Tuesday, December 31, 2013

BEST. GIFT. EVER. Might Still Be Sitting Unopened...

It was Christmas Eve Eve (yes, that's a thing) and I had run into Walmart (don't ask) really quick to grab a last minute bag of candy I needed for the mini-claw candy machine I had bought the kids for Christmas.  (I always love giving the kids one frivolous, random gift that I would typically say, "No way" to when we're at the store together.  Last year it was a gum ball machine.  This year it was the claw machine.  Next year, I plan to get them that cotton candy machine.  Shhhh....)  Anyway, I was walking down an isle and I heard a young boy's voice talking.  His voice was shaking and emotional.  I turned the corner to see this boy, about 8 years old, standing with his mom while talking on a cell phone.  His face looked pained and nervous.  I was concerned - almost wondering if something traumatic had happened.  He stood and said into the phone, "Ya, I did that.  And I really tried my best, too.  I really am good.  I think I am, at least."  His mom grabbed the phone out of his hand and said, "He is SO worried about being on the 'Naughty List.' He didn't sleep last night and it's consumed him all day."  She glanced at him and said, "I'm sure you'll be fine.  You've been trying hard."  And off they went.

I stood there in the isle with a pit in my stomach.  My heart broke for this boy.  He was SO worried.  SO fearful.  SO insecure.

And the reality of the situation hit me like a ton of bricks: This is as far from the real message of Christmas that we can get.

Now let me tell you, we engage in all expressions of Christmas in our home.  We have several nativity scenes in our house.  We read the Christmas story from the Bible before we open even one gift.  We serve others and give generously.  We talk continuously about the Reason for the Season.  (yup, cheesy slogans and all)  ;)  We also have a Christmas tree and hang stockings by the fireplace.  We visit Santa in the mall and he even makes a guest appearance on Christmas Day at my parent's house.

Even the adults play along! :) 

So me writing on this topic does not come from an "anti-Santa" point of view.  Santa is something we do for "fun" in our home.  But I will be honest.  The boy at Walmart about made me want to call the whole thing off.

The story of the historical St. Nicholas is a beautiful one, but if we're honest, most kids simply know about Santa Claus.  The one in the red suit who is round and jolly, who comes down your chimney and leaves gifts if you have been a good boy/girl, and coal if you've been a bad boy/girl.  "You better not... (insert anything bad).... He's gonna find out who's naughty or nice.... He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good...."  The message most kids know of Santa is this: If you're good, you'll get rewarded.  If not, you get nothing.  And to make it super clear, we are going to put Big Brother in your house for an entire month in the form of a cute little Elf, who will report back to Santa daily what you did or did not do right.  

Whether we like it or not, that little boy in Walmart had valid emotions.  Worry, fear and insecurity make sense if that's the world you live in.  It just depends how deep we want to dive in, right?  Most parents I know use Santa and The Elf as a mild incentive booster for improved behavior, nothing more.  I get it.  But perhaps now that the stockings have been filled with care, and children are sighing with relief, the other Christmas story can find it's way deeper into our hearts for the next 364 days.  The other story brings with it peace, hope and love.  Something the boy at Walmart, and the rest of the world, myself included, so desperately needs.  

Just give me me one minute to explain.

God came to this earth He created in the most humble, vulnerable state of being: as an infant child.  He lived life just like you and I live life and experienced what we experience.  He desires to know us and for us to know Him.  He lived His life as an example to us.  He was loving and a grace giver.  He was generous and kind.  When 'religious people' said to get revenge, He said to turn the other cheek.  When 'religious people' said to exclude people who were "sinful" in their eyes, He said all were included.  (He wasn't a fan of 'religious people.'  He wanted more for the world than just "religion.")  And to show His deep love for us, He then died on a cross, sacrificing Himself, so we could all have forgiveness of our sins.  'Sin' basically means we mess up.  We all mess up - no one is perfect.  God knows that. That's why He came. Back then, an animal had to be sacrificed for the people to have their "track record clean." That was the cost of forgiveness. [Anyone else thankful that we don't have to do that anymore??]  Jesus (God) sacrificed himself and paid the price for our sin.  ALL of our sin. And what's amazing is that He did this over 2000 years ago. He died for our sin before we even did it. 

The Bible says in Romans 5:8 "For God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  You want to know the most crazy, absurd, profound word in that verse?  WHILE.  WHILE we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  You know what it doesn't say?  'When you got your act together, Christ died for you.'  Or 'When you were good enough, Christ died for you.'  Nope.  It says "WHILE you were still a sinner, Christ died for you."  There's no naughty or nice list.  The playing field is even.  We ALL mess up.  We ALL sin.  I mean, I guess technically we all deserve coal, right?   And yet before we changed our ways...  Before we said we were sorry...  Before we cleaned up our messes... Before we were "good for goodness sake"... He died for us.   He offered to wipe the slate clean.  There is no list of things to we need to do to earn grace.  We don't have to be "good enough" for God to love us.  We just have to say "yes" to His offer of grace and unconditional love and then live our lives in that grace in love.  Come on!!!!  How amazing is that!??! 

If your view of God has been similar to your view of Santa, I can understand why you'd want little to do with Him in your daily life.  If you have thought of God as some Big Brother, record keeper, I pray you have gotten just a glimpse of who The Bible says He is.  And who I have found Him to be.  My hope for us all is that we would discover - either for the first time ever, or re-discover and be reminded - that God, Emmanuel, is with us.  Still.  That He came near to have relationship with us.  To know and be known.  Even now.  Even in our sin.  And messiness.  And to hold on to the hope that our sin and messiness doesn't need to define us.  Or own us.  A fresh start is ours.  A new life.  The slate can be wiped clean starting now.

So here we are on the last day of 2013.  You've looked in your stocking.  You've opened the gifts.  And yet the reality is that you may still have a wrapped present sitting unopened under your tree.  A gift from God Himself.  A gift of grace and love and hope and peace.  This gift was what got Jon and I through a brain tumor, brain surgery, and recovery these past 3 months of life.  This gift has literally carried us, surrounded us, sustained us.  This gift brought peace to my life when all I felt was despair after our miscarriage.  This gift has brought hope to my life through the promise of heaven, when all I felt was pain from my mother's terminal illness.  This gift has allowed me to experience grace for my failures and also extend grace to those around me.  This gift is good.  And it's yours.  It doesn't force itself on you.  It will sit, waiting for you your whole life, if you let it.  But what good is a gift left sitting unopened?  Perhaps on this last day of 2013, it's time to open this gift.  And then let 2014 be the year you explore it and experience the greatness of it.  

Believe and receive.  
It's that simple.

I hope you had a Merry Christmas. 
And I pray you have a Blessed, Peace-filled, Grace-filled New Year. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Be NOW Who You Want to be THEN....

Jon and I are currently spending the final days before Christmas in Palm Springs with our little family.  The shopping is done.  The gifts are wrapped.  It about killed us, but we did it.  And the payoff has been so worth it.  We still have 2 days left here, but so far, this trip has been just what the doctor ordered.  We also invited my parents to join us out here for a couple of the days.  My mom has FTD (Frontal Temporal Degeneration/Dementia)... and my dad cares for her and loves her in a way that makes even the most elaborate fairy tale look like child's play.  Being a care taker for a loved one is exhausting, and Jon and I couldn't come out here without inviting another weary warrior to retreat from the heaviness of life with us.  It has been a joy to retreat together.

For those that aren't familiar with FTD, I must tell you.  It is a devastating disease.  It is a very rare form of dementia - that tends to hit at a younger age - between ages 40-70.  My mom has the behavioral variant FTD which changes your personality, impacts your executive functions, reasoning, sequencing, speech, etc....  My mom has lost about 95% of her speech and much of the time resembles a child.  A very sweet, tender, loving child.  (SO grateful that is her demeanor.)

For those who don't know my mom, she is AMAZING.  My mom is an author, speaker, professional pianist, talk radio show host, teaches around the country on marriage, parenting, organization, keeping the sizzle in your marriage (yes, she taught on sex!)...  She is a Type A, go getter, larger-than-life personality, energetic, passionate, leader.  She loves her family - loves being a mom to us 3 girls and taught us to celebrate everything.  EVERYTHING.  She invented "Happy Nothing Day"just because she wanted more FUN and LIFE in our home, even if there wasn't something 'official' to celebrate.  The past few years, she and my dad held "cousin sleepovers" on the first Friday of every month, where they would take ALL 11 grandkids for an overnight sleepover, just so that us parents could have an overnight getaway each and every month.  I could go on and on and on, but I just wanted you to have a glimpse of who she is.  Who she was.
I never know how to refer to her in these instances.  It is who she IS.  On the inside.  But outwardly, she is now simply a child.  She "was" able to be and do all of that.  To say it is heartbreaking or devastating to have experienced this shift from "is" to "was" would be an understatement.  But I'm sure you can imagine....

So why am I telling you all of this?  Why does this matter, except just to fill you in on that part of my life?

Because this.

This is my mom.  Every single morning.  She sits in her chair.  And she reads her Bible.  She reads a Psalm.  And a Proverb.  And then she prays.  She has a prayer list that she goes through.  She prays for her husband.  She prays for her daughters.  She prays for her son-in-laws.  She prays for her grandkids.  She prays for her neighbors.  She prays for her friends that don't know Jesus.  She prays about specific things for specific people.  She spends time reading God's word.  And then she talks to God.  Every. Single. Day.

Almost a year ago, Jon and I had our 4th child - and although my mom was low-functioning, I knew how badly she wanted to be a part of helping me "post c-section," as she had done with my first 3 kids.  So my dad drove her up to our house and she stayed with us for a couple of days so she could "help."  I will never forget the first morning she was with us, I walked downstairs and I saw her sitting at my kitchen table.  No, I actually heard her voice before I saw her.  "God, I thank you for Paul and how he loves me and takes care of me.  Lord, I thank you for Paulie and the job you have given him to provide for the Bernard family.  God, I thank you for Melanie and how you have gifted her as a worship leader..."  She methodically went through each person - with either a praise or a request.  I remember walking into the next room and standing just far enough so that she couldn't see me, but just close enough so I could hear her words.  I was blown away and brought to tears.  Not because she was reading the Bible and praying, but because in her new "state" she was doing it.. still.  I mean, I had seen her do this routine my whole life, but today...  Wow, that's it:  I had seen her do this my whole life.  That was the key.

I don't know about you, but I have huge intentions.  I have big hopes and dreams for how I will be and who I will be in this or that situation.  But what I am learning - through my mom, through my dad, and now through Jon - is that when tragedy strikes....when illness hits.... when what you have is lost... THAT is a tough time to start a new routine.  In fact, when all else is lost, sometimes all that you have left is what you've built, up to that point.  Meaning, there is no way that my mom, in her childlike state, could possibly decide to start reading her Bible and praying daily today.  Her brain just wouldn't be able to initiate such a routine.  However, because she has built up a value for those things beforehand, her habits are a natural expression of who she is, even now.

Then there is my dad.  My dad can best be described in 2 words: Servant Leader.  These 2 words have been true of him my entire life and I'm confident anyone who knows him would agree.  Since my mom's illness, my dad has just continued to be exactly who he always was.  He is selfless.  He serves.  He leads us.  He loves.  He adores my mom.  And he continues to love her, as if she was the wife he has always known.  Last Christmas?  A diamond necklace with 3 diamonds, representing us 3 daughters.  Something he knew she had wanted.  Whether she is fully "there" or not, he gave it still.  Valentines Day?  Long stemmed red roses and a love letter.  Seriously.  He most recently had me come over to their house so I could teach him how to put my mom's make up on her.  He had me tell him what make up to buy, where to get it, and how to apply it.  He then went to my mom's hairdresser and had her teach him how to dry my mom's hair with a round brush, since he knows that's how she likes to do it.  He knows having her hair and make-up look nice is a value of my mom's, even if she can't express it now.  So he serves her daily, by getting up 45 minutes earlier to get her ready...  Again, I could go on and on with stories and examples of how beautiful my dad's love is. But the bottom line is, my dad didn't just conjure this up when my mom got ill.  He didn't go from selfish to selfless one day when he "had to" or "should."  No, he has lived a selfless life, and so these habits are a natural expression of who he is.  It's awe-inspiring to watch.

Then there is Jon.  My dear husband who courageously gets out of bed every morning and leaves the comfort and safety of our home - with a paralyzed face.  He lets me post pictures of him on Facebook, starting just days after his brain surgery, and he lets our church put his face on huge screens in the services a they share his story.  He is now officially diagnosed as permanently deaf in his right ear, which as a worship pastor, leaves him vulnerable.  He has many challenges and unknowns in his future.  And yet even as I type this, he interrupts me to share with me a new Truth He learned while he was studying the Bible today.  And then the other Truths he meditated on while he ran 3 miles this afternoon.  Jon's roots are so firmly planted in Truth, even though fear and insecurity attempts to sway him, he remains grounded.  Friends, he did not decide to plant roots the day of his first MRI.  No, in the MRI, he meditated on scripture that he has had hidden deep in his heart for years.
Jon has led our family through this journey.  Through his excruciating journey, he has led us.  I have had the privilege of being a voice for it on here, but he has led it.

My mom, my dad and Jon have all inspired me.  They have challenged me.  They have humbled me.  In my life, I have had huge intentions.  Big hopes for who I will be in this and that situation.  But I want to start now.  I need to start now.  I want the depth - not the short cuts.   I want the track record.  I want the habits and the routine.  I want the passion and the love.

When tragedy strikes, illness arrives, loss is experienced, Life happens... OF COURSE we can choose to start.  Choose to Be.  Choose to love and love passionately.  Choose to serve.  Of course.  And by the grace of God, His mercies are new every single morning.  His faithfulness knows no end.  So it is never, NEVER too late.  Hope is ours.  Always.

However, I just don't want to wait any more.  I know it's often times possible to wait.  Heck, in many areas of my life I have waited and still wait.  And probably sometimes it's easier in the short run to wait.  But this race called Life is long.  It's hard.  It pulls us and stretches us in ways we cannot predict or imagine.  And we never know the time or the place or the details.  But it does come.  And when it comes, I want to ooze the good stuff.   You know, that place inside of each of us.  That place that holds things no one knows exists until you experience something so severe, it rips every layer off of yourself and exposes your core.  And at your core is all that matters.  That is where I want to invest.  That is where I want the good stuff.  That is where I want to build into and develop and grow and nurture.

Are you in a sweet spot in life?  Build into your core.  Are you in the 11th hour?  Start now.

I am in a season of life where I have been given a front row seat to some of the most beautiful cores in the world.  Without trying, and without their consent, my mom, my dad, and Jon were exposed.  And what has been exposed has been profound.
Now, when you have a front row seat, and you are holding the hand of someone's core, your core will be exposed too.  Mine has.  And God has graciously given me peace.  And comfort.  And strength.  And hope.  But I've also taken a hard look at my core.  Not the core you see.  But the core I know.  There exists selfishness.  And pride.  And laziness.  And carelessness.  And insecurity.  (Ouch.)

But let this be a line drawn in the dirt.  The old has gone, the new has come.  These are the promises and the Truth I hold on to.

I want to be NOW who I hope to be THEN.

The End.
Let it Be.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Your Prayers Matter. (Duh.) Thank You...

So this past Tuesday I posted a little update on Jon and myself.  I asked for prayer for a couple of things.  Things that are far off and things that are around the corner.  You prayed.  YOU prayed.  It never ceases to amaze me that you pray.  And how it changes things.

The next day, Wednesday, I saw I had a missed call and a voicemail from a number I didn't recognize. When I got a chance to listen, I heard my Orthopedic Dr's voice leaving a message to touch base.  I was shocked.  I've been trying to get test results from him for weeks now.  He is not a "call my patients" type of doctor.  My Christmas Eve doctor's appointment has been booked for about 3 weeks and any attempt to get squeezed in earlier has failed.  I immediately called his office back, but of course didn't get through to him so I just left (another) message.  A few hours later, I thought to myself - I wonder what number he originally called me from earlier today?  Maybe I'll just call that back.  So I did.  And he answered.... because it was his cell phone.  LOL!  He was a little flustered that I was calling on that number and then realized he had squeezed in the call to me on the run - so I now had his personal number.  (LOL again!)  He was very gracious though, and then proceeded to tell me about my MRI and bone scan results.  He said the tumor in my bone is stagnant.  It does not show any life in it nor is it eating away at my bone.  It's basically just there.  And shouldn't cause problems right now.  He was thrilled with the MRI and bone scan results.

Friends, the reality is that I asked you to pray that I would get in to the Dr sooner than later.  Then the next day, the doctor, who I've called every couple of days for weeks, calls me.  On his cell!  What are the chances?!?  I've been trying to get my results, but they repeatedly told me I had to wait for my appointment, because they do NOT read results over the phone.  No exceptions.  Well, unless you have an army of people praying.  ;)  And yes, the results are what I expected - benign.  But beyond benign, the tumor is harmless to me.  No surgery needed.  This is what we have been praying for!  That the tumor would be "nothing."  I mean, this is the closest thing to disappearing (like my cyst!!) as you can get!  Now obviously, the pain is still there, so there are more tests to run and possibilities to explore, but for today, we celebrate this victory.  We thank YOU for praying.  And we thank God for hearing our prayers and answering them in this way.

PS.  I'm writing from Palm Springs.  My feet are up.  The kids are sleeping.  I have a cup of hot cocoa next to me.  I am remembering.  Celebrating.  Pondering.  Feeling.  I will hit "post" on this, and then write another blog right now.  Just because I can.   :)

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Just an Update... :)

I have started writing and then erased this post several times now.  It's truly so silly, as I've now waisted so much time not writing a post.  LOL!  I've decided that because I'm so overtired and basically hanging on by a thread, I don't have the emotional capacity to sit and process and express.  I just can't.  I physically don't have it in me.  But that exhaustion has kept me from writing at all, which isn't helpful to our pray-ers.  You pray-ers want to know how to pray.  Which we so desperately need.  But I want to sit by a fire with a cup of hot cocoa and write.  I want to feel.  I want to confess and celebrate and wonder.  But as I (literally) collapse into bed every night, I know that the fire and hot cocoa and writing and feeling will happen.  Just not quite yet.  But can prayer happen in the meantime?  Absolutely.

So here's an update on the Ramsay clan and some ways we would SO appreciate your prayers:

1) Jon is physically doing amazing.  Anything that is within his power, he is doing to the extreme!  They told him if he felt his balance was good enough, he could try running.  Well guess who ran 6.5 miles this past week?  Yup!  Jon is Ladera Ranch's own Forest Gump.  :)  He has exceeded the doctor's expectations on strength and development.  However, his stamina is not strong.  SO, although you might see him with me out and about, what you don't see is the long nap he has to take before we go.  And the long nap he sneaks out to the car to take in the middle.  And the rest he needs after we get home.  His brain gets overstimulated fast, and unfortunately, it manifests itself in his eye.  Meaning, his eye is always in pain, but when he overstimulates his brain or goes too long or he gets stressed, in his words, he "feels like there's an ice pick in it."  He has done so well trying to be a good sport and "pushing it" a little to be a part of The Season.  However, he crashes as soon as we leave somewhere... So we are still trying to navigate that and find balance.  I'll be honest.... that's tough to do!

2) We have received a lot of mail from our health insurance provider that is stamped "Referral Denied."  This has been very frustrating.  There are some incredible specialists at UCI, but our insurance will not approve us to see them.  They want us to be seen by the 1 (one and only) specialist in our area that does the surgury(s) Jon needs. (instead of letting us drive the 20 minutes to Irvine)  This has been quite discouraging and frustrating, as we are dealing with Jon's face!  Something that is important and we for sure want the best care for!  It has definitely been a journey of faith and trusting that God will make a way, or that God will just allow us to get great care through the physician they approve.  Would you pray over that with us?

3)  Jon will most likely be having surgery on his right eye the 3rd week in January.  This will be the surgery where they will put the gold weight in his eyelid which will allow him to blink again.  We are anxiously waiting for the surgery date and are very hopeful that this surgery will bring Jon some pain relief.  Would you pray with us that it would?

4) Jon will hopefully (if the insurance approves it) be getting a test done on his 7th nerve/facial nerve soon.  This test will most likely be able to tell us if there is any life left in that nerve or if it is dead.  Would you pray that his nerve has lots of life in it?  We are still praying for complete restoration to his face.

5) If there is no life left in the 7th nerve, we will most likely book Jon to have the 7/12 Surgery.  This is where they take the 7th nerve and attach it to the 12th nerve (the tongue nerve) to hopefully bring some movement back to the face that way.  We recently had an appointment with that surgeon, and honestly, it was a horrible appointment.  As we left, I felt physically like how I felt physically the night in the ER when they told us Jon had a brain tumor.  It was that big of a kick in the gut.  Until this appointment, we were lead to believe that even if Jon's face doesn't restore on its own, this surgery would be able to restore movement for him.  Unfortunately, the surgeon we met with, told us that if the nerve was dead, there really was no movement that he would be able to restore.  He told us the surgery will basically restore some tonality to the face (keep it from drooping too much) but it wouldn't really promise any fine movement.

*Now this is where I have to stop writing on this topic because I just don't have it in me.  But there is a whole blog I will be writing on this appointment.  There was a lot of emotion and pain and shock and then major learnings from this appointment.  For now, I will just ask you to pray.  Pray that Jon's nerve would have life in it.  And that he wouldn't need the 7/12 surgery.

6) My hip.... My Orthopedic Dr wouldn't schedule my follow-up appointment until I had done both the MRI and the bone scan.  Jon called my Dr. as soon as I walked out of the hospital from having the bone scan to book my appointment, and he was told the soonest availability they had.... was Dec. 24.  (!?!?)  They felt horrible, but it's just the reality.  My Dr is in surgery 3-4 days a week and only in the office 1-2 days, so there is a long wait to be seen.  Now obviously by now, Radiology has looked at my tests and if there was any type of emergency, they would call me.  I'm not concerned there is something horrible.  Honestly.  From day 1 they were confident the tumor was benign and I've never worried that it wasn't.  The only bummer thing is that I'm in major pain some days.  It's so bizarre - some days I'm great, and some days I can barely walk.  My prayer is just that I would get in sooner than later.  And in the meantime, that the pain would go away.

Those are the physical updates from us as of today.  As for our family, please just pray for our sweet kids.  They are doing well, but honestly?  They are needier than usual.  Needy for attention.  Needy for time.  Needy for affirmation.  Needy for many things that I often times just don't feel like I have in me to give.  Please pray that Jon and I would offer love and grace to them.  Pray that God would miraculously multiply our sleeping hours.  (LOL! But really...)  ;)

We are so grateful for YOU.  We are so thankful for your love and prayers.
I am personally so grateful that you will let me just make a list here, of what we need prayer for.   With promises of Felt Things in the future.  :)

And now, I will sign off with The Blessing Jon speaks over our kids every single night as they lay in bed and we turn out the lights:

The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

God Shut Me Up - And I'm SO Glad He Did...

Last night I had a concert at The Grove Church in Riverside.  I have been booked for over a year to do this event, so when I woke up the morning of, with NO voice, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.  I mean, really??  One. More. Thing??  I began to pray and ask others to pray.  And I believed God for a miracle.  So much so, that I randomly made this video:  :)

Well, by about 2pm, it became clear that what God had in mind for this event was not necessarily what I had in mind for the event.  It was clear to both Jon and I that God was going to do something powerful - but not through my voice.  Through Jon's.  Now this may not seem like a big deal to you as you read this, but here's where Jon was at:
*I don't really want to stand in front of an audience looking like this
*When I sang at that wedding last week, all I could think about was how to hide that side of my face behind the microphone
*I am willing to only sing 1 song - my half of The Prayer.  But nothing else.  It's too hard for me to annunciate certain words and different tones.
*I don't have the mind space right now to put into words anything to say or teach

But regardless of our feelings, Jon and I both felt so strongly that this was God's plan for the night.  And what was amazing, was we got emails and messages from several friends who had heard about my lost voice, and who were hearing the same thing.  So Jon pushed through all of the above hesitations.  And what happened...was beautiful.  Powerful.  Amazing. Miraculous.

First, God was gracious enough to give me enough voice to speak His Truth.  I spoke for about 25 minutes - based on Corinthians 4:16-18 and how we have lived this out as a family this past year through my Graves Disease, my mom's terminal illness, and now Jon's brain tumor.  (Corinthians 4:16-18 says "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.")

Then I invited Jon on stage.  THIS is when it got powerful.  Oh wait, I also had the kids come on stage at one point and sing a trio.  Yes, a trio.  Morgan (recently turned 2) made her stage debut.  She had a solo, held her own mic and everything.  It was beyond the cuteness that you are even picturing in your mind right now.  For real.

Ok, back to the powerful.  Jon came on stage and spoke.  No, he taught.  He shared.  Openly.  He cried.  He revealed.  He challenged.  He encouraged.  He was incredible.  There was not a dry eye in the room.  Nor was there anyone who left the same as when they walked in.  God's awesome like that.  He doesn't waste our time.  Nor does He waste our pain.

Jon not only spoke, but he sang.  Beautifully.

At the end, I got to share about God's intimate love for us.  And the invitation that God gives to EVERY person - to accept His free gift of grace.  About 20 women made a decision last night to trust Jesus with their lives.  They chose to fix their eyes not on what is seen but what is unseen.  They chose to allow God to work all things in their lives for the good of them - as they love Him. It was beautiful. The line to talk to Jon and I afterward was long.  The tears were many.  The stories were profound.

Friends, sometimes God has a plan that we don't know and we don't see.  So he shuts us up (literally) to get us out of the way, so His plan can be made known.  (I'm SO glad God shut me up)  Or sometimes He has a plan and we know it, but we are too fearful or insecure to say yes, so He forces the other options out, so the only open door is the one He has planned for us.  (I'm SO glad God used Jon)

God answered our prayers.  He showed up.  Huge.  But He showed up beyond what I had envisioned.  What a relief.  If God only showed up how we envisioned, could you imagine what boring, limited lives we would lead?  But instead, the Bible says He does immeasurably more than we could ever ask or even imagine to ask.  I LOVE that.  You know your biggest hope?  Your hugest dream?  God can and will do BEYOND that.  He can do what your mind can't even conjure up.  He will do what you can't even hope or dream or imagine or think up.  That, is good news.  Because I have found that I can come up with some pretty cool ideas.  But God's ways are higher than my ways.  And I'm always astounded at how much greater and cooler His ideas are.  (who knew??)  ;)

Thank you, friends, for praying.

Oh, and if none of the above satisfied your desire to see an actual physical miracle in the form of my voice healing, take a peek at the video below.  Just enough and just in time for the final song....

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Quick Update... Blog or Facebook Update? Who Knows!?!? (Who Cares!?!?) ;)

So I'm new to his whole blogging thing.  However I'm not new to Facebook.  So I'm still trying to navigate what to post, where.   Last week, I posted "I Haven't Been Living Out Loud" and talked about a complex (solid) cyst that was found in my ovary.  But I didn't post about it on Facebook. Then on Monday, I had a Dr appointment regarding said cyst, and then quickly posted the results on Facebook. But not on here.  So I have the FB universe asking "what cyst?!"!" and the blog universe asking "what happened at your Dr appointment for the cyst??"  LOL!  I'm kind of a hot mess, if you haven't picked up on that yet.  But I'm learning.  I have used FB as a means to do quick updates and then used the blog as a means to process the updates.  I won't do that anymore.  I will keep the blog up to date on even the quick updates. Somewhere between me never ever reading a blog and me writing a blog, I created all these expectations and standards about what a blog is and is not.  I'm going to go ahead and admit I have no idea what the "rules" are.  So if I write a blog that looks like a status update, or update my status with something that looks like a blog, forgive me.  I'm clueless. I just love journeying with you.   Anyway, all that to say, I don't have time right this second to sit and process, although I want to SO BADLY.  (Hopefully later tonight??)  But in the meantime, I wanted to copy and paste my FB update from Monday.  Because, well, it frankly is incredible.  :)  Enjoy.....

"So the Dr talked to us for awhile. Then he said he wanted to run a few tests and examine my "friend" (as he referred to the cyst) himself. Well, the exam was cut short because... the cyst was gone. GONE. As in, there was nothing there to exam. As in, the best possible case scenario that we prayed would happen, happened. Thank YOU for praying. God hears our prayers and responded with a big fat huge YES. Blog post to come, but parking lot status update was a necessity first."

See?  I told you.  Incredible.  
God. is. good.  

Sunday, December 1, 2013

I Haven't Been Living Out Loud...

So.  I haven't been living out loud.  I've been quiet on here.  (well, before my Thanksgiving Day post) Because, well, because I'm kind of tired of being "that person."  You know the one.  The one that always has a prayer request.  Always has a "need." Always has an ailment.  Always has a "thing" going on.

Have you ever heard of an "EGR" person?  Growing up, we classified certain "special" people as EGR. (forgive me, this sounds horrible, I know.)  "EGR" stands for Extra Grace Required.  You know, the one who is just a little needy.  Maybe seeking attention.  Maybe they know how to push buttons.  Or make social situations awkward.  Maybe they complain a lot.  Or they talk a lot. Or insert themselves into situations they weren't invited into.  You know.  Someone who requires a little more grace than the average person.  Well, this past week, I have been feeling like an EGR.  Not in the ways listed above, but in an "I seem to always have a 'thing'" sort of way.  Doctor's appointments made me late to important social events.  I needed help with the kids on several occasions so I could squeeze more Dr appointments in.  I feel like the friend that needs extra grace.  Extra help.  Extra attention.  The one who you have to pause and ask "How are you doing?" when you see her, because you just know her life is a hot mess.  And I hate being that person.  I don't want to inconvenience someone with having to help me - let alone make them even pause their already busy life to inquire how I am doing.  A question I don't even know how to answer.  (Spiritually?  I'm doing great.  Physically?  Who knows.  Emotionally?  Depends on the day.  Etc... )

In an attempt to not be an EGR (which I clearly am, but was in denial), I kept quiet on here.  I also avoided intimate conversations.  I posted a need for child care on Facebook instead of just texting close friends.  Because I couldn't stand the thought of putting someone specific on the spot to help me out.  So I threw it out to the entire world - the black abyss of FB - which somehow felt easier.  Over the weekend, I even went as far as to tell someone not pray for me.  What?!?  I know.  So bizarre.  Someone said, "I am praying for you."  And I responded with, "Don't worry about me.  Don't pray for me.  Just pray for Jon."  In an attempt to not be an EGR, I asked someone to stop praying for me.  Because I believed in that moment, that somehow not praying for me would mean I was OK.  But I wasn't OK.  It would mean I didn't need anything from anyone.  Even though I really did.

In one of my first posts ever, (in the blog titled Living Out Loud) I said, "I will be honest, when I sat down to write this, I felt like I was writing to ask each of you for a million dollars. That is how big of an "ask" I feel it is when I ask you to use your time and energy on prayers for Jon."  I still feel that way to this day.  Jon and I are so overwhelmed and humbled that you would spend time approaching God on our behalf.  But somehow down this road, when the doctor's found the tumor in my bone, etc.. I began to believe that praying for Jon AND me was just too big of an "ask."  And even as we got more tests done and other doctor's appointments happened, I started to think this past week that the updates were just too much.  That you all had prayed more than we deserve.  We are in debt to you enough already.  How can we possibly continue to tell the story and ask you to continue to pray over specifics as the story unfolds?  I mean, we're 7 weeks post-op.  That's 7 weeks of being a major EGR.  That's a really long time.  We have overstayed our welcome, I am sure.  

Now obviously this is difficult to write.  Simply because it's so embarrassing to admit.  How did I get here??  Honestly?  I started to believe lies.  I started to feel unworthy.  I began to feel embarrassed.  And worst of all?  I got prideful.  What is it that makes me cringe at the thought of being an EGR?  Pride.  I don't want to be that person that needs help.  Needs prayer.  Needs extra grace.  Those people are, well, tough to love.  I don't want to be tough to love.  I want to be easy to love.  You need help?  I'll be there.  You need prayer?  I'll pray for you.  I want to be the one that's easy to do life with. I pride myself on being an "easy" person.  But the reality is, it's tough to do life with me right now.  I'm late.  And distracted.  I'm tired.  And overwhelmed.  I'm engaged in our conversation one minute, then have to pick up the phone in the middle of your sentence to talk to a Dr that's calling.  I need last minute child care.  My husband is doing fantastic at times and struggles at times.  He gets updates from doctors that change from day to day.  I get updates from doctors that change from day to day.  We are a freaking roller coaster.  And I wish it weren't this way, but it just is.  And so tonight, I'm coming to grips with this reality:  I need you.  Still.   There.  I said it.  We need you.  We need your prayers.  Jon needs your prayers.  For him.  For me.  Still.  Yes, even after 7 weeks.  And probably for 7 more.  And maybe 7 more after that.

I committed to Living Out Loud when this all started, and after 10 days of pulling back, I'm re-engaging.  When I pulled back, I felt alone.  I felt less-than.  I felt like I was a burden.  I felt like I was hiding parts of myself.  What about in your life?  Have you started to pull back?  We all go through ruts where we start disengaging in life.  Our circumstances weigh us down and we retreat.  We don't want to bother the people around us with our junk, so we just keep quiet and hope it will work itself out.  Here's what I know:  I know true community is beautiful.  And healthy.  And I know that hiding brings fear.  And pain.  And is unhealthy.  So I'm coming back out and I invite you to join me.  Calling all EGR's!  :)  If we're honest, we ALL are EGR's at some point(s) in our lives.  Every EGR has a story.  A reason why they talk so much, or invite themselves into things they weren't invited to, or seek attention, or whatever it is that makes them an EGR.  It's not something to be embarrassed of or to hide from.  Nor is it something to judge.  If you're in it with me right now, the wisest thing to do is to surround yourself with people who are willing to lavish that grace on you.  People who will love you.  Still.  Even in your messiness. Even if you are a little tough to love these days.

So I'm opening myself back up.  I'm admitting I need you.  And I'm allowing you to fill a need...

So here's our update...  And a few ways we would ask for you to continue to pray...

1) Jon's eye pain has worsened.  :(  However, on Tuesday, Jon saw his neuro-opthemologist and was told he is a candidate to have the surgery on his eyelid.  They will put a gold weight in his eyelid which will (hopefully) enable him to blink again.  This will be a huge blessing!  Our surgeon doesn't have any openings until January, but has put Jon on a wait list in case anything opens up sooner.  Would you pray that something opens up and Jon gets in sooner than later?  His eye bothers him so much...  He describes the pain as "having an ice pick in my eye." Um, ouch.  He's such a trooper, but I know he's in much pain.  We'd love to get him in for that surgery asap.

2) On Tuesday, Jon will see an ENT (ear, nose and throat) doctor that specializes in surgery after brain trauma.  Would you pray that this Dr is wise and gives us clear direction on any future surgeries that might be needed regarding Jon's face and the wisest timeline for those?

3) I had my MRI on the tumor in my hip last Friday.  I go in for a bone scan this Thursday morning.  (shot in the hip at 9:15am and then the scan at 12:15)  Would you pray that the results from both of those tests would come back with good news?  My hope is that the tumor would be able to be left alone and would be harmless.

4) (This is what I was holding back)  Last week I found out that when they were running the scope of tests for my hip pain, that yes, they found a tumor in my bone, but they also found a cyst in my ovary.  If you are a female, you know that cysts in ovaries are very common.  I had one in my last pregnancy, and I have had them in my ovaries before.  They are harmless and common.  However, this cyst is not a normal cyst - it's a complex cyst.  Instead of it being clear and filled with fluid, this cyst is solid.  My ovary is 3 centimeters and the cyst is 3.2 centimeters.  Instead of the perimeter being a clean line, it is jagged.  All that to say, my doctor called me in to her office to discuss this with me last week, and on Monday I will go to a new Doctor to discuss it with him.  Would you pray that the cyst would go away?  I hesitated mentioning this, because I hate to throw one more thing into the mix.  However, my prayer is that it would be gone, so I ask for you to join with me in that prayer.

I know this post has no great value.  And most of it is me confessing my pride.  But thank you for letting me continue to process on here.  And thank you for standing in the gap for us.  Thank you for praying.  And praying more.  There is MUCH to be thankful for.  And at the same time, there is much to pray for.  Thank you for bearing our burden with us.  We are grateful.
With love and gratitude,
A major EGR friend.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Sometimes God Gives Us Something That Doesn't Make Sense. And it's Amazing.

If I had to choose one thing to be thankful for this Thanksgiving Day, I would say Philippians 4:6-7.
The Bible says, "Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus."

Friends, this is a real thing.  "Peace which exceeds anything we can understand" actually exists.  It's a peace that doesn't makes sense when you do the math on your situation.  It's where Jon and I have lived for 7 weeks now.

If you enter this day searching for something to be thankful for, try praying.  Seriously.  Pray.  Ask God to give you eyes to see His blessings.  Big things.  Little things.  Things you haven't had the ability to see because "life"/your situation has left you with a thick cloud in front of your eyes.  There is a whole world of Good that exists when you ask God to give you the eyes to see it.  Then thank Him for those blessings.  No matter how small they seem.  (Can you blink?  Well, thank God for a body that works in that way.  Jon has learned the value of blinking and would tell you to be hugely grateful if your eyelids move.)  :)  Thank Him.

Then tell Him your worries, wants, desires, fears, pain.  Something supernatural happens when you turn your worries into prayers.  It takes you off the anxiety hamster wheel and literally places your anxiety into the hands of your Creator God.  The One who can actually do something about it all.  When we put this into practice - the whole "worrying about nothing and praying about everything" - we experience peace.

Not the 'peace' that comes with that 30 minute conversation with your best friend.  Cuz that peace feels good.  Really good.  But it doesn't sustain.
It's not the 'peace' that comes with that shopping binge either.  I mean, let's be honest.  That high feels great and really medicates us well.  For a good hour or so.
It's not the 'peace' that comes by indulging in that chocolate cake either.
Or drinking that extra glass of wine.
Or the 'peace' that comes when we gossip about other people.  Oh, that's a good one.  We feel so much better about our own junk when we talk about other people's junk.  Their's is so much worse and ugly, right?  That conversation feels really good.  Until it's over.  And we're faced with our own junk again.  Then their junk really doesn't matter or help our situation at all.

Friends, the peace that God offers - that the Bible talks about - that Jon and I are experiencing... is good.  And complete.  It lacks nothing.  It sustains.  And it makes absolutely no sense.  It truly is beyond our understanding.  But wouldn't you prefer a peace that is so whole and complete and supernatural that you couldn't conjure it up on your own?  That it surpasses what you can explain or comprehend?  Anything we can wrap our own arms or minds around isn't enough.  It is finite.  It will be flawed by just the mere reality that we are fallen humans living in a fallen world.  Find true peace in the arms of an infinite God.  A God who promises He will make you the best trade of your life.  You give Him your worries, gratitude and prayer, and He gives you Peace, Shalom, in exchange.  Even exchange?  Not close.  Does it make sense?  Nope.  But I invite you to try it.  Well, God invites you in.  I'm just here to tell you Jon and I are living in it right now and it's real.  It's a thing.  It exists.  And to tell you that our list of "What We Are Thankful For" has never ever been as long as it is on this Thanksgiving Day.

So friends, Happy Day of Thankfulness.  If today doesn't come easy for you, fight for it.  Pray.  Express.  Ask.  Then feel.

God loves you, I love you, and I love journeying toward Him with you.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I Wish None of This Happened... (Mourning our Bumps in the Road)

"Mom, you promised us that you would volunteer in our class every other Monday this year.  But you haven't come one Monday.  Why haven't you come?"  My 7 year old daughter Taylor asked this morning during breakfast.
"Well, because of everything that happened with daddy.  And remember?  We were in the hospital on 'Back to School Night' and that's the night parents signed up to volunteer." Long pause.
"But remember that amazing photo album your teacher made for us?  You got to take pictures of everything special to you at school and she printed it and put it in that beautiful book for you to give daddy in the hospital?  That was awesome!"  I replied in my super duper "look on the bright side, honey" voice.

"I wish none of this happened." She said quietly.

She didn't have an attitude.  She wasn't being bratty.  It was almost like she was saying it to herself.
In that moment, I realized how much I had missed the mark in our conversation thus far.
Jon was heading up the stairs and since he is deaf in one ear now, I realized he missed our exchange.
I called for him to come back and join us.
As he reached the bottom of the stairs, I looked at Taylor and asked her to tell her daddy.
"I wish none of this happened." She repeated.  "I wish none of it ever happened to you."
"Us too, honey."  I replied.  "We wish it never happened either."
Jon hugged her.
"When are you going to be better?" she asked.
Jon said, "Honey, I am better. Look how good I'm doing."  He jumped up and down a few times, and walked a few steps, showing her how "normal" his body was functioning.
"When is ALL of you going to be better?" She said as she waved her hand up and down, motioning his entire body.  Before he could respond, she said, "Like, your smile.  When will that be better?"
Jon and I exchanged a glance.
"Well," I said.  Deep breath. "It might not get better.  It might stay like this.  We hope it will get better and we really think it is going to get better.  But there is a chance that part will stay the same."

We talked for a few more minutes, kissed Tay, and Jon went back upstairs while the kids continued to pack up their backpacks.  I quietly slipped upstairs after Jon.
"You OK?"  I asked.
"About what?  Taylor?  Oh honey.  Absolutely.  Taylor asks the honest questions.  She makes the honest statements. I love that about her."

Honesty.  I'm learning it's one of the key ingredients in healing.
Creating a safe environment where honesty is welcome.  Another key.

When Taylor first mentioned the fact that I hadn't been in her classroom as a volunteer, my first, knee jerk reaction was to point her to the roses.  "Just look at those, honey.  Don't think about those thorns that are digging into your skin.... the pain that you feel from those blasted thorns.  Focus on the roses.  You remember that photo album, honey.  All those great pictures.  Think about that.  Think on that instead of the fact that your parents spent Back to School Night in ICU.  Think about that instead of the fact that your dad was learning to walk again on a Monday, instead of your mom being in the classroom."

Wow.  What a disservice.

As parents, we want our children to be happy.  We want them to experience good things.  We want the best for them.  So sometimes when a bump in the road happens, we try to distract them.  Focus their attention elsewhere.  Because sometimes the bump isn't worth their time or energy or mind space.  Truly.  But other times, The Bump is actually a deal.  A real thing.  A divorce.  An accident.  A loss.  An illness.  And in an attempt to make sure everything is "good" and "happy," we still try to divert their attention from The Bump - even the Big Bump(s) - and try to show them the roses instead.  We act like everything is A-OK, when clearly, Bumps are not OK.  They are anything but OK.  They hurt us and shake us and bump us and bruise us.  They are painful.  And as much as we don't want our kids to experience pain, they still do.

"We agree.  We wish this never happened either."

Those 2 sentences were the best gifts we could have given Taylor today.  She felt validated.  And not alone.  And she was given permission to grieve.
Ah, there is another major key to healing.  Permission to grieve.

Our culture is filled with "good" people.
"How are you?"
"I'm good, thanks.  How are you?"
"I'm good too."

Do you remember that it used to be "fine."
"How are you?"

But who is "fine" anymore?  I mean, really.  Everyone is at least "good" right??
Unless you're not good.  Or fine.  Then what?

Life is hard.  Like, excruciating, sometimes.  Painful and sad. And you know what?  It's OK to say so.  It's OK to feel so.
I'm an imperfect person and an imperfect parent.  But at the core of who I am, I want my children to find that I am a safe place to process.  A safe place to be honest.  I love them no matter what.  So that's me.  Imperfect, human being, me.
How much more do you think our Heavenly Father is to us?  Our perfect, loving, good, powerful Father God.
Friends, He can handle your honesty.  He can take your frustration.  He is a safe place.  No need to fake it.  No need to pretend that all you see is roses.  He sees your pain. He knows your story.  You don't have to hide your fear or your anger or your sadness.
And because He intended for this world to have total Shalom, He will say to you, "I know.  Me too.  I wish this never happened either."
This pain, this brokenness, these thorns, this Bump... this was not what God intended and planned.  God created peace.  Shalom.  Things as it should be.  Completion.  And then came sin.  And death.  And disease.  And destruction.
So what does God do?  Comforts.  And loves.  And offers grace.  And brings peace.  He causes everything to work together for the good of those who love Him...  He is much more than just a listening ear.  But start there.  Talk.  Be honest.  And see what happens.

You know what we did for Taylor?  We celebrated Christmas.  OK, not completely, but we decided this house needed some extra cheer.  Stat.  So we broke our own rule (of no Christmas before Thanksgiving) and busted out the Christmas decorations.  The tree is up, the nativity scenes are out.  We are reminded that God, Emmanuel, came near.  God came near to us.  To know us.  To experience what we experience.  (yes, even pain and sadness and betrayal and loss...)  To live as an example for us.  And to give up His life for us.  Our family needed this reminder earlier than usual this year.  We needed the hope of Christmas to invade our home today.  We needed our kids to sense some joy.  And somehow, God used twinkle lights and egg nog toasts to supernaturally heal our hearts.

Perhaps you have experienced your own Bump.  And perhaps you have tried as hard as you can to pretend it didn't hurt.  To pretend you didn't feel the jolt.  Didn't notice the bruises.  Sometimes our healing is stunted because we aren't honest.  We don't know if there's a safe place to be honest.   And we haven't given ourselves permission to grieve.  Don't minimize your Bump.  Feel it.  Mourn it.  Grieve it.  And then allow God to heal it.  He will.  And then go and be a safe place for others.  Grieve with them.  Feel with them.  Then point them to Jesus.

Oh, and don't miss those roses.   Because they are there.  He will show them to you.   He wants to do everything with you...  Hear the honesty.  Heal the pain.  Celebrate the healing.  And delight in the goodness of those roses.
And if it takes Christmas in November?  Then so be it.
Egg nog never tasted so good.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

One of the Biggest Lies You Have Been Told By The Church

Today started off with an incoming phone call from a random unknown number.

Now I have to confess something to you: I have a deep 'fear' of picking up the phone from unknown numbers.  Who will it be?  What will they want from me?  What if I don't want to talk about what they want to talk about and then I'm stuck?  What if it's awkward?  It's paralyzing.  Now, I'm joking to an extent, but you get the point.  ;)  I'd rather have the person leave a message, listen to it, and then decide how to respond.  (which is usually by text or email.)  However, since I have become my husband's care taker, an unknown number could turn out to be any one of his therapists, a neurosurgeon, an opthemologist, etc.. So I am currently in the habit of picking up those unknown calls.  This morning, however, the voice on the other line said, "Is this Deanna Ramsay?"  "Um, yes it is."  (this is where I'm secretly hoping I won some exotic getaway in some contest.)  "Deanna, I'm calling from your Doctor's office.  We sent your ex-rays to Radiology, and they found a tumor on your hip bone.  You need to get in to an orthopedic doctor asap.   We have a call out to your insurance to get approval for that referral.  We will work on getting you that by tomorrow morning.  In the meantime, you need to get your ultrasound.  Oh, and we are pretty sure the tumor will be benign.  But you need to get to a specialist.  Do you have any questions?"  I was so confused.  Aren't these doctor calls supposed to be for my husband?  You know, the one who had brain surgery 6 weeks ago??

For the past couple of weeks, I have been getting intense pain in my left hip.  I am not a big "go to the doctor" person... or even a "take medicine" type person.  When I get a head ache, I wait it out.  However, I had been hobbling for several days and during one of Jon's speech therapy appointments while I was just sitting still in the chair next to him, the pain was just too intense.  I excused myself from the room and stepped outside to call the doctor.  They got me in the next morning - this past Friday.  The doctor did x-rays on the spot and was looking for early signs of arthritis.  But when they looked at the film, she said everything looked good.  She then ordered me an ultrasound to check out my internal organs, but I told her the pain really does not feel like an internal issue.  It really feels like a bone issue. But I made the appointment.  For today.  At 11am.  But here it was, 8:34am, and I was being told I had a tumor.

The rest of the day was a whirlwind.  I went to a friend's birthday lunch, but was up and down from the table with phone calls from doctors, insurance...  By 12:30pm, the referral had been approved and I was given a green light to see a specialist.  I made my appointment.  I stopped by the Doctor's office and picked up a disc of my x-ray images.  I went to a girl's night out with some girlfriends, where we processed through what the heck is going on with all this craziness!  And one friend even texted my x-ray images to her Radiologist friend so he could evaluate them and give his opinion.  At 8:00 at night, he graciously looked at them.  He agreed with my Doctor - he feels the tumor will be benign too.  (This is GOOD.  Very good.)  Jon waited up for me to get home from my time with the girls.  We talked.  And processed.  We are at peace.  We feel confident that all will be fine.  We cuddled.  Until he fell asleep.  :)  Then I slipped out of his arms and snuck downstairs so I could prepare for the Community Group I lead tomorrow morning... and so I could continue writing a talk I'm giving at an event in San Diego Thursday night... Oh, ya, but not before I sit down on my laptop and process on here.  With you.  My 'on-line family.'  :)

Ok, enough with the boring medical details.

Friends, here's the bottom line:
God has given Jon and I more than we can handle.  (insert Gasp!)
The reality is that the Church has done us a horrible disservice.  Many cliche's and "feel good messages" rob us of the Truth of who God is.  And one of the biggest lies we are told by well-intentioned people is: "God won't give you more than you can handle."  (Insert huge shout out to Mike Erre, for teaching me this Truth a few years ago and debunking this long standing myth in the Christian church.)  But let's be honest, we've all heard and/or been told and/or told someone else, "I know this is hard, but God won't give you more than you can handle.  You will be ok!"  But where, oh where in the Bible does it promise that? (hint: it doesn't.) It sure feels good though, right?  But in the (paraphrased by memory) words of my brilliant friend Mike, "God DELIGHTS in giving you more than you can handle." Wait.  What!?!  "Because God lives at the end of your rope.  Where you end, He begins.  In fact, God does His best work at the end of 'you.'"  Wow.  Now that doesn't initially feel as good.  The end of my rope is painful.  And scary.  And uncomfortable.  I like my rope.  My rope feels safe.  And secure.  Until I realize that this world is not safe or secure.  Until I realize that this world has some crazy stuff in it... like disease, and destruction and death.  Like divorce and pain and bankruptcy and fear and brokenness.  And tumors.  So what then?  What happens when we realize our "rope" is gone.  When we have nothing else to give.  Nothing else to control.  Nothing else to manipulate.  Then... we find God.  The Creator of you.  And me.  The One who probably sighs a deep sigh and says, "Oh my sweet child.  I love you, but I am SO glad you are out of the way.  You have been spinning plates, juggling your circumstances, manipulating life to your best ability.  And trying to squeeze me into any space that might be left over.  But now?  There's nothing more you can do.  The plates have fallen.  The balls have hit the floor and are rolling away.  "Life" has happened.  And you officially have more than "you" can handle.  But guess what?  Fear not.  This is not too big for ME to handle.  In your weakness, I am strong.  In fact, my power is made perfect in weakness.  Perfect.  In weakness.  Let that just soak in.  Oh, and don't forget that I am close to the brokenhearted.  I will never leave you."

Friends, this is good news.  Great news.  Because although I am so calm and confident that this tumor in my hip is going to be nothing at all, the outcome is still ultimately completely out of my control.  And when you add this to the already huge season of life we are in with Jon's recovery, I think it is safe to say that this is more than we can handle.  But you know what I feel?  Relief.  Ahhhhh.  Deep exhale. I'm exhausted from spinning plates and juggling balls.  I want to experience more of Him and less of me.  I want to see His power in its perfection.

And so I invite you to join Jon and me on this journey.  You may not have a tumor, but I'm confident you have something.  Something that you are trying so hard to fix.  To make right.  Something that is broken.  Or painful.  Something that you are trying so hard to make work.  But it is completely out of your control.  God is here.  He is able.  He can be trusted.  He is good.  And faithful.  And if you want more of Him, you need to have less of "you" in the mix.

So take that tightly clenched rope and let go.  Pry each finger off one by one if you have to.
And let the rope burn marks on your hands heal in the arms of a loving, good, powerful God.
Jon and I are there right now.
And trust me, His arms are big enough for all of us.

Thursday, November 7, 2013


SCREEECH!!  That's the sound of us putting the brakes on our already seemingly "paused" life.  Today Jon went in for his first 3 hour session of outpatient rehab at Mission Hospital.  Each therapist spent about an hour with him, evaluating his condition.  All 3 were blown away by how strong Jon is and how well he is doing physically.  However, they also all said that Jon's brain needs more rest.  More sleep.  Those are key ingredients to Jon's healing.  We thought we were doing a good job of that.  I mean, he's not working, so to us that is a really big change of pace.  We even took 3 weeks off of the kids sports.  But because Jon is getting so physically strong from the neck down, we have been translating that into a green light for more opportunity to engage in life.  Unfortunately, those things just don't leave the margin needed for his brain to rest.  Man, it's so much easier to have a cast on your arm.  You can physically see that it shouldn't be used.  You can physically see when it's healed and when it's strong enough to perform.  But the brain?  Much more complex.  Much harder to gauge.  SO...  this basically means that we are really going to have to limit visitors.  We are going to have to schedule his naps.  We are going to accept play dates for the kids, to give them a place to be loud and active outside of the house.  These are things we were really good about right after surgery, but as Jon's body strengthened, we got a little too casual.  I wasn't going to post about this, but my amazing mother-in-law hinted that it might be a good thing to mention... and she's right.  It's an important part of Jon's journey.  Rest.  Sounds so simple.  So boring.  So minor.  But it really is a powerful thing.  What's interesting is that this past year, Jon has been leading our family in taking a true sabbath once a week.  It has been a beautiful thing.  We weren't designed to "go go go."  We were designed to rest.  Breathe.  And now God has put Jon in a whole season of rest.  One day is tough enough!  But a season??  Who knew this would be so difficult!  I can't wait to see what learnings we will have from this time.  God has been so faithful to reveal more about Himself to us through all of the different aspects of this journey.  I can't wait to experience more of Him through us slowing down even more.  So this is us, saying it out loud so you can help us do this, and you can hold us accountable.  Intentional rest starts (again) now.  Do you hear it??  SCREEEECH!!  :)

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A Trip to the Neurosurgeon Results in 6 Prayer Requests...

Today we got to have an appointment with our neurosurgeon extraordinaire, Dr. Ched Nwagwu.
 I say "got to" because, well, we absolutely adore him.  He not only is an incredible surgeon, he is a gentle, strong, humble man.  We love him and secretly wish we could be friends in real life.  How cool would it be to meet "our buddy Ched the brilliant neurosurgeon" just for coffee?  I mean, really.

Anyway, we got to meet with Dr. Nwagwu, get some amazing referrals to different specialists, and get an evaluation on Jon's recovery.  To no one's surprise, Jon is doing remarkable.  ;)  Honestly, that is the word that the doctors and therapists have said about Jon's recovery and strength since Day 1.  Remarkable.  He is so happy with Jon's balance (not even needing his walker anymore), strength, speech clarity... there is a lot to celebrate!

He mentioned more than once the incredible impact all the prayers had.  He said the team in the O.R. for 11 hours knew about all the pray-ers.  (how cool is that?!?)  He also said having Jon in the hospital was like having a celebrity there.  We laughed and thought he was being sarcastic.  He said, "No seriously.  I've never heard of so many phone calls coming in with people saying, "My pastor is at the hospital - please make sure he is well taken care of!" :)  He said everywhere he turned, people were being sent to "check in" on Jon, per someone's request - whether it be a fellow Dr, a hospital board member, a staff friend of a friend...  Pretty amazing.  We heard this and we hoped that maybe, just maybe, he would then find us cool enough to be real life friends and meet for coffee.  But nope.  No offer was extended.  Definitely not celebrity status.  ;)

Dr. Nwagwu also used this handy dandy plastic brain to show us a glimpse of where Jon's tumor was.  In this pic, he had taken the skull part off, then removed the brain, so we could see deep into the brain, which is where Jon's tumor was.  He pointed his pen to the 7th and 8th nerves which are the little white things near the pen tip.  The 7th nerve is the facial nerve and Jon's tumor was wrapped around it - intertwined in it.  Ugh.  Although he was able to preserve the nerve and leave it in tact, it is traumatized and only time will tell if it will function again.

You have all been such faithful prayer warriors.  We are so grateful.  I am asking once again that you join us in prayer over Jon's current condition.  Here are the 6 major things we are currently praying for:

1) Jon was accepted into the Outpatient Therapy Unit at Mission Hospital.  He is currently scheduled to go 3 days a week for the next 8 weeks.  He will be there for about 3+ hours at a time.  Would you pray that he would get increased strength, stamina, and balance in his physical therapy appointments?  Would you also pray that in his speech therapy appointments, they would see some type of movement on the right side of his face?  Any signs of "life" will be an indicator that something is working and will give hope to restoration.

2) Jon has been referred to a neuro-opthemologist at UCI.  We are unsure of if our insurance will approve Jon going to UCI - would you pray that they would approve it and that Jon would be seen by a trusted, respected, successful doctor there and would get in for an appointment soon?

3) While meeting with the neuro-opthemologist, we will discuss the option of putting a gold weight in Jon's right eyelid.  We are told this type of surgery would give Jon the ability to blink that eye.  If his facial movement is restored in the weeks or months to come, the weight can be removed or it can even stay, as it won't bother anything if it is there.  The weight will provide him much needed functionality and pain relief.  Please pray for wisdom for us to make the right decision on if we should proceed with this and for the timing for this surgery.

4)  Jon has also been referred to an ENT that specializes in plastic surgery and restoration after brain surgeries.  IF Jon's facial paralysis does not heal, there is a surgery they can do to restore movement in Jon's right cheek.  It would consist of attaching the 7th nerve (facial nerve) to the 12th nerve (nerve that controls the tongue).  Apparently when this surgery is done, it can allow the 7th nerve to function again to a certain degree.  The ENT will determine how Jon is progressing and if/when this surgery would be necessary. Would you pray with us that Jon will not need this surgery?  Our prayer is that Jon's face would be restored on its own over the coming weeks and months.

5) In 5 months, Jon will go for his 6 month, post op MRI.  I know this seems like a long time away, but Jon's body is responding now, so I request prayer now.  Dr. Nwagwu feels like he was able to remove 95-97% of Jon's tumor.  Our hope is that the remaining 3-5% remains the exact same size.  If it does, we will leave it and just monitor it with MRI's every 6-12 months.  However, if it grows, Jon will have to start Radiation.   Would you pray with us that the little bit of tumor left would not grow at all?

6) In addition, the MRI will be checking Jon's LEFT side of the brain.  Unfortunately, when you get this type of tumor under age 40, there is a heightened chance that a "matching" tumor will appear on the other side as well.  Now, the chance is very slight, but it is of enough concern to keep monitoring via MRI's every 6-12 months.  If they saw the same type of tumor starting to grow on Jon's left side, they would hopefully catch it early enough that they would just do Radiation on it.  We would NOT want to have surgery on it, since that would take away Jon's hearing on his left side as well - which would obviously leave him completely deaf.  By monitoring it frequently enough, we feel very confident that even if a tumor started growing, they would absolutely catch it in time.  However, would you please pray with us that NO tumor would grow on his left side?  (like, ever.)  Even though it is only a slight chance, we want to make sure it is covered in prayer.

THANK YOU for being faithful in prayer.  THANK YOU for being a safe place to bring all of our "stuff" and lay it out in honesty...  The unknowns.  The questions.  The concerns.  The hopes.  The celebrations.  THANK YOU for loving us enough to care and even read this far.  :)  THANK YOU for not letting us walk this road alone.  We feel your love.  We feel your support.  We feel your prayers.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Jon's New Shades...

If you see Jon around town, you can be sure he will be sporting these:

Although we have had no luck with any help from an opthamologist yet, Jon has found a bit of much needed relief in the form of these bad boys.   ;)

Over the past several weeks, Jon's right eye has progressively gotten more and more painful and sensitive.  Light has been a major factor since day 1, but any type of wind or even just air, has become the more prominent issue for Jon's eye.  I like to put it this way: Imagine you and a 4 year old child engage in a staring contest.  The person who blinks first loses, so you try your hardest to stare and keep those blasted eyelids open.  We've all played that game at some point in our lives.  And we all know the stinging sensation that hits us after not blinking for, oh, about 15 seconds, right??  Well, because of Jon's paralysis on the right side, his right eye doesn't really blink on its own.  So you can imagine the pain and discomfort that would come with that minor detail.  I mean, don't you think blinking is a minor thing?  I always have.  Who even thinks twice about blinking?  We do it just as easily as we breath in and out.  And yet the moment blinking is taken away from you, its value is truly introduced.  We will be walking outside and I will think the air is perfectly still...  But Jon is sensitive to even the slightest breeze and instantly the pain in his eye is just debilitating.  It has been heartbreaking to see him like this day and night.

So about a week ago, Jon began doing research on different options that might be available to him - something...anything that might bring some relief.  He was thrilled to finally go to a Harley Davidson store and find these awesome sunglasses that have a special foam lining inside the rims.  (Rims?  Do you call them rims?  You know, the plastic part of the glasses..)  ;)  It is similar to how a ski goggle feels and it really helps keep not only the sun out but the wind/air out as well.  It seriously has been life changing!  And can we hear a woot woot for the fact that they look like normal sunglasses and not like goggles??  I mean, he's hot in whatever, but it doesn't hurt that he found a pair he actually likes!

So he now wears them day and night, inside or outside.  Yep, he's "that" guy.  We had our parent/teacher conferences for our oldest 2 kids this past week and a few minutes in, I had to make sure they knew Jon wasn't "too cool for school." ;)   He just really needs his shades!  The teachers were more than gracious.  And to be honest, it wasn't half as bad as 2 years ago when we had a colic-y baby with us and I had to actually nurse during the parent/teacher conference!  Ya, I was "that" mom!  LOL!  Oh man, we've had our share of 'hot mess' moments at the kids school.  I digress...

Anyway, just wanted to share a "Praise" with you all and thank you for praying for his eye.  It's a very temporary "band aid" that isn't fabulous, but it's a definite step in the right direction.  And for that, we are thankful!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Do You Talk About Me Behind My Back? (and other questions that creep in when love is left unexpressed)

On Halloween Eve, our kid's school had a "Monster Mash" Halloween costume party.  Our kids were so excited to attend, so we loaded up the 6 of us and headed to the school for a night of chaos, I mean, fun.  ;)  We walked in the door, the music was thumpin, the decorations were awesome... it was a rockin party!  All of a sudden, 3 little girls walked up to Taylor (our 7 year old) and said, "Hi Taylor!" They were  friendly and excited to be there.  I saw Taylor cross her arms in front of her and say, "Hi" in return, but with a bit of hesitation.  She was guarded.  She smiled at them, but you could tell she felt insecure.  Her body language and "vibe" was so loud, I could almost hear inside her mind... Do you really like me?  Do you want to be my friend?  Is my costume cool enough?  Am I accepted?  Will you talk about me behind my back when you walk away?  My heart broke for my sweet girl who for some reason felt so insecure.  The girls fluttered away and our family continued to walk further into the room.  All of a sudden, Morgan (our 2 year old) hopped out of her stroller and ran over to a group of about 5 little girls.  They were obviously little siblings of school aged kids - just like her.  They were dressed in princess costumes and Morgan was enthralled.  She "oohed" and "ahhhed" over Ariel shoes and Cinderella gloves.  She then grabbed hands with a couple of the girls and they all began to dance together in a circle.  No one knew who Morgan was.  She didn't know who they were.  But no one cared.  She had decided they were awesome and that a friendship was in order.  So they laughed and danced and held hands.  Complete strangers with zero inhibitions.  No insecurities.  No concept of what that would even mean.  I couldn't help but compare my 2 daughters in that moment.  What had happened?  What happened between age 2 and age 7?  And why, at the age of 35, am I resonating more with my 7 year old...and longing to feel the carefree courage of my 2 year old?

There is something so beautiful about a young child.  Something so free.  Young children don't see handicaps, color differences, size, financial status... They just see human beings.  What a breath of fresh air.  I remember when our son Jackson was about 3 years old, we took him to a Christmas event at a community center in San Diego.  Our dear friend Ken was going to be helicoptered in to the event, dressed as Santa, delivering goodies to all the kids.  Ken is African American and I will never forget when he descended from the helicopter and Jackson ran toward him.  "Santa!" Jackson yelled and ran into his arms.  Ken hugged him and said, "Hi Jackson!" - our son was beaming.  Jackson then ran to Jon and I and said, "That is so weird!" he exclaimed.  "How in the world did Santa know my name??  He really is amazing!"  Jon and I just had to laugh.  Here we thought Jackson was about to ask why Santa looked different than the one he just saw at the mall.  Nope!  He hadn't even noticed.  He just couldn't believe Santa actually knew his name.  I love that!

So we have these pure young souls who just want to play, love, laugh, and be.  And then there's the rest of us.  We still want to play and love and laugh and be.  Except we can't.  Because, well, what if someone laughs at us?  What if they don't want to be around us?  What if they judge us?  What if they talk about us?  What if they reject us?  Ah, there it is.  I realize that the thing Taylor has experienced that Morgan has not, is rejection.  Taylor has felt the sting of rejection that we all have.  So she hesitates to trust.  Hesitates to believe the good.  Hesitates to engage.  I know that feeling.  I even know that feeling at school.  Does that other mom really like me?  Does she think I'm a bad mom?  Does that mom talk about me when I walk away?  These feelings and insecurities hold me back from engaging with others at the level that I should.  And those emotions also held Taylor back that night, from engaging at the level she should.

When someone hurts you or betrays you, of course it is healthy to create boundaries with that person.  We can forgive, but trust is something different.  Trust comes back over time - after a track record has been established.  My mom used to tell me when I was a teenager, "If you crash the car, I will absolutely forgive you.  But I'm not going to hand you the car keys again right away."  Trust takes time.  There are some people who are pained by the hurt they have caused - they are remorseful and desire a reconciled relationship.  The trust comes easily back.  Then there are others who are just careless people in general.  They are reckless with their words and their behavior.  And so creating boundaries with that person and that relationship is very appropriate.  Healthy boundaries are necessary.

However, the rub comes when we encounter loving, healthy people, and find ourselves guarded.  Those people haven't hurt us.  They just want to know us and connect with us.  But for some reason we can't compartmentalize the hurt from that past relationship.  So we fold our arms, stand at a distance, keep others at bay. We've been hurt in the past.  So we hold a bit of ourselves back the next time around, just to make sure we can't get hurt again.  Painful, brutal cycles that get harder and harder to break.  And in the end, the only one getting robbed is us.  We miss out on deeper friendships. We miss out on uninhibited fun and laughter.  We miss out on being known.

After Jon's surgery and about a week into his hospital stay, he began to take account of different areas in his life.  When you are faced with something that threatens to take your life, or at least something that messes with your life enough to shake things up significantly, you start to evaluate.  Your relationships... your priorities..  He said to me, "I don't want my love for anyone to go unexpressed.  I don't want anyone to ever wonder where they stand with me.  I want to be generous with my love and make sure others know how I feel."  As I think about all these insecurities we have and the walls we put up in our friendships, I think that very statement might be a huge key to breaking that cycle.  You see, there is no way to get answers from every person for those deep seeded questions:  Do you really like me?  Do you gossip about me?  Do you judge me?  But what we CAN do, is answer that question for others.  We can be the catalyst for affirming the good.  Let no love go unexpressed.  Verbalize gratitude.  So often, we assume people know how we feel.  We assume they know that we like them.  How much we appreciate them.  How much we value their friendship.  But when left unexpressed, we leave margin for second guessing.  We leave space for assumption.  And when we assume something, we typically tend to assume the worst, right?  Our insecurities trump believing the best.  How cool would it be for me to love generously, and for the people in my life to know that?  When someone knows you love them, they act different.  Their guard comes down. They love more extravagantly.  They care deeper.  They trust more.  They engage with less hesitation.  Fewer walls.  And when someone does those things, I can't help but believe it would perpetuate that for me.  And for you. It begins to break the cycle.  All because love was expressed.  And sometimes, it's not that you didn't feel the love before. It's just that when you express it, no one has to wonder.  No one has to guess.  They can just sit in the good. Rest in the new found security.

I believe this is the rule, not the exception - although the exception does exist.  Like I said before, there are people in your life who have betrayed trust.  Hurt intentionally and unapologetically.  But I believe in this huge, vast world we live in, Good is so prevalent.  And those who haphazardly cause pain are far less common than those who truly desire to love and be loved.  So the opportunity to let other in, is there for all of us.  The opportunity to express love is ever present.  We just have to be the courageous one to make the first step.  Say it first.  If you're married, you know how this goes: He says, "If she respected me, I would love her!" and she says, "If he loved me, I would respect him!"  The vicious cycle that kills many marriages.  At some point, someone has to make the first move or else the marriage is stuck forever.  At some point, one person has to act first.  And once the "silence" has been broken, a beautiful new cycle begins.  One of loving, and respecting, and serving, and giving.  No walls.  No guarded hearts.  Just generous lovers.

This is what I want to encourage my sweet Taylor toward in her friendships.  It's what I want to lean into in my relationships.  It's where 2 year old Morgan lives right now.  "Oooo!  Your dress is so pretty!!  Hold my hand!  Let's dance!"  Beautiful.   It's what Jon is journeying toward post surgery.  He came to my community group this past week - a group of 40 young moms from our community.  He thanked them and even cried in gratitude in front of them.  They don't wonder if he appreciates them.  They don't wonder where they stand with him.

We can't change the past.  We can't undo the relational hurt we've experienced. But we can move forward toward healthier, deeper relationships.  We can uncross our arms.  We can lean in.  And the more we do, the more we will feel freedom.  Freedom to be ourselves.  Freedom to believe the best.  Freedom to love and be loved.  Freedom to know true community.  This expression of relationship is so beautiful.  So healing.  So right.

Let's say it.  Let's express it.  Let's live it. Let's show it.
And then let's hold hands.   Believe the best.  And dance.