Saturday, November 14, 2015

Parenting My To-Do List

God uses crazy times, like the one I am in now, to teach me hard lessons.  He usually lets me observe something around me, experience it personally, and then He comes in hard with the one liner that drives home the truth.  If I really need to see it, there is also a closer of some sort that seals the deal.  This was one of those weeks.

I am sharing in this in hopes of encouraging those of you who feel similar pressures as I do and find yourself caught up in the demands of the world at the expense of those who matter most. Finding balance is hard and we need to stick together.

So here is how this lesson went.

The Observation -
If you haven't heard, we hit a crisis point a week ago.  Our 3 year old daughter, who we thought was recovering beautifully from heart surgery, ended up having a massive pleural effusion and was admitted to the hospital for what could be weeks.  I seriously panicked.  Our schedules are already completely full.  We did not have time for this.  As a response to my panic,  I started in with what my friend Debbie calls the motion pictures in our head.

The Experience -
Motion pictures are those perfect scenarios we create in our minds that are not reality and only leave us frustrated in the end.  In my motion picture I was picturing who my mom would be in this moment if she were still living and could help me out.  I needed her to be the kind of mom who would drop everything and come to my aid.  I have friends with moms like that and I have always jealously observed that type of relationship.

My Academy-Award-quality motion picture played out like this - I would pick up the phone and call my mom with the report of what had happened.  She would say something like, "Give me 30 minutes to clear my calendar and I will get on the road."  She would then arrive to my house with frozen casseroles in hand (like Paige's mom).  Then, while she was meeting the needs of my children, she would also find the time to tend to my flower beds and decorate my house for Christmas (like Rebecca's mom).   She would impart great wisdom to our souls and leave us all spiritually healthier for having been in her presence (like Keith's mom).  I would be at the hospital in perfect peace knowing that my mom, who cherished her family above all else (and had crazy mom skills), had everything covered.  It was a real Hallmark Channel original folks.

This time my longing (motion picture) turned to anger that she wasn't there and that role had been robbed from me.  I told God what kind of mom I would be when my kids were older and needed me.  I would be this mom I had observed who would again drop everything and serve their children in a moment's notice.

The Lesson -
Then with me crying while driving on 610, God went ahead and hit me with the truth- "How can you expect to be that kind of mom when your kids are older if you aren't a drop everything mom when they need you now?"

OUCH! (and a few other expletives)

It hurt, but it was true.  I was responding to this crisis while trying to still figure out how I could fit everything else in.  I was parenting my child, at their point of greatest need, from the demands of my to do list.

So I went home and sincerely prayed that God would show me how I was supposed to respond.  In typical spiritual lesson fashion, His timing was perfect and He was about to bring in the closer.

I started Thursday with a 7 am report to my sports medicine job which would immediately be followed by a pediatric home health patient, a newborn shoot, piano lessons, AWANA at church, a soccer game, a late night switch at the hospital with my husband, and 2 more hours of editing beside a sleeping baby.  Forget the fact that we are out of groceries and my big 3 had emotional needs that weren't being met.  We had places to be and things to check off people!

The Closer - 
As I was wrapping up item #1 on the list, my supervisor called me in and said, "I wanted to tell you that we are having some scheduling problems so we have decided that everyone with your status will now be required to work one Saturday a month."

Yep, in an instant it was clear that the job I loved, with coworkers I cherished, in a community I felt called to serve, was adding an item to my to do list in a non-negotiable time slot.  Two weeks earlier I probably would have tried to figure out how to make it work, which is no doubt why God allowed it to be brought to my attention in that moment, as the closer.

I submitted my resignation to Methodist St. John on Friday.   I had no choice if I was going to stop parenting from my to do list.  I am still sad about it but also really hopeful for what God has next and how He is going to use this to bring about His (not my) purposes in my family.

I am still figuring this out and God is still teaching me, but I have a few observations from my journey thus far that I would love to share with the 10% of you who share in this struggle. :)

We can call this - Things to Consider When Trying To Avoid Parenting From Your To Do List 101:

1. To-do listing your kids is first a state of mind that then becomes a state of function.
There is no 3 step solution.  It requires a paradigm shift to break the pattern.

2.  Do you find your significance in your busyness?
This is a generational curse that I have observed in my family.  We feel like the busier we are, the more significant we are.   So we take on more and more until we are running ragged.  I don't have any memories of my mom relationally but I sure can recite her resume to you for the number of times it was recited to me to describe her.   That kind of measuring stick was passed down to me as a means of self-evaluation.  I know, that's messed up.   #WorkingOnThat

3.  Do you have consistent moments to cherish the little things?

4.  Love and hurry cannot coexist (John Ortberg- The Life You've Always Wanted ch. 5).

5.  Changing this pattern may require giving up things that you enjoy in exchange for the priority of your family.

6.  Ask yourself, does my to-do list own me?

7.  Changing this pattern may require financial sacrifice.

8.  Are your priorities motivated by your desire to please your peers?
Had I said yes to working Saturday mornings, I would have placed my desire to please my supervisor over the needs of my family.  That's what we call "no bueno."

9. When you step out in faith to align your priorities with God's calling, He always takes care of you.
We have seen this with our adoptions, family moves, and many other moments where we made a decision that terrified us but we knew was right.  It's the truth folks and as much as we would like confirmation on the front end, that first step of faith is critical.

Monday, November 9, 2015

It's All About the Inside

This position feels so familiar.  Two months ago Trent and I questioned our decision to send Maggie into surgery for her Fontan heart repair.  She appeared really healthy and we feared the consequences of our choice.  God showed us, in several ways, that we were making the right decision because even if she looked good on the outside, she was a wreck on the inside.

I was just sitting in the TCH cafeteria remembering those days as we once again prepare to send her back to surgery.  I really can't put into words how good she looks so you should just see this video that Trent captured last night of her running down the hallways of the hospital.


The problem is that once again she is a disaster on the inside.  Her left lung is full of fluid and it is  getting worse.  Because it has been coming on slowly, she has adapted to the demand. Her surgeon says that any day now it will become emergent and that is not the surgery that we want to be going into.  

As I was reflecting on 2 months ago and then today, I felt like God said to me, "That is exactly how you were before you found me- looking good on the outside, running around without a care in the world, but a complete mess on the inside and in danger of what might come next without immediate intervention."  

Does that sound familiar? Maggie's situation right now is the perfect illustration of how we all look apart from Christ.  How many people can you think of who have slowly adapted to the consequences of what is taking place inside of them such that they still look like they have it together when in reality, their situation is catastrophic with out a surgeon, The Surgeon? 

So as I sit next to my seemingly healthy, but desperately sick, child and wait for her surgeons to bring her to a right place, I am thankful for God's healing power in my own life and trust that He has hers too.


Sunday, November 1, 2015

Not "To Be" but "That They Might Know"

My car stays on Christian radio.  While I may not love every song, God seems to speak to me consistently through that medium and so I keep it there.  One such lesson came last week when I was driving home from a photo shoot.  The DJ came on and told a story about a lady who had been recently widowed and asked for listeners to join in prayer for her.  Her prayer sounded exactly like what most of us would have prayed in that moment.  It was in the line of "Lord, please be her comforter and her husband" that it hit me.  I am asking for something that He already is!  It is in His character.  That doesn't come and go according to our circumstances.  It always is and He already is!  So, why do we pray that way when He has already defined Himself as such?

I thought of the countless times when I have asked God to be my provider, someone's comforter, or my source of peace.  I never questioned my semantics until that moment when it occurred to me that He already is.  The disconnect is not with God's identity in the situation, it is with my surrender to it.

I believe our best response to this is to pray differently.  I am going to stop praying that God would be a certain role in someone's life and start praying that they would experience Him as that role.

Personally I am going to ask 3 questions of myself (and pray these for others) when I am in need of God's presence in my situation:

1. Am I responding in Faith?  Do I really believe that God is my ________ and what does the evidence of that belief look like?

2. Am I responding in Function?  Does my obedience to God's word in this situation reflect my faith that God is my _________?  Am I doing what His word commands concerning my situation? Am I seeking Him in this role according to his Word?

3. Am I responding in Focus? Do I have my eyes fixed on Him instead of my circumstance?

To put it simply, the bridge between my circumstances and desired outcome is not God showing up in a certain role.  He is already fully there.  The bridge is my correct response to His presence.

So I will continue to pray according to God's character but I will know longer pray that he would "be."  I will now pray that they would "know."

Friday, October 16, 2015

Escaping the Tyranny of Labels

There is something you probably don't know about my husband.  The man has some serious preferences with his automobiles.  He wants all of the family cars to be white, with light interior, and sticker free.  So you can imagine my shock when I walked outside one day, several years ago, and saw a translucent apple stuck to his back windshield.  I returned to the kitchen and said something overly dramatic and sarcastic like, "We don't put crosses or backwards swimming fish on our cars, no cute little decals that represent our family, and no pine cones for the ministry that has shaped us, but we are okay with apples?"

His response was simple, "It came with my new computer and I like my Macintosh."

I laughed and pointed out that if you are going to send one message to the world with your car, why not let it be your preference in computers.  We moved on, removed the apple, and have since returned to vehicle simplicity and anonymity.

The lesson I am desperately trying to illustrate here, my friends, is that:


I have been doing some thinking about labels lately and our tendency to let them define us.  When I talk about labels, I am not talking about the foundational ones that we cannot escape from like mom, sister, and daughter.  Think of those like the Honda decal on my car.  They come with the vehicle.   I am talking about the additional labels that we choose to take on or let others place on us like stay-at-home mom, pastor's wife, disabled, overweight, working mom, missionary, empty nester, Republican, divorced, widow, crazy, damaged, new mom, home school mom, and I could go on and on.  You get the idea.

Take a minute and think about the labels you have taken on and then let's 'talk' about them.

I Believe 6 Things Are True of Labels:

1. Labels place performance burdens and expectations on us that God may not have intended for us to bear.

The problem here is that we then feel the need to live up to those expectations in order to be faithful to our label. 

For example, 

"You are a stay at home mom so you should be the room mom and President of the PTA. "
"You are the pastor's wife (or kid) so you should behave perfectly and be at the church for every event."
"You have a degree in XYZ so you should be using that to support your family financially."

2. Labels are used to try and define our state of mind or emotional response (and they are usually wrong).

The problem here is that we either take on a negative emotion that we would not have felt had it not been suggested to us OR we feel guilty for not feeling the positive emotion.  

I was a blockhead a few months back and kept asking my friend, who had just returned from the mission field, if she was excited to be settling into her new home.   Of course, she was just trying to adjust and catch her breath.  Thankfully she was gracious enough not to tell me where to stick my assumptions of excitement. 

Other examples, 

"You are an empty nester now, aren't you so lost?"
"You are a new mom, you must be happy all the time to have that new baby."
"Your husband is a disabled vet, wow you must feel so burdened."
"You are single so you must be lonely."

3. Labels make unfair assumptions of our attributes.

Individuals then relate to you based on those assumed attributes and that never ends well. You know what they say about people who assume things. :)

For example, 

"You are a missionary so you must be super-spiritual."
"You are tattooed so you must be rebellious."
"You work outside of the home so you must not enjoy your kids like stay-at-home moms."
"You are overweight so you must be lazy."
"You trusted that man so you must be naive, stupid, or gullible."

4. Labels try and define our perspective.

In this situation we are grouped with others who carry the same label but possibly not the same values.  I believe this is where ministry is most hindered. 

For example, 

"You are a Republican so you must hate people on welfare."
"You work out and eat healthy so you are probably judging me for not doing so."
"You are a home school mom so you don't approve of my kids who go to public school."
"You are a Christian so you must hate homosexuals."
"You are a police officer so you must hate black people."

5. Labels ascribe value.

Two jacked-up extremes come to mind with this one - professional athletes and orphans.  We ascribe great value to one because they can run fast or throw a ball and zero value to the other whom God refers to caring for as "pure and undefiled religion."

Other examples,

"You come from money so you are special"
"You are divorced so you are not valuable"

6. Labels try and define your future.

I work every day to fight this lie.  Whether it is in my clinic or my home, I battle the notion that being disabled defines what you are capable of. 

Other examples, 

"You are being raised in the projects so you are destined to do drugs or end up in prison."
"You are a pregnant teenager.  Your life is over."
"You are childless so your future won't be fulfilling."

Do you see any of these 6 attributes in your labels?  

Some friends of mine made 2 other great observations that I want to share with you about labels:

  • "If this is in any way like the bins that are labeled at my house....the labels aren't always what is truly inside or are not the only thing inside "
  • "To add to the conversation about labels placed upon us, I'll give an example from my childhood. People inside and outside of our family often complimented my older sister's looks and my book smarts. We were constantly labeled as "the pretty one" and "the smart one." While we always had (and have) a very close relationship, those labels did breed insecurities in us both. As adults we've talked to each other about how she never felt smart and I never felt pretty. An example of how labels can often make people feel limited or less worthy, even when meant as compliments."
So here is where it gets really good.  

There is only one label we are supposed to wear and it too carries these attributes. But with this label, the attributes are a lot more encouraging. 

The label is "IN CHRIST."  Here is what the Bible has to say about our position in Christ. 

2 Cor 5:17  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

1. Performance or expectations on us when in Christ    
1 Thes 2.4  We have been approved by God to be entrusted with the Gospel, which leads to our desire to please Him and not perform for others.
Eph 5.1  We are imitators of God BECAUSE we are His beloved children.
Eph 2.10  We are His workmanship created for good works that we should walk in them.

When we are powerless to do a thing, it is a great joy we can come and step inside the ability of Jesus-  Corrie Ten Boom

2. Our state of mind or emotions in Christ    
Rom 12.2  We are to be renewed in our minds which leads to transformation
Eph 4.22-24   Putting on the new self instead of wearing around the old by being renewed in our minds
Col 3.1-4  Set our minds on things above not on things of earth
2 Tim 2.22  Flee youthful desires / lusts / compulsions and pursue the right things with the right kind of people

3. Our attributes in Christ   
1 Tim 1.13-16  God uses the imperfect and rebellious so that He can magnify His mercy (what you think might disqualify you may actually be God magnifying His mercy)
1 Peter 4.10  Be good stewards of the grace-gifts God has given us

4. Our perspective in Christ  
1 Cor 4.2-3  It matters that we be found faithful, BUT people aren’t our judges.  We ourselves don't get to be our own judges.

5.Our value in Christ    
Ps 139  We are knit together by Him.
Eph 2.10  We are His workmanship / masterpiece.
Luke 12.7 / Matthew 10.31  We are valued by Him and He takes care of us.

“It does not matter where we come from or what we look like. If we recognize our abilities, are willing to learn and to use what we know in helping others, we will always have a place in the world.”    -Ben Carson

6.  Our future in Christ
Jer 29:11  For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Eph 2.7   God will forever display His kindness toward us in Christ – heaven will be an ongoing fireworks show of His mercy and grace to us.
Phil 1:6  Being confident of this that He who began a good work in your will be faithful to bring it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

So here is what I think we are supposed to do with this.
  • Identify the labels you have take on. 
  • Identify how you have let them define your performance, emotions, attributes, perspective, value, and future.  
  • If you are like me, you need to make a list to make it real. 
  • Replace those labels with "in Christ" and replace those attributes with your position "in Christ".
I think it is time for us to find an "in Christ" bumper sticker.  What do you think? :)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Mountains and Airplanes

     I love to travel and I especially love when I get to travel internationally. Initially, I struggled with long international flights. Sitting in a chair for hours did not align well with my tendency for hyperactivity.  In order to continue my love for international travel, I had to learn how to physically and mentally power down for the 10-20 hour ride. I also had to learn to trust the plane and the pilot when turbulence hit or we encountered an unexpected delay.  Now when I travel internationally, I lay down all of my expectations for arrival and departure times, I lay down my food preferences, I lay down my need to be in control, and I just power down for the experience because I know it is a necessary means to an end.

     Last summer when Maggie spent months in the hospital, our experience felt like we were climbing a mountain and through it all I felt like God was guiding me through the terrain. This experience has felt much more like an international flight with God as the pilot. The timeline is predicted but not guaranteed.  I have no control over the turbulence and while my preferences are considered, at the end of the day, they hold very little weight.  

     I think the hardest part is that last summer I felt like God was right beside me and guiding me through every turn.  This year, I truly feel like He is in the cockpit.  He comes over the speaker every now and then to reassure me or give me directions but what He is expecting, through it all, is that I trust Him.  I should have seen this coming.  As I was getting ready to board the plane of this experience, I felt like God clearly said to my heart, "I've got this".  Those are preparatory words and they are words that I have had to cling to when this plane has started to shake or the course on my screen did not look like the one I had charted in my head. 

     I don't know why God sometimes holds our hand through every step and other times calls us to trust Him as he leads from the front of the plane.  I can say the experience has been lonelier spiritually but I know that it is all for a purpose and is necessary for what He wants to teach me through this.  

     Maggie appears to be improving.  I commented during rounds today on how much better her heart rate was and I was glad we were passed that concern and the doc gave me the "not yet" look.  Her drainage is slowing which is fantastic but I got another "not yet" look when I asked about pulling her drains.  We are ready to land this plane.  This now feels like the end of the flight when they turn the lights back on, you need to go to the bathroom but you don't want to step past the guy sleeping next to you, you start imagining all that waits for you when you land, you stare anxiously out the window, and your heart rate starts to rise as you count down the final minutes.  Yep, that is pretty much where I am and I am praying the pilot doesn't tell me that we need to circle for a while before we lower the flaps.

You can pray for steady rhythms, decreased drainage, and peace.

Just for fun, here are some other similarities between international flights and long hospital stays:
1.  You live from meal to meal just to break up the monotony.
2. You catch up on every movie or TV show you didn't have time to see the year before. 
3. You long for a breath of fresh, moist air again. 
4. You can go hours longer than you ever thought imaginable without going to the bathroom.
5.  You have a tendency to lose your sense of time.  
6. If you are with a child, the ultimate accomplishment is when they fall asleep.
7. It is a great place to people watch and make up scenarios in your head as to where they came from.

Thanks for praying and hanging in there with us. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

11 Days After the Fontan

Maggie's Fontan was 11 days ago and we are not exactly where we hoped to be but we are were they prepared us to be.  When I asked her surgeon how long we would be in the hospital, he said to prepare for 3 weeks.  Of course, I asked the other heart mamas too and the range was 10 days to 3 months.  So I set my hopes on 10 days and prepared my calendar for 3 months.

It looked like we were moving toward the 10 day goal until about 4 days ago.  Maggie's chest x-ray took a dramatic turn for the worse and her drainage began to increase and turn cloudy.  That cloudiness indicates that her lymph system is draining into her lungs and that has required more aggressive treatment.  She also has a small amount of fluid around her heart that requires extra measures.  So as I was told today, we might be here a while.

Mornings are definitely the toughest.  After being woken up multiple times in the night for assessment, Maggie starts every morning with a 4:30 am chest x-ray that is followed by IV meds, blood work, rounds, dressing changes, and tube drainage.  She then gets PT and respiratory therapy.  By 11:00 she is pretty traumatized and exhausted.  I keep her up until lunch and then we all crash for a few hours.

It breaks my heart to hear her cry out "I want to be all better" and "why are you hurting me".  Sometimes I want to scoop her up and run out and then other days, like today, I just sit there and cry with her.  I hate to see her suffer and I have to remind myself that, in the end, this is for her good.

So when we aren't busy doing hospital stuff, we try and make her time as tolerable as possible.  We dress up like a princess, ride in a car that she has attached herself to, have endless tea parties, and play in the child life room.  Her smiles are what make all of this still bearable.

One thing that I am incredibly thankful for is that she really does have moments, even hours some days, when she looks pretty good.  She plays, laughs, makes demands, and bosses everyone around just like home.  I realize that it could be a lot worse and she could be laying in a bed all day unresponsive.  So I am thankful.

Our big prayers are for the drainage to clear up, for her to get off of her meds, and for her circulatory system to function like it is supposed to.  You can also pray for her mental health.  I fear how traumatized she will be from all of this.  Please pray she forgets and heals emotionally too.

Thank you for every prayer, comment, message, visit, and for just loving our girl.  

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Moving in the Right Direction

I have heard people say, when considering adoption, that they just aren't sure they could love an adopted child as much as they love their biological one.  Well, I can tell you from personal experience, that you do.  You love that adopted child with every fiber of your being and when you watch them sleep in their hospital bed, that love brings you to tears.

Sometimes this journey is hard, but there is not a second that passes when Maggie is not worth the sacrifices we have made to be here.  I am reminded all throughout the day how blessed we are to be her parents and my love for her leaves me again today in a state of thankfulness.

Here is an update from yesterday:
  • Maggie was more alert today and did not have any major seizure episodes.  She had a few moments where she would appear to lose focus and freeze but I cannot say with certainty that those were more seizures.  The attending ICU physician ordered a CT and an EEG today.  The CT thankfully came back fine and the EEG had some irregularities but the physician felt they could be explained by her surgery and presence in the ICU.  The Neuro team did increase her seizure medication dose and I feel good about that solution. 
  • Maggie's lungs are continuing to drain.  They cannot remove her chest tubes until the drainage is complete.  I hear that the chest tubes are painful and their removal will make her feel much better.  So we can pray for that to be soon.  
  • We are expecting to be moved to the floor tomorrow.  This will be a great step in the right direction.  
  • We were supposed to get her up walking yestoday but she was unable to even sit on the side of the bed.  You can pray for her to regain strength. 
  • We had a couple sweet moments where she sat in my lap or let me paint her toe nails.  We have not seen any smiles and she doesn't say much.  I am looking forward to more steps in the right direction there.