Tuesday, November 9, 2010


My great grandmother sent me a necklace when I was a little girl.  It had a star on a chain and on the star it said "turn your scars into stars."  I didn't wear the necklace more than a few times because I got tired of trying to explain the meaning to the other kids at school.  But I kept it in my jewelry box.  

Open heart surgery left me with a big scar down the center of my chest.  It runs from between my collar bones to just above my belly button, as well as 2 puncture scars on my belly from tubes and a 4 inch scar way up on my upper right thigh from bypass..  Right after I had my surgery I decided I wasn't going to wear anything that showed these scars.  I bought shirts that had round necklines, I bought undershirts for the shirts I owned that went lower, I even bought a bathing suit that hid my scars.   I didn't want anyone else to know that they existed.  I thought they were ugly.  And they felt like evidence of my weakness, of how flawed I am.  

However, God wasn't ok with my attitude.  He showed me that I could hide my scars, but hiding them meant that I was also cutting off opportunities to share my story.  Those scars are a physical testimony of a miraculous healing.  From a worldly stand point there's no reason I should still be alive.   My aorta shredded.  That's usually fatal.  So I stopped hiding it and at first I felt so self-conscious.  People stared at my chest (not something that had ever been a part of my life before.  "Hey buddy, my eyes are up here" wasn't a phrase I had needed to use) I wasn't sure if I should say something when I saw them staring or wait until they asked.  The people who were straight forward were the easiest to handle.  I could easily tell my story when someone asked.  The hardest reactions were when I saw revulsion in someone's eyes.  We live in a society that loves physical beauty and for some people my obvious imperfection was offensive.  Last year at the beach some teens saw my scar and whispered after staring at it, "NASTY".  I'm not going to lie, that still stings.  Most of the time I forget my scars are there now.  They've become a part of who I am.  So much so that a few years ago when a cashier said "you've had heart surgery." I was amazed and asked how she knew.  She said, "um, you have a big scar on your chest."  It was funny.  

Every scar we have isn't going to be physical.   All of the pain that is part of our story can leave scars.  Some are big, some aren't.  Some are going to be repulsive to people.  And we can be tempted to hide them, tempted to pretend they don't exist and that we are unblemished.  But just like my physical scars tell about God saving my life, my emotional scars testify to the amazing love and care of God.  It's not easy to talk about  the parts of my life that haven't been perfect.  However, it is awesome to share the redemption and healing that God continues to do in my life.  If those scars can bring encouragement and hope to someone else, then I want to share how they got there.  I don't want to hide God's story away like I hid my necklace.  I want to share it and give God the glory for all He's done.  

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Jesus Knows Me So Well

Sometimes being known well is a scary thing.  My best friends can pick up on what I'm thinking when I think I've hidden it well, and filtered well, because I've said nothing.  I like to live my life selectively revealing who I am.  I think we all do that to an extent, show the parts of ourselves that we think are acceptable to people and hide the rest away.  But sometimes we can't hide.  Maybe someone has learned to read us well and so they pick up on the subtleties and hiding would mean cutting them out of our lives.  And living an authentic life with Christ means that we stop trying to hide.  I'm not saying that you should reveal everything about yourself to everyone you meet.  But I'm learning that the best way to grow in becoming like Christ is to stop pretending that I already have it all down.

This morning my husband, my son and I went with a group of high-school students from our church to hand out food, blankets and clothes to the homeless downtown.  As I watched my son I pointed out a couple of his reactions to a high-school friend.  I said, "ooh, he's freaking out right now because he's such a germaphobe" and "he's laughing like that because his friend just said something inappropriate."  She responded with "wow, you really know your son."  Like I said, sometimes being known well is a scary thing.  Just like I was doing with my son, Jesus knew my reactions to each person there.  He saw when I noticed that my friend was hugging and comforting a homeless woman in the same way she would comfort and hug me.  He saw the depths of my heart and knew that I didn't want to hug that woman because I didn't want to get dirty.  That's revealing--there's some real dirt in my heart that's way worse than anything I would pick up externally.  He saw when someone commented that some of these people just seem like normal guys.  He knew that our surprise meant that we had drawn that distinctive line between "us" and "them" that keeps us so comfortable in suburbia.  There's no line there in God's vision.  He sees his kids, and he loves us all the same.

So as I was thinking about how scary it can feel to be so well known I realized that the reason it's so scary to me is because I want to be accepted.  That's the beauty of Christ.  Other people might see something they don't like about me and walk away.  He sees the truth about me and it doesn't change how he feels about me.  He still accepts me.  He still loves me.  He comes and puts his arm around my shoulder and walks with me as he helps me to change.  There's no ultimatums, there's no shame or scorn.

I know that there are times when I try to hide from God.  I wall off and try to convince myself that I'm good.  Do you ever do that?   I plan to turn instead into those arms of absolute acceptance and love and allow Him to grow me up into the person only He knows I can be.  Thanks, Jesus, for knowing me so well.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Trusting God With My Daughter

I was thinking today of one of the scariest moments in my early motherhood.  Kayla was not quite 2 years old and we had been to the grocery store.  We lived in a little duplex that sat at the end of a cul-de-sac in a slightly scary part of town.  A huge lawn surrounded our house.  We got home and I took Kayla out of her car seat and took her into the living room where she immediately started playing with her toys.  As she played I unloaded the groceries, walking back and forth past her as I went from the car to the kitchen.  On one trip in I noticed that Kayla wasn't in the living room.  I knew I hadn't passed her outside so I looked through the house.  No Kayla.  It was a 5 room house and I couldn't find her.  I looked in every closet, under every piece of furniture to no avail.  I looked out the front door, back in the car, down the street...she was gone.  I was trying my hardest not to panic as I called and called her name without response.  I knew that there was no way her little tiny legs could have carried her all the down to the next cross-street in the short time she'd been missing so I was afraid someone had taken her.  I circled the house, I searched the yard, all as panic welled up inside.  I finally called Rick and told him she was missing and he said he was on his way.  I was terrified that it was the beginning of a nightmare and since he only worked 5 minutes from the house decided to wait until he got home to call the police.  I kept searching outside, in the storm drains, in the ditches, up the hill into the flowerbed...still no Kayla.  Finally I noticed that the door to our house was closed when I had left it open. I opened the door and there was Kayla, playing in the living room.  And that's when the control I had been fighting to keep during the 10 minutes that she had been missing evaporated.  I picked her up and sobbed as she patted my back.  And because we had thin walls that's when the next door neighbor finally heard me and came over.  Her kids were grown and she hugged us both as I told her that I had lost Kayla and that I had been terrified because she was too precious and I needed to keep her safe etc.  She just listened and then she said "Dawn, you have to give your daughter to God.  You have to trust him to take care of  her or you'll drive yourself crazy."

And so that's what I've done since that day--yeah right.  It wasn't ever an easy thing to do, but that same feeling of panic occasionally wells up in me now that Kayla is living in Ensenada doing Discipleship Training School with Youth With a Mission.  Someone mentions how bad things are in Mexico and I feel it creeping up.  We hear of people who refuse to cross the border because of how unsafe it is and I struggle to maintain my calm.  I feel that same feeling I had that day so long ago of her being too precious to ever imagine losing.  I feel that same desire to hold her in my arms and force her to stay by my side so that I can keep her safe.

But the reality is that I still have to give my daughter to God.  She is an amazingly precious gift that God gave to Rick and I almost 20 years ago.  Not a day goes by that I'm not so thankful for her (for both of my kids).  But the reality is that God loves her infinitely more than I ever could.  And for her whole life we've been raising her to know and follow Christ.  To listen to God's call and respond when he asks her to do something.  And it would be horrible--more horrible than her being in a dangerous setting or even, God forbid, having something happen to her--if she ignored God's leading or even God's prompting in her life because of fear or my inability to trust God with my daughter.   And so with fear and trembling I commit again and say, "ok, Lord, she was yours first and I give her back to you again and I trust you to take care of her."  Pray for me as she follows God and learns what He wants her to do with her life.  Oh yeah, and pray for her too.

Want to read more about Kayla or become part of her support team?  Check out her blog at http://songbirdkayla.blogspot.com/  Oh and do you want to know where she was all those years ago when she was missing?  She told us later that day that she went out into some really tall grass in a ditch and was hiding.  She heard me calling, just didn't think it was important to come.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Teacher's Pet

Anyone I went to elementary school with wouldn't be surprised to hear that I liked being the teacher's pet.  Hearing, "Dawn, would you please take my mug to the drinking fountain and fill it for me," or "Dawn, would you please pass these papers out to the whole class," thrilled me.  I loved the approval, I loved the special attention, I loved the trust implied in being asked to do a special task.  Being the teacher's pet was performance based; I got good grades, I didn't misbehave, I didn't argue.  Being the teacher's pet was a sign of approval, it showed that the person in authority was pleased with how "good" I was.  It was also a sign of being favored; the pet is singled out for special attention.

Do you know Christians who equate that same teacher's pet mentality with God's love?  It can be easy to do.  We start thinking that we have to earn God's love--we have to do good deeds, we have to serve so that God will love us or love us more.  Or we think that blessings equal God's approval--and conversely that hard times mean that we've somehow displeased God and this is how he's letting us know.  We see a fellow Christian whose life is great and we feel like maybe God loves them more and we wonder what they're doing that we're not doing.  Do you ever slip into trying to be God's pet?  Do you ever slip into thinking that God's love is performance based and a sign of his approval?  I do.

But the truth is found in scripture where we learn that God's love is unfailing, faithfulit endures forever.  He loves us regardless of what we're doing, scripture even tells us in Romans 8:38 that nothing can separate us from that love.  He gets that we can't fully understand the way he loves us, and he loves us anyway.  He doesn't want us to be his pets; we can't earn his love or make him love us any more or any less than He does right now.  I love that His love is unconditional.  I love that He can hate my sin but not me.

That love is the motivation for loving and serving others.  Not a desire to perform well, not a desire for recognition, but just an outpouring of the love that he's pouring into us.  1 Peter tells us that we must love deeply and sincerely, he reminds us to be tenderhearted and humble, and that this deep love for others is what allows us to heal when someone hurts us.  If I imagine myself as a small pitcher being continuously poured into by a much bigger pitcher I'll see the water overflowing out of the small pitcher and soaking everything around it.  There's no way the small pitcher can possible hold all that water without it overflowing.  And that's the way it is with God's love.  There's no way I can possibly have it poured into me without having it spill out in love for others.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Is there any glory in illness?

I like Toby Mac and I really love the song "I Was Made to Love You." One day a few years ago I was listening to this song in my car and singing along loudly--which I love to do since I'm a great singer in my car--and I was feeling how much I really was made to love God. I sang the words "anything, I would give up for you...everything, I'd give it all away" and I heard the voice of the Holy Spirit ask a really simple question. "Even your health?" At that point I pulled my car over and put it in park. I was shaken. During that time period I was dealing with severe headaches (still am) and hadn't had a break from having a headache in months. I had been through countless doctors appointments and tests, many people were praying, some were even counseling me that I must have unconfessed sin to be so ill. God's glory was supposed to be manifest in my healing. God's glory would be shown best by the awesome testimony I would have when he miraculously healed my pain...right? That's how it works...right? And then came the question from God himself. Would I really give up ANYTHING for him? Would I be sick for His glory?

Now, don't misunderstand me. I know God didn't make me sick. He didn't give me Marfan's and all of the complications that go with that. But his question pointed out two things to me. One part was an invitation to go deeper with Him, to examine my commitment to Him. Was I really willing to give up anything? Was I really willing to use every aspect of my life to point to His greatness? Tough questions. The other part was God exposing to me an idol that I had created.

A friend of mine said recently that whatever you fear becomes your god. I was afraid of being incapacitated, afraid of being disabled, afraid that I would end up in a wheelchair or housebound. Awake in the middle of the night, can't get it out of my head fear. And because of that fear I was slowly turning health into an idol. I wanted to do everything in my power to be healthy. I was in charge of taking care of my body; I had to exercise and eat right and see the right doctors and monitor the symptoms and make sure that I knew everything there was to know about my condition and and and...None of these things are bad in and of themselves. But the repeating theme was the big giant "I have to do this." I was taking care of all of it and asking God to come along for the ride. I was trusting God to a degree, but I was taking much of the credit and responsibility on myself. Every aspect of my health focused around me hearing God correctly and doing the right things, not me trusting that God would take care of it and make himself heard. That's an exhausting way to live.

I was believing the lie that God's greatest glory would be shown in total healing. But maybe God's glory is shown best in a life well lived in the midst of great adversity. What if I can truly answer "how are you?" with "great" regardless of my circumstances? Not because I'm denying the adversity but because I feel great because of God's love and strength in me. What if God's peace and the Holy Spirit's presence is so evident in me that people are drawn to Him? What if they see only that peace and joy and know that it has to be from God because of my limitations?

That's what it would mean to be sick for God. Living out my life focused on God's love and constant presence and abundant blessings in the midst of trouble honors God. It's my truest form of worship.

Do you want to know how I answered the Holy Spirit's question that day in the car? I did say yes but tentatively and unenthusiastically. I think I actually said "I guess?" I don't like having problems with my body. I would rather be well, but I'm willing to lay down my desire. I am willing to cling to the promise in Romans 8:18 "[But what of that?] For I consider that the sufferings of this present time (this present life) are not worth being compared with the glory that is about to be revealed to us and in us and for us and conferred on us!" (amplified)

Romans also says in 8:35-37, "Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us." (NLT) I am going to embrace the promise of overwhelming victory and live out this present life for God.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Special Doll

I was talking with a friend recently about my mom and she said she can't ever think about my mom without remembering a story I told her about a doll I received for Christmas one year. I'll tell the story here because it does illustrate what an amazing mom God gave me.

When I was little it seems like money was always tight. There were 9 of us in the house, my Dad owned his own business and clients didn't always pay when they were supposed to. One year when I was preschool age I really wanted a baby doll and buggy for Christmas. I wanted it so bad! I even asked Santa at the mall for it. On Christmas morning all 7 kids had to wait in the long hallway that the bedrooms branched off of until all of us were up and ready to go see our stockings. As we waited for the last few stragglers, the anticipation and excitement would build. This year as I walked out to the living room I saw a doll buggy sitting in front of the fireplace. I had received the gift I was dreaming of! I was thrilled! I ran over and picked up my baby doll...and disappointment set in. I was picturing a perfect, beautiful doll. But what I was holding was a doll with a defect. Her eyes were not set in the sockets like they were supposed to be. Instead they were sunken back in her head. She wasn't beautiful at all. I shook her around a little and tried to fix it. I tried not to let my disappointment show. But I finally took her to my mom and told her that something was wrong with my baby doll. Close to tears I showed her the dolls eyes and asked her if they could be fixed. She told me no and then this is the part that I think illustrates what an amazing mother I have. But before I tell you I want you to imagine being in my mom's shoes. Money is tight, you have 7 kids, it's Christmas, and the only doll you can afford to give to grant your baby's wish is a defective one. When I asked my question she didn't show disappointment or shame, she just said, "you know, I think Santa knew that you would love that doll no matter what. You see, sometimes God gives parents a baby that has something wrong with it. He can only give those babies to the really special parents, the ones who will love that baby just like it is. I think that God knows you're one of those really special ones, so Santa knew you could love that doll." So love her I did. Sometimes I was embarrassed when a bunch of girls got together to play dolls and inevitably someone would ask me what was wrong with my doll. Sometimes I tried to hide her face. But my mom's words stuck with me and I kept that baby doll and loved her even when I received new dolls who were perfect in later years.

My mom didn't know at that point that I had been born with a genetic defect. She had already gone through 6 months of a hip brace, 3 surgeries, and countless doctor's appointments by that time. She had already dealt with rude people telling her she shouldn't let me act like a 2 year old because I was so tall that I looked 4 or 5 when I was 2. She didn't know that she would go through years of orthopedic visits with me crying and arguing. She didn't know that I would be teased mercilessly for my height and my skinny arms and legs and come home from school many days in tears. She didn't know that I would be hospitalized and sick with severe headaches for months in 1st grade, have surgery on my foot twice, and finally be diagnosed with Marfan's at 21. My mom was there every step of the way. She and my Dad were there during my high risk labor and delivery, they were there praying and pleading with God when my aorta dissected. They were there in my recovery taking care of me and helping with my kids as we lived with my parents while I healed. I was a pretty high maintenance kid and I'm still a high maintenance adult and their motto continues to be at 77 that if I need them, they'll be here.

And so I think back to her words..."sometimes God gives parents a baby that has something wrong with it. He can only give those babies to the really special parents, the ones who will love that baby just like it is." I think God knew that my parents would love me in the midst of my imperfection. I think God knew that they wouldn't ever make me feel like I shouldn't be the person I was. I am so thankful for the amazing, special parents that God gave me. Thanks for the lesson, Mom and Dad. You said it, Mom, and then you guys lived it out in my life.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Thanks for the laughter, Lord.

This is the 4th installment in Isaac's adoption story. You can find the first, second and third here.

What an amazing feeling it is to be chosen to parent a baby. We had been waiting so long. It had been 10 months since our homestudy was complete, about 18 months since we had started the process. That's short by a lot of adoption standards. It felt like a long time to us. Most of the couples that we had started out with already had adopted by this point. We were some of the last to have a baby placed with us.

We went straight from meeting our son's birthparents to my parents' house to pick our daughter up. Our daughter was the first person we saw and we told her she was going to have a baby brother. She ran in the house and told her grandparents. We went back to our house and got a call telling us that our son would be most likely coming home the next day. Wow! So we called my parents and asked them to come over and help us get ready. We hadn't bought diapers or soaps or any of those baby supplies. The crib was still in pieces in the basement. I didn't want all of that sitting there daily reminding me of what we didn't have but now it was time. My Mom and I washed clothes, my Dad went with Rick to buy a second car. My Mom always jokes that they actually came over just to help hold my feet on the ground. That's probably closest to the truth. I felt like I was floating, like I couldn't focus. I had so much to do to be ready for this little guy in such a short period of time and I didn't really want to do any of it, I just wanted to go pick him up and hold him in my arms and bring him home.

We met the adoption worker and our son's foster mother at DSHS the next day. The first thing they did was hand us his discharge papers from the NICU. There were 9 different diagnoses listed on it. Most of them were resolved but I was so overwhelmed. Then his foster mother started outlining his care; how his feedings had to happen, when his medications were due, how to work the monitor, what to do when he turned blue or the alarm sounded telling us that his heartrate was too low. Then she took the blanket off the carseat and there he was; so tiny--only 6 pounds and 6 ounces at that point--and so pale. He looked so fragile and I was so scared. For an instant I wondered if we really were the right parents for this little guy. And then she asked if I wanted to hold him. When she laid him in my arms all of the negatives just evaporated. There was such a feeling of rightness, this was our baby. Our son had finally arrived. Isaac David Jacob was now a part of our family.

I remember early on in our adoption journey hearing that every adoption begins with loss. The adoptive parents have (usually) lost the abilbity to have a biological child and need to mourn whatever brought them to that place. The child has lost his first family--his birth family and will mourn that over his lifetime. And of course the birthparents have lost the daily parenting of a child that they've given life. But out of that loss, something beautiful can grow. We didn't ignore the loss, we couldn't. We didn't deny it's existence, denial wouldn't have made it go away anyway. Instead we trusted that God is bigger than any of those things. He can redeem any situation. He's not limited by grief, he's not limited by feelings. He took those first losses and used those tattered threads to weave together a family. I am so, so thankful that he did.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hidden sin

My husband bought himself a t-shirt a few months back. It's black, it looks cool. It has a picture of a skeleton in full biker gear on a Harley. When he bought it, he noticed it had writing on it but he didn't really take the time to read through it all. Most of it just looked like part of the design elements of the shirt. The first time he wore it he came downstairs and one of our kids said "Dad, do you know that you're wearing a shirt that says "SIN" in big letters at the top? Maybe you shouldn't wear that one to work." My husband was shocked. How could he have missed it? He said "I can't believe I bought a shirt that advertises sin". Some of you might think that being a church employee at that point he tore the shirt off and threw it away. Nope, even at only $5, he's way too frugal to throw away a perfectly good shirt. (I want to be clear that "sin" is the brand name.) He is careful about when he wears it though.

As I put our clothes away today though, I started thinking about him accidentally buying a shirt with "SIN" emblazoned across the front. He didn't notice the "sin", he saw the cool picture, he saw the cheap price tag, he saw the good fit. Isn't that how we accidentally slip into sin in our lives? We didn't want to gossip but those women were really funny and pretty soon the conversation turned and it was so interesting. We didn't mean to get into that inappropriate relationship but that person really understood us and listened to us and paid attention and pretty soon a line was crossed. We slip into sin not because we make a conscious choice to advertise sin with our lives, but because it was hidden by the other details. And isn't the rational for why we stay in sin similar to why my husband still has the shirt? He doesn't want to take the (albeit really small) financial hit. Isn't that similar to, "well, I know we shouldn't be living together before marriage but housing prices are so expensive and this just makes financial sense." The shirt is in great shape, there are so many other parts of the shirt that work great. That's pretty similar to, "but the friendship is so good, I don't want to lose it by being the boring one who won't take part in the gossip." Or "I'm sure we can be strong and just talk and it won't cross any lines this time."

Scripture tells us to stay alert because our enemy the devil prowls around seeking someone to devour. It also tells us to avoid every kind of evil--all sin. I want to make sure that I don't accidentally slip into sin in my life like my husband accidentally slipped into his sin shirt.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Just go with the flow

I have been struggling lately. Is that too honest? That's why I haven't blogged in over a month. Some new health challenges cropped up and it really pushed me to a point of profound discouragement and anger. In the middle of this, my family needed to use a groupon certificate that my husband had bought for ocean kayaking before it expired. We've never been ocean kayaking before and I was a little nervous. When I added in my current state of health and my weakness...I was even more nervous. So we set out, I was sharing a kayak with Rick and before we even made it through the waves he leaned wrong and dumped us. Our friends and kids were all out past the surf, we had to continue but I just wanted to turn around and go back. My anxiety was now really high as we tried to climb back in among the waves. We got ourselves situated and headed out to join our group. But we faced the challenge of coordinating our strokes and for whatever reason we couldn't seem to get that unity down. We also faced the ocean current and we spent most of our time fighting against the current, trying to get the kayak to go the way that we wanted it to go, fearing that we were going to be swept in the wrong direction. Every now and then we would look up and see the amazing coastline of La Jolla, or we would watch as our kids seemed to effortlessly glide in their kayaks with friends. We made it back in, relatively unscathed but sore and tired and not entirely sure that this was an experience we enjoyed or would want to repeat.

As I reflected and prayed later I realized that my experience kayaking was a lot like my life.

First of all, I had little real control in the water. I couldn't control the waves, I couldn't control what Rick was doing, I couldn't control the current or the sea lions or anything else that might decide to swim near me. But I fought to be in control. How much easier would kayaking have been, how much easier would my life be if I decided just to accept what I couldn't control.

Secondly, when I let fear and anxiety rule the unity I need to have with my family flies away. Rick and I couldn't get coordinated in our strokes. I was focusing on what he was doing and trying to match it all while sitting in front of him where I couldn't actually see him. That combined with my own innate lack of coordination made it a little difficult for him to try and match my strokes so that we were in sync.

Third, and this is the one that I really felt like God wanted to show me, I can't fight the current. When I fought the current I ended up frustrated and exhausted. I didn't change the current--it continued to flow in the direction it was going to flow in. And fighting it and fearing it made me stiff, it caused me to miss looking up and seeing the beauty all around me. I was so intent on fighting the direction that things were going that I missed the fun of the experience and I missed the scenery.

I have been fighting the current of my life lately. My health issues are big. I have major things wrong with my body. That's the current. And fighting it means that I'm trying to fix the problems in my body and most of them are things that actually can't be fixed. They're caused by a genetic defect that science can't correct yet. So when I fight that current I end up just like I did in the ocean, exhausted, frustrated, full of anxiety and missing a ton of beauty and fun. When I was in my kayak and we went with the current it was a completely different experience. We made progress, we were in sync and it was so much easier. And that's the key learning for my life. The ocean didn't change. The current didn't change, but learning to paddle in a way that used the current and relaxing enough to enjoy going in the direction the current was taking us made for a better experience.

I don't want to miss the beauty and the blessing that God has provided in my life because I'm fighting a current I can't change. It's not giving up when I decide to stop fighting. Sometimes it's just learning to paddle with the current so that the force of the thing that used to drain me now becomes a force that is providing some unique experiences. I guess going kayaking was a good thing after all.

John 10:10 (Amplified Bible) The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it [a]overflows).

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Remember I Love You

I have a note hanging in my closet that my son wrote for me. I was undergoing some medical tests for some health issues and we were concerned about what we would find. As I got up to leave for an early test both kids were still asleep and there was a note taped up that said "Mom, I hope today is perfect and nothing bad happens and if something does happen I want you to remember I LOVE YOU!" I kept it because it was so sweet, it was a reminder that I wouldn't be going through any of the bad things alone, and it's been hanging in my closet for a few years now.

My son is 15 now and there are a lot of days that aren't perfect as we both struggle to learn what our relationship should look like now that he's turning into a man. Some days are filled with conflict and misunderstandings. As I got dressed last night for a family dinner out to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary I read the note again. And that's when it hit me. The note was written for a specific test, but what if I remembered those words on our less than perfect days? What if every day I remembered that my son's heart really is to have perfect days where nothing bad happens. Sometimes with teens you can feel like they're trying to stir things up. I want to start each day with the assumption that my son wants to have a perfect day just as much as I do.

I can even carry it into other relationships. The note reminds me that the people in my life are really hoping for the best for me. The reality is, though, that relationships are messy and bad things happen. Harsh words are spoken, feelings get hurt, people get moody and hormonal and emotional--I can't erase that fact. However, I can remember that in the middle of those bad times we really love each other. That might be enough to change my attitude on a bad day.

The final truth that can carry all of us, is that the note also reflects God's heart for us. He's always saying "I want what's best for you, and sometimes things get hard and painful and in the middle of those hard times I want you to remember I love you." I have a responsibility that can change my life. I can adjust my attitude and choose to believe that my husband, my kids, my friends and, most of all, my God starts each day saying, "I hope today is perfect and nothing bad happens and if something does happen I want you to remember I LOVE YOU!"

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

But this is my garden

Okay, one more lesson today from the birds. I was outside the other day doing some weeding and dead heading. The bird scolded me continuously and occasionally flew low over my head. It would not let up. I kept telling it that I wasn't going to hurt it or the babies (yeah, I talk to animals) but it wouldn't stop freaking out. Finally I said "look, this is my garden, don't tell me what I can do in my garden."

And that's when it hit me. I'm like that bird. Things happen in my life that I don't have any control over and I yell at God and freak out and try to change things that I don't have the power to change. And God tries to calm me, he tries to assure me that what I'm seeing as a huge threat is really not a big deal. But his final response to me has to be what my final response to the bird was "don't tell me what I can do in my garden." God knows things I have no way of knowing. He's in control of everything and yet I try to tell him what will be best, I try to tell him what his will should be. That's my new goal; remembering that I am privileged to live in God's "garden" (not Eden, just this beautiful world he created) and enjoying all the blessings that come with that.

So if you see me freaking out and buzzing God's head as I try to keep things safe, just remind me that I don't own this garden. God will thank you.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Is the threat real?

I'm sitting on my patio watching a small bird freak out. We have birdhouses that my Dad and the kids built several years ago. In one of them we have a nest, which I love because everytime my patio door is open I get to hear the baby birds crying to be fed. I love the sound of the birds. But today my dog is outside with me. Chi chi is 7 1/2 pounds of obliviousness. She's out there to lay in the sun, and occasionally puke because she ate some grass. She is the farthest thing from a threat to the baby birds. They're up 5 feet off the ground and she stands no where near that height. But as she explored the garden today the mother or father bird was absolutely freaking out! Here's this little bird, probably 1/20th the size of my small dog chasing the dog around, scolding and dive bombing and my dog remained oblivious. So 3 lessons for my own life jumped out at me from watching the two animals.

1. Sometimes I freak out over something that is truly not a threat. Do dogs have the capacity to be a threat to birds? Yes. But in this case, this dog isn't a threat. However the bird parent isn't aware of that and so is responding at full alert. Tons of wasted effort.

2. On the flip side, that bird is awesome. Here is another animal that is 20 times its size and that bird isn't backing down. No matter how big the threat, the little bird will fight to defend its own. That bird could look at the size of the dog (as small as she may be) and think, "no way, I can't do it, that dog could kill me in one bite, it's hopeless, all is lost, I may as well give up." But it doesn't. It does everything in its power to scare off the dog and fight against it. I need to be like that bird and not decide that a situation is hopeless just based on how the circumstances appear to me.

3. I also see a lesson in the dog's response. She's just going about her business, roaming the garden. She knows she's entitled to be there and so as this little bird harasses her and dives at her she completely ignores it. She doesn't pay any attention. She doesn't think, "oh I better go inside since this bird doesn't want me around." No, she flops down in the sun. I need to ignore those little things and just go about my day too, doing what I know I'm supposed to do--no matter how much someone else tells me I'm wrong.

Isn't it amazing how much God can teach us even when we're not looking for it?

Monday, April 19, 2010

He Loves Us

We had worship night at our church last night and it was amazing. The music was incredible, my beautiful daughter was up there singing on the team, the energy in the room was over the top. But even better than all of that was that I could feel the presence of God.

So why is that significant? I've been walking with Christ for over 20 years, I've felt God lots and lots of times. But what I've learned in those 20 years is that it's not constant. Depending on what's going on in my life, sometimes I feel connected to and plugged in to God and sometimes I don't. Lately, I've been in an "I don't" time. The hard part is that I still love Jesus, I still believe the Bible is true...but I'm pissed off that life is so hard. Lately my head hurts again every day. And my back hurts. And my stomach hurts and we're trying to figure out why and that means more tests. I am overwhelmed by my own physical challenges, so overwhelmed that the day to day life of volunteering, being a friend, cooking, cleaning, and parenting 2 teens--1 who we're still homeschooling and 1 who we're helping launch into adulthood--sends me over the edge and I don't even want to pray. And amazingly, that's when I don't hear or feel God. (ok, that amazingly is sarcastic)

One of the songs we sang last night has the lines;
"When all of a sudden
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory
I realize just how beautiful you are
And how great your affections are for me"

What really struck me was the realization that God's glory can eclipse my afflictions. An eclipse of the sun doesn't mean that the sun doesn't exist, it means that we don't see it. God could take my "afflictions" away completely. That's usually the source of my anger, he could--he's capable and powerful enough, but he doesn't. However, I can choose to focus on the glory of God, how beautiful he is, how great his affections are for me and when my focus is on those things my present sufferings don't seem so overwhelming. My choice is to remain angry that my afflictions exist at all or to let it go and become unaware of them because I'm allowing God's awesomeness to block them from view.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


I really don't like stretching. It hurts, it's time consuming. I just want to get to my workout. But stretching is a key part of working out. When you don't stretch, muscles think they don't need to be as long as they once were so they shorten up. You lose function that you used to have. You'll even have increased pain.

I just ended a couple of months in physical therapy. At the start of every session they do stretches on me. Then they have me do more stretching exercises. And after that's all done, then I can start the exercises that will strengthen and repair the muscles. I am always tempted at home to just do the exercises and skip the stretching.

It occurred to me the other day that I have the same attitude in my spiritual life. I like my routines. I don't like change. I don't really like to be stretched out of my comfort zone. But when I look back over my life I see that every time God has stretched me in a direction I didn't really think I wanted to go in, great growth has happened. Sometimes the stretching was as simple as developing the discipline to read my bible daily. Sometimes it was harder like joining a small group where I didn't know anyone or moving from Washington state to California.

So what's my point? I still don't like stretching--either physically or spiritually. But I will willingly do it for the benefit it brings.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


I don't know how much weight you put on dreams. I do know that I had been having dreams of a brown haired baby boy for about 4 years by the time 1995 rolled around. Then as we waited for our baby the dreams morphed into triplet dreams; I even had friends telling me they had dreamed we had adopted triplets. I would dream of holding my baby (or babies) and then wake up to a dresser full of baby clothes but no baby to put in them and an intense longing in my spirit. People would comfort us by telling us "at least you have a child" and I was so thankful for her. It wasn't about our daughter not being enough--she was amazing in every way; it was about this feeling that our family wasn't complete. It was about the desire to mother another child.

On a Thursday in May, Sherry, our adoption worker, called and asked if we wanted our profile shown the following Monday to the birthparents of a baby boy. He was 2 months old, but had been born 2 months early, had spent 6 weeks in the NICU and he had a whole list of health problems. He had been septic and had also recovered from a grade 2 intraventricular hemorrhage. He also had severe reflux that they called life threatening and he would need to wear a monitor because he had apnea of prematurity. They weren't sure what long term effects he would have from all of this. She asked me to talk with Rick and let her know. Just as we were hanging up I said "Sherry, wait, what does he look like." She said "just a cute little baby." I asked if he had any hair and she told me yes, dark brown hair. I called Rick and gave him the whole list of issues and then asked him for his gut reaction. He said, "I'm overwhelmed, what's yours?" I said, "this is our son."

I called our pediatrician and outlined everything we knew about this baby boy, he listened and said he was totally willing and able to handle his medical care. And then he said, "you know, some people adopt a baby hoping for the perfect infant and child. Others adopt a baby because they believe that God has called them to adopt a specific child. I think you'd fall in the second group." He had pegged it, all along we had felt like God was going to put our family together, so again we took this to him and told him we wanted his will most of all. Then we called Sherry back and told her to show our profile.

Even as I retell this 15 years later, my stomach knots up. I spent Friday shooting baskets and weighing options and exploring "what ifs" with my friend, Kristin. I was so afraid to hope; so reluctant to set up a crib or buy supplies. We tried to just act normal, like nothing unusual was going on.

On Tuesday I got another call telling us that the birthparents liked our profile and wanted to meet us. We met at a restaurant in their town, and we arrived first. We wondered, each time a couple approached the restaurant, if they were the ones we were there to meet. Imagine your worst blind date jitters and multiply it by about a gazillion. That's how we felt. We were under the impression that they wanted to meet us so that they could make a decision. They actually had made the decision and just wanted to meet us. We talked about families and I shared about my brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews. The birthfather said, "so Jake will have a lot of cousins." I smiled and said "oh" while I wondered to myself who Jake was. He obviously caught on and said "you don't know what we named the baby do you? We named him Jacob David, but we call hm Jake." I told him I hadn't known that and said something about how neat it is for a kid to grow up with cousins--thinking he meant people in his family. Again he smiled and said "Jake will have a lot of cousins from your family." And that's when it finally sunk in. We had been chosen. They liked us, they wanted us to be their baby's parents. We had a son. Our prayers had been answered. My brown haired, dream baby was finally going to come home!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Get set....

After we finished our adoption classes the next steps in our journey toward baby number 2 would be interviews with the social workers, a home-study, creating a video for birthparents that told about our home, and creating a profile. All in all, we felt scrutinized. Our adoption workers repeatedly assured our group of hopeful parents that we really weren't being scrutinized, that we really didn't need to be nervous. Every hope and every dream we had about having a 2nd baby seemed to rest on the approval of these two adoption workers we had just met, how could we not be nervous? Our desire for another baby was so strong, however that we finished our paperwork and plunged in. Plunged in and waited, and waited, and waited. We had been through so many classes but no one had prepared me for the feelings of rejection; that each month as other couples were chosen by birthparents and we weren't felt like a personal rejection. We knew we were expecting a baby, but there was no baby bump, no stories of morning sickness or contractions, no birth plans, no expected date, no guarantee even that it would really happen. Through the years people have made comments about adoption being the "easy way." Trust me, I've done both, adoption was way harder.

About 9 months in, our adoption worker called about a child who was already 9 or 10 months old, Rick and I prayed and just heard "no" so I called her back and told her this wasn't the child for us. It felt horrible. I felt like I was passing up on the chance to have our child. We had to stand on faith that God would bring us the right baby at the right time but it was so hard. A couple of weeks later our adoption worker called again and said there was a young birth mom who was deciding between us and another couple in our group. She wanted to meet us and the other couple. The other couple were friends from our class so we talked with them and both asserted that either way she chose it would be win/win. We would be happy for each other and no hard feelings. We met her at the CCS office and after our meeting our friends had theirs with her. I talked to my friend later and just from her description of the meeting they had I knew a big connection had been made. It wasn't a huge surprise when our adoption worker let us know a few days later that the birthmom had chosen our friends. We cried and prayed and cried some more. And then we waited again.

The one thing I could do that made me feel like we were having a baby was sew baby clothes. So I made the whole crib set, bumpers, blanket, bed skirt, and I made sleepers, rompers, layette gowns, overalls. I filled drawers with baby clothes. And still we waited.

There have been many times in my life when I feel like God has forgotten me in this "waiting room." I feel like I'm sitting alone waiting for something I've prayed for but I'm not entirely sure he will provide. I usually am sure when I first pray but the longer I wait the more I doubt. What I've learned is that I'm not alone, God is there with me to comfort me and provide my strength as I wait. I don't understand why he doesn't just answer prayers right away. I understand that he sometimes says "yes" and he sometimes says "no." I get that. I have a harder time with the "not yet." I want to know why he's making me wait and letting me know that doesn't seem high on his priority list. I've also learned that he's okay with all of my emotions as I wait. His desire is relationship with me, and with you. And sometimes the biggest relationship growth happens as you sit together in the waiting room.

On your mark...

When our daughter was about 2 years old I started thinking that maybe our family wasn't complete. But my cardiac issues remained and now that we had a child there was just too much at stake to think about taking the risk with another pregnancy. So we made a call to Catholic Community Services to ask about adoption. They sent us a packet of information and I put it away after looking through it. Adoption was overwhelming! It remained an option for someday in the back of my mind but I wasn't ready to go there yet.

Whenever I would roll the idea around in my mind I thought about the facts they had shared in the pamphlet; we were looking at a waiting period of at least 1-2 years, the cost was high, newborns were in high demand--and the birthparents had to pick you! About a year after my first call I called CCS again and they sent me the same packet as before and again I read it and we decided to wait until our daughter was 3 to start the process.

About 3 months before our daughter's third birthday I really started feeling like we were supposed to submit our application. Our one stumbling block was we didn't have the money to pay for the home-studies, social workers, attorney fees etc. But the feeling wouldn't go away so we submitted the application with the small application fee. Our literature said that the usual wait from the time of submitting the application until you actually could start the process was 6 months to 2 years. They only allowed a certain number of potential parents in to the program at a time so you had to wait. We decided that this time period would be when we would save money so we could actually afford to do this.

We were shocked when we were contacted less than a month later to begin adoption prep classes, the process was beginning! The classes were wonderful, we met weekly to learn the facts about adoption; what the process is like, closed vs open, what it's like to grow up adopted, what birthparents feel and think. We had panels with adult adoptees, birthmothers, adoptive parents and medical specialists who work with special needs and drug affected kids. It was a wealth of information and helped us know what we were entering into, and what our child would face as his reality. During this time we learned that our total costs would be around $7000. No problem because we ...um...ok, big problem--we had around $100 in savings. So we started asking friends and relatives to pray. We believed that God would provide the money if this was something he wanted us to do right then. When they asked for a specific amount we needed we told them $7000. And we went forward with the process believing that he would provide somehow if this was his will. About 4 months later we received a settlement for an auto accident that had happened about a year beforehand. The amount of the combined settlement that Rick and I received was, you guessed it, exactly $7000.

I'm not sure why God chose to bless us with the amount of money we needed in that way, but I know that it strengthened my faith. God could have provided the money through a second job, he could have provided the money through a long waiting time while we saved up. But he gave it to us in a lump sum that was exactly the amount that we had asked for. We still had a long wait and lots of emotional stress ahead of us. But now I knew concretely that we weren't in this process alone. God was there, he was in control and he would build our family.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Open My Eyes and Make Me See

I just got new glasses. They're Calvin Klein, super cool...because I care so much about brands. But the thing about these new glasses is that they have progressive lenses, which is a nice way of saying that my new glasses are no-line trifocals. I'm all for improved vision. I actually paid for these new lenses and frames. But the truth was that I was intimidated by them. I was afraid they were going to make me nauseated, that maybe I couldn't get the head movement down right to see clearly. And after I got them, they made my eyes really tired. I wasn't used to having 3 different prescriptions all at the same time. So my temptation was to take them off, set them aside and put my old glasses back on. My vision wasn't that bad, I could see most things and if I hit "ctrl ++" enough times even the computer was clear. Adjusting to this new way of seeing felt too hard, it wasn't convenient.

Isn't it funny how that mimics my Christian walk? My life before I was truly walking with Christ wasn't that bad. But God's not satisfied with satisfactory. Jesus came so that I could have a full and abundant life. He wants my relationships to be the best they can be, he wants my relationship with Him to be the best it can be. But the truth is, those things can feel really hard. A new way of relating to my husband or my kids or my friends or even the clerk at Walmart can make me tired and I can be tempted to reach for the old way of relating just like I wanted to put back on my old glasses. But when I decide that God's way is too hard, I'm deciding to live my life with clouded vision. I'm deciding that I would rather miss all the small details, all the small blessings that come from seeing life clearly because I'm walking in step with Christ.

I'm still adjusting to my new glasses, but I haven't put my old ones back on yet and each day it gets a little easier. And I'm still walking out my life with Christ; step by step, day by day. Want to join me? Want to give up the old and familiar for a life filled to overflowing? It won't always be easy--I'm not going to lie. But the things you see with clear vision make it worth all the work.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Make Me Aware

I remember the night we did the home pregnancy test. I was at work and called my husband to ask him to pick up a test. He was so afraid of running into someone he knew as he was buying it that he drove about 30 minutes out of town to a drugstore. He was pretty sure it was going to be negative. Back in those days you were supposed to do the test first thing in the morning, so I got off work at 11:30pm and the plan was that we would watch a movie and the next morning I would do the test. But about half way through the movie I couldn't stand the suspense so we paused it and I went into the bathroom. Rick kept insisting it was going to be negative. So I waited the 5 minutes and read the test and called to Rick, "come here, you've got to see this." He called back, "I know it's negative." I said "just come see." So he walked in, looked at the stick, covered his mouth with both hands and just kept saying "oh my gosh" over and over. Then we hugged and we both started crying. To say we were overwhelmed would be an understatement. We had been married a month at this point, we were in our early twenties, and the doctors had said that this could kill me. No big deal, right?

Our first appointment with the Dr. was pretty routine except that he said "okay, we can't wait until September to do these tests on your heart. We need to see where you're at risk wise so that we can terminate before it's too late if you're too high risk." I was stunned and said "I'm not getting rid of my baby, no matter what the tests show." So he said "Ok, then there's no rush and we can wait until September."

Pregnancy was like a dream come true for me. I loved every part of it. I loved even the parts that were unpleasant. I carried saltine crackers with me everywhere to combat constant nausea (as well as constant hunger). But as I would wake up and feel like throwing up I would think, "this is so cool that I get to go through morning sickness." My friend Martha was so excited with us and became an amazing support. One night we were working together when I was about 6 weeks pregnant. It was a slow night and she suggested that we try to find the baby's heartbeat with the doppler. She moved the doppler around for a few seconds and then this loud, steady, fast heartbeat filled the room. I started to laugh and the doppler bounced around and we lost the heartbeat. So she told me to calm down and hold still and she found it again and I giggled again. This cycle repeated for several minutes until we were both laughing with tears running down our faces. I had a real baby growing in me, my baby had a real heartbeat, this was really happening.

We had this underlying fear, knowing that things could go wrong because of my Marfan Syndrome and at the same time deciding that we were going to trust God, we were going to trust that this was His will for our family and we didn't have to be afraid. And it was really an uneventful pregnancy. My echocardiograms stayed good, my aorta didn't change at all during the pregnancy.

The scariest moment was the meeting with the anesthesiologist. Because of my risk factors the delivery would be high risk. I couldn't use the birthing suites, I needed an old fashioned delivery room. I would be induced, I would have an epidural from early on in labor so that I wouldn't feel the contractions and have my blood pressure go up in response to the pain, they probably wouldn't let me push much and I would need an arterial line to monitor blood pressure and blood gases and I should plan on 24 hours in ICU for monitoring after delivery. Scary stuff. But then the anesthesiologist started talking about the need for the full team in case I dissected and crashed during delivery etc etc. We left the meeting feeling like death was crouching around the corner waiting for me. Back to God we went, though. Trusting that He had brought us here.

So we watched and waited. I worked full time in labor and delivery as I developed stretch marks, and ligament pains, and varicose veins...and I rejoiced in all of it. Every part of the experience was such a huge blessing. We talked to our baby; we felt little movements, which turned into big rolling movements as the months went by. I was so sure we were having a boy and couldn't wait to meet him.

Finally, 9 months and 46 pounds later....on March 6th, 1991 we went in for our weekly check. Our doctor decided that my body was ready and told us to come back at 4pm when they would start the induction. We had about 5 hours to kill, we already had our bags in the car, so we went out to lunch and then shopping in Seattle. We both felt like kids on Christmas morning when your parents make you eat breakfast but you're too excited to eat because you know after breakfast you get to open presents. But it was fun to have the people in the shops ask when our baby was due and watch their eyes get big when we told them we were on our way to the hospital.

My friend Martha was our nurse throughout labor and delivery. Things went better than expected; I didn't need the arterial line, I didn't have to go to ICU afterward. And since I was all in for the experience, I was thrilled that there was a band around my belly where the epidural wouldn't work. I got to experience labor! I got to feel contractions and feel the need to push. At 2:49 pm on March 7th, 1991 we welcomed our baby into the world. They said "it's a girl!" And I asked them to look again, I was sure it was a boy! But they assured me that we had a daughter. A beautiful, perfect, healthy 7 pound 7 ounce baby girl. Her Daddy said she was "the most beautiful baby in the nursery," that even the nurses thought so, they hadn't said it directly but he could tell.

Our daughter will turn 19 in 2 weeks. People say that she looks just like me, only she's shorter; she doesn't have Marfan's. And in those 19 years, I don't think a day has gone by when I haven't been thankful for the incredible blessing it is to be her Mom. And I go back to our friend Martha, and the way God used her to bless us with our first child, our Kayla Grace.

Maybe that's the way that God wants us to live our lives. Not free from pain or hard things, but constantly aware of His presence and all of the blessings that we have every day. It's not a natural way to live, at least not for me. But I know that I cherished every moment, every experience because I was so aware of how close we had come to missing it all. There's a song by a Christian band, Salvador, and the chorus expresses that very thing. It says,
"Make me aware, make me see
Everything I am is not all about me
Take my world, turn it around
So that the obvious can finally be found
Make me aware
I have been missing so much
Not recognizing your touch
All acknowledging you’re the reason I’m even here"

That's what God did for us, He made us aware and He turned our world around. He kept me safe and He blesses us over and over again. I want to live in that knowledge.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Martha and God

It's funny how God works in some strange ways. When the cardiologist told us that I shouldn't ever get pregnant we decided that I would have a tubal ligation and just eliminate the risks entirely. The problem was that my insurance didn't cover tubals until you'd carried their insurance for 10 months, and that put us to September with a wedding in June. Hmmm...that wasn't going to work. So we saw some more specialists who agreed with the cardiologist that the risk was too high for me to get pregnant and they wrote letters to our insurance company.

It was emotionally wrenching to be fighting for something that blocked what I had always wanted. But we wanted to preserve my life most of all so we wrote letters and spent hours on the phone with the insurance company. And in the end, they wouldn't be persuaded, they wouldn't cover a tubal until September, we would have to use other methods until then.

At the same time I worked with a nurse named Martha, she was nice, she worked nights and I worked evenings and we knew each other from report and the occasional night when I worked a double. Martha also worked at University of Washington Hospital in labor and delivery. She came in to work one evening and told me that she had been working at the U over the weekend and a woman with Marfan Syndrome had delivered and she was fine and baby was fine. I said cool and blew it off. She was persistent though and told me that this woman had even had surgery already on her heart and she was still able to deliver successfully. She suggested that I go see Dr. Benedetti since he had taken care of this woman and see what he had to say. I thanked her and told her that we had already seen specialists and that our decision had been difficult but it was made.

I was so angry. I hated the decision we had been forced to make but I didn't see any other choice and I didn't feel like Martha knew me well enough to speak into my life in this way. So I told my husband about it and then just let it go. A few days later Martha approached me again and said, "I talked to Dr. Benedetti about you. He would love to talk with you and assess your risk factors." I thanked her and inside seethed that she was being so pushy. I went home and Rick and I talked more and I cried because I didn't want to revisit this decision, it had been too hard in the first place.

My whole family was right with me in what I was feeling with the exception of my sister Diana. She said "go talk to him, what can it hurt? If there's a way to be pregnant with low risk, do it." But even with that encouragement I didn't think I could open this wound again. Enter Martha for the 3rd time when I got to work about a week later, "I talked to Dr. Benedetti's patient care coordinator, she has your name and she's waiting for you to call and schedule an appointment." Man, this woman just couldn't stay out of my business! But this time, when I talked to Rick I said "what if this is God? What if God is trying to give us a message through Martha?"

So we scheduled an appointment for 2 weeks after our wedding and Dr. Benedetti was wonderful. He had cared for women with Marfan's successfully through pregnancy and delivery and he felt that I would be on the low end of high risk. But he wanted to do more tests before I got pregnant, another echocardiogram etc and for that we had to wait until September when insurance would cover my pre-existing condition.

We went home that night and talked and cried. I told Rick "I can't make this decision." I could picture 2 scenarios, I decided to get pregnant, dissected and died during pregnancy and when I got to heaven God would say "why did you get pregnant? I sent you to experts who showed you that you shouldn't." Or I would decide not to get pregnant, die at an old age and when I got to heaven God would say "why didn't you trust that I would take care of you during pregnancy? Why did you block that blessing?" (I know this is theologically inaccurate.) So for the first time we really prayed together--we had prayed together at meals and church--but not like this. Rick said, "God, we can't make this decision. We need to know what you would have us do." And I chimed in and said, "yeah, and God, we need a sign. And not just some easy to miss sign but a flashing, neon, unmistakable sign."

And 2 weeks later, we did a home pregnancy test and it was positive. We think, based on timing, that we got pregnant the night we prayed. How's that for an unmistakable, flashing neon sign? I'm so thankful that Martha was persistent. She became a wonderful friend who I've learned isn't normally pushy like that. I know God used Martha to help guide us to an amazing blessing. Want to hear more about that pregnancy and blessing? That'll be my next post.

Friday, February 19, 2010

I Want to be a Mommy When I Grow Up.

My favorite friend's house when I was in early elementary school was my friend Tina's house. She had the most amazing room upstairs that was entirely devoted to playing house. It was, in essence, a miniature house with a wooden stove, refrigerator, a small table and chairs. But the best part was all of the dolls and accessories. Tina had a million baby dolls. And she had cradles and cribs, blankets, clothes, bottles, strollers. It was heaven for a little girl like me. We would play up there in our pretend world at being mommies, having babies who begged to go with us when we needed to go to the store. Ahhh...bliss.

I am the youngest of 7 kids and whenever anyone asked how many kids I wanted to have when I grew up, I always gave a big number. As I grew, I went through lots of career choices..."I want to be a hairdresser, I want to be a secretary, I want to be a marine biologist, I want to be a pediatrician, I want to be a nurse"....it changed often, but combined with all of those was the desire to be a mom. The mom part was a given, no matter what I did I would be a mom too. When my cousins Janelle and Sandi and I played house, one of us always had a pillow under our shirt and gave birth to a doll at some point during the day, no matter what other careers we had as we played.

As Rick and I got serious we talked about the number of kids we would have. I wanted 6 and he thought that was a little extreme. After we were engaged we settled on 4 as a good number. At my first appointment with the cardiologist after being diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome, that was one of my first questions, "can I have kids?" My cardiologist told me yes, but that I needed to have them in my 20's.

A year before our wedding, just after graduating from college and accepting a job in labor and delivery at St. Clare Hospital in Lakewood, I went in for my cardiology appointment. My cardiologist did the exam and told me things were unchanged. Then he told me that he had reviewed my case with the cardiology team and he had some bad news. They felt the risk of pregnancy was just too high. Not only did I have the 50% chance of passing Marfans on to my kids, but the increased blood volume of pregnancy was just too dangerous for me. My aorta could dissect and rupture; pregnancy was life threatening and they didn't feel it was a good option for me.

To say I was devastated would be an understatement. I told Rick what the doctor had said and then I told him that I couldn't marry him. He needed to marry someone who could have babies with him. He needed to marry someone healthy. He told me I was crazy, that he needed to marry me--he loved me and he wanted me, even if we never had children. He refused to walk away.

I wasn't sure I could take my new job now. How could I spend 40 hours a week with pregnant women? How could I be faced every day with what I would never experience? But after praying about it, I felt like it was still a field that I loved and that God would be with me and help me in the process.

So I went to work and loved everything about pregnancy. I loved the way pregnant bellies looked. I loved the process of labor and the miracle of birth. I loved being there to hear that first cry and see the wonder on the faces of the parents and the relatives. I loved the tears of joy that filled my eyes and sometimes even slipped down my cheeks each time a baby entered the world.

And I also grieved. I grieved that I would never watch my body grow with another life inside. I grieved that I would never waddle, or have ligament pains, or stretch marks on my belly. I grieved that we would never have that delivery room experience of watching the new life we created emerge into the world. I grieved that no one would ever look at Rick and shout "it's a boy!" or "it's a girl".

I knew we could still have a family. I knew adoption was a beautiful option and that I would love my kids fiercely no matter how they came into my life. I knew that my niece and nephew who had entered our family by adoption were just as much my niece and nephew as the ones born into my family. I knew adoption wasn't the lesser alternative. But my heart ached that my pillow under the shirt play would never become reality.

As hard as working labor and delivery was in the midst of that, I never regretted it. And the added bonus was I met my friend Martha there. In my next post I'll share how God used Martha to bless us more than we could have ever imagined.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

But What if I Don't like Roller Coasters?

It's been about 22 years since I was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome. The thing that amazes me about that is I've now been aware of my diagnosis for more than half of my life. For over half of my life I've known about this defect that affects all of my connective tissue. At the time of my diagnosis I didn't realize the impact it would have on my life, and yet the details of that day are etched in my memory.

I was a nursing student and like most nursing and medical students the joke is that you self diagnose with multiple illnesses as you read about them and see symptoms in yourself. My roommate and I had just read about Marfans in one of our classes and I remember sitting on our ugly green couch with my book in my lap and saying, "hey, here's what I have." She agreed with me, "oh yeah, it says long arms and legs, long fingers," we laughed and moved on.

Fast forward a month or two and I'm having my yearly physical and after listening to my heart in multiple positions (I have a murmur) and examining my joints and my long fingers my doctor asks me if I've ever heard of Marfan Syndrome. I told her with a smile that I had and that my roommate and I had joked that I had it. She looked at me with a very serious expression and said "I think you do." As I remember that, I always feel like a cell door slams shut. This didn't seem funny anymore. She expained how she had just been reading an article about it and that I fit the profile. So she referred me to a specialist in town and we made an appointment for Monday. This all happened on a Friday of what was supposed to be a fun weekend with my boyfriend (now my husband) Rick. He was living at WSU, I was 70miles North in Spokane for nursing school. I left Student health and started crying. I went to the dining hall where Rick worked and he took one look at me and asked to take a break. He didn't know what the doctor had said but he knew something wasn't right.

The weekend is a blur, my Mom wanted to make the 3oo mile trip and I told her I was fine, I wasn't sick so she didn't need to come. Now that I'm a Mom I would do that differently and have her there. She needed to be there. So Rick went with me to the first of many appointments over the years. They did an echocardiogram and made a tentative diagnosis and referred me to a cardiologist.

As I remember this, it's so surreal. I wasn't sick. I didn't have any symptoms. I was active and healthy. My aorta was slightly dilated and I had lots of physical characteristics, but no major problems. I worked part time at the nursing school library and I can remember researching Marfans whenever it wasn't busy. I wasn't given any resources by the doctors. No one told me about the National Marfan Foundation. The information I found was older and scary. The photos were of the worst cases and yet somehow that became mixed in my brain where I saw that same severity when I looked in the mirror. There was a slight sense of relief that all of the health problems I had dealt with over the years now were related. We didn't know why I had so many weird things wrong and now we knew that they were all because of this same defect.

It was the beginning of a roller coaster ride. And I guess that's the best way to look at living with Marfan's. I was strapped into a ride when I didn't have a clue what to expect. I hadn't seen the track, I didn't know how high it would take me or how big the drops were going to be. But from the highest peaks I've seen views that I never would have seen otherwise. There have been times when it's been an amazing thrill and I'm actually thankful to be on it and there have been times when I'm screaming to get off. The most awesome thing though, is that through it all I've had an in the flesh partner in the ride. Rick wasn't forced on like I was; he chose to step in, strap in and stay for the journey. So many times I told him to just get off, it wasn't his ride, he could find someone else who wasn't strapped into a thrill ride for life and live quietly and peacefully. But he refused to budge.

And the key to enjoying a roller coaster is being able to sway with the ride. If I stiffen up and close my eyes; I'm going to be constantly bumped and bruised and I won't see any of the good things that happen during the ride. Sometimes it's easy to forget that God isn't surprised by any of this. He does know the track, he knows when the drops are coming and how I'll respond. And He also has chosen to step in, strap in and stay with me for the journey. When I can remember that, I'm able to relax and enjoy the ride.

Monday, February 8, 2010

2 Steps Forward and How Many Steps Back?

It was around this date 14 years ago that I got to go home from the hospital after my heart surgery. I was amazed that I was alive, I was amazed that I was up and walking and had only spent a week in the hospital. And here at a week post op I could sing without getting winded and I felt better than I had for months before my surgery. And I still wasn't afraid. I wasn't anxious, that amazing peace was staying with me. I thought this was maybe my new normal. God had fixed me inside and out.

We came home to all of the ice and snow melting, which was great except that we lived in a valley and had a basement and the sump pump couldn't keep up so the basement flooded. My husband was trying to take care of a very sick wife, a 10 month old son and a 4 1/2 year old daughter. A flooded basement was over the top. So, we moved to my parents and I wasn't stressed or worried. Yes!

I continued to improve but after a few days I noticed I was less comfortable laying down, I needed more pillows and eventually just stayed in the recliner. Then it got increasingly difficult to hold my head up, I was exhausted. And then I started to run a fever. So back to the hospital we went and that peace that had been my constant companion decided not to come along. They were concerned I had an infection on the valve--which would mean replacing it--so they were going to readmit me. We did blood cultures, radiologic tests etc.

One problem was that I had 800 cc's of fluid around my heart that needed to be drained off. They do that while you're awake, with a giant needle, and tell you not to move because they could accidentally puncture your heart if you move. Okay, the peace was gone and anxiety was back in full force. They were going to kill me, I just knew it. (They didn't kill me, in case you were wondering) We were in the hospital for another 7 days and I went home on IV antibiotics without a clear understanding of what caused the fever since nothing grew on the cultures.

And my recovery seemed to continue that way. Home, then back because internal stitches pulled loose. Each trip in was worth it, but it was such a hassle. I would think "there, ok, now I'll fully recover" and then something else would happen. On one trip back in I bought a t-shirt from the gift shop that showed a cow hanging over the moon after attempting to jump and getting stuck. It said "Nothing is ever simple" and it seemed to characterize my life.

My walk with God is similar to my recovery. I'll make great strides forward and feel so great and then find myself right back where I thought I had started from. It doesn't always take me as long to move forward again, but it's the continual moving forward and sliding back journey. What I've learned is that the forward motion only happens when I'm not trying to do it my way and on my own. I couldn't make my body heal, I couldn't fix it myself. There were obviously good practices I needed to do to allow myself to heal, but the work was done by someone else. I can't make myself grow spiritually. There are good practices I can put in place and commit to, but scripture tells me that Jesus is the author and perfecter of my faith. I can't make myself have more faith, but I can learn to trust and lean on the Lord. And so that's what I try to do so that I can grow and mature. It's not a quick journey, it's not a simple journey; but it's worth it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Wild Thing

This year I'm reading through an Archeological Study Bible. I know that might sound a little dry, but it's actually fascinating to me. I've learned to love historical facts so reading the way that scripture is supported (or not supported) by archeological findings as well as the details about the ancient cultures is bringing a different insight into my reading.

Right now, I'm reading through Exodus about the Israelites flight from Egypt. And I'm amazed at what an Israelite I am. They grumbled and complained about their circumstances...I do the same. They thought they used to have it better--back when they were enslaved, and they're pretty sure God brought them out the the desert to destroy them. Hmmm, I know I've had similar thoughts. So Exodus 14:13-14 (NIV) says "Moses answered the people, 'Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.'" I'm not running from literal Egyptians. But we all face "Egyptians" in our lives; those obstacles, challenges and threats that we feel pursued by each day. And so God is saying in this that he'll be the one to fight for us, that he'll deal with today's obstacles and challenges and threats and we'll never see them again. We may have new ones tomorrow, but then he'll deal with those.
I don't have to fight, I just have to "be still".

So what does it mean to be still? In the book Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, Max comes to the place where the wild things live and they roar terrible roars, gnash terrible teeth, roll their terrible eyes and show their terrible claws until Max says "BE STILL!" and he stares straight into their eyes. And they are all frightened and make him king and they do what he says. Maybe this is a stretch, but at first I thought that I have wild things in my life and through Christ I have the power to tell those wild things to "be still." But in reality, I think I am the wild thing. Things happen in my life, my Egyptians chase me, and I roar and gnash my teeth and roll my eyes and get ready to fight. And then Christ says "BE STILL!"

Those two simple words tell me to stop striving, stop plotting and planning, stop being afraid and angry, and stop fighting. I don't need to do any of that. I just need to follow, without a map or an itinerary. I can follow my king and be at peace with wherever he takes me. Even if it's a small rental condo in Chula Vista. Even if it's a broken body.

God is right here in the middle of my life with me. He will fight for me. He will deliver me. I won't be destroyed.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Reason I Celebrate

I arrived at UW Hospital on January 29th, 1996 and I was amazed that my cardiologist, Dr Catherine Otto, was already there as they wheeled me in to ICU. I didn't realize that the ambulance ride had taken us so long that it was now early morning. They transferred me to a bed and were just starting an echo as Dr. Otto talked to me. She told me I would be having surgery but that they would wait until Rick and the kids arrived to see me before they had to take me in.

Just then the echo tech touched her on the back and she turned and looked at the screen, then she turned back to me very calmly and said "scratch that, you've dissected, we're going to surgery now." (A few years later that same echo tech did my echo again and she described the horrible moment of putting that transducer to my chest and seeing the dissection and really grieving because I was so young and she thought I wouldn't survive...all while trying to maintain a professional and calm exterior) Everything kind of exploded into action then and I remember telling them that if I didn't get to talk to my husband and kids I needed paper so I could write them each a letter. So they brought me blank progress notes from the chart and I wrote to all 3 of them, telling them that I believed God was going to save me but that I wanted them each to know how special they were and how much I loved them. So they're busily prepping me for surgery and I'm writing letters. (I always feel like I need to apologize to Rick at this point because those were just a little hard to read) And that lack of fear, that peace that I described yesterday, remained.

As we got to the OR I asked if the whole crew was there who would be in my surgery because I wanted to talk to all of them before they put me under. So they all gathered around and I told them that I wanted them to act like I was awake as they did the surgery. I didn't want jokes made about my body, I didn't want any negative talk, I didn't want them speculating on how bad things looked. They all agreed and so I said we could go ahead. My mom joked that the surgeon had to leave the room to say "oh shi*" when he saw how bad my aorta was so that he wouldn't break my rules. But this is when the story really got easy for me. I was asleep as Dr. Salim Aziz placed a St. Jude mechanical aortic valve and an aortic graft made of dacron. I missed the drama that my family and friends lived through as they spent 16 hours saving my life. I missed when they thought they had completed the repair and did a transesophogeal echo and found that the dissection was actually longer and the graft needed to be longer as well. I missed when they brought me back to ICU and let Rick see me (he said I looked dead, I was super pale and on a ventilator with tubes and wires everywhere) and then found that I was bleeding and had to go back to surgery for the 3rd time. My Mom said that as time passed she went from praying to begging God to save my life. My friend Kristin said Dr. Aziz told her he had never seen someone whose aorta looked like mine actually make it off the table alive. He said it looked like a grenade had exploded inside my aorta; it was shredded. My family and friends remember the fear and the waiting and the warnings that being on cardiac bypass for 16 hours can cause some major brain damage. They remember me waking up, they remember wondering if I would know them, they remember me begging to have the ventilator removed and me crying for my Mom when they wouldn't do it. I don't remember any of that.

And I guess this is where the story could end. I could say that a team of very qualified and skilled medical professionals saved my life and I could be forever grateful to them. And I am, UW Hospital gave amazing care. But that's not where my story ends. What I do remember is just being wrapped in God's love. I remember feeling closer to him than ever before or since. I remember feeling his actual presence. And on the first day that I was really awake or actually lucid Dr. Aziz poked his head in my door and said, "you know you have a friend upstairs, right? You know I can't take credit for this." And I remember being so thankful and feeling like God had left me here for a reason. That I needed to make sure that the people God placed in my life knew how much I loved them and how much he loves them.

It's easy to let time swallow up the miracle. It's easy to get caught up in the cares and details of daily life and forget that each day is a gift. So that's why I tell my story, that's why I celebrate this anniversary. Every time I tell it I'm re-experiencing the amazing work that God did, and continues to do, in my life. I think that's worth remembering.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Scary Anniversary

My husband said to me this morning, "today's the scary anniversary...tomorrow's the good one." 14 years ago today my aorta dissected. Now you have to pause after you read that because I can't ever say it without a pause in my speech.

Backing it up, I knew the possibility existed. And the possibility terrified me. I was sure if my aorta dissected I would die. But I had always been told I was fairly low risk, mildly affected, my aorta was slightly dilated, but it hadn't changed much. I went in yearly and lived my life basically ignoring the fact that I have Marfan Syndrome.

Then, bam, on January 25th, 1996 my cardiologist called to tell me that she had been reviewing my latest echocardiogram and didn't like what she had seen. We scheduled an appointment and another echo and she told me I was probably looking at surgery within the year. Wow, I had a 10 month old baby and a little girl who was 4, I couldn't have heart surgery, I didn't have time.

January 28th was Superbowl Sunday and we had plans to go to my sister's house. We woke up to lots of snow and ice and decided to go hang out with my sister and her family anyway. But I didn't feel good. And we had a nice day but I really wanted to stick close to my husband and the whole way home I kept feeling like I couldn't breathe. I thought it was because of the heater blowing in my face.

So we got home and I nursed and rocked my baby to sleep and then just sat and held him for a long time. Finally I laid him down and went to brush my teeth and noticed that the vessels in my neck were all standing out. And I felt this horrible pain in my neck. I told my husband something was wrong, that my neck really hurt. He offered to rub it and I told him he needed to call 911, to tell them that my aorta was probably dissecting. The pain radiated from my neck up to my jaw and finally down to my chest. Sitting on the floor in my living room waiting for the ambulance was horrible. I hurt so bad and I was so scared that I was dying. 2 rescue crews came up to the house and the first thing I said was "don't wake my kids, you'll scare them", the second was "don't let me die". I was terrified, I was 28, too young to leave my husband and babies. Then a woman walked through the door with the 2nd crew and I felt this relief. I didn't know her but I felt something. She came and sat next to me and I told her they couldn't let me die. She said they were going to take care of me and then I asked her if she prayed. She said "all the time" and I said "then please start praying." And she did. She didn't pray aloud, but I instantly felt peace. All of my fear evaporated and I knew that God was taking care of me and I was going to be ok.

Now that's what I knew, but my husband, my parents, my siblings were all still terrified. I was transported to the hospital closest to my house and I told the ER doctor that I was probably dissecting and asked what they were going to do to assess that. He told me an EKG and cardiac enzymes. I told him that wasn't going to tell them anything and they needed to do a CT scan or at the very least an xray and echo to look at my aorta. So they ordered the CT scan and found that my aorta was really big, but they missed the dissection. They needed to transfer me to a hospital that could handle heart surgery and I wanted to be transferred to University of Washington Hospital. They were going to air lift me and then decided that I was stable enough to make the 33 mile drive via ambulance. The roads were sheets of ice and what should have taken 40 minutes actually took hours. The chains on the ambulance tires broke twice and they stopped and both workers got out to fix them. I remember lying there alone thinking "wow, God, this would be really scary if you weren't here and I was actually alone." But because I knew God had this one, rather than fear I just felt this amazing peace, that peace that's beyond all understanding. I am a person who goes to fear and anxiety easily. But I truly didn't have any. I felt like I was wrapped in the arms of the one who had made my body and he was the one who would make sure that I was taken care of. So I didn't need to be afraid.

Tune in tomorrow to see if I survived...;-)