Author of Life

*I feel more exposed in writing this post than I did while lying in an operating room waiting to be cut open for the birth of our second child. My dialogue with God over the past few days has been, “Do You REALLY want me to write about that?” But as vulnerable as this feels, I am also filled with peace in knowing that trust and obedience are worth it. So here goes …

Several years ago, I walked into a teachers’ lounge and overheard a friend talking about a family she knew who had a child with a genetic disorder. The mother found out she was pregnant with another baby, and my friend couldn’t understand “how they could even consider having another child,” knowing the risk of the baby being born with the same disease.

I doubt my friend knew I was in the room, and I’m certain she didn’t know the depth of my personal struggle over that very issue. The words were hurtful, because they seemed to devalue the life of my little Olivia–as if children with genetic disorders are not worthy of the gift of life. (I know she didn’t mean it that way, but it’s hard for a mama not to take things to heart.)

Even more than hurting my feelings, that conversation I wish I’d never heard fed my fear. Years passed, but fear’s familiar grip kept a hold on my heart whenever the thought of having another child crossed my mind. The memory of sitting in a cold and sterile doctor’s office would come rushing back, and I would hear the geneticist’s words again, “There is a 25 percent chance that any biological child you and your husband conceive would have the disorder.”

It is difficult for me to describe how helpless I felt when it came to escaping the fear of getting pregnant again. I knew the Bible and that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (II Timothy 1:7),” but somehow I felt like I was always on the losing side of this battle with anxiety.

The crazy thing is, as scared as I was of having a second child, I had perfect peace when it came to Olivia. I knew that God would take care of her. I also knew that the fear I was drowning in wasn’t from Him. So, I searched scripture, prayed often, leaned on my husband, and sought help from others that I trust. Even so, I continued to struggle until a little over a year ago.

That January, my extended family had chosen to fast and pray together. I kept a prayer journal, and one of the things on my prayer list was complete freedom from fear.

I still remember how it felt when the fear left. Peace flooded my soul as my heart suddenly exploded with the realization of something my brain had known all along:

God alone is the Author of life.

This was true when Adam and Eve were created, when Isaac’s birth fulfilled the long-awaited promise to Abraham, and when my little Livi was born. He is not the cause of her pain, but God is the source of Olivia’s life. He has a good plan for her.

These simple truths–that only God can give life, that He is good and His plans are good–they lit up my life in a way that banished fear. While I have felt afraid at times, the pervasive, gripping fear from before no longer has permission to stay.

I didn’t know what God had planned for the future of our family–whether we would adopt or have another child of our own–but I did know that I could trust Him either way.

Six months later, joy was all that I felt when I found out I was pregnant. We happened to be headed to youth camp, and I got to tell Robert the good news at the place where we first met.

I prayed for a doctor who would do his job well while also respecting our point of view, and God answered. I trusted God with my worries about people and their opinions, and He surrounded us with family and friends, church family and co-workers who made the entire pregnancy one giant celebration.

And God sustained me with a peace that passes all undersanding–a deep sense of certainty that my life and Robert’s, Olivia’s and her new baby brother’s, are safe in His faithful and capable hands.

Five days before our new baby was scheduled to be born by c-section, Olivia was careflighted to Cook Children’s hospital. No one thought it was a good idea for me to go, so I looked on as Robert crawled into the helicopter with Olivia and immediately began to pray that God would watch over her and bring her home before the birth of her brother.

Since that moment, very little has gone as I would have planned, and there have been many opportunities for fear to move back into its old room in my heart. But every encounter with fear has been met with a stronger wave of the grace of God.

Olivia didn’t come home in time, and we brought our little AJ (Aiden Justice) into the world without her. But people that we love and trust stayed with Olivia and made it possible for Robert to come home for the birth.

AJ’s heartrate dropped right after he was delivered, and all I could do was pray and watch from across the room while they stitched me up. But he avoided a trip to the NICU and got better without any medical intervention.

My mom needed to stay in the hospital with Olivia and had to be away at a time when I badly wanted her near. But she brought my baby girl home happier than she’s been in a long time. In fact, Olivia has smiled several times in the past two weeks–something we’ve been missing for a while now.

In the end, we all came home from the hospital on the same day and got to spend our first night in our own home as a complete family. God is good!

Tomorrow I have to take AJ to the doctor, because he failed his newborn hearing test twice. It is another opportunity for fear to creep in, but something happened that has helped me fix my eyes on Jesus once again.

I was laying in the hospital bed watching the nurse conduct the hearing screening, and I could tell by the red on the screen and the look on her face that the result wasn’t good.

Mentally, I started what I can only describe as a pros and cons list–only one side could’ve been titled “Reasons to Believe” and the other “Reasons to Fear.” The fear side started to fill up with failed hearing tests and genetic probability, but then something occurred to me:

It doesn’t matter what or how much is written on the “fear” side of the list. One promise from God outweighs it all!

Abraham lived this way after he had received a promise from God about having a son:

“And Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead—and so was Sarah’s womb. Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God. He was fully convinced that God is able to do whatever he promises.”–Romans 4:19-21

So, fear doesn’t have a place here anymore. My childrens’ futures are secure in the hands of a God who is forever faithful.

Forever, O Lord , Your word is settled in heaven. Your faithfulness endures to all generations.”-Psalms 119:89‭-‬90

Grateful

I almost wrote this post as a “Letter to Me.” After all, hindsight is 20/20, and 31-year-old me now understands things that seemed painfully elusive in the past.

But to be honest, even if I had the power to deliver a message to my former self, I’m not sure she would’ve taken it to heart. You see, I am only just beginning to see the light of a truth that I either couldn’t or wouldn’t see before:

When you look for reasons to be discontent, you will always find them.

Thank God the opposite is also true:

When you look for reasons to be grateful, you will always find them.

Why did it take me so long to grasp this simple truth, and why do I still struggle at times to center myself in its clarity?

I’m not completely sure, but I think it has something to do with perception. And perception has everything to do with the direction our eyes take.

When I was a little girl, I spent a lot of time in gymnastics lessons. One of the first things you learn as a gymnast is that your body and all of its mometum will follow the direction of your line of sight. In other words, where the eyes turn, everything else follows.

I think this is true of life as well. Though we sometimes have no say over what happens to us, we have total control over what we decide to focus on in every situation. Life’s momentum and the way we experience it, will follow the path our eyes choose to take.

If we choose poorly, or not at all, our level of contentment will be subject to circumstances–rising and falling on a whim.

This is where I have lived for much of my life. Someone did me wrong, so I wallow in self pity. Things haven’t turned out like I hoped, so disappointment sets in and stays way too long. Hopes and dreams feel broken or far away, and I wonder if I’ll ever feel fulfilled. The waiting seems to drag on and on, and I find myself feeling restless.

Of course it hasn’t always been negative–not even nearly so. There have been many times when circumstances reminded me to be grateful.

I look around at the awesome number of people that genuinely love and support me, and my heart is overwhelmed. I get involved in something that I truly enjoy–something that draws out the best in me, and I almost explode with joy. A trip to a third world country makes me realize just how much I have to be thankful for. Tragedy hits close to home, and I’m grateful to be alive.

The thing about circumstances, whether good or bad, is that they change. Yet, the Apostle Paul wrote about a perplexing phenomenon: contentment that remains the same regardless of changing circumstances.

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”-Philippians 4:11‭-‬12 ESV

The next verse is the key to Paul’s secret. It’s one that many know well but few put into practice consistently:

“I can do all things through HIM who strengthens me.”–Philippians 4:13 ESV (emphasis mine)

Lasting contentment will never be found in WHAT we look at, because what we look at is subject to change.

If we want contentment that endures, it must not be found in something but in SOMEONE. That someone is Jesus.

When I fixate on the negative in my life, I am handing the power over to the the originator of all that is evil: Satan–my enemy and the thief who only comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10).

Whatever and whoever I stare at long enough will eventually become my god.

When I look to the Father–the Author of every good gift (James 1:17)–I gain the strength that I need to endure. I am filled with His peace and joy, which transcend all circumstances.

I have so many reasons to be grateful:

–A husband who loves me

–A sweet little girl who just turned six and a little boy coming any day now

–A network of family and friends that I cherish

–Daily opportunities to serve the kingdom of God, together with a church family that is precious to me

–A job that I’m passionate about in a school that I love

–Beautiful music and good books and 280 calorie pints of low-carb Halo ice cream

There are also things that could stir up discontement if I allow it. I choose not to dwell on those here, because the truth is that even the blessings I listed above exist within the realm of a broken, suffering world.

The only safe place to fix my eyes is on the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:18). I can trust Him with my blessings and with the difficult things too. So, I lift my eyes to Jesus–the only Source of real contentment.

And I am grateful.

Better than a shiny, heart-shaped balloon

Another holiday is passing us by. This time, it’s Valentine’s Day, and we’re separated again by necessity–me and our little Livi in a hospital and you working hard for us at home.

Doctor’s orders and the baby still growing inside mean no sweets for me. But heart-shaped balloons, dropped off by a volunteer, are floating around the room and I wore purple in honor of the day.

Shiny as those balloons are, I know they are not what love is made of.

Love is you on a rough night–jumping out of bed more times than I can count, making sure our Olivia is OK, and trying to let me sleep.

It’s you working so hard all day to build a company and then coming home to do more than your fair share.

It’s you–still trying to make me laugh even when my mood makes the effort seem futile.

Your unrelenting faith keeps holding on to God and His love and His Word, no matter what you see. I lean in when things get hard–me leaning on you and us leaning on Jesus.

Filled with hope, you talk about the future, and my heart is strengthened.

You pray, and fear flies away.

*****

They say St. Valentine was martyred for performing secret weddings for Christian couples during a ban on marriage.

Whether that is true, I’m not sure. But I know real love comes through sacrifice. I know it, because I’ve seen you live the truth right in front of me–the gospel of Jesus Christ in vibrant color.

I don’t know what I thought love was going to be like when I fell for you over a decade ago. It’s been a long time, and the person I am today is so different from that 19-year-old girl.

I do know this–that my heart aches to offer you even a measure of what you’ve given me. That my prayer is for God’s kind of love to multiply in me and shower you with the overflow.

With all of my heart, I also know that if time were rolled back, I would choose you again.

I do choose the man you are now, today and every day for the rest of my life.

Hope Remains

Olivia is off the ventilator now and doing well, praise God!

These last few days–after an unexpected helicopter ride and hours spent watching a ventilator breath for my child–I’ve been thinking a lot about hope. Not the fleeting sort, but God’s “anchor for the soul” kind (Heb. 6:19) .

What a gift hope can be! It’s rooted in our experience of God’s unfailing love. We know that God loves us dearly, and so we can have faith in His Word and in who He is. That produces peace that persists through the most difficult of times. Even in hardship, we can be filled with joy and expectation, knowing that God is good and faithful to His promises.

It’s amazing to me how God can use a temporary circumstance to build in us the things that are eternal. Hope. Faith. Love.

That is my prayer for me and for you–especially during a season that has always been about hope:

–Hope at the words of a prophet, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given (Is. 9:6) …”
–Hope for Israel’s coming Messiah, unquenched by hundreds of years of silence
–Hope in the promise of a Savior, spoken through an angel to a confused teenage girl
–Hope that led wise men from the East to follow a star, despite the length of their journey
–Hope that spurred a group of terrified shepherds on to Bethlehem that first Christmas night

… and hope that was answered by a baby, “wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger (Luke 2:12).”

~~~~~

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.”–Romans 15:13

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”–Romans 5:3‭-‬5

“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”–1 Corinthians 13:13

“A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn.”
–“O Holy Night”

Through the Fire

My sweet mama sang a song this morning in church that reminded me of the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. It is found in Daniel chapter 3 and tells how three Hebrew men–having been taken into captivity by the most powerful Babylonian king in history–refused to bow to a massive 90 foot idol.

King Nebuchadnezzar had erected the statue and then gathered officials from every province. He demanded that, at the sound of musical instruments playing, they kneel and worship the golden image. Music began to play and the people bowed–all except for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

The king “flew into a rage and ordered that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought before him (verse 13).” He then offered them another opportunity to bow:

“I will give you one more chance to bow down and worship the statue I have made when you hear the sound of the musical instruments. But if you refuse, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. And then what god will be able to rescue you from my power?”–Daniel 3:15 NLT

The words of the Babylonian king reverberate in my head.

“… one more chance …”

“… what god will be able to rescue you from my power?”

You see, this past weekend brought with it another chance to cower to fear–another chance to question the heart and ability of God.

I was at a playoff pep-rally on Friday when I got a text from Olivia’s nurse saying that she wasn’t doing well and the medicine wasn’t helping. I got a ride back to school and found Olivia crying–in pain maybe, or from one of the neurological episodes that have been more frequent lately.

The episode was getting intense, causing her oxygen level to drop, so I asked the nurse to give her more medicine. It was the last dose she could have for hours, and we watched her suffer for another 45 minutes before it finally started to kick in.

This had gone on for weeks. I’d talked with the neurologist at Cook Children’s, but nothing we tried was working. So, I called Robert and we decided to take her into the emergency room in Fort Worth. I guess I hoped that if we put Olivia in front of a doctor, someone would find a way to help.

After hours in the emergency room, though, the ER doctor came in and sat down next to me:

“Neurology doesn’t have any more ideas.”

The doctor offered to admit us to the hospital anyway–if that was what I wanted. But he made sure I knew that there would be nothing new as far as treatment or medication changes. To increase the dose of Olivia’s meds would be to put her at risk for other, worse complications.

So, we came home and I faced a new opportunity to bow.

———

When someone you love has been given a terminal diagnosis, doctors and people tend to want to prepare you for the pain and ugliness they envision further down the road. Fearing a future moment and its potential to cause damage, they try to soften the blow early on. This is something that our family has dealt with for years now, and I get it. They mean well, and maybe they’re not wrong.

Still, I let go of Olivia a long time ago. With God’s help, that act of surrender is something I repeat each time I feel my heart being gripped by fear and my hands clenched in a posture of willfulness. But I release her to the tender, open hands of our loving Father–not to the schemes of the enemy of her soul and mine. I bow to my God–not to fear’s idols of control, self-sufficiency, and finding security in what the world can offer.

Because there is an unseen spiritual battle behind this formidable physical one, and the outcome of the spiritual is SO much more important than the one I can see.

There is much I don’t understand, but one thing I know is this: fear is not from God. In fact, HUNDREDS of times the Bible tells and teaches us not to be afraid.

“This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”–Joshua 1:9 NLT

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”–Psalms 23:4 ESV

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”-‘1 John 4:18a ESV

… and my personal favorite:

“Don’t be afraid. Only believe.”–Mark 5:36 HCSB

Fear will become a king, a god, an idol … if we let it.

The love of God will overwhelm fear … if we let it.

So as I face “one more chance” to bow, my answer has to be a resounding no. With Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, I say:

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”–Daniel 3:16‭-‬18 NLT

I don’t want to walk through fire. Watching my baby hurt is heart-wrenching. I don’t want my family to walk through fire. If only there was an easy answer–a quick fix for the pain. But I believe that if we must walk through it, we won’t be there alone. Our God is with us, and I trust that we’ll come out on the other side unscathed.

“So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, securely tied, fell into the roaring flames. But suddenly, Nebuchadnezzar jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, “Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?” “Yes, Your Majesty, we certainly did,” they replied. “Look!” Nebuchadnezzar shouted. “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!” Then Nebuchadnezzar came as close as he could to the door of the flaming furnace and shouted: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego stepped out of the fire. Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!”-‘Daniel 3:23‭-‬27 NLT

The same God who walked through the fire with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is with us too. He has promised it:

“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.”–Isaiah 43:2 NLT

Since Olivia was diagnosed almost 5 years ago, I’ve known there is no medical cure. Yet, I have always felt a sense of obligation to lean on the knowledge of doctors and medical professionals. There’s nothing wrong with that. God has used them many times to help our sweet Livi.

But oddly enough, now that I’ve heard the doctors say, “We have no more ideas,” I feel a sense of relief and freedom. Like I can give myself permission to throw the full weight of my trust on God.

“I look up to the mountains— does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord , who made heaven and earth! He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber.”–Psalms 121:1‭-‬3 NLT

My hope is in Him alone–by necessity and by choice. And I believe I will hear the Nebuchadnezzars of this world proclaim:

“There is no other god who can rescue like this!”–Daniel 3:29 NLT

Bucket Fillers

I was a “bucket filler” for Halloween this year. Problem is, I didn’t know what a bucket filler was until after I had already covered my shirt with confetti shapes and climbed into my very own bucket–a spray painted laundry basket with the bottom cut out.

“What are you Mrs. Chapman?” asked a curious student decked out in a Bulldog helmet and full pads.

“You’ll find out soon!” I answered, secretly hoping that I would too.

In retrospect, I really should’ve Googled the phrase or asked one of my fellow bucket fillers to explain. (Our fourth grade team of teachers dressed alike.)

But I was soon enlightened when we sat down as a grade level to read “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?” by Carol McCloud:

“All day long, everyone in the whole wide world walks around carrying an invisible bucket. You can’t see it, but it’s there.”

As the book progressed, I learned that bucket fillers are those who consistently pour into the “buckets” of those around them through kind words, actions and generosity.

The story was perfect for elementary students. It made me feel inspired and also a little overwhelmed, to be honest. All I could picture was my growing collection of spinning plates.

The author’s words were soon buried beneath a pile of unfinished tasks, lost in the busyness of work and home.

Until I was scrolling through Facebook a couple of days later and came upon a blog post by one of my favorite authors, Ann Voskamp. The article was about … buckets, of all things:

“Maybe empty buckets — are the fullest kinds of buckets.”

And …

“Christ poured Himself out — to make us new vessels. And as we pour out the Christ in us — Christ makes new vessels all around us — and in us.”

Her words fell like raindrops on a thirsty heart. See, lately I’ve become keenly aware that my bucket is not emptied near often enough.

I’ve watched noble examples of the many people in my life who give of themselves until it hurts …

• The teacher who’s plate is over-full, and yet she makes time to mentor others.

• The hurting ones who set aside their own grief to comfort another.

• The pastor’s wife who takes the time she doesn’t really have to offer a listening ear.

• The husband who gives and gives some more, with no thought for himself.

• The mom who is generous, almost to a fault.

At the same time my eyes are being opened to the immense need that is present in my own circle of influence …

• That young student in a class of 18 who really needs some one-on-one time, and the other one who takes my attention by force for reasons I haven’t been able to sort through yet.

• The sweet daughter who needs everything, yet asks for nothing. I would do most anything to make her smile.

• The teenagers who struggle with identity and self worth and finding their way forward in a messed up world.

• The hungry ones and the broken. The hurting and those who struggle.

It is so easy to feel helpless. Then there’s me and my own great need.

I think sometimes the pain in our stories makes us want to hold onto what we have–especially those things that seem the most fragile and fleeting.

And when we fear we won’t have enough of something–whether time or money, moments of peace or the strength to go on–we start with the stockpiling and secret stashes.

It’s hoarding really, but that’s hard to recognize if you’re the one doing it.

Of course there is a balance to life that only God’s sweet Spirit can teach, but holding on for fear of running out just doesn’t feel like trust.

And in the deepest places of my heart, I so badly want it to be said of me, “She trusted God.”

I think of the widow in I Kings 17 who had “only a handful of flour” and “a little cooking oil.” She was asked to give the last she had, and through her obedience, God provided more than enough.

So, I’m beginning to believe that the answer to my need, and “theirs” too, is found at the bottom of the bucket.

That weakness makes way for God’s strength, and emptiness is where grace is found.

I remember that this is God’s way.

“If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it.”–Luke 17:33

Father,

Teach me to be a bucket filler even when it’s scary. Help me trust that You will always be enough. When I’m tempted to hold on for dear life, show me how to let go. When my own story hurts and it feels safer to build walls, remind me that those walls will keep the love from flowing out. I believe that You are able to fill me up anew, even as I allow my life to be poured out.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

“Pouring out your heart — is what will actually hold your heart together. Pouring out your life — is what will elevate your life.”–Ann Voskamp

“And remember, when you fill someone else’s bucket, you fill your own bucket too.”–Carol McCloud

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