Category Archives: God watch

Wow: An End-of-the-Year Sigh.

The last month and a half has been difficult. It’s not the kind of difficult that needs fixing, it’s just one of those periods of rough transition that inevitably comes and must be weathered in order to emerge with the tools you need for the next season. I call this a ‘desert time,’ referring to the many times in the Bible that God led people into the desert for a period of difficulty and growth, like Abraham, Moses, Elijah, David and Jesus.

cropped-263e5-desertmoses.jpg

Factors in the mix include:

  • the kids’ adjustment to the new baby- which brings emotional and behavioral parenting challenges despite the fact that they are both in love with their little brother
  • our family’s adjustment to June’s ongoing and changing medical needs- which also brings emotional and practical routine changes for all of us constantly
  • a few recent emergencies and hospital trips with June (which all resolved well)
  • the irregular schedule that comes with a new nursing baby
  • the difficulty of having energetic young children under the same roof as elderly dogs
  • the need to adjust physical limits and teaching/discipline strategies as the kids’ abilities and independence increase each day, not the least of which is June being able to remove her pulse ox and HME at will (more on that soon)
  • the kids’ love of “sensory play,” and the soap, water, pom pom, toilet paper, cereal, coin, fabric, dirt, paint …. messes that result, often as a surprise discovery for me due to the previous point
  • never-ending adventures in potty training ‘interest’ from the kids that I *try* to patiently encourage and help them with, but that doesn’t seem to be developing into actual training
  • the typical holiday busy-ness with related events and tasks (though seeing family and friends was a very welcome treat)
  • time spent launching my baby sign language business which was time well spent, but definitely a tight fit into our schedule and routine
  • the normal end-of-the-year paperwork for the house, taxes, insurance, banking, career, etc.

This month and a half I’ve been mostly praying a variation on a specific part of the Lord’s prayer- “give us our daily bread-” by praying for manna for the day.  By prayer I mean words mumbled with a palm on my face when the newest parenting challenge presents itself, as an alternative to breaking objects out of frustration- not prayers done formally during a serene, set-aside time. This is a reference to the Old Testament when God provided daily food- manna- to the Israelites every morning in the desert, but only enough for that day or that day plus the Sabbath.  Similar to my favorite slogan, “One day (or hour or minute) at a time,” I find it comforting to focus on God’s provision for the current needs, even if the future needs and provision are unknown. And, like manna, I’ve had just enough energy and patience each day during this time to compete the bare essentials.

But I think and hope the ‘transition’ period is over and the ‘new season’ has begun.

A few tools I have emerged with, and have big hopes for, include:

  • Prayer/meditation/alone time which I strive to capture once a day
  • Continue to prioritize my own self-care and non-parenting activities like seeing friends, being involved in several church activities, and learning sign language
  • Toy rotation (see this wonderful series on it)
  • Rotation of the chore magnets, so that the often-skipped chores move up in priority the longer I avoid them

Chores Magnet Board

  • Updated homeschool schedule– we’ve been pretty unstructured so far, which I feel is a good fit for the kids’ ages.  However, I think a little more structure will help curb the conflicts between the kids and the surprise messes.
  • Reorganization of several common “problem areas” of the house, which are no longer functional or which aren’t a good fit for the kids needs right now
  • Expanding the use of “toy jail” to include temporarily losing toys that aren’t picked up at the end of the day
  • Rehoming my sweet dog, Sahara, with my parents, perhaps temporarily until her hip problems and the kids’ spontaneity aren’t such a dangerous combination

SaharaBed

  • Playdates or outings- I plan to try my best, but it may not result in many trips because of our need to keep June away from sniffles/coughs, our need to be near to June’s medical equipment, June and Miles’ sensitivity to cold air, and having to work in/around June and Miles’ feedings
  • A part-time return to cloth diapering, which I love but I avoided when June was young due to her health; I hope it will help with potty training and the challenges of having three kids in diapers
  • Breathing. I’m surprised how often I catch myself nearly holding my breath when I’m stressed.  Seems like breathing is good. I’d like to do more of it.
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Post-Hospital Top 20 Playlist- Christian

Here is the exciting conclusion of the playlist posts.  Last week’s blog highlighted the mostly not-specifically-Christian music that meshes well with our numerous inpatient hospital stay adventures.  Only two “Christian” songs made that list, and I outline several reasons for that in the earlier post On the Insufficiency of Christian Music.  However, there are some gems to be found in the pit that is the Christian genre.  The songs below speak to me for various reasons- just not during adrenaline-filled hospital stays.

In no particular order:

Blessed Be Your Name- Chris Tomlin

What I like about it: I became a Christian at 16 during a very difficult time in my life.  In fact, the decade following was to be filled with one crisis, danger, or source of grief after another. I knew nothing about actual Christianity before age 16; previously I figured from observing the youth-group cliques at school that “Christianity” was just a bundled component of the “shiny, happy” white upper middle class culture, like shopping at Abercrombie and playing a sport.  I wanted nothing to do with that culture which seemed oblivious to real life and hardship, and for the most part, the feeling was mutual.  But at 16 I was invited to a different kind of youth group, aimed precisely at kids like me who were outside of the the mainstream, preppy, sheltered, grew-up-in-church fold. They sought out the kids were not “shiny and happy,” the smokers and the skaters and the angry and determined. There I learned the basics of Christianity- the story of sin and death and repentance and redemption- but more importantly, as I read the Bible on my own and explored this “spiritual stuff,” I personally found there is something tangible to it.  My faith grew as an independent force- separate from the church, peer pressure, and expectations of others (both in support of and against my faith); I actually left that youth group shortly afterward because I felt their extreme fundamentalist approach was out of line with what I understood and discerned to be biblical teaching. I mean to say that I actually reliably experienced guidance, peace, and growth on a spiritual level when I was seeking it through prayer and the Bible. Those tools are the only way I weathered all of the events in my life since that time. This song has always embodied all of that for me.  My understanding of and experience of Christianity bears no resemblance to the sheltered, privileged life that I (perhaps unfairly) perceived the youth group kids at school to be living.  It also bears no resemblance to the “prosperity gospel,” which implies that sincere pursuit of God always leads directly to material wealth and well being for the Christian.  I understand the Bible to consistently say that life is “full of trouble” (Job 14.1), that there is a “time to weep and a time to laugh” (Ecclesiastes 3.4) and that Paul describes being, “…under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure….but this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God” (2 Corinthians 1.8-9).  This is why it bothers me so much that there are very few Christian songs that address suffering as a natural part of our spiritual life.  They tend to dismiss it with a platitude like, “When I’m down, God will raise me up!!” as though it shows a lack of faith to mention suffering for me than just a microsecond.  I believe this song captures one role of suffering in a Christian’s life very eloquently in the line, “Though there is pain in the offering, blessed be your name.”

Lyrics Highlight: Though there is pain in the offering

Blessed be your name

Along These Same Lines: If You Want Me To- Ginny Owens

 

What Do I Know of Holy- Addison Road

What I Like About It: Poetically describes the awe and wonder when you stop to examine your understanding of “God”

Lyrics Highlight: What do I know of you

Who spoke me into motion

Where have I even stood

But the shore along your ocean

Along These Same Lines: What Love Really Means- Jj Heller

 

Waiting Here For You- Martin Smith 

What I Like About It: The song and the video both have a very intimate sound, like we’re listening to Smith direct his words to God without pretense.

Lyrics Highlight: If faith can move the mountains

Let the mountains move

We come with expectation

We’re waiting here for you

Along These Same Lines: Sanctify- Delirious? (Smith’s old band)

 

Hallelujah- Rufus Wainwright    

What I Like About It: Both the lyrics and the music, originally written by Leonard Cohen, are stunning creations. The power of the song is reflected in its versatility.  Cohen himself noted that “many different hallelujahs exist,” and this song could be performed in a “melancholic, fragile, uplifting [or] joyous” tone. I like the Wainwright version best so far.

Lyrics Highlight:  Maybe there’s a God above

But all I’ve ever learned from love

Is how to shoot at somebody who outdrew ya

And it’s not a cry that you hear at night

It’s not somebody who’s seen the light

It’s a cold and its a broken hallelujah

Along These Same Lines: Resurrection- Nicol Sponberg

 

Because of This- MercyMe 

What I Like About It: Like Blessed Be Your Name, this song addresses suffering in a Christian’s life.

Lyrics Highlight: How can we sing, when there seems no reason to

Along These Same LinesCrazy- MercyMe

 

Without Running Away- Jason Gray    

What I Like About It:  Gray’s lyrics are real and original.  Without exaggeration, I cannot think of any other Christian performer of whom I could say the same.  I wish more artists would learn Gray’s secret for sneaking rugged authenticity into the Christian music industry.  A few lyrics in this piece: “I’ve spent some days looking for a length of rope/ And a place to hang it from the end of my hope/……If truth be told I’d rather dismiss it/ And be free of the burden of living that hoping requires” are the boldest and rawest lines I’ve ever heard in a Christian song.  The Christian “culture” needs more honesty like this about depression, hopelessness, and other mental health struggles from artists, pastors, and laypeople. And the Christian community needs to be prepared to respond graciously.  Thankfully the “don’t ask, don’t tell” atmosphere surrounding emotional suffering and mental illness is very slowly abating in Christian-dom after tragedies such as the suicide of Matthew Warren- the son of the distinguished mega-church pastor and author of The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren.  Events such as this have prompted mental health awareness efforts, scientific research, and practical resources to be generated in the field of Christian ministry, in addition to frequently-appearing articles on the topic in recent years.  Perhaps after successfully breaching print, emotional authenticity in Christian culture will be heard more widely from the stages and the pulpits.

Lyrics Highlight (in addition to the powerful lines listed above): To bring my heart

To every day

And run the risk of fearlessly loving

Without running away

Along These Same Lines: Remind Me Who I Am- Jason Gray

 

Here I Am- Shawn McDonald

What I Like About It: As is true of many of McDonald’s songs, here he brings a deeply emotional performance from simple and brief lyrics.

Lyrics Highlight: Here I am, oh, tonight

With my arms open wide

Along These Same LinesHave You Ever?- Shawn McDonald

 

Symbol of a Lost Cause- Ginny Owens

What I Like About It: I love the picture she paints of a Christian in some type of social service work: “He could have prospered in the suburbs/ Instead of working for the poor/ Down at the inner city mission/ Where there’s so much disappointment/ And very few rewards,” as it describes many positions I’ve held during my career as a case worker and a counselor working with “under-served” or “under-privileged” populations.  These types of positions will relieve you of your idealism and savior complex promptly.  You start out bursting at the seams with good intentions, but as that energy is lapped away by persistent disappointment in the lack of results and the eventual failure of fragile victories, you begin to realize how much narcissism and pride was underlying those fierce desires to “do good.”  This never-ending process of picking out the pride invading my attempts at virtue informs my understanding of “the gospel” more and more, because God embodies love that isn’t tainted by self-interest. I weary very quickly of my imperfect attempts to “love” in the absence of some kind of ego boost or gratification in return. Yet somehow God truly loves us- the sick and weary but traitorous and vicious beings that we are- unconditionally, and reconciled us to him at his own expense even knowing what a lost cause we were, since we could never reciprocate this perfect love in the state we are currently in.

Lyrics Highlight: Beneath the symbol of a lost cause

Is where I take my stand

Along These Same Lines: Be Thou My Vision- Ginny Owens

 

Better Than A Hallelujah- Amy Grant

What I Like About It: This is a beautifully written song that dares to mention several specific situations of true, deep suffering.  And I’m sure some people are offended by the gritty statement that, “God loves a drunkard’s cry/ A soldier’s plea not to let him die/ Better than a hallelujah sometimes,” and it may be misconstrued to paint God as lacking compassion or even as taking pleasure in our misfortune somehow.  But I believe these weighty lyrics communicate the opposite- they describe the spiritual power of suffering and the fact that “God is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34.18).

Lyrics Highlight: We pour out our miseries

God just hears a melody

Beautiful, the mess we are

The honest cries of breaking hearts

Are better than a hallelujah sometimes

Along These Same LinesHeld- Natalie Grant

 

Bless Us and Keep Us- John Waller

What I Like About It: I originally heard this song as part of the video Bible study, The Blessing.  The Bible study elaborates on the power of a parent’s blessing, both when it is given and when it is withheld.  This song reminds me of my intentions to actively bless and lead my kids in my relationship with them.  The two similar songs linked below are also powerful in this way.

Lyrics Highlight: Lord make our sons

Like Ephraim and Manasseh

Forgetting the troubles of their past

And having a fruitful future

Along These Same LinesThe Words I Would Say- Sidewalk Prophets; Lead Me- Sanctus Real 

 

Decluttering Series Intro

Decluttering Series Intro

We are in a decluttering frenzy here at the safari house. We aren’t aspiring to minimalism, or any specific movement.  We just realized that in some areas, our habits and our “stuff” had begun to detract from what is important to us. (More on values clarification below!)  The clutter falls into several broad categories, so between now and Christmas, I plan to highlight decluttering tips for one or two categories per week, including:

Declutter Topic List

 

A helpful first step is to simply identify what IS important to you.  Several years ago, Greg and I composed ranked lists of what we value, both individually and as a family. These lists are concrete reminders of what guides our decision making.  We used values clarification exercises from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a favorite approach of mine as a counselor.  Examples of some self-guided exercises can be found here on Working With ACT.

Thankfulness

I have several drafts of posts saved in blogger that consist of a title and some notes on what I intend to write.  This particular one, “Thankfulness,” was drafted more than two months ago, but I just couldn’t pin it down.  It’s connected to an entire spider web of ideas in my mind that center around our hospital experience.  But the story truly begins two years before during Thanksgiving 2012.  Greg and I were driving to Galveston for a beach house vacation with his extended family.  We were very excited to see everyone and relax by the ocean.  I was looking forward particularly to the peaceful, pensive effect the ocean has on me.  I had lost a loved one early that year as well as quit my job for stay-at-home-dom, and I was still so [SO] very restless. I felt like my prayers for comfort, understanding, direction, and peace were not being answered.  During the drive to Galveston, Greg and I listened to the podcast of a recent sermon we had missed at church. It really “spoke to” me or “struck” me or “resonated with” me or some other verb that doesn’t sound like cheesy Christian speak.  It was perfect for me at the time, and it remains one of my favorite sermons.  Listen to it here:

Recharge | Sermons | Faithbridge

While the sermon as a whole was about the Holy Spirit, what really stuck with me in my situation was an emphasis on thankfulness. I realized that I was so focused on my restlessness and discontentment that I was not appreciating many things in my current situation. That is to say, I was both not grateful for them and not enjoying them as much as I could have with an outlook of gratitude. To be clear, I don’t think that discontentment and gratitude are completely mutually exclusive. In fact, I was still discontent with my general lack of answers and direction even after I started to cultivate thankfulness. But my focus changed from bad to good.  I saw first-hand why this verse from Philippians is wise advice:

Philippians 4.8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

But the reason it is wise goes beyond pop psychology and “the power of positive thinking.”  I realized that when I looked through a lens of gratitude, I could see the ways God *was* answering my prayers and providing for me the whole time.  It was amazing, and this habit of thankfulness has stuck with me.

I think focusing on gratitude helped a lot when June was in the NICU because the good continuously counterbalanced the bad from this perspective.  I often saw our needs being met completely unexpectedly within minutes of the need arising. Also, very early in the pregnancy I had finally acted on the nudge to address some unhealthy relationships in my life, and it resulted in the loss of several former close friends.  Yet even with those significant relationships gone, the support that we received through family and friends was so over abundant, it felt extravagant (along the lines of God’s “extravagant love” from 1 John 3).  It was like the fish and loaves of support systems…..that’s the last analogy I’ll throw in…..

Truly- as overwhelming as June’s NICU experience was, I was more overwhelmed by the way God was working in that situation, usually through other people. And I can point to this sermon from two years ago which helped shape the frame of mind that allowed me to see how God was working in that difficult NICU situation.  In hindsight, I see a thread of God’s provision throughout all of these events that, to my great frustration, made no sense at the time.  

Miracles in the NICU

Our Juniper is 10 weeks old today, and if all goes well, she will finally come home with us on Monday! That is a miracle in itself, as her tentative discharge date was originally January 30th, 2014, then it was moved up to the first week of January, and now it’s set for December 23rd!!

Miracles in the NICU

Our NICU experience has been- and is- overwhelming and complex.  I’m not sure how to write about it except in pieces.  This piece is about one way that we got through this situation.  Later I intend to blog about how we never could have made it through as emotionally, mentally, and physically intact as we have without the amazingly generous support we have received from friends and family.  We have been thoroughly blessed and encouraged by the emails, cards, gifts, meals, childcare, errands, and household help that we have received over the past several months. And while we feel all of those things were heaven sent, this piece today is about the divine support we’ve received, rather directly.  This is about the times when it seemed like God parted the clouds to give us an encouraging pat on the back at the most unexpected, and often most difficult, times.

1. “Plans I Have For…..[June]”

First, I was so encouraged when I received emails from friends and family containing prayers or bible verses for June. Greg and I have been completing a one year bible reading plan, and I often noticed that the verses that people quoted were ones Greg and I had just read that week.  And one began to recur in emails from several people:

“For I know the plans that I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and peace.” – Jeremiah 29:11

I have always loved this verse because it reassures me that I have a purpose.  But when I read it in the prayers for June, it came across to me as a strong statement about June- that she has a purpose, and God has specific, vibrant plans for her.  I can’t wait to find out what they are.

2. God Gave Rock N Roll To You

Well, not rock and roll exactly, but a contemporary worship CD.  June spent a month in a semi-private room in the Cardiovasular Intensive Care Unit.  Long term stays like that are really unusual in the CVICU, and we got used to having a different roommate every 2-3 days.  Most families nodded politely to me or Greg if our eyes met, but didn’t engage in conversation.  But one family actually introduced themselves and asked about Juniper.  I asked about their child and offered hospital wifi tips. When we discovered we are all Christians, they prayed with June.  Then they were gone after two days.  But to my surprise, the wife stopped by June’s bedside when she returned for her son’s follow-up two weeks later.  She left a gift bag with snacks, including chocolate, and a CD she had burned.  It turned out to be worship music from a local church. All of the songs were new to me, and two have become my current favorites (and I tend to have a hard time finding Christian music that I actually like).  Also, one of the voices sounded so familiar, and it turned out to be the former lead singer of a band I loved years ago who, unbeknownst to me, is now releasing solo tracks.

3. Presurgery Cookie

The admonishment not to eat before surgery applies only to patients, not to their moms.  I had such a divine surprise the night before June’s heart surgery that I shared the story on Facebook:
I was walking through the hospital lost in thought praying about June’s surgery tomorrow, and on this nearly deserted floor I heard someone offer me tea. “No thanks,” I said, confused, but she gestured behind me and said, “Or have a cookie.” Now that I’ll do….I saw a whole cart of teas and a table of cookies. “What’s the occasion?” [at 8pm Tuesday on the fourth floor which isn’t even a publicly traveled area], I asked. “Just tea time with the chaplain,” she said. “Are you the chaplain for the whole hospital?” I asked. “Yes I am,” she said, and we talked briefly about prayers for June. It’s amazing to me how God often speaks or comforts in such surprising ways. If you’d like, please pray about June’s heart surgery happening some time tomorrow morning. It should improve her condition a lot and help her make faster progress toward coming home with us.So in addition to a cookie, some chocolate flavored decaf tea, and prayers the the chaplain, I ended up receiving encouragement from many people on Facebook, and June had prayers flying her way from all over the country.

4. Preach It

Confession: In the last year, Greg and I haven’t gone to church *in person* very often.  We enjoy watching podcasts of our church’s sermons along with a question and answer postscript segment online or via audio in the car.  I’m part of a few online serve teams, we have a great in-person “small group,” and Greg and I discuss the bible on our own frequently during the week since we’re doing a year long reading plan. But attending Sunday morning services has just not worked with Rowan’s nap schedule and my pregnancy and bed rest and with our routine in general for the last year. Recently though, spurred on by the CD I enjoyed, I have missed experiencing the worship music part of the service. I really enjoy that part if it’s done well, which it is at our church.  And the worship portion isn’t on the weekly sermon podcasts.  So Greg and I decided to trek into church one Sunday recently.  It turned out our favorite speaker was preaching.  And even as we  were thinking how applicable and encouraging the sermon was to our situation, the speaker began to share a real life example involving a family’s experience of having a child in the NICU. I think both of our mouths dropped open, as though God had said, “Hey, I’m talking to you.”  (The sermon is here if you’d like to see- its encouraging, deep, and still often hilarious.)

So many things like this keep happening.  Another parent in the NICU randomly told me God is with me.  A stranger at the hospital gave Greg a parking pass and said “You’ve been blessed,” and as the guy drove away, Greg saw he had a bumper sticker for a church that’s five miles from our house (and 40 miles from the hospital). Several times, I’ve received surprising emails of encouragement from the most random senders at the times that I’ve felt most worn down.Though I would have preferred that June did not have to be in the NICU at all, it’s been amazing to watch God show up during these hard times.  We’ve truly been divinely reassured and supported throughout this ordeal.

God Watch

Photo credit: hisks from sxc.hu

Today’s quote is:
“Years ago I coined that phrase “God Watch” for our children as a game, of sorts. It was an intentional way of watching and waiting to see how the Lord would unexpectedly amaze us during a particularly difficult circumstance. Now, it’s a family matra. Our God Watch is a reminder to gaze at his goodness. To rest in his reassurances. But more importantly, it’s a whisper of willingness to choose joy in the midst of doubt. –Jennifer Schmidt, Balancing Beauty and Bedlam”

I suppose I should declare a God Watch. This week and last were incredibly difficult. I was offered a once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity which had been a dream of mine for the last 10 years, wrapped up with several unexpected financial perks like a sparkly, inviting bow. Not only was this something I dreamed about and longed for in my professional practice for years, but I had hoped it would be God’s answer to my season of intense questions and seeking this past year when the negative events in my life just didn’t make sense. Yet I had a persistent feeling that this amazing, sparkling career opportunity laid out before me wasn’t the right one. I had a feeling that God has been leading me so closely this past year so he could clearly navigate me past what seemed so much like a perfect direction to travel.

After a year of searching and looking for comfort and peace amidst grief, it was incredibly hard to pass up the first concrete path that I saw in the desert, especially one so inviting. And I don’t have any alternative path to guide my seemingly aimless journey instead, just a strong impression that God was telling me, “I have something better for you.” But I don’t know what that something is. I had hoped that because saying no to this opportunity was so difficult for me, I would have a reassuring new direction soon afterward. Not so. Thankfully, I do have intellectual and spiritual peace that I made the right decision, but emotionally- and quite vividly- it stings of another fresh loss. Be advised, a God Watch is in effect for this and surrounding desert areas.