Thursday, October 1, 2015

2 Years Ago Today.... (my personal therapy...remembering through writing) Part 1

It was 2 years ago, today. Jon and I had just gotten home from leading worship at a conference at Hume Lake.  Well, Jon actually never got to lead worship with me.  He stayed in our room the entire weekend - with a horrible headache and throwing up.  I couldn't even turn the lights on.  He was miserable.  As we drove home though, he started to feel better.  It must have been a 48 hour flu.  By the time we got home and the whole next day, the headache was still there, but was much more mild.  No more vomiting.  

The following morning, Tuesday, Oct 1, Jon went to sit up in bed and he grabbed his head and buried it back into his pillow.  "Ow, my head still hurts!"  He laid there for a few minutes and then slowly sat back up.  He was fine.  He must have just sat up too quickly.  I rolled over and told him I would call our family doctor and get him an appointment.  He said he didn't need to go to the doctor.  I told him he should at least get checked out after vomiting all weekend.  He reluctantly agreed, and I was able to get him a 4pm appointment for later that day.  At 3:45, I received a text from Jon.  "Not gonna make my appointment.  In a meeting.  I feel fine. Please call and cancel."  Okie dokie.  I canceled his appointment and got ready for Jon's parents who were coming over for dinner to celebrate Morgan's 2nd birthday.  Having 4 kids was kicking my butt.  Our surprise #4 (Reese) was only 8 months old and life was busy - I felt like I still hadn't figured out how to do 'life' as a party of 6.  

Jon's parents arrived, Jon got home from work, we had dinner, celebrated Mo, and then Jon took Jackson outside to throw the football around.  My mother-in-law pulled me aside.  "I'm concerned about Jon.  He doesn't get bad headaches like he did last weekend.  Why don't you take him to the ER while we're here and can watch the kids.  I know he won't go if I (his mom) tell him to.  But if you can persuade him to go, I think he will listen to you.  You might as well just get him looked at."  I told her I didn't think I could convince him, but I'd try.  Jon's Pop then pulled me aside.  "Mary Ann is really concerned about Jon and how sick he was this past weekend.  And she's not going to rest until she knows he's ok.  Which means I won't get to rest either.  ;)  If you can get him to go to the ER, it would give her peace of mind."  The 3 of us broached the subject with Jon between football tosses with Jackson.  He thought it was the silliest idea.  "I'm going to the ER because of a head ache?  No way.  So lame.  Besides, I'm not spending $100 to go to the ER." (money was very tight)  Jon’s parents ended up leaving… and returning after 10 minutes. They had driven to the ATM and arrived back on our doorstep, handed Jon a $100 bill, and said, “Just go. We’ll watch the kids.”  On the way to the hospital, Jon and my conversation went like this:

Jon: What am I supposed to say when we get there?  My mom made me come because I got a headache?  
Me: Well, let’s tell them about the head ache and the vomiting. And you should also mention your hearing loss in your right ear. (For several months, Jon had noticed he had hearing loss in his right ear.  Because he wears in-ear monitors to lead worship several times a week, he thought he had blown out one of his eardrums.)
Jon: OK. I’ll tell them that.  I guess I could also tell them that for the past week, the right side of my face has felt kinda numb and tingly.  
Me: (eyeballs HUGE, freaking out inside, but staying totally cool and calm on the outside) Um, ya. I guess you could mention that too.  I didn't know about that.  (Seriously babe!? Why haven’t you mentioned that?!)  
Jon: I think I just need to eliminate gluten or dairy and my tingly face will go away.  People say that fixes everything.  

We arrived at the ER and as we walk in, Jon told the doctor how embarrassed he is for being there just for a headache…but his mom is making him come.  :)  He told the doctor of the headaches and vomiting… of the hearing loss and the numb face.  The doctor decided to do a CT scan.  Then before doing the scan, the doctor had Jon pull on his arm with each hand.  
“Are you left handed?” He asked Jon.  
“Nope.  Right handed.”  
“Hmm.. that’s interesting.  Because your left arm is stronger than your right arm.”
“There’s no way.  My right arm is definitely stronger.” Jon told him.
“OK let’s try again.”  (has Jon pull on his arms again)  “Nope, your right arm is definitely weaker.”  (then has Jon push against him with each leg)  “Your right leg is too.  Your right side is definitely weaker than your left.  I’m going to do an MRI.  No, I’m going to do an MRI with contrast.  Let’s get an IV in you and get this going.”

I snapped this pic of him in our ER room... before he was wheeled away for tests.

From there, it all happened so fast and so slow all at the same time.
They wheeled Jon back to the MRI room.  I walked behind him.  They took him into the room.  I sat in the tiny MRI waiting room.  And waited. And waited.  I posted on Facebook, asking for prayer.  I wasn't sure if I was being dramatic by asking for prayer or if I was being wise.  I'm sure everything would be fine.  I heard the technician ask Jon why he had come in tonight.  Hmm.. That’s interesting.  Maybe he didn’t see anything on the scan, so was curious what brought him in.   Jon was soon being wheeled back to our room in the ER and we sat there, waiting to be discharged.  After a little while, the ER doctor walked into our room, closed the door behind him, and sat down.  “I have good news and I have bad news.  The good news is you don’t have meningitis or a brain aneurysm.  I thought it could have been either of those  things.  The bad news is, I found a massive tumor in your brain.  You are not going home.  You are being admitted to Intensive Care Unit and you are going to be having brain surgery in the next 24 hours.  I am so sorry.”  Shock was our emotion.  Jon asked when he’d be out of the hospital.  He told them he was hosting the National Worship Leader Conference on Friday.  He wanted to know if he’d be out by then.  It was a big weekend for him, he explained.  They were gracious and gently told him he should probably cancel that.  

Can’t talk right now. Will try to call in the next 20 minutes. Please pray. Jon has a tumor on his brain. Getting admitted to ICU tonight. Probably having brain surgery in next 24 hours.”   This the text I sent to my family at 11:58pm on October 1, 2013.  

I slipped into the hallway and made those middle of the night phone calls you never want to make or receive.  Jon was wheeled up to the ICU where he was told basically to not move.  He wasn’t even allowed to walk to the bathroom.  The doctor pulled me aside. “You must get some sleep tonight.  I know that sounds crazy right now.  But tomorrow you are going to get A LOT of information.  Jon will not be able to process it all.  It will be up to YOU to listen and make decisions.  If you don’t sleep, all you will hear is “Wah..wah..wah..”  You need a clear mind.  Sleep.”  I couldn’t begin to even process what he was saying - How would I possibly process tomorrow’s information?  By now it was 2am.  I tucked Jon into his bed at ICU and drove home to gather some of his belongings.  I pulled into our driveway.  Crap.  The kids.  What will I tell the kids?  Jon’s parents were on our couch.  They said they would spend the night.  I walked up the stairs.  Jon blesses each of our kids every night before bed.  I walked into each child’s room while they slept and said the blessing.  “May the Lord bless you and keep you and make His face to shine upon you.  May He lift up His countenance to you and bring you peace. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”  4 times over. I cried each time.  I cannot do this alone.  What if this is what my life looks like from now on?  Will Jon ever make it home?  I crawled into my bed.  I had to lay down.  And I had to be here for the kids when they woke in the morning.  They had to hear it from me.  What would I tell them?  Why wasn’t daddy home?  What was going to happen to daddy?  I had no answers.  

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

We're Out of the Waiting Room!!!

For 1 year, 11 months, and 15 days, Jon and I have been in a Waiting Room. Not physically, although we’ve definitely sat in our fair share of those.  We’ve been in the Waiting Room of life.  I have blogged about it. I have talked about it. I have been thankful for it.  I have complained about it. I have been patient and I have been impatient. I have had excited anticipation and I’ve been annoyed.  I have felt the full range of emotions about this room.  This room where we have been invited to wait and trust.  And seek and listen.  We have spent much of our time in the Waiting Room on our knees.  We have sat in silence, longing to hear even a whisper of what God would reveal to us.  And He did.  He continued to say, “Wait patiently.”  Sometimes I received that beautifully.  Other times I rejected it, kicking and screaming.  Do you know how frustrating it is to want to move on in life but instead, you hear, “Wait.”  Let alone, “Wait patiently”!??!  The nerve. ;)  But He continued to speak the same thing.  And when I’d think that he had forgotten about measly little us, sitting in the Waiting Room, He would show up.  He would reveal His presence and remind us of His sovereignty.  He would reassure.  He’s so gracious like that.  

And so we continued to wait.  Sometimes patiently.  Sometimes not-so-patiently.  But incredibly, we have not twiddled our thumbs in the Waiting Room.  No, God was kind enough to give us ‘work’ to do there.  He used us in the Waiting Room.  How gracious He is.  

And then not only did He use us, but he taught us.  He taught us about what any good dad or mom would: our posture.  Like a mom who is constantly reminding her child to sit up straight.  Or a dad who is reminding his child to make eye contact.  Our Father taught us the importance of our hands.  Think about the most precious thing you own.  Now imagine being able to hold it in your hands. Would you want to hold it loosely? No way!  You wouldn’t want to risk it being dropped or broken or stolen.  You would hold it tight and close to you. You would protect it with all that you are.   Well God, in his incredible upside down economy, invited us to do the opposite of what our instincts told us.  Our instincts said, “We’ve lost a lot. We better hold on to whatever we have left!  We better take what we have in our hands and really protect it and try to make the most out of it.”  Everything in our world says that is the smart way to live.  And yet God invited us pry our tight fisted grip wide open.  Not just a little, like a loose grip. But full-on hands opened wide, fingers flat, palms facing up.  “Leave your palms up.  Lay everything you have in your hands.  Everything you love.  Everything you hate.  Every secret hope and every extravagant dream.  Put it in your hands and leave your hands open.  Trust that I will take out of your hands what you don’t need and put into your hands what you do.” His voice was so clear.

And so that’s what we did.  We waited. And we waited.  Palms up. Hands open wide.  And there were times when the Waiting Room door was cracked open.  And we thought we heard our name being called.  Job opportunities, ministry invitations.. they came and we asked, “God, was that our name being called?  Is this what you’re putting in our hands?”  “Wait patiently,” was His response. Yet again and again.   

And then a few weeks ago, we heard it.  Loud and clear.  “Ramsay Family!  Ramsay, Jon Ramsay!”  We were invited out of the Waiting Room!  It was so surreal.  You want to know exactly how I heard this?  (it was different for Jon and I.. but this was my experience)  I was in church worshiping - singing a song I know and love.  And as I was singing, I had my hands directly in front of me - wide open, with palms facing up... Singing a song of surrender and following God.  Singing the same words and in the same posture I had been for almost 2 years.  And as I was lost in the music, with my heart totally surrendered, my hands all of a sudden felt heavy.  I know.  This is crazy talk, right?  I’m just telling you what happened.  My opened hands, palms facing up, felt a physical weight on them.  And right then I heard, “You have waited on me.  You have lived your life open handed.  I have now put something in your hands.  Go.  Your next season starts now.”  

A few days later, Jon was officially offered an incredible job.  We took time to pray over it.  God confirmed this was it.  And so after 16 years as a pastor, and 6 years on staff at Mariners Church, and 2 years after a brain tumor stripped him of the ability to do what he has always vocationally done, Jon resigned and accepted a position with the non-profit “I Like Giving.”  He also is going to seminary at Talbot to get his masters in Spiritual Formation and Soul Care.  Wow.  Crazy.  Amazing.  These are the words that come to mind.   It’s been 8 days since we left the Waiting Room.  8 days of fun and excitement and passion and gratitude.  8 days of reflecting on God’s faithfulness. His sovereignty.  His goodness.  His loving care.  Wow.  Crazy.  Amazing.

If you are in the Waiting Room, know that you are not alone.  God is there with you.  He will use you.  He will teach you.  He will bless you.  He won’t be early in calling you out of there but he also won’t be late.  And if you hear an odd sounding voice that doesn’t quite sound right to you, and you see the door cracked open a little bit, and a name is called that kind of sounds like yours but it’s pronounced wrong and it’s misspelled on your file?  It’s not for you!  Don’t settle.  Don’t jump at the first thing that you think will rescue you from the season of Waiting.  Be patient.  (And when you can’t be patient, know that God’s grace covers it. Trust me.  I know.)  :)  And when the time is right, your name will be called.  And boy will it be worth the wait.  His love for you is personal.  His knowledge of you is intimate.  His gifts for you are good.  And when He calls you out, you won’t just see the door cracked open a tiny bit.  The Waiting Room doors will swing wide open!   And you can walk out of there, confident that He who began a good work in you was faithful to complete it.

Amen and amen. 

Monday, August 31, 2015

Single Moms - Your #1 Job Might be to DITCH Your Boyfriend...

Last Wednesday evening, I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life as well as one of the most horrifying experiences of my life.  And they happened at the exact same time.  I was able to score some tickets to the Taylor Swift concert for my daughter’s 9th birthday and I cannot express to you the sheer joy I felt as I watched my daughter dance carefree, singing along at the top of her lungs, and staring in awe and wonder at the lights, dancers and THE Taylor Swift. It was magical.  And at the exact same time, my world was absolutely rocked as I listened to a young girl sitting behind me get screamed at, cussed at, and berated by her mom’s boyfriend.  There are no words to adequately describe what I heard and saw.  

We were dancing our hearts out in the middle of one of the songs and all of a sudden I hear a man’s voice screaming behind me.  Every other word was a profanity and as I glanced to see what was going on, I found a very petite young girl, probably 11 years old at the most, wide eyed with tears streaming down her cheeks.  In between the man and the young girl, sat the young girl’s mom.  She sat silent, while her boyfriend leaned over her, getting in the young girl’s face with “f-ing this” and “f-ing that,” berating her at the top of his lungs.  When he would lunge toward her with threats of leaving the concert or taking away her cell phone, the mom would push him back a little, telling him to calm down.  He had a bottle of beer in his hand.  There was no calming him down.  Soon the young girl was sobbing, no, whaling.  It was a guttural cry.  After what seemed like an eternity, he finally sat back against his chair.  The young girl sat silently, while her mom turned to her and put her arm around her to make sure she was ok.  The young girl proceeded to ask her mom why she let him scream at her. The young girl then said, “Mom, he doesn’t even respect you or listen to you -  he wouldn’t calm down when you asked him to.” Instantly, the mom removed her arm around her daughter and started berating her own daughter.  “You know what?  YOU’RE the reason he did that!  You provoked him! It is all YOUR fault!”  And on and on she went, hurt and defensive from her young daughter’s statement.  The girl started sobbing again.  The mom rolled her eyes, then turned to her boyfriend, kissed him, and put her arm around him.  The line had been drawn.  Her allegiance was clear.  This young girl had no one.  She had no safe place. I wanted to slip her a note.  “Meet me in the bathroom.  I’ll help you escape!” I wanted to say.  Clearly that would be illegal.  I felt helpless in the moment.  The boyfriend was intoxicated and he was a BIG guy.  I felt fearful for my own physical well being (as well as my daughter’s) at the thought of jumping in.  Perhaps I should have.  The best I could do was keep turning around to let him know I could hear and was upset.  He could care less. 

What happened next was absolutely insane.  Taylor Swift started singing another song and it was one that everyone loved.  The boyfriend jumped to his feet, hollering in excitement and then stood on his chair - waving his hands in the air, dancing. The mom hopped to her feet, singing at the top of her lungs.  They were laughing and happy.  Almost like they had just gotten A HIGH off of what had just happened.  And the young girl?  She hopped up too, following their lead.  She turned off her emotions and jumped back into ‘concert mode.’  She pulled out her phone and started recording the beloved song, singing along.  They walked out of the arena that night as if nothing had happened.  But something had happened.  And I was still sick to my stomach.

I have never, EVER heard someone talk to a child like I did that night. And yet I know it happens every night.  Somewhere.

Single moms: Your #1 job in this world is to love and protect your children.  I know you are lonely.  I can only imagine how difficult it is to raise children alone.  My mother-in-law was a single mom for a season, and I have heard of the weight she carried.  I am so sorry you are in that difficult position.  I know you want a partner to do life with.  Someone to help carry the load.  I also know that at your core, you just want to love and be loved.  That is a very valid desire. I don’t think there’s a person in this world who doesn’t want that for themselves.  But because your #1 job is to love and protect your child, that means you have to date with caution.   No matter how good looking, how much money he has, how good his intentions…. if he doesn’t help you accomplish your #1 job, he  should have no place in your life.  If you think it’s “normal” and/or acceptable for a boyfriend to yell and scream, it’s not.  It’s just not.  At you or your child.  A loving relationship doesn’t consist of rage.  Even if he tells you he’s sorry.  Even if he tries to buy you a gift to show his remorse.  The damage is too great.  To yourself and to your kids.  Love yourself enough to raise the standard.  And if you can’t love yourself enough, love your child enough.  You are teaching your kids what a healthy dating life looks like.  What a healthy relationship looks like.  Stop the cycle of pain.  Show them what strength really looks like.  When your kids are grown and out of the house?  Fine.  Date who you like.  (though it will still ruin your life, at least you’re not ruining other young lives in the process)  But for now, choose your child.  Every time.

To married moms and dads: The above goes for us too. 

To young kids: If your mom (or dad) is dating someone who is unhealthy or unsafe, tell someone.  If your mom or dad is unsafe, tell someone.  If no one in your family is a safe person, talk to a teacher, school counselor, or church leader.  If nothing else, start with a trusted friend.  But whatever you do, TELL.  I want you to know this: It is not ok.  Rage is not ok.  Even if you messed up. Even if you made a mistake.  Even if you “provoked it.”  The response should never be rage and swearing and degradation.  You are of great worth.  You are special.  There is no other “you” in this world.  No matter what you are told or how you are made to feel, you have a purpose in this world.  Don’t let anyone hold you back from fulfilling that purpose.

Look. I know this is a gray area.  It was toward the end of the concert and I honestly thought, “If I go and get a security guard, by the time I get back up here, the concert will be over. And what are they going to do?  He only yelled at her.  He didn’t lay a hand on her or threaten any bodily harm.”  Was it ugly?  Yes.  But was it illegal?  Probably not.  My quick online research in the moment revealed that there are very few steps that can be done to help in a situation like this.  So, to the blog I went.  

Parents - Single or Married - Let’s love our kids toward better behavior.  The shaming and rage and anger is not going to produce the behavior change we want.  I mean, maybe for a time, behavior modification can work with enough fear based parenting. But to reach their heart and have life long behavioral changes, we must start with love.  Love and protection.  From whoever it may be - boyfriend, girlfriend, coach, teacher, parent’s friend… It’s our #1 job.  

And to Staples Center - Maybe, just maybe, one thing that you could do to help in this… stop serving alcohol at events that are mostly attended by children and their parents.  The majority of the audience that night consisted of parents and their kids.  Clearly alcohol isn’t an appropriate ingredient in a “parent/child night out.” Not to mention for the drive home.

And finally to Taylor Swift - We love you and loved your show.  Thank you for a magical evening and  hopefully for lessons learned.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Jon's Latest MRI Results...

Well, we just walked out of our appointment with Jon's neurosurgeon to go over the results of the MRI.  Can I just say how grateful I am for the sovereignty of God?  Jon had fears associated with both possible outcomes of this test and yet we are completely dependent on God and His perfect will for Jon's life.

The MRI results showed NO major growth in Jon's tumor!  There was a possible minor change in the base of the tumor, but not enough to be worried or take action at this point.  The neurosurgeon said, and I quote, "If you are brave, we could drill back into the skull and do another 12 hour surgery and try to remove more of the tumor.  Only if you're feeling brave."  (It was a bit tongue in cheek) ;)  We told him we are NOT feeling that brave.  ;)

He did recommend doing a panel of blood work to help navigate through some of Jon's symptoms.

The bottom line is that Jon's fear of them "finding nothing and having this just be his new normal" may just be reality.  We were able to chat with another brain tumor survivor who said she experiences the same symptoms that Jon does.. and she's about 2 years further along on her journey than Jon.  Hm.  I know typically that should make someone feel better.  "Normal" at least.  But to Jon, it's scary.  It makes him feel trapped.  As we stood in the parking lot after his appointment, Jon admitted he walked into the appointment feeling "open handed" and walked out feeling burdened.  And trust me, we can throw scripture and God's goodness all over this situation.  It's not that.  It's just the human-ness wanting to be well.  Fully well.  No symptoms.  Nothing holding any parts of him back.  A thriving body.  We still fight to navigate the space between considering this our "new normal" or "hoping this is a temporary 'new normal' - until he is fully healed."  But what if this is just the "new normal?"  Like, period.  What if these symptoms of him "not feeling well" are actually the new normal of what he should now be calling, "feeling well" in his new state?  Ugh.

I paused writing this to call Jon and said he was on a walk.  He said, "I feel like I just took a nose dive."  So he's walking.  And praying.  And surrendering.  Once again.

This should be a REALLY HAPPY post.  And it is.  There was no new growth!  (insert happy dance, right?!)  But in an attempt to "live out loud" and walk this road openly and honestly, I share with you the messy stuff too.  The complicated, confusing, battle ground pains.  Thank you for covering us with grace on the journey.

I started this post by worshiping God for His sovereignty.  And that's where I want to wrap it up, too.
It's the beauty of trusting in and having relationship with a perfect God.  We declare who He is.  We give Him our junk.  And then we rest in who He is.   Lather. Rinse. Repeat.  Sometimes several times a day.  We remind ourselves of who He is.  We bring our brokenness, hurts, desires, hopes, EVERYTHING to Him.  And then we exhale into His arms.

Thank you for praying. Thank you for loving.
We are grateful to be journeying alongside such gracious, patient warriors.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Jon's Having An Unplanned MRI....

Hello there.
Yes, you. The one who chose to read this blog, knowing it's about Jon and his brain tumor journey.  Thanks for being here.  Still.
It's been awhile since I've written on this topic.  I'm sitting here trying to figure out why that is.  It's not because there's nothing to say.  I think it's because we got tired of talking about it.  Or maybe we thought you were tired of hearing about it.  Hmmm... Not sure.  Well, regardless, we're here again, asking for prayer.

For the past little while, Jon has not been feeling his best.  Several times while walking up the stairs, he has tripped or lost his balance.  Then a few weeks ago, Jon fell off of a ladder. (Jon has always had really great balance.  I mean, he even climbed Mt Whitney last year, post surgery!  So this is not "normal" for him.)   A few days after his fall, he put in a really long, physically intense work day in Mexico where he led our church on a trip to build a house for a family in need.  Since that day, his body has been completely worn out and has not been able to recover.  Anyway, there are some other issues he has been experiencing, but the bottom line is his Neurosurgeon has decided he would like to do an MRI to see if the tumor is growing again and causing these issues.  (His routine MRI was not scheduled for several more months)
So tonight, at 9pm, Jon is going to the hospital for his MRI.

I will be honest for Jon here.  (I think he'll give me this freedom)  :)  Jon does't know which he is more scared of:
1) the possibility that they find something in the MRI
2) the possibility that they will find nothing in the MRI, but instead, they'll tell Jon this is just his 'new normal.'

Either way, he's scared.  Would you pray for him?  Ultimately, of course our prayer is that they find NOTHING bad in this MRI.  Our prayer is always that the tumor would be gone!  And at the same time, we continue to pray for healing from what is going on.  Complete healing.  Healing in Jon's balance, his endurance, his strength...  Healing for his eye, his facial paralysis, even his hearing.  God is able!

Thank you.
Thank you for praying.  Again.  And again.

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever!  Amen.  - Ephesians 3:20

Monday, June 1, 2015

One of THE Best Gifts You Can Give Your Child....

The week before my wedding, my dad and I were on a lunch date and he looked at me and said, "Deanna, is there anything you wish I would have done better as a parent?  Is there anything I need to apologize for?"  "Hmmm.." I thought for a moment, "I wish you would have put me in sports. You saw I had musical talent and so that is all you encouraged me toward.  But I wish I would have also been encouraged toward being an athlete."  He looked at me with kind eyes and said, "You're right.  I am so sorry your mom and I didn't do that.  Will you forgive me?"  I laughed a little, as clearly this wasn't something that he needed forgiveness for.  Thinking through 21 years of growing up, and my one complaint was that my parents encouraged me toward what was clearly a special gift and didn't encourage me toward what was clearly not my gift?  I'd say we were doing alright.  ;)

The profound thing in that lunchtime moment, was that the question my dad asked me was absolutely, completely normal in our home.  My dad and mom would always check in with us.  They would always be seeking to 'right' any 'wrongs.'  I have such beautiful memories of my dad or mom walking into my room, sitting on my bed, and saying, "I'm so sorry for how I reacted in ---- situation today.  Will you forgive me?"  Or "I didn't handle ---- fairly today.  I'm so sorry.  Will you forgive me?"  There was no pride.  And if there was ever a moment when pride would try to sneak in, it was openly talked about.  I remember a few times my mom was struggling to admit fault in a situation where she clearly was in the wrong.  She kind of talked in circles and I remember my dad saying, "I feel like we're on the show 'Happy Days' and The Fonz won't admit he's wrong.  You know how he has to stutter it out "I was wr-wr-wr-wr-wrong."  We all laughed and that became a "thing" in our family for my mom.  If she would ever find herself talking in circles, trying to justify something she had done, she would pause and go, "OK.  I was wr-wr-wr-wr-wrong."   We laughed. And loved. And offered grace.

As a mom of 4 today, I now marvel at the incredible display of honesty, intentionality, and humility my dad and mom parented with.  When I think of the gifts I want to pass down to my kids, these rank on the top of the list.

This past week, Jon and I called a family meeting with our party of 6.  We had been sensing tension in our home.  Not a lot of patience, bad tone of voice, getting angry quick... the list of what we were seeing/experiencing was getting long.  We were definitely in need of a re-boot.  We sat down as a family and Jon and I started out by apologizing.  We confessed the areas where we were not being the best of who we are.  (impatient, frustration turning to anger, overreacting...) We gave specific instances.  We asked for their forgiveness.  Then we talked about the tone of our home and what we were seeing in the kids interactions with each other and us.  The kids joined the conversation and talked about where they thought they could improve - even apologizing to each other and us.  We set out a new plan.  Reminded ourselves of who we want to be.  And then we prayed together, asking God to help us to live that out.

The gift of humility in parenting is so important and so beautiful.  Our kids need to know we are not perfect.  They need to know that we need forgiveness just as much as they do.  They need to know that when they mess up, we are a safe place to come to and confess it.  Because we understand the desperation for grace.
And when we prove to be a safe, loving, grace-giver, we teach them to be safe, loving, grace-givers.  And this world begins to heal.  One person at a time.  One relationship at a time.
But it starts with me.  And you.
Maybe in a family meeting in your living room.
Or maybe at a coffee shop a week before your daughter's wedding.
It's never too late.  And it's never too early.

....Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me...

Thursday, May 7, 2015

My Tween's Attitude and My God's Grace...

My oldest child, Jackson, is apparently a "tween."  I didn't know that was a real thing until recently.  I have always thought of everything before 'being a teenager' as a really fun and sweet stage.  And then I imagine the teen years as being really fun and hormonal. ;)  But apparently there is thing thing called being a "tween" and I didn't realize how Real it was until recently, when my almost 11 year old super sweet, kind, respectful son spoke to me in a tone of voice that, well, let me just say it was a tone of voice that made me want to put him over my knee for a spanking.  If only he were 2. ;)  My eyeballs got big and my heart started racing and it. got. real.  My husband and I both stared at each other, speechless.  We held our tongues and through gritted teeth sent him to his room.  We clearly needed a minute to gather our thoughts (and our jaws off the floor).  For several minutes we prayed and asked God for wisdom.  We wanted to reach his HEART.  We know we can force his behavior.  We know we can tell him that something he did is wrong and give him a consequence.  We know we can force his hand and have him preform how we want him to.  But what good is that in the long term?  We want to reach his heart.

We didn't feel a ton of clarity on what to say, but our hearts were beating at a normal rate again, so we walked into Jackson's room.   We began talking together and Jackson was very defensive.  We explained why his tone matters and why it's not ok.  And then we went on to remind him of who he is.  Jackson is kind.  He is gentle.  He is respectful.  He is loving.  The way he had spoken to me wasn't really "him."  At least not the best version of him.  After a few minutes, Jackson started to cry.   I'll never forget what he said through his tears.  "I know I'm not supposed to talk like that.  And I don't want to talk like that.  But sometimes I feel like I can't control myself."  Eek!  I couldn't contain my excitement.  "Oh Jackson," I said.  "I'm so glad that you feel like that.  I love that you were able to express that to us.   You know why?  Because THIS is how you know that you need a savior.  THIS is how we know we need Jesus.  Because we ALL mess up.  We ALL make mistakes.  And when we know the right thing to do, and we don't do it? That's sin.  And when we acknowledge that we didn't do the right thing, we realize how desperately we need God's grace.  Dad and I need it.  You need it.  And these moments just highlight it.  What a beautiful reminder.  And you know what?  You're right.  You can't control yourself.  But I remember sitting with you when you prayed and asked God to come into your life.  You surrendered your life to Him and His spirit is now with you and in you.  Always.  So although you can't control your tongue, His spirit can!  We are not patient and kind and gentle and have self control by nature.  But God in us helps us to be those things.  And when we mess up, because we all are going to mess up at times, He offers His grace.  I love that you got to experience your need for His help today.  Because daddy and I need it every single day. Welcome to the club."

We talked for awhile more and hugged and then left Jackson in his room.  He was laying on his bed and just needed time to process.  Jon and I went back into our room, cleaning up our closets and folding laundry.  I continued to pray for Jackson - that God would reach his tween heart.  After about 40 minutes, Jackson came into our room with a completely different spirit.  He almost had a spring in his step.  He excitedly said to Jon, "Dad, I was just in my room praying and I felt like God told me that I just need to start over.  That I needed a 'do-over.'  So dad, can I have a do-over?  Can I start today over?"  Jon gave him a huge hug and said, "ABSOLUTELY."  I peeked from around the corner and smiled at him.  "Jackson, you can always have a do-over.  Any time you ask for a 'do-over' the answer will be yes.  Daddy and I need "do overs" all the time.  And because God gives them infinitely to us, we will give them infinitely to you."

Friends, I don't know about you, but I was preaching to myself as much as I was preaching to Jackson.  Do my failures push me down into a pit where I focus on my inadequacies?  Or do they simply highlight my need for a savior and propel me toward worship?  Do they weigh me down?  Or do they compel me toward repentance and ultimately freedom?
Do you need a "do-over"?  Me too.
Need another one in 5 minutes?  God's grace is deep enough, wide enough, high enough.

God, help us to love our babies how you love them.  Help us to reach their hearts.  Help us to heap on the grace.  And when it's needed again?  Give us the extra portions.  Thank you for the grace you lavish on us.  It is extravagant and knows no bounds.  May our failures only propel us toward humility and ultimately toward You.  May we live in the knowledge of Your unconditional love and may we extend that same gift to those whose lives intersect ours.
With hearts bursting full of gratitude,  Amen.

Friday, April 10, 2015

I'm Either Depressed or I Need a Nap....

“I’m either depressed or I need a nap.”  I said to Jon, a few weeks ago.  I laughed as I said it, imagining myself telling my friends, “I thought I was depressed.  Turns out I just needed a nap! Who knew?!?”  LOL!  (Hmm..  I wonder how many other “fake depressed” people are out there, who just need a freaking vacation?)  The truth is, I didn’t know which one it was.  All I knew was I was not myself.  Wait, let me rephrase that.  I am currently not myself.  Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not a 24 hour, every day thing.  But the “whole” of me is just not feeling “whole.”  Things that usually roll right off my back have started to ruffle me.  If something “bad” happens at 9am, my whole day feels shot.  If you know me, you know that is so not “me.”  The “me” I’ve been my whole life is laid back, easy going and generally happy.  The “me” I have been recently seems more skeptical, easily defeated, and fragile.  The best compliment my husband has ever given me was when he told me, “Babe, you are easy to come home to.”  I mean, come on. How cool is that to hear from your husband!?!  I pride myself on being a low-maintenance wife.  (his words, not mine)  ;)  But for several days, I found Jon coming home, looking at me and saying, “How are you doing today, babe?”  His demeanor and vibe was definitely testing out the temperature of home-life that day.  He just wanted to know what he’s walking in on - a happy wife, a tired wife, a frustrated mom?   In the past, he’s always come home to a pretty even keeled wife.  Even on my hardest days as a mom, I’ve never “tapped out” when Jon’s walked in the door.  But for the past few weeks, I’ve found his presence to be sweet relief to my tired soul.  I just couldn’t put my finger on the “why.”  

I shared my current struggle with my community group.  I shared it with friends.  Heck, if I’ve run into you lately and you’ve asked me how I’m doing, I’ve probably told you!  I’m a “live out loud” kind of girl and I just know I’m not ‘the best version of Deanna’ right now.  I’ve been working out and eating healthy.  And Lord knows my Graves Disease, radiation-demolished thyroid is no help.  But deep down, I know it’s beyond that. I have had several friends, after listening to me talk about this, ask if I want to go on medication.  Now I do not judge anyone who is on medication for depression.  I’ve sat with friends who have suffered through depression and in the truest sense of the phrase, I know ‘the struggle is REAL.’  However, I knew that my struggle was not a chemical imbalance.  I wanted to get to the core of my brokenness.  Not mask it.  

So last Tuesday night, as Jon and I sat with a small group of trusted advisors and friends, as we were all sharing about what God is doing in our lives, I blurted out, “My burden is heavy.”  As the words came out of my mouth, I knew it.  THIS. IS. IT.  I'm not depressed.  And a nap isn't going to fix anything.  My burden is freaking heavy.  All sorts of Bible verse swirled in my head… “My burden is light..” says the Lord.  “Cast your cares upon Me.” He reminds.  “My yolk is easy..” He promises.  But I wasn’t living in any of that.  My cares weighed approximately 10,000 tons and they seemed to make their home on my person, like a parasite, eating me away. 
I. Can’t. Live. Like. This.  
“You weren’t created to live like this, my sweet daughter.” He whispered.  
“SHHH!” I said. “I can’t hear my fears and doubt when you’re talking to me.  The fears and doubts are important.  They need time and attention.  They are real, valid things, ok?   What if… what if…” 

You guys.  My burden has been so freaking heavy.  18 months ago, when life turned upside down, God literally carried me.  His peace ruled my heart.  His faithfulness was undeniable.  Well, 18 months later, I think I took a look around me and went, “Holy crap. Is this really my life?  Is this really my new normal? How did I get 4 kids?  4 kids is a lot.  And my husband is on disability.  Still.  Because he can’t do his job. The job he’s done for the past 16 years and went to college to get his degree in.  He’s starting over at ground zero.  And the singing we’ve done together - literally traveling the world together - will never be the same again.”  

And then fear and doubt started to seep into other areas…  “I live in Orange County.  Do I really fit in the OC?  Does the OC like me?  Does it like my kids?  I mean, we’re SO not the high income earning, sports excelling family.”  

And then it crept from fear and doubt into ungratefulness… “Look at everything in my house.  Everything in my house is either hand-me-downs or gifts from people.  I used to walk in here every day, overwhelmed with gratitude for how God provides.  Now I look around and think, “I didn’t get to pick any of this out.  It’s just what others have given me. Is my home even “mine?” I don’t like it anymore.”  

Fear and doubt and ungratefulness are liars.  LIARS.  They have led me down a pit that is heavy.  Oh so heavy.  

Now let me clarify, I don’t live in the pit.  My kids wouldn’t say I’ve been in a pit.  I am so happy at times.  And really enjoy life at times.  But “at times” was never a part of how I typically lived.  It just was. 

Jon recently asked me what it looks like to “cast my cares” on Jesus.  He asked me how I would get to experiencing God’s “light burden.”  I love my husband for this.  Because for the few weeks that it took me to get to this place, he just loved me.  He sat in the pit with me.  He even said it was his joy to journey with me in this.  But once I knew the “what,” he waited a few days, and then encouraged me to explore the “how.”  

Here’s where I’m at on my discovery of “how”:

  1. Say it out loud.  When we speak light into the darkness, the darkness loses its power.  From the moment I blurted out “My burden is heavy,” my burden felt lighter.  Verbalizing things make them feel not so giant sized.  In fact, the more I talked, the smaller it seemed.  Did they go away?  No.  But it helped with perspective.  And to speak it out loud to people who love you and love Jesus?  All of a sudden I had people who were speaking truth to me, reminding me of who I am and who God is. Which leads me to…
  2. Remember who God is.  Sometimes I forget how big God is.  Sometimes I forget how faithful He has been.  One walk down Memory Lane with Him, and my fears and doubts seem to fade away, in light of who He is.  He is SOVEREIGN.  Dangit.  If only I could remember to live in that truth.
  3. Gratitude.  Gratitude is such a beautiful remedy for so many struggles.  Jealousy.  Pride.  Greed.  I can look at the things in my house as evidences of God’s miraculous provision.  Or I can look at the things in my house as a pile of stuff that I didn’t get to pick out. (aka I didn’t have control over.  Ouch. Control. Issues.)  My house is still my house.  The items in it don’t change.  The only thing that can change is how I look at it.
  4. Confession.  I hadn’t confessed my fears and doubt to God.  I had prayed over my HOPES.  But I hadn’t confessed my JUNK.  I hadn’t handed them over to Him to take and deal with.  I needed to name them, confess them and release them.  Confessing them to trusted friends was also a beautiful (and biblical) experience.  So much freedom in confessing in community.  Again, bringing dark things to light = healing.  

I am still learning what it looks like to “cast my cares” and experience God’s “light burden.”  I will write more as I learn more.  And if you are an experienced “caster of cares,” what does that look like in your life?  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

A Homeless Couple Asked my Husband for Money...

I was so inspired last night by my husband, as we sat at the dinner table and went around one by one, sharing about our day.  Jon​ shared that he was approached at work by a man and his girlfriend who are homeless - living in their car.
They asked for money for gas and food.

I assumed Jon would give them money for those things, because we try to live very open handed.  Meaning, we don't judge the person or try to guess what they'll actually do with the money.  We believe that giving has a lot more to do with our own heart of generosity, and less to do with making sure the person we give to is a good steward of the money.  It's our job to be generous.  Living this way has helped us to have such freedom in our giving.  It's a quick heart check.  Does my money own me? Or am I blessed to be a blessing?

We've been on the receiving end of this type of generosity as well - Where someone has given us money and we responded saying, "Wow, we will do _____ with it..."  and the person interrupted us and said, "You do with it what you need to.  I don't need to know about it.  This isn't my money.  It's God's money given to you through me."  Wow.  Jon and I then felt accountable to God for our use of the money.  Not to the person.  It's such a more free way to live for all parties involved.

So yesterday, when approached by the homeless couple, Jon shared that he didn't just give them money.  He asked them out to lunch.  Yes, he filled up their gas tank and yes, he filled their bellies, but more than that, he joined them at the table.  He sat with them and ate with them and asked about their stories.  He got to know THEM.  Not just their need.  THEM.

I listened to him talk about this couple, with a heart of love and compassion.

1 Corinthians 13:3 says, "If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my own body, I could boast about it; but if I did not love others, I would have gained nothing."

Thank you, Jon, for giving me a glimpse of what it looks like to live this out.

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Day I Stopped Caring If My Son Was Cool...

When my first born, Jackson, went to kindergarten, something birthed inside of me...  This desire for him to make lots of friends and be well liked by his teacher and peers.  I don't know why I cared that much or gave it much thought.  Jackson was an easy going kid - super chill and laid back.  He played well with other kids and had a lot of friends in his care-free pre-school years.  But having just moved to a new city, we didn't know any kids that first day of school.   I remember during his Kindergarten year, spying on him on the playground at lunch and recess.  Not often, but still.  Did he have friends?  Did he get picked first or last for soccer teams at recess?  Was he well liked?   Sometimes I saw him playing an intense game of soccer with a big group of friends.  Other times he waited in line for a good old game of 4 Square.  And other times he sat on a bench and talked with a new kindergarten buddy who had a broken arm and couldn't play, just so his buddy wouldn't feel lonely while everyone else played.  Jackson had always just been a good kid.  Like I said, very easy going and chill.

However, I quickly discovered that his way of doing school was very different than MY way of doing school.  As Jackson went into 1st and 2nd and 3rd grade, it became very clear that Jackson loved to do what he loved to do.  One day it was tether ball.  One day it was hand ball.  Another day it was basketball.  And maybe the next it was soccer.  Whatever he felt like playing that day, he did.  It wasn't determined by WHO was doing those things.  It was just about what sounded like fun to him on that day.  This blew my narrow mind and sent me into a tailspin.  "Um, but what about your friends?  Why don't you hang out with your friends and do what they're doing?"  I would ask, perplexed.  "Well, sometimes I do.  But sometimes they want to play basketball and I really feel like playing tether ball."  "Tether ball?  Is that even cool?" I would think to myself.  When I was in grade school, I hung out with my friends.  I didn't care what I was doing, as long as it was with my friends.  Here was my son, doing what he thought sounded fun, regardless of what his friends were doing.  How was I going to get him to change his crazy, care-free ways?!?  ;)

I remember when Jackson was in Kindergarten, a mom from another class who I didn't know that well, made a comment in passing about another mom at school who was super nice, but her son was "a total nerd." Wait, did she just label a 5 year old a nerd?  Wow.  My heart broke for the boy and for the uphill battle I knew would be his, if he was already labeled by a peer's mom in Kinder.  My heart also wondered what was said about my boy?  Was he liked and accepted?  And so the after-school questions continued.  "How was your day, honey? What did you play at recess? With who? Why didn't you play ____?"  Pressure.  Expectations.  Pressure.

At age 4, Jackson started soccer.  At 5 he started baseball.  At 6 he started basketball.  At 8 he started flag football.  And at 9 he tried out for a musical and got a leading role.  (The Donkey in Shrek)  His role was hilarious.  He was funny and witty and clearly had talent.  It was SO fun to see him branch out into the area of musical theater.  While he had fun playing sports, and continued with baseball and flag football, he also continued on to audition for another show.  He LOVED it ALL!  It was a blast to see him thriving in his talents.

And then it happened.  One day Jackson came home from school and told me that a friend of his had told him that he really shouldn't be trying out for a musical because it wasn't "cool."  In fact, he told Jackson it was "lame."  Jackson wasn't hurt or upset at all.  He was actually perplexed.  "Mom," he said, "He's never even been in a musical.  He doesn't know if it's lame.  It's actually one of the most fun things I've ever done!"  Jackson wasn't upset.  He just thought his friend was wrong.  :)  And the friend actually didn't say it to be mean.  He didn't have a rude tone and honestly wasn't making fun of Jackson.  He was really just trying to help his buddy out.  "Stay away from what's not cool."   Except that's not Jackson.  Jackson stays away from what he's not interested in.  :)  What's cool?  Jackson could care less.  He wants to be happy.  And doing things where he has gifts and talents and that's fun? That makes him happy.

In that moment, the moment where he was told not to do something because it wasn't cool, I felt an overwhelming sense of release.  A release of the pressure and the expectations and the mom-fear.   My son is really dang good at singing and acting. And if that's not "cool," then for the first time in my mom-life, I did not care.  Truly.  I had a choice.  I could tell my son to stifle his obvious talent and passion.  Or I could release him to be free to be him.  No pressure to be anything less than that or different than that.  "Jackson, everyone has different skills. Everyone has different talents and abilities.  Everyone has different things that they love doing, and makes them feel alive.  The best thing each person can do is to discover what those things are and do them.  You enjoy baseball and football.  So you do it and you love it.  You are really good at acting.  So you do it and you love it.  Someone else might be really good at sports.  Or really good at playing piano.  Or at building things.  Or drawing.  There is no 'right' or 'wrong.'  There is just being you.  That's the best thing everyone can do.  Be themselves.  No apologies.  No pretending to be someone else.  Be you.  And be happy."  Boom.  Release.  HE has always lived in that.  But me?  It took me a few years to figure that out in regards to him.  So embarrassing.

Since that day, I no longer ask Jackson loaded questions about what he does at recess.   I still ask him -  but I do it because I'm interested.  Not because I want to pressure him toward something else or gauge how I think he's doing socially.  I gauge how he's doing based on HIS happiness.  HIS demeanor.  HIS perspective, not mine.  (DUH!)

Jackson is happy.  Really happy.  Whether he's playing hand ball or basketball.  Whether he's playing baseball or The Genie in Aladdin.  Whether he's playing those things with his best friends or with a group of people he doesn't know.  He is happy.  And there is such freedom in me knowing that his happiness is "enough."

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

For the Mamas who have Miscarried and the People Surrounding Them...

Today is my due date.  March 3rd.  Well, 11 years ago today, it was.  Today was the day I was due to deliver Jon and my very first child.  We had been so excited to start our growing family.  When we found out we were expecting, the first thing we did was go out and buy a minivan.  Ha!  To say we were thrilled would be an understatement.  :)

I'll never forget the doctor's appointment we had as I was about to begin my second trimester.  We watched in awe as the doctor showed us the tiny life on the screen.  Jon was taking pictures of me in my paper gown, as we were getting printout pictures of our newest family member!   And then he said it.  The doctor's words knocked the air right out of my lungs.  "I'm so sorry, but the baby isn't looking and growing like it should."  I couldn't breathe.  The room started spinning.  He sent us home to "wait and see" and come back for more tests the following Monday.  The elevator ride down to the parking lot was silent.  Jon just stood next to me and squeezed my hand.  I blinked hard and fast, but the tears streamed down anyway.  Those tears.  Once they came that day, they were either there or close by for the next several weeks and months that followed.  The following Monday we found out the baby had stopped growing.  Its heart had stopped beating.

I remember my husband wanting so badly to help, but didn't know exactly how.  I remember my friends trying to support me, but not knowing what to do.  I remember struggling with my own feelings of grief.  Was I allowed to be sad over losing a baby at 12 weeks?  That's nothing compared to the loss others have experienced.

As March 3rd's have come and gone, I have reflected and remembered.  I have since walked this journey alongside friends and family who have had similar losses.  And so today, I write this in hopes that it might be helpful to anyone in a similar spot - or who knows someone who is.

To the Mommies, the Daddies, and the friends who surround them:

*Give grace.  To yourself and to others.  Miscarrying is painful and everyone walks through pain differently.  Give yourself and others the grace to walk it loudly, quietly, sadly, angrily and even clumsily.

*Give yourself permission to grieve.  Whether you were pregnant for 5 months or 5 hours, allow yourself to grieve.  There are ABSOLUTELY different degrees of pain and loss when you carry a child for 5 months verses 5 hours.  But your pain is no less REAL.   When you see that "positive test," you start to dream.  Of what will be, what could be, what you hope to be.   Even a short pregnancy comes with its dreams.  Give yourself permission to grieve the loss of all you had hoped for that life.

*Use your pain to feel compassion, not comparison.  I will never forget when my cousin shared with my mom and I the details of her loss.  She lost her full term baby girl.  I cannot even begin to imagine how a loss like that would feel.  My mom, trying to relate, said, "I'm so sorry for your loss.  You know, Deanna lost her baby too."  I wanted to crawl into a hole.  There is no way for me to try to compare my cousin's loss to my loss.  Yes, my pain was real and it turned my world upside down.  But I have such compassion for a loss of that magnitude.  I never want to take away from someone's loss by comparing it to mine.  Just as I don't want to take away from my own loss by comparing it to someone else's.  I just want to use my pain to feel compassion.  To weep with those who weep.  To mourn with those who mourn.

*Give grace. Yes, this point again.  Give grace to that person who just said they know exactly how you feel because they lost their pet goldfish when they were 8, so they can imagine what it felt like to find out your baby's heart stopped beating.  People want to relate. They want to help.  Offer grace when they do it clumsily.

*Don't try to fix it.  Spouses and friends and family want so badly to take the pain away.  So sometimes they say helpful things.  Other times they say things that hurt.  "I'm sure you'll get pregnant again."  "Well at least you already have 2 kids."  "You should be thankful for all the other great things in your life."  And on and on they say "encouraging" things.  Except they aren't encouraging.  They perpetuate this pressure to be better faster.  Hurry up and heal.  Even if the statement is true, it doesn't mean it's beneficial in the moment.

*Give grace.  Yup.  Again.  Give grace to your spouse that is trying to help and heal and fix.  Women have this beautiful privilege of feeling a life growing inside of our bodies.  We feel nauseous and tired and swollen and tiny kicks and hiccups.  Your spouse doesn't have the benefit of those feelings, so doesn't always understand the degree of emotional connection a mama has with her unborn baby - no matter how far along.

*Surround yourself with healthy people who love you.  The best kind of person is the one who gets in the pit with you and grieves with you....but also loves you too much to let you stay there.  Let people love on you by bringing meals. (hint: if you are a friend of someone who has lost a baby, bring food.)  :)  Let people cry with you and meet your needs.  But let them also get you out of the house.  Let them take you out.  Let them remind you of beauty and Truth and that healing is possible.  These friends, if they have a healthy perspective on life, will know how to love you in both of those ways and at the appropriate times.

*Give grace.  You knew it was coming again.  ;)  Grace.  But I'm not talking to the mamas right now.  I'm talking to the spouse and friends.  You grieved with.  You showed up.  And now you're trying to help that person out of the pit.  But they're not ready.  They have found their pit to be quite cozy and warm. Heck, they may have even hung pictures in that place and called it home.  Don't give up.  Give grace.  And try again. This time, maybe gentler.  We will come around.  We want to.  Deep down we do.  We just need someone to be patient with us and love us enough to journey with us - even if it's at a slow crawl's pace.

*If you get pregnant again, celebrate. This one might sound crazy, but honestly, it was the biggest gift my husband gave me.  After the loss of our first pregnancy, the next time we found out we were expecting, I was very hesitant to celebrate.  I was hesitant even to believe that I truly was pregnant.  I knew the test had read "Positive," but every day after that, I second guessed if the baby's heart was still beating, if the baby was growing, etc..  One day, my husband sat me down and said, "You know what?  You are right.  We don't know how this pregnancy will end.  We don't know what tomorrow will hold.  But what we do know is that TODAY you are pregnant!  You are pregnant RIGHT NOW.  So we are going to celebrate the "right now."  We are going to be excited about today!  Because today there is a baby growing inside of you.  That is truth.  That is real.  We'll face a different reality if that comes, but today?  Our reality is YOU are PREGNANT."  And you know what?  He was right.  I was pregnant.  And I remained pregnant until at 9 months I delivered a 9 pound 12 ounce baby boy.  I could have spent those 9 months filled with worry and anxiety or I could have spent it celebrating each day that life grew inside of me.  I'm so thankful I chose the later and had a trusted, loving voice to point me to a better way to move forward.

*If you don't get pregnant and someone else does, celebrate.  This might sound crazier than the point above.  But I'm going to take a moment to use some "tough love" on this one.  While we are grieving our loss, as much as we hate to acknowledge it sometimes, the world around us continues on.  People get pregnant and grow their own families.  You know pregnancy is beautiful and miraculous, but when someone else gets pregnant after you've experienced loss, you don't always view it as beautiful and miraculous.  You view it as mean and cruel.  But the reality is, someone else's pregnancy has nothing to do with yours.  Celebrate with them.  Don't make them ashamed of the miracle growing in their womb.  They can't suck it in.  Or hide it from you.  At least not forever.  And although sometimes seeing a pregnant woman was a reminder of my loss, the beauty of hearing a healthy heartbeat and seeing a sonogram of a growing baby is absolutely something to be celebrated!

Bottom line: Don't do life alone.  Life is better together.  Celebrations are better with people.  And grieving is better when not done alone.  Let people in.  Although it is popular to wait until the 2nd trimester to tell people you're expecting, I am so thankful people knew about our pregnancy earlier than that.  So that when we did experience the loss, we had a huge support system that was aware and there for us.  And when our next pregnancy came, we had huge prayer support for a healthy baby and pregnancy.  People want to journey with you.  Let them.  And when it comes time to journey with someone else?  Be the first in line because you know the beauty of community.

I wish this world knew no loss or pain or death.  But unfortunately that's not the case.  "March 3rd's" happen for someone, somewhere, each and every day.  And so we link arms and put one foot in front of the after day after day.  Giving grace upon grace and knowing that we are better together.  Loving, learning, offering compassion, and being a safe place to heal.

Thank you for being that to me, on this, my first baby's due date.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Why my 10, 8, 3 & 2 Year Old are Paying for Their Own Cruise to Mexico...

We have been trying desperately to teach our kids about money and how to manage their money well.   When they were younger, they didn't have "chores" they were paid for.  Being a part of our family comes with both rights and responsibilities.  Everyone pitches in.  So setting the table, clearing the table, loading/unloading the dishwasher, putting away their own laundry, cleaning their room... those things were all just viewed as being "expected" if you're a member of our family.

Over the past year, however, we have wanted to teach our children about saving and spending and giving.  And to do that, they were going to need some cash.  So we set up a system.  Some of the things they do are still just "expected."  But we made a list of certain things they can do to earn money.  And when I say "money" I mean 25 cents per item on the list.  (the point here is money management, not a giant cash flow)  ;)

Anyway, the kids have been doing this for awhile now.  They have also had birthdays and other holidays, celebrations, and have earned some extra money here and there.  To the point that they now have some actual cash in each of their "give" "save" and "spend" canisters.  Like, enough money to actually purchase something with.

It's become this funny thing though.  The kids have come home from school day after day saying, "I just don't know what to buy with my money.  Maybe another scooter?"  (Insert me cringing, thinking, 'You already have 4 scooters!')  "Or maybe I'll buy another Xbox game."  "Or maybe that dress at Justice."  Jackson and Taylor have had the big (first world) problem of not knowing how to spend their money.  (They also give money away.  But I'm talking about their delegated "spend" money.)

So one day I was deleting some junk emails and came across an email advertising a 4 day cruise down to Mexico over the holiday weekend.  Jon and I have taken these cruises several times and you just can't beat it - room, food, entertainment... all included.  So I began to think... I texted Jon to ask if I was being creative or crazy.  He graciously said 'creative' and let me proceed.  ;)

That night we sat down with the kids and explained to them that money doesn't have to just buy "stuff."  In fact, a common phrase we say in our home is "people are more important than things." So they do know this Truth.  They just hadn't thought about it in the context of money.  We told them about the cruise and explained that instead of buying a "thing," they could buy an "experience."  We told them the cost of the cruse was $120 and if they wanted to pay half of their way, we would pay the other half.

Their responses were both different.  Taylor immediately wanted to do it.  She didn't have as much money saved as Jackson did, so she would have to sell some gift cards she had, to make up the difference.  Jackson however, wanted time to think.  Process.  (he is SO his father)  ;)  We told him there was absolutely no pressure.  If everyone was not on board (pun not intended) we wouldn't do it and it would be totally fine.  We just wanted to introduce another option.  But a few hours later, he came to us and said that he absolutely wanted to spend his money this way.  What's cool?  The 2 babies had recently had birthdays and had been given money for "toys."  But they clearly have no need for one more toy.  So even the littles ended up paying with their own money!

So tomorrow morning, our family of 6 is headed out on a 4 day cruise.  And our kids are paying half their own way!  We take family vacations in the summer.  This is different. This is a few kids making a few creative, and I think wise, decisions with their money.  We let our kids save up for the Lego set they want.  We let them save up for an iPod or new skateboard.  Why wouldn't we expand their minds to all the options?  I'm super proud of the decision they made.

And to make it even better?  A 4 day cruise for $120 was just too good for my dad to pass up!  So my dad and mom are coming too!  With my mom's terminal illness, time with her is precious and we know, limited.  What incredible memories we'll get to create with her - This is a trip we will never forget!

Now that my kids minds have been expanded beyond toys and games, I can't wait to see what they do with their money in the future!  I think they will 'give' more creatively, 'save' for more creative things, and 'spend' on things that truly matter to them.
And me?  Well I only have 2 more words to say.  Bon Voyage!!!   ;)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The End of a 15 Year Era....

2 weeks ago, our church campus (Mariners Ocean Hills) hired a new worship pastor.  He is awesome and a great addition to the Mariners staff.  When he asked if I would lead worship alongside him on his first Sunday, I agreed without hesitation.  I haven't done that at Mariners since Jon's surgery almost 16 months ago.  It was time.  I was so looking forward to it!

So I was shocked when I arrived for sound check, walked on stage, and got a huge lump in my throat.  I started to put my ears in (in-ear monitors, for you non-musical peeps) and had to do one of those "blink really fast so tears don't fall out of your eyeballs" type things.  This crazy flood of emotion came over me that I was not expecting.  You see, Jon usually attaches my in-ear battery pack to the back of my bra strap for me.  We have this "moment" every Sunday where he hooks me up.  ;)  Where was he?  I can't get my pack where I want it!  Wait, am I really crying about my battery pack?  What in the world is going on?!? 


Several months ago, Jon came with me to Hume Lake for a women's conference. I was leading worship and Jon played guitar in the band and sang with me.  This was his first time really playing and singing with a full band since his surgery.  After the Friday night session, we walked off stage and Jon looked at me and sadly said, "I can't do that anymore.  It's all just noise."
Being deaf in one ear has made things very tough for Jon.  Social situations are awkward because he misses about 1/3 of the words in conversations.  Being in loud restaurants are the worst.  He can't hear anything.  When he walks into a room of people and someone yells something out, he has to scan the room to figure out who said it.  He can't tell which direction sound comes from.  However, sleeping has become a new favorite pastime.   He has "trained himself" to put his good ear down into his pillow and he then hears nothing.  He's never had such good sleep in his life!  ;)  

Anyway, a few weekends after that experience at Hume, Jon stood in front of our church and told them that he would not be returning to his position as Worship Pastor.  He just can't physically do it.  He can sing with tracks.  (like when we perform The Prayer)  And he can lead worship with just his guitar.  He can hear fairly well in both of those settings.  But leading worship with a full band (drums, click, vocals, etc..) is just too hard to do on a regular basis.  He can probably get through doing it here and there, but as a full time job?  No.  
So Jon has been working part time (he's still on part time disability) as the pastor of Outreach.  He is loving experiencing a different area of ministry and leading our church in serving our community.  Mariners has been so gracious, so patient, so supportive.  It's been a season of transition and Jon and I have had absolute peace about it.  Well, Jon has.  I thought I did.  Until last Sunday when I almost sobbed over my battery pack.   What was that about??  

For 15 years, Jon and I have led worship side by side.  15 years.  I know when he is going to repeat a chorus or cut out a bridge.  I know when he doesn't know the words and needs me to jump in.  ;)  I lay in bed next to him on Sunday mornings as he sets his alarm extra early and prays over the service for an hour.  I lead worship differently because of what I have learned from him and how he leads.   One of my favorite things to do in life is lead worship alongside Jon.  And as much as I've had peace about what God is doing in and through Jon's life, I hadn't yet grieved the end of an amazing 15 year season of life with my husband.  It is a loss. A big loss.  And even though I had known for awhile that it was coming, the first time walking on the stage to lead worship with Jon's replacement was emotional.  It just made it official.  

Want to know what's amazing?  Jon was totally fine.  Ha!  It wasn't an emotional day for him at all.  He has been processing all of this for months.  Me?  I'm a visual, experiential type person.  I only understand things in theory to an extent.  But once I can see/touch/feel/experience, I can really get it.
Last Sunday, I really got it.  Life is different.  It is good.  But it is different.  And sometimes different means celebrating.  And sometimes different means grieving.  I've done both of those things over the past 16 months.  And I'm doing both of those things in this situation . I grieve what Jon has lost.  What we have lost.  But I celebrate the amazing new things God is doing in Jon's life.  In our lives.  And I celebrate HUGELY that God has brought such an amazing new person to lead our Mariners OH campus into worship.  And I celebrate HUGELY that he invited me to worship alongside him.  What a gift.   

God continues to heal.  Physically.  Emotionally.  He takes away.  And He gives gifts.  He refines.  And blesses.  And sometimes, just sometimes, He uses tears over a battery pack to push us toward greater healing, greater surrender, greater trust.  Two Sundays ago?  Fast blinks.  This past Sunday?  Slow blinks, no lump in my throat.  And from the stage, I had the most beautiful view of a hot, bearded, 30-something year old red head in the 5th row with his arms raised high, worshiping Jesus.  
Cue fast blinks.  ;)  

Monday, January 12, 2015

MRI Results!!!

Friends, THANK YOU for praying....  

Today's appointment with the neurosurgeon revealed that Jon's brain tumor shows NO NEW GROWTH!!!   Praise God!!!!   

The tumor is a little under 1cm, which is still a safe size to not have to operate on or do radiation at this point.  We are THRILLED.  (you can see below... the tumor is on the left side, middle of the screen - the white part.)  

The Doctor then spent time with us, working on a plan for Jon's pain management.  Jon continues to be in extreme eye pain at times and we still haven't found a way to lessen that.  (Well, the neurosurgeon did say that he has had several patients say the ONLY thing that has helped with facial pain is medical marijuana.  But we won't discuss that here.)  ;)

Anyway, THANK YOU for praying.  THANK YOU for pleading.  
God is GOOD.  

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

MRI Day...

"When my heart is overwhelmed and I cannot hear Your voice
I'll hold on to what is true, though I cannot see.
When the storms of life, they come, and the road ahead gets steep
I will lift these hands in faith.
I will believe.
I remind myself of all that You've done
And the life I have because of Your son."

If you have our new worship CD, you know this is how the CD starts.  There's no musical introduction.  It's just these words.  Sung by Jon.  The words pierce my soul every single time.

This morning I sing them with a lump in my throat.
Tonight at 7:30pm, Jon has his MRI.
We've waited 6 months for this MRI, although we haven't thought much about the MRI in the past 6 months while waiting.  We try to just "live in the now" and let tomorrow's worries stay there. Tomorrow.  But when tomorrow becomes today, it takes my breath away.

This tumor has grown in the past.  This tumor has also not grown in the past.  It is not predictable nor does it "act as it should," as our surgeon has previously told us.  (However previously operated-on brain tumor's are supposed to act..??)

And so we enter the next 5 days of 'MRI test until MRI results' with the same posture we've tried to take during this whole journey:  Prayerfully open handed.  God, you are sovereign.  God, we trust you.  God, you are faithful.  God, you are good.  God, we ask for healing.  God, we ask for healing.  God, we plead for healing.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Would you join us in that?  Would you worship God with us?  He is SO worthy.  And would you plead for healing with us?  He is SO able.

We will keep you posted on Monday, as we meet with Jon's neurosurgeon at 3pm for the results.

Love you and thank you for journeying with us.  Still.