Wonderfully Made?

Today is World Autism Day.  It’s a day to bring attention around the world to the issue of autism – its causes, its impacts, its uniqueness – and so much more.  I can’t speak for others, really, but I certainly can tell you how autism has rocked our world.

I was a young wife but not a mother yet when Gary was in flight school at Fort Rucker, Alabama.  He was learning to fly helicopters for the army, and I was learning the bare beginnings of how to be a good military wife.  I particularly remember a warm Alabama day when I was outside our house on Sharon Lane, planting Zinnias, and wishing with all my heart that there was a baby – our baby – lying in a little crib inside.  I thought that life would be complete if we had a baby.

The army moved us to Fort Carson, Colorado, and in another house we did welcome our little Aaron Daniel.  He was perfect and tiny and complete, as was my happy heart.  A baby!  A son!

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I thought often of that stunning verse in Psalm 139:14:  “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Marvelous are Your works, and I know this very well.”

Fourteen years later, I sat in a pediatric neurologist’s office in Tucson, Arizona.  I watched him talk to and examine our son…our Aaron…not so little now, but big and complex and confounding to us.  Gone were his sweet small innocent ways.  He was instead often angry, agitated, loud, embarrassing, and the center of much unwanted attention.

Gary and I at first thought that our unusual and perturbing Aaron was this way because of the effects of seizures he had endured since the age of seven.  Then we wondered if his behaviors were due to side effects from all his seizure drugs.  Or puberty, perhaps, added to the mix?

But Dr. Gray turned to me and told me that Aaron had Asperger’s Syndrome.  I was blank.  I had never heard of this, and I had no idea what he was talking about.  Only when he defined this syndrome as a form of autism did I have an idea…a small inkling…of what he meant.

But oh, little did any of us know what this REALLY meant.  Not until you travel on this unknown path of autism, with its myriad displays affecting every area of life…ours and Aaron’s…can you understand autism’s daily, minute by minute, impact.  Impact on Aaron…on Gary and me…and on Andrea and Andrew.

So, what was I to do now with that powerful, affirming verse from Psalms?  You know, the one that so eloquently said that God makes each baby…fearfully and wonderfully designs each one.  Really?

I choose.  I choose to trust God, totally…or not.

And then, even in my trust, I look up the words I don’t understand.  Really.

FEARFULLY:  means to reverence – so I know that I am to look on God’s design of Aaron and deeply respect what God has created.  I am to be in awe of what God has formed.  Of WHO God formed in my womb.  And trust me, some days I’m totally in awe of who and what I see in this son of ours…and not always in a good way!  And even as Gary and I shake our heads, we do know deep in our hearts that Aaron is exactly who God formed him to be.

WONDERFULLY:  (This meaning is the BEST!!)  This word means to “put a difference; to distinguish; to show marvelous.”

Aaron NAILS this one, people!  Oh my goodness, he is so different than the average bear…and he cares not one bit that he is!  He distinguishes himself everywhere we go and in everything we do…and he doesn’t mind one bit that he does!  AND…he does show himself…sometimes marvelous and sometimes not, at least in our way of defining “marvelous.”

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I decided to use some words to illustrate a little of who Aaron is, showing some recent pictures to boot.

Aaron is BLUNT:  NO picture to show here!  But earlier today I told him he could go to Dillon’s with me, so from that point he was impatient to leave.  He walked in the bathroom, where I was fixing my hair.  Wanting to leave NOW, he stared at me for a few seconds and then said, “You could just go to Dillon’s on a bad hair day!”   😊

Aaron is PERSISTENT:  Aaron talks and talks and talks and talks.  The other evening, he followed Gary to the bathroom, standing outside the door as he continued to talk and talk and talk.

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Aaron is PRECISE:  Look at his notebook in which he logs his times that he goes to bed and the times he wakes up each day.

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Aaron is LOVING:  He loves to share.  If you have junk to get rid of, just let Aaron loose with it, and he’ll give it to anyone that he sees.  He’ll also give away things that you prefer to keep.  Anyway, he has a big heart.  And he especially loves animals!

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Aaron is TOUGH:  He recently had 8 staples put in his head after a drop seizure on our stairs.  Tough hardly describes all he has gone through over the years, physically and in other areas as well.  But he was thrilled to get to keep those staples when they were removed…a trophy!!

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Aaron is THOROUGH:  Here he is yesterday, watching the movie credits with great intensity and delight.  After all, movie credits are part of the movie and are to be watched!  Totally.  To the very, very end.

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Aaron is RIGID:  We want him to wear a helmet for a couple days when we think his seizure pattern may indicate that he’ll have a dangerous drop seizure.  He does NOT want or intend to wear this helmet.  His Aunt Sandra struck a bargain with him, saying that she would make and send him a toboggan hat to wear if he would wear his new helmet.  So, he wore the helmet for an agonizing maybe three minutes.  He DETESTS how it feels!!  Tactile issues have never been ones he can overcome, from the time he was a little boy.  Here the helmet lays, where it was ungraciously tossed by a very frustrated Aaron.

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Aaron is FUNNY:  He does make us laugh, some days more than others.  He delights in the things that most of us ignore or take for granted…the cows in the field, the horses, things laying on the ground that he finds, funny commercials, store decorations, and on and on.

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And I could go on and on about our Aaron.  He truly is “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

In many moments, Gary and I don’t grasp that truth.  Have no doubt, there are deep tired sighs that you will hear often in our home.  We get frustrated, lose our cool, feel guilty, and then repeat the process again.

But also have no doubt that we know…we KNOW…that Aaron has been used by God to make a huge difference in our lives.  He has distinguished himself as God has taught us more about Him and about us than we would most likely have learned otherwise.  And Aaron has shown us just how marvelous God is in our weakness and in our pain and through our tears.

And God reminds us of how marvelous Aaron is, created with a purpose.

Yes, fearfully and wonderfully made!!

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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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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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