Saturday, June 17, 2017

What's In a Name?

Do you know the meaning of your name, or the names of your children? I don't know that we always give the meaning of a name much thought. While I don't always hear from God as clearly as I would like to about every situation in life, He has spoken to me a lot about the baby I am carrying now. As it turns out, in his case, the meaning of his name is everything. If you want to know what his name will be before he arrives, you have to know the story.

When we found out we were having another boy, we began tossing ideas around, and thought we would either go with a name from the Bible or a name that reflected family heritage in some way. Most of the Biblical names I love the best just don't go well with our last name, so that narrowed the list down quickly. Just for the fun of it, we were also thinking of names we liked beginning with "L" because we already have Lucas. One day in March, I opened a book of Irish names that once belonged to my Granny. She came to America from Ireland with her family when she was a little girl. My grandmother was a wonderful storyteller and I loved to hear her tell of her family and traveling here, and I was fascinated with all the things she owned which had anything to do with Ireland. This book was no different, and I had looked through its pages many times as a child. So I have saved that book in my own collection for years. On this day, I found my focus settled on a name that I have heard many times before, and it never jumped out at me as a name I would choose. It was a fine name, but I personally never thought there was anything exceptional about it. But for that moment, it held my gaze. Then the meaning of the name nearly took my breath away. When I tell you the meaning, promise me you won't go Googling that to see what the name might be....just read on.
The meaning of the name that had caught my attention was "strong willed warrior and protector." Why is that important? Only because one of the specific reasons we have so desperately wanted another child is so that Lucas would have someone who would love him for life after we have departed this world. We hoped in our hearts that God would indeed give him a protector. Someone who would be glad to fight for him as needed, the same way we always have tried to do. At this point the name was not set in stone, but after I told my husband what it meant, we were pretty sure that this name was going to be the one. Several weeks later, God gave me confirmation that this was the right name for our child through the first scare we had about this pregnancy. Here is something else that only two very trusted friends know about, because we wanted prayers, but we didn't tell anyone else at the time what was happening because we didn't want anyone to needlessly worry, or make the situation worse by thinking negative thoughts and believing something would go wrong. It is my firm belief that everything about this baby is going to be a miracle and I need people to stand in agreement with me about that. However, this news did bring a brief feeling of fear. My second round of blood work that can be used to rule out some genetic disorders came back with an elevated risk of trisomy 18, a condition in which there would be an extra copy on the 18th chromosome. At the same time, my most recent ultrasound at showed two small cysts on my baby's brain, often a sign of other disorders, but as the doctor told me, they can commonly dissolve on their own and mean nothing.
I will be honest and say that when we realized these two things were occurring together and read the possibilities of what trisomy 18 can mean for a child, I became fearful and cried. I was even angry for a moment, at the mere possibility that my next child could also be disabled and said repeatedly that it wouldn't be fair. And then, I did what I should have done from the beginning. I prayed. I was crying out to God, saying that I couldn't possibly believe He would lead me into this pregnancy for us to have another big problem, when what we had asked Him for was a solution....provision of a friend for Lucas in the future, someone to care about him. This could never happen if our next son was on his developmental level of worse, and after all, it was God who had spoken to my heart that all I needed to do if I wanted another child of my own with no disability was to ask Him. In that moment, praying by myself in my living room, the tears suddenly stopped rolling because I felt an amazing sense of peace come over me. And then I heard God's voice in my heart once again, asking me what my baby's name was, and telling me that I needed to name him according to what I believe he is going to be. I did have faith that my son would become a warrior and protector for his brother. That is what we believe about him and that is the answer to prayer that we are stepping out in faith to know that we KNOW this is what God will provide. And so answering back to God in prayer I said the name. His name is Liam. I had not one more moment of fear after that about any possible unwanted conditions. Later that day, my wonderful doctor called me on the phone and told me not to be worried as we were going back to follow up with genetic counseling and have another ultrasound to get a closer look at the baby. He repeated that those cysts often disappear and the first round or tests I had, which was all clear, was more accurate than the second. He reassured me that we were only going back to genetics as standard protocol. That appointment came only two weeks later, and I was scheduled to see my doctor for another ultrasound about two weeks after that. That regular appointment was the one where they were going to check his brain to see of the cysts were gone or had remained and grown. But that test proved to be unnecessary, because in only two weeks time at the genetics center of the hospital, I watched the monitor as they carefully explored every aspect of my baby's anatomy. And that day God proved to us that everything was going to be all right, because the cysts were already gone, and there was not one other sign of improper development. The doctors there agreed with my doctor's assessment that we had no need for concern, because the elevated risk on the second round of tests I had was negated by the first tests that showed no problems. We were more than grateful that God had quickly come to our aid to calm our minds and remind us that He was at work doing something special. And this was not the last time He would confirm to me the name.

The next time I was in deep prayer for my son was at a worship experience a friend had invited me along to with her. I prayed there during worship fervently that every chromosome in this baby is whole, undamaged, unbroken, and there are no extra or missing pieces anywhere. I prayed that every system is going to function properly, and he will meet all his milestones on time. I prayed over his brain, and his heart, and his whole body. And I heard once more God ask me to say his name, and know that I need to name him according to my belief. I silently said "This is Liam," and at that moment, I felt him moving for the first time in a while that evening. If it wasn't sealed already, that did it. Whenever this child makes his entrance into the world, Liam Michael will be his name. We want to honor Mike's dad who passed on from this world a few years ago, and would be over to the moon about a new grandson if he were here. We have come to find out that Liam has increased in popularity so much that it has become the number one boy's name used in 2017, but my decision has nothing to do with its popularity, and everything to do with its meaning. What's in a name? This time, it's an element of faith that we have, knowing the child on the way will be what we always wanted for his big brother. One friend for life...a strong willed protector. 
"Delight yourself in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart."

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Getting rid of "what if?"

 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Ephesians 6:12 

I have made a lot of decisions based on the words "what if?" In other words, fear. And I didn't even know I was doing it. When my son was born, it was the best time of my life. A mom was all I ever truly cared to be. It's great to work and contribute in other ways, but overall, the only thing I knew I HAD to be was a mother. I finally had my baby. He was my greatest joy on earth. 

By the time he was 9 months old, his developmental delays started showing up, and I began to see that my mental picture of motherhood was in reality turning out to be something very different. Right after his first birthday, the diagnostic process began. And at 19 months old, before our blood work came back to tell us anything further, we got the diagnosis of autism. Right after his second birthday, we found out the next part. He had Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic disorder named because of damage to the X chromosome that causes global developmental delays and sometimes autism, as was the case with Lucas. The worst pain came from finding out that he inherited that disorder from me. Something I had never before even heard of in my life had apparently been passed through the genes of my family for generations without knowledge to any of us. So with a broken heart, I told everyone that I could not have any more children. 
I love Lucas and have often said that I would not have traded the experience of having him just the way he is for anything else, and I mean that. But two kids just like him would be quite a hand full. I couldn't possibly give birth to any more children because WHAT IF the the next child had Fragile X too? 

So clearly, adoption would be our next step. Yes, I always believed adoption was a wonderful thing and my husband agreed. We had heard about many families who adopted though foster care with ease and no cost. So that would be our plan. We thought it best to take it on when Lucas entered kindergarten. Yes that was the plan. Lucas needed a sibling and adoption would provide. 

This story would become way too long if I told you all the ways adoption in different forms did not work out for us and why. I kept praying that God would open some door or show me how we could do this. I prayed for him to lead us to the right child who needed to find their home with us. It just never happened, even though I felt like God was leading me to pursue it in different ways. I kept asking Him WHY and WHEN things would change. In desperation, my mind started going to IVF, in which we could go through the expensive process of genetic selection in order to reduce our risk of Fragile X being passed on. But it felt too much like "playing God" to get into that and the cost was astronomical, just like many forms of adoption. On some random night in November of 2015 I was in my bed reading. I was reading a book about someone experiencing a miracle, and throughout it were scattered Bible verses related to each aspect of their story. I read the following piece of James 4:2

"You do not have because you do not ask God." 

Suddenly, the voice of God flooded my heart and mind and I was left in shock. He told me that we had never once asked Him if we were meant to adopt, we had simply decided that without consulting Him. I could hardly believe that we had made that kind of life decision without asking if it was right. We really had just assumed that it must be what God wanted us to do. Then I heard God say that if we wanted another child of our own with no disability, He could have provided that if we had asked Him. We didn't have it because we didn't ask. 

The next morning, when I told my husband about it, he agreed that shockingly enough, we had never prayed about it and just concluded that not having any more children ourselves was the responsible thing to do. He didn't hesitate to believe that God knew our need for Lucas to have a sibling who could be his friend in life, who wouldn't share the same challenges he had. So from that day forward we started asking God for what we had not before, and we began trying to conceive. For month after month we were disappointed. I especially wanted this new revelation to come to pass quickly because my mom's health was failing and I really wanted her to meet her next grandchild. Finally, after about 10 months of trying, I saw the positive pregnancy test I longed for. For nearly an entire first trimester I endured the regular symptoms of pregnancy but on my ultrasounds, things were not looking good. They could not find a baby growing, and I was diagnosed with blighted ovum. The day before my birthday, a second ultrasound confirmed that despite my many prayers and believing God for a miracle that this was the coming to pass of His promise, no baby would be born. Less than one week later I was in the hospital because the blood flow during the miscarriage was out of control. It was the worst birthday and worst September of my entire life. 

After that, I felt some anger towards God and kept wanting to know WHY he would lead me to this choice if this was what was going to happen. And I never thought when I was lying in that hospital bed or following up with my doctor that I could try this again. I was already old anyway, and what if I had heard God wrong? What if He didn't mean to say what I thought He said? What if He never really intended for me to have another child at all? 

Despite my fears and my emotions, God began the work of repairing my broken heart sooner than I could have imagined. Although I was angry and didn't know how to pray, I watched some revival services that Elevation Church was having online that month. Christine Cain was the first person who spoke healing words from God to my heart. She spoke about some painful things in her past, and declared that there was no denying that they happened. But then she asked the question, "why would you let one event from your past define your future?" And I almost felt like I could hear God asking if I would keep trusting Him to do what He said or if I would be too afraid because of that one thing that caused me so much pain. 

Then I did an online Bible study with Proverbs 31 Ministries around the book Wait and See. The author confirmed to me that just because it sometimes takes what seems like forever to see God's promises to us come to pass, that does not meant that we heard Him incorrectly. Rather she said that doubt was a tool of the devil to get us to stop believing God and following His instructions for us. 

My mother's passing was another thing that opened my eyes to how short life really is, and that it would be foolish of me to allow fear to get in the way of my dreams and God's promises. I began to feel confident that I needed to make the most out of this life and never let fear be the reason I didn't try something. 

In my reading one day, the Lord spoke to my heart again, through a reading in Job. After Job had lost everything, the Lord promised that He would restore it all to Him. There was one verse that I took from it as mine. I felt like God was telling me that He would also restore what I had lost in the hospital that day in September. And then, In December, and final Word sealed my decision that we could not be afraid to try for another baby. 

It was while listening to Elevation's service again. Pastor Steven Furtick delivered a message called "There's More to the Story." In it he detailed the story of the woman whom Elisha promised she would have son after years of being infertile. She did. And years later, the boy died. She believed that God was just going to have to do something about this and she called Elisha to help her. Her son was raised from the dead. The pastor illustrated through this that sometimes bad things have to happen before a true miracle story can be made. He said while life itself is a miracle, it's no big deal for a woman to have a baby. That happens every day. But sometimes a baby has to die before there can be a miracle. It couldn't have been any clearer to me. I listened to that message the first week of December. That was the first month my doctor had said it would be safe for us to try again. And so we did. And so we conceived. The first time we tried after all the past failure...the first time we took a step of faith after losing, it worked. 

The verse I opened with is there because the devil has still tried to talk throughout this pregnancy and he asks me what if the baby doesn't make it? What if he is born with the same disorder because I heard wrong? What if God does not do what I hope he will? Praise God that I can say the voice of truth overpowers "what if?" I know that God can be trusted and whatever He has in mind is going to be good. I know that all these things happened the way they did and on the crazy timing they did for a reason. None of it seemed right to me. I wondered why God couldn't have revealed this truth to me years ago when we kept trying to adopt.  But God is on time and He will always do what He promises. I am so thankful that He works through people the way He does and for all the things that he brought me to for comfort, peace and the courage to go forward. That verse in Job about restoration? Last September I lost and experienced the biggest disappointment of my life.My new baby is due September 3rd. Whenever he decides to make his entrance, I have a feeling this September will feel very different than the last. Isn't that just like God? His goodness is astounding. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

The 3 "Cs" I'm Giving Up This Year

As the new year gets under way, I look at how I ended the last year and realize I didn't do something important I wanted to do. The last few months of my year were some of the hardest I ever lived, and even though I DID rely on God and kept up some of my healthy habits, I didn't follow through with my goal to leave stress eating as a thing of the past. I have overcome it for a time, multiple times, and then life gets harder, and as they say, old habits die hard. I prayed through a lot and worked out 6 days a week, but at the end of an exhausting day, the old comfort of sitting in front of the TV with food played out in my mind, and I rationalized that it would not be so bad to relax that way for just ONE day. Of course, it's never just one day, is it? No, when you have an addiction to something, it comes back to get you the minute you let yourself go back to it. Not to mention, the holidays were here, and even though I do fitness as a business, I went with the wrong mindset of "I will just deal with added pounds later." Well, guess what? It's later. And I am facing with the consequences of my actions.

As I am working to plan out the months ahead and taking a look at all the things I want to do better, I was reminded of the last Danial Fast I did over Lent again. I wrote about it earlier and shared that at the end of that time, because I had placed all the focus on God and not weight loss, I felt a sense of complete peace and joy, even though my mom was sick and we had not yet conceived the child we wanted after months of trying. I had allowed God to become the primary point of focus in my life, as He should be, and the other things, while still hard, didn't matter as much because I remembered that God was ultimately in control of all of it and we would be all right. And the attacks of the enemy began after that, because there is nothing like being at peace with God and finding contentment to put a bullseye on you. Summer was hard because my mom was diagnosed with ALS, on top of the dementia she had already been struggling with daily. We finally knew why her body was failing and she couldn't swallow well, but the diagnosis was hard to take anyway. Then we conceived our baby, and we were so excited, we told everyone, and we thought for sure this was God's blessing in the middle of the storm we were living in. We thought it was the culmination of what He promised us and that it was our glimmer of light in the dark, because our family needed some joy. But in September, that dream came to an end temporarily, as I lost my pregnancy and couldn't understand how I would ever recover. Cue the Netflix, chips and Oreo cookies. 

When my mom passed away in October, with my sadness came a sense of relief for her, that she was finally out of her pain and in the presence of Jesus instead. Yes, I still ate more than I needed to over the holidays, but I was renewed in a way by God's goodness and the drive to make my mom proud, I thought about how there never seems to be enough time after her departure. Life is not that long. And I better not sit here wasting time, letting my emotions lead me around. So now, as I look to revamp, I have been in prayer about what God would have me do to get healthier, overcome my addiction forever, not just a few weeks, and place Him back in the front over my desire for other forms of comfort. I thought of the time doing the Daniel Fast and how that sense of peace to come back is what I truly need. I felt like God was telling me that if I want to master going without something that is not good for me, I need to give it up for a longer period of time than 3 maybe the rest of the year. The Daniel Fast way of eating is healthy, basically vegan, with no junk food allowed. But that is a little extreme for me for an entire year, because it just makes more sense for me to eat some chicken and eggs sometimes. And cheese...that's important!  I could think of giving up ALL junk for the entire year, but I was afraid not allowing for any treat ever would set me up for failure, even though this was a spiritual thing. So I kept searching for what it would be that I could give up for the year. I needed to be able to draw a bright red line that I wouldn't cross when it came to certain "trigger" foods that lead to overeating for me. And God let me to 3 "C" words. Therefore, for the remainder of this year, I will not be eating chips, cookies or candy. Those are the three things that lead me into the danger zone when I eat them. I go far away from moderation and right to overeating almost every time. Chocolate is addicting to me. At the wrong time, I think I could totally eat one of those giant Hershey Kisses, no problem. And chips, well who can just eat one chip? Or two or five or eight for that matter? And then cookies can be problematic too. Notice I didn't say I would NEVER have cake, or pie or ice cream this year, because when it comes to those things, one serving is plenty, and I typically eat them only on special occasions. Not so with those other foods that are often in the house for my son. 
So here you have my promise that I will not partake of these things, except I plan to allow for what I was going to do this past holiday, and have a cookie or two on Christmas Eve. Waiting until then means I may not bake them like I did in 2016. However, we will see. After practicing self control for that many months, it may just be easy by then! Will power is like a muscle, right? 
Send me your encouragement....I might need it. And even though I don't expect anyone else to give up all that for the entire year, I do hope you will join me in a challenge group this year so we can focus on healthy food and exercise together. There is strength in numbers! 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Long December?

I know everyone in my generation can remember the song A Long December by the Counting Crows. My husband keeps singing it because this month has felt long, and we DO have hope that this year will be better than the last. Because in reality, our family has had a long September, October, November and December.

In September, I learned the day before my birthday that my pregnancy was not developing properly, and there was no little baby to be seen on my ultrasound. I prayed to God that He would just have to give me a miracle, because I know He promised me that there would be a new baby, because I had never asked Him for one before and the time had come for me to ask. He told me. I know it makes sense, at least  to Christians, when I say that. I kept asking for about 10 months before I finally tested positive. All the bloodwork was normal but my ultrasounds were not. I still kept demanding my miracle and believing the the Holy Spirit power that God has infused in us all who love Him would come through. I asked to be seen at a different office, on a different machine, but before that appointed day came, I found myself in the hospital, having a miscarriage, bleeding more than I ever knew was possible and having to have a procedure to stop the flow and the pain. I still believe my miracle will come. But it was very much heartbreaking to experience the loss of that dream, and to not have it come to pass in time for my mom to see it. I knew her time was short, and I wanted her to meet her next grandchild. But at the time of my loss, I didn't know just how short her time here with us was going to be. 

The month of October was painful for everyone. Mom had both dementia and ALS, and she couldn't understand anything that was happening to her. She couldn't remember things, or grasp what was taking place. She was getting gradually weaker, experiencing more pain, and more loss of understanding by the day. Then one late October Friday, she went down hill at an unbelievably fast rate. She was still smiling for company that day, but by that night was in a terribly painful state. She couldn't seem to get her breath and was displaying complete agony and there was not a thing anyone could do. We gave her medicine to calm her and something to take away the pain in her stomach but she could not swallow any longer at all. Since she had refused any type of feeding tubes, I knew it wouldn't be long. On Saturday, she could no longer stand up or raise her arms and I didn't think she would live through the night. She did, and for a few hours of that Sunday she was awake and did not seem agitated, although there was no ability to speak. She was aware of the presence of family and friends, people who had come to pray, sit by her, and fill the room with singing and the reading of the Word. Lucas was with her and she reached out to him and he touched her hand, smiled  and bounced on the bed like it was any other day. She feel asleep in the late hours of the evening and only woke up again once, seemingly panicked. We gave her more of the medicine and a sponge of water and I read scriptures to her and turned on some of her favorite songs. I asked her if she knew it was ok for her to go be with Jesus, and she nodded. I told her that she didn't have to worry about us, we would be ok. She fell asleep and never woke up again. He spirit left us around 3:00 Monday afternoon. 

November brought the sad aftermath of losing someone you love. Bad behavior from my autistic son who has no other way of communicating his feelings, sorting through belongings, deciding what to keep and what to give away, and lots and lots of tears from everyone. We are all so thankful that she is with Jesus now, that she has met my children whom I never did, and that she is free from the anguish and misery she felt. But it still leaves a hole in your heart when someone goes away and you know you won't see them again until your time comes, or Jesus comes back....whatever comes first. Despite all the pain I had just experienced, I found that the peace of God, which as scripture says, surpasses all understanding was on me. Instead of continuing to dwell on these past losses, I felt the strength rise up in me to honor my mother's life by living mine the best way I could. I felt driven to follow God's leading in my life and do as much good as possible within my circle of influence and with the gifts I have, When you are at peace, the enemy doesn't like that, and I believe a lot of challenges we face in the world come from his opposition. 

Ephesians 6:12King James Version (KJV)

12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

The devil only comes to steal and destroy our joy and our peace, So that leads me to our December. It started out with several unexpected expenses, not all of which are remedied yet. Then, let's just take a look at last week alone. On Thursday, our dryer stopped working. On Friday, Lucas flushed a bar of soap down our new toilet that was recently installed. On Saturday, he sliced the tip of his finger while spinning in a computer chair at home, and I found myself in that awful position of trying to determine what had just happened since I didn't see it, and my son is non-verbal for the most part. He wouldn't let me touch him to find out where the injury was, and where all the blood was coming from. Finally after getting him cleaned off in the bath tub, I saw his finger. Off the the ER for his first set of stitches! I was filled with praise that the doctor we got was a dad who has a son with autism, and that we did make it through the procedure without sedation, and it went MUCH better than we ever expected. I believe the prayers of our friends and the ones I sent up were answered in this aspect. Now he is still a bit sore there, so leaving on his bandages without much of a fight either, but I have come down with my first cold in a year and a half, at 5 days before Christmas, and my prayer is just that my poor injured little boy doesn't get sick as well. As you know life does not stop because you are having a hard time. You still have to do all the day to day things. Church events have been going on every weekend this month and my husband works there part time, so in addition to his full time job, he is away for all those things. They are all good things, very much worth doing, but I have to admit I am tired. It HAS been a long December, and all those other months too. 
Even as I write this, I know there are others who have much greater troubles and heartaches than mine. But I found a Word today that reminded me of why I am not falling completely apart. I am reminded of why my heart is still hopeful, still happy. (Mostly.) 

1 Peter 1:5-6English Standard Version (ESV)

 who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials,

There are many passages in scripture that remind us that if we belong to Christ, ALL our problems are temporary, and we will have glory to be gained if we suffer, just as Jesus did. Reading the pages of the Bible, you find that nobody ever had it easy. Everyone who ever accomplished great things for God had troubles, and lots of them. Some of the seasons of hardship must have seemed to go on forever. But God had plans for each of them, just as He does for you and me. I dare to say that if we keep focusing on what is good, and we keep on loving other people who need it, even when we are down, God's blessings will be so great we can't even imagine what it will look like. I hope that sharing my story has brought hope to you, knowing that we always have good reason for joy, no matter how hard this life may get. Jesus is alive forever, and will stay at our side always. If you are having a long December too, I pray that His supernatural peace will take over in your heart, and I do hope for you a new year that is better than the last. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Look Forward

I think that every time someone we love passes away, the first thing on our hearts is a bit of regret. "I wish we would have spent more time together while we could." "I should not have said that thing that time." In my case, with my mom, I have thought over these last few weeks of how it was a struggle not to lose patience with the symptoms of dementia or how I didn't ever seem to find the right words to comfort her when she couldn't understand why there was so much discomfort throughout her body. I never knew exactly what to say. But I know that guilt is a tool of satan. When we are Christians there is no place for guilt to live.
"Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Romans 8:1

So, instead of being fixated on what I wish I had done that I didn't, I am going to remember all the good moments we shared, even the ones in the end, when it was most difficult. And I will look forward. I will see what I can allow God to do through me this day, and I will take all the chances I get to do some small thing that may impact someone bigger than I think. Jesus allowed himself to be interrupted when someone had a need. My mom did too. And here are the things that I am going to do more of from now on because of the influence her life had on me.

1. I will pay more compliments, 
When my mom thought something nice about anyone, she told them. Towards the end, she would forget that she had already said it that day, so she said it again. I don't know how many times I heard from her that I was "such a good mommy." She constantly told me how perfect I was for my son, and that God gave him to me because there could be no other mom in the world who would have done a better job. She offered the same kind of encouragement to everyone. In a society that is more prone to complain, share bad experiences instead of good ones, and look at all that is wrong, I have decided to be the person who looks for what is right. And then, I won't keep it to myself. If I think a nice thought about anyone, why shouldn't they know? Social media makes it easy. I don't even have to work up the nerve to tell what I am thinking in's as easy as sending a private message. So in my house, out in the community and from my computer or phone, I will pay more compliments. 

2. I will take more pictures. I already take a lot of them, but the one thing I thought when looking through family photos trying to find some to share of my mom was that there were not enough pictures of her.  I know that before the age of digital cameras, people just didn't take as many photos. But even after they became so widely used and we all had phones on our cameras, I think that my mom was the one taking the pictures at family events and I wish I would have thought to take one of her next. So from now on, whenever I am experiencing something I want to remember with people I love, I will take more pictures. 

3. I will make time for friends. My mom ALWAYS did. Memories I have growing up are of her friends coming over to have tea and talk. And if my mom had not seen someone in a while, she would schedule a time to go visit, or she would call to see how they were doing. Times have changed, and if you ask anyone how things are going, people always say "busy." Well yes, we have things that keep us busy, but I believe that if we are too busy to ever spend time with people we care about, then we are not within the will of God. In the end, only the time we spent loving Him and loving people is going to matter. So, if we are friends. you will probably be hearing from me. Let's get together soon, and when we do, we will take a picture! 

4. I will give God first place in my heart. My family and friends will be next, because I do believe according to scripture, God and people are all that truly matter. My mom must have known. She had more devotion books than I have ever seen in any room that I have ever been in, and I remember her spending her daily quiet time with God every morning. She closed the door and that time was only for reading and prayer, although she didn't ignore the kids if we needed something during that time. She met our needs and got right back into her Scripture. And I see that she applied what she knew. She didn't just read the Word, she lived it. And even though she thought she never did anything special, she was also happy with her life and content with everything as it was because she put God first. She was happy with less because her joy came from God and from giving of herself to improve someone else's circumstances whenever she could. 

These are the things I am going to do so that when my time comes, or someone else I love before me goes on, I won't have to feel that bit of regret. I won't leave kind words unsaid. My friends won't remain forgotten because I was busy. People I love will know that I love them. I do hold on to the last gem my mother gave me. In her final days, right before she became unable to speak, she was having trouble and in a lot of pain. It was a Saturday night. I told her I wished she felt better and I wished there was something I could do. I said I would take it away from her if I could. She patted my hand and said she was just glad I was her daughter. Those were her last words to me. So when the enemy wants to creep into my mind over the coming season and tell me I should have done better, I will remember what she said and know that she thought I did all right. There is no room for regret. No place for guilt. I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite pastors, Steven Furtick. 

Change is what I am going for, every day. My prayer is that Jesus will keep changing me to look more like Him in my actions and the way I live. My goal is for anyone to catch sight of Him in me. Mom didn't know it, but a lot of people were exposed to His love through her. May it also be said of me when my days have ended. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Taking Life Back

It has been a long time since I have written a post about anything. Close to 3 months to be precise, because the last three months of my life have been a whirlwind of personal crisis and all the emotions that come along with that. It wasn't long before all this took place that I had found myself in a place of perfect peace in the Lord, thanks to the "happy habits" I had written about in a previous post. Seeking God above all other things and spending time with Him every morning when I woke up, along with a healthy eating and exercise routine, kept me feeling strong through my mom's illness and through waiting to conceive a child that I felt God had clearly spoken to my heart about. That was one of those things I was surprised about when it happened, because we thought adoption would be the only way we would add to our family since our son does have a genetic disorder. So since I knew God promised me that if we asked, we would receive what we hoped for in the depths of our hearts, a healthy sibling for Lucas who has no disability. We kept asking, and we kept trying, and then on day in early July I finally saw the positive pregnancy test I had longed for, and I just hoped and prayed that my mother would live long enough to meet her next grandchild. She loved the one she had more than life.

We felt so confident that this pregnancy was the completion of God's plan for our family, and my stomach was rapidly expanding just as it did with Lucas, when I could hardly keep the secret. So we excitedly announced to everyone we knew that we were expecting our second child. Without reliving all the painful details, this was not to be the child that God spoke to my heart about. Instead a miscarriage began one weekend in early September, just a few days after my birthday, and ended with such pain and heavy bleeding that I landed in the hospital and had to stay the night. All the while I was needed at home to help take care of my mother, whose health failed more rapidly by the day. She was diagnosed with both dementia and ALS and I was my dad's only help. I went home from the hospital wanting to hide from the whole world, cry my heart out, and just be left alone, and never speaking about what had just happened to me because it hurt too badly to say the words to my friends, no matter how much they wanted to love and support me. But I didn't have time to grieve the way I wished I could. My parents needed my help. 

Feeling like I needed an extra boost to keep putting one foot in front of the other in the incredible darkness I felt after my loss, I ran to the doctor to get back on anti-depressants, something I had only done once before even though depression has been a struggle of mine for many years. I usually manage it well because of God. It's only because of His strength and deliverance for me that I come out of it every time it comes for me, and again, the way I eat and exercise can also make a big difference. Well unfortunately, in times of high stress, I like to eat badly, even though I KNOW it won't help and will ultimately make me feel worse, stress eating remains a kind of disorder I have to determine to fight against every day. It's a thing that you feel like you can be free from, until the next terribly stressful time rolls around, and then you know that your drug of choice still has a hold on you. I felt compelled to eat what would bring me momentary joy. I ate pizza, chocolate, deep fried Chinese food, and more. I still read my Bible, ate my vegetables and still got my workout every day, but as you can imagine, I still gained weight. And then came the next blow. 
My mother's condition worsened and she became more and more frustrated, because she could not understand any of the things that were happening to her body. She had refused most things that would have helped her because she just couldn't comprehend why she needed them or force her self to do things she did not like as she would have done if she was of sound mind. Her disease took away her ability to swallow, and because she never wanted to live with a feeding tube. she rapidly lost weight. On a Friday in late October I knew that she was not going to have many days left, and then, upon witnessing her terrible misery and anguish, I prayed that she wouldn't and asked everyone else to pray the same with me. I didn't want to be without my mom, but I didn't want her to have to live the way she was. Nobody can imagine what it felt like, but by the way it looked, it was dreadfully painful. I helped my dad get her into bed on Saturday night and prayed she wouldn't even have to wake up. But I am glad that she did wake up that day. Although initially she was distressed, there came a more calm state over her. I stayed with my parents most of Sunday morning and called their church for her to go on their prayer chain, then I left for our church to request prayers for her there too. I left right after worship, rather than stay for the whole service, because I sensed my mom might not make it through the day. I stopped at the grocery store to by my family dinner and to grab some flowers for my mom in her favorite color, purple. I returned home to the sound of singing coming from my mom's bedroom, and discovered two of her friends from church were there, singing some of her most beloved songs. Then my brother and his wife arrived, and although mom had been sleeping, and not very responsive to anything, she woke up while they were there. My son Lucas came in to the room and climbed up on the bed too, and she reached out to him, and he high fived her and and he smiled at her. My mom was awake while her whole family was there and seemed not to be in any pain during those moments and for that, I am going to be forever thankful to God. Late in the afternoon, she seemed to go into a comatose state of being, and we thought she would pass in the night into her Heavenly home. But she woke up about 10 PM, very agitated, struggling for breath, and I helped my dad get her medicine to her that would help her feel less anxious. I asked if she knew that it was perfectly OK for her to go and be with Jesus and she slightly nodded her head to me. I read to her from her bedside Bible and played her some music, all the songs I could think of about Heaven, so that she would feel it was safe for her to go and not worry about leaving us behind. She lived through the night,but she was never awake again. Throughout the day, her breathing became more and more shallow, until it finally stopped. It was unreal to see her the way she was in the end, and to be one of the people trying to determine if my mother was actually dead. Even though we rejoiced that God heard our prayers and took her into His eternal safety and joy, we cried for her. We cried for a life that had ended and for the mom, wife, and grandmother we were all going to miss from now on, even though she had not been the same person for the last several months. 
With God always at my side, determined to be the voice in my mind that always overpowers the others, I have decided something. I will not let my past losses or my current sadness control my future. The best way to honor my mom is to live like she did before the diseases took away her normal. She gave of herself freely and enjoyed the simple things in life. Although it has only been about a month, I talked to my doctor today about stepping down from my prescription. I serve an all powerful God who has the ability to change my mindset without the help of pills. As I have said before, I fully support anyone who NEEDS to stay on prescriptions and there is absolutely no shame in it. Dealing with depression is going to be different for everyone. There may be other times in my life when I feel the need for medical help again too. But my personal choice is to treat everything as naturally as possible. 

You know what else helps depression? What is proven to help people feel better? Exercise and a healthy diet. Food does matter to all parts of the body, including the brain and the hormones which directly effect how good a person feels. Check out these images to understand why I feel like I can beat this condition with my food and I think others can too. 

As you probably guessed, many people, myself included, want to go for the not-so-healthy foods in times of sadness. We want instant gratification and comfort. But as you can see here, certain foods have positive and negative impacts on the brain and body, Another thing I wish to do in memory of my dear mom is to educate people about this as much as possible. I believe 100 percent that some of the foods she enjoyed a bit too much of later in life affected her brain function, and made her illness harder for her. Instead of being frozen by my sadness or fear of what might happen next, I am going to honor my mom's life by trusting God, giving my best to Him, and being proactive. I will not continue to wallow or rely on anything besides God and the ability He gave me to choose wisely in order to improve my life. I know His plans are good plans. I don't know why we have to wait to see His promises come to pass at times, and I don't know why this one about our family could not come to pass in time for my mom to see it. But I take comfort in the thought of her being with my two angel babies in Heaven. She got to meet the grandchildren that none of us have had the joy of seeing yet, and she got to do that in her complete state of glory in the presence of God. My joy is greater than my sorrow. 
Will you consider joining me for my next "Happy, Healthy Habits" group on Monday? Its a simple 5 day challenge group that takes place on Facebook, and it is completely free of charge. It's something I do to help others, while keeping myself accountable to the friends who join me too. I want to prove it to you AND myself that we can live happier because of what we eat, what we drink, and what we think. Let's try together. 

Friday, July 15, 2016

Trading in my normal

I have been on Facebook for 7 years, and I admit that I have been addicted to Facebook for 7 years. At first it was just a thing I used to take a break from my day, and it has always been nice to see what family and old friends are up to. That is one thing I still like about it and always will....I have gotten in touch with people again whom I haven't seen in person in years and probably wouldn't have ever talked to again without social media. It's great to see how they are doing, see family photos and hear stories about their precious children. I  also think that hearing about Lucas and the progress he has made despite his disorders over the last 7 years has brought inspiration and happiness to others. People have told me that.

During the last few years, Facebook became even more precious to me, because it allowed me to become a part of the Beachbody world when my coach first invited me to her challenge groups run on Facebook. I had no idea when I first signed up to do a challenge with her that I would become a coach too. Being a part of this amazing team and running my own challenges where I get the joy of helping other people feel better just like I did when I changed my lifestyle has brought me such fulfillment. It gave me something to do that was outside of the world of Fragile X Syndrome and autism and just being a wife and mom. It allowed me to use my gifts to help people that I might have never had the means to help without both my company and social media. I transformed and got to help transform others. 

Another wonderful aspect of Facebook is that I have become real friends with people I have never met in person because we do Bible study together, or we belong to the same Facebook support group for people living with Fragile X and autism in their family. While I absolutely do not believe that online connecting can ever take the place of connecting with others face to face, I feel so blessed to know that I have other women and parents praying for me and my family, who truly care how things are, and who help me get a deeper understand of God's Word. Sometimes they give me a new perpsctive on what He might be doing in my life when I can't understand. These are the things that make me exceedingly grateful for the Internet and for Facebook. 

Could you tell there was a BUT coming around? Facebook has been a blessing to me in all of these ways BUT it can sometimes cause issues for us too. For one, it wastes time. Yes it's nice to catch up, but lately I have been scrolling into oblivion and then I realize it is not bringing me good feelings, but negative ones. I think it just has to do with the season of life I am in. I am in a season when aging parents quickly became parents who really need a lot more attention from me, because my mom is not well. And in other areas, I am doing the things I think God told me I should do, and I am praying big prayers and dreaming big dreams, but I feel like I am in that proverbial waiting room of life when it comes to all of those things I have been talking to God concerning. And that leads me to the other trap that social media can set for us....comparing and questioning. We may be truly happy for our friends who got the blessing we were praying for, but that doesn't mean it won't still cause pain to wonder when our time will come. Also, I avoid watching the news most of the time, because I have the kind of heart that breaks over the stories that are heard and there is little I can do about most of them. I have trouble with hearing about all the trouble in the world that I can't change, and it makes me sad to hear the awful stories of child abuse, shootings, and the like, which I somehow can't avoid when on Facebook because everyone shares them. And lets not even get into the arguments that take place there over politics. I am not condemning anyone for using their own profiles however they choose, They are free to post as they wish. But I feel like there is a lot of negativity that I just don't need right now while my mind and heart are not where they should be. During this season of life, when I need to be more present for my family and seek harder after God and His wisdom for my life,  I feel like I have to take time away from my normal. In a typical morning, I get up early, brush teeth, put the dog out and read from my First 5 app while the coffee brews. Then I mix the coffee my way and open my Bible, with my prayer journal ready. After my time with God, I either get into my workout first or post in my challenge groups, depending on how late in the morning it is. I need to get something up for my challengers before 6 AM so they can incorporate it into their own morning routines. I could use other sites to schedule these posts for me, but I like my challengers to have the feeling that I am actually right there with them. I also always post one of the Bible verses from my reading that spoke to me, because I have always done this since the beginning. People have also told me how much they appreciate them, and I want to share them because I realize that maybe that verse is the only one someone will see all day. But then, it's the part after posting where I start scrolling mindlessly and some of the content just tries to erase all of the good things I just took in. The enemy will use any tool available to get into your thoughts. So while I will ALWAYS be a coach and I will ALWAYS be available to my team, I know that Facebook is not the only way to be there for them. I need to step back from my normal and see what God can do in my life when I focus more of my day on Him and His truth. But I will still be right here for my fit fam or anyone new who wants to join the beautiful community we have. In fact, there is a free app from Beachbody that is really cool, and it is designed to run our challenge groups the same way we would on Facebook. For anyone who wants to take advantage of program sales this month and in August, I am going to open a challenge through the app. Just ask me for details! Also, because I want to unplug some of the time but not disconnect completely, I will stay on Pinterest and Instagram during the time I am off from Facebook and you are more than welcome to come follow me there. My handle for both is Jensusa1013. Of course you can also keep up with me right here, and I do hope to have great stories to share with you about how God is working in our lives between now and Labor Day. That is when I will come back to Facebook and will have some nice end of summer beach photos to share with you! I know that God can do great things in our hearts when we prioritize Him and people before other things and that is what I intend to do. I look forward to sharing what happens and wish all my Facebook friends a very happy finish to the summer.