God’s Backing

Last Wednesday night, Aaron and I were watching a DVD.  I heard a sound coming from him as he sat in his favorite chair.  I looked over to see his head arched back in that all too familiar way, his arms raised above his head, and his face starting to contort into a seizure.  Surprise seizures like that are always a shock, no matter how many times we see them.

I jumped up and removed his glasses, grabbed some paper towels, and noted the time for our log book.  Gary was upstairs by then, so we just stood beside Aaron to be sure that he was all right.  A two minute seizure is typical for him, but sometimes it seems to take forever as we wait for it to be over.

Aaron’s seizures are most often at night, though more and more are occurring at other times.  Night seizures are actually more dangerous, other than the risk of falls during day seizures.  And nocturnal seizures prevent us from seeing the postictal stage, which is the time after a seizure when Aaron is recovering from the effects of it.  During the night Aaron just sleeps, but during a seizure when he is awake we are there to see him coming back, so to speak……becoming aware of his surroundings and of us again.

It was between 10 and 15 minutes after this seizure that Aaron’s eyes opened and he lifted his head from the back of the chair.  It takes some time then for Aaron to register anything.  He still can’t talk for awhile after his eyes open, and he doesn’t respond to things we might tell him to do.  He’s just really out of it for some time.

On Wednesday night I sat on the ottoman where Aaron’s legs and feet were resting.  I rubbed his legs and talked to him.  His eyes were huge as he just stared at me.  He kept those big eyes glued on my eyes, and I just looked back at him as I softly talked to him.  He didn’t respond……only stared with that blank gaze.

I decided to move my head from side to side.  I moved to the right, and Aaron’s eyes moved to the right.  I moved to the left, and again his eyes followed me.  I repeated the moves, and so did Aaron.  I smiled, but he just continued staring.

I sat there looking back at Aaron, assuring him that he was fine.  But I was thinking of how I would hold little baby Aaron in my arms as he fed, or as I rocked him and sang to him, or we just snuggled.  I remembered how he would follow my eyes and my face with his precious little baby eyes, fully trusting me as his mama.

My fully grown man of a child…..still my Aaron……was following my eyes in much the same way that he would follow my eyes as a little baby in my arms.  Just as he trusted me as an infant, he was still looking to me and trusting me in those moments following his seizure.

I tried to blink my tears away before Aaron became alert enough to notice them.  I didn’t want to scare him……plus Aaron has no appreciation for tears.  He would call me a cry baby when he could finally talk, of that I was certain.

But I couldn’t blink away the memories of Aaron as a baby as we continued to sit there in a kind of stare down.  I was like any excited mother after the birth of her firstborn.  I felt that no woman ever, past or present, had ever felt as blessed as I felt when I held and examined my perfect baby son.  I was so thankful and so full of joy at this precious gift Gary and I had been given!

Never ever even once did I dream that I would be sitting on an ottoman staring still into the eyes of my son, but this time my adult son who had just had one of many hundreds of seizures he has had over the years.  Why would I have ever looked down at my baby boy and thought, “I wonder if someday Aaron will have Epilepsy or autism?”

We all wonder if our children are going to be healthy, but a healthy baby like I had lends itself to a confidence that health will continue.  So when Aaron was older and we started noticing some differences in him……and definitely after his first seizure……our reality changed, big time!

But what didn’t change was our trust in the God we know.  Gary and I knew the character of God.  We had walked with Him long enough to know Him well.  And that knowing led to instant trust……trust that our Father knew what He was doing, even if we didn’t.  It doesn’t mean we didn’t cry, especially me.  It doesn’t mean that over the years we haven’t been very tired, very discouraged, very worried, very sad.

But God always, always, always reaches out to us with a personal touch from Scripture…..a still, soft voice in our hearts……a comfort that can only come from the Holy Spirit…..a peace that truly passes understanding……a promise that we have read a zillion times but suddenly is just for us at that moment.

Just the day before that latest seizure, listen to what I read in Psalm 138:2.  I love the New Living Translation of this verse:

“I praise Your name for Your unfailing love and faithfulness; for Your promises are backed by all the honor of Your name.”

God doesn’t make groundless promises.  His promises are backed by ALL the honor of His name.  And that’s all we need.  We don’t need explanations or answers or reasons or guarantees.  The honor of His name is enough, totally enough.  He is sovereign, in charge, and full of love for Aaron and for me and for Gary.

So I thought of all this while Aaron was staring at me and I stared back.  I had a little prayer meeting there, with some praise for His unfailing love and faithfulness…..and for His dependable promises.

God and His promises are there for all of His children, just when we need Him.  I’m so thankful for Him and for His certain plan in my life and in Aaron’s.  He has proven Himself more than enough for us more times than I can count.

I got up from the ottoman finally, and began to get things ready for us to head up to bed.  Aaron still stared at me.  Finally I could tell that he was coming around…..was more alert.

And of course, many of you would be able to guess the first word out of his mouth when he could talk again.

“Mom?” he said.

Why was I NOT surprised at that?!

The Plans I Have For You

I think most of the nation has had a milder than usual winter.  Here in Kansas, we really haven’t had a winter to speak of.  Trees were budding, bushes were bearing leaves, and perennials were poking out of the ground in February!

I shouldn’t have been surprised…..but I was surprised……to walk past my front flower bed one day in February and look down to see that my Salvia had made an appearance.  There were fresh little green leaves sticking up through the ground, unaware that the month was only February.  Salvia don’t look at calendars.  They only respond to the warmth of the sun and the mildness of the nights.

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Something occurs deep underground, in their roots, that awakens them and urges them to respond.  It’s God’s miracle of growth, not tied to the month of the year but to the environment around them.  And even though that environment can at times be harsh still at this time of year……at any time of year, really……their roots stir under the right conditions and so they grow.

I was tempted on that February day to lean over and clear off all the dead leaves that looked like a hindrance to the Salvia’s growth.  But I left the leaves for insulation against the cold nights, and the snow that I knew could still come.

I’ve watched the progress of my Salvia over the past few weeks.  The picture from this morning shows how much growth has occurred.  The dead leaves, old mulch, and other clutter hasn’t prohibited my Salvia’s growth at all.  The perennial nature of this flower is alive and well as those new leaves push through all the mess around them.  It just faithfully grows and grows, quietly but strongly flourishing.

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This morning in my quiet time with the Lord I read some verses that are very familiar to many of us.  They are words spoken by God to the nation of Israel, recorded by the prophet Jeremiah.

“For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.  Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”   Jeremiah 29:11-13

These are verses of such encouragement and hope for all believers, not just for the nation of Israel during the time of Jeremiah.  But do you know where Israel was when God spoke these words to them?  They were being held captive in Babylon.  They were not in their home country, living freely, but were held as captive slaves in a harsh land far from all they knew and loved.

In the ten verses preceding these verses above, God had given some instructions to His chosen people through a letter written by Jeremiah and delivered to the exiles in Babylon.  God told the people to settle in to their new life in Babylon.  He told them to build houses and live in them; to plant gardens and eat their produce; to take wives and bear children; to increase and not decrease; and even to seek the welfare of their new city, praying to the Lord on its behalf.

You know how long God told them to be faithful in their captivity?  Seventy years.  SEVENTY years.

So when God then said that He knew the plans that He had for them……plans to give them a future and a hope……He also knew that this promise wasn’t coming to pass tomorrow.  He laid it out there for them.   He told them to live as He commanded and to be obedient to Him, even in their dire situation, for seventy long years.

God’s promise was given to them in the middle of less than ideal circumstances.   It wasn’t to be fulfilled immediately.  But while they waited, God wanted them to live their lives fully and faithfully to Him.

In fact, many of those Israelites would never see the promise come to pass.  They would die in Babylon.  Yet God still commanded them to be obedient and live the way He wanted.

How about us?  How does God want us to live every day?

He wants us to follow the example that He continually sets out there in His Word for us to see.  He wants us to be faithful to Him, to obey Him, and to grow no matter what is going on in our lives.

We may be going through awful times so full of grief and stress that we wonder how we can get out of bed every day.  God knows.  He understands.  He loves us.  He provides what we need.  He promises us a future and a hope.

But relief may not come today.  It may not come tomorrow.  Or the next day, or the next.  But like He told His people in Babylon, He says to you and to me today.  “Call upon Me.  Pray to Me, and I will listen.  For you will seek Me and you will find Me when you search for me with all your heart.”

It’s simple, really, but so difficult to do sometimes when our surroundings are bitter and hard and scary.  Call upon Him.  Pray.  Seek Him with all your heart.

Read His Word with an open heart to hear what He has to say to you.  Ask Him to lead your steps.  Obey what you know He tells you to do in His Word.

God will speak to you.  He will lead you to Himself.

And in the middle of your pain and your stress, you will grow.  Just like my Salvia in the middle of deadness all around it and the coldness of some nights…..still pushing through and growing, as God intended.

God loves you.  He truly does have a future and a hope for you as you follow Him, but not always…..in fact, seldom……without the suffering and sadness of this life.

But what a beautiful work He is doing in you and in me as we faithfully respond to His love and to His word in our lives!

So grow!  Grow where God has put you!

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Wilted

I have some container plants on our front porch.  They need routine watering, of course, but definitely need plenty of water during our very hot Kansas summer.  A few weeks ago, I was guilty of neglecting those plants for longer than I should have.  You know how it is.  I just got busy with many other things.  I would remember the plants and tell myself I needed to check on them, but then once again I would forget to do so in the midst of running here and there.

I had noticed my pretty Impatiens in the corner drooping a little one day, so I gave myself a mental note to water the plants that evening.  But I yet again got distracted and didn’t water them like I promised myself I would do.

When I finally went to check on the plants some time later, I was sad to see that my Impatiens was completely wilted.  “Beyond wilted,” I thought.  “This poor plant is dead……gone.”

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I very nearly just tossed the pitiful thing in the trash can, but something made me stop.  I decided to go ahead and water it.  What could it possibly hurt?  So I filled my watering can, gave all my plants a much needed drink, and waited to see the result.

The first time I looked at the dead Impatiens after being watered, it didn’t look any different.  This just confirmed to me that it was beyond hope.  But still I waited.

And wouldn’t you know, by the next day I was amazed at what I saw!!

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My once dried up plant was now thriving once again!  It had sprung to new life because of simply being watered.  It soaked up what it needed once that life giving need was provided.

I have gone through times in my life where the bad news and the burdens are overwhelming.  Sometimes it’s been hard to handle the stress, and so I have bowed low under the pressure.

It’s during these heated times in my life that I must not let myself neglect the one important element of what sustains me…..God.  He knows my situation and has even planned my path for a purpose.  But it sure is easy to become distracted from Him as I feel the weight of my fears and burdens.  Someone else felt this way, too, and wrote about it beautifully in Psalm 42:

“Why are you in despair, O my soul?  And why have you become disturbed within me?  Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.”

When we know God, it doesn’t mean we won’t suffer.  It doesn’t mean we won’t feel despair.  But knowing God does mean that we have hope.  Hope in God is hope well placed.  It’s a hope that brings us to praise…….praise for His help and His presence.

“The Lord will command His lovingkindness in the daytime; And His song will be with me in the night, a prayer to the God of my life.”

God loves us throughout each day and even gives us a song during the awful dark hours of the long nights.  That song is our prayer as we lay in the stillness of night, when everything seems darker and bigger and more awful than in the light of day.  Our prayer to God…..our deep groanings……our praise…..turn into a song, even when we don’t really hear a beautiful tune at that moment.  But God hears and He is pleased, and He is the One Who turns our prayers into a song.

Just in the past few days I have a dear friend who found out that she has breast cancer.  She will soon begin chemo and then face surgery.  My brother-in-law went in for a heart cath and was told that he will need bypass surgery.  A friend said goodbye to her wayward son as he moves very far away, and she feels she may not ever see him again.  Another friend is watching her son’s seizures dangerously increase as she awaits a visit with their specialist in Memphis.   I could keep going.  It just seems like there is so much suffering and personal attack right now.

This past Monday I sat in a friend’s back yard, at her picnic table, and we along with another friend were sharing some of the ongoing situations that one friend especially is dealing with.  This wonderful mother and wife, my sweet friend, suggested that we pray.  She bowed her head and started speaking very comfortably with God.  We all prayed, just as if God was sitting right there with us and we were including Him in our conversation……which is really the case.  It was so sweet, and each of us was so encouraged in just the way that we needed.

Just like my wilted plant.  We all felt like this at first –

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But after praying, we were encouraged and refreshed…..just like my plant that finally received water.

“Why are you in despair, O my soul?  And why have you become disturbed within me?  Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.”

The more I wilt, the more I can count on God to give me just what I need as I hope in Him, praise Him, and rest in His arms.  He will refresh me and He will revive me, even in the heat of the trials that I may be encountering.

He’s a good God and an amazing caregiver for us.

And He never forgets us when we need watering!

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Be A Ladybug!

Every year, Gary and I enjoy our little garden.  No two years are exactly the same.  Last year, for instance, I was hauling buckets of summer squash out of there every few days.  This year, so far, we have had four squash.  Not four buckets.  Just four squash.  Pathetic, I know.

But we have had buckets of cucumbers this year, so that makes me happy.  A couple tomatoes here and there as they slowly ripen; one lone spaghetti squash that has survived so far; some peppers; and always, thankfully, lots of okra.  Okra seems to do very well in our hot Kansas summers, no matter where in the garden we place it or how hot our weather is.  Okra is certainly a hardy crop for the conditions in which we live. 

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There are other reasons that I could say our okra does so well.  One is the tilling that Gary does, such as you see in this picture I took one Saturday after he had worked hard tilling the garden.  I also hand weeded the areas where the tiller couldn’t go, so the garden looked all clean and beautiful for awhile.

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Then there’s the ingenious sprinkler system that Gary designed.  There are three sprinkler heads placed on poles in the front of the garden, and three in the back.  Gary measured for all the pipes that were needed, glued, dug trenches, rigged up the hose and the timer…..it’s really pretty amazing, if you ask me.  And I love it because it turns on twice a day and I don’t have to lift a finger! 

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We also had our soil tested last year, and it showed that our soil is healthy.  That was nice to hear.  I bought bedding plants at a nursery that I trust, and we added some fertilizer into the holes as we planted each one.  With all of these things that we did, our okra have thrived and we’re enjoying every bite of fresh okra from our garden.

But I left out one part of their success……..a very important part, though it comes in a very tiny form.  These:

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Yes, ladybugs.  Every time I cut okra off the plants that are getting taller and taller all the time, I see my little miniature friends.  I call them friends because they work very hard as they help insure the success of our okra.  Ladybugs eat aphids, and so without the help of these little spotted bugs, our okra just might not live.  And if they did live, they might not thrive.  I can’t really see aphids, but I know they are there, sucking the life out of the healthy plants.  So our ladybugs quietly go about their business, eating the dangerous aphids and tremendously helping to insure that we have lots of delicious okra to enjoy. 

Ladybugs are cute, but they’re not really visible from far away.  We see the sprinkler system doing its watering.

We see and hear the tiller digging up weeds, giving us the results of almost weedless soil.

 But ladybugs?  They’re unobtrusive and very little and hardly seen at all, unless you get right down there in the midst of the leaves and really look.

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I had a sweet little Grandma that I think of when I see these ladybugs doing their quiet but valuable work.  She was little in stature…..I definitely get my shortness from her!  Grandma Hollandsworth….whom we later affectionately called Grandma Holly, or just Holly…..lived with my parents for 14 years.  Therefore, I spent lots of time with her and knew her very well.

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One of the most precious memories that all of us have of Grandma, I know, is the picture in our minds of what we sometimes saw when we passed by her bedroom in the mornings.  She would be sitting at the long built-in desk that lined her bedroom windows, her Bible open before her.  Her head covered in beautiful white hair would be bowed, and she would be praying.  She told us that she prayed for all of her six children every day……their spouses…..their children…..their children’s children…..and on it went.  It was quite a long list, believe me!  She would also pray for many others who were not family, faithfully and persistently.

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When Grandma would be taken to see the doctor, she would sometimes have to wait to be seen.  The doctor would come into the exam room, apologizing for making her wait, and Grandma would just smile and tell him that it was all right.  She told him that she used that time to pray for her family.  She had such a sweet testimony of being a praying Grandma.

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Grandma died when she was 99 years old.  She was actually praying when she died.  She was, at that point, in a care home. Her roommate heard Grandma asking the Lord to take her home.  Then there was a sharp breath and Grandma Holly was gone to heaven, just like that……while she prayed.  How perfect! 

We have always said that the thing we would miss the most about Grandma was her prayers for all of us.  We won’t know this side of heaven just how impacting her prayers were in our lives, nor the impact that her prayers are still having in our lives and the lives of family members that she never even knew. 

Grandma didn’t make a big show about her faithful prayer life.  She definitely never bragged about it or tried to draw attention to herself through her prayers.  She just quietly went about doing what she knew God wanted her to do.  And she prayed because she loved Him and she loved all of us. 

Scan0005Grandma was like my little garden ladybugs, just daily doing what she knew was right.  I wonder what difference her prayers have made in so many lives……what fruit her faithfulness is still producing today.

The prophet Zechariah, whose name means ‘Yahweh remembers,’ was one of the prophets who encouraged the returning exiles in Jerusalem to complete the temple.  The people were discouraged as they compared the smaller, simpler temple they built to the grandeur of the former temple.  But Zechariah told the people in Zechariah 4:10 to not “despise the day of small things.”

“Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,” God said in verse 6. 

We tend to notice and value the big and the bright and the noisy.  But let’s not despise the small things……things like little ladybugs doing their work……things like a Grandma’s quiet but fervent prayers.

The smallest acts can produce the most beautiful fruit.

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Psalm 46

Today on the radio I heard David Jeremiah talking about those times that we come to God with such heavy hearts that we don’t really even know what to say, and so we just ask Him to speak to us in a special way.  I guess hearing him say that has caused me to think today about one of the most meaningful times that I did just that.

In May of 2000, my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer.  He went through months of grueling chemotherapy and radiation, and was doing very well.  After four years we were all resting easier about his condition, praising God for His healing hand on Dad.

I’ll never forget the day in early November of 2004 when our phone rang.  It was my mom and dad calling me from West Virginia.  Some routine blood work that had been done a few weeks earlier had shown that some of his levels weren’t quite right.  On the phone that day, he and mom broke the news to me that a liver scan had shown that Dad had liver cancer.  It was inoperable, but chemo was once again an option.  However, we knew that this was very serious and possibly terminal.

None of our family was expecting this news.  We were all devastated, of course, and so sad on many levels.  The next morning after receiving this awful news, I sat at the table with my coffee and my Bible.  I was trying to find the motivation to work on a Bible study I was doing, but my heart wasn’t in that.  Finally, I just called out to God and said, “Oh God, You know that I am so sad and so hurt over Dad.  Please, Lord, I need to hear from You right now.  Please speak to me.”

I opened my Bible randomly.  I had nothing marked, nothing stuck in the pages of my Bible that would have caused it to open where it did.  I looked down to where I had opened it and saw Psalm 46.  This was a special Psalm to my extended family.  Verse one says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  Beside that verse I had written, “‘Dad, cancer: 2000.”  Then verse 10 is my mother’s verse: “Be still and know that I am God.”  I had her name written beside that verse.

It was a very special time of worship for me that morning.  I said, “Oh, thank you Lord, for reminding me of Who You were to all of us during Dad’s cancer in 2000 and of Who You still are today!”  And so I added the date of 2004 to that verse as a reminder of this wonderful word once again from God.

It was a Friday morning and I knew that back in West Virginia, Dad was at the Men’s Prayer Breakfast that he always attended.  That meant that Mom would be alone, and so she and I could really talk.  I called her and for a few minutes we talked and cried together.  Then I said, “Mom, God did the most amazing thing this morning.  I asked Him to speak to me and so I opened my Bible……………”   But Mom interrupted me before I could say anything else.

She said, “Wait!  Don’t tell me!  Was it Psalm 46?”

And I replied, “Well, yes, but how did you know that?”

And she said, “Yesterday when we got home from the doctor, your dad went back into the bedroom and stayed there a long time.  When he came out I asked what he was doing, and he told me that he was reading Psalm 46.”

Oh wow!  God was reaching down to us, so many miles apart, and showing us that He was there…….that He was aware of our need and of our hurt……..that He hadn’t forgotten us…………..that He truly was a PRESENT help in our trouble.

God gave us four more wonderful years with Dad.  We would often say to each other, “Remember Psalm 46!”

What a faithful and awesome God we serve!