The Hard Parts

Tuesday was my birthday, and an early gift for me that morning was that Aaron got out of bed much earlier than the day before.  Why is that a gift?  It’s a gift because having to wake Aaron up to get his day going often brings anger from him, but if he gets out of bed on his own it usually comes with a far improved mood…from BOTH of us!

Aaron’s bedtime logbook that he faithfully fills out every day shows that he got out of bed at 7:16.  Not 7:15.  7:16.  I just wanted to be sure that I was clear on that point, since Aaron is forever and always very clear and precise about his times.

My memory logbook in this brain of mine has recorded that on Monday, Aaron did not get out of bed at 7:16.  He was sleeping soundly on that morning, so I had to wake him up, which can be very tricky.  Being awakened by Mom is not on Aaron’s list of Happy Ways to Start My Morning.  It’s not on my happy list, either.  That’s because there is almost no way for me to get Aaron to wake up that suits him.  Monday was a rather angry morning for Aaron, but he did go to his day group and I was thankful for the reprieve.

So, Tuesday was wonderful!  Aaron was happy, not at all because it was my birthday but because I did not have to talk to him in my weird voice…or shake his leg…or look at him with squinty eyes…or any of the other very irritating manners that he thinks I demonstrate when I’m working to get him out of bed.

I offered to fix Aaron some French toast since we had time and since he loves French toast.  He readily agreed, so while he showered…in whatever form that process took that morning because we’re never quite sure…I began the French toast.  Later, as Aaron sat down to eat, I saw him immediately place something from his plate onto the table beside him.  Can you see the little dark spot there on the table near his plate?

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I knew what it was.  The small glob was a piece of the toast that had cooked harder than he likes.  Aaron always places hard parts of food off his plate because he will not eat them, and he doesn’t want them near his food that he IS eating.

Later, when we were both done with our breakfast, I saw that on his plate was one more bite of French toast.  I told him he had one more bite to go as he got up from the table, but he told me that he didn’t want it.

“It has those hard parts, Mom,” he explained.  I didn’t push the issue or make a big deal about it.  After all, why ruin our good morning over one bite left on his plate?

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But as I looked at his plate, I thought of how much like life those hard parts are.  Hard parts are most definitely a real part of all our lives.  I wish I could just have all the plump, juicy pieces that are easy to swallow.  But no, it doesn’t work that way.  Life, all too often, seems to have way too many of those hard parts.

I remembered those set-aside pieces the next day as I took Aaron to his Epilepsy doctor appointment.  It was time for more blood work for Aaron, so after his doctor visit, we walked over to the building next door and went up to the lab. We’ve been very blessed that Aaron, from the beginning of his seizures at a young age, has always liked watching the needle go in his arm.  Even when it hurts, Aaron wants to watch each time.

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I looked at him sitting there, taking it all in, and I suddenly wanted to cry.  I wanted to cry because he looked so vulnerable.  We get used to all these doctor visits and needles and medicines and tests, but today it was like I was seeing it all fresh and new.  He was my little boy again, with his life ahead of him…all of us unaware of all the hard parts that were ahead.

Soon we were waiting on the elevator, Aaron more than ready for lunch at Applebee’s.  The door of the elevator opened.  I hesitated to get on because there was a woman in a wheelchair inside, plus the nurse who was pushing her, plus another woman, plus a man.  That’s a lot of pluses!  The woman in the wheelchair saw our hesitation.

“Come on in!” she cheerily said.  “I won’t bite!”

I laughed, told Aaron to follow me, and we stepped inside.  I stood in front of the woman in the chair, facing her.  I saw then that she was on oxygen.  She was wearing a hat to cover her bald head, and her skin had the unmistakable chalky look of advanced cancer.  I thanked her for letting us crowd in, and then I asked her how she was doing.

“Oh,” she said now with weariness, “I’ve been better.”

“I’m so sorry,” I told her.  I wanted again to cry, and I hoped she knew that I cared.

As the elevator stopped and we all went out into the hall, I saw that the man from the elevator was walking with a badly deformed leg, or maybe a prosthesis under his pants.  His walk looked so painful.  And there outside the front door was a van from a hospice group, waiting to take the sweet cancer patient to her destination.

Hard parts.  All around me were hard parts.

Still fresh in my heart was the message from a friend about her impending divorce, received that very morning.  Other concerns for family and friends weighed on my mind…death, loneliness, health issues, fears, financial problems, job concerns.

Do I sound depressing and dreary?  I don’t want to leave it there, because for those who know God and follow Him, these hard parts are also precious parts of growing closer to our Savior.  Jesus suffered, and so shall we suffer.  But we have hope because we know that God is in control of every part of our lives…the easy and the hard.

This hope isn’t like saying, “Oh, I hope that works out.”

NO!  This hope is a certain expectation that all WILL work out according to God’s will, for our good and for His glory.  The outcome may not work out exactly as I want, but my wants are not nearly as important as God’s will.

Is Aaron cured of his Epilepsy?  No.

Is Aaron cured of his autism?  No.

So, how do I handle those “no” answers?  I handle them by fully embracing that a “no” answer is still God’s answer to me.  I trust Him to know best.

And I don’t try to push those hard parts out of my life and out of my heart.  I accept their reality with God’s grace.

Of all the Aaron issues that we deal with, his behaviors are by far the hardest to handle with love and wisdom.  Gary and I get tired…frustrated…overwhelmed…angry.  But Aaron is the whole package, the easy and the hard.  The sad and the hilarious.

We wrap our arms around Aaron and love the whole person, seizures and autism mixed in with all the rest.

Like Jeremiah said:

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose trust IS the Lord!”

              “You are my refuge in the day of disaster.”

And so must each of us see every part of our lives as just the right mixture that God intended, and not try to remove the parts that are hard as being too hard to handle.  Go in God’s strength and trust Him.

 

 

 

 

Work, Work,Work!

I believe every family has sayings that have been passed down over the years – sayings made by family members and then repeated again and again.  Often these comments are funny, laughed at every time they are uttered as memories of the person and the situation surface once more.

One of our family favorites is a comment made by Aaron years ago when he was very frustrated by having to pitch in and do some work around the house.

“Work, work, work!!”  he exclaimed.  “All I do is WORK!!”

No one understands the humor of his statement like we do.  That’s because we all knew…and know…Aaron.  He worked the least but complained the most.  Now when one of us repeats that phrase with great emphasis, we all just laugh and shake our heads…just like we did when Aaron first said it.

I do believe we now have a new phrase, thanks once again to Aaron.  Another one of many he has left us over the years, trust me.

Two weeks ago, Gary and I were packing up our vehicle for our annual trip to Houston.  We travel there every April to see Andrea and Kyle, and with the added bonus of spending time with Andrew, who is there for an NHRA race.

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This year we were taking lots of Andrea’s “stuff.”  That’s because she and Kyle are married now, and have a house, so her “stuff” is hers once again.

We had many loads to carry out and put in our vehicle.  Aaron was in the middle of all of it, talking and hovering, hoping that none of this activity was going to eat into our normal evening routine of watching a DVD or show.  He seems to think that his presence will continually remind me that he is my priority.

So, we put him to work.  He was willing to do so, thankfully, and really was a huge help.  He helped lift the heavy electric piano into the van, as well as carrying box after box outside for us.  Eventually, though, as we were nearing the end, Aaron’s impatience started to surface.  He knew that I still had other things to do before we could watch a show.  Bedtime was looming.  His routine was already a mess, and his nerves were showing.  He was excited at our leaving, with thoughts of all the restaurant meals awaiting him and his caregiver during the week, but also anxious at our being gone and his normal life being a little unhinged.

Aaron never offers to sit and talk about his feelings.  Goodness, no!  He doesn’t even understand what’s going on in his head and heart.  But he does SHOW his feelings by usually hurting ours.  Or by being confrontational, rude, stubborn…you get the picture.

His happiness at helping had turned instead to blame.  He blamed his anger on us for making him work.  He and I worked through all that for the most part, watching our show as he calmed somewhat, but then as I tucked him into bed later, he erupted again.

“Mom!!” he said.  “You made me do servant work!!  I don’t like SERVANT work!!”

It was so hard not to laugh!  But believe me, all of us…minus Aaron…laughed a lot about what he said as we spent a few fun days together.

Servant work!  Indeed!

In the week since we’ve been home, I’ve seen the other side of Aaron…the side that enjoys helping us.  He wanted to help me cook supper one night, and then to send a picture to Andrea – who told me that it looked I was making Aaron do servant work again.  😊

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He also wanted to share his Sonic mint with Gary that evening, so he put it on Gary’s supper plate.

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This past Saturday, he asked if he could help me with some pruning.

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He often takes our recycling to the container; brings down his laundry; sets the table; and other chores around the house.

Aaron is usually happy to help when things are going the way he wants.  But when his version of normal is anything but, then helping becomes “servant work.”  Not fun…not to be expected…not to be done!

I look at myself and I see this attitude of Aaron’s in me more than I like to admit, especially when it comes to caring for him.  I’ll be honest.  Taking care of a special needs child, even your OWN special needs child, is not all halo moments where we feel or act like angels.

Oh, my compassion is through the roof many times.  Like when I sat in the ER with Aaron for five hours four days before our Houston trip, waiting for him to be admitted to the hospital for seizures the day before and very low sodium.  Thankfully, we were sent home when his sodium level increased.

Home, where Aaron had a very long and a very scary seizure that evening.

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His seizures, injuries, staples, stitches, missed fun days, so many meds, the look on his face as he held his Subway sandwich on our drive home…so many times my heart just breaks for him.

But then he has those behaviors, rigid routines, expectations of me, nonstop talking at times, anger…

Seizures that keep me home, having to change all my plans…and his.  Extra laundry, sadness, worries for now and for the future…

A life unlike most of our peers for me and for Gary.  Not able to up and go, to travel at will, to plan for a fun life of retirement trips.

Special needs parents weren’t given our children because WE’RE so special and God knew we could do this.  God wants us to see that HE is the special One that we need, and that in no way could we live this life without Him and His grace and His strength.  Goodness knows I have none of my own.

Many times, and many days, this life that God has given me can only seem like “servant work.”

But really, there are two kinds of servant work, and it’s my attitude that determines which I will experience each day…each moment.

When I think of how God wants me to serve in every situation, and when I do this servant work with that in mind, my attitude is one of inner joy and peace – even if outwardly things are crazy, and I am frustrated.  My goal then isn’t about ME.  It’s about Aaron, and to serve him in a way that pleases God.

But when I get in my own way and take my eyes off God…and like Aaron, things aren’t going the way I want…then I sometimes get angry and frustrated.  When I do this, all too often, then I’m doing “servant work” in the way Aaron meant.  Unpleasant, yucky, unhappy work that makes me bitter.

So, to all of us…and ESPECIALLY to my special needs parent friends…know that God understands.  Just talk to Him when you’re exhausted, when you blew it, when you yelled at the child you love so much, when you’re envious of other’s lives, when you’re out of money and patience and even hope – just talk to God, lean on Him, and then know that each day is a new day.

A new day to do servant work, the way God intended.  After all, we have the best example in Christ.

“Have this mind in you, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a SERVANT, being born in the likeness of men.”  (Philippians 2:5-7)

Servant work is God’s work, really.  And He’ll give us what we need to do it the right way, every day.

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Salads and Seizures

Aaron walked into the kitchen on Saturday morning a little over two weeks ago –  March 2nd, to be precise – and saw that I was boiling some eggs.  Ever hopeful that whatever I am cooking will be something he likes and something I am making for him, he stopped and watched for a few seconds.

“Mom, what are you making?” he asked.

I told him that I was making his favorite salad.  He stared blankly, as if he was utterly clueless about this favorite salad.

“You know, Aaron,” I continued.  “The salad you love so much.”

“The salad with Ranch?” he questioned.

“No,” I told him.  “You know, the salad with the eggs on top.”

Still blank.

“And the cheese and the bacon,” I explained.

“Oh yeah!” he finally said.

But he still gave no name to this mystery salad which really is his favorite salad!  Aaron has such a hard time with names of people and pets and, amazingly enough, food!

“You call it Egg Salad, Aaron,” I told him.  “But the real name is Seven Layer Salad.”

I knew he wouldn’t remember the name, but he knew it for now.  It was fun to watch his happy reaction to the thought of this salad for supper…whatever it’s called!

We were looking forward to our day and our weekend.  The day before, on Friday, Aaron had two seizures, and so he wasn’t able to go to his day group.  He missed movie day, which always makes me sad.  Thankfully, though, Aaron loves staying home and showed no regret at all.

On Friday evening, we all went to Wal-Mart to get Aaron’s weekend treats as well as some fun food for the weekend.  We were expecting a strong winter storm to hit on Saturday evening and into Sunday, so there was excitement mixed in with our fun.  We are snow lovers!  I had especially waited until Gary was home from work so he could go with us, just in case Aaron had a seizure in Wal-Mart.  We have learned that when Aaron has one or two seizures, he might have a drop seizure.  These seizures, drop seizures, are so dangerous and unpredictable.  This past year has seen Aaron have some serious injuries from falling.  Thankfully, our shopping trip was uneventful and was fun for all of us, Aaron especially.

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There were no more seizures during that night.  Aaron was happy as could be to think of his free day ahead…the anticipated snow…making chocolate chip cookies with me…steak for supper…AND his special salad!!  Whatever it’s called!  😊

Later that morning, before noon, Aaron was downstairs in Gary’s study.  Aaron was talking up a storm of his own with Gary, as usual.  I was in the kitchen, out of sight of the stairs.  Suddenly I heard a terrible crash…and then the noise that I definitely recognized.  A seizure!!

Gary was beside Aaron in an instant.  As I started down the stairs, Gary told me to get towels.  I was panicked and in tears as I ran for towels, hurrying them down to Gary.  There was blood all over Gary’s hands.  I knew this was serious.

As he started up the stairs, Aaron had fallen backward into a file cabinet, hitting the bottom metal handle with his head and actually bending it.  Aaron is usually not conscious for a period of time after a seizure, sleeping soundly, but not on this day.  He woke up, maybe because we were holding him and applying pressure to the gash on his head.  Or perhaps he awakened because of the pain.  He was combative and scared, something we’ve never seen.  He was fighting us, trying to get away and go up the stairs as we held him tightly.

Finally, Aaron calmed down.  He wanted to know why Gary’s hands were bloody, which of course was scary.  We explained what happened and told him we would need to take him to the ER.  Soon we were in the van, me sitting in the back with Aaron while Gary drove.   Aaron was coherent then.  The bleeding had stopped, but not his pain, of course.  Yet he was remarkably calm and understanding, a trait he often displays in these frightening times.  A gift from God, I’m sure.

I thought of other gifts from God as Gary drove.  We talked about how thankful we were that the sun was shining and there was no snow yet.  I was VERY thankful that it was a Saturday and Gary was home.  And we were thankful still that there is a good hospital and emergency room out here in the country not far from our house.

We continued to be grateful that Aaron was seen immediately and that the CAT Scan showed no damage to his head or neck.  Aaron was so compliant during the scan, even though it hurt his head and the bleeding began again, worse than ever.

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But oh, how my heart hurt for our son!  I couldn’t let him know that.  Gary and I stayed strong for Aaron and for each other.  I really wanted to curl up in a ball and cry, but God gave so much grace to be fully there for Aaron.

And there was Aaron, fully talking up a storm about nuclear bombs, of all things!  Talk, talk, talk he did in his typical Aaron fashion.  He knows a captive audience when he sees one, let me tell you!!

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God gave special strength to Aaron, especially, as he endured 8 staples being put in his head.  I knelt by his side, stroking his arm and face and talking to him during the ordeal.  With each staple, he would flinch…eyes closed…and mutter a soft “ow.”  I felt like my heart was being pierced each time.

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I tell you, our children with medical issues…and I know a lot!…are true heroes.  They endure more pain IN their lives, and disruption OF their lives, than I can fathom.  And yet they just keep on going.  One of our sweetest blessings is that Aaron doesn’t feel sorry for himself or complain about his lot.  He LOVES to talk about what happens to anyone who will listen, trust me, and even to perfect strangers…but he doesn’t act like he resents this life that he lives.

However, once in a while, he does give us a glimpse into his heart and his thoughts.  He did just that on Sunday as we made his cookies, lots of snow outside our windows, and his head still bandaged.

“Mom?” he began.  “Saturday, I thought, would have been a good day, but it wasn’t.”

I really wanted to wrap him in a hug…which he would have promptly pulled away from…and empathize with him about what a bad day it certainly was.  But I knew that I needed to point him to a principle that God points ME to, over and over.

Thankfulness.

“I know it was a hard day, Aaron, but it ended good,” I reminded him.  “What did you have for supper?”

“We had steak!” he answered with enthusiasm.

“And what else?” I prompted him.

He thought a few seconds.  I was hopeful that he just MIGHT remember the name of the salad.

“Triple egg salad!!!” he exclaimed.

Triple Egg Salad??!!

How on earth did Seven Layer Salad become Triple Egg Salad?!

Whatever.

So, for that moment, we were both thankful for Triple Egg Salad!

And in my heart, for so many other blessings as well!

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A Lone Christmas

Early yesterday morning, before the rush of the day started…and despite the fact that Aaron was up early and had already interrupted me a few times…my thoughts turned to Mary and Joseph.  I tried to brush away the typical nativity scenes that are so much a part of this season.  I tried to imagine what the reality was for this very young teenaged couple on the night that their special baby was born. 

The word that kept coming to mind was the word “alone.”  I do believe that God’s presence was with them…that they truly knew they were a part of God’s miracle in bringing His Son into the world…and that they were fully committed to His plan for their lives.  But as far as we know, on that night during the birth of Jesus, they were alone.  There may have been a midwife called, but there is no record that any of Mary or Joseph’s family was with them. 

A normal birth in their small town of Nazareth would certainly have involved several women who would stand watch with Mary, helping her through the birthing process and calming her fears.  The first birthing experience for any woman is often full of questions and an element of fear.  Older women, especially her mother, would have been a great comfort to Mary.  And a midwife would have assisted in the birth in many ways and would have allayed fears with her expertise about unexpected complications. 

But God had brought Mary and Joseph far from their hometown of Nazareth during this most important time.  And there they were, in a cave, far from family and familiarity, giving birth to a tiny baby…God’s Son.  Alone.

Then I remembered something.  I remembered our little snowmen perched on the ledge between our kitchen and family room, where they sit every Christmas.  Each snowman holds a letter, and when put together they spell the word “Noel.”  But a couple weeks ago, Aaron rushed to find me.  He bent over, laughing while he rubbed his hands together…a sure sign of great delight. 

“MOM!!!” he burst out.  “Come look at what I did!!”

So, I followed him to that little ledge, where he pointed out with huge excitement the fact that he had rearranged the little snowmen.  Here is what they now spelled:

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Lone. 

I haven’t even changed the snowmen back to “Noel.”  I honestly keep forgetting to do that, or to have Aaron fix them.  But now I’m glad I didn’t change them.  I’m glad for this reminder of where God often takes us when He puts us on the paths He has chosen for us.

We don’t always consider the price that Mary and Joseph probably paid for their obedience to God.  Imagine the hushed whispers when word got out that Mary was pregnant.  Unmarried Mary.  Imagine the looks she and Joseph got…the insinuations…the assumptions.  The suspicion surrounding them, and their story, probably lasted their entire lives. 

I wonder how their situation…their obedience to God…affected their relationships to both their parents and siblings?  Then Jesus was born, while they were alone and far from home, and history shows that Mary and Joseph must have stayed in Bethlehem.  Several years later God sent them to Egypt for protection from Herod.  Did it look to some like they were running from their secret? 

When they returned to Nazareth some years later, did they fit in to their families again?  Were relationships strained?  Did the rumors continue? 

We don’t know for sure, but we can imagine…in that culture…that life wasn’t easy for Mary and Joseph. 

When the angel first told Mary that she would become pregnant with God’s Son, I wonder if these thoughts crowded into her mind?  The cost to her reputation and her dignity would be huge.  But Mary’s response was: “Behold, the bond slave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.”

I look at this story, and the nativity scene, in a very different way when I really stop to ponder these things…ponder to some degree as Mary did in her heart. 

Each of us who follow Christ are on the path of His choosing for us.  Often the way that He leads us is unpleasant and troubling, full of fears.  But those very circumstances are what grow us and cause us to fall on God in faith. 

The reality of our various situations isn’t all sunshine and roses.  It’s the daily pain and sadness and worry, though, that draw us to God like nothing else does.  In the hard times may we be like Mary and Joseph. 

“May it be done to me according to Your word.”

Then just watch God’s peace fill your heart and His grace give you all you need to face the particular plan God has for you. 

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What Mountain?

I heard it through the baby monitor a week ago yesterday…the awful sound of Aaron going into a seizure.  It was early, early in the morning – the time that we still call night.  I never do get used to that sound.  My heart still jumps as I am awakened and then hurry into his room.  As seizures go, it was not a long one.  Hard, but not long.  The scene was repeated a few hours later, which is nothing unusual.  Only two seizures, though, which is a blessing, and which is rather unusual.  Most often his clusters of seizures involve three or more.  Yet we have learned over the years that having only one or two seizures means he might have one or two more during the day. 

Gary and I both stayed home from church that Sunday due not only to Aaron’s seizures but also because of a strong snowstorm with howling winds that was blowing outside.  This storm also explained the seizures, as I have definitely linked many of Aaron’s seizures to low fronts moving through our Kansas atmosphere.

Aaron was fine all day.  He stayed busy, and he also napped some, but there was no more seizure activity.  That night, he and I watched a television program.  Afterwards, we were in the kitchen putting snacks away and getting ready to go upstairs where Aaron’s nighttime routine would continue.  I had my back to Aaron as I readied the coffeepot for the morning.

“I feel like I might have a seizure,” I heard Aaron say.  But he says this fairly often, and rarely does he have a seizure at that time.  I was getting ready to reply when I heard a noise.  I whirled around to see Aaron’s arms in the air and his face distorting in the familiar way it does when a seizure begins.  It was sudden and so unexpected!  Before I could take a couple steps and reach him, he fell backwards onto the tile floor…just like a stiff, falling tree. 

The sound of his head hitting the floor was sickening.  I screamed for Gary, who came running from downstairs.  I was terrified…more terrified that I remember being since his very first awful seizure when he was seven years old.  Our 34 year-old son was my baby at that moment, and I was distraught.  Aaron doesn’t like crying at all, especially my crying, so he would have been very unhappy if he had seen me at that point.

Aaron will often rally rather quickly from these seizures, so we waited to see if that would happen.  Sure enough, before long, his eyes opened.  Soon he was responding to our comments as he became more focused, and not long after that he was talking some and able to sit up.  We watched and waited, thankful to see him return to normal with no apparent damage done other than a knot on the back of his head. 

I had a hard time going to sleep that night.  I kept seeing him fall and then hearing the sound of his head hitting the floor.  Finally, I slept…but fitfully…playing the awful scene over and over all night long.  Aaron slept well and for that I was thankful. 

Not only was this seizure itself of great concern, but what it might signal was also very disturbing to us.  Aaron had a series of falling seizures back in the spring and early summer, sustaining some injuries.  Are those falling seizures returning now?  And if they are, then why?  Oh, the brain is so complex!  If only we could map its intricacies and understand its workings!  But no doctor or researcher has ever been able to uncover all the secrets of what God has created in these most complicated brains of ours. 

Gary and I had relaxed a lot since Aaron’s last falling seizure a few months ago.  But now that familiar fear was filling my heart again.  If left unchecked, I knew fear’s icy fingers would replace the warmth of God’s promises and plans on which He wanted me to focus.

The next morning, I sat as usual at my quiet time desk, asking God as I always do to speak to me the words He wanted me to hear on this day.  I looked down at my current book in the Bible that I was reading, and still am reading.  Zechariah.  Yeah, I know.  What does God have for me in an obscure minor prophet’s writings?  I mean, Philippians or James I could understand, and would look forward to multiple encouragements.  But Zechariah?

Yet one thing I have learned over the years is that God is alive all through His word.  He meets me in my need in every single part of scripture…not just in the more recognizable, pertaining verses but even in the less known.  In this case, the MUCH less known.  But this aspect of discovery in the Bible is so uplifting to me!  It’s like finding a hidden Christmas present under the tree and opening it to discover the most amazing gift ever!

So, on that morning I began reading where I had left off the day before.  The people of Israel were very discouraged as they faced the monumental task of rebuilding the temple in their ravaged homeland.  Obstacles were all around them and they could see no human means to finishing the job.  Dangers threatened their lives.  Nothing was as they hoped it would be.

But…

God spoke.  “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit…” 

The people didn’t have the might.  The people didn’t have the power.  All that God wanted to accomplish would come by Him…by His Spirit. 

And then this verse, this phrase, is what jumped out at me on that morning.

“What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain…”  (Zechariah 4:7)

Have you ever felt like your worries and your fears and your problems are a mountain…a mountain that you can’t cross?  The concern over Aaron’s dangerous seizures was my large mountain that morning.  Scary.  Foreboding.  Impassable.

But God leaned down to me there at my desk and had me read exactly what He wanted me to read.  It was no accident that these were the verses I was on in my Bible study book.  God’s amazing grace washed over me.  Not by my might…not by my power…but by His Spirit. 

And that’s why I can stand squarely in the shadow of my mountain and say, “What mountain?!” 

God told Jeremiah, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?”

Does it mean that Aaron won’t have another falling seizure?  No.  In fact, the next night he did have another one.  I was close enough to break his fall this time, but it was still very scary.  But all that evening I kept thinking, “What mountain?” 

God wants me to see, even in the hard times, that He will give me all the might and strength I need.  He will also take care of Aaron in the way He knows is best.  I have to trust Him for that. 

I want this mountain to be what I allow God to use to strengthen my faith…deepen my walk with Him…and confirm my trust in His sovereign plan for me, for Gary, and for our Aaron. 

Instead of seeing a mountain, I want to see God over and above it all.  To know that He’s in control.  To be still and know that He is God. 

Oh, I’ll still be upset with the seizures if they keep coming.  But instead of being out of control, I want to remember the One Who is IN control. 

What mountain?

Indeed! 

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God’s Many Colors

We’ve had a couple days of stormy weather here in Kansas; and for any of you who know me, you know what that means.  Sky pictures!!  I just love looking at our beautiful skies here in the flat land, especially from my vantage point in our daughter’s former bedroom, up on our third floor.  I have taken hundreds of pictures over the years from that same spot.  These pictures show many various scenes of the same scene, if that makes sense.  No two views of our sky are ever identical.

I’ve learned a lot over the years by watching our God-given sky.  It’s no surprise that I’ve also written about it in the past.   The Skies From My Window

We get some amazing storms here in Kansas.  The variety of pictures is limitless.  I love our sky here no matter the season or the weather, but I do have to say that the most stunning skies are the ones that present themselves during the storms.  Just look at some of the shots I took during our storm from two nights ago.

From the beginning:

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To the middle:

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To near the end:

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All were gorgeous in their own unique way.

I was thinking about yet another storm that roared through during the night last night.  Bright lightning…ferocious winds…heavy rain – we got a hefty dose of all that.  God pruned our trees during the night, for sure, as we awoke to lots of small branches all over the yard.  And though I couldn’t take pictures in the dark, the vivid lightning is still fresh in my mind.

The storms outside our windows have often reminded me of the storms that also come into our lives.  Whether the storms of life come in with a soft wind that builds over time…or if the storms blow in with a gusto that knocks us off our feet…we all face them, at one time or another, and another, and another.

And just like the majority of my most beautiful sky pictures are taken during the storms, so the majority of my most beautiful experiences with God happen during my storms of life.

In fact, James  – when speaking about our trials of life – uses the word “various” to describe them.  And guess what this word can also mean?

Multi-colored!

Just like my stormy, colorful Kansas sky, so my trials are described by God as being multi-colored.  Here’s what James says:

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter VARIOUS trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  (James 1:2-4)

Storms, and trials, can be intimidating and even dangerous.  But God uses James to tell us that we need to consider – to make a conscious judgment – about our multi-colored trials.  And that conscious decision is to face our storms deciding to be joyful.  This joy isn’t of our own nature, but is a fruit of the Spirit in our lives.  And sometimes it takes awhile to feel that joy, that’s for sure.

And remember that joy isn’t happiness.  Joy is a deep-in-my-heart contentment because I know and trust that the God Who brings the storm is the God Who brings it for a very good reason.  I can look ahead to what He promises will come as a result of the storm, too.

Endurance.  That means “abiding under difficulties.”

And endurance produces perfection, which is maturity.

And maturity makes me complete, which means “full development.”

These traits aren’t just academic notes on a piece of paper.  They are real characteristics of a Christ follower who has endured the many difficulties and trials of this life on earth.

Just like the most vivid skies are stormy skies, my most vivid pictures of God’s character have been taken during the storms and trials of my life.  I have learned the most about God during those rocky times that I have needed Him the most.

Sunny skies are nice, and pleasant, and restful, and needed.

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But stormy skies are teaching skies for me…huge, magnificent photos of God’s mercy…God’s grace…God’s love…God’s protective arms around me.

So when the storms come, as they certainly will, may I not spend the time hiding and worrying and doubting.

May I clearly see the storms, not as an intrusion, but as instruction.

And may I spend the time taking picture after picture of the beauty that God is painting for me, using the palette that only He holds.

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The Broad Place

Anniversary:  the yearly remembrance of an event or occurrence.

We typically associate the word “anniversary” with weddings, don’t we?  Which, by the way, Gary and I will celebrate such a remembrance this Saturday.  39 years!!!  I wonder how this is possible…and then I look in the mirror and realize that yes, indeed, this is true.

But there are other anniversary dates as well.  Many are full of happiness, yet sadly, many are just the opposite.  In my Bible, I often make a note beside certain verses that were especially meaningful to me during good times and during not so good times.  I jot down the date and make a short entry about what was occurring when that particular verse, or verses, impacted my life.  I call these my memorial stones, taken from the way that Israel would memorialize important national events by building a stone memorial.  Israel would thus remember what God had done for them there, just as I can remember what God has done for me through significant sections of Scripture during significant times in my life.

I came upon a memorial stone this morning as I was reading II Samuel 22:18-19.

“He delivered me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me, for they were too strong for me.  They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support.”

I looked at the brief notation I had made, and memories came flooding over me.  The year was 2008 and the month was May, ten years ago.  It’s hard to believe it’s been that long since Gary and I were blindsided by the events that took place.  I really can’t say more about it, but I knew that God’s hand was in it as a direct answer to prayer even though there was much wrong involved.  Our lives have been forever changed…forever scarred…yet forever touched by the hand of God.

You see, after verse 19 comes verse 20:

“He also brought me forth into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me.”

So now, ten years later, I can truly say that God has brought us to a broad place.  But what does that mean?

Well, places of hardship and distress in the Bible are usually referred to as narrow places.  They are places of being closed in, confined, and full of danger.  But broad places are places of peace and security, where you can stretch and grow and see all around.

I can look back on the past ten years and see the progression in our lives from the narrow to the broad.  I can also attest to the fact that God was very present with us through the awful narrow passages, and He is also very present with us in the broad place.  We need Him in both.

You see, coming from the narrow to the broad doesn’t mean that we have achieved perfection.  Wrong done still carries a huge impact in our lives.  But God’s presence also carries an impact even larger than hurt and pain carries.

Time is ever so slow when we travel from the narrow to the broad place.  There are many, many dangers.  It’s easy to doubt God…to quit serving Him…to blame Him…to resent others…to gossip…

But the painful journey is also the perfect time to hear God speak to us through His Word.  It’s a time for us to take one verse at a time and ponder it, apply it, and let God use those verses to heal us.  It’s a time to learn to look to God and not to anyone else or anything else.  The most disastrous events in our lives cannot hold a candle to the amazing grace and love of God that He delights in showing us, if we but let Him.

David, King of Israel, wrote these verses in II Samuel 22.  He certainly saw his share of turmoil and rejection and danger and sin.  Yet he also wrote this, in II Samuel 15:26:

“But if He (God) should say thus, ‘I have no delight in you,’ behold, here I am, LET HIM DO TO ME AS SEEMS GOOD TO HIM.”

Do you see what David was saying…what he was doing?  David had a grip on God’s sovereignty, as Dale Davis says.  Part of the journey from narrow to broad is being able to understand this:  that we must be satisfied with letting God do to me what seems good to Him.

I did NOT say being satisfied with letting God do to me what seems good to ME.

Sometimes the cancer is not cured.  Sometimes the prodigal does not come home.  Sometimes the lay-off still happens.  Sometimes the grave is where we visit the one we love.  Sometimes restoration is not granted, as happened to us.

Yet regardless of all the “sometimes,” we can say that EVERY time, God knows what is best for my life.

So I hang onto Him, in total trust, and know that my good is of utmost importance to Him.  My good may come at great cost, but it is also of great value for all of eternity.

I’m stretching in the broad place today, thank God!

And so can you.

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