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.