Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Clay Pots: Garren's Story

Garren is eight years old and I did not realize he would be a part of this series until I realized... he has to be a part of this series.  God's intricate handiwork in his life is amazing.

***

I was elated to find out that I was pregnant with my first child.  It was a relatively easy pregnancy and not too bad of a labor and delivery.  Nothing out of the ordinary, anyway.

When Garren was a week old, we went to see the pediatrician for his first newborn visit.  Everything seemed normal.  Again, nothing out of the ordinary.  However, as the weeks went by, something seemed just not quite right.  This was my first child so I was still new at this, but sometimes I think a mother just knows.

I started noticing that his eyes seemed to cross quite a bit.  I would mention it to friends and people I knew and several of them said their babies did that when they were newborns as well.  Their eyes were still adjusting.  At his next visit to the pediatrican I asked about it.  They told me the same thing.  It was completely normal.  We left, figuring the doctor must have known was she was talking about.  She's seen probably thousands of babies.  This was my first.  But still, something still seemed just not quite right.

When Garren was three months old, I decided to take him to a different pediatrician, Dr. George, just to calm my fears and make sure everything was really okay.  When Dr. George picked him up for the first time, he noticed that Garren was somewhat floppy.  When I told him about the eye crossing, he also agreed that it wasn't normal.  I love Dr. George.  I don't remember how he said it, but he just had a very caring and compassionate demeanor and made me feel so calm when he was talking about his concerns.  Everytime we visited him, the care he gave to Garren seemed like that which he would give his own child.

After that first visit, we had visits with the neurologist and geneticist.  The neurologist said that Garren had hypotonia, or low muscle tone, which is what made him so floppy.  However, he couldn't say what was causing the hypotonia which led us to genetics.  They did a FISH test and discovered that Garren has DiGeorge Syndrome or 22q, which means he is missing part of the genetic material on his 22nd chromosome.  In most cases, it's completely sporadic and there is no family history of it, which after more testing, proved to be true in his case.

There are a lot of ways that kids with 22q are affected.  Most have major heart problems and cleft palates along with developmental delays.  It turned out that Garren's crossed eyes (strabismus) were caused by his low muscle tone and he had surgery to correct it when he was 11 months old.  He also had a minor heart defect that was repaired at 15 months.  About a year and a half ago he had surgery to sew flaps into his palate to give him the mechanics he needed to have intelligible speech.  He didn't walk until he was two years old, and that was with braces on his legs.  Honestly, compared to the physical difficulties most kids with 22q have though, I feel that we are very blessed that Garren's difficulties have been more mild.

The biggest struggle Garren faces now are with his speech and emotional development.  He has a lot of qualities that mimic autism, especially when it comes to tics and fixations.  He's also a lot smaller than most of the kids in his class even though he's a year older than them since he was held back a year after preschool.  He doesn't interact much with his peers and almost acts aloof when they try to talk to him.  Because of these things, he sometimes gets picked on.  Kids ask him why he talks so funny or sometimes make a big deal about not wanting to sit next to him.  It really breaks my heart and really makes me want to cry just writing about it.  But then there are others who just adore him and that helps. 

Over the years, Garren has had different fixations.  When he was little, he would spend the entire day just opening and closing doors.  I remember once I left him with a sitter and when I came back to pick him up, they said he just sat and played with the door the entire time I was gone! 

Then he went through a light switch phase.  Imagine how embarrassing it is when you're in the middle of a public bathroom and your child keeps turning off the lights on everyone!

Next it was time and schedules.  He still likes time, to some degree.  He likes to talk about what time it is.  In fact, if he calls you on your phone, his first question is usually "What time is it on your phone?"  Then he'll ask the same question about ten more times througout the conversation.  He'd bring home his papers from school and they would all have different times and schedules written all over them.

After that it was elevators.  I think it's the numbers that fascinated him the most.  He liked to watch the floor numbers change.  He was quite fixated on elevators for a while, actually... until we got stuck on an abandoned elevator last summer anyway.  But he does still like to watch them.  The school papers always had elevators drawn all over them this time.

Then it was math.  My sister, who teaches second grade, probably did more math problems over Christmas break with Garren than she does in her classroom all year long.  Everywhere we went, he would bring along his coloring board and write out math problems for everyone to solve.  As you probably guessed... all of his papers from school that he brought home were covered with different math problems... even on the spelling papers.  He's actually quite good at math, too.

Last year, my mom mentioned maybe trying him out on the piano.  When he was a baby, I remember saying I thought he might grow up to be a piano player because he had long, slender fingers.  Still, I kind of dragged my feet on it at first because we had so many other activities going on that I wasn't ready to add anything else to our schedule.  Plus, Garren has some issues with focus so I wasn't sure if he would be able to focus enough to play.  A few months ago, though, our schedule had calmed down a bit so I thought it might be a good time to test it out and just see how he did and if he liked it.

Beethoven is said to have struggled in school for most of his life and may have even had a mild form of dyslexia.  Later in life, he became deaf.  Yet, despite his struggles, Beethoven became known as the greatest composer of all times.  He had a gift.  I think Garren has a gift.  I'm not saying he will go on to compose masterful symphonies as Beethoven did, but there definitely seems to be something special there.  Within a week of learning a new song, Garren usually has it memorized and is ready to move onto a new challenge.  When he's sitting at the dinner table, I notice him tapping his fingers as if he is still playing the piano.  He tells me that when he goes to bed at night, he plays the music in his head.  At school, his new artwork is piano music.  Tonight when I was going through his backpack, I found this:
It looked like just a bunch of letters at the top but I knew it was probably a full song.  So I sat down at the keyboard and plunked it out.  Sure enough... Mary Had a Little Lamb and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.  (And as you can see, he does still like math as well)!

I remember several years ago, an older and wiser woman I looked up to made a comment to me about Garren.  She told me to watch him and see what God was going to do in his life as he got older... how He was going to make a way.  She talked about his disability and at times the reality that it can seem overwhelming.  But she also told me that although he has these things that will always be present to some degree, that God will provide another way for him.  She said maybe he won't be the big school athlete but maybe he'll have a great personality and people will really like him.  She told me that when God places a barrier, He also provides an alternate way around it.  She said it was like a river that comes to a rock in the stream.  The water is forced to go around it but still manages to stay on the path it is meant to go.  She told me to watch for that way in which God provides in Garren's life.  She gave me a copy of Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest and sometime later, I read what she was talking about:

A river is victoriously persistent, it overcomes all barriers.  For a while it goes steadily on its course, then it comes to an obstacle and for a while it is baulked, but it soon makes a pathway round the obstacle.  Or a river will drop out of sight for miles, and presently emerge again broader and grander than ever.  You can see God using some lives, but into your life an obstacle has come and you do not seem to be of any use.  Keep paying attention to the Source, and God will either take you round the obstacle or remove it.  The river of the Spirit of God overcomes all obstacles.

I feel like I'm seeing a glimpse of that when I listen to Garren play the piano.  Not only is it something that he seems to have a special gift for, it also seems to help calm his tics and help him to focus.  I just thank God for that.  Everytime I think about it, all I can do is just thank God.

I have been feeling so overwhelmed lately with finding the right treatments and techniques to help Garren with various different issues he's dealing with right now.  And then tonight I found that simple little paper with his songs written out on it.  It was just what I needed... a perfect reminder that God has a plan for that little boy and that He has not left us alone on this journey.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Clay Pots: Angie's Story

This is the next in a series of pieces written by personal friends who I admire greatly because of their great strength that has come through tribulation.  If you missed Tarah's story, click here to read it.

Below is a remarkable story by a remarkable woman, Angie.  I hope you will be encouraged and inspired by God's amazing work in her life.

***
Before she was even born, God used my daughter to be the way in which someone would hear the Good News that Jesus saves. That someone was me.

I was 19, unmarried and living with an abusive man when I found myself with an unplanned pregnancy.  When I found out I was pregnant, I was undecided about what to do.  At the time, I did not believe in the sanctity of life, therefore abortion was an option that I contemplated.

I left home, headed for Planned Parenthood when I happened upon the Crisis Pregnancy Center instead.  As soon as I arrived, the staff at the center instantly recognized my need of the Savior and gave me an invitation to trust Christ as my Lord. Without hesitation, I believed, repented, and trusted Christ. This one decision made all the difference in the world for my daughter and me.  That decision led me to make another important decision... to choose life for my daughter, Taylor.

Following that choice, God grafted into my life a group of people who immediately discipled me, so being pregnant and even being a single mom was not as difficult as someone might think. I look back and realize that God poured out His grace and mercy on me so much during that time, that I did not sense the trial as strongly as I would have if I did not have Him. I was the poorest that I had ever been, yet I was so content with what I had. I hung around very few people, yet never felt lonely. It was very much like the poem Footprint".  It was only after I had gone through that season of my life, that I realized it was God who carried me the entire time.




Since I knew that I did not want my daughter to turn out like me, I realized that I must give her every opportunity possible to hear about the Lord I had come to love. Church, Bible study and prayer meetings became common place for Taylor and me. I look back now and realize that as I was raising Taylor physically, God was raising us both Spiritually. In a way, we grew up together.

Over the years, I went on to earn a degree from Clearwater Christian College and began teaching at a Christian school where I met my husband. Taylor is now a senior in high school and has, of all things, felt called to be a missionary.

Only God could do that! Only God could take a young girl heaped in sin, headed for destruction, and enable her to raise a daughter who desires to spend her life telling others about Him. He truly makes beauty out of ashes, and we are the proof.


Friday, February 22, 2013

A Discerning Heart

"Solomon answered... So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong..."  I Kings 3:9

"The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this.  So God said to him, 'Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked."  I Kings 3:10-12

I've read this passage many times before.  But when I read it this morning, it really made me think.  I remembered something I heard on the radio recently about Christians and missionaries in foreign countries that are very hostile towards Christianity.  Some of these witnesses have been taken into prisons and the likes.

When asked what their prayers were, they did not ask for prayers of freedom or release.  They did not ask that they would be free from persecution.  What they asked for is that they would be bold enough to endure the things they were going through.  You see, their main mission there is to spread the gospel, and like Paul, perhaps all of this is the Lord's will so that their captures or other prisoners may hear the Word of God and see their great faith and believe.

I think that is so inspiring.  I think of the sufferings and difficulties I experience in my own life and they pale in comparison to the persecutions others face around the world.  My first response is usually, "Lord, please take this away from me."

Sometimes, the prayer is for others.  Upon learning that someone has cancer or other terrible diseases and such, the initial prayer is typically a prayer for freedom and complete healing.  When Christ was in the hours before the crucifixion, he prayed "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."  [Luke 22:42]  If Christ asked these things of the Father, then it must be okay for us to ask such things.  However, the second part of that verse reveals the heart of Christ.  He was more interested in His Father's will than His own and He knew that if it was the Father's will, then He would carry Him through and He was willing to endure the pain.

I remember hearing Alistair Begg talk one time after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.  He talked about how to pray for others upon hearing difficult news.  He talked about this same sort of thing and said that when he prays for others, rather than praying for the release of suffering, instead he prays that the Lord would bring to them scriptures from His Word to strengthen and encourage them through the journey.

Solomon could have asked for riches.  He could have asked for the death of his enemies.  He could have asked for God to do it for him.  But he didn't.  He asked for a discerning heart.  He was willing to walk through road that God had laid out for him.  He wanted the Lord to grant him the courage and wisdom to travel that road.

Lord, no matter what paths are ahead for me to travel, I pray that You would also grant me a discerning heart.  James 1:5 says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."  The road ahead looks to be treacherous.  The times are changing, and not in a good way.  I pray that not only for myself, but also for my children, that You would continue to shape us and help us to be bold in the coming days.  Amen.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Clay Pots: Tarah's Story

This is the first in a series of pieces written by personal friends who I admire greatly because of their great strength that has come through tribulation.  I hope that you are inspired by their stories as I am.

***
Jenny asked me to share my story here because she thinks I’m a strong woman. I think she doesn’t know me very well. I know nothing of strength of character except that which is provided by Jesus Christ.

I have always had a strong will, which my mom claims got me through some very difficult circumstances with my sanity intact.  I grew up in a home that considered church to be the main priority in life. My parents knew Christ and made sure we kids grew up inside the walls under that steeple. Our church family was our extended family. They were aunts and uncles and we were special to them. I loved my church experience and came to know Jesus at a young age.

I had no memorable years of rebellion unless you count those from the age of birth to 5. Those were the years I gave my parents a run for their money and decided that as a teen I would give them a break so they could worry about my siblings.

When I was 15, I met a boy named Andrew. For years, Andy and I were friends while we each dated other people, finished college, and got started on life. Eventually, we decided to date each other and what a blessing those previous 5 years of friendship were! We were engaged about 8 months later, then married in the summer of 2000.

I thought nothing could go wrong. Life was perfect. I was married to my best friend. We were both nurses working at the same hospital and every day was an adventure. The most difficult part of life was sometimes working opposite shifts and not seeing each other for a few days.

My life was turned upside down when Andy died suddenly after we had only been married for 16 months. I was barely 24 and I was a widow. For 9 years he had been my best friend and suddenly he wasn’t there to talk to. I hurt and I cried and I felt anything but strong. We had been ONE and now I was a HALF. I had to figure out a different way to continue living. What a blessing it was to know that Andrew loved the Lord and that I would see him again one day, but it was very little comfort at that time.

Within the first few weeks, even days, I decided that if I was going to have to do this grieving thing, then I was going to do it well. I wanted to become a better person through the experience instead of just surviving and going through life unhappy. My in-laws offered me a room at their house and for a few days I stayed with them, but eventually I realized that I needed to return to my apartment and deal with the life that I was given. I didn’t choose to sleep on “my side” of the bed, but instead chose the middle so that I wouldn’t wake up and think that Andy was still on “his side”. I bought something new for each room of my apartment: some throw pillows for the living room, a new comforter for my bed, and a shower curtain for the bathroom.

These things helped remind me that this new life was a gift from God just as much as the old was and I was going to embrace it. I visited places that he and I had loved to go together, so that those memories didn’t haunt me. (To be honest, there are a few places that I have yet to get to after 12 years. I am still human, after all.) I faced the grief head on as much as I could and dealt with the emotions as they came. If I wanted to cry, I did., with no regard for who was watching. If I wanted to laugh and enjoy a memory or a moment, I did that as well.

I wasn’t strong every moment though. There were nights I went to bed begging to not wake up in the morning. Some nights the only way I fell asleep at all was by the grace of God. There was a hole in my heart and sometimes I still feel it, but God is good. ALL. THE. TIME. I learned that He can be no less good to me that He has been to anyone else. This experience was God’s Refining Fire (well, one of them, b/c He is by no means done with me.) Romans 5:3-5 says “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulations bring about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character, and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

The reward for suffering is the Holy Spirit.

There was no other gain worthy of losing Andy except for the Holy Spirit. The experience of God’s love at that time was priceless. And being used by God to minister and to encourage others is also priceless. When we die to ourselves, we become useful. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me” Gal. 2:20.

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Phil. 1:21. God’s strength was perfected in my weakness. I was not strong enough to handle that kind of trial without Him. Let me repeat that. I WAS NOT STRONG ENOUGH. I was weak, but HE was strong enough. He had a better plan for me than I could’ve picked out for myself and that plan is part of His bigger picture. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day, for our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us a glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes, not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Cor. 4:16-18.

God is sovereign. He doesn’t just let random things into our lives for no reason. He ALLOWS us opportunities to grow and become more like Him. He gives us strength when we need it. He gives us new mercy every morning. He grows us and uses us for His glory.

This would not have been my choice of methods, but as I look back on all that God showed me through the experience, I can be truly grateful for the lessons. At this point in life, my Refiner’s Fire comes in the form of 4 small children. I’ve been married, now, for 7 years. In some ways, motherhood is more difficult than grief because there seems to be no end to it, but I pray that I will be open to God using this phase of life to teach me just like He did when I was a widow. And I pray for my own children, especially the strong-willed one, that they will grow to love Jesus and serve Him with all their hearts and not allow struggle to drive them away, but that it would cause them to lean harder on Jesus. In John 16:33 Jesus tells us “in this world you will have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world”.

He is our strength when the difficult times come.

***


Tarah and her husband, James

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Trouble With Praise

"The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but man is tested by the praise he receives."  Proverbs 27:21

Praise tests a person, just as high temperatures test metal.  How does praise affect you?  Do you work to get it?  Do you work harder after you've gotten it?  Your attitude toward praise tells  a lot about your character.  People of high integrity are not swayed by praise.  They are attuned to their inner convictions, and they do what they should whether or not they are praised for it.  [NIV Life Application Bible Prov 27:21 note]

That's what I read this morning and I just said "wow."  It's so easy to slack off sometimes when it seems like nobody notices or appreciates your work. 

Or what about this... "why should I work hard when so-and-so sits around and does nothing and still receives the same benefit?"  And don't even get me started on the topic of redistribution of wealth these days!

Praise is nice.  It's nice to be recognized for the things we do.  I'm not going to lie... I like it when someone tells me I did a good job or compliments the work I do.  I don't think there's anything wrong with that.  We need affirmation in our lives. 

The trouble comes when we live for praise.  Maybe part of that is born out of insecurity.  We don't know that we matter unless someone else notices us.  Or maybe part of that comes from arrogance.  We know we're so great and we must show everyone else our greatness.  Or maybe it happens by accident.  Maybe we're genuinely doing a good job, not looking for any type of recognition, but the work we've done garners true praise, which slowly awakens a craving for it.

Sometimes I think I fall into that first category.  I'll post something really funny or profound on facebook and then check back a hundred times to see how many people have "liked" it.

I'd like to say I never fall into the second category but even just saying that probably would put me there.  Ahem...

Most often, I think I fall into the last category.  I feel like most of the time I do try to work hard even if no one notices.  I have a somewhat introverted personality and I enjoy doing behind the scenes work.  Much of the time I'm satisfied by doing good work, whether anyone notices or not.  However.  I feel like I could also fall into that slow fade of craving praise when I receive it a lot.  At times I have.  Lord, please help me to be humble.

As much as I like my efforts to be noticed, sometimes I think it's probably for my own good that they're not always recognized.  I don't want to become that person who lives for praise.  I just want to do a good job and live a life that pleases God.  Doing the right thing and working hard simply because it's the right thing to do.

Lord, help me not to grow weary in doing right even when the right is a thankless job.  Thank you for the affirmation of others and also for those quiet moments that lead to a character full of integrity.