Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Dear Donor


Dear Donor,

I have tried to mentally compose what I would say to you if this day ever came.  In fact, once, only a few weeks ago, I sat down at the computer to start putting those thoughts into words.  And then I stopped myself.  Although my husband was doing well, it felt as if writing a letter that can only be sent after someone reaches the one year milestone, might be tempting fate.

Although, honestly, I don’t know that I believe in fate. 

What I do believe in?   God.   Prayers.   Mercy.   Miracles.  And the unbelievable selflessness that was shown to us by a stranger- you.

Two years ago, my husband started feeling more tired than usual and blamed it on a cold that he couldn’t get rid of.  He was a self-employed fence builder and worked as a contract laborer building pipe fence around power substations.  It was hot outside and he was welding.  We blamed his fatigue on that, but this was my husband, and we should have known better.

*****

You see, my husband has always been a bit super human and had survived both a bull-riding accident that severed his liver, as well as a tractor flipping over on top of him, breaking his leg.  He was the hardest worker I had ever known and solid muscle.  He rose before 5 a.m. to leave for work and many nights, didn’t come home from work until after 8.  Dedication to his family was a priority, as was providing for them. 

In fact, this is what he was known for, aside from his handlebar mustache - being a hard worker and being an AMAZING father.

*****

On September 5, 2014 we found out that it wasn’t a cold.  Or his heart.  Or mono.  No, my husband, the definition of health, was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia-AML.  In one moment, our world crashed down around us.  I remember telling the kids that their daddy had leukemia and our son, 9 years old at the time, said “That’s CANCER!”  The fear in his voice only mirrored the fear in our hearts.

Shortly after his diagnosis it became obvious that he would need a stem cell transplant to have any chance at survival.  My husband and I traveled three hours from home and stayed there for four months, separated from our children, while he received treatment and his first transplant.  The first transplant was a blessing in more ways than one.  The stem cells were from his brother, from which he had been estranged.  The two siblings were brought back together.

Yet, despite the blessings, five months later my husband relapsed.

In an effort to get him back into remission he underwent intensive chemo once again, and this time you could see the devastation his body was enduring.  Throughout his prior hospitalizations and transplants, he would get up every day, put his clothes on and treat it as any other day…determined that it would be.  However, after his relapse, his body just wasn’t able to do that.  My husband, previously 165 lbs., weighed in at 113 lbs.  The super human before me looked like anything but.  And, for the first time, even he doubted that he could make it through this horrible disease.  Although we were never without hope, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that hope had started to fade somewhat.  

When the doctors started looking for another donor in May 2015, after his relapse, we found that the only 10/10 match could not be located.  They started looking at the possibility of having to go with donor that wasn’t a perfect match, but were hesitant to do so.  In the meantime, my husband underwent more chemo, closer to home, in an effort to prevent the leukemia from getting worse.

About the same time that we found out that the chemo had been successful in almost completely eliminating any trace of the mutated gene that caused his cancer, which was unexpected, we also were told that a 10/10 match was located.  YOU. 

*****

Last year, when everyone else was thinking about celebrating Labor Day, you were getting ready to be a miracle worker.  A potential life saver.

As we prepared to travel the three hours back to the hospital to begin treatment to prepare my husband’s body for transplant, our hometown, who had rose up in support of our family, was reminded to pray for you, the donor, during this process. 

I hope you felt those prayers that day, and every day since.

You have changed my life and I didn’t have cancer.  Both of my children are changed forever, and they didn’t have cancer.  And, it goes without saying, my husband was changed physically, and emotionally, because of you and he DID have cancer.

But he doesn’t today.  Thanks to you.

You have allowed my family 365+ more days as a family of four that we wouldn’t have had without you.  You have caused our eyes and heart to be opened to the selflessness of strangers around us.  You have made this big world, smaller, and reminded our family how we are ALL deeply connected.

This year, the year that my husband wouldn’t have had without your gift, we have gone on a family vacation to Gulf Shores. He was able to spend summer break with his children. Because of you, we have had more time to laugh together, play together and love together.  My husband has been able to go and watch our kid’s baseball, volleyball and basketball games.  He has been able to enjoy the farm and family he had worked his whole life for.  My children and I have been able to see his physical body recover, and because of your gift, I hope that their mind can erase the image of their daddy when he was so ill.  You have allowed us a year to fully appreciate the outpouring of love, support and kindness that has been shown to us, and you have given us hope that one day, we will be able to repay it all. 

You have allowed others, through our experience, to better appreciate the gift of life.  You have given us hope that this story we have shared might have a happy ending.  You have given others hope, through my husband.  You have motivated others to register to become donors because you so selflessly were.

In short, YOU have changed the world.

It might sound too grandiose to be believed.  I will be the first to admit that we live in a small town that most have never heard of, and in comparison to others, our “world” is pretty small.  That being said, the world is changed one person at a time and YOU have changed many, many people.  Yes, the actions of a person that we have never met have altered multiple lives.  Family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances and people that have joined us on this journey have ALL been changed by YOU, through your gift to my husband.

My heart is full and I know I am failing at adequately conveying what my family wishes to say.  “Thank you” is not sufficient.  In fact, I don’t know any word in the English language that is.  Whatever your life holds, know that you have already made an impact that many will never have the chance to make.  You are, in every sense of the word, a hero.  Mine.  My children’s.  And, of course, my husband’s.

*****

There are so many times that our family has mentioned you in conversation.  Whether it was because my husband, after 42 years, suddenly developed a liking to Chinese food, or because of some new interest he picked up… you, the donor, are brought up, wondering if we can in fact, attribute these new qualities to you.  We wonder if there are physical or characteristic similarities.  We contemplate whether or not you share his amazing (yet sometimes maddening) sense of humor.  We think about the circumstances that prompted you to register as a donor.  And the kids and I wonder if you know what an amazing man you saved and what an amazing man you are.

I hope you do.

I pray you do.

There just aren’t words enough to express it…so I will just end it with:

With humbling and inexpressible gratitude,

Your recipient’s wife

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Imprinted On My Heart

Saturday, September 10, 2016, Steven celebrated his first re-birthday.  It was a day that the kids and I, and I am certain Steven as well, had hoped and dreamed about.  Making it a year seemed a milestone that, this winter, seemed almost unreachable.

Weeks, marked off by trips to St. Louis, passed and gave way to months...and now we have found ourselves at the year mark.  And it seems surreal. 

*****

A few months after Steven's first transplant, I naively thought about all the ways we would celebrate him making it to a year...  I wanted to include everyone that had supported us and helped us and cheered us on along the way.  I wanted each and every person to be able to be thanked, appropriately, by us.  I wanted us to celebrate the amazing care, concern and generosity shown to us by others, AND celebrate Steven's good health.

However, as we now know, that milestone wasn't to be reached, and a lesson was learned. 

Even after seeing first hand the fragileness of life, I had, only months removed from a hospital, began planning the future as if it were guaranteed.  Of all people, I should have known better.  So much better.

However, I think that this is a flaw that most of us have.  We are surrounded with news stories depicting tragedies everyday.  We all know someone whose life was altered suddenly, without warning.  And yet, we get up each day and expect to do the same tomorrow.

I am trying to be more aware and appreciative of each moment, regardless of how ordinary it is.  Months went by that I longed for ordinary, and now, I am choosing to embrace it.

*****

As Saturday approached, no parties were planned.  The year mark was ushered in quietly, but with incredible thankfulness.  As I woke up next to my husband, I turned to him and wished him a "Happy Re-Birthday" and thought of how different the view was, one year later. 

Steven got up and started getting ready for the day ahead. 

You see, it is appropriate that on "Steven's day", the kids were the center of our attention and efforts as Steven wouldn't want it any other way.  Our kids have always ranked Community Days just under "Christmas and birthdays" when it came to excitement and fun and incidentally, Conway was celebrating Community Days this past weekend, at the same time we, as a family, were celebrating Steven reaching his first big milestone. 

We hadn't been able to go with the kids to Community Days for the previous two years, as Steven was in the hospital both times.  This year was special as we were able to, once again, share this beloved tradition with our kids.



Lakyn and I sat with family and watched the parade, waiting for Steven and Blake to make their appearance.








Blake had recently purchased his own tractor with money that he had made selling his calves and was extremely excited to show it off at the parade.  Steven rode beside Blake on an axel, allowing Blake to sit tall (and independently) in the driver's seat.  As he drove past, enthusiastically waving at everyone, you would almost think that he was running for office, and I couldn't contain my smile...   I joked with Blake about wearing out his arm waving, and he said he couldn't help it..."everyone is just SO nice!!"

And he is right.  They are.  If we have learned anything these past two years it is that, most people, are SO nice.


Of course, it wouldn't be Community Days without a turtle race and Steven had collected turtles for a week.  In fact, Friday morning he retrieved one and it "bailed" off the back of his truck as he was bringing it home.  Luckily we found it, in the driveway, and it's escape attempts were unsuccessful.



Lakyn was unsure whether or not she would be considered "too old" to participate, but picked a turtle just in case.  Luckily there were no age restrictions, and Lakyn wasn't too old, therefore we figured that Grady wasn't too young.  This worked out nicely for Grady, since his turtle won it's "heat".  At six months old, he made a smooth $6 in the turtle race, which wasn't too shabby. 



Blake's turtle also won it's race, which increased his spending cash by $6 as well. However, that didn't last long since there is always something to spend your money (and your parent's money) on at Community Days.




As the boys loaded up to head home and rest a bit before coming back that evening, Lakyn and I bought a funnel cake and decided that it would be our "re-birthday cake".  We ate it on the way home, following the boys, and our friends, Jerry and Sharon, the whole way home.  The sight was something I enjoyed, and appreciated.  


Lakyn even climbed out the sun roof to capture the moment.
 

And, of course, returning home never gets old.
 
 
 
*****
 
Later in the afternoon, when we returned, Lakyn, who had been working at a booth raising money for her class trip to DC, continued to make sales.
 

 
Then, while taking a break, she walked over to me, in front of her friends, and gave me a hug - a good, long hug.  Being in no hurry to break apart, she held me, or I held her (I am not sure which), for quite some time.  It didn't escape my notice that my girl...my baby girl, was as tall as I was. 

In that moment I wanted to cry at the realization of the all the things she had been through and the woman she was turning into, and I wanted to curse my inability to make time stand still
 
*****
 
Later that evening Blake asked me if I would ride the carousel with him, and I agreed.  My heart warmed as he grabbed my hand and I couldn't help but realize that I am already on borrowed time.  The fact that he hasn't already became "too cool" or "too big" for this is surprising, and I mentally vowed to imprint the feeling of his hand into my mind.  And heart.

We waited in line and discussed which animal we wanted to get, and I decided that I wanted to ride the chicken.  Although he was previously wanting the lion, he told me he wanted me to get to ride on the one I wanted....  As if it mattered.  It was as though my sweet boy didn't realize that I didn't care about the carousel ride at all...I just wanted to be with him.  Especially because he wanted to be with me.
 
As the carousel took off I was surrounded by music from my high school days.  Being physically unable to refrain from singing along with a song I know (it has to be an actual medical condition), I belted out the song while riding the carousel and found Blake just looking at me as then leaned over and rubbed my back.  I smiled at him and asked if I was embarrassing him.
 
He claimed I wasn't, although I think he might have been trying to spare my feelings.

As he continued to rub my back and shoulders and look at me, I asked him why he was staring.  He told me, in complete earnest, that he wasn't quite sure what he should be doing at this time...  He didn't know if he should just watch me, or attempt to sing with me - even though he didn't know the song, and had decided that instead, he would just rub my back as I sang.

And so he did.

 

As the ride came to an end, he leaned over and said, "I love you, momma", and gave me a kiss right there on the carousel.  My heart exploded into a million pieces.  I wondered, had I not missed this tradition with my kids - two years in a row, if I would have taken the time to go stand in line and ride this child's ride with my son.  Would I have stepped back and taken note of the importance of his invitation?
 
Honestly, I don't know.  In fact, I don't know if Blake would have asked me to ride with him had our last two years been anything other than what they were.  I don't know if Lakyn would hug me and hold on, despite being surrounded by friends.  Maybe they would have already outgrown this need of me.  Maybe they wouldn't understand and appreciate the presence of their parents. 
 
I will never know what my children would have been like had our lives not been altered the way they have.  Has it changed them for the better?  The worse?  I am not sure. 

I do know, however, that they have a daddy that will never take for granted his time with them and a mommy who is trying her very best to slow down enough to let them love her...  I can not imagine having missed this weekend with my kids, and neither can Steven.

This time together was the very best "re-birthday" present ever and I hope this tradition never ends.

 
Community Days -2007
 
 
Community Days - 2009

 
Community Days - 2009
 

 Community Days - 2010


  Community Days - 2010
 

Community Days - 2012
 

Community Days - 2013
 




 



Monday, August 22, 2016

Living Color

Today we are officially two weeks away from the two year anniversary of Steven's diagnosis.

Two years.

It is hard to wrap my head around that, seemingly, large passage of time, because for us, time stood still...  We missed events, people, anniversaries, birthdays and the day to day occurrences that most people take for granted.  Our world was, and our days were, dictated by disease.

All I need to do is look at my children to see what I missed and what I lost.  In the midst of treatments and remission, relapse and results my children kept growing and kept doing.  For much of this, I was absent.

However, all I need to do is look at myself, my husband, my children, and the world around me, to see what I have gained. 

*****

I have always tried to be a good person - a good human.   Some days I did a better job than others.  Every day I fell short.  However, after Steven's diagnosis, I realized just how short I had fallen.

There is something about cancer, and it's diagnosis, that magnifies every emotion a person can experience.  It is almost as if our senses are heightened to every stimulation. Maybe it isn't cancer, per say, but death. 

It makes sense, after all. 

My senses were heightened after giving birth, and my heart thought it would explode with the new discovery of love.  Why wouldn't those same senses be heightened when "living" death? 

When you stand to lose the only life you've ever known, every sense you have is raw and exposed.  However, during this period of exposure, every stimulation took on new life.  A kind word could shape an entire day.  The offering of hope could redirect thoughts.  An unexpected act of generosity could reform every preconceived notion that had been held about this world we live in.

And this heightened awareness started to reform me.

The more I was "given", the more I wanted to give.  It was the only way to balance out the emotions that assaulted me.  Thankfully, and sadly, you don't have to look hard outside of yourself to find people who are in greater need than you.  The world is full of those who are in need of love, money, friends, hope, understanding or perspective.  Granted, some of those things are easier to give than others, but all are in desperate need.

In fact, I believe that world reformation starts when we look first at the needs of others.

*****

I can say that my perspective has completely changed and this change has tilted my world on it's axis.  The things I once believed were important continue to fade day by day, the people I once held the closest I have relinquished back unto themselves and the time that I once prayed to stand still now moves forward and I am thankful to have made it, successfully, through one more day.

Each day I continue to grow.  And some days, I take a giant step backward.  However, even on those days, I can't unlearn the things I have learned, and that alone holds me accountable.

While we are all free to give love, money, friendship, hope and understanding to those around us, we can't give someone perspective.  But life can, and does, give us that.

People will, by nature, only see what they want to see until they are forced to do otherwise.  Some people live their entire lives and never are.

I used to be consumed with frustration by people like this - those who failed to see the results of their self centeredness on the world around them.  Now I know that God will open their eyes in His time as He continually opens mine.

I used to want to plan, and formulate, and manage every aspect of my life so that it would go smoothly, without incident.  Life forced me to see that only God plans lives and lives without incident aren't really lived. 

I used to be very unforgiving of myself, and sometimes others, when my high standards weren't met.  Life has shown me the only standards that matter are God's.  I have to remind myself of this constantly, but my heart is more open to accept it now.

*****

I have so much work to do on myself as a person, but the last two years have been a crash course that I needed. A boot camp of sorts.  I wish I could have learned what I have learned without the pain, suffering and anxiety that it caused me, Steven, our children, and others, but I am forever grateful I learned it.

Some never do.

Almost two years later and I am not sure the old Kim would recognize herself.  (And I am not just talking about the weight I put on eating my feelings and sitting around a hospital...) Although it didn't come without a price, I don't want to go back to my old mindset.

And, honestly, I feel sorry for those who continue to live in their own, small, black and white world, where the biggest concern is theirs...  How sad.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Hardbound Memories

Back in the olden days, long before "the l word" entered our life, I used this blog as a way to record random bits and pieces of our family's life, and record my thoughts.  (I can't blame my family for those.)  I was initially coerced into starting one, and those who strong armed me wrote too.  Then they stopped and I continued.  Of course, only a handful of people ever read what I wrote, (and even that is probably being generous) and honestly, no one cared.

And that was ok.  That wasn't why I wrote.

My blog wasn't something I promoted or even really told people about.  Only those who shared an interest in blogging generally stopped by, or a friend or two that kept caught up on the freak show that was sometimes my life.

After a few years went by, my mom discovered I wrote (long story) and inadvertently shared my blog with most of her email contacts. 

Yeah.

So, in return, I did some quick house cleaning to make sure that I hadn't wrote something that would embarrass someone...and called it good.  I was ok with embarrassing myself, just not embarrassing others.  My mom also started printing out books of each year's blog posts and putting them into hardbound books and giving them to me to keep.

What began as a thoughtless, mindless avenue to vent, brag, relive and review became a tangible item to scrutinize and dissect.   Coincidentally (or not...), I also stopped writing as much. 

Then, Sept. 2014, my husband was diagnosed with leukemia.  I couldn't process it all.  My life turned into one that I didn't want to live and yet, there I was.  And there he was.  And our kids?  Well, there they were too, being shuffled between home and hospital and living with their aunt and uncle. I started to write again in an effort to keep everyone "in the loop" but it transformed into a place where I would try and process the current situation, and many times I felt as if someone else had done the writing.  I would re-read what was written and try to take my own advice.  

Many times the advice that I "gave" myself included encouragement to get back out into life and live.  Slowly, little by little, that has been just what I have been doing.  And it feels good.

I don't want my kids to look back through these hard bound books that contain snapshots of our lives and someday believe that our days were devoid of any normalcy and happiness from September 2014 on.

They weren't.  They aren't.

Although, as Steven admitted this weekend, worst case scenario thoughts are always there and bring fear and anxiety daily.  The "what ifs" can not be escaped.  Day to day life often brings with it thoughts of the future and ours is still very uncertain.  Steven confessed to wondering about, and worrying about, the ramifications if blasts were to show up when he has blood drawn, or if leukemia was once again detected when he has his bone marrow biopsy in two weeks. 

And I worry too.

I always will.  I have written frequently about my anxiety and worries and the, sometimes, crippling fear, but I haven't written much about living these last two years.

And we are living.  Thank God, we are all, still here, living.

I have decided that living is just as good of a reason to write, and record, as worrying is.  Probably a better one, actually.

So, consider yourself warned.  Although I might not share all my posts on Facebook, if you happen onto my blog, the content might just be that of someone who is living this crazy life they were given...and trying to make the best of it.

After all, aren't we all just trying to do just that? 

You have all made living this life a little bit easier, and for that, I thank you.


 

Friday, July 08, 2016

Loosening my grip

In life, I found that I have always clung to the familiar.  The certain

That principle stood true when dealing with everything from foods, to friends, careers, and beliefs. However, looking back, it is hard not to be overwhelmed with the realization that I have spent so much energy in my life shielding myself from unfamiliar situations.  These situations ranged from not trying foods that I *think* I won't like, to avoiding people, places and situations that I wasn't familiar with.

Thankfully, not everyone is like this, and it's definitely a good thing.  I have found that I have held close many things in my life that I should have loosened my grip on years ago. 

Lately there has been a sadness that has lingered in my heart that I haven't been able to shake.  For the past (almost) two years, my emotions have primarily been dictated by Steven's health.  I have rarely felt sadness, joy, fear or anxiety about anything other than situations directly related to my husband's health and the subsequent well-being of my family.  However, lately, other emotions have started sneaking in. 

Maybe this is a good thing.  Maybe it's about time.  Maybe it's a sign that I have started moving forward...   Maybe.

Going through a major life changing situation forces you to loosen your grip on those that weren't willing to come with you through your journey.  My reach didn't extend far enough to hold on to them...

Unfortunately, cancer is not comfortable and I pray it isn't familiar to you.  Thankfully, it also isn't certain, which is why we are where we are today.

So I take a break from our journey, only to find that I am not the same person that I was when I started.  My eyes are opened wider.  My grip has loosened and I have let some things, and some people, go.  However, I have also reached out to others along the way.  I branched out.  I was forced to venture out into the unfamiliar.  I gave up on comfortable because I had found it was only an illusion, and at best, temporary. 

Today, while asking God to help me let loosen my grip on another circumstance and disappointment, it became so clear to me that holding on to things only prevents better things from being within your reach.  (And, yes, I know it's been said a million times.  Still, today, it felt that the message was meant for me.) I don't believe God intended for our hands to grasp things, but to be open to people.  I don't believe he meant for us to hold a few close, in turn preventing us from touching others. 

I can help people who couldn't help me. I can care about people who will not care about me.  I can open my eyes and see things clearer than before and be open to being led wherever God chooses...even if it is unfamiliar and uncomfortable. 

Yes, my grasp must be loosened. 

But, I probably still won't eat salad.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The message

As I stood in the shower covered in soap and shampoo, my mind went wild.  It started by recalling events of the previous baseball practice that Blake had, when in some sort of twist, connected in ways that even I don't understand, I found myself thinking about God, His voice and His will for us, and how we are to recognize it.

Seems like a stretch, doesn't it?  Imagine living in my head...

I stood there in the shower with water running down my back, reliving moments in the past.  Many moments of my past I wish I could forget, and the time since Steven's diagnosis takes up a space all it's own... Thinking about some of the things that we have been through, and seen, can be a stumbling block for me.  If I keep my eyes on today, the present, I do fairly well.  Usually.  However, the past and it's heartache, and the future and it's uncertainty, leaves me shaken. 

I have found that life leaves you two alternatives: finding strength, and the resolve to plant your feet to withstand the current or simply allowing the current to carry you away.  The current is powerful and comes in many forms.  Sometimes it is lethargy...and allowing the world to reduce you to a form that sits and observes as life passes you by.  Sometimes it is avoidance and denial...where you refuse to consider what 'might be'.  Sometimes the current is made up of the world and the desire to just wrap yourself up in the promises of what life offers if only your life had taken a different turn...and the emotions that envelope you when confronted with the fact that your life is what it is.  Yet your life is yours alone to determine what you do with it.

In the end, that is all that matters, right?  What we've done with this life we have been given.

*****

So, again, I was asking myself if I would know God's words, and will for me, when and if I heard them.  I was wondering if that unmistakable path of communication really existed for us...

This train of thought led me to, once more, think about the preacher and his visit to our house last August.  I put myself in his shoes and I thought about the anxiety that I would feel, pulling up to a home where two people I had never met lived...where one of them was inside, currently dying.  I thought about the awkwardness of introducing yourself to these people, only to declare that the Lord had sent you to tell them that cancer wouldn't win, and that the sick would be healed...  I thought about the nervousness that the drive over would contain, the mind spinning thoughts that played out every possible reception that might be given.  I imagined that I would wonder if the worries and the pain they were experiencing would cloud both their vision and hearing and that, instead of hope, blame might instead take root.

Then my mind settled on the fact that, despite anxiety, nervousness and uncertainty, something stronger had been at play that day in August.  Something was stronger than the possible ridicule, embarrassment, and backlash that he, the unknown preacher, might face, and that something, or someone, told him to "go".  And he listened...

*****

I have found that over time, it has become increasingly obvious that not everyone's mind works like mine does.  Not everyone thinks about the effect that actions, words, and attitudes have on others.  Not everyone thinks about the motives, and situations that push others to act a certain way.  Not everyone has their mind running wild trying to understand people and why they do what they do.  Not everyone would think about the preacher and what he was feeling when he knocked on our door, because they would be busy thinking about what they were feeling...

And that isn't necessarily a bad thing. 

Maybe those people are more free to do and say what they feel and think. Maybe there is a certain freedom in that way of thinking...or not thinking.

But my mind thinks.  Constantly.  And generally, it's in an attempt to understand. 

However, that day, in the shower, I wondered if I would ever be able to be like that preacher and cast all the doubts, and worries, and over-analyzing aside and find myself able to listen to, obey, and truly understand what I believed to be the voice, and will, of God

Surely His words could pierce through my scattered, never ending thoughts.  But would I hear Him?

Almost as if in an answer to my heart and mind's questioning, an image, almost like in a movie, flashed through my mind.  The memory was so clear and vivid. In that instance I knew that, without a doubt, God could speak to, and be heard by, me.  Yes.  Even me.

In fact, He already had.  How could I have forgotten...?

I saw myself sitting in a pew at the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis. I had came to the 8 a.m. mass with my mom and dad, while Lakyn and Blake stayed back at the hospital with Steven.  It was the Sunday morning following our surprise admittance in October 2014, when we found that the chemo hadn't worked, and prior to Steven's first transplant.  That morning, in church, I am not sure that I heard much of anything that the priest said.  My thoughts were racing and my fears had me under their control.

I was in tears before the mass even started.  Shortly after it did I remember looking back as a young family, with four small kids, entered the pew behind us.  I wondered at their choice of seat considering the activity level of their children, their late entrance, and the open pews in many other places...places much less visible and in much further proximity from other church goers.  Still, I had other things to think about...meMy life.  My husband.  My kids.

I remember spending the entire mass praying and trying to make bargains with God although I was pretty sure He didn't work that way.  I promised to bridge gaps in relationships.  I promised to reach out to loved ones that I had let grow distant.  I promised to forgive those who I felt had done unforgivable things.  I promised so much...  I begged God to save my husband and each time I gave a reason why he deserved to be spared, it seemed as if God pointed me elsewhere.  As much as I tried to tell God why I needed Steven, and what I needed from Him, God kept showing me what others needed from me.

I cried.  I sat there during mass surrounded by a chapel full of strangers, and I cried.  I hated being weak and I tried to keep it under control.  I didn't want sympathy from my mom and dad, or even gentle touches of their reassurance.  I knew they couldn't give me the peace I needed and kindness made it even harder to keep myself in check. 

Throughout mass, my prayers were only interrupted by the sound of cries, talking, playing and banging on the wooden pew behind me, coming from the four young, restless children: the oldest, maybe four, and the youngest in a baby carrier.  I marveled at the young parents, and the number of kids with so few years separating them.  I would glance backwards, occasionally, wondering if there was any discipline that the parents would exercise, because the distraction was becoming increasingly apparent.  Here I was, in a church, begging for God's grace...and yet I was barely able to sort my thoughts for the sound of squeals behind me.  My mom looked over and gave me a knowing glance, letting me know that the kids were as big of a distraction to her as they had been to me.  I lowered my eyes, and again bowed my head.

During my prayers, I truly felt that God, by refusing to give me peace about Steven's situation, must be telling me that He wasn't going to see him through.  I wanted to hear Him, and feel Him say that Steven would be ok.  However, that morning, all I felt was desperate.  And alone.  

After mass I knelt down and said my final prayers.  I raised up and prepared to go.  I needed to get back to the hospital to make sure Steven, and the kids, were still ok.  The anxiety of being away from them had almost gotten too much to stand and I felt an urgency to get to them. I picked up my purse as the kids behind me were being wrangled by their parents in an effort to get them bundled up and out the door.

I turned to leave and it was then that I felt God speaking...and I knew it.  It made me uncomfortable and I didn't want to believe that it was Him.  So I hurried myself and mentally told myself all the reasons why I couldn't do what He wanted, or why I must have misunderstood Him, and began to leave. 

In that moment, the feeling was so strong it was almost as if someone had put their hand out and stopped me in my tracks.  I knew then that I had to follow through, or I would have a feeling of disobedience all day.  If not longer...

With mascara trailing down my cheeks, red eyes, and a face swollen from all the tears that had been shed over the previous five days, I turned and faced the overwhelmed young mother.  As she saw that I was turning and directing myself to her, she looked up at me with questioning and a bit of apprehension.  Rightly so.  I had glanced back throughout church, generally with tears in my eyes, and pain on my face, and I am sure that the sight hadn't felt overly warm or welcoming. 

Shamefully, maybe I hadn't intended it to be.

But in that instant I knew, with no doubts, what God wanted me to do and what I needed to say.  I looked at her and then looked at her children.  With tears in my eyes, I commented on how beautiful her children were, and I told her how amazing I thought it was that she made a point to get up, get her four small children ready for church, and come attend the 8 a.m. mass with her children and her husband at her side. 

As I continued talking, I could see her start to visibly relax, although she had to be wondering why this crazy woman, with crying eyes, had decided to start up conversation.  I told her that I had two children of my own, years older than hers, and that I knew what a struggle it was to get everybody ready and out the door on time.  I told her that I admired the determination she had to make sure that they made it to church, and that I was sure this importance would not be lost on her children.

She smiled and let out her breath which she had held, and nodded, seemingly both in acceptance of the compliment and in acceptance of the strain that she carried and held all through mass, when she knew that it would have been easier if they had just stayed home. In that moment, I could almost see the relief and I hope that my words fired her  determination to continue the Sunday morning battle, and beat the stress that, no doubt, attending services brought.  I believe that is what God intended my words to do...because they weren't my words.  They were His words and I was the voice.

I was the voice that didn't want to be used and had many reasons why:  I was physically a mess and I couldn't keep the tears from flooding my eyes.  I had my own problems.  I, myself, had fought irritation over their lack of obedience, and restlessness, while I was trying earnestly to talk to God.

Yet, God used those children, and their parents, to talk to me

In my life, I have never had a conviction as strong as that one and there was no doubt  who  was convicting me.

*****

I pray that the same held true for the preacher who claimed Steven's healing.  Despite a million reasons he had to stay away...he knocked on our door and shared his experience.  I often think about him and his words- the words that I have to believe were God's.

I hope that the woman and her children still attend church.  I hope that love and understanding floods everyone that sits near to them.  I pray that my heart may be open to hear the voice of God more often, because there has never been more peace than I had in that moment-the moment when I knew I had done as He willed me to do.

Although my words were meant for that family, I believe that God intended for my actions, and the humbling of myself, to be a lesson for me.  God, in that instant, showed me that it wasn't about what He could do for me, but rather, what I should do for Him.

I hope I never lose sight of that.

What hope, and what encouragement, would we all bring to others if we listened to God, and did as he asked?  What would our conversation looked like if we "talked" to God about someone other than ourselves? 

He is there.  I believe that if He is able to speak to me, through my strung together, and far off thoughts, He is able to speak to us all.

How has God spoken to you?




Wednesday, June 15, 2016

His Gift

This morning, while driving to work, I was admiring a rainbow that had formed after the early rain. My mind raced witha million thoughts, much like it does at nearly any given moment. However, one thought settled: This rainbow, was MY rainbow. A rainbow from God, for my birthday.
How corny is that? I had just decided that the rainbow before me, for the world to see, was meant just for me.

I realize it was ridiculous and I knew it even as I thought it, but that didn't keep my mind from continuing on. As I marveled at God's handiwork and majesty, the thoughts continued...

If this rainbow, my rainbow, was sent to me, WHAT was it's message? Was it the traditional promise that God wasn't going to let the rain (literal and figurative) keep falling? That there wouldn't be a flood? What message was God sending me, with the gift of a rainbow on my 40th birthday? (Yes, the gift that I had claimed as mine...)

So, I decided to google, "the biblical meaning of a rainbow". I wanted to know, in google's words, what the broadly accepted view was and what scholars had deemed the "right" message. And the answer? "A symbol of God's faithfulness and mercy".

Yes. A symbol which God gave "me" on my 40th birthday. My thoughts immediately clung to the coincidence of the "40". After experiencing rain for 40 days and 40 nights, Noah was "gifted" a rainbow. On my 40th birthday I was too.

40... Once again, I turned to Google, wondering the biblical relevance of 40, as determined by people much smarter than myself. I knew it was mentioned many times throughout the Bible, but what was the common thread? I found out that "40" in the Bible, generall represented a period of "testing, trial and probation".

So, today, on my 40th birthday, I am choosing to believe that God gave me a visible gift of His faithfulness and mercy, after this period of testing, trial and probation that my family has been through. I am clinging to the belief that God has already permanently healed Steven, and that I will continue to build on the faith that has been made stronger during my last "40".

Faithfulness and mercy. I couldn't think of a better gift.