Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Venice, Munich, and HOME

SO much has happened since I last blogged about the trip. Too much to try and recap well. I'll hit the highlights only.

After an unsure destination leaving Rome, due to some flooding in parts of Venice...we ended up deciding to go anyway. We had to find a new hotel, but we decided to go.

It was so worth it. Venice is always worth the trip. We took the kids to all our favorite places. We shopped excessively and ate our body weight in gelato. We stepped over the puddles of standing water in St. Mark's Square. We are so glad we went. There is no city in the world like Venice.

After buying so many souvenirs that it became questionable whether or not we could get it all home, we boarded an overnight train to Munich, Germany.

I wish I could explain to you how NOT wonderful a sleeper train actually is. I know it looks romantic and wonderful in all the movies...but that is not reality. In reality, a room that sleeps 3 people is so narrow that one person has to climb on a bunk if another one wants to get out the door to go pee. And the bathroom...Lord above, its small. When I sat down to pee, my shoulders had an inch of clearance from the walls on either side.

We had to brush our teeth missions trip style because the sinks in our rooms wouldn't spit out water.

Train staff spoke much less English than we expected. Making our needs known was a task we quickly abandoned. I handed out dramamine and told everyone to sleep.

At 4:30 a.m. we had a loud, insistent bang on our door.

Border control.

Armed German Police, asking for passports, requiring a look at all the leery, confused faces, questioning us about our destination and reason for visiting.

You could be the kindest person in the world and I would hate you at 4:30 in the morning. Just FYI.

Arrival in the Munich train station added to the shock. It was breathtakingly cold. Chilled to the bone in 5 minutes kind of cold. Nothing prepares the thin-blooded southerner for 27 degrees F.

It was very empty when we arrived, but for the police and the homeless people. We were asked for money more than once. We witnessed one man being verbally dressed down by the police.

It was all a bit overwhelming.

We bundled up in all our layers, stored our bags in lockers at the train terminal, and hiked to our tour bus to drive to the famous castle, Neuschwanstein. Two hours on a warm bus, with plugs to charge our devices and a bathroom that wasn't any smaller than the train, were welcome reliefs.

The countryside of Germany is so lovely. Picturesque. I could live there, other than the fact that the thermometer never showed above ZERO celsius the whole day.

The snow flakes were enormous when they started to fall, and stuck, fully formed, on every surface.

The palace and castle of King Ludwig II were remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime sights.

The city center of Munich was an experience all its own. Its a big city, but there in the Marienplatz, it felt old, from another time. We shopped even more in the Christmas market, where all food was classically Bavarian and all the ornaments and trinkets were reminiscent of days gone by. Ignoring our already bulging luggage and waistlines, we ate and purchased and laughed and FROZE nearly to DEATH. It was a magical day.

We ran out of time and didn't get to do everything we wanted to in Munich, but all in all I"m glad we made the trip, terrible train and frigid station not withstanding.

And now we are headed stateside. And, honestly, we've never been so glad. We are ready. Singing "God Bless America" and everything. There's really nothing quite as wonderful as the place you call home.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Rome, part 2

It's impossible to properly convey how steeped in history this city is. It's in the air, like a heartbeat.

"You're walking where the history of the world once took shape." I hear it with every step.

St. Peter's Basilica, where once stood the church that marked the spot where Peter was was breathtakingly beautiful. And I almost, ALMOST, stopped myself from reminding the kids that the Pope is not Jesus...but alas, I caved and whispered the reminder as we passed yet another statue of a pope blessing the people. Sigh...knowing that Peter walked there...and that Peter walked with makes me want to cry a little bit.

The history is palpable. I love it. There are so many things about even our language that can be traced backward to the origins of Rome.

Did you know, for example, that the Latin word for 'sand' is 'arena' ? That's why the Colosseum is called an arena...because sand covered the floor. (to soak up the blood...gross)

I'm driving everyone crazy with all the information I'm trying to absorb and pass on. But also, knowing stuff is making me popular.

We abandoned our tour guide at the Roman Forum. Why?

"We HAVE a tour guide. Charity knows everything," Mackenzie informed the group loudly.

Untrue...but dang if I didn't feel like a superhero.

We walked through the Roman Forum, the religious and political center of Ancient Rome, with the remains of temples on every side. We took note of the Arch of Titus, where it is proudly displayed that Jerusalem was ransacked and destroyed, and that the valuables brought back funded the completion of the Colosseum. We saw the ruins of the palaces of Nero and Caligula and all the other evil emperors of Rome. We glimpsed the remains of the ancient slave market, where all the captured Jews were carted in and sold.

All horrifying feelings aside, I reminded the kids, "If not for the fall of Jerusalem and the disbursement of the people...Christianity wouldn't have spread the way it did." We all attempted to settle our ruffled feathers. There's no "poor God" in any situation, people. Not one.

Which is why, I suppose, I held my tongue during our tour of the Colosseum, when our kind, elderly guide told us that Judaism, and then Catholicism, was that same as Christianity. All that was within me...struggled not to raise my hand. "Point of clarification..." But I didn't. I'm not sure if my parents would be proud or disappointed...but I do know that the crowd I was with appreciated my lip pursing silence. (Except Faith, who made a face at me that said "that's not right." We are the same person.)(Also, Ashely said she could SEE the look on my face, from the back of my head.)

Understanding the depravity of the human culture without a relationship with Christ is not hard to come to grips with if you visit Rome. The ancient culture is FILLED with terrible details I won't shock you with. It would make you sick to your stomach.

Despite it all, I love this city. I love the history. I love the pizza vendors on the street and the gelato shops that are barely able to hold 3 people at a time. I don't even mind the random people hocking their wares at every corner.

I love that, if I look closely enough, I can see the Lord here.

The journey continues tomorrow...with a surprise day trip to...I guess you'll have to wait and see.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Rome, and all that it implies

"Sir, look around. You are in Italy. Did you notice?"

Our second trip to Rome is currently underway, and I have to say, its as wonderful as I remember from the last time we were here 5.5 years ago.

This time has an extra level of magic, though, because we are joined by our kids. Introducing them to the sights and sounds and culture of one of my favorite places in all the world...its So. Much. Fun.

I'm always surprised when they have very strong opinions about things. (I don't know why, as I am their mother and I haven't met a single topic, ever, that I haven't felt strongly about.)

Nate, (12 years old) for example, looks away every time the Colosseum comes into view. Why? Because we have a tour scheduled for Thursday and he doesn't want to SEE it until he gets to REALLY see it. (insert shoulder shrug and eye roll here)

Nate also bemoaned the fact that there was no cheeseburger on the menu at the little Italian bistro where we had supper last night. Sigh...

Gabe asked "Is this the Sistine Chapel?" about every room in the Vatican museum...(in his defense, there are no churches, or any rooms at all, with beautifully painted ceilings in the USA, and I forgot to inform him that pretty much ALL of them are in Italy, so the confusion of a 9-year-old is to be expected.) But when we actually entered the famed chapel, he understood what I meant when I told him "No, buddy, you won't have to wonder when you get there. You'll KNOW you're in the Sistine Chapel." It's such an amazing experience.

A random, handsome young Italian man winked at my blond headed 17-year-old daughter earlier. Luckily her 15-year-old brother/protector didn't see it, or there would've been an altercation. I saw it though, and giggled at her flustered smile. What IS it about blond hair in a country full of dark headed people?

The Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon...all of it was lit with golden sunlight. We climbed, and counted, all the stairs. We threw coins in the world's most famous fountain. We walked inside the oldest church still standing in Rome.

We also went inside several other churches, because I just LOVE the beauty of them. The kids were stunned, time after time, by the opulence and grandeur. Finally, we stopped in a huddle outside one to discuss. We talked about how people often want to honor God with extravagance. And how sometimes it is mistakenly thought that expensive excess invites His presence. "Be extravagant in your walk with Him. I support that. But remember...He is wherever you invite Him to be. Even right here on the street with us."

They have whispered to me, more times than I can count, "The Pope's not Jesus." I laugh and shush them every time. Sigh...that one is totally my fault.

The last time I was in Rome, I had taken as much as I could take from a particular tour guide on the subject of the leader of the Catholic Church. Don't get me wrong...I'm not anti-Pope, categorically. I AM anti-WORSHIP-of-a-MAN. So, I turned to my husband and said under my breath, "To be clear, so it has been said...the Pope is not Jesus."

Heath's retelling of this story involves me saying it loudly and attracting attention, which is an excessive exaggeration. But the kids think its the funniest thing ever, and have reminded me of it repeatedly.

I am pleased to report that my children are enjoying, and embracing, the culture of the Eternal City. Clay ate 4 croissants at breakfast this morning. (ah, to have the metabolism of a 15-year-old.)

We walked down an alley to a tiny gelato shop this afternoon, because its Italy, so gelato is required.

Clay ordered lemon gelato. The shop owner told him he could have 3 flavors. "Can I get triple lemon?" Clay asked.

"Yes, you can," was the reply. "But, sir, look around you. You are in Italy. Did you notice? You should try three. Please. Surprise me."

Clay laughed good-naturedly and chose two additional flavors.

"Thank you sir, you make my day," the shop owner called as we left.

Lemon was still Clay's favorite flavor. But this story will join the ranks of "The Pope's not Jesus" in our list of family story references. Because we have laughed and repeated it all day.

We are coming home, we promise. But not yet.

There's so much more history to soak up.
And home-made pasta to eat.
And Italian leather to purchase.
And stories to accumulate.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Sovereign- part 3

They looked so grown up, walking toward me down that airport corridor. 

It felt like they had been gone for an eternity, these teenagers of mine. But they were back, and I could breathe again. 

My son looked so tall and strong. He lifted me off the ground when he hugged me, then immediately went into big brother mode, taking charge of both his ands sister's luggage. I could see the change in him, and it almost, almost, made the two weeks of wishing I could be there to protect them both worth it.

My daughter looked pale, like she had when she left, but her eyes were calm. Whatever the Lord had done in her heart...I could see it on her face.

Jet lag and laundry and speaking engagements and more jet lag took their tole. We spent a week settling back into life. They told me stories, passed out gifts they had brought back, and submitted themselves to extra cuddles and kisses, a quick lice check, and a return to the routine of their days.

An appointment with Faith's doctor was on the calendar, and he had many questions.

He had not been happy with how dismissive the emergency room was, and quickly ordered a battery of tests and blood work, which he told us they SHOULD HAVE DONE before discharging her.

So...we trekked to the blood lab and she left several vials for examination. Then we put a heart echo on the schedule, since she had been having irregular palpitations for quite some time. "Let's see what the blood work shows, and rule out any damage to her heart. Then we will make our next-step plans," Doctor E. said.

We hadn't been home but a couple hours when we got a call. One of the numbers on her blood work was quite elevated, indicating a possible blood clot. We needed to go, right away, to the outpatient imaging center (where she had already had her brain scan before the trip) to have an image of her lungs taken. 

So...we went, of course. And we sat in the waiting room, and I felt numb. I don't understand medical jargon, and as I said before, I am the opposite of an alarmist. I kept telling myself they were probably just being cautious. Ruling things out, as the doctor had said. 

They took her back for the scan, then returned her to the waiting room with instructions to wait while they checked for anything emergent. After what seemed like forever, the nurse called us back again, and said "There isn't anything actively life threatening on her scan. You can go home. Your doctor will call you with all the results."

Back home we went. I dropped her off, chatted with the boys for a few minutes, and then headed to pick up milk and bread and coffee and toilet paper from the store.

My phone rang as I pushed the buggy down an aisle. 

"The image of her lungs shows she has recently had a pulmonary embolism. It is surrounded by blood vessels, so clearly her body is already working to dissolve it, which is why her symptoms have lessened some and she's able to stand up without getting as dizzy. This is what was causing all of her symptoms before she left. It was an active clot at that time, certainly."

Have you ever felt like you received news that your brain simply refused to allow to sink all the way in? Like...'If I allow the reality of what was just said to permeate my mind...It might actually split my brain in half.'

That is how I felt for about 30 seconds. Standing in the middle of the store, I could see the blackness at the edges of my vision, as my heart raced and my stomach churned. I felt certain I was about to throw up. 

I think I said something mature and calm like "Well at least we know what is wrong now. The unknown is so much worse. Now we can treat the problem."

But that isn't how I felt. At all.

MY GOD, she got on a plane with a blood clot in her lung. She traveled for 15+ hours, to the other side of the world where medical help was limited and far away. 

I put my hands on my knees and took deep breaths for several long moments. Then I called my husband and relayed the findings.

We were both mostly silent as the 'what could have happened' shook us to our cores. We felt...terrified in retrospect, and so overwhelmed with gratitude that she had come home to us.

The weeks that followed were filled with shots, and blood draws, and appointments, and lab work, as we figured out the answer to the big question: WHY a healthy 17-year-old had a blood clot in the first place.

Its a long story, and not relevant, really. Its a gene mutation that makes her blood more likely to clot. Simple as that.

It does NOT feel simple to me, as I play it back in my head. Yes, its an easy thing to monitor and adjust for. She can simply take a blood thinner whenever she is in a situation that puts her at higher risk for a clot (like long flights, or pregnancy, or surgeries). Fine. All of that is fine.

Except she could have DIED on that plane. The clot could've traveled to her brain or her heart...Why hadn't we seen it? Why were her symptoms so obscure? She didn't have any of the major symptoms of a pulmonary embolism. Only all the minor ones. WHY hadn't the ER doctors done that blood work? HOW could I have let her GO? Why didn't the Lord tell me not to let her go? I begged Him for a clear answer...and all along He simply asked us to trust Him with our child...So we did. But THIS was what we were trusting Him with? 

It felt like too much. Almost like we had been tricked. The Lord had not taken her. He had returned her to us. a reel in my mind was the reminder, "Sometimes He doesn't. Sometimes He takes them. Sometimes that is His plan. What if that had been His plan? Why, Lord? What are you trying to teach me? I don't think I'll survive learning this lesson."

As I sat, thinking and praying, talking to the Lord through all my feelings, I remember having this picture flash in my mind. 

I could see that stupid blood clot in her lung, surrounded by blood vessels. It made her hand numb and her foot tingle and her heart race and her eyes jump strangely. I could see it, looming like a bullet. 

And then, I saw a hand, big and strong and nail-scarred, reaching out. I saw that hand open up and close around the clot in an iron fist.

"I am the sustainer of life."
"I am her protector."
"I am trustworthy."
"I am strong."
"I am mighty to save."
"I am close beside the brokenhearted."
"I am a miracle worker."
"I am with you when the miracle is different than you think it should be."
"I am always working for your good."
"I am never surprised by things that surprise you."

As I shared the picture the Lord had given me with a friend who had been on the trip as well, she stopped me after the description of the fist holding the clot. 

"Did Faith tell you I said that on the trip?" 
I blinked. "No. What did you say?"
"I felt like the Lord told me to tell her that He was holding whatever was wrong with her in His hand, and she could trust Him to take care of it."

And I cried again.

All that the Lord is teaching us is still in process. It's only been a few months. She's still on blood thinners to make absolutely sure the clot is dissolved. She has to have her blood checked once every other week. She has to monitor how much vitamin K she eats so as not to counteract the thinners.

But...the Lord Jesus reached His hand into her chest and held that clot in His grip. It did not take her life. 

He sustained her very breath.

I wonder how many times He does that for us, and for those we love, without us even thinking to acknowledge Him for it? This was a big, obvious miracle. I sometimes sit and watch her breathing and thank Him for each rise and fall of her chest. we thank Him before we see that BIG display? Do we recognize Him as the only One truly sovereign over life, death, and all that is between? Do we praise Him when the crisis turns out differently? When the one He sustains is the one left behind? Is that not still a miracle?

It was for me, when my sister died. It was a miracle that He sustained me. I found His presence to be life itself. 

I questioned His sovereignty, and my faith was shaken...but He was with me then. And He was with me when I didn't know exactly HOW BIG this thing was He was asking me to trust Him in. 

I'm glad we didn't find out what was wrong with her before she went. We never would've let her go. And then...whatever things the Lord had prepared for her to do there and learn there...all that her brother learned there because he had the added load of caring for her...all of it would've been missed.

I'm convinced the Lord intentionally didn't make it clear. Because He was offering us an invitation to know Him in a new way. A way I will never cease to see every time she takes a deep breath.

Only He is the sustainer of life. Only He is sovereign.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Sovereign - part 2

"I think I’ve made a horrible mistake. I shouldn’t have gotten on this plane. I shouldn’t be here.”
Fewer words could’ve been more discouraging than these, but I couldn’t get them out of my head. I had heard these thoughts replay over and over again for about thirty minutes before I had made myself feel even sicker. I had gotten up to go to the bathroom to cry a few times before but this time the 'fasten seat belt' sign kept me in my chair. My brother, Clay, was sitting next to me and quickly noticed when tears started streaming down my face. He asked what was wrong and without thinking, I made my thoughts audible.
“I am so sick Clay. I should’ve stayed home. I shouldn’t be here. I’ve made a horrible mistake. I can’t stand being on this plane anymore. I just want to go home.” 
Tears and sobs escaped my soul in a slightly suppressed manner so I wouldn’t make a scene. It had been a VERY long day, complete with throwing up teenagers, delayed flights, and middle-of-the-airport-floor card games. An emotional breakdown did not need to be added to the chaos of traveling. We sat there for a minute with my head on his shoulder, me sobbing and him probably wondering “what the heck am I going to say to this crazy lady?” 
He answered me in a low tone, and it was only then that I could hear he was crying too.
“I don’t know a lot of things. I don’t know WHY you are sick. I don’t know WHY God wants you on this trip. I don’t even know why I’M on this trip. All I know is you ARE supposed to be here. I think I’m on this trip to be here right now for you. You’re going to make it.”
He was right about most of that. The only thing he was wrong about was the hypothesis that he was only on the trip for me. The Lord had more purpose for him than just caring for me. However, in that moment he understood and accepted the fact that sometimes the Lord just sends us for one person, and that’s enough of a reason to go.
Let me take you back to the 24 hours before embarking on this rigorous journey for a moment. We had already spent a long Sunday evening in and out of various medical centers trying to figure out what was wrong. The next morning (Monday) I woke up to my mom saying, “They worked us in this evening. Somebody cancelled last minute. Your imaging is at 6:20pm tonight.” That was cutting it close, but as long as we could get good results by 9:00am Tuesday morning, I could get on the plane. The hours that followed were miserable. I wasn’t strong enough to stand for more than a few minutes at a time, let alone finish any of the last-minute packing that still needed to be done. Thankfully, my mom and brothers helped me finish (Really they just did it for me). I had a packed bag, a scheduled brain scan, and a whole lot of hope. I also had a spinning head, a racing heart, and a numb hand, but I wasn’t about to let any of those things ruin what the Lord had planned for me. He had told me to go to Kazakhstan, so that is what I was going to do even if it killed me. 
We were just about to pull out of the imaging center when my mom gasped and said, “Faith, look!” I stared in the direction her finger was gesturing and there was the most beautiful rainbow. It was then that I felt the Holy Spirit speak, calming me with these words, “I promised you would go back someday. Don’t forget, I’m pretty good at keeping promises.” 
After we got home, the waiting began. It didn’t take long for my primary care doctor to call and let us know there was nothing that alarmed them on my MRI. It wasn’t until the next morning that we heard about the other imaging of my brain. That one was clear too, so I was mostly okay to fly. We still didn’t know what was wrong with me, but we had scheduled some appointments for after the trip. I was still sick and could hardly get out of bed. I questioned for a long time whether I should go or not (let me be honest, I had a few emotional breakdowns along the way, too). Eventually I stopped crying long enough to listen to the Lord, but His came through my brother Clay’s mouth. “You aren’t going to weigh down the team. We all care about you enough that we will carry you through this trip if you get worse. If everybody else gets too tired, I won’t.” When Clay stopped speaking, I still felt the Holy Spirit talking to me. “I will not let you fall this time. You are weak, but I am strong. I’m going to teach you how to do ministry from a place of rest. It’s time for you to slow down. I know you hate that, but that’s why I had to interfere.”
So, I went. But on that plane from Frankfurt to Almaty, I broke down. I lost sight of what the Lord had said to me and of what he had promised me. My doubts were bigger than my faith, I’m sorry to say. I’m just thankful the Lord didn’t leave me in that place.
Every day was a series of battles, but the Lord always fought for me. I still got crazy tired and sick occasionally, but my team was very patient and very caring. When I would lay down or sit up, my head would spin, but throughout the day I could see clearly.
 It wasn’t until the last night of kids’ camp that I realized the Lord could not only sustain me, but he could ACTUALLY be the strength that kept me going. Previously that day I had been bed ridden yet again. Almost everybody at this point had an ailment of some sort. I wasn’t even the only one unable to function. One of our team members suggested that we all get together to pray over the sick before the event that evening. We worshiped and prayed for a long time and we even anointed each other with oil (thank you "aunty" Jam for the peppermint oil contribution to our prayer session). Y’all would not believe the miracle that followed. Each and every one of us, including the bed-ridden, were given new life. Not one of us looked or felt the affects of our sicknesses. Some of us were temporarily healed, and others were permanently healed. We all made it to the event with a skip in our steps. We worshiped and danced and listened to the lesson (it was in Russian, so we just nodded along as if we understood). Now this night already felt like a success, but I hadn’t seen anything yet.
I was about to learn the lesson that my brother had learned before the trip. “If it is all only for the one person, it is worth it.” I stepped out of the event when I noticed a young girl laying on a couch in the next room. I went in and asked the woman who was with her what was wrong, and they said she had passed out. I couldn’t do anything. I was helpless. She was helpless. But my God was not. He had just healed a dozen people. Surely, He could do it again. I sat down with her. I prayed. I sang. I waited. I don’t know how long I was in that room with that girl, but that’s not important. What was important was she was the one I was sent for. And I did everything the Lord needed me to do that day in HIS strength, not my own. The connection I made with that girl will last forever. When she woke up, it was like nothing had ever happened. The Lord was her strength too. She clung to me for the rest of the trip. Thinking about her sweet little voice brings tears to my eyes. She wasn’t the only person I feel I was sent for. The Lord did His work through my body in other ways too, but as we were departing from Almaty, Kazakhstan, I knew that if I endured all that just for God to touch that little girl, it was worth it.
Still so many unanswered questions, but one thing I was sure of, I would never be the same again.
The wheels left the ground and I held my breath…

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Sovereign - part 1

It was a regular day.

I rose early, like I always do. I made coffee. I let the dogs out. I did my Bible study. I went to the gym. 

When I returned home from working out, sweaty and exhausted and needing a snack, I was greeted by a strange sight.

My 17-year-old was laying flat on her back on the couch. At 10 a.m. She was pale, and when I said hi, her response was weak.

"I feel really dizzy," she commented. "Like, if I sit up I want to throw up because my head starts spinning so bad."

I am not an alarmist mom. Never have I ever been. I'm much more likely to say "rub some dirt on it and suck it up and go" than I am to take a child to the doctor. In fact: I once made this same dizzy child walk around for 3 days on what I diagnosed as a twisted ankle before finally caving in and taking her to the doctor. It was fractured. Poor kid. BAD mom.

So, I did what I always do when a child is sick or hurt. I listened, I asked questions, and then we moved forward with our day. I gave her a snack, some headache medicine, and a big glass of water.

She was leaving for a missions trip in 5 days, after all. No time to be sick. Too much to do.

But she didn't get better, not really. She's tough, and rallied a bit. But she looked pale and weak. Concerned medical friends encouraged me to take her to the doctor.

So a Sunday afternoon found us at Urgent Care.

As we sat there, waiting, listening to the doctors discuss her symptoms and say big, scary words like "heart murmur" and "eye-abnormality" and "brain issue" that they wanted to rule out...

I had this slow-motion, internal meltdown.

It wasn't just a regular day anymore. It wasn't just a lack of proper nutrition or hydration or nerves that were making her sick. SOMETHING WAS WRONG.

But I kept my face neutral. Because she kept looking over at me from the exam table. Seeking support from my eyes. Checking on me to see if I was okay.

She knows me well, this first-born of mine. SO I looked at her only when my eyes were clear, and spoke only when I could get words out past the block of panic in my throat. I gripped my phone tightly in my fingers to still the shaking.

It was such a long day. I won't bore you with the details of emergency rooms and doctors who thought I was being overly dramatic, or nurses and attending physicians who told my child there was nothing wrong with her but that, to be safe, she shouldn't go on her trip. There's no reason to rehash how I was totally calm with the doctors and nurses, but how I straight up dissolved into a basket case when we were alone. 

My husband and daughter looked at me, and I knew they knew I was barely holding on. 

"I cannot be involved in this decision," I said finally, my voice trembling and tears spilling over. "Rationally I know that I cannot be rational. I'm freaking out. So I'm going to just sit here."

Because, you see...Sundays can start off normal, and they can end up being the beginning of a spiral of pain you don't think you'll survive. 

I had lived a Sunday just like this before. With hospital rooms, and brain abnormalities, and unanswered questions. My sister...she died...on the mission field...of a brain bleed...

And everyone who looked at me was thinking "she's being overly cautious because of her history..." One of the doctors even SAID that to me.

So I let my rational, logical husband and daughter discuss what we wanted to do next. And I trembled, and my jaw shook from holding back my terror, and I could not get warm enough, no matter how close I snuggled to my girl in that tiny, sterile bed.

We left the hospital with only a few questions answered. She wasn't pregnant (no kidding, stupid doctors) or on drugs ( kidding) or anemic. They had done preliminary blood work only, and found nothing of interest. So...we returned home.

Her primary care doctor was as unsatisfied as we were with the lack of results and answers. So there was more waiting, and more tests. And still no pinpointed reason for her dizzy spells and heart palpitations and eye-abnormality. Tuesday morning dawned, a brain bleed had been ruled out. That was what we needed to know for sure before deciding whether or not she could get on a 15+ hour flight. 

I won't lie. I have never been more afraid. The shaking was only barely concealable. I was on the brink of tears all of the time. 

Her doctors really didn't want her to go. Since we had no reason for why she wasn't well...they wanted her to stay. 

My husband and I talked alone, agonizing over what to do. "Do we let her decide? It seems like such a big thing to ask of her. Do we just tell her she can't go? It'll break her heart. And what if it's the wrong thing? What if we stand in the way of what God wants her to do?"

I sobbed. I begged God to give us a clear directive. did she. 

Because she was afraid too. For herself, yes, and for me. She knew, even though I was trying so hard to hide it, that I was triggered worse than I ever had been. She knew I looked at her and I saw my sister leaving, and that I couldn't stop the reel in my head that went "you hugged her goodbye and you never saw her again..." 

It choked me with its terror, those memories. And so I looked at my kid...pale, undecided and trying to be brave for me, and I told her the truth. "You cannot make this decision because you're worried about me. The Lord was with me when your Aunt Joy died. He will be with me if you go on this trip. If you feel like He is telling you to go...I'll be okay. Ask Him what He wants you to do, and do that. If you want to stay, that's okay too. But you decide, for YOU, what He wants."

An hour before we needed to leave for the departure of the trip, she said to us, "I think I'm going to go."

And I swallowed hard, and my husband nodded.

And we held our breath for the next two weeks.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Hands-off Parenting

I pulled out my kids' baby books the other day. (Yes, I have birth-one-year-old scrapbooks for each of my kids. No, I do not have them all completed. You can now cease judging me.) 

I was showing them to the kids and we were giggling abut the fact that every single one of them had NO hair until they were around a year old, as well as how fat some were and how many naked shots I had captured of know, the usual things to do when looking at baby pictures.

In all 4 of the books, there is a "Baby dedication" page, which has a certificate given by the church we were attending at the time, as well as a couple shots of us standing in front of the church, holding that particular child, while the pastor and the leadership team prayed for us. 

In every single one of those pictures, I am noticeably emotional. I'm holding my baby tightly in my arms, and my eyes are closed...and I'm crying. My husband is standing beside me, with his hand on my back, and his head is bent over my shoulder. It's almost as if he's curling himself around us, me and the baby, in protection.

I looked at these pages in all 4 books, a little bit surprised by how similar the pictures were in each. 

I can't remember the exact prayers that were prayed over us and our children on those days...but I can remember a version of my own prayer. 

If you've been through one of these times, you can too.

"Help us, Lord. Help us to raise them well. Teach us how to teach them. Guide us as we guide them. Protect them from the enemy. Give them a heart to follow You. Thank You for giving them to us. Give us strength to be good stewards of Your little ones."

You know the drill. We stand up in front of a church and we declare that our children are really His. And we mean theory. 

But we don't really know what we are saying, do we?

Until the rubber meets the road, and then...then we backpedal. 

And we are totally justified in our concern for them, our desire to protect them, our need to be sure they are doing things correctly. We've been the sole providers or information they need for life...they know all that they know because we told it to them. Every feeling they've ever had has been filtered through us. We've nurtured them, we've coached them on how to respond, we've held them when they were hurt, and brokenhearted, and afraid...we've cheered for them, encouraged them, spoken love over them when we saw how much they needed to hear it, reminded them of verses that have helped us in life...

But suddenly...suddenly we are faced with something, with an opportunity, to take our hands off and let them truly be in His.

And we freeze.

Or at least, I do. Every time. 

As new parents we can be grateful for the blessing of small beginnings. Rarely does the Lord present us with an opportunity for something terrifying regarding our children before He has given us a chance to practice on a small scale.

The first time a kid on a playground is mean to your kid, for example...we all think we will handle ourselves with maturity. But I promise you, we all have visions of grabbing a brat by their ear and hauling them away from our heartbroken or injured child. We may not actually intervene. We might restrain ourselves and speak with our child later about how there will always be rude, rough, unkind people in our lives and we will have to learn how to respond, and how to invite them to make better choices...but you can BET we have internal dialogue with that horrid child AND their inept, useless parents for hours and days after the incident. 

We will usually harness our worries and do the things that are socially acceptable. We send our kids to children' church, or school, or a friend's house to play. We allow them to get into disagreements with other kids and we don't step in unless its clear that there is no headway being made and the situation is becoming toxic. We give them picture Bibles for their birthdays and encourage them to read them, but don't force it. (They have to become people who love His word on their own, after all.) We swallow our terror when they go on hikes or to concerts or even just bike rides to the end of the street, taking them out of our line of sight for several moments...

But we learn to adapt, as they grow, don't we? We start out protecting them from every germ, but eventually we allow them to venture into the germ infested world, and we pray that we've given them enough healthy immunities to withstand what will come their way. 

I have never been a helicopter mom. I'm not saying that makes me cooler than anyone else. Far from it. I'm actually the mom who is like "meh...go ahead and play in the deep end of the pool. Just don't drown while I'm not looking, okay?" Which I realize is rather unacceptable from a loving mother point of view...

As they grow up, and begin to (gulp) drive, and have (gulp) crushes on people, and go to (gulp) prom, and on (gulp) missions trips...I become aware of the fact that I may not outwardly express helicopter mom tendencies...but I totally have them.

"You want to go on a missions trip? Fine. You dad will go too. Or me. Or one of your grandparents." 

I'm not saying its not scary to let your kids go to another country for missions work...but I AM saying that sending them without one of their lifelong protectors along for the trip...that is a new level of terror for this mom.

I've spent WEEKS helping my 17 and 15 year-old prepare. Packing a literal pharmacy of things they might need. "If you can't poop, take this. If you can't stop pooping, take this. If you're sneezing repeatedly, take this. If you get scraped, put this on it. If you get bit, put this on it. EVERY DAY, brush your teeth and wash your feet and armpits, even if you don't get to take a shower. Here are the things you'll need to do that in the absence of a bathroom."

So many plans, so much intentional, careful packing, such an abundance of coaching and advice. 

They have indulgently listened to me, and laughed at me, and nodded in response to me, for weeks. I've pounded it into their skulls, and told them to remind each other, of everything to do and not do for the next two weeks. They zipped their luggage and we hauled it all to the airport, and I knew they were entirely prepared.

But I was not.

Because suddenly, without my conscious consent, I had arrived at a moment in parenting that I was not ready to face.

I stood there watching them holding their passports and boarding passes, their pillows and backpacks...and I could not breathe. 

"Don't go. Come back. Be my babies again. Climb onto my lap so I can shield you from sickness and hurt and hardship."

I had literally screamed it to my empty car while running last minute errands for them the day before.

"God...I cannot do it. I cannot. I'm afraid. You're asking too much. They're my children...don't make me send them."

And He wouldn't have, I know. He would've loved me even if I had told them they couldn't go. Even if He asked them, and my husband and I, to say yes to Him, but we chose to say no...

He remains faithful even when we are faithless.

But...every time I wanted to tell them not to go, the words stuck in my terrified throat. 

I gasped for breath. I cried. I squeezed my hands into fists so tight that my nails bit into my palms...

But when it came to that final moment...we let them go.

We told them we were so proud of them for saying yes to the Lord, despite their own fears. We promised to pray for them every day. We encouraged them to pray and read their Bibles. We reminded them to be on the lookout for what the Lord wanted them to do and say. We told them to look out for each other.

We did our best to hide our panic from them, and we sent them to obey the Lord. 

And somehow, in that last moment when I watched them walking away, I could see into their futures. I saw them as parents, standing in airports, waving goodbye to their own missionary kids, swallowing their own fears...

If I stopped them now...I would be teaching my children to step back when they were afraid, instead of forward. I would be training them wrong.

I saw the picture of that moment of dedication, and I remembered that we said they were really the Lord's...

So I waved, and held up the "I love you" sign, and watched them respond the same...until they were out of my sight.

And then I had a meltdown in my car. 
Because letting them be His is HARD. The hardest thing ever.

But I had good teachers. My parents sent us on missions trips. They stood in airports and waved. They prayed through sleepless nights. They smiled when they wanted to beg us not to go.

And if they hadn't done it...I wouldn't know how to. 

They sent their three oldest grandchildren to the mission field this week. And I'm not sure it wasn't just as scary for them as it was for my brother and I. But they smiled, and they gave them snacks, and they laid hands on them and prayed for them to be strong and courageous and full of the Spirit.

And they will be. I know it. Because my parents said YES when they wanted to say NO WAY.

And it gave us the courage to GO. And someday, when I send my grandchildren on missions trips...I'm going to remember those pictures of my babies being dedicated to the Lord. And I'm going to remember these pictures, of us as parents putting into action what we said...but didn't know we would have to one day DO.

"I see YOU, Father. Thank You for inviting me to live with my hands open, even though I so often clench them tight. Thank You for being patient with me as I kick and scream against the path, and for giving me a new opportunity to trust YOUR children into YOUR careful, capable hands."

Monday, July 15, 2019

New eyes. His heart.

Have you ever wondered why we, as followers of Christ, are called to be missionaries?

I mean, we all know the overarching answer, obviously. We are commanded to tell the world about Jesus, about the beauty of relationship with Him, about His victory over sin. Additionally, if we are doing it right, we are inviting people into a camaraderie of family and the joy of fellowshipping together.

But the Lord showed me something new today; a glimpse of His heart that I had never seen before. 

Today I hosted some of my dear friends who are visiting America from Kazakhstan. My daughter and my sons and I planned for weeks. We invited everyone who knew the family, plus anyone else who wanted to fellowship, to come. There were more than 50 people in and out of my house over the course of the day. It was loud and chaotic...and completely wonderful. 

I've said before that its hard to explain how attached you become to people you meet in other countries. And I still think that's true. But the reason I used to think it was true...has shifted some.

There is great friendship to be found when you're working alongside local believers to advance the Good News in a country. 

But...I've come to realize, over the day, that the heart of God Himself is made more clear as we step outside our own culture and embrace another. 

He is the one who made us all so wonderfully complex and diverse, after all. And there is something about His heart that we simply cannot know unless we set foot on another continent, and clasp hands with a Christian from the other side of the world. There is a depth of love that is undeniable, unexplainable, when you are side by side with a person, and the words you can share are few, but your spirits resonate together in perfect communication.

I saw it, today, in my 9 year old son. He has become fast friends, pals forever, with a little boy from Kazakhstan, a boy he met only a few days ago. They can't talk easily...but they are knit together in heart. I cannot ever describe the way my own heart aches with happiness when I realize that these little ones are seeing, and recognizing, the Spirit of God within each other.

I come from a family where missions, both foreign and domestic, is a deeply rooted passion. As far back as Hudson Taylor, there are missionaries in my ancestry. But until I became a missionary myself...until I went to the other side of the world and kissed the cheeks of my sisters there...and prayed for them and was prayed for by them...and sweated alongside them...and wept with them...and laughed, and ate, and traveled, and sang...I didn't know that piece of the heart of my God.

The part that loves us so greatly that He made us with gaps in our souls. Gaps that find fulfillment in the knowledge that we are all together, all one, in Him. We can eat foods we aren't familiar with, and learn new games, and butcher the pronunciation of each other's words...and its precious. It's priceless. Its the most cherished thing.

Look at the faces. Look at them. Can you see His heart? Can you see their joy in each other's company? The strengthening of spirit that comes as they sit together?

Isn't He clever, our God? The blessing of obeying His call to missions isn't only about preaching the gospel after all.

It's about seeing Him in the eyes, in the hearts, in the smiles of your true family. His family.

Game crew!

Coffee and dessert, and a discussion of culture, ethnicity, and the Lord

Wonder Women!

Gabe and his new best friend, Ansat