Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Art of Breathing

Humor me for a moment....

Close your eyes.

Take a slow, deep breath. Feel the air fill your lungs, every inch of them.

Then put your hand up to your mouth, and let out that breath. Let the air slide out of your mouth and feel the warmth tickle your palm.

What did most of you just do?

You took a breath. It was controlled. It wasn't painful (unless you have a cold, but let's pretend you're your normal self right now!) It allowed your body to supply much needed oxygen to your body, for your heart to pump it to your brain and your extremities. It allowed you to live.

Easy.

Painless.

Life-giving.

Now let me take you back to a moment I remember with horrifying clarity.

I was in a hospital room, watching my baby daughter in her hospital crib. Her eyes were focused on the light above, never moving. Her chest rose and fell in hefts at more than one breath per second. (Try to breath at a rate of one breath per second for just 60 seconds. Imagine doing that for hours.)

Her nose flared as she worked hard to breathe. Her skin retracted between her ribs as she sucked in air, trying with every ounce of her tiny body to get enough oxygen into her lungs so her blood could carry it on.

My baby girl tried SO hard. I saw it in her eyes. Determination. Willing herself to fight. I was so incredibly proud of her.

I alerted a nurse though, and we agreed that her work was too much. They drew blood and found that even though she was working SO hard to breath and doing a good job of keeping her saturations up on the outside, her blood was filling with Co2 at rates that were off the chart, because she couldn't get enough oxygen.

Doctors swarmed, and a tube was put down her throat, easing her load of doing the hard work of breathing.

Take this scene and multiply it by 10 or more. I stopped counting the times my sweet girl fought so hard for each breath and had to be assisted with a tube down her throat.

I remember thinking, as I watched my sweet girl, her chest rising and falling with the assistance of a ventilator for months on end, that I'd taken something so incredibly simple as breathing for granted.

You breath in, and you breath out. Easy, right?

But not for everyone. Countless kids live with some type of lung disease that makes breathing oh-so-precarious. Countless kids live with hearts that refuse to take that oxygen they are breathing to the rest of their body as they need to.

Goodness, it's not even just kids. So many adults suffer as well.

My list of thankfulness knows no end. I started to list my "30 days of thankfulness" but then last week, Annabelle woke in the middle of the night with a fever of 103.4. A simple virus, but her breathing made my heart skip a beat.

Her nose flared. Her breaths were coming at one per second with grunts in between, and she struggled to keep her oxygen saturations where they needed to be. It earned her a trip to the emergency room and some oxygen to help her through.

She's fine. It WAS just a virus. Her body is just NOT fond of fevers. She came home, feeling much better, about 10 hours later.

And it reminded me.

I can list so many things I am thankful for, but Annabelle has taught me to look beyond all the material things and to be thankful for even the most basic thing:

The ability to breathe.

Discussion: What is something you are thankful for? Maybe something basic and simple that you normally wouldn't even think to be thankful for? Is there something God has opened your eyes to lately?

Friday, November 21, 2014

BOOK GIVEAWAYS!!!!

Friday isn't my normal post day but wanted to share that two awesome bloggers did interviews of yours truly over the last week, and we're doing book giveaways as a part of the interview!

I'd LOVE for you to click over to either or both and leave a comment to enter the giveaway! Already read my books? Well, they make GREAT Christmas presents too!!!

Feel free to share with friends who may be interested too!

God is Love

Thinking Thoughts

(you're always more than welcome to comment here on THIS blog post... but only comments on each of the interview blogs will count toward the giveaways!)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Is God our Life Support?

On Saturday, we went to the ECMO reunion at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital to celebrate their 25th year of the ECMO program.

For those of you who don't know what ECMO is, that's a really, really good thing.

ECMO is the "final frontier" if you will of life support. Most people think of a breathing tube as "life support" but ECMO takes it one step further by actually doing the work of the heart and pumping blood through the body.

When my daughter was 7 days old, she had her first open heart surgery. She did GREAT... until the next night when she crashed and needed CPR until the surgeon could arrive. Her chest was opened and she was put on ECMO, as her heart was too sick to work for her body.

There are no words to describe walking into a room and seeing the heart of your child through her open chest, with cannulas protruding, pumping her blood for her, on top of a breathing tube coming out of her mouth and more IV's and lines than I could count.

She was on ECMO for 2 days, then her chest remained open until the following week.

Her story is a long one, you can read it by clicking the "Annabelle" button up top if you want to read about her journey.

When I was thinking about what to blog today, my heart kept coming back to that machine we got to see again on Saturday at the reunion and the idea of "life support."

The analogy of God being our life support hit me. I was mulling it over in my mind when a big thought hit me.

Is that really what God is all about?

Just "supporting" our life until we can take back over?

I think sometimes that's how we treat God. When we can't take another spiritual breath, we cry out to God to step in, to support our life.

But when when the crisis is over, we're quick to nod our thanks, leave God and his support behind, and go on our merry way until we crash again.

That's not how God planned it.

God doesn't want to just step in when life gets hard. He doesn't want to merely pump our lifeblood for us when we're tired. He wants to BE our lifeblood.

God came to make us new creatures in Christ, not to just keep our old self going.

Oddly enough, sweet Annabelle ended up not being able to go home until she had a heart transplant, as her old heart was just too sick.

The parallels are pretty amazing, don't you think?

Discussion: Do you have a habit of just plugging into God when you need a break? I'll be honest. I've done this recently myself. Feeling like I'm finally getting a handle on life again... then having a stark reminder that I need to rely on God during the good AND the bad times.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Dude. You worship God stupid...

My blog posts lately seem to be taking on a theme. I read an article online, it makes me cringe, and so I want to blog about it to uncringe.

Maybe I need to stop reading articles online....

Eh, but there ARE some good ones.

But today's cringe-worthy article was about worshiping God.

Okay, I take that back. I didn't actually cringe at the article. It more provoked thought and reminded me of many moments I've heard Christians talk about this particular subject--on both sides of the argument--and cringed at their speech.

The argument?

How we worship God-- in particularly, the music with which we use to usher us into worship.

First, let me just say.

Doesn't that just seem kinda crazy?

We ARGUE about how to worship GOD?

Side A: I love contemporary music! That old stuff is boring and just doesn't put me in the mood to worship. It's tired and old and won't attract non-Christians. We're supposed to be a light to God, how can we do that with boring music?

Side B: I love old hymns! The new stuff is just all emotional fluff, trying to put on a production to please people and not God. It's no different than that horrible rap stuff they play on the radio. It's all about ME and has no truth in it at all! Worship is for GOD, not for us.
 
To sum it up bluntly, we're telling each other, "I worship God the RIGHT way, YOU worship God the STUPID way." Maybe we don't use the word stupid, but we might as well have.

Allow me to present to you a bit of a different perspective:

The only way to worship God stupid is if you fail to worship Him in the first place.
 
I've been in churches that have upbeat, contemporary music but the worship feels flat and non-existent, focused on boosting our own egos instead of lifting up the name of God.

And I've also been in churches that have traditional music where it felt like the only thing worshiped was the dinner they anticipated eating after the closing Amen.

In both cases, worship of GOD wasn't really happening, regardless of the music. And in full confession, I was definitely one of the guilty in the crowd too! I think if we're honest, we can all raise our hands to that one.

Yet...

I've been in churches with that same upbeat, contemporary music when you could almost physically touch the worship being lifted up to God.

And I've been in churches where classic hymns and organ music and harmonies are sung with hearts of praise and worship, and the sweet peace and love of God swirled through the room as hearts gave themselves over to the God they sang about.


My point?

Worship is about our hearts lifting up the name of God. It's about connecting on a different level with Him in song.

Worship happens on a heart level, not a music level, and not even on a word level.


God has made us all unique. Our music preferences have been formed through things like our experiences, our culture, and honestly, God breathed in the uniqueness of our emotions. Isn't it cool that we can have variety? Isn't it cool that we have SO many churches with hearts that LOVE Jesus through a variety of music?

We are all the body of Christ. But some of us bob up and down to the music and some of us sway. Some of us sit and some of us stand. Some of us bow down and some of us raise our hands.

Can we have discussions about worship and what kind we like? Yup. Can worship leaders have good discussions on how they feel God leading them to usher a congregation into worship? Absolutely!

But none of that is arguing. None of that is pointing fingers. None of that is divisive. Let's not let the heart of lifting praise and adoration to God be a point that divides us. 'Cause that, my friends, is what the enemy wants.

My encouragement to you for today:

Let's stop arguing about how to worship God, and instead, spend that time WORSHIPING.

Discussion: What about you? Do you have a type of music that helps usher you into worship?Are you a swayer or a clapper or a sitter or a stander? Any favorite worship songs?

Personally, I love the current worship music, but still have a heart for the hymns. "You Make Me Brave" and "Oceans" are two of my MANY favorites, but goodness, "Amazing Grace" and all the "Power in the Blood" songs are just AWESOME! There are WAY too many to list!!! 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

If Annabelle Had Never Been Born.....


A week or so ago, I followed one of those stupid news links that show up on my Facebook news feed...

It was about a mom of a man with Down Syndrome who said she wishes now, even though her son is in his 40's, that she could have aborted him before he was born, because life would have been so much easier.

After my initial frown and anger, it got me thinking.

What would MY life be like had Annabelle never been born?

Here's what I came up with-- not an all inclusive list by any means:

I would still be working full-time, making a nice, healthy salary.

My savings account would be full, my retirement account would be healthy and growing daily, and I'd have some money set aside for my 3 kiddos college.

I'd have made my hubby take me somewhere cool like Hawaii for our 15th anniversary instead of a few hours away to the mountains.

My 3 oldest kiddos would have a lot more extra curricular activities that, due to Annabelle's special needs, were severely limited.

I'd probably be about 50 pounds lighter. (I'm a stress eater..... like... a lot...)

We'd probably live in a different, bigger house.

My blood pressure would be much closer to normal than it currently is.

I'd have never had to watch my child have CPR, would never have had to see my child's heart beating through her opened chest.

But....

I'd also would have never gotten the chance to be a part of a community of heart parents who have become so dear and precious to me.

I'd not be able to follow the stories and pray for so many different children who are battling.

While I might have had a bigger home, I wouldn't have understood the true value that is HOME.


I would have no concept of what it feels like to trust God completely with the life of my child.

I'd be a much weaker person--as the last 4 and a half years have only made me stronger.

I'd still take for granted things like being able to breathe with ease.

I would have never met dozens and dozens of doctors and nurses that work everyday to impact the lives of our littlest treasures.

I wouldn't know the value of becoming involved in the medical care of my children.

And oh my goodness.

I would have missed out on hundreds of little girl smiles and giggles. Of listening to her singing to me, 'Rise and shine and give God the gory, gory" (and yes, she said glory as gory--- at the top of her lungs--- it is awesome!)

I'd have missed out on giving and receiving Annabelle kisses and snuggles. Of drying her tears and of having the humbling experience of begging God to let me spend even one more day with her.

Every tear, every sacrifice, every fear, every trial---

It was worth it.

It IS worth it.

I'd do it over again in a heart beat.

Because she's my child. My daughter. My gift from God.

Even if God had only blessed me with ONE day with her to be able to love on her... it'd be worth it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

My Struggle: The "M" Word


I've done lots of debating about this blog post. If I should post it and how I should write it.

It's not a topic I normally talk about with vivid candor... it's uncomfortable for me, to be honest.

It's not about sex or politics, no worries.


No, it's about money. 

God has done a lot of pruning on me the last few years on this topic. I've failed, too, over, and over, and over. I think we can ALL look at our bank accounts and see numerous places where we haven't been wise stewards of what God has given us. Hubby and I included.


But today, I want to tell you a story about money-- a deeply personal one that is not-so-easy for me to share. God is teaching me a lot, however, and so completely taking care of us. I felt like, just maybe, someone else needed to hear our story, even though it puts me in a not-so-comfortable, vulnerable spot.

So... here goes:

Once upon a time...

There was a man and woman. They had three sweet little girls. They did things a little backwards, the woman went to work during the day, while the man stayed home and took care of the babies, working part-time some evenings and weekends.

It wasn't the perfect scenario. The man and the woman didn't see each other nearly enough, but it kept their babies out of daycare, so they were a happy little family. The woman got a promotion, and then another one, and made a decent amount of money. They paid off credit card bills and had a nice tidy emergency fund in the bank. Dave Ramsey would have been proud. They were saving for fun things like cars that weren't 150k miles+ old and a bigger house to hold their growing family, and saving for retirement.

Then they got the news that baby number 4 was on the way. They were elated! Life was good. God was good. The future was bright and sunshiny.

Then they got some not-very-good news. Baby number 4 had a broken heart. They were told that the baby might not make it, but doctors would try their best to fix her broken heart.

The little princess was born, and her heart was indeed very sick. Surgery after surgery was done, and still, her heart was broken.  She wasn't able to come home from the hospital, so her pretty little room sat empty, with unused furniture just waiting for their precious princess to arrive and use them.

Meanwhile, the man and woman struggled to keep their family well. Their three other kids missed their parents, particularly their mommy who still worked during the day and slept at the hospital with the little princess at night. They saw less of each other than ever.

They lived on hope that the princess's heart would get all better and that life could be sunshiny and bright again.

So many people gathered around to support the hurting family. Cards and letters and gifts, they were such a blessing. They treasured each one.

Some suggested they start fundraising, to help with the expenses that comes with a baby who has a broken heart.

But the man and the woman looked around. They were blessed already. All their bills were being paid, they still had their tidy emergency fund, and people's gifts were allowing them to not have to touch it. It felt oh so very uncomfortable to solicit money from people. So they refrained, only accepting gifts when offered, and trusting God to meet their needs.

Ten long months later, the princess came home, having received the precious gift a new heart.

But the man and the woman began to worry. The princess was still very sick, and the woman was no longer able to go to work, as caring for the princess became her full-time job. They began to spend their tidy emergency fund, and the man began to look for work himself so the woman could nurse the princess to full health.

The man eventually found it, but not after their tidy fund was reduced to pennies. And the work the man found, while it was good, it paid much, much less than the woman used to make, and wasn't nearly enough to pay their bills. After all, "daddy" on a resume, while impressive, does not draw a lot of high salary positions being offered. It had good benefits though, and allowed him time to help his healing family.

Still, God blessed the family in the form of many generous people. Without the man and woman even asking, people sent gifts at JUST the right moment.

The woman started to work a little again, mostly from home, sometimes in the evening. She struggled with this for a whole year. But it became too much. Her little princess needed her at home with her, to give her medicine and food and help her learn the big girl things she'd missed. Their lives were filled with doctors appointments and therapy and frequent trips to the hospital. The princess got sick a LOT. The woman working was just not going to work yet.

The woman did, however, write. She wrote her stories during the princess's nap times and hoped to sell them. Her heart ached to be able to help with bills again, but it also ached to have purpose. For the stories that God gave her to be used. So she was obedient and wrote--but writers of stories make very little money. She profited some, but not enough to make even a dent in their monthly bills. Still though, she writes and tells people about her books, hoping someday, she can make enough to help.

Finally, the man and woman, not knowing how they would pay their bills each month, applied the little princess for disability. It was a bit of a sad day for the man and woman. They wanted to be able to provide for their little family themselves, but it was becoming clear that at this moment, they could not.

They waited six months to be approved. And for six months, they struggled. But God was always faithful and brought help in some very amazing places, and some humbling places too. And each month, the bills were paid.

Then the seventh month came. They were told due to a miscommunication, the princess was not approved for disability and would have to reapply.

The man and the woman were devastated. God had provided so much and had always been faithful, but they would not have enough money to pay the bills for the eighth month, for the first time in the four years of struggle.

But they held tight to the promises that God would never leave them nor forsake them. That God knew exactly their needs, even better than they did. They went about life, trusting that God would provide in the exact moment they needed it.

Two weeks before their bills were due for which they would not have the money to pay, the woman got a phone call.

There had been a mistake. They were approved after all, and one week before the bills were due, there was money in their account to pay them.

And there would be a deposit into the account each month going forward. It doesn't fix all their problems. They still must be very wise with their money. But the man will continue to work hard. And the woman will continue to care for her children and write her books and promote them as best she can. And God will continue to direct and teach them that no matter how desperate things look, if they trust in Him and are obedient, God has it handled.

The man and woman are so thankful. Thankful that God shows up when needed. That even when all seems lost, God knows. That even if they don't understand why things happen, God does.

They still have dreams.

Dreams of being able to have that house that is a little bigger to fit their family of 6

Dreams of being able to not have to pinch every penny and stretch every dollar.

Dreams of having that tidy little emergency fund again--they are only allowed a very small one while on the princess is on disability, which hurts the woman's heart.

Dreams of being able to decide where to give, rather than how to cover each bill.

These aren't bad dreams. They aren't prideful or sinful or greedy.

They are dreams of hope. Dreams of a future.

But even as they are dreaming, they are content with where God has them. They are so thankful for the gift of a new heart for the littlest princess. They are so thankful for ALL four of their princesses.

Even though their bank account is in ICU recovering, they are blessed beyond measure.

Because they serve a GOOD God. A WISE God. and a FAITHFUL God.

Philippians 4:11-13 NLT

"Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength."

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Priorities = STRAIGHT

So, today is blogging day.

But I was busy this week and didn't make time to do so.

BOO for me.

But in my defense, I'm feverishly working on several writing projects and am trying to balance priorities to give my readers more books to read!

That's a good excuse, right?!?

I think it is:-)

So in that spirit, I'm going to take a blogging break next week so I can concentrate on writing BOOKS.

I'd appreciate your prayers, that God helps me think clearly, prioritize well, and get the story he's given to me down on to paper (or screen, as it may be) in a way that gives HIM glory.

I'll be back on October 28th... fresh and ready to blog, and hopefully with a few things off my writing to-do-list checked off!!!