry again at 7am when the neonatologist would come in and give us our "stats" for the day:  "25% chance of survival, 80% chance of serious complication."  We'd pray against statistics.

We would pray for wisdom each day - what to do if today is the day she comes?

I cried to my mother that I wasn't cut out to take care of a special-needs child.

I cried to my husband that I'm sorry because my body can't seem to hold in a baby.

I cried to the Lord that His home is best, and that if my body wasn't a good home for our sweet daughter, and this world wasn't a good home either, then it must be because He longed to welcome her into HIS home.

I cried mostly knowing that I needed to let her go before I even got to hold her.  Because every parent needs to let go of their child - some when they go off to college at 18, others before they see the first ultrasound.  Every parent must say at some point - This is God's child...a gift He entrusted to me for a short while.  

We cried together.  Others cried with us.  For us.  Perhaps though, the most precious tears shed were those of our Heavenly Father, who weeps with us in our sadness and comforts us as deep seeded dreams slip away.  He knew the pain of losing a child.


"If she comes naturally," we were told, "She'll have bleeding in the brain.  Don't birth her naturally."
"And if she's breeched, the extra pressure on her head will almost certainly cause more damage."

We were crippled by fear of the "what-if."  Never had decisions such as these rested in our hands.   Our first opportunity to be the advocate for our daughter -- but what to decide?

10 painstakingly slow days.  We would watch the clock knowing that time was our hero, but even time couldn't save our child -- only the Lord could.  We waited.  And we tried to imagine how life would change.  Would we leave the hospital soon with only the memory of a child?  And then early one morning, her heart rate dropped and my body responded with contractions, and the planned emergency C-section just wasn't fast enough -- our daughter was born before the doctor had time to suit up.

Joanna Grace -"God's gracious gift" - entered the world on Mother's Day, May 9th, unable to breathe or scream.  I didn't hold her, I didn't see her, as they whisked her off to the NICU to begin resuscitation.  She was the size of a Coke can, weighing 1 lb, 2 ounces.  The nurses hesitantly told us that she was a determined fighter, but I disagree.  A 1-pound baby can't do too much fighting.  God was determined to fight for her.

Remember the works of the LORD.

Remember the words of the LORD:  "The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still."  Exodus 14:14

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Green Horsies and Other Gifts

I could hear them in the living room, discussing the gift she was about the open.  Every time she completed a task in her favorite iPad game, Joanna got to choose a virtual “present” to open.  Joanna was matter-of-factly informing her daddy that she wanted the “green horsie.”

“Joanna,” I could hear Dave explaining, “You don’t get to decide which gift you get.  You need to just open it up and see what it is.”

Joanna, not deterred by her father’s obviously illogical explanation, persisted.  “Green horsie, pleeeease!”

She eventually opened up the present on the screen, discovering, much to her dismay, that it was NOT a green horsie. Sadness ensued.

“Hon, you need to be thankful for the gift you’ve been given,” I found myself shouting from the kitchen. 

I’m not a 2-year-old.   But I get it.  I understand the plight of my daughter, who longs for a gift they haven’t been given, and despises the one they just opened. 

Think back to your Christmas-time experiences as a 6-year-old.   You’ve been anxiously waiting for Christmas morning to come, and it finally does, and you tear into the presents hoping desperately for that new doll, or computer game, or paint set, or robot, but you open the box only to discover your most frequently-received, and most-despised gift…new clothes. 

I find myself shouting “Green horsie!” on most days – demanding a gift from God, telling him what I think I want, upset when the gift I open isn’t what I’ve asked for.

Why can’t I take my own advice? Be thankful for the gift I’ve been given?  SEE it as a gift, and not a curse, (like new clothes to a 6-year-old)?   

My Father, the best gift-giver, isn’t arbitrary.  He isn’t guessing.  And He certainly isn’t frowning when He hands us gifts – He chooses each one carefully, perfectly, specifically, because he knows us intimately and loves us dearly.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! (Matt 7)

If I am a daughter of the King, then ALL things can be beautiful, because all He gives are gifts.  What I see as broken, messy, and ugly, God declares a gift.   I may not be able to say “thank you” in the moment, but one day in heaven, I will praise God for every gift he has ever given, thanking my Father that he gave me the BEST, and didn’t just fill my life with petty green horsies.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

God has not Forgotten

8:15pm...and the house was quiet.  I couldn't remember the last time both kids were down to bed that early.  I had my entire evening planned out already - people I needed to call, emails to respond do, things around the house to get done.

I busily started in on my first task, and it wasn't even 8:20 when I heard the sound through the monitor. Not a whimper, not a cry...those I could ignore.

The loud cough came from Joanna's room.  I knew what this meant.

I raced up to her room, seconds too late.  Her vomit had drenched the bedsheet and was now running down onto the carpet.

The routine began.  Bedsheets off, new ones on.  Spray the carpet, scrub it clean. Stained pajamas off, slip her into clean ones.  Run downstairs to grab more of her milk, then back up the stairs to begin the feeding process.  The whole time, I was angry, sullen, demanding -- partially with Joanna, mostly at the Lord.

Joanna was sleepy but compliant.  We were on the last ounce when it happened.  Another cough.  Out it all came.  Again.

And I would refeed her.  And then she'd cough again.  After each sip, Joanna would ask, "Mommy, all done?" And each time, I would turn that same question upwards - "God, all done?" We repeated the process three times before her stomach finally relaxed enough to keep it down.

Joanna back in bed,  I proceeded downstairs and collapsed into the couch, not sure whether I wanted to cry, or yell. Or eat ice cream.

I looked at the Bible sitting on the coffee table and groaned.  Lies seeped out of my heart:

God does not see you struggling...

Everyone else has it easier...
You are alone, and this will only get worse...

I turned to a Psalm I had frequented every since discovering it in college:

"How long, oh Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?  How long must I wrestle with my thoughts, and everyday have sorrow in my heart. How long...?"  

5 times that day.  And 3 times the previous.  And every single day for the last 721 I was stooping down, cleaning up vomit, refeeding a teary child, begging her to keep it down, crying to the Lord to make this cycle stop, pleading with doctors for answers, sure that God wasn't watching, not sure I could handle just one more day, but then once more she'd vomit and I'd be down on the floor again.

Forgotten. Overlooked. 

I wasn't sad that my evening had been interrupted.  I wasn't sad that every carpet in my house was permanently stained with reminders of Joanna's gastrointestinal issues.  I was sad because I felt like God had turned a blind eye.  He had rescued her from the pangs of death in the hospital again and again, but then...what?  Did he forget that the struggle didn't end for us when we finally welcomed her into our home? Had he moved on?

Like the Psalmist expressed, God's face felt hidden.  And I felt forgotten.

My conscience forced me to keep reading, knowing that there was more to the Psalm than sad desperation.

"But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.  I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me." (Psalm 13 - NIV)

For he has been good to me.  How can the Psalmist say that, when he just described himself as a sorrowful, wrestling, forgotten man? 


God has promised him salvation - an incomparable, concrete gift that he CAN rejoice in, despite the worst of circumstances and most desperate of emotions.  

God has saved me.  Through Jesus, He has rescued me from death, from sin, from guilt.  He has blessed me, daily, with His goodness.  He has promised me an eternity where all tears will be wiped away, and each vomit explained.  And I will rejoice.  

So why not now?  WHY do I fill my mind with thoughts of what I'm missing?  What's yet to be fixed?  Why am I so easily convinced that God has forgotten me?  

Because deep down, I'm the forgetful one. I've forgotten that I need saving. 

And so rather than praising God, I demand from Him.  

Oh, that I would humbly remember my need for grace, remember His unfailing love, rejoice in His salvation freely given.  Oh, forgetful heart of mine, sing praise to the Lord for His unfailing love and goodness!  God has not forgotten! 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Lessons from the Library

“How does the library sound today, sweetheart?” 

"Books...libeeeery!!" Joanna squealed as she jumped off the couch and ran toward the door.  

There were few places Joanna enjoyed more than our local library, and after being cooped up inside for a few weeks with a new baby, both she and I needed a morning out.     

Armed with the diaperbag, the kids, the stroller, and the long-overdue library books, we set off on our reading adventure.  We had barely made it through the double doors, and Joanna was sprinting towards the back of the library -- the corner with overstuffed couches, the brightly colored carpet squares, and rows upon rows of board books.   What a treat!

We hadn’t even passed the Juvenile Fiction section when it happened.  Luke’s face started to scrunch.  His nose wrinkled, and his eyes closed tight. Within a matter of seconds, what started off as a little uncomfortable whimper escalated to an all-out wail.

I could feel, whether real or imagined, the hot stares of other library-goers, whose quiet reading was quickly, and loudly, interrupted.  I fumbled in my purse and retrieved a pacifier, and quickly attempted to shove it in the mouth of my now screaming child.  Every second that passed felt like an eternity, and my anxiety level rose along with the volume of his cries.  

Flush with embarrassment, I grabbed Joanna’s hand, and we headed for the door as quickly as her little legs could go.  I could feel the tears starting to form and run down my face.  Avoiding making eye contact with anyone, I exited as quickly as possible.  After all, who cries because they have to leave the library? 

“I’m sorry we can’t go to the library, Joanna,” I said through tears as we walked through the double doors. “But your little brother can’t seem to be quiet.”

As we drove away from the library, my tears of sadness turned into fits of anger. 

He ruined it for her.  For me.  His tears were constantly preventing her enjoyment of even simple things. My enjoyment.

Church? Nope.
Grocery Store? Embarrassing.
Long car rides? Screams.

The mental list grew longer, and I added item after item of things I could no longer do because of a crying baby, and the more that I focused on how his tears were affecting not only me, but my other child, the angrier I became.

In the midst of my personal pity party, God brought to mind Galatians 5:13:

“Do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”

In my mind, Luke’s cries were an inconvenience.  In Jesus’ eyes, they were a privilege.  An opportunity  to serve one another humbly in love. To willingly give up my “freedom” to enjoy the library and to bless my daughter, and instead, to sacrificially do what was best for the smallest and most needy member of our family.

Even more sobering than my sinful response, was what I was teaching my impressionable young daughter. 

I was teaching Joanna to be a victim. 

Luke was the “weakest vessel” in our family, and Joanna could sacrificially give up the library to love him when he’s having a fussy morning.  But instead, I was training her to disdain those that interfere with her freedom. 


God, help me to love, serve, give up my freedoms to serve the weakest members in my family!  Help me to teach my children to willingly give up their rights, their desires, to meet the needs of those weaker than they.  Because isn’t that the Gospel?  Jesus Christ willingly gave up his freedom, His “right to enjoy the library,” His perfect and peaceful communion with His Father, in order to serve, to sacrifice, for the weak and helpless.  For me.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

When I Grow Up...

18 years ago, I sat behind my school desk, hands placed neatly in front of me, and sharpened No. 2 pencils lined up perfectly.  I probably wore a plaid jumper, and my long brown hair was pulled back in two, very symmetrical, very neat, French braids. 

It was social studies class in the 4th grade; the topic of the day?  Our future vocations.  Written on the chalkboard in big, elementary school font, read: 

“When I grow up, I want to be a …”

Firefighter.  Teacher.  Mom.  Doctor. Astronaut.  Mom.  Veterinarian.  Mom.  Baseball player.   Artist.  Mom.  Rockstar.  Writer.  Mom.

I looked around at all of the other girls in my class.  Future moms.  All of them. 

“Losers,” I thought.  “I’m going to be the first female president.”

Over the years, my desired future profession changed again and again, but “motherhood” never quite made it to the top of the list. I never liked dolls.  Babysitting didn’t interest me. Sure, I’d have kids…after I went to law school, wrote my first book, and made a name for myself.  Deep down, I just wanted to have influence – I wanted to do something great, something that affected lives.

Fast forward to today.  God has answered my deepest longings, but certainly not in the way I expected.  Here I am, the mother of 2 children.  I’ve yet to write a book, I’ve never been to law school, and I will never reach “household name” status. 

What happened?!

Somewhere along the last 18 year road, God has changed my mind about motherhood.

He’s called me to something great, something life-changing, something influential.  He has called me to transform my home into a beautiful nursery for Heaven.  And he’s teaching me, as I teach my children, that real influence comes as I lay down my life for others.

I don’t want to write a blog because they’re trendy (even though they are).  And I certainly don’t want to write a blog on motherhood because it’s been easy, because it’s a dream come true, or because I’ve got an edge on motherly wisdom that the world needs to hear (because I most certainly don’t).

I’m starting this blog because I NEED IT.  I need the written reminder, the chronicling of memories, of treasured moments.  I need to write down lessons learned, both for me and my children.  I need to be able to look back, years from now, and see how God’s grace is transforming my home, my family. 

Because on the hard days, most days, I’m tempted look back at the little 4th grade girl, and yell angrily at God, “I never wanted this role to begin with!”  And I need the Lord to gently speak to me, and remind me, “No you didn’t, Megan, but I gave you something far more beautiful, more fulfilling, more eternal, than those petty 4th grade dreams.”

God has called me to greatness.