The Battered Pepper Plant

Written a few years ago:

Weeks ago, we had a strong storm during the night.  It was a Kansas storm, full of bright lightning, loud thunder, and very strong winds.  When I was able to get out in the garden several days later, I was disappointed to find that my only pepper plant that had done any decent growing was now toppled over.  I stood there staring down at it as it lay on the nearby zucchini, whose leaves had also been tossed around during the same storm.  I stood there, tempted to just uproot the battered pepper plant and be done with it.

 

 

I bent over and gently lifted it, realizing then that the main stem of the pepper plant was unbroken and was still safely in the soil.  “Why not just leave it and see what it does?” I thought.  And that’s what I did.  I left it to grow if it would, knowing that if I messed with it and tried to bend it back up, I would just break it and kill it for sure.  So I let it remain where it was, bent over and not looking too promising at that point.

 

 

This past Saturday, I went out to the garden to harvest the last of the zucchini and squash.  They have now fallen prey to heat, lack of rain, and bugs.  Their brown vegetation only served to accentuate what I now found as I stared down at my pepper plant, still bowed down in the dirt.  Though my pepper plant was stooped low to the ground, its leaves were bright and green.  They were quite a contrast to the brown ugliness around them.  And there, under the leaves, were peppers……peppers that hadn’t been there when it first fell to the ground in the storm.  They had grown since the plant was blown over in the storm.  Firm, pretty green peppers that were the fruit of this plant that had been pummeled in the storm, yet still survived.  And not only survived, but was producing fruit there on the ground.

 

 

I don’t remember a time when I’ve seen so many people suffering in one form or another as I have in recent months.  I routinely communicate with or receive prayer requests from those dealing with serious health issues themselves or with someone they dearly love; others are going through divorce and single parenting; parents are struggling with children who are living apart from the Lord and how they were raised; others are very lonely and are feeling set apart; some are grieving the death of someone they love; and of course, I know many families who are weighted down by the particular challenges of raising a child with special needs.  So many heartaches from so much suffering!  What’s a person to do?  And primarily, what’s a follower of Christ to do?

 

James opened his book of the Bible with this very issue.  He didn’t waste time in laying the subject of suffering out on the table.  “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.”  James said what?  Consider it joy when we suffer?  I love that the word “various” here means “multi-colored.”  Doesn’t that describe our life’s struggles so well?  We all encounter many different forms of suffering in our lives on earth…..many multi-colored afflictions.  Sometimes I wish my life was a bland, constant egg shell color myself.  Yet we all know that bland isn’t how our walk on this earth turns out.

 

James goes on to tell his readers why we should consider our trials with joy.  He explains, “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.”

 

When James talks about testing producing endurance, he uses a Greek word that means to bear up as we abide under difficulties.  Notice the word “under.”  Not to bear up as the trials are removed, or the suffering is lessened, or the answers are made clear.  No, we are to endure UNDER the suffering…..while the suffering is going on in our lives.  Then James says that this endurance will produce maturity and full development…..its perfect and complete result in our lives.

 

Considering suffering to be joyful is not a trait that comes naturally.  How do we do that, anyway?  Like my pepper plant, down in the dirt and buffeted by the storm, we sometimes find ourselves bent over with the storms of life.  Tired, defeated, scared, and just lying in the dirt.  But our roots are in Christ, and it’s from Him that we draw the strength to “consider it all joy.”  We may not feel joyful on many days, but we can in obedience thank God for our trials and for what they are teaching us.  We can say the words even if we don’t feel it in our hearts.  That’s called faith.  Faith that God is indeed working all things out for our good.

 

I saw those green peppers growing on that pepper plant, despite its pitiful condition.  And despite my pain and my doubt, when I trust God with my situation and I praise Him in the storm, it won’t be long before I’ll also see fruit growing.  James talks about some of that fruit as he mentions maturity and development.  He also says that I will lack nothing.  My faith will grow, my thankfulness attitude will mature, my patience will increase, and peace will rule my heart.  Maybe not every second of every day, but for most of the time I’ll see the fruits of being joyful in the bent days of my life…..the hard times…..the days that seem unending.

 

Like the hymn writer said:

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

 

When darkness seems to hide His face, I rest on His unchanging grace.

 

 In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.

 

On Christ the solid rock I stand.  All other ground is sinking sand.  All other ground is sinking sand.

 

So when we are tossed around by all that we meet in this life…..when we see for real that the ground around us is just sinking sand and that nothing in life is constant…..when the winds of deep trials come our way…..let’s consider it joy.  Let’s lean into Jesus even as we lean down with the weight of our circumstances.

 

And just like my bent pepper plant, we can still see that we are alive in Christ and that He has not left us alone.  He is still using us and still producing His fruit in our lives……..fruit which will benefit others, and give us joy and maturity.

 

It’s so good to know that God is in control.  He both sends the wind that sometimes bends me down, and the strength to be joyful as I stay rooted in Him.  May all of us grow fruit for Him and for others to see as we live in the struggles and storms of life.

 

 

 

 

What Am I Cultivating?

I sat on our patio one recent morning, enjoying coffee while watching birds and dragonflies flitting all around.  The mowed yard, the green trees, the blue sky…it was all so pretty and pleasant.  But then my eyes wandered over to our garden plot.  UGH!!  So much for looking at beauty!

Why?  Because for the second year in a row, Gary and I did not plant a vegetable garden.  Rain…two out-of-town trips…schedules – it all added up to once again, no garden.

Now our  small garden area is a huge mess, full of overgrown weeds and sad neglected old tomato cages.  What a difference to have gone from this:

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To this:

 

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Same ground, but different cultivating.

I read this verse around the time I was thinking about the comparison in our little piece of land from one year to the next.

 

“Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.”  (Psalm 37:3)

 

God’s desire for Israel was for them to dwell in the land He had promised to them.  He told them over and over that dwelling in the land successfully and fully would require their total obedience to Him.  In Deuteronomy 30:15-20, God told Israel very clearly what their choice was:

 

“See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; in that I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that the Lord your God may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it.”  (v. 15-16)

 

God told them that disobedience would bring death and a curse.  He urged them to choose life by loving the Lord, obeying His voice, and holding fast to Him.  And not just life but life AND prosperity.

In other words, to cultivate faithfulness.

This same principle is very true for me today.  I have a choice to make.  God won’t force me to make the right one, but He has told me what the right choice is and how to make that choice.

It’s simple, really.  Choose to love God, choose to obey Him, and hold fast to Him.  Hold fast by hanging onto Him when life is crazy and tiring and disappointing.

I get really tired sometimes.  I know we all do.  Just as I began this blog, Aaron called me from his day group.  I knew he had been having a hard day, and his voice and manner on the phone confirmed it.  I ended up just picking him up early today to avoid any further meltdowns at his day group.  This change in my day was not in my plan.  His attitude today makes me angry and tired.

And guess what I saw before all this happened?  Beautiful beach vacation pictures.  When I hung up from talking to Aaron, I was wanting to just hang up this life with him too, quite honestly.  For a fleeting minute, I wanted to give in to my beach thoughts…have a pity party…and allow myself the “luxury” of wallowing in the wishes for a life I don’t have.

I just HAD to be writing a blog today on faithfulness, right?!

You see, God has put me right here where I am.  This life with Aaron is not what I had planned, but I must see and trust that this life with Aaron is what God planned…for me.

And in this life that He planned for me, I really do want to live it in victory and joy. I want to cultivate this:

 

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And not this:

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It truly is up to me which picture will be the picture of my life.  I choose what to cultivate by choosing whether to love God…obey Him…and hold fast to Him.

I love Him by praising Him even when I don’t like what’s going on around me.

I obey Him by reading His word and finding out what exactly it is He wants me to do each day…and then DO it!

And I hold fast to Him by not allowing my thoughts to digress into selfish wishful thinking and all those “what if’s?” and asking Him to give me grace to love and handle Aaron correctly.

I should know that when God burdens me with a blog, then He’s going to hammer it home to me in a very personal way!  😊

So, wherever you are today…on a public stage or stuck at home…reeling from an unexpected diagnosis…planning a funeral…facing life alone as a single…hurting from unfaithfulness…starting all over in a new life or new church or new friends…losing your job or needing a new one…raising your grandchildren…raising special needs children…

Whatever is your situation, just remember:

CULTIVATE FAITHFULNESS!

And just watch what God will grow in your life!

 

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Lens #1

Last week, I once again took Aaron to his yearly eye exam.  Doctor visits are always an adventure with Aaron.  Waiting for the doctor to come into the exam room is also a test of my patience.   Aaron stretches and wants to lay down.

 

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Or he eyes the tempting equipment and tools that the doctor uses, trying to pick them up and test them out before I tell him to stop.

 

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As I sat with Aaron last week and watched him during the exam, I was reminded of the following post from a couple years ago.  This was such a funny moment for me!   Here is what I wrote:

 

I took Aaron to his yearly eye exam today. God bless Aaron’s eye doctor. Next week I’ll be saying, “God bless Aaron’s dental hygienist,” but today all blessings go his eye doctor and to the staff. Oh, Aaron isn’t mean. He just has a very difficult time understanding what the doctor needs from him…..how to express what he is seeing or not seeing clearly…..opening his eyes wide…..not leaning back from every instrument that comes toward his eyes…..things like that. There was one very funny interchange, though, during the exam. You know how the doctor wants you to tell which lens helps you to see the letters on the wall the clearest.

 

Dr. Nelson: Aaron, is number one better? Or number two?

 

Aaron: Number one.

 

Dr. Nelson: OK. Now which is better? Number three, or number four?

 

Aaron: Number one.

 

Dr. Nelson: Let’s try again. Number three, or number four?

 

Aaron: The first one.

 

Dr. Nelson: You mean number three….here…..or number four…..here.

 

Aaron: Number one.

 

Dr. Nelson: Let’s try these. Number five, or number six.

 

Aaron: The first one.

 

Dr. Nelson: Let’s try number seven…..

 

Aaron: Number one.

 

Dr. Nelson: OK, let’s not do numbers anymore. Is this one better, or this one better?

 

Aaron: Number one.

 

HaHaHaHa!!!!!! How I wanted to belly laugh!! I do believe that number one was the winner, don’t you??!! 😎😵🤣

 

However accurate Lens #1 was, Aaron was sure that this was the lens he liked the best.  He didn’t waver one bit from that determination.

I’ve been thinking about this as I look at my own life, and the lives of many that I know and love.

Through what lens am I looking at my life?

I just ran upstairs to be with Aaron as he had another seizure today.  I’m thankful he was lying down, so there was no falling and no injuries.  But his seizures, especially after all these years, are serious and scary.  As we get older, and as Aaron gets older, Gary and I do wonder about our future and his future.

In the past days, I have communicated with family and friends who are enduring all kinds of trials.  Two with aggressive and serious forms of cancer, out of the blue.  Tragic family issues.  Separation.  Divorce.  Friends who just bought a house and now he lost his job, literally overnight with no warning.  Lots of chronic health issues with no end in sight.

So much suffering! And the way that I view suffering depends upon which lens I choose to look through.

I know the lens I NEED to be using.  I need to focus on the God that I know and on His word that He has given me.  I may be rattled and shaken, but my focus will be sharp if I’m looking to God.  My faith is in and on Him when I look to Him…not disrupted by all the suffering around me that I or others are enduring.

It’s like Aaron’s eye exam.  I need to realize that lens #2 or lens #3 are not right for me.

Fear is not a lens God wants me to use when viewing my circumstances, or the circumstances of those I love.  Neither is anger…or worry…or a host of other responses that are all too common for me.

I know that when I have my eyes off God, life becomes blurry.  I lose focus.  I lose peace.  I lose hope.

I need to go back to lens #1, for sure!!!

The best way for me to keep my focus is to go to my Bible…to read God’s promises and let His words soak into my mind and my heart.

My parent’s favorite Bible passage is perfect for me to use in keeping my focus:

 

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore

we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains

slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the

mountains quake at its swelling pride.  (Psalm 46:1-3)

 

God told us we would have suffering and trouble on this earth. But He also has promised to be our very present help, our strength and our refuge, no matter what carnage is around us.  He is a loving Father who takes care of His children.

This is the focus I need.  God is the focus I need.

God is my lens #1.

I love the old hymn, The Solid Rock.  Look at verses 2 and 3:

 

When darkness veils His lovely face,

         I rest on His unchanging grace;

         In every high and stormy gale,

         My anchor holds within the veil.

 

         His oath, His covenant, His blood,

         Support me in the whelming flood;

         When all around my soul gives way,

         He then is all my hope and stay.

 

         On Christ the solid rock I stand;

         All other ground is sinking sand,

         All other ground is sinking sand.

 

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One Thing

I’m sitting here looking at my blank computer screen, wondering how on earth to write this post.  I write better when I can be totally up-front and honest about life.  But sometimes I can’t be that way because some matters are private, involving issues and people that prevent open sharing.

Was that catchy enough?  Do I have your attention now?  HaHa!

I really wasn’t trying to reel you in with my first few sentences.  I am, like I said, just being honest.

Recently, Gary and I had a “thing” happen.  It’s easy to say the typical phrases that we often here, such as what I just said.  “Things happen.”  Or here’s another one – “Life happens.”

Yet as a follower of Christ, I know better.  I don’t get upset when others, or when I, make those statements.

“You know, things just happen,” I have often said.

But again, I know better.  I know that God is the One Who is in charge of my life and who allows every single “thing” in my life to happen.  In reality, my “things” don’t just happen…they are permitted or ordained by God.  I am His child and He is in charge of all aspects of my life.

Most often, when we say that “things” happen, we’re not referring to happy “things.”  Usually, we are talking about stressful “things.”

Gary and I have had some recent stress.  Don’t we all?  We had to make the difficult decision to put our sweet Great Dane, Jackson, to sleep.  Not long after that, Aaron had a drop seizure on our stairs and ended up with eight staples in his head.  And then this “thing” intruded into our lives.  It’s not a happening that occurred, and then is over and done.  It’s more like a dark cloud of long-term wrong that will hover over us…well, forever, really.

All these “things”…all this stuff, plus many more daily stresses…can just be overwhelming and exhausting.  But two other “things” have taken place as well…in my heart, which is the best place for God to work HIS things.

One “thing” is that my mother’s favorite verse has been rolling around in my head for days now.  It’s Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

I love, though, the meaning of “be still.”  This is how I have been saying this verse recently: “Quit striving, and know that I am God.”

I can’t make “things” not happen.  I can’t always change situations.  And even if I try, the doors often remain closed.  The damage is done.

I have a mental image of being tied up with ropes.  Those ropes are the “things” that have or are happening in my life.  I twist and turn and pull and flex against those awful ropes, trying to be free.  But God wants me to stop that!  He wants me to relax and to simply trust Him…to rest, and to know that He is God.  And as God, He will handle all my “things.”

All this sounds so good, doesn’t it?  So spiritual and so right.  But how on earth…really, how on this old sinful stressful earth…do I quit striving?

God gave me a huge part of that answer over the past few days.  It’s found in the first few verses of Psalm 27.

David talks about his “things.”  He says that evildoers want to devour his flesh.  He is surrounded by enemies, adversaries, and whole armies…literally…who want to destroy him.  He was living in caves as he tried to survive.  His treatment by King Saul was totally unjust and evil.

It’s awful to be hated.  It’s awful to be the recipient of unjust treatment.  It’s awful to be on the run, either mentally or physically…running from the pain and the wrong and the hurt.

So, in verse 4, David says, “One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek…”

Let me stop to say that I can tell you what my one thing usually is when hard times come, especially injustice.  My one thing is to think that if I could only talk to this person or to these people, I’d tell them a thing or two!  Or on a nicer slant, my one thing may be to try to have a pleasant, open talk with them. Surely, they will listen!  Just give me one chance, Lord, to handle my situation…whatever it is…by doing that one thing that will make ME feel better.

But what was David’s one thing?  He asked God to let him behold His beauty in the tabernacle, to meditate and to dwell in the temple.

In other words, David’s one thing was to worship God.

And there is the answer to my question about how to quit striving against my “things.”

Worship.

David’s one thing that he asked of God when he was going through all of his awful “things” was the opportunity to once again worship God in the tabernacle.

“There is only one place where your heart can be healed, restored, satisfied, and protected.  It won’t be healed by winning human wars.  It won’t be satisfied in human acceptance.  It won’t be restored when you have meted out vengeance.  It will only be filled, satisfied, and at rest when it is filled with the beauty of the Lord.”  (Paul Tripp)

When I focus on God, I am not focusing on my “things.”  I am instead aware of God’s greatness in the middle of my “things.”  His power is what upholds me.  His plan, however vague and unknown it may be to me, is one which I can accept because in God’s beauty I see His love for me.  I experience His peace and His grace when my eyes are on Him, and not on my “things.”

We all have those hard “things.”  Some of you are enduring much more difficult “things” than mine.  May we all learn to worship God even when we are surrounded by our pain and fears and sadness.

Then to rest…quit striving…and let God be God in our lives.

“Quit striving, and KNOW that I am God!”

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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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You Are With Me

One of our worst fears was realized on Saturday, March 2.  I mean, far worse things could have happened, I know that.  Yet it was a very scary day for us.

Aaron started up our stairs from Gary’s study, but had only taken a couple stairs – best we could tell – when he was hit by a drop seizure and fell backward.  The crash was startling!  Gary was nearby and I was in the kitchen at the top of the stairs.  We both immediately knew what had happened as we heard Aaron seizing.

It was a blur of blood, and panic (from me!), and fear and realization that Aaron was hurt.  He had hit a file cabinet, actually bending the bottom metal handle…with his head!  We got him to our nearby ER as soon as he could walk, which happened fairly quickly.  Aaron was coherent and I had finally calmed down, and Gary was his always strong presence – thank God!!

I’ll write more about that day later, but after our pastor’s Sunday morning message yesterday, my mind was drawn back to one of the scenes from that day in the ER with Aaron.  Poor Aaron had a huge gash in the back of his head.  We knew he would need staples.  Thankfully, the CAT scan showed no other head or neck damage.  Finally, it was time for the staples to go in.

Aaron had never had staples up to this point.  Aaron is one tough young man.  He’s endured so much over the years with his seizures.  But these staples scared him, for reasons I’m sure all of us can totally understand.

He rolled over on his side, face away from me.  So, I went around his bed and I knelt beside him, my face close to his.  I held his hand, and I rubbed his arm and face.  The first staple penetrated his scalp.  Aaron flinched and closed his eyes.

He kept his eyes closed for the rest of the procedure, grimacing with each staple.  I so much wished that I could trade places with him!

“What more must he go through?” I thought.

“Ow,” he softly said a few times.  But Aaron was calm, strong, and so brave…despite the pain that I’m sure radiated through his head, not only from the staples but from the hard hit.

Later, as Aaron talked to various people and at various times about his experience, I noticed that he talked about me being beside him.  Even though his eyes were closed, and he couldn’t see me, he knew that I was there as I talked to him and patted him and assured him that everything would be fine.  It meant more to Aaron than I realized.

Pastor Bob’s message yesterday at church was on Psalm 23.  We all know this Psalm, including verse 4:

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me…”

As we walk with God, through whatever valley He leads us, He is with us.

As I walk with God, through whatever valley He leads ME, He is with ME.

God is with me.

He is kneeling beside me…He is holding my hand…He is leading me…He is walking beside me.

Whatever my valley.  My sadness.  My fear.  My uncertainty.  My questions.  My anger.

You.  Are. With. Me.

Four simple yet profound words.

I can imagine God stroking my face as my eyes are clinched tight, trying to block out the pain of my situation.

I can see Him holding my hand as He leads me on an unwelcome path.

I can feel His arm around my shoulder as He leans into my world, urging me to lean into Him and His strength.

Even though I can’t physically see Him…even though I can’t actually feel the touch of His hand on mine…and even though I don’t understand at all what He is allowing in my life…this I do know.

You are with me.

And I am not alone.

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Plan B

I heard Aaron’s first seizure at 4:00 a.m. night before last.  I went in to be with him until it was over, assuring that he was safe.  And always, when this happens, my fuzzy sleepy brain tries to remember what plans I had for the upcoming day, and how those plans may need to be re-arranged.  Usually one seizure means others will follow, though in recent days that hasn’t been the case.  We just never know.

Not long after Gary left for work, I heard Aaron getting out of bed.  He came downstairs, eyes very droopy and tired, with his typical post-seizure headache and stomach ache his first concern.  I told him that he should go back to bed.

“I can’t,” he replied.  “I’ve already put my time in my notebook.”

You see, Aaron keeps a log of the exact times that he goes to bed and the exact times that he gets out of bed.  Every.  Single.  Day.

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In his rigid and organized world, he needs a period of time before he will go back to bed.  I know not to fight this.

Aaron went about his morning as best he could, with me listening closely for another seizure.  His falling seizures sometimes occur after only having one seizure during the night, so I was on full alert.

I was hoping that Aaron could go to his day group.  Friday is movie day and he enjoys that.  But he didn’t feel like going anywhere, he said, and I could see that he really was struggling.  Besides, if he had a seizure while out with his group, that could be very dangerous.

I knew that my day now needed to be changed, my plans shuffled or canceled.  Nothing in my day was hard to change, but it was inconvenient…and not only for me, but for my friend whom I was going to see after dropping Aaron off at Paradigm.  My day would have been:  take Aaron to Paradigm; go to Lolly’s house for a visit; run to Aldi for some groceries before our weekend snow comes; home with groceries; pick Aaron up from the theater; take Aaron to Wal-Mart for his “end-of-week” snacks; zip into Sam’s; and home.

Changing this day was far easier than having to reschedule a doctor appointment, for instance.  Yet having to switch from Plan A to Plan B can be irritating and at times difficult.  Poor Aaron can’t help any of this.  I’ve learned to be flexible.  And to be thankful that I don’t have to work, as having a job would be impossible.

As it turned out, Lolly came to my house.  She even brought some delicious little Brazilian cheesy bread balls that she learned to make during her years as a missionary with her husband in Brazil.  And cake!!!  She brought me…oh, and Gary 😊…some cake!!!

I was able to later run Aaron to Burger King for a take-out meal, knowing that if he had a seizure at least he was sitting down in the van.  Later, as he napped, he did have a second seizure.  I was so thankful that he was in his bed, safe from falling down!  And in the evening, we got to make our Wal-Mart trip.  Gary went with us so that we could both keep an eye on Aaron.  It was fun!  And Aaron wanted to make sure that I took a picture of him with this turkey breast that he LOVED for some funny reason!

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Not every Plan B in life is fun, though.  Many times, our switch from Plan A to Plan B is pretty devastating, and certainly not easy.  And as believers, we know that God has a plan and a purpose on this path upon which He places us.  Yet He never said that our path will be rosy.  Most often, it is not.

God told us to take up our cross and follow Him.  He did not say to take up our basket of May flowers and follow Him.

One of the most impacting books I have ever read is The Cup and the Glory, written by Greg Harris.  Harris talks about what it means to follow Christ.  Drinking the cup of suffering is what brings glory to God and great growth to us as His followers.

In Acts 16, during Paul’s second missionary journey, we see a profound example of God’s perplexing leading in Paul’s travels.  Blessings had been abundant to Paul and Timothy.  The Greek phrasing in verses 5-8 is so telling.  The words “on the one hand” are soon followed by the words “on the other hand.”

On the one hand, churches were growing and being strengthened…but on the other hand, as Paul tried to travel to Asia, he was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to go there.  Later, as Paul and Timothy tried to go to Bithynia, they were once again stopped by God.  They finally ended up in Troas, where they never intended to go.

That road to Troas led through high mountains and was very difficult.  Why did God take Paul away from his intended destination, only to place him in such a strenuous and uncertain place?  Why did Paul and Timothy have to walk so long and so wearily through barren land full of dangers, and with no ministry taking place?

But Paul walked.  He kept walking in faith and in obedience to God, not understanding the reasons but fully understanding that God knew those reasons, and that was all that mattered.

Harris says, “It’s easy to walk with God when He exhibits the visible hand of His blessing.  However, Jesus calls us actively and continually to walk with Him – even when we can sense neither His presence nor His blessing – and not merely when you see Him feed the 5,000.”

Our goal in life should be to keep our eyes on God, not on our destination.  We may head one way, a God-honoring way, only to be re-directed by God onto another path.  Keeping our eyes on God during those disappointing times is key to experiencing His peace in the middle of our puzzling questions.

Our main goal on our journey is to be God Himself.  To know Him, to honor Him, to serve Him…wherever we are…is where we need to be focused.  God alone.  Through our questions, our tears, our concerns, our anger…God knows, and He cares, and He has a purpose.  His purpose is far greater than we will likely ever know on this earth.

Plan A?  Not today.

But on the other hand, Plan B!!

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”  Prov. 3:5-6

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