A Good Father

Today was a hard day. It’s a Monday so it’s not all too surprising, but for me if I’m honest, most Mondays aren’t actually all that bad. I make a point to get up early on Mondays to spend time with the Lord, and then go to the gym. It sets the right tone for my week.

My alarm went off at 4:45 this morning and I peeled my eyeballs open one at a time and off we went. Thus began a normal Monday for me. It hasn’t been terrible, really, but my heart is so burdened for others, I feel as though I’m trudging through mud, and can barely move my feet forward, and my head hurts from crying so stinkin’ much.

For the last several months, every Monday morning, I ask my coworker how her weekend was, knowing the answer ahead of time… and dreading it.

See, she’s watching her brother die from a brain tumor.

It is the most heartbreaking thing to watch. Maybe it’s because she’s been such a sweet friend to me, maybe it’s because I’m a little more sensitive to others’ hardships now, or maybe it’s because I have a brother myself, but I can’t get through my Monday morning without crying because it just hasn’t been good news for a while.

Today, I couldn’t get her off my mind, because he doesn’t have much longer on this earth, and I know how very hard this has all been for her. Today, I spent my lunch break weeping for this sweet girl and her tender heart. Today, I wept like a baby in the middle of a store because my heart is just so burdened for her.

I also wept because I thought of a couple in our family facing what must feel like an impossible future ahead. They both have serious health concerns and 3 small children. I know fear must be lurking at every corner. I know those corners all too well. I have begged God for miracles and bright sunny days on their behalf.

I got an update about someone I know with cancer. The news wasn’t great and they are so discouraged. The road ahead seems long and without much to look forward to. Their daughter is dear to me and I have cried out to the Lord on her behalf much over the last month. “She’s too young,” I reason. She’s too tender and too sweet to have to carry this burden. “God, please be good to her” I beg.

Today, one of our family members suffered a heart attack (after weeks of other health procedures and trials) and is in critical condition. The family was called in tonight to say goodbye, but fortunately for us, it is just “see you later.” Brandon got a phone call on the way home and went straight to the hospital where he is with all of the family, singing that sweet man into heaven. Sweet, familiar hymns of God’s grace and goodness.

I have wept today, really wept, more than I have in a long time. My heart cries out for these sweet people near to me, going through such difficult battles. In addition to these hardships, I know 2 more young mamas, one who was just diagnosed with cervical cancer and the other who was diagnosed with an incurable disease. In crying out to the Lord today, I have heard Him whisper very clearly to me, “I am still good” and I know this down deep in my core. He is good. He is good, even when it seems as though what we’re going through isn’t very “good.”

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; his love endures forever.” Psalm 107:1

See, when you’re watching your brother fade from this life, know that He is good. God loves you and is piecing together the puzzle that we don’t yet understand. He is there, and He is good.

When you lock eyes with your spouse in the midst of a health crisis, know that He is good. He knows you have young babies, and He’s writing a beautiful story for them, and for you. Let Him comfort you, and fear not. He is there, and He is good.

When your loved one feels crummy, because chemo and radiation can do that, rest in the grace of God Almighty. It is hard, and it seems unfair, but He is good! He is whispering softly to you and wants you to rest in Him. He is good, so good.

When one of the patriarchs of the family is at the doorstep to heaven, and you can’t imagine life without him, know that He is good. When it seems impossible for you to live without your other half, the man you intertwined yourself with for the better part of almost a century, know that He is good. God named each of the sparrows, and He counts each tear that falls from your face. He is so good, so so good! Rest in Him when you’re weary, because He will give you rest.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.” Psalm 34:8

I have been so burdened for so many people today and all day, God kept reminding me today that He is good. He is sweet, and He is good. I have wrestled with this all day and I thought about this… when I parent my children, I have to sometimes watch them make mistakes, or get hurt, or walk through something painful and I don’t relish in those moments of their pain and their sorrow. Instead, I feel their pain as if it were my own, often wishing I could take it from them for myself. I hold them close after they’ve been hurt, and I whisper softly in their hair “Mommy is here. It’s OK. Mommy is here. I know this was painful, but Mommy loves you and I am here.”

I have prayerfully asked the Lord for mercy and goodness on behalf of each of you, and I hope you rest well tonight, hearing Him whisper in your hair “I am here, I love you so much. It will be OK, child. I am here.”

Infusion Update and a Humble Birth

remicade-infusion-crohns-diseaseLast Monday we had Brandon’s second Remicade infusion. Everything went great! We were thrilled that there were no adverse side effects (other than being a little more worn out than usual) and we were encouraged because we felt like things were well on their way to “normal.”

Ha. I got a flat tire on the way home.

Hahahahaha.

It wasn’t really that funny at the time. Brandon was tired (and a little cranky that I had managed to “find” another nail) and wasn’t in the mood to play games with the air-filler-upper-machine at the gas station, that oh yeah, didn’t work and we wasted a lot of money on it and had to drive to another gas station and used that air-filler-upper-machine and a can of fix-a-flat.

flat-tire

Don’t worry, we got home safe and Brittney was able to pick up the boys from daycare, and only one child had a fever.

True story.

And all this after having gone to the doctor and having an x-ray on my back because I’d been in extreme pain all weekend. Yaaaaay.

Anywho. Tuesday. Tuesday was great. I hosted a “make-and-take” roller bottle remedy party where we all made our own essential oil roller bottles and it was so much fun! Plus, really cool to be able to mix these recipes up. If you weren’t able to come, we’re going to do another one again, don’t worry!

make-and-take-essentail-oil-roller-bottle-remedy

Wednesday was great. Thursday was great. Etc etc etc. Saturday was awesome because we did everything Christmas that day! I made the boys Christmas pancakes for breakfast, then we made Christmas cookies and went to the Christmas parade and that night Brandon and I went to a Christmas party. Seriously a great day.

christmas-cookies

Sunday morning Brandon spoke at church and did an amazing job. The best message I’ve heard him preach in a long time. I’m not saying that to downplay his other messages, I’m saying this to emphasize what a great job he did. He spent a lot of time preparing and I was captivated the whole time. I was so proud of him. It was one of those moments where I wanted to stand up and say to everyone, “That’s my husband! Isn’t he awesome?!” You know those moments, almost like a “Santaaaaa! I know him!!” moment where you’re bursting with pride and excitement and sunshine is threatening to spill out of your ears.

Brandon-speaking-church

Yesterday evening Brittney and I went to teach our first essential oils class together. Well, technically our second, but this was our first on our own, and boy was it reminiscent of the good ole Penny Filled Pantry coupon class days! We had a great time. We seem to just jive when we’re teaching classes and things just flow and its lots of fun and we end up laughing a lot. It was a great class and a really fun evening. Sup Monday. Whatchu got? Boom.

essential-oils-class-beginners

Today was going to be great. Today I had my department’s Christmas lunch at a nice restaurant in Greensboro and then I was going to go right to my Orthopedic doctor’s appointment for my back and they were going to tell me that “yep, just a few more days of rest and 2 weeks at the chiropractor aught to do it, and you’ll be good to go!” (Yeaaaaah, he didn’t say that.)

We finished lunch up a little early and I had about an hour until my appointment so I decided to run a quick errand. When I pulled into the parking lot I heard a funny noise that I thought might be my car, and sure enough, it was. There was smoke coming out from under the hood, too. That was fun.

The one thing that kept ringing in my ears was “Do NOT let a little car trouble ruin your day!” because I’m bound and determined that the devil is not gonna win. Not with me anyway! I mean, its CHRISTMAS, people!

I love Christmas, as I’m sure most of you do. And as Brandon spoke on Sunday, I realized that we spend far too much time worrying about traditions and lists and gifts during this time, and far too little time reflecting on the catalyst for the whole holiday season anyway. Brandon read an excerpt Sunday that described a young girl – a first-time mom – dirty and weary, with a new babe wrapped in scraps of cloth. I’ve thought about that over and over since he first read it to me last week.

If I let myself, I imagine a girl about my size, but much younger, with long mousy brown hair, and I can feel the pain she feels with each contraction. If I close my eyes, I actually feel my heart rate speed up with the anticipation of the next contraction. I remember how scared I was when I was laboring with each of my children, and I imagine that fear was multiplied for Mary, alone and in a strange, uncomfortable place. I didn’t give birth with dirt under my feet and bits of straw poking through my clothes and sticking in my hair. I gave birth surrounded by medical staff and all the people in the world who could comfort me. It was not outside, in the dark, in unsanitary conditions with the stench of animal waste nearby.

Our Savior had a most humble birth. He was brought into the world without sweeping grandeur and by the soft light of the stars above. We celebrate this quietly beautiful scene with gobs of red and green, to-do lists and frantically remembering to move that silly elf each day, and for some, credit card bills to boot. When I think about my own actions over this holiday season, I realize I’ve been much too focused on all the ups and downs and stressing about fitting in all our traditions and holiday clothes and how everything will come together just right.

Have you spent too much time focused on all the wrong things this month? And not that any of those things are wrong, but when I pause and picture that weary girl propped up against the rough edges of a wooden manger, and imagine the Savior of the world wrapped in dirty cloths – the first of countless times that He would humble himself – I realize that I’ve maybe lost my focus a little.

The back pain and the infusions and the car trouble are all background noise and a distant hum, when I think about the magnitude of the One who steers my path. The car can be repaired, and the other distractions can all just take a backseat for this girl’s Christmas season, because today, I choose to give thanks that a God who loves me, was willing to have his son enter this life in such a humble way and with the sole intention of saving the world.

Decision Time For Crohn’s Treatment and a Thankful Heart

I’ve been trying to write a new post now for a week. I can’t seem to come up with anything interesting to say. Not that this means our life isn’t interesting, I mean, c’mon, we live with two little whirlwinds. Hurricanes I call them… Hurricane Pax and Hurricane Maverick. Fitting, isn’t it?! They’re strong and ferocious little gusts of wind, who blow through a room quickly, starting quietly and ending with a roar, and when they’re gone its as if everything has been tossed in the air and left to fall where it may.

Anyway, our little hurricanes celebrated Halloween (more to come on that later), and its been raining on and off. An important marker in this stage of our lives is that we’ve not visited a hospital in the last week, and we’ve done lots of research on medications and therapies and alternative ways of treating Crohn’s Disease. You’ve been so helpful. We’ve had so many people reach out to us and give us advice, or opinions, and real life experience. Don’t tell Brandon, but I even joined a Crohn’s support forum online. It sounds a little hokey, I admit, but there’s a weird sense of solace in reaching out across the cyber waves to ask someone else going through the same thing, what they would do, or what they did. Even better than that has been all the messages and comments from people we know or people who know us through someone who knows us. We have wrestled with what to do about a long-term treatment plan, and are still trying to make sense of the best course of treatment for us.

This week, I’ve had several moments where I have felt so overwhelmingly blessed, I just have to share. I’ll start with my most recent “moment.”

Just the other day at work, a woman I work with, who just recently had a baby, came back to work for the first day after the birth of her son. Her son is still in the NICU. He’s had 2 surgeries since his birth just 12 short weeks ago. I told my coworker that she looked great – and she did – but I could see the worry in her eyes. I could see the underlying stress of navigating a hospital system, with a precious family member at the center of it. I wanted to reach out and hug her, but was afraid of tipping over that precariously balanced set of emotions, the tears threatening to flow at any moment. Instead, I went back to my desk and carefully crafted an email to her, offering a promise to pray for her, and a listening ear if she needed it. On my way home that day, I cried. I cried for her because I know all too well, that torn feeling she has. The torment of fulfilling only half the duties of wife, and half the duties of mom, and barely able to concentrate on work.

I realized how blessed I am, because I’m not sure how I would handle it if my baby were the one in the hospital. I barely held it together, and my husband is a full-grown man. I have another friend whose baby was recently in the hospital for weeks, and at one point, had a very dim prognosis. These women are heroes.

The Crohn’s Treatment We Chose and Why…

When I think about our journey, I thank God for the brevity of our hospital stays, and for the diagnosis that we have. My husband could be facing something much, much worse. Don’t get me wrong, Crohn’s is no picnic, but we are on the verge of getting this whole thing under control (hopefully!).

We found out that Brandon has not yet formed antibodies to Humira, and since his physician really (really, really, really, really, really) thinks that Remicade is his best chance at getting the Crohn’s symptoms in remission, he has decided to switch to Remicade and his first infusion will be next Monday. Brandon is more than ready to begin, and has been fighting feelings of anxiety because he hasn’t been feeling that great and can already tell that he’s headed back down the road to another blockage if we don’t get it under control quickly. We canNOT keep having pieces of his intestines removed, so you can understand his anxiety. The way his physician put it was a little blunt, and basically scared the mess out of us:

You have to be on medication that will control this. If you don’t, you’ll end up in surgery after surgery, with the eventual result of no intestines, and then you’ll be fed through a tube and never taste food again.

Well ok, then. Sign us up. When do we begin?

But seriously. We begin (well he, obviously, but I’ll be there with him and feel like this is we a “we” thing ya know) with an on-boarding round of infusions, and then we’ll settle in to an every other month infusion schedule… for life. I’m nervous for several reasons:

  1. Is Remicade going to work?
  2. Is Brandon going to respond positively or negatively to the infusions in the hours and days following?
  3. Will there long-term negative effects on Brandon’s body?
  4. Will we be able to afford this treatment… forever?

I have to say, in my life, there have been a few moments where I’ve felt like what was happening was a little surreal. Like the moment where I realized I was a pastor’s wife. What? Me? **Looks over shoulder** I never dreamed in a million years that I would marry a pastor. Is this the life I’m leading?! Wow! I feel so grateful that the Lord chose to bless me!

Another was that time that I gave birth to a second baby boy and realized that I was a MOM, to TWO LITTLE BOYS. It was so surreal. I remember thinking “I still feel 21 years old. Certainly I can’t be mother of two, can I? These precious children are… MINE?!”

Then there was that time when half a year had passed in a blur and a surgeon came walking into a hospital room (OUR hospital room) to tell us that he had just taken out 18 inches of my husband’s small intestines. Surreal. Is this our life? My husband (MY HUSBAND?!) has a chronic disease. Chronic diseases happen to other people, right? Not us. Bad things like this – like hospital visits and surgeries and injections and infusions – those things always happen to other people… right? I’m still a little in shock that this life we’ve been living, is ours.

But through all of this, all of these surreal moments and quiet cries for help, I’ve realized just how blessed we are. People have given of themselves, to us, more than we deserve and more than we can ever thank them for. They’ve paid for our groceries, fed our family dinner, made student loan payments for us, sent us cards and gifts and flowers. Sweet friends and family have given us memories, help with the boys, and my sweet sister-in-law even refused to let me pay her when she did my hair!

Brandon and I got a phone call this week that I almost can’t believe even happened. What this person said to me was so kind and so unexpected and means so much to us that when I got off the phone, we kind of had this eerie moment where we both agreed that things like that don’t happen to us. We usually do that sort of thing for other people! We feel guilty accepting help from others because we still feel so blessed. God has shown us that even though it doesn’t make sense on paper, He will provide. When we’re busy scrambling to figure out how to make groceries and bills and everything else work out, He’s smiling as He watches the UPS guy literally deliver dinner to our front doorstep.

crohns-disease-treatment

Our God is so good and I can’t help but praise Him for His goodness! My sweet family has been taken care of and so loved on, and even in the midst of uncertainty, I can rest in knowing I serve a great and mighty God.

I can’t wait to share some of the details of the last few weeks with you guys. You might not even believe it!

 

Confessions of an Imperfect Transition

Everyone has been so complimentary of us through all of this. They send sweet messages or call with kind words…

“You are so strong.”

“You are such a good wife.”

“You handle all of this with such grace.”

I feel like a fraud. If only they knew. If only they could see inside. If only they saw the selfish side of the “graceful girl.” The one who groans when the toddler gets up in the middle of the night… again… and she has to get up with him because Brandon can’t lift anything heavier than 10 pounds for the next 6 weeks. The one who picked up a pizza because cooking seemed too daunting.

My house has been a mess more days than its been clean since we’ve been home from the hospital. I blame it on the two little tornadoes I have, but really, I’m so exhausted I choose laying down over unloading the dishwasher, and today was the first time I washed a load of towels in over a week. I’ve let other people feed our family, and I’ve been really good at pouting and being grumpy.

I actually feel embarrassed that people think I’m handling this all so well. I felt so guilty that I actually apologized to Brandon (twice) this weekend for being such a crank. I knew I was in a mood and having a ‘tude, and it was like I just couldn’t get over it. Part of the ‘tude was the frustration over being trapped inside all beautiful, gorgeous fall perfect-for-apple-picking-or-pumpkin-patchin’-festival-going-or-outside-bein’ weekend long with a sick baby (who literally wouldn’t let me put him down), a recovering hubby, and a very energetic 5-year-old.

If you guys only knew…

I hope I’m not the only one out there that feels like this, but in the thick of it all, it certainly feels like I’m a failure. Like I’m a beautiful work of art with a tiny crack that’s threatening to splinter and shatter the whole thing into a million ugly pieces. I mean, dishes piled in the sink, books and toys and shoes scattered all over the floor, picking tomorrow’s clothes out from the clean laundry pile that’s taken up residence on the couch. Walking past the dish towel on the floor because the toddler is just going to pull it down again anyway. Grumbling that the trash is overflowing, and then realizing that I’m the only one who can take it out for the next 6 weeks since he can’t lift it. Resolving to put my big girl pants on and mow the grass myself in practically the same breath that I’m vowing to let it grow, because danggit we’re going thru a season here, people, and if the HOA has something to say about it, then say it!

A mess. I’m a mess yall. This smile and straightened hair is all part of a facade. Please don’t think I have it all together. Don’t look to me and say “such grace” or anything along those lines, because honestly I feel like a flop. There are days when I semi have it together, and moments where I feel encouraged and like I can conquer the world… and then I spill coffee on my shirt on the way to work.

At this point, I’m just asking God to keep Brandon from getting whatever plague the toddler’s daycare friends decided to share with him, and for matching socks for the kids each day. I consider it a bonus if I’m dressed and out the door on time. Because let’s be real, a lot of times, I’m dressed, but I’m not on time. Like that one time – last week – when MY CHILD GOT HIS FIRST TARDY at school. Yep, mom of the year award. I felt like I was branding my child with a scarlet letter when the school secretary handed over a FLORESCENT LIME GREEN tardy pass for him to carry all the way down the hall. Fact: Paxton asked me this morning if he was going to be tardy again, and if I was going to be frustrated about it again. Oops, guess I didn’t hide the fact that I was a little more than irritated that I made my child late for school for the first time ever. Ugh. Mom fail.

I can’t wait for things to be back to normal… whatever that is. I was off to a good start when I threw 3 ingredients in the crockpot and called it dinner. Yep, I was rocking it. Delicious victory was mine…

But on a serious note, through my cranky-feel-like-a-failure moments, I have come to realize that in my own might, I will fail, but if I rely on the Lord, He will certainly do more in and through me than I could ever do on my own. I am reminded of one of my favorite verses:

But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31

I think I’ve been tired… emotionally, spiritually tired. I whispered weary prayers to the Lord in most waking moments over the last few weeks, but I don’t know that I’ve fully surrendered the battle to Him. I’ve tried so hard to do so much by myself, but He’s there waiting… wanting to bear the load for me. If you’re tired, you should try it. Surrender your burdens to the Lord, and see how he renews your strength. How you will feel refreshed, and like new. In Luke, we’re told to daily take up the cross and follow Him.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33

Well that’s encouraging! The one who has overcome the world is on our side and wants to carry our burdens. I feel refreshed and renewed and I hope that if you’ve been trying to carry it all on your own – all your family’s worries and burdens – I hope you’ll be able to lay it down.