Four Dimensional Love

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“And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.”–Ephesians 3:18 (NLT)

How wide.
How long.
How high.
How deep.

It’s the love of God in four dimensions.

Another Bible translation uses language that is more mathematical:  width, length, depth and height. Dimensions are “measurable extents” according to Google’s dictionary.

I’m not a physicist or mathematician, but I know that four dimensions aren’t easily expressed with a pencil and a piece of paper.

If asked to represent the first dimension, I would draw a line. For the second, I might choose a square and for the third a cube. But what about the fourth dimension?

4D

We live in a 3D world, and anything beyond that is hard to visualize.

Maybe plotting points would help. For the first dimension, we can move left or right on a line and designate any point as x. Add another axis and we can move left or right AND up or down to plot (x,y). In 3D, we can still move left, right, up, and down, but we don’t stop there. Now we can also move forward or backward, adding depth to shapes and a third coordinate when we plot the point (x, y, z).

3D plot points

The natural progression of this thinking would be to move to the fourth dimension, adding another axis and another coordinate (x, y, z, ?).

But I can’t fathom that, let alone picture or draw it. I’d venture to say that most people hit a mind block at this point.

Still, Einstein envisioned a fourth dimension and called it time. This is like having an appointment at the corner of Broadway and Main St., on the 4th floor, at 9am. Four pieces of information, or coordinates, are needed to fully describe it (x, y, z, t).

Ephesians 3:18 says that the love of God is the same way. Our minds can easily think and visualize in 3D, because it’s the pattern of the world we see every day. But three dimensions aren’t sufficient to describe God’s love. It’s beyond comprehension, yet the verse itself is Paul’s prayer that we would “have the power to understand” or in the NKJV, “may be able to comprehend” the dimensions of God’s love.

Dr. Math from mathforum.org says that the fourth dimension can represent things other than time, say temperature or pressure. So, I could describe the length, width and height of an object. That’s easy to picture, but how do you “see” the temperature of that same object? Or the amount of pressure it exerts?

The same struggle arises when we try to understand the four dimensional love of God from a 3D perspective. We’re accustomed to believing what we can see and touch–things that can be easily quantified.

We’ve been taught that God loves us, and we believe it. But throw in an extended length of time between our prayer request and the answer, and we start to doubt.

We read that God is love and that His love never fails, but when life’s temperature is turned up we get frantic.

We know that the perfect love of God casts out fear, but as the pressure of circumstances increases, we become afraid.

All of us do this at times, and it’s understandable really, but it’s not God’s intention for how we experience His love. That’s why Paul prayed that we would grasp the reality of God’s kind of love.

To truly know God’s love, we have to look beyond what we’ve always seen to what we can’t see yet but know is there. That requires eyes of faith.

Faith to believe that the God’s love stretches longer than the years we’ve waited for answers and that it doesn’t buckle under pressure or deteriorate as temperatures rise.

Because the love of God is high enough to bridge the gap between heaven and earth.

“Your love, Lord , reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.”–Psalm 36:5

It’s longer than the furthest reach of time.

“But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord ’s love is with those who fear him …” Psalm 103:17

The love of God is as wide as the arms of Jesus stretched out on the cross–wide enough to embrace us all.

And His love is deep.

“There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.”–Corrie ten Boom (This from a woman who endured the Holocaust.)

So when Romans 8:37-39 says that “overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us” and that “nothing can ever separate us from God’s love,” it really means NOTHING.

God’s love extends in all directions with no boundary to curb it. It’s unbroken by time, unconditional by nature, and impenetrable to any force that would try to break its power.

That kind of love may be hard to grasp from a 3D vantage point, but it’s real and it’s the reason we can trust our loving God through every situation.

 

The Good Shepherd

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It’s hard to explain what it feels like to stand face to face with a moment that you know you’re not strong enough for. A moment that should leave you crumbling to the floor, collapsed under the pain and the fear and the weight of it all. Even harder to describe is the feeling of meeting that moment and realizing you are not alone.

When waves of love crash harder than fear and the hand of God holds on with a strength that the enemy could never match. When peace doesn’t make sense but it flows like a river and grace is tangible, holding steady through the storm.

When the Holy Spirit whispers and God’s people speak so that life-giving words chase down and stomp out the doubt-filled ones. When the prayers of many literally lift you up and out of the pit.

I never wanted to be here. Here in this ICU, so sterile and anxious and full of pain. Watching over my baby girl, curled up small in a hospital bed way too big. Hooked up all over to machines that blink their numbers and beep with apprehension.

I didn’t want to be here, and I don’t want to be here, but I’m so thankful that I’m not alone.

Olivia had been crying all day–not just crying but having what one doctor termed “episodes.” This is what he called it when she started to cry out, gasping for air with her head arched back and eyes large with fear. Her lips and hands would turn blue. The oxygen stats would drop and her body went stiff in my arms as I tried to coax her into breathing again.

It happened over and over and the episodes stretched longer until we landed in the ICU. The doctors said it’s neurologic and a progression of the genetic disorder. They said there are two options:  we can treat it aggressively with strong sedatives meant to calm her nervous system (risking possible intubation or a tracheostomy) or make her comfortable and take her home on hospice.

The doctor’s words and the magnitude of it all hit me hard. I didn’t and don’t feel strong enough for the moment, but even as my own strength failed, His strength came barreling in. My Father keeps catching me and holding me and bolstering me up.

Because “grace sufficient” and “strength made perfect in weakness” aren’t just words from 2nd Corinthians, left by the pen of a man far removed from you and me. They’re livable truth, spoken from the mouth of our living, ever-present, never-changing God.

He is the only reason I can tear my eyes away from the O2 and respiratory stats long enough to type this. His voice is louder than the sound of science and medicine, and His promises are truer than the symptoms so evident.

He’s a God who is so good that He started preparing my heart even before I knew I needed it. He saw what was coming and tenderly drew my attention to the truth that would sustain me.

The night before the episodes got worse, Morphine and Toradol had provided a little bit of quiet and I was reading in John 10.

There are times you read the Bible just because you know it’s good for you. You take it in like vitamins, whether or not any remarkable revelation comes. Then there are times when the Word of God jumps of the page, illuminated in a way that reaches past the mind and changes the landscape of the heart.

My heart’s landscape changed as I read about Jesus, the Good Shepherd:

“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”

“He walks ahead of them, and they follow Him because they know His voice.”

He “sacrifices His life for the sheep.”

The hired hand abandons the sheep when things get tough, and the thief only wants destruction, but Jesus is different. So very different.

The contrast is stark:

“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”–John 10:10

It reminded me of Deuteronomy 30:19, and I turned there:

“I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that  I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days … ”

Life. Abundant life. Poured out by the One who gave his life for mine and for Olivia’s. Jesus who walks ahead, calls us by name, and leads us out.

The image of Jesus as The Good Shepherd came alive to me, and I saw that there is no life apart from Him. Trusting in anyone or anything else is a treacherous substitute–a hireling that runs when the wolf comes.

So, when the moment came, I knew. I knew because I know the voice of the Good Shepherd.

The question … option 1 or 2? Aggressive treatment or hospice? I knew that this question, even though it’s the most difficult we’d ever faced, wasn’t the most important one. Olivia’s future doesn’t hang on a doctor’s expertise or even her parents’ wisdom. She belongs to Jesus and is forever secure in His arms.

He loves her. Oh, how He loves her, and He would give everything–He has given everything–so that she (and you and I) can have His kind of life.

Jesus IS life, and the more pressing question is do I trust that? Do I trust Him? Will I choose life by clinging to Him, refusing to follow the voice of another? The enemy–the wolf–would love nothing more than to sneak over the fence and  steal my heart and my peace and more. The hireling–this world and the artificial life it offers–will bail on me when things get rocky.

But Jesus never will.

This path that our family is walking is hard. It hurts and it’s scary and just … hard. But more than anything I’ve ever known for sure, I KNOW that Jesus won’t leave Olivia and He won’t leave me. I know that His heart is for us and His plans are good. Olivia is safe in His arms. Robert and I are too. No matter the path or how rough the terrain, He will guide us through. He is the Only One who can lead us to real life, and we choose to follow Him there.

I know that so many of you are praying for Olivia. Robert and I are so thankful. Keep praying. Our God is able! He works miracles! We believe He is doing and will continue to do miracles in and through Olivia’s life.

Right now, Olivia is resting well. The sedatives are allowing her to rest, and she hasn’t had any episodes since the “agressive” treatment started this morning. She is breathing well on her own, despite the strong medicine. The doctor’s plan is to give her body a chance to rest while they find the right combination of medicines to better control the episodes.

At best, the doctors offer Olivia more time and a measure of comfort.

Jesus offers more. He always offers more, and we choose to place Olivia in His hands and follow wherever He may lead.

The picture I attached to this blog is one of my favorites of Olivia. This is how I see her–smiling and laughing and full of joy. 


A Different Kind of Blessing

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I look down at the face of my “special needs” child, unaware of anything but her sweet smile, and I completely understand why God made me oblivious.

As a young girl, I walked down hallways with my nose in a book, running into walls. In Walmart, mom would scold me for wandering off, my attention totally fixated on a tube of lip gloss or a pair of flip-flops.  Strangers had to choose another path for their shopping carts as attempts to move past me went unnoticed.

I wasn’t trying to be rude. I simply lived in my own world. Life and necessity have drawn me out of that bubble, but there is still a bit of oblivious left.

I was pushing Olivia in her stroller the other day, preoccupied by beautiful scenery, when someone asked if she has special needs. It caught me by surprise. She wasn’t wearing her glasses or hearing aids, and the fact that she doesn’t walk yet was hidden by the umbrella stroller. To me, she looked like any other 3-year-old, and while the question didn’t offend me, it did make me wonder how many curious glances I’ve missed.

If the looks happen, it’s probably better that I don’t often notice. Through her mother’s eyes, Olivia is purely a gift—a bundle of joy and contagious laughter. There is no other person on earth that can make me smile as easily and as often as she can.

Yes, at times my mommy-heart aches for my little girl to know the wonder of the sound of chirping birds or the intricacy of a butterfly’s wings. It’s true that sometimes I check for a fever and get bombarded by fear. I find myself praying for healing often, and the petition for grace, strength and faith is a daily one. I do get tired of doctors and hospitals, but I’ve never seen myself as the bearer of any great burden.

Once in a while, someone says something that, if only for a moment, makes me look for some reason I should be feeling sorry for myself:

“Bless your heart.”

“That’s a lot to deal with.”

“It takes a special kind of parent.”

They mean well, but comments like these puzzle me. They seem startling and out of place in my little world–the one where I am the bearer of this great blessing.

———-

Please don’t feel sorry for me. My mind can hardly register pity through the strong sense of privilege that fills my soul.

I may not know what it’s like to have a conversation with my daughter, but when she wraps her arms around my neck and pulls me close, there are no words.

I’ve never watched my baby take her first toddling steps, but when she feels her way across the house without help and crawls up into my lap, I’ve seen a miracle.

I don’t have any funny kid-dialogue to post on Facebook, but the evenings spent just the three of us, laughing because we can’t help it? Those are better than a thousand social media likes.

When we find something Olivia truly enjoys—like dipping her toes in a river or a gooey bite of fried cheese—I feel like a rockstar. She snuggles up on my shoulder, not a care in the world, and I remember why there’s nothing to fear. A new syllable is spoken, or a giant red button deliberately pushed, and I can hardly contain my excitement!

Olivia smiles knowingly for no reason at all, and I sense the presence of God and of angels too, maybe. Her rare glance across the room and directly into my eyes sends me over the moon with happiness.

A burden? Never. She’s a different kind of blessing—one I wouldn’t trade for all of the “regular” blessings in the whole world.

Click Here for Olivia’s Story. 

Fearless Faith

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In our new-parent zeal for baby milestones, we spent hours staring at our newborn just to see what she might do next.

I used to lean over a sprawled out Olivia, cooing, “How much does mommy love her baby girl?” Then, I would answer the question myself as I picked up her tiny arms, flinging them outward:  “Mommy loves Olivia THIS big!”

It was a startle reflex, of course, that caused Olivia to spread her arms and legs wide at the exact moment that I squealed. I’m sure that some logical part of me knew that I was witnessing an ordinary phenomenon called the Moro reflex. (It’s when babies respond to sudden movement by throwing back their heads, extending arms and legs, crying out, then curling up again.) But when Olivia did it, I was sure it was a pent-up declaration of love for me.

The Moro reflex happens when an infant feels like she is falling–the fear of which most experts believe all humans are born with. We’re all born afraid to fall, yet a glance at the picture above will reveal a child in joyous rapture as she is being launched at the sky by her taller-than-average father.

So how does Olivia go from startling at sudden movements, even from the safety of the ground, to laughing gleefully as she is tossed into the trees?

How do you and I go from jolting at every bump in life’s road to resting easy, joyfully even, no matter how far down the ground seems to be?

Faith.

NOT mechanically shouting faith words through a hoarse voice–raspy from trying to prove belief and conceal doubt. What good is it to understand the power of words if you do not trust the heart of God?

Just faith.

NOT praying, “Lord, if it be thy will” with ankles shaking and hands clenched–too scared to ask for what has been freely offered. How sad to realize the peace that comes through submission only to miss out by selling the promises of God short!

Faith can’t be mustered up any more than fear can be wrestled into compliance.

What happens when I speak words of faith because I’m afraid of what might happen if I don’t? What if I stay silent out of fear that believing and speaking won’t make a difference?

Fear just finds a new mask.

Matthew 12:34 says, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

Can a heart full of fear speak faith? Not any more than a deceitful heart can tell the truth.

When we try to draw faith from a well of fear it’s like picking rotting fruit from a bad tree or writing a hot check on an account in default.

Only perfect love casts out fear. Faith comes, not just by hearing, but by receiving the Word of God (I John 4:18; Romans 10:16-21). We hear the good news about Jesus and accept the words as we embrace the One who speaks them.

How can Olivia, afraid of falling since birth, smile as she’s thrown into the air?

She learned firsthand that her father’s hands are the safest place to be.

How can I rest easy in the most fearful of situations?

Only by getting to know my Father so well that I can’t imagine Him ever dropping me.

Faith comes through relationship, and that only happens face to face. I find God’s ability and willingness to come through for me in His written Word, the self-told story of His constant love. In Jesus made flesh, I see perfect dependability and a spotless track record. In the presence of God’s Spirit–always with me and in me–I discover unfailing faithfulness.

Now I am a tree, rooted in Jesus and bearing good fruit.

I write checks on an account in solid standing:  backed by the One who built the bank and based on His enduring promises.

I speak faith-filled words, and they are drawn from a well of deep trust.

When I pray, “Your will be done,” I’m running toward God’s sovereignty, not away from His promises.

I come to Jesus as I did the very first time: like a child, with simple belief. I recognize that He is the basis for my faith and the only rightful source of its expression.

Jesus is both the Author and the object of faith. When I’ve experienced his faithfulness intimately, I can’t help but declare my trust in Him!

Face to face with Jesus, the living Word, I find real faith.

Startle-proof,
Gravity defying,
FEARLESS
Faith

Only Believe

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This is what it feels like to be at a crossroads. That place where a decision demands to be made. Left or right. Believe or don’t. Sink or swim. Live or die.

Trust God or cower in fear.

Here, there is no more time to sit and consider the options; the river’s waters have come to a head, and there are only two choices:  get out now or surrender to the falls.

I hope that every person who has ever read a word I’ve written, especially about Olivia, reads the words I am about to write. Because every tear, prayer, blog post, and God intervention over the last two years has brought me to this moment.

I stand here alone but for Jesus beside me and His Spirit inside me.

You see, Olivia is only almost three. She cannot walk this path for herself. Robert and I walk it together, but in some ways–just as salvation is an intensely personal thing–so is belief in all of who God is and in every promise He’s made. My husband can love me, pray for me, support me, and lead me. But He cannot respond to Jesus’ radical command for me. Only I can do that.

Here, I come face to face with the words that Christ used to pursue me all along:

“Do not be afraid; only believe.”–Mark 5:36 (NKJV)

I suspect Jesus spoke those words many more times than are recorded in the Bible. In this instance, they followed some of the worst words any parent could hear, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further (vs. 35)?”

This father–ruler of the local synagogue–had found himself at a fork in the road. I can relate. I’m OK with troubling the Teacher, because I’ve learned that the Teacher is never troubled by those who come to Him believing. Again and again he was moved by faith. He rejoiced over it. Again and again, He stirs my faith, almost pleading for simple belief. Just as He once did for Jairus, Jesus speaks even before the full magnitude and seeming impossibility of the need is revealed.

“Do not be afraid. Only believe.”

This time, I’m answering Jesus’ bold exhortation full on. The time for subtlety and restraint is over. I choose to let go of all claims to plan B.

Like a starry-eyed gambler recklessly betting everything on a single hand, I’m all in. Only I’m not starry-eyed or reckless at all. My eyes aren’t turned toward a last ditch effort, they are set on the Creator of the universe–my own Father. Reckless would be looking anywhere but to the One who made all and loved all, then sent His Son to save and heal them all (Luke 6:19). Where is the gamble when victory has already been won (I Peter 2:24)?

I’ve written from places of deep pain and been honest about my struggle against fear. I don’t regret that, and I’m sure I will write with tears streaming down my face again. I am human, and Jesus never promised me a life without trouble or sorrow.

But I have never said so clearly or explicitly what I mean to say today. In the past I’ve whispered faith instead of shouting it, tempering my tone to the tune of “what if and who’s reading?” and although I always hope to remain transparent, I will never write about another medical report or health hurdle again unless my next words immediately revert my attention and yours back to Jesus, the only One with the power to answer:

Yes, the diagnosis is bad. Very bad. I’m aware that the doctors expect her to die young. I realize the hearing test showed degeneration.

BUT GOD.

I am not in denial. Glance through any post on this site and you’ll see that. Raw and emotional at times, yes. But not in denial. I’ve simply stared the facts in the face and chosen to exalt the truth instead. “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32).”

The truth is, my daughter’s fate on this earth is in the hands of the same God who holds her eternity. He who died for my sins also died for her healing. The Bible never records a single instance where Jesus did not heal a person who had come to Him asking in faith. “He healed them all (Matt. 12:15).” I would never think to doubt Jesus’ ability or willingness to forgive my sins and secure my eternity. Neither will I doubt the strength of His hand and the compassion of His heart to heal.

The goodness of God cries out, “Only believe!”

I BELIEVE.

Olivia is healed. Her eyes and ears, liver and metabolism. She’s healed, and her future is secure in the promise of God!

I believe. I don’t know the details of what comes next, but I don’t need to know–any more than Olivia needs to know where her next meal is coming from. Her mother will feed her.

My Father will lead me, and I will follow–just as Peter, Andrew, James and John left everything and followed Jesus. These fishermen began with no knowledge of where they were going or how they would get there, but they knew more as they knew Jesus more. Even when they grew old without knowing all there was to know, still they followed. Still they believed.

I believe, and that is all I need to know for now. If you ever see me linger in fear or waver in doubt, please remind me:

Do not fear.

Only believe.

P.S. Today is my birthday, and I want to begin my 29th year by doing more than just talking or writing about my faith. So, I’d like to follow the example of a friend AND take advantage of the extra “Happy Birthday” traffic on my Facebook page and blog to ask you to join my team and shine a light on slavery of all kinds. People all over the world are hurting. Let’s do something. Give $7, and then create a team of your own. Just click the link below. 

Join my 27X7 team & become a FREEDOM FIGHTER. It all starts with us! Join me! #ENDITMOVEMENT

*After I wrote this post, I stopped to think for a moment about how strong words like the ones I’ve written can be painful for those who have lost someone they love, which is most of us. I have grieved over the loss of people very dear to me, and I don’t know why they weren’t healed here on earth. I do know that Jesus won anyway, because they trusted in Him, and He redeemed their lives for eternity. This fact dispels any shadow that death can bring. I think that my grandma–who is now in heaven–would have me believe and fight unwaveringly for Olivia’s healing for as long as I have breath. There is no defeat in following Jesus, and there is every reason to believe Him for every promise–on earth and in heaven. We live believing here and now, even as we set our hearts on eternity, where Jesus will reign victorious forever. “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10).”

 

 

The Answer

Six days ago I was in an ambulance with Olivia being transported to Cook Children’s. A flawed clonidine patch that she had been wearing released too much medicine at once and caused enough chaos to land us in the hospital for a few days. Normally, I would text or call family and friends to let them know, but this time I didn’t. I don’t think my mind wanted to come to terms with another hospital visit so soon after the 6-week one we endured a few months ago.

The ride from Abilene to Fort Worth was a long one, and I spent most of it reading articles about Hurricane Harvey, which was about to make landfall. One story highlighted 10 babies that were transferred from a NICU in Corpus Christi. Cook Children’s Teddy Bear Transport–using planes and ambulances like the one carrying Olivia and me–brought the infants to Fort Worth before the storm hit the Texas coast.

I looked at my own child laid out on a stretcher, and I hurt for the parents of those 10 little ones–families experiencing a storm within a storm.

As the week progressed and the flood waters rose, I teared up at the sight of the elderly wading in water waist deep, of a little girl on a ventilator waiting for rescue, and children seeking refuge on roofs.

In times like that there are more questions than answers:

Should they stay or flee? And if they leave, where will they go?

When will the rain stop and the waters recede?

As of late, my life has been filled with questions too:

Should I call the doctor … again … or wait and see?

Is it time for the medicine I know will put her to sleep, or can we ride this one out?

How much more can I stand to watch her suffer?

They don’t stop there but come tumbling through my mind faster than I can think.

Am I doing enough? … Should I quit my job? … Am I asking too much of the people I love?

So many questions. So few answers. Especially for me … that girl. The one who always wants to know. Why the sky is blue. What the future holds.

We are alive and safe and dry in a home that is secure, and I really shouldn’t struggle so. Yet, I have. This week has just been hard.

It’s the crying that feels endless and that helpless feeling and the sleepless nights.

But really it’s all those questions I don’t have answers for.

There among unanswered questions, hidden at times beneath the rubble of stress and sorrow, a decision remains:

Will I be be swept away by the tide of all I don’t know–caught in a torrent of things I can’t understand? OR, can I choose to settle my heart on the One who is the Answer to every question, the peace in any storm?

Jesus is the Answer when there are no answers.

He is hope where hope doesn’t exist–an anchor that holds, though the winds may rage.

It doesn’t matter that nothing makes sense. He is truth.

My helplessness is not a problem for Him. He is God.

The fact that Jesus is the Answer is enough.

He is enough–this God whose perfect love casts out fear. Who chose to leave heaven, joining our suffering so that all could be made right.

As a mother, I am so fallible. So imperfect. Yet, as much as it hurts me to watch Olivia suffer, I would never leave her alone in that pain.

Am I better than my Father? No. I’m certain it rips at His heart, but still he stays with us in the places where suffering runs deep. He would never leave us alone in that pain.

And unlike me, our God has answers. Real ones. Life altering, soul strengthening answers. He IS the Answer, and He sees a middle filled with peace and joy and an end that is good.

So, I will reframe my questions and look to Jesus as the Answer. It’s less about whether I stay or flee than where I place my trust. Because what I do–while important–is driven (or derailed) by the how. And the question of when is nothing compared to that of who. All of the whats, whens, and whys pale in the face of who Jesus is and how I respond to Him.

Because Jesus is the only Answer that matters.

“Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”–Romans 7:25a (NLT)

Dear You,

I wanted to write a thank you letter, but couldn’t  even decide how to word the greeting, let alone find the words to say how overwhelmed our hearts have been at the outpouring of love toward Olivia and our little family. When I close my eyes to picture the faces of those who have meant so much these past couple of months, I see faithful friends and family who have stood with us from the beginning. I see new friends, and I marvel over the depth of sacrificial love found in this amazing community we came to only one short year ago. I see blurry faces that represent people we’ve never even met, yet you prayed and gave anyway. So, I finally settled on “Dear You,” because if you’re reading this, it means that you care. Robert and I–and Olivia too–are so grateful. Please find yourself in what follows and know that you’ve made a profound impact on our lives. We pray that God will bless you abundantly and that someday, somehow we’ll be able to return the favor.

Dear You,

It’s Monday morning, and we’ve been home a little over a week. Home! Home after 6 long weeks in the hospital. Home in the house you helped clean and unpack so we wouldn’t come back to “empty” or “messy.” Home to the fresh walls you painted as carefully as you would’ve your own. Everywhere I look I see something to be grateful for:  floors that gave me fits but you finished them perfectly, a smooth ceiling where a giant hole once lived, an organized kitchen and a lawn cut (probably several times over in the length of time we’ve been gone). The fridge and freezer are full of leftovers from the wonderful meals you made, and even Echo the dog was well taken care of in our absence.

Around town this week, I’ve seen you in your t-shirts. I saw the pictures and the hashtags from far away too! So many t-shirts–each one proclaiming faith and telling the story of thoughtful, giving hearts. I read the words “Love for Livi,” and we do. We feel your love. I  realize the time and care it must’ve taken to get that many t-shirts out into the world. You didn’t have to do it, but you did.

I think back to the time in the hospital and remember all the times you called or messaged. It was as if God saw that things were getting hard or lonely or scary, and right in that moment, you sent a scripture or a song or an “I love you.” I got on Facebook and felt your prayers as the comments appeared.

A few times it got really tough, and I fought back tears when you walked through the door. You can’t possibly know how much I needed that or what it meant. You made time in a busy day. You drove hours to get to us. Or came from next door, giving selflessly even when your own baby hurt too. You kept coming again and again, and you even stayed through the night when we needed you.

When you visited, you brought hope in the form of stuffed bears and dolls and a lion (like Jesus, the Lion of Judah, you said) and Minnie Mouse (because Olivia will go to Disney too some day). You brought hair spray, snacks and replacement flip flops. You let me borrow your clothes and babysat while I got a haircut that you paid for. You brought meals from the real world when we’d had enough hospital food to last a lifetime. You brought speakers too, so that songs of worship would drown out the hospital sounds. You brought laughter and conversation and friendship, and we love you for it.

When you couldn’t come, you sent your love. You prayed. You asked how things were, and you kept asking. You sent funny stories and the snow balls you knew she loved so much. You held things together at home, loving on kindergarteners and teenagers when we couldn’t. You planned lessons and took care of end-of-school details. The work got done because of you.

You little ones helped too, praying your big prayers. Loving your friend and wanting her home. Making cards with your tiny hands and videos with your sweet voices.

When I think about all that you gave and how God provided for us through you, I’m in awe. We hardly had time to consider the impact of missing paychecks before being showered with the fruit of your selfless generosity. You took up love offerings and gave from what was yours. You bought t-shirts and slipped money in my purse when I wasn’t looking. You thought up ways to help, filling out applications on our behalf, gathering donations, and offering a scholarship. You made it possible for us to focus on sweet Olivia instead of worrying about money.

And when we finally came home, you made us feel so loved. They way you hugged and cheered when I walked into the office at school. How you little ones ran to me in the cafeteria. What a spectacle we made with you stuck to my legs, prattling your stories all the way down our hallway! I almost lost it when we walked through the church’s front doors, getting to go as a family for the first time in months. You lifted your voices, praising God for His goodness in bringing her home, and I could hardly contain the joy of getting to be there with you again.

Most of all you prayed, and I know you’re still praying. You believed, and that hasn’t changed. What we’ve needed and still need more than anything else is for you to stand in faith with us, believing for a miracle. You’ve done that. You’re doing it, and we’re stronger because of you. Thank you.

Love,

Us

Endurance

I was so tired waking up this morning, and all I could think about was how badly I want to go home and how hard it would be to walk through those ICU doors for yet another day. As I was convincing myself to get out of bed, I heard the quiet voice of Jesus speaking to my heart.

“You have need of endurance.”

The words come from Hebrews 10:36:

“For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.”

Endurance is not my favorite word. It reminds me of high school track and field when all I wanted to do was sprint, and anything longer than 200 meters seemed insane to me.

As I became more committed to the sport, my track coach suggested that I run cross country too. He said it would keep me in shape and make me stronger. I agreed to do it, even though the thought of running 2 whole miles set off all of my internal alarm bells.

I remember a race that was held in a park in my hometown. Lots of people that I knew were there, cheering from behind a barrier of bright triangular flags, flapping in the wind. About halfway through the race I got tired. All I could think of was the pain of the stitch in my side, and I quit. I walked off the trail and disqualified myself.

The memory is still so clear, because as I stepped off of the course I experienced a moment of physical relief followed by waves of deep regret. Almost instantly, I realized that if I had just kept going, the finish would’ve been worth the pain.

I also remember a practice run held at the same park. Then too, the pain became too much, urging me to quit. I chose to push through, and not long after, I experienced a “second wind.” Endorphins flooded my body, my stride lengthened, and I was able to finish strong.

What I want is for this 31 day long hospital stay to be over. But what I need right now is endurance. And what I believe is that the finish line will be worth it.

I recognize the second winds–graces from God–that have carried us this far …

–the prayers of preschoolers and more family and friends and strangers than I can count

–a little heart-shaped pillow made by someone I don’t know and covered with anchors that remind me of hope as the anchor of the soul

–the daily calls, messages, and visits that serve as a lifeline and remind me I’m not running alone

–a room at the Ronald McDonald house that has become more a respite than just a soft bed and a place to eat and do laundry

–the husband who sacrifices much to be here, who lets me sleep extra when I know he’s tired, and whose faith steadies me when things feel shaky

–the janitor who offered prayer, the security guard who asked how I was and really wanted to know, the nurse who makes me laugh, the doctor who came when she didn’t have to and the one who spoke hopeful words instead of fearful ones

–the many selfless gifts and the support that has made it easier to be here without worrying

–my new friend and 2nd time neighbor in the PICU, who has every right to think only of her own sweet baby, yet takes the time to love on me and mine too (*When you pray for Olivia, please pray for JaNell and her baby Miguel too.)

–the people who pray fervently, make sacrifices to show up (even in the middle of the night or after a long drive), who don’t stop asking and won’t stop believing, and have shown me the meaning of words like “family,” “friend,” “church,” and “love”

–The God who is nearer than ever before, who has proven His faithfulness time and again, and who orchestrated all of the above (and more that I will share another time)

GOD IS SO FAITHFUL! I can run with endurance, because He runs alongside. He reminds me of the surety of His promises. By his own example, Jesus has shown that the finish is worth the pain.

So I will take another step. That’s all endurance is. Just taking another step in the direction of hope and faith. It’s trusting that I can take another step and it will be OK. That no matter where my foot lands, it’s nothing God can’t handle. It’s believing that there’s victory ahead at the finish line.
*******

Olivia is doing better than the doctors expected. When the they diagnosed her with Steven Johnson’s disease–a severe allergic reaction to a medicine she had been given–they warned us about blisters, skin sloughing off, and involvement with the eyes and mouth that would mean the disease was affecting her internally as well. She has no blisters and no breaking or sloughing of the skin. Her mouth looks great, and there is a ring of white skin around both eyes that the doctors keep marveling over. Praise God, Jesus kept the rash from her eyes! The rash on her body is getting a little lighter each day, and her ears–which were swollen and purple–are almost white and down to normal size. 

Please keep praying that everything will continue improving faster than expected so that we can get out of the PICU and come home. Pray that we’ll stay strong in faith in the meantime and that Olivia won’t be in pain from the rash. Thank you ❤

Broken

Can I just say that I feel broken? Broken, as in incapacitated. Not “together.”

Plenty of times since Olivia’s medical diagnosis, bad news has hit with gale force winds. Mostly, I’ve come up fists swinging. Or at least standing.

But at the end of today, I called myself broken, and I wasn’t wrong.

It was one of those appointments that you dread but know is necessary. For the swallow study, they mixed Olivia’s milk with barium and pointed a mammoth x-ray machine at her tiny, 4-year-old body. She laughed and kicked at the lead apron, and I watched the screen as liquid intended for the stomach escaped into her airway.

My mind had already spun through (and quickly rejected) a half-dozen “easy fix” solutions when I heard two words I’d been hoping never to hear.

I know that a feeding tube is not the end of the world. And, our pediatrician hasn’t yet said whether one is recommended.

But at the beginning of all of this, when we were only starting to understand the scope of what is meant by Peroxisomal Biogenesis Disorder, “feeding tube” got thrown around with other words like “degenerative” and “liver transplant.” Somewhere back there, I shelved all of those words–probably out of sheer need, I don’t know. But I think my mind wanted to put them all away–out of sight, out of mind. Somewhere different than right here and right now.

Today felt like someone reached up and swept a broom over a wall of shelves I’d tried to forget about. I found myself sitting among the rubble, trying to make sense of it all, helpless to put any of the pieces back together.

The technician was finishing the procedure. I busied myself gathering Olivia’s things and struggled to listen as the test results were relayed. Clasping my hands to hide the shaking, I tried to ask all of the right questions and then turned roboticly to follow the green arrows toward the hospital’s main exit.

Driving home with a smiling Olivia in the backseat, I cried for awhile and tried to pray but couldn’t come up with much. At home, I knew my husband was struggling too and that we needed each other badly. Instead of reaching out for him, I turned away and immediately hated myself for it.

Robert prayed, and then he made me get up off the couch and go to church. I sat in the parking lot until the last possible moment. Smiling half-heartedly at a few people, I found my seat and tried not to make eye contact with anyone.

Olivia made it through half of the sermon before she started to whimper. I had known she would be hungry soon. Still, my mind kept going back to the x-ray monitor and the fear that gripped my heart as I watched her food go down the wrong passage. The speech pathologist used the term “silent aspiration,” saying it could cause pneumonia. 

In the church nursery, tears spilled down my face as I held onto Olivia and tried to listen to the end of the sermon over an intercom. I wanted, needed, to do something, so I tried again to pray:

“God, can you please send someone to stand strong for me, because I just can’t right now.”

My heart settled some, and I heard the Pastor’s closing question:

“What do you want this church to be known for?”

He began to talk about a God who is big enough, real enough and who cares enough to work miracles. Then he answered his own question by saying:

“When people need a miracle, I want them to know that they can find one here.”

I heard the pastor ask Robert to bring Olivia up for prayer, so I carried her through the foyer and met my husband at the door.

The prayer, along with a realization of God’s perfectly timed answer to my heart’s cry, washed over me. Peace came again, and I met the eyes of a church family of people who had gathered to stand in faith and offer strength.

Like a bone that must be reset, brokeness opens the door to wholeness.

The God who did not cause my pain is still wise enough to use it for His glory and my good. Only in the emptying of me can I find all the fullness of who He is.

Broken. Incapacitated. Falling apart.

Offensive words, all of them. Unless we consider what Jesus has always able to do with broken things.

The blind see and deaf ears hear.
Ragged relationships are restored.
Hearts too far gone are raised to new life.

When I have nothing to offer, He offers all that is needed. When I am incapacitated (void of strength), His power is working at full capacity. Even if I am faithless, He is still faithful (2 Cor. 12:9; 2 Tim. 2:13).

Jesus Himself modeled for us a pattern of emptying and brokeness, followed by victorious wholeness.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”–Philippians 2:5‭-‬11 ESV

Sometimes, we don’t need to break ourselves or even to pray for brokeness. We only need to admit that we ARE broken and in need of something we cannot get for ourselves.

Know that Jesus’ body broke so that we can have healing. He emptied Himself so we might invite Him to fill every broken place.

The Taste of Cotton Balls

In a kindergarten classroom, a science experiment can be as simple as handing out a few cotton balls.

Not so simple is trying to hold the attention of a room full of 5-year-olds after those cotton balls have been passed out. I saw my mistake just as a flurry of white orbs flew through the air.

Me:  “If you want to keep your cotton ball, hide it in your hands.”

Child #1 swan dives to cover his cotton ball. 

Child #2 twirls as she continues to toss, watching the dwindling snowstorm with dizzy eyes.

Child #3 chants in a sing-song voice, “Cuh – Cuh – cat … Cuh – Cuh – cotton!”

Meanwhile, I temporarily confiscate cotton balls until the room comes back to order. At least I can say that I taught the letter “C” successfully. We’ve got that covered.

It took me awhile to rein my students in and turn their focus toward the five senses. Stopping to point at eyes, ears, mouths, noses, and fingers, we talked about using our senses to discover more about an object.

I was supposed to be teaching about texture, so I asked:

“Which one of your five senses can tell you the most about the cotton ball?”

“TASTE!” one kid shouted with exuberance.

While not exactly wrong, it wasn’t the answer I expected. (Since switching from 4th grade to kindergarten, MOST things have turned my expectations upside down.)

I’d rather not be sued, so I didn’t let them taste the cotton balls. The prospect is interesting, though. Tasting often reveals the true nature of a thing faster than any other sense.

Human eyes can lie. Have you ever been drawn to a beautiful plate of food only to take a bite and put your fork down in disappointment? Ears can deceive as well. (Just consider the language in a 30-second advertisement, and you’ll find this to be true.) But I know immediately after putting something in my mouth whether it is “good” or not.

Kindergarten is teaching me something of what Jesus meant when He told us to “become like children” (Matthew 18:3), because kindergarteners are great at cutting through to the heart of things.

Here’s an excerpt from my conversation with a five-year-old little girl just last week:

*Sally:  Hey teacher?

Me:  (smiling) What’s my name?

*Sally:  Mrs. Chapman?

Me:  Yes, what’s going on?

*Sally:  Me and *Susie were just talking about if you like us or not.

Me:  Of course I like you sweetheart!

*Sally:  I knew you like us! That’s what I told her!

She bounced away with a bright smile on her face, and I stood there for a minute thinking, “If only we were all so willing to ask outright … and so accepting of the truth when the answer comes.”

When it comes to the things of God, “tasting” requires that we come with an open and unjaded heart (or that we are at least willing to place a hardened heart in the hands of the Master Potter.)

Too many times, our spiritual mouths have long been clamped shut. Like a person on the brink of death and no longer willing to take in the sustenance that is needed for life, we refuse to “open up.”

Still, our God beckons us to simply TASTE!:

Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!–Psalms 34:8 NLT

We miss out when we allow fear or the bitter residue left by past disappointment to keep us from coming to God with all the eagerness of a child.

An open and trusting heart makes all the difference. Being willing to relish the goodness of God makes the rest of our senses more reliable. 

We can see the hand of God moving, even in the middle of challenging circumstances. We can listen and discern the truth, because we have tasted of God’s character and know that He is always only good.

How sweet your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey. Your commandments give me understanding; no wonder I hate every false way of life.–Psalms 119:103‭-‬104 NLT

The finest cuisine is wasted if you never open your mouth. So, open wide! You’ll find that God is undeniably good. His peace is sweet. God’s joy is a delight, and His ways–His commands–are exactly what our tastebuds need.

The Cows in Front of Me

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We were driving home late last night, and mom nearly plowed through a herd of cows that had escaped their fence and were holding a cattle convention in the middle of the highway.

It reminded me of a story I’d heard my dad tell about the time he killed 7 black cows on a country road in the wee hours of the morning. Apparently it was too dark to see them until one of the beasts came crashing through the windshield of his light blue Buick Regal. The following Christmas, my uncle took some black cattle from his sons’ toy farm set and glued them to a blue Hot Wheels car as a gag gift.

Thankfully, OUR loitering livestock were headed up by a heifer of the white variety–allowing mom to swerve just as her headlights illuminated the ghostly, four-legged figure. She then performed a few evasive driving techniques that I’d never have guessed were part of her repertoire and slammed on the brakes. We came to a stop just inches from the nose of another cow.

I called 911 in hopes of averting a bovine disaster, and we got home no worse for wear and with a story to tell. I was impressed with mom’s steering prowess (how’s that for a double entendre? ..), and I cannot emphasize how glad I am to have been sitting in the passenger’s seat. I’m sure the cows are grateful too. If I’d been behind the wheel, I would’ve barreled through those poor animals like a runaway train headed for the zoo. (See Jesus, take Every Wheel for more on my inadequacies as a driver.)

As relief over safe cows flooded my mind last night, a fresh awareness of the trust and security that I’ve found in Jesus filled my heart. I don’t mean salvation; I’ve long known what it is to be rescued from the kingdom of darkness and transferred into the Kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13). But when God saves us, He doesn’t remove the steering wheel from our lives. We still have a will. We still get to choose. Daily, we decide to trust Him with all or only part of our lives.

Our family is in transition, and I don’t currently have a job. Or a house. What I do have is a house on the market that needs to sell, an adoption process that is halted until we find a home, and a husband who is entering the busiest season of a brand-new field of work.

I keep thinking that I need to do something about all of that, but God reminded me of the story of Moses from Exodus 2 and whispered, “Will you go in the basket?”

You know the story … Pharaoh sees the Hebrews growing in strength and number and orders every Hebrew boy to be thrown into the river and drowned. Moses’ mother puts him in a basket and floats him down the Nile–not knowing the outcome but hoping for a better future in the water than could be found on the shore. Baby Moses is found and raised
 by an Egyptian princess. He eventually helps to free the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery.

When I apply the story to my own life, my first thought is whether I–like Moses’ mother–trust God enough to put my child in a basket and let go. This question has been walked out over the last three years of my life, with every diagnosis, symptom, and decision that concerns my sweet little 4-year-old. It’s a question that gets asked again and again, and the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” I choose to put her in the basket, because that’s where the hope is. That’s where my God is.

But this time God didn’t ask about Olivia, He asked about me. My Father nudged my heart and asked if I trust Him enough to be placed in a basket and launched into the water.

Will I allow myself to be sent into the river with all of its currents and bends and uncertainty?

I think the answer is yes. It’s taken me way too long to arrive here, but I’ve finally come to the place where I’d rather have God steer for me–the car, the basket, and my life. Like a father arranging a marriage or making a place for his kids in the family business–I want God to choose, and I realize that He doesn’t need my help. He just needs my heart.

I think that as we follow Jesus, growing in maturity so often means learning to become like a child again.

As a little girl, I entrusted my whole future to God without a second thought, because I saw Him as full of wonder and adventure.

In my teens, I viewed present circumstances as something to move beyond and began to hold stock in my own ability–willing myself up ladders of my own choosing.

Throughout my twenties, I’ve encountered circumstances and questions that couldn’t be answered by any amount of talent, intellect, or willpower. I’ve been humbled. Oh, so very humbled.

As I approach 30 years old, I think I’d like to be a child again. Because a future full of wonder and undiscovered adventure sounds better than one I dream up and check off as I haul myself up each rung of a ladder. Because there is so much more hope in the river than on the shore. Because the cows in front of me are too big and too many, and I know down deep inside that I don’t have what it takes to make it to the other side unscathed.

Even saying that seems wrong–so contrary to the “believe you have what it takes” mantra that we’ve all become so accustomed to. Still, I’d rather believe that God in me has what it takes.

For every part of me that would kneel to admit that I’m actually not enough, the One who is and will always be enough rises to fill the void.

“He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.”–John 3:30

“Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.”–I Corinthians 1:27

“Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”–II Corinthians 12:9

” I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”–Mark 10:15