Saturday, January 31, 2015

MOPS Centerpieces

My friend Jen and I made these little beauties a few months ago for MOPS.
Aren't they just lovely?

We used a mix of pheasant feathers, wheat grass, burlap, chunks of wood, twine, and narrow vases. All of my favorite things. Our vision was neutral and rustic, with a bit of whimsy. Oh, and cheap. ;) I think we nailed it.

Each table has a different name, inspired by our MOPS theme of "Be You Bravely". Words like...confident, daring, fearless, indomitable (Jen...she's the vocab queen), courageous, adventurous, and resolute.

*photos by the fabulous Liz Bradley

Monday, January 26, 2015

Be You Bravely.

Last year at this time life was a whole lot different. Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of when Derek went into the ICU and was placed on life support. We still can't believe it's been a whole year, even though it seems like forever ago. It’s been sort of a weird week for us, not too overly emotional or anything. A few tears, of course. But mainly, just weird. It’s a little strange to look back and see ourselves in that situation. It's hard to believe that all this really happened. Derek...practically the poster boy for all things hard work and healthy...somehow ends up HERE. It broke us. I think it's fair to say not all the pieces got put back together in the original order either. We're just different now. Better in some ways, definitely. Still hurting in some spots though. It's been a rough year.

Last Friday I shared a bit of our testimony with my MOPS group at church. Our MOPS theme for the year is Be You Bravely, and months before they offered up the mic for women to give personal testimonies about times in their lives when they've had to be brave. I remember shuddering at the thought...clearly that wasn't going to be me. But over the coming weeks and months, I started to see myself up there. It would come to mind a lot when I would worship and sing...and eventually, God won. I sent my friend a message and said I would consider doing it if there was a date that worked. Of course, she came back with Friday Jan. 23...the very time Derek was sick and about to go into the hospital one year before. So I knew I had to do it. God and His timing...why does it always have to be so perfect???

I have to admit though, even though it was a stretch to speak in front of people, it was also an amazing blessing in the end. I'm so glad I did it. I cried thru it at home when I practiced on Derek, but when it came time to get up there and share, I felt peace. I read my little paper and felt relief with every word I spoke. That's God for ya. When you finally cave and give into something He's calling you to do...the fear becomes a joy. Only God.

A few people have asked me for bits and pieces of it to encourage friends of theirs. So I decided to go ahead and post it on here. Why not...if God wanted me to speak it so it could be heard, maybe He also wants me to write it so it can be read.

Like all my writing, it's written like I talk. Not perfect. Enjoy :)


I’ll start by saying that I can’t believe I’m up here doing this. It’s been a bit of struggle for me to get myself up here. This last week I wanted to run for the hills…this is just way outside my comfort zone. BUT, with all that we’ve been thru this last year, standing in front of many of the women who fell to their knees for us in prayer, who fasted for us, who upheld us with notes of encouragement and gift baskets, who shed real tears for us and loved us thru this…how could I say no? God gave us something this past year, in all the hard and hurt and struggle…and along with that comes THIS. This testimony, this story…this opportunity to give Him glory. I’m going to try to not get caught up in too many details here…because this would go from a 15 minute story to hours long. But I do want to share some of it. God packed so much into this story that I believe some of the nitty gritty needs to be shared. To God, and Him alone, be the glory.

Psalm 39:9 says "Blessed are those who have LEARNED to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your prescence.” (emphasis mine) This is our story, the road we walked learning to acclaim Him, and how he lit the path for us.

Many of you know us, but for those of you who don’t, last year my husband Derek got very very sick. About this time last year (to the very day really) Derek’s body was shutting down and we didn’t even know it. He was poisoned and yellow and shaking with a 105 fever. He had this horrific headache; I was playing nurse at home…half wondering if I should be worried…the other half rolling my eyes about how dramatic men can be when they get sick. I thought it was the flu. But there were some odd things going on with his liver and this strange pain in the middle of his chest, right above his stomach. We had an xray and some bloodwork, nothing looked too suspicious. But a few days later we ended up in the ER in Michigan City, mainly because he was starting to act delirious and the pain in his head was becoming unbearable…he kept saying, “I think I’m dying.” I remember calling Dr. Lin and asking him if they would laugh us out of the ER for going in for a headache and fever. It’s sort of in my nature to downplay everything…

We spent 3 grueling days in the hospital before things took a turn for the worst. It’s funny because at that point, even those 3 days were enough to wear me out. I was 28 weeks pregnant at that point…and wiping down every surface I could with disinfecting wipes. Derek was literally on ice, his fever was scary high…he was shaking and moaning and rocking back and forth in his hospital bed. Nurses were coming in every hour to change his soaked sheets from the raging fevers. I remember them doubting us when we call for them to come in and change them again...they just couldn't believe it. They told us it was rare to see adults with fevers like this. It just wasn’t normal what was happening in his body. He didn’t even acknowledge people when they came to visit. That was probably the first time we thought something wasn't right. When we would sit next to him and have conversations and he would just rock back and forth and moan. But still, I wasn’t overly concerned. We were thinking flu or gall bladder. Not dying. We still hadn't realized the situation was serious. I just wanted an answer, some relief for him, for the baby in my belly to be kept safe from infection now that I was sitting for hours in the hospital. Oddly enough, the week prior I had bought a prayer journal…I know now that God had in mind for me to remember my specific prayers, my thoughts, the details…so that I could share them with you. So that I could tell His story of deliverance. I’m so thankful for that.

That first week Derek was so sick that he doesn’t even remember being in the hospital. After those 3 grueling days, he was sent to the ICU and was placed on a ventilator. That changed everything. I went from nursing my sick hubby and standing beside him, to standing alone. And that is hard to explain to you. I never realized what a complete unit we much I depended on him...until I couldn't look into those eyes of his anymore. That’s one of the craziest parts about all of this for me. I laugh about it a little, that I must have really needed some “work” done on this heart of mine. For me to be the one to have to carry it all, to be put in the most stressful situation possible, alone…having to speak for Derek and realizing that I was now the sole able bodied parent. To have my husband dying, to have two little kids at home who just wanted to see their dad, to be pregnant, to have the man made the money --- not making any. We just bought a new house. We had lived in it for less than a month. We were a week away from our first house payment and suddenly had no income. It was winter, freezing cold winter. It’s an old farmhouse in the country…one we had dreams of fixing up. The roof was leaking in a spot, the heating bill was a mortgage in itself, we were in the middle of a bathroom renovation, we even had to keep the water running so the pipes wouldn’t freeze. This was a lot for me to carry alone. I remember lying in bed the first night he was put on life support and staring at the ceiling and wailing from the deepest spot in my soul. "God…this life doesn’t work without Derek in it. This house. This family. This unborn baby. These two little kids who keep asking for their daddy. What do I do with it all if he’s not here? How do I explain to these kids that their daddy isn't coming home?" I couldn’t understand the timing of it all. "God, really???" But there was my Derek, literally dying before me. He was unconscious, on a breathing machine, we found out that his body was septic…all of his major organs were basically shutting down. No tests were explaining any of it. They couldn’t find a source. It did not look good.

That was day 4 you guys. Little did I know there 5 or so more months of madness ahead.  Each day FULL of unbelievable details and the stretching of our faith beyond what we thought imaginable. This is why I know that it was GOD that held all the pieces together. Only God. He truly is Sustainer. Comforter. A Refuge for the weak.

I’ll give you the rest of the story in fast forward… 

We transferred Derek to Northwestern, I lived in a hotel with Derek’s sisters and mom right across from the Hospital. Those were precious times for us together…all of us, wife, sisters, mother… we sat in silence next to him for days and hours…we watched the machines, we prayed, we sang, we cried, we laughed. We stared at the walls. They made me eat. They would ask me what I wanted. I couldn’t answer. I couldn’t taste food. So they would bring me smoothies. They bought every meal for me for weeks. I never carried my purse, just a bag with tissues and my bible. I couldn't handle little tasks like that. I could only pray and sit there. So they took care of me. I spent every hour I could in that hospital room until Pastor Mark told me I probably shouldn’t do that anymore. Friends came and sat with me. The waiting room was always full of family and friends. People brought food. And with that they brought us hope and community and legs to stand on. I got text messages from friends with verses that I devoured. I rarely responded but I lived on their words. I remember walking those halls, up and down, praying as I walked. Smiling at all the staff…they always gave me these eyes…the I feel for you eyes. I guess I sort of stuck out like a sore thumb. I was the crazy bible pregnant lady who sang annoying Christian music to her medical mystery of a sick husband. They referred to him as a medical fascinoma. It was like the extended movie version of the tv show HOUSE, but no one was a jerk. The doctors were amazing. Humble. Kind. A few times my best friend brought my kids up to see me at the hotel room. It was another horrible and heartbreaking reality that wore heavy. My kids. They missed us. They didn’t understand. They went from seeing mommy and daddy every day to not seeing us for weeks at a time. It was so hard to let them go. To not know what their days entailed, to know their hearts were breaking for hugs and cuddles and for home. I knew they were in good hands with my best friend Michelle. But was hard. When she brought them for a visit at the hotel they were strangely uncomfortable with me, my own kids. Rigby, my then 3 year old, warmed up after a bit. I remember him crying when it was time to leave. He couldn't understand why he couldn't stay with me. My 5 year old though...she was a different story. She gave me hollow hugs and wouldn’t look me in the eye. That tore thru my heart. But there was nothing I could do. When it was time for them to leave, I would fall to the floor and wail the moment the door closed. I felt like I lost Derek and my kids. It was a lot. Then I would peel myself off the floor, take a deep breath and rush back to the hospital. I couldn’t bear to not be there.

Derek spent two weeks on the ventilator. Then came weeks and weeks of procedures and tests with him suffering thru it. We’d move from one hospital room to another…and still no answers. By the time we left the hospital in the very end, we had been in 9 different rooms, he had lost 40 lbs. and he looked like death. He could barely stand. He needed a walker. He was so weak. Skin and bones. Eventually we started asking to leave...and finally reluctantly, they let him go. He was home about two weeks and ended up back in the hospital with chest pains. We spent another week there and found out he had a heart defect and giant aneurism and needed open heart surgery as soon as he could survive it. They gave him 6 weeks to heal and gain strength and he also had to undergo an aggressive round of  IV antibiotics. We went home again. We could barely stand our kids…we had lost all patience. They were overly excited to show off and be around us and we had just spent over a month sitting in a quiet room, alone together staring at the wall. We were at our wits end. Two weeks later I had c-section. It was funny because at that point, neither of us were medically released to pick up the infant seat. It was interesting. We had no choice but to keep accepting help. We screwed around with IV poles and had home nurses and tried to adjust to having a newborn and both of us recovering from our hospital stays. It was like a bad joke. Derek went in for open heart surgery when our baby was 4 weeks old. I lived at a hotel again. This time, I brought my kids and my amazing friends and family cared for them so I could be by Derek’s side during the day and tuck my kids in at night. I was so thankful for that. I needed them there. All of them. My friends and my children.  After that last week in the hospital, we came home. We had a lot of healing to do. Physically. Emotionally. Mentally. We had just been thru the shadow of death. Like literally. We had to try to figure out how to live life again as a family. It’s taken an army of loving family and friends and our church to get us here. Lots of tears. Lots of prayers. Lots of undeserved grace sent our way.

There are so many more stories wrapped into this of how God carried us thru this…the nurses Derek prayed with, the pregnant doctor that God brought along thru a schedule switch who went out of her way to share her faith with me and make sure I had a plan in place in case I went into labor, how hard it was/is for me to find my voice and share and write…the times Derek broke down and just lost it, what God did in our marriage, our friendships, our FAMILY. We had to learn to live without answers. Give up our plans. I had to quiet my soul and bow before God and truly trust Him with whatever the outcome would be. It was hard. Humbling. And it's something we're still working thru. God is not done with us yet. I read once to "never put a period where God has placed a comma..." So so true.

It’s crazy to me how MUCH God blesses us in the craziest and most painful of circumstances. How you can go from thinking you know the Lord and his goodness to this ridiculous deeper place of well, just...MORE. There will always be more for us to learn. An ETERNITY of glory awaits us my friends, and even then we won’t know it all. ? A friend shared this quote with me a few months ago…it’s too perfect not to share. 
“Lord, I crawled across the barrenness to you with my empty cup...if only I had known you better, I’d have come running with a bucket.” (Nancy Spiegelberg).
People have commented a lot on my faith thru this. Asking how I held it all together. My answer to that, to be honest, is that left to myself, I’m not brave. I cower in the corner and shake. But Christ in ME, that’s what kept me on my feet. That, and an amazing support system and a ton of people praying.

I do want to share a few other things, maybe more tangible things with you on HOW I survived last year. These are things that I did by the grace of God. My hope in sharing these is that somehow they might make a difference for one of you.

#1 Community
I allowed people to come alongside. To take my kids. To pay my house payment. To come into my undecorated, imperfect home. I let them cry with me. I’ve had to learn to take encouragement from others. In fact, before all of this, I can think of only one person I really allowed to do that, my best friend Michelle. Normally I’m the one dishing out verses and encouragement and upholding the people around me, it’s part of my gift, truly, but it also had become a sense of pride.Through this I’ve learned to leave a little room for others to do the encouraging and I’ve been blessed to shut my mouth and listen. This situation could have been the end of me/of us without this community of women and believers. I’ve learned that brave is better, and even possible, together.

#2 Comb your hair. 
Every morning when my husband was on his death bed, I did something I don’t normally do every day. I took a shower. I did my hair, I lathered this whole body with lotion, I put make up on. These are things I don’t do everyday…and I know it sounds like corny advice…but I think a big part of me keeping it together was that I didn’t let myself fall apart. I took better care of myself because I knew I was in a fragile state. Every morning I forced myself out of bed and I sang and cried my heart out in the shower. Then I wiped the tears away and did my best to do the next thing. Could I have survived without the showers? Of course. But I don’t think I would have felt as good doing it. The point of this advice, from my perspective, is to not lose yourself in a situation. Give yourself a fighting chance and comb that hair.

#3 God’s word. 
I used it like a weapon. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I put on the belt of truth and I took up the sword of the spirit, which is God’s word…(Eph6) and I did battle with darkness and fear. 1John 4:18 says  “Perfect love drives out fear.” Years ago, in a different hard spot in my life, I started memorizing books of the bible. I hid it away in my heart. And when Derek got sick, it again became my hiding place and in a way like my own personal arsenal. I would repeat scripture to myself, in the quiet of my heart and mind, when I didn’t think I could I could bear it anymore {yes, a bit like a crazy person...but whatever works}. The book of James is what kept coming out. It was on repeat, and I had it with me everywhere I went because it was in my heart. There were moments when I was literally cowering in chair in the corner of the room, and God would bring scripture to mind. So I would speak it out loud, and the fear in the room, in our hearts, would disappear. Perfect love casts out fear. When Derek was first put under, I was actually scared of him. He was like a monster almost. Just ask his sister Linda, she sat with him thru some of the worst of it. He would sit up and flail and try to fight himself free from the restraints and tubes. I could barely stand to be in the same room, and yet, he needed me to be. It was horrible. I felt stuck, trapped. But then I started reading and speaking scripture to him whenever an attack would come on, and his soul would quiet. I kid you not. By God’s grace, I clung to His word and it upheld me. It was honestly like God’s word was crazy light, piercing thru the hurt and the dark and the circumstances we were in. There’s power in God’s word. It’s something you can use.

#4 Worship. 
I worshiped every day. I sang my guts out to God. I could barely contain myself.  Every day I would have praise music on in the hospital room, the shower, in the background of my mind. I would sing to Derek when he was unconscious and then later when he was awake. Sometimes even nurses sang along. I remember one nurse came in and said every room should have music on like this. When Derek woke up from his sedation one of the first things he asked me if I had praise music playing. He said he could hear it. He was in a scary dream being unconscious like that, and he said he could hear the music and he would hold onto it, look for it. 

A friend gave me a book called the Prayer That Changes Everything (Stormie Omartian). It’s about worship. God used this quote to get me singing. 
“Sometimes praise and worship will be the only thing you can do in a situation. You will stand and praise God while the tornadoes of life swirl around you, and you will see God move on your behalf. And then you will understand the hidden power of praise. When you understand that concept, it will change your life. It’s not your saying I’ll give it everything I got and the Lord will bless it, but rather, it’s the Lord saying to you, You just bless my name, and I”ll give it everything I have. That’s the hidden power of praise.” 
There’s a simple song I'm loving right now called My God and King (All Sons and Daughters). A dear sweet friend sent it to me. These words explain it perfectly. “I will sing sing sing to my God and King…until all else fades away.” And believe me, it works. Worship takes our eyes off our circumstances and puts them back on God. It makes the impossibly hard, bearable.

I have pages of bible verses jotted down that I could share, but there’s one that keeps coming to mind here lately. It’s Hebrews 12:2 “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…” Only God could come up with something so crazy and use it bless us. He IS Author. He takes what Satan thinks will ruin us and He flips it, and somehow in the end, it becomes that thing that MAKES us. He IS Perfector.

Lots of you have stories just like this. Even my story, is not only mine, it’s not about me by any means. Derek has his own journey wrapped into this, his mom has a different perspective as a mom watching her son suffer, his sisters, and even many of you. God used this one thing to do many amazing things in many hearts. He does it ALL the time. No story is any better or any worse. What we went thru trumps nothing. You can’t compare. You just can’t. That is one thing I pray I will always be sensitive to. What my best friend Michelle learns at home as she mommies seven kids, what God did in Linda’s life thru the loss of a husband, what God is doing in some of your lives thru hard marriages and lost little ones, and sickness... God is Author and He is perfecting each of us with our own path. All of our stories are amazing testimonies, not just mine. They’re not meant to point to us, they’re meant to point us to HIM.