Wounds, Scars and Marks

“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.”

1 Peter 1:6-7 NLT

Sometimes life has reoccurring themes. Maybe I just notice because my ears are attune to common words and ideas that are floating around in culture. Quite possibly and with much more probability I’d conclude it is the the Holy Spirit guiding my attention towards lessons I need. The symphony of life gradually orchestrates a crescendo with the featured solo stuck in a loop. You know what I mean, the same topic of conversation among different friend groups, the Bible verse that keeps appearing, that one song that keeps playing on the radio, or even just a word you keep hearing like its being shouted from a megaphone. Whatever the topic, it beckons me closer. The loops that play are hooks to something deeper. When I slow down enough to take note I have the opportunity to learn and have my eyes enlightened. To be renewed with fresh perspective. To be marked by something much greater. To be transformed, one day at a time into a likeness resembling much less of me and more of my Creator.

“For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 NLT

Transformation is quite a word. Metamorphosis, a word that has nestled and woven itself a cocoon inside my soul. Several years ago I looked at my life and realized my values and beliefs were not translating into consistent actions. I didn’t want to be “one of those people” who said they loved God but their lives looked no different from the world and society in general. However that’s exactly what my life was. That is who I was. If someone from the outside looked at my life they wouldn’t say the foremost thing about me was I loved Jesus and He had transformed my life. To be completely honest with myself, God was someone I believed in but wasn’t my go-to. I didn’t believe Him “enough” to run to Him daily. I didn’t place my faith in a long obedience but in short term satisfaction. Remaining under His hand in the difficult times seemed too hard. I wanted relief in the “now” and couldn’t grasp how a patient endurance could accomplish that. I could talk a good game. I went to church. I knew the right phrases, but my heart was proud. My spirit was dry and my eyes were a river.

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” Proverbs 12:15 ESV

I know I’m not alone in this. What a wreck this world is, full of the broken and wounded. We are hurt but instead of receiving healing, we turn around and hurt others. These wounds we have…gaping, bleeding, oozing sores…completely exposed though we try to cover them. If I smother enough salve on this, I’ll heal. This salve comes with variable applications of man-made options. Success. Accomplishment. Striving. Isolation. Playing the hero. Acting the victim. Working harder. Giving up. A drink or a drug. Available with a human face, a “Him” or a “Her”. All of these temporary solutions. The wound remains and festers.

“Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.” Jonah 2:8 NIV

However there is another way. We can allow our wounds to heal. Through Christ’s redemption each wound can become a scar. Though still visible they hold a deeper meaning, a story. Scars are a reminder of where we have been. A piece of our history. Some wounds are so deep inside there isn’t physical evidence to those around us, but the soul ache holds us captive and paralyzed. When we embrace courage to share our experience the stronghold of fear, guilt and shame is shattered and replaced by the beauty of redemption. Our past is bought back with purpose for the present. Redemption illuminates my greatest fears and exposes the fallacy of my self-focused perspective. With Jesus these marks become part of the story we have to share with others.

I have several tattoos. They are my marks, my scars of journeys and moments where God has shown Himself to me in ways that have changed me forever. The pain and subsequent healing has been so profound that I want a visible reminder of the life change that took place during each season. Sure, they can be conversation pieces, but more so a reminder of lessons I don’t want to forget. Unfortunately my memory can be selective. Consequently, I must do all I can to be brutally honest with myself of who I am and what I’m capable of by my own works. God’s grace abounds.

God revealed himself to me as El Roi during a season where I felt utterly alone, completely exposed to the elements. Although there were godly people who loved and supported me, they were not with me in my valley. They weren’t supposed to be. The desert of my circumstance allowed the Holy Spirit to tend to my parched soul through Scripture and guide me to an intimacy I had never know existed. It is the reality of knowing someone for many years, spending time, and having some amazing conversations before going through a shared experience that ultimately revolutionizes the relationship. I’ve known Jesus the majority of my life, but never like this. Never so real. This season brought about by external circumstances beyond my control created a refining internal pressure pushing me towards Christ with a thirst I had never experienced or submitted to previously. There was no earthly being who could answer my questions, hold my tears or heal my wounds. Only Jesus. He isn’t just a “someone”, He became my only One. I wanted a reminder of this life changing experience where God came to meet me exactly where I was.

“I feel great pain deep down inside me. The terrors of death are crushing me. Fear and trembling have taken hold of me. Panic has overpowered me. But I call out to God. And the Lord saves me. Evening, morning and noon I groan and cry out. And he hears my voice. Psalm 55:4-5, 16-17, NIRV

Hagar referred to God as, El Roi, the One who sees me in Gen 16:13 when she was fleeing Sarai. He asked her, “Where are you going and where have you come from?” Hagar told the truth, she was running away and God told her to return. I still don’t have the answer to many questions that arose during this particular season, and to many questions that have arisen since, but He does. The tension of the question, “Do I believe God is who He says He is?” would have destroyed me if it had not been for the comfort of His Word. Many times I found assurances not specific answers, but my Spirit was calm. That peace is an answer in itself. I began learning to trust His provision. So my visual reminder is a tattoo on my back, although I don’t have a picture posted I’ll lend to the imagery by saying, “In the rocky desert of my circumstances I will flourish like an olive tree because my God, He is the One who sees. He sees me exactly where I am and meets me, covering and shielding me with wings like an eagle and lending His strength, for He is El Roi.”

I want to remember this wound and the redemptive healing because this marks the point I finally quit running away and began running to Him. This is the season I had a desire to be marked by Jesus. I didn’t want it to be about me anymore. I started participating in the battle and tension of life instead of expecting someone to rescue me. I decided to actively pursue a way of life that would honor God. I would love to say its been smooth sailing from this point on, but no, life has been even more complicated. Nonetheless, God is faithful and I wouldn’t trade any moment of suffering because its interwoven with His grace. My greatest blessings have come from His Comfort. Some nights my prayers were as simple as, “If I trust You with my life, help me trust You enough to sleep”.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust. Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.” Psalms 91:1-2, 14-15 ESV

So I ask, what’s your story? How have you been marked by Christ? If you had to sum it up in a few paragraphs or a brief conversation could you tell another human your history? Would you be willing to share your scars and marks with others? I’m curious because it was a great challenge posed this summer at a conference I attended. We were asked to find someone we didn’t know and share our “nutshell history”. There were so many amazing women with equally incredible stories. It was a rewarding and extremely encouraging experience. How often do we compare our stories weighing them based on the severity of circumstances instead of the immeasurable grace present in all of our lives? Or equally common, do we shy away from sharing because of a fear of judgement? Is my story not real enough? Have I really changed? Can I share my story if I’m currently struggling? Do I need to wait to talk about what Jesus has done to make sure its real? So many questions centered from a self focused insecurity…these are questions that circulate within my own mind. The Lord must so often remind me to risk rejection and judgement. Vulnerability does something amazing. It removes the pretense and allows us to finally take off the mask. It has to start somewhere. Will it start with you? A spirit of community is vital if we are to live in liberty and freedom encouraging one another. Each story is a miracle.

This task of sharing our stories stemmed from Galatians 1:11-24 as Paul tells his experience of coming to know Jesus and the life change that followed. Sure, there is so much more to any relationship than a few sentences, but to succinctly discuss with another person who Christ is and what He has done is so powerful. He alone has the power to effect life change in a manner that could radically transform pain into purpose. To awaken a desire to share what once we would fight to keep hidden. It becomes less about us and much more about Him. We risk it all for the sake of another because of a man who walked this earth and sacrificed all so we might live.

Do people change irrevocably and completely overnight? I haven’t. No, it’s a process. A journey of building new habits and learning to continually surrender. May we have grace in today for one another and be thankful that God doesn’t extend the same judgement that we impose on others. Instead of policing another’s growth I would do well to plead at the throne of mercy for humility. Instead of imposing some harshness of my version of truth I ought do well by allowing the Word to prove true in my own life. Rather than demanding change from the world could we instead live in liberty & freedom by walking out the gospel of love? Let us not lose sight of the completed work of redemption provided at the cross. Not by works. He said it is finished. It is done. By Christ alone. 

“But he lifted up our illnesses, he carried our pain; even though we thought he was being punished, attacked by God, and afflicted for something he had done. He was wounded because of our rebellious deeds, crushed because of our sins; he endured punishment that made us well; because of his wounds we have been healed.” Isaiah 53:4-5 NET

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A Hope Worthy of Endurance

Over the past 10 days I’ve put in some miles. From Texas to the mountains in New Mexico, to East Texas on to Louisiana and back again to West Texas. I added up the miles, because once I started contemplating the distance, I just had to know. I’ve had 1,900 miles of windshield time to think, pray, consider and chat. Some of those miles included four kids, some only two. Some included my niece and some my brother. So many conversations and so many words poured out as the tires rolled down the road on my trek from one hot summer locale to another.

I traveled to the mountains to run my first half marathon with my dad. I drove to East Texas and Louisiana to pay tribute and bury my grandfather. So many miles gave time for words to accumulate in my soul. The build-up creates an overflow and these thoughts are my spillway. I hope you can be encouraged whatever season you are in. A season of beginnings, one of endings, maybe just a season that has yet to be named.

How often in life do we face seasons that demand endurance? Circumstances that ask everything of us and more. How many times have I fallen on my face, in the mud because I try and do it on my own? Too many. However I’ve fallen hard enough and into the pit so deep that it caught my attention that there must be another way. A much better way. The way my grandparents have lived their lives and walked in the manner worthy of the calling they have received.

My Papaw, Rodney Louis Salmon, was an incredible man. Tenacity would be an appropriate term. In fact, he carried his favorite poem in his pocket entitled, “Don’t Quit”. I wasn’t even aware of this until his passing, but it doesn’t surprise me one bit. He served in the Air Force and completed graduate work at University of Texas. He was an accountant by trade and very precise, yet he had a mischievous streak that ran deep. He married Nora Beth Fuller, my Memaw in 1958 and they were an amazing complement to one another during their 59 years of marriage. I have many fond memories of his dinner table story-telling and my Memaw “assisting” him in sticking to the actual events, not the exaggerated ones, reminding him of the original story he set out to tell. She did it with such tact, always respectful, a skill I recognize much more now as an adult myself. I honestly don’t think we ever finished a story because he chased many a squirrel up multiple trees in expansive forests and by then we never remembered what the intended point was. But we enjoyed it. We enjoyed him.

Health and physical fitness were important to him. He was very competitive and loved letting us know how he beat men half his age on the racquetball court. His morning sit-up routine and exercise regimen is more than the average person does in one day and he completed half of it before getting out of bed. It is quickly becoming something of legend among his great-granddaughters and may soon morph out of proportion to a fable of sorts if we’re not careful. Family was very important to him and everything he did was driven by his love for the Lord. He relied on Jesus for his strength to push on, no matter what.

This is why the onset of his dementia was so difficult. It’s not like it would be easy in any situation, but my Papaw was a larger than life man with superhuman qualities. At first it was little things that started to go, like forgetting words and facts. But it progressed to the point of him being unable to move on his own or complete any basic task. This progression wasn’t fast. It was gradual and it lasted over a span of thirteen years before he was released from this earthly body into eternity with our Savior.

With every season and situation there are multiple facets. As we honored my grandfather’s life this past weekend, a piece of this story caused me to pause. I made a short post on Instagram and touched on this, but I must go even deeper. My Memaw has loved and served my Papaw faithfully through their life and his illness. They shared a marriage that honored Christ, showing countless generations what it means to love joyfully, “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health”. The last 13 years have required a strength that no human possesses of themselves. God is faithful and provides exactly what we need for each moment. My grandparents have had many “moments” and knew who to go to for sustenance minute by minute, day by day. When the day came that my Papaw could no longer communicate my Memaw pressed on. When the day came that he could no longer walk, she pressed on. When the time arrived that he was confined to his bed, she didn’t waiver. Her witness to countless onlookers holds value and weight beyond measure. On this side of heaven she may never know the impact of her joyful endurance and service, but Jesus knows….and I’m sure He will embrace her one day when she joins Him and whisper in her ear, “Well done, my good and faithful servant”.

Thirteen years. How easy it is to glance at another’s circumstance but not give thought to the internal battle of emotions waging each day. My Memaw never complained. She didn’t serve begrudgingly, but joyfully. She wanted to be involved. Dementia is a thief and steals everything while leaving the warm body of your loved one. Out of respect for my Memaw I don’t want to go into detail, but caring for a loved one who is sick is not glamorous. That never mattered, she served him with determination to do what was best for him. She prayed constantly. So many decisions had to be made and she didn’t take that responsibility lightly. My Memaw is a warrior, with a beautiful Alto voice, and she serves the King. She has always taken her requests to the throne begging for His wisdom, asking Him for His involvement. When she says she will pray for you she means it. What a legacy. What a bloodline. Ya’ll I’m in tears to have the privilege of knowing these people I call my grandparents.

A running theme of an overarching season in my life is focused around the Greek word hupomone which translates to our English words endurance, steadfastness, and patience. It literally means cheerful or hopeful endurance. I first became aware of the word when studying James about seven years ago and groaned.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” ‭‭

James‬ ‭1:2-4‬ ‭ESV‬‬

It’s been such a continual lesson that I recently had some new ink applied with an equation of the Greek for “endurance + encouragement = hope” on my right arm. It’s a reminder that endurance doesn’t stand by itself. It’s not an independent external action but an internal work from God allowing us to remain under the shadow of His wing during tough, excruciating, devastating, drawn out attacks on our souls. Hupomone is strengthening through His encouragement that allows us to hold onto hope. Not hope of a person changing, situation easing, sickness leaving, loved one returning, marriage redeeming, addiction disappearing, financial burden lifting, child returning, cycle ending or any other miracle we may yearn for, but hope in Christ in whom all things are held together.

Of course we pray for all of these things, but our hope doesn’t rest in a circumstance changing. Our hope is eternal. To endure whatever season or situation we are in with patient and joyful endurance we need encouragement. Paraklesis is the biblical encouragement I’m referencing. To have hope we must be encouraged to not lose hope. Thankfully God does this for us. He himself encourages us. He is the God of encouragement. He does it through scripture, the Holy Spirit and also through the community of believers.

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus,”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭15:4-5‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Life when lived for duty without passion and purpose falls stale. It’s dangerous. To do what is right can begin with the proper motive but life will wear you down. It’s whittled me down to bare bone on many occasion. One of the most painful seasons of my life, to date, is when my steadfast pursuit of enduring lost focus. Initially “Jesus loves ME” was my “why” but my focus shifted to an indignant, “Well, I love Jesus, so why me?!” I became angry and resentful and began to make the wrong decisions. Duty for the sake of duty falls short. I believe the term legalism may ring true. It is not of God and holds no encouraging power.

Discouragement is dangerous, but so natural to our human nature. God understands and that’s why He Himself encourages us. We are also called to be there for one another. Not in giving our opinions, gossiping by way of requesting prayer, or judging how others are walking according to our perception, but by sharing our experience, strength and hope. Maybe we could start by praying for situations ourselves and seeking His Word for direction so we can be encouragers to those God places around us? An excerpt from William Barclay’s “The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians” describes this relationship between hupomone and paraklesis far better than I ever could:

“Here we have two great words. Patience is in Greek hupomone, which never means simply the ability to sit down and bear things but the ability to rise up and conquer them. God is the one who gives us the power to use any experience to lend greatness and glory to life. God is the one in whom we learn to use joy and sorrow, success and failure, achievement and disappointment alike, to enrich and ennoble life, to make us more useful to others and to bring us nearer to himself. Consolation and comfort are the same Greek word – paraklesis. Paraklesis is far more than soothing sympathy; it is encouragement. It is the help which not only puts an arm round someone but sends that person out to face the world; it not only wipes away the tears but makes it possible to face the world with steady eyes. Paraklesis is comfort and strength combined. God is the one in whom any situation becomes our glory and in whom people find strength to go on gallantly when life has collapsed.”

When running the half marathon with my dad in Ruidoso we had several mountains to climb. The entire race wasn’t uphill, there were many ups and downs. Being a fellow flatlander himself he understood some of the obstacles I would face. A friend shared a tip with him years ago that he shared with me. Never look at the top of the climb, just put one foot in front of the other. Look directly in front of you, only a little ahead to see where you’re going, but never all the way up. Eventually you’ll get there without all the mental doubt of not being able to make it.

It is one foot in front of the other, one moment at a time, one day at a time. Life can become overwhelming if we try to take it all on. God never asks us to do that. He gives us our daily bread. I am not who I will be a week from today, one month from today, one year from today. Enduring our current season builds new character producing hope through the Holy Spirit. The character built enables us to face each day as it is called “today.” My Memaw pressed on a day at a time trusting Jesus and I believe she will continue doing this each day until she joins Him. It’s a way of life not just some nice tag line or cliché. Let it be the same for us, one day at a time as we trudge this road together.

 ’Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His word;
Just to rest upon His promise;
Just to know, Thus saith the Lord.

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him,
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er,
Jesus, Jesus, Precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more.

I’m so glad I learned to trust Thee,
Precious Jesus, Savior, Friend;
And I know that Thou art with me,
Wilt be with me to the end.

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him,
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er,
Jesus, Jesus, Precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more.

 

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Lessons (being) Learned

“For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” Romans 15:4

I’ve gone back and forth on writing this. I struggle sharing things so publicly that bring attention, positive or negative. My struggle with pride has been the story of my life. I pray and consider my motives because selfishness is something that plagues me. Yet, what do we have but a story to share with others. Our triumphs, failures….the story of this journey called life.

Today is a significant day. It marks 4 years clean & sober, by the grace of God alone.  I was overcome with emotion this morning thinking about the life I have today and remembering the life I had. Weeping over the blessings I would’ve missed. Ya’ll, addiction and alcoholism is the name of one of my strongholds and has been for over half my life. This underlying “dis-ease” of self….the idea and belief that I can satisfy myself, my own way…it’s such a lie. An un-truth I’ve chased for many seasons.

“Take it away, I beg you, take it all away

The pain it causes, it makes me wish I could fade away

If they knew what you knew, they'd probably shun me

I'm surprised you know it all and you love me

I know I break your heart”

Cry for You - Lecrae

It’s so easy not to talk about the elephant in the room, yet don’t we all have our own mammoths? We’d like the world to think they’re extinct. We (only) fool ourselves. The struggle doesn’t have to be public for it to be reality. It can be an internal angst that causes just as much damage. We aren’t called to go through this life alone. Why do we exert so much needless energy putting on a front? I’m calling my elephant out today and hoping it encourages someone to call theirs out too. It doesn’t require that your elephant shares the same name as mine for us to relate and support one another. Let’s be authentic and embolden the next person placed in our path to continue trudging on. This life is rough enough without throwing stones of judgment at those we perceive as different….for what to make ourselves feel better?

Four years ago today wasn’t some earth shattering horrible experience. That self-imposed chaos had been occurring for years, on and off. Who would’ve thought so many shipwrecks could occur in the middle of the West Texas desert. My story isn’t about some monumental event that woke me up. Yet, four years ago today I made a decision to ask for help and a decision to surrender to God’s guidance in an area I’d tried to take care of myself. That’s what I’d consider monumental. I love Jesus, I always have….yet I wouldn’t give Him this one thing. I’d had periods of sobriety, but when things didn’t go the way I wanted, I’d trip up and be caught back up in the cycle of destruction.

 

“I promised I would die a thousand deaths 'fore I cause them any pain

But somehow I end up killing everything

I cry for you

If you feel a dark, twisted, heart-wrenching, hate-to-see-your-own-reflection

Praying for an intervention, feeling guilt and feeling shame

I just call on Jesus name

Praying daily, can you take away this pain?

Take the thorn away

Still, it remains, I

Feel the same, I

Know that I'm here, but

Still feel insane

Satan would love to see me give up and throw up my hands

He say I'm guilty but You say I'm clean”

Cry for You - Lecrae

God presented an opportunity to change the trajectory of my life and that of my family’s. To create a legacy for our children, and at the time we only had two! I cannot imagine what life would be like today had I chosen to be stubborn and selfishly held onto my anger, hurt, pride and perceived protection of myself. I wouldn’t have the beautiful family I have today, including the addition of two precious boys. I wouldn’t have the husband who struggles alongside me in this journey. By saying “yes” we have had the opportunity to break generational strongholds and begin writing a new chapter, instead of closing the book to write a new one.

Redemption is a beautiful thing. It’s raw. It’s messy. It digs up the past and makes you face it in the present. So many fears arise and scream, “YOU CAN’T DO THIS.” But Redemption prevails. One day at a time, with God’s help, He reminds me I’m not alone. He has called me blessed. I can face the past remembering who I am today, by His grace alone. He re-writes the past and allows it to be used for good. The destruction that would never dare voice a public word has become one of the strongest testaments of the miracle of freedom ONLY Jesus can bring. It doesn’t mean life is perfect, but it gives the gift of peace in the midst of pain. It provides hope and comfort propelling me continue on knowing it’s worth it. Redemption gives to life what was thought impossible. It is a intimate whisper that proclaims, “I love you.” An assurance that I was not forgotten, even for a moment. Redemption is a glimpse of His faithfulness and purpose even in the most broken pictures.

“…as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed,who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” Romans 4:17b

I struggle with self…daily. It manifests itself in various ways. I’m grateful for this struggle because it helps me stay willing to ask for His help. My alcoholism wasn’t about the alcohol; it was about my attempt to fix an internal spiritual condition by myself. In all truth it’s a battle I’ll face for the rest of my life, not necessarily with a substance, but a lesson of surrender. Do I really believe God has the best plan for me? The solution didn’t come from my willpower. I really wanted to stop multiple times. If you know someone who battles addiction of any kind you’ve seen effects of addiction. You’ve seen the struggle. Rough doesn’t describe it. There isn’t a word that fully encompasses the destruction & despair. I’ve lived on both sides of it. Loving someone in the midst of addiction is impossible without God’s help. But truly loving anyone is impossible without His help. It is a struggle that requires surrender, just like any other struggle that happens to go by a different name.

“But grace is sufficient to start my mission

I'm so far from perfect, can't believe they listen

But hear a broken man tell you healing happens

And hear a liar tell you truth to bring you gladness

I could never boast in my accomplishments

I can only hope in God with confidence”

Cry for You - Lecrae

 

Addiction isn’t a special thing. I’m not “terminally unique” as is a term used within recovery circles, basically poking at the level of pride and ego the disease carries. I’m a run of the mill human being who struggles with selfishness and have found the solution of a relationship with God, through the 12 Steps, mentorship and the Word of God. I needed something simple and He provided it. If you want to know more about the 12 Steps please feel free to let me know. I’d love to have a real conversation over coffee, face to face.

I hope if you made it to the end of the post, whatever your silent battle is, you realize you’re not alone. I pray that if you have a loved one struggling through a stronghold you don’t cease to hope and seek support from others enduring the same. I hope if you’re on the other side of your battle that you will be encouraged and empowered to speak. Don’t let the enemy silence or convince you otherwise. The power of the gospel is alive in the stories of God doing the impossible. What was dead has come alive. What was hopeless has been redeemed. What was lost has been found. Only through Jesus….what does your story look like in this season? Speak.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings,  so also you share in our comfort.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4,7

The Time Has Come…..

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:10

Blah. That’s how I’ve felt this week. It’s not all bad, I’m just worn out. Plain exhausted. Picture me with my hair in a high bun with random hair escaping, oh and add in Houston’s humidity and my normally straight hair has some curl to it…well the random fly-aways do. So annoying. I forgot my hair dryer and really don’t have a reason to dry my hair anyway so it just goes up!

Last Sunday Chaney, Michael and I drove down with our truck loaded full of items for the next few weeks. The next time I see my home we will have Tyler with us. Chaney flew home Wednesday so it has just been me and Michael for a few days. These past several weeks are somewhat a blur with the weekly trips back and forth from Houston and the sense of urgency to accomplish and satisfy my nesting compulsion. Nesting is hard when you aren’t home very often, especially in the weeks and days leading up to delivery. I’ve done my best to prepare our home for Tyler’s arrival and have driven everyone else crazy in the process. The bummer is he won’t come directly “home” from the hospital as we will be 500 miles away! Talk about doing things completely different this time.

However, even with this impending deadline looming I’ve been able to slow down and savor time with my family. This family of mine consisting of us five, for the last time. Over the past few weeks our family has enjoyed pizza and movie nights, manicures & pedicures, fall festival at the school, breakfast dates before school, fun at Fiddlesticks Farm, lunch dates with just me and the girls. We’ve also experienced Julia’s school musical, Katelynn’s eye appointment and her first pair of glasses. We have snuggled on the couch, folded lots of laundry, cleaned rooms and picked up toys. I’ve helped with homework and listened to the girls tell me about books they are reading. Basically the mundane, but as my friend Bailey would say the magnificent mundane. We have been enjoying everyday life with a few special events mixed in, but overall my focus is on the intentionality of each moment and offering myself fully available and engaged to my family. All of the things on my “to-do list” can be tackled later, or not and it won’t be the end of the world. (I tell myself this as my OCD kicks in mid-conversation).

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Breakfast before school. Mom really needed to go to the store, buuuut the girls LOVED it!

I’m not sure why I become so sappy, aside from the obvious pregnancy hormones, but with the birth of each of our children I go through an emotional process. I am fully anticipating the joyful addition of new life, yet grieving what phase of life we are leaving behind. When Katelynn was born I had no idea what we were getting into with parenthood and was basically scared out of my mind. I was grieving the loss of independence but had no idea the joy that would come when she made me “Mommy”. With Julia’s arrival I was unsure how our family dynamic would change. I already felt I was lacking as a mother to Katelynn and didn’t see how I could love both children without taking away from the other. When Michael’s due date approached I FREAKED out because we were about to do this baby thing again, but this time with two school age children. Thoughts that cycled included….“Am I too old for this? Will this take away from my availability to my girls?” Yet without fail, the arrival of each of my children quenched any anxiety and I forgot my initial fears. We made it work, because of the overwhelming love we had for our children. For all of our children. There has never been a shortage of love but abundance. Love grows.

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Fun at Fiddlesticks Farms

With this pregnancy I haven’t gone through this process because most of my focus is directed on appointments and tasks. I haven’t thought much about what everyday life will look like with another sweet baby boy at the Vines house. Partially because I have no idea when we will actually bring him home so it just seems like an idea, but also because I haven’t taken the time to slow down and contemplate the season of life we are embarking on. Yeah, I know I’ve had months to prepare myself. Chaney laughs at me to no end because he thinks I’m a space cadet. I voice my thoughts and concerns often inquiring his opinion and am usually surprised how he has processed the same thoughts weeks prior. It takes me longer to work through the entire process in “thought-land” and I spend much of my time there. Just call me an idealist or a dreamer, but I really find this form of processing very productive and healing. I’m currently in the midst of this process. I don’t really know how I feel. I’m still working through it all, so it has been difficult writing a blog update. I’ve tried to write this for the past 5 days and I don’t want it to be solely information. I’d like to be transparent and real, but I can’t be vulnerable when I’m unsure where to go with it. That’s about as real as I’m able to be right now. I’m overwhelmed and the words aren’t coming as easily as I am used to.

We went to my appointment on Monday and based on the results of the ultrasounds, the doctors have decided to deliver sooner than we originally had planned. Basically my MCA scans were elevated and I am past 35 weeks so an IUT was not an option. Dr. Moise is confident that Tyler will be okay until delivery as there are no other signs of anemia, but he doesn’t want to keep him in the womb for the original goal of 37-38 weeks. We set the date for induction for next Wednesday and that has given us time to take several steps furthering Tyler’s development. I received 2 steroid shots aiding his lung development and a medication that will help develop his liver. Specifically this medication helps his liver have the ability to process bilirubin and lessens the likelihood of major jaundice issues. The doctors also increased monitoring of Tyler as anemia can set in extremely fast. They don’t believe this will occur, but it helped put me at ease. We found out Tyler is measuring 2 weeks ahead of his age and already weighs around 7lbs 12 oz (at 36 weeks). Although he won’t have the opportunity to grow to full term and be a monster baby like his big brother Michael, it looks like Tyler will also be a healthy size.

Tyler will have a mandatory observation in NICU when he is born and several blood tests to measure how affected he is by my antibodies. Several of these tests will continue for weeks after he is born. We don’t have any idea how long his stay will be in NICU and won’t know until he is here. There is a possibility of Tyler needing blood transfusion(s) after he is born, either immediately or over the next few months. All of these procedures are much less dangerous and intrusive once he is out in the world rather than in the womb. We are leaving these decisions to the medical team who see babies affected by antibodies on a regular basis. The problem continues after his birth if my anti-kell antibodies have attached themselves to Tyler’s red blood cells. This can cause late onset anemia and other health issues until the antibodies are cleared out and Tyler is successfully creating his own red blood cells. This is the reason for continued blood draws and monitoring for up to 12 weeks after birth. We have contacted Cook’s Children’s Hospital to be assigned a pediatric hematologist. Our local pediatrician will partner with Cook’s by writing weekly blood orders so we can have these done at home. Our hope is to prevent travel as much as possible while not sacrificing quality of care. If these tests and results are not monitored closely life long health issues can be the result. As long as we stay on top of these tests, Tyler will not have any long term health issues.

Chaney and I toured the NICU at Children’s Memorial Hermann (where we are delivering). I didn’t expect to be so emotional, but I LOST it. I’ve never been to NICU before and I realized not only how hard this will be, but also how blessed we are. This journey we are on is full of amazing medical staff and resources available to us and is something I don’t ever want to be ungrateful for. Although I have anxiety, it’s not about the care we will receive. This is just a brand new experience for us with a lot of “unknowns”. We are in great hands. On top of this, the Ronald McDonald House in NICU will be available to us if we need it. It is separate from the house we weren’t approved for.  If I’m released from the hospital before Tyler, this will be very useful in remaining close to him to nurse and getting rest myself. The RMH is on the same floor and the same wing as NICU with day rooms available for naps & showers and a separate waiting list for evening stays. Our apartment is only 1 mile away from the hospital (another blessing) but I’d rather not be that far away if not absolutely  necessary.

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Fun at the Houston Zoo

The girls will be here next weekend to meet their new baby brother. We had already planned for them to come down and celebrate Katelynn’s birthday next weekend so we are sticking with the original plan. I’m bummed that I will be unable to go around town with them, but I’m overjoyed and full of anticipation to hug their sweet necks. Who am I kidding I’ll bawl my eyes out when I get to hug and kiss them! They will just have to deal.  Michael and I were able to visit the Houston zoo with friends this week and had a blast. I know the zoo is on Katelynn’s short list along with the aquarium. More than anything, I’m so thankful we will all be together for her birthday. I can’t wait for our family to be together…all SIX of us. What?! It will take us awhile to settle in to our normal as the next weeks and months are unknown, but it will be wonderful. It will be our wonderful. It may take a while for the word mundane to apply, but soon enough the days and weeks will turn into years and it will seem like it has always been.

I’m relying on my Jesus so much through this all. I allow myself to remember all the situations in my life that have been difficult. I remember how my relationship with Him has grown stronger. When I have fears I voice them, I don’t try to hide them. I have no idea what the future holds, yet when I trust Him it all works out. When the next doubtful situation arises I remember what the Lord has walked me through. Trust has been formed. Hope is a real experience, not something merely spoken about. I still have new doubts and questions, but in my Spirit I trust my Comforter and Counselor. I just have to hold onto Him and trust the outcome to His plan.

Thank you for experiencing this pregnancy with us. I pray the Lord has blessed you abundantly as you’ve taken the time to pray for us. I don’t know how often I’ll be able to update our progress over the next few months, but know that I will do my best. It helps me to be vulnerable in the midst of it all and I’m so grateful for your support, comments and messages. I pray Tyler’s life be one the Lord continues to use to bring others to Him. I know Tyler has brought me closer to my King and I haven’t even seen his sweet face yet. We all have purpose to be used for His glory, may we not forget this highest calling.

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.”  Proverbs 19:21

Waiting to Exhale

My heart is confident in you, O God; no wonder I can sing your praises with all my heart!”         Psalm 108:1

Chaney and I are on our way back from Houston, a trip we have become familiar with. We’ve made the drive 4 times in the past 5 weeks. Depending on which route we take, it is a nice leisurely round-trip drive ranging between 950-1050 miles. We have tried them all to keep things interesting and see different parts of Texas. The drive is no big thing; when you’re in the third trimester of pregnancy, have ankles and feet that swell into painful puffy appendages and have to use the little girl’s room every few hours, the drive is a cake walk. Ha. One fact proves true whatever route we take…the further away we get from Midland the prettier and greener our surroundings become. We do love our hometown, but it sure is nice to get away and see trees, hills and life outside of West Texas even if it is for a doctor appointment.

Last time I wrote an update I was seeing my local doctor for ultrasounds each week. In fact, my last update was after a trip to Houston to check on Tyler. Since then we’ve had a few scares with high MCAs. One instance resulted in us making the trip to Houston fully convinced we would need a transfusion. The doctors even had us on the surgery schedule for the following day. I was a mess the 3 days leading up to my Monday appointment in Houston. Setting out on an 8 hour drive after getting less than favorable results was extremely unnerving. Leaving our kids not knowing exactly when we would be home or being able to answer their questions about Tyler added to the emotions. It was also the first time I’ve left Michael with someone other than his daddy and I was a teary-eyed, snot-nose, anxiety ridden mess. By God’s grace, Tyler was ok and not severely anemic however my stress levels had skyrocketed. Because of the added stress, time and miles between Midland and Houston, Chaney suggested that we begin having our appointments in Houston each week. Transferring our care provides us the expertise of The Fetal Center and Dr. Moise on a weekly basis. Also, if Tyler has become severely anemic requiring a blood transfusion, we will already be in Houston able to have the procedure done the next day. We won’t have to make preparations to go out of town, get the kids packed to go to Charlotte’s, pack ourselves and make the long drive strained with concerns of Tyler’s health. This provides ease of mind for us both and I’m so thankful to my man for discerning how to help ease the burden of stress that was suffocating me.

 

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Chaney patiently walking the Magnolia grounds with me. My man. My love.

As a result, the last 3 weeks we’ve driven down to Houston on Sunday for our Monday morning appointment. Each week we rely on MCA’s, scans specifically checking for anemia measuring the rate of blood flow through the middle cerebral artery, to let us know how anemic Tyler is. He is anemic, but not severely affected warranting the risk for an intrauterine fetal blood transfusion. The scores are given based on MoMs (multiples of median) with 1 MoM being normal and 1.5 MoM equating severe anemia. Fluid around the organs, termed ascites, is another identifying factor of fetal anemia, but we don’t want it to get to that point. Last week Tyler gave us another scare with a wide range of MCAs measuring 1.3-1.7 MoM. All of the wave patterns were legit. Normally they narrow down scans and give us a score of the best quality scan but it was more difficult last week. After the tech did her scans, Dr. Snowise came in and performed several of his own. He began to check Tyler’s positioning and the umbilical cord placement, all important details when a transfusion is needed. The high numbers were perplexing because there were no other visible effects on his organs. The scans are formulated based on a precise angle of the middle cerebral artery and not an exact science. The only precise measurement of anemia is through taking a sample of blood from the umbilical cord. This method has several risks and isn’t used unless a blood transfusion is required. Several factors can cause the MCAs to be inaccurate and give false highs. This day Tyler happened to be positioned head down, was practicing breathing and was fairly active, all factors making the scan more difficult. I was so thankful we were already at The Fetal Center and fully trust their judgment, because this 2 hour appointment was stressful enough while sitting in a room of world renowned experts. Dr. Moise was called in to help figure out what was going on. He looked at Tyler and said he was fine. We were given the green light for another week and made the trip home.

It’s time for me to get real with ya’ll. When I was looking at the screen watching the high readings I panicked a bit. I was hit with a wave of emotions. I hate that my baby has to fight to be healthy. I’m thankful that we are doing so well with such an aggressive antibody and I realize it could be a lot worse. I realize many lose their babies and this has been in the forefront of my mind since learning of my isoimmunization. I fight my emotions constantly not wanting to be over-dramatic because things are going great with all things considered, yet challenging myself to be honest with the internal struggle. Our baby boy is sick and I struggle with the reality of my body causing his anemia. My view of the womb as a place of growth and safety for my children before they have the strength to enter this world has been challenged this pregnancy. Chaney and I have spoken several times how we took for granted the ease in which our other children were brought into this world. It’s like I’ve taken credit for the life of my children. Now I’m realizing how naïve I have been. The props and praise for all life belong to God alone. He has ordained the life of each of my children for a plan and purpose and I’m blessed to be included in this plan as their mother. My children are ultimately His and through this experience I’m beginning to accept this reality, one that I’ve fought since becoming a mother. The one thing I couldn’t ever honestly pray, “God I release my children to you. I know they are yours not mine. I know you love them more than I ever could.” That prayer scares me. It still scares me, but I see the validity in it. I see the desperate need to release this illusion of control that continues to confront me as a glaring defect of character. I waste so much time and energy fighting the wrong battles. One thing I’ve begun to practice is fighting in prayer for my children. I cannot always protect them from this world and the sickness, hurts and sin that exist, but I can pray for them to know our Father whose name alone offers hope. I pray that their lives have a lasting impact on the kingdom. I pray for God to comfort them in their hurts and that they will have a love for Scripture from an early age. I pray that they will passionately pursue God’s will and plan instead of living in sheltered “safety”. I recognize these things offer them more than a mother who tries to shield them. As their mother I’ve been entrusted to equip them and point them towards my Jesus. This morning during my quiet time I ran across a verse that knocked the wind out of me. Talk about perspective.

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.”  Job 38:4

I fully know and accept this is our last pregnancy. We decided this before we had any inclination of the anti-kell antibodies we would combat during this pregnancy. I promised myself not to complain but cherish every moment of the aches and pains and to enjoy each movement of the precious life within me. I haven’t complained and I do enjoy Tyler’s kicks and turns, but it hasn’t been with the “normal” care-free bliss that I yearned for this final pregnancy. I count his movements to make sure he is healthy and not getting sick between scans. I don’t complain about aches and pains because I’m so happy my baby is still alive. I wake up in the middle of the night from nightmares of losing my boy. Up until my appointment yesterday, I haven’t bought anything for him because I didn’t want to get too attached in case something happened. I hate to even admit that or put those thoughts into words but it’s my truth. I must confess that I fell into a trap of hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. I tend to take that stance to protect myself from being hurt, but it’s a façade. Loss hurts no matter what. I didn’t even realize all the walls I have constructed until my appointment Monday.

Tyler is doing great and at 32 weeks 3 days he is already weighing 5lb 13 oz. We will deliver anywhere between the next 3-6 weeks. If he requires a transfusion after 35 weeks the risk of an IUT is greater than delivering early, so labor would be induced. We will not go past 38 weeks, so 6 weeks is the maximum time-frame. When Chaney and I spoke about this time table the relief was palpable and I think I exhaled for the first time in months. An enormous weight was lifted and I could breathe. For the first time I allowed myself to fully believe that Tyler is going to be ok…so I bought him a diaper bag, because he will need one. We gave ourselves a chance to relax, enjoy one another and permission to celebrate our pregnancy by breaking up the return drive home into two days. We stopped in Waco and went on a date. We had dinner, went to Common Grounds for coffee and caught a movie. This morning on our way out of town we stopped by Magnolia Market and grabbed pastries at the bakery, walked around the grounds and of course shopped. Chaney was a trooper and didn’t complain at all. We needed some time to just enjoy one another and I feel rejuvenated. I guess holding your breath for several months isn’t the best approach to life. My soul is so thankful for the fresh air.

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The diaper bag I ordered for Tyler (:

Something Dr. Moise said got my attention. We keep making it one more week, even though Kell is the most aggressive antibody and I have a critical titer. My Kell antibodies attack Tyler’s existing red blood cells, causing anemia, and suppresses the bone marrow from producing new red blood cells accelerating the rate at which a baby becomes anemic. Yet we are ok. Still. Praise the Lord. I don’t get it and I’m so grateful. Several have commented at how strong we are in walking through this season and I know we are clinging tightly to the Lord, but something else is going on. Ya’ll are lifting us and covering us in prayer. Thank you. Please know that we are aware and humbled by your love for us. I don’t feel strong but God enables me to walk through each day with grace. I’m frustrated that I don’t trust Him. After everything He has walked me through I’ve continued to try and shield myself by expecting the worst. I still have so much room to grow. I’m grateful that God isn’t finished with me yet and covet your continued prayers over this season we are in. Please continue to pray for Tyler’s health, specifically to make it to the 38 week mark which decreases many health obstacles he could face if born early. Chapter 46 of Isaiah has been meaningful throughout my pregnancy. Just in case I didn’t get the hint, Kaylea Gaines also text me verses from the chapter several months ago. I believe this is true for us all, even when we have doubts, God is faithful and his truth doesn’t waiver.

“Listen to me, descendants of Jacob,

All you who remain in Israel,

I have cared for you since you were born.

Yes, I carried you before you were born.

I will be your God throughout your lifetime-

until your hair is white with age.

I made you, and I will care for you.

I will carry you along and save you.”

Isaiah 46:3-4

Faith in the midst of Fear

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
Romans 8:15

I’m thankful for seasons of life that are tied together. Maybe it’s by a specific emotion, a scent or even a song. This morning while bawling my eyes out (one of those ugly cries where I really shouldn’t have been driving) I’m reminded of God’s faithfulness in the midst of a year consisting of a strange mix of loss and new beginnings. I’m wrecked with fear because of current happenings that I have no control over and overwhelmed with grief from past events that I also have no control over.

Today marks one year. One year since Greg passed away. Around here he was mostly called Grandad or Dad. He was a hard working man, tough and determined (bull-headed really). Yet at the same time gentle, caring and soft. He was a friend, not just my father-in-law. We played cards into all hours of the night and the next morning. We went hunting and watched the races together. Well he watched the races, I usually fell asleep. He was our neighbor & we had this amazing agreement when we’d do take out for dinner, it was called, “You fly, I’ll buy.” I did the flying part.

He was the patriarch of our family unit. Dad was a provider and didn’t want any of his kids or grandkids to go without. He took pride in being available if we needed anything. He may have been loud, stubborn and blow his top off every now and then, however this was juxtaposed by his quiet and still spirit in the midst of crisis. So many times he would pause, not react and turn the conversation to spiritual realities reminding me of WHO really was in control even if the situation seemed chaotic. Although sometimes this was highly agitating because I really just wanted to complain, it would jump start my heart to focus on faith in the midst of fear.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Hebrews 11:1

Grandad was a pro at playing “patty-cake”. He used his knees for some crazy “giddy-up” horse rides. I have videos of piggy back rides around the house and also educational rhymes….”Eye-winker, tom-tinker, nose-dropper, mouth-eater, chin-chopper…” followed by mandatory tickles. All this after getting home from a long day at work in Pyote, Texas. He made the 180 mile round-trip drive for over 25 years running the aggregate mine for the family concrete company started by his father. Grandad also had his cup of sweet tea mysteriously go empty on many occasions and it is no wonder why all the granddaughters have a particular affinity for sweet tea. This year has been really tough without him and to say his presence is missed is quite an understatement.

It’s difficult to describe someone using only memories, not that they have faded, but because I’d much rather him still be here with us so we could create new ones. I wish he was here to see and enjoy his grandsons, like he was able to with his granddaughters. He would be so proud to watch his kids working together and communicating & get a real kick out of them arguing and trying to figure things out. He would swell with pride at the continued transformation of his son…. to see the godly man, father, husband & leader Chaney is.

After Greg’s short battle with cancer, there was a sense of relief that he was no longer in pain and gratitude he is with his Jesus, eternally healed. But…..also the sadness, emptiness, the fear of what life would look like without him and the heartache that doesn’t go away. As with any death where the assurance of Christ’s salvation exists there is a thread of faith that holds the heartache. Faith strings the many pieces together offering peace in the depths of despair. Faith offers hope when fear is paralyzing. The morning after he passed away, our family unit and Charlotte’s  family were all at his house. None of us had gotten much sleep the night before. We had breakfast and were listening to worship music, Tyler and Bailey Dodds albums mostly with “The Way I Feel” on repeat. We all looked a HOT mess as you can imagine. Suddenly Chaney decided we all needed to go to church so we did. All 9 of us, including 3 children, were dressed and ready within 30 minutes and we made the 20 minute drive into town.

There have been many poignant times of worship in my life, many occurring outside of a church service. However this particular Sunday stands out & was a very encouraging time of corporate worship with my family, surrounded by our family of believers. There were many pivotal and life changing circumstances that were enveloping our existence last September aside from Greg’s cancer. I couldn’t tell you what the message was, or who preached, but there was this moment when all the emotions, fear and uncertainties were overcome with assurance of God’s sovereign faithfulness.

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

I am surrounded
By the arms of the father
I am surrounded
By songs of deliverance

We’ve been liberated
From our bondage
We’re the sons and the daughters
Let us sing our freedom

You split the sea
So I could walk right through it
My fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me
And I could stand and sing
I am a child of God…

When our praise team began singing “No Longer Slaves” over our church, Chaney grabbed my hand and we stood up. Ya’ll if you know us at all, I tend to be the more outgoing one. I love to sing and get lost in worship. Chaney tends to be more reserved. Not this day. Nope. My man led me & encouraged me to worship my King. He showed me how to not be paralyzed by fear. In the midst of all the situations staring us in the face taunting us to give into FEAR, Chaney stood up and proclaimed he chose FAITH. With tears streaming down my face I proclaimed I chose faith too. I began to recall the vastness of God’s character and remember the milestones of faith in my past where He took painful and seemingly impossible situations and healed my soul. My Abba Father whispered there was no need to fear. My child, I’ve got this. Too bad those moments of assurance don’t wipe away the existence of fear, forever.

This short word (fear) somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it. It set in motion trains of circumstances which brought us misfortune we felt we didn’t deserve.

Lately I’ve been unraveling. Like a sweater that has one loose thread you can’t tug on it, you have to cut it off, if you want anything left of your clothing. I’m run through with fear & have been pulling the thread. The above quote has been running through my mind. It comes from 12 step literature (pg. 67 in Alcoholics Anonymous) and paints such a vivid mental picture. Fear is something I’ve struggled with my whole life. Not just fear, but how I react to it. When I’m shot through with fear, I act based on emotion. This is NEVER a good thing. To live a life characterized by emotional decisions you’ll end up with a track record like mine. My past is a tumultuous one and I’m so grateful for a life where I now aim to live guided by a foundation of faith. I’m not saying emotion is bad, after all it’s part of the beauty of being human. But emotions vary and don’t supply a consistent and standard guide to live life. Although fear still comes up, it no longer controls and defines me. However, there are still situations that trigger my fears and an internal battle ensues.

Uncertainty tends to be one of these triggers and instead of admitting I’m afraid, I have this unhealthy need to be in control. When I can’t control circumstances that are affecting my life, I decide it’s much easier to try and control YOURS. Lovely isn’t it? Let’s be friends, ok? Ok. Then I can fix your life while ignoring my own problems. I’ll even act like I have it all together. Yes, I’m one of those people. Well, fear can quickly turn me into that person. So, here I am admitting I’m afraid and giving you a heads up that I may try to fix you instead of me….don’t fall for it, if I can’t let go and trust God how am I to help you?

Currently I’ve had the realization that I can’t even pretend to hold it all together. I don’t have the energy anymore. Reality has set in and although Tyler is doing ok right now the scans are continuing to rise getting closer to that magic number we want to stay below. The logistics of relocating to Houston for his birth have me paralyzed with fear. Our application wasn’t approved for the Ronald McDonald House so we are looking into other housing options. I’ll be down there for a minimum of 3 weeks before his birth without my family. This past week while Chaney and I were in Houston with Michael, I missed our girls so much. I can’t imagine what it’ll be like to be away from home for a month. How long will we be there after his birth? The weekly appointments are wearing me out, each week wondering if his MCA scans  will show signs of anemia requiring a trip to Houston for a blood transfusion. AND cue the SNOWBALL of emotion…..basically any thought I have after this point is emotionally based and out of the context of logic. Pregnancy hormones are really helping me out at this point. FOR REAL.

Yet, this morning has been healing. So wrought with emotion and the release of fresh tears from the pain of Greg’s absence, I’m again assured of the peace in God’s presence. I’m so thankful for his mercies that are new every morning. He doesn’t ask me to handle it on my own. He doesn’t expect me to hold it together. Faith working in the midst of fear is a battle. Faith is the Son shining his light to melt my snowball of emotion before it wrecks havoc causing explosive damage. Faith doesn’t mean fears aren’t pressing in, it means there is an ability to see things through a different perspective. My fears are real emotions and I have to face them, but I choose to view them through the lens of faith that scripture offers. Faith allows me to see God’s hand in each situation. I have family familiar with Houston neighborhoods & they are helping to identify the more favorable areas to stay in. There is an amazing Doctor able to help Tyler if he needs transfusions. Chaney & Charlotte will both be able to spend some time in Houston so I won’t be alone the entire time. I also have several friends and family I can spend time with. The girls will be taken care of here with a wonderful support system of family, friends & teachers. They will even get to come visit so we can celebrate Katelynn’s bday together. Aside from what I’m able to see with my physical eyes I know there is so much more in the unseen.

My assurance is in my Father’s steadfast love chasing after me in my fear and meeting me where I am in my grief. My hope is in His faithfulness and my rest is in His arms. The Lord has our baby boy, our family and our future. He wants me to stay in today, in this moment. He is my portion. He is enough. Let it be so Lord, please comfort my soul.

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

Lamentations 3:21-24

 

Preparation is Key

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

James 1:2-4

When I met Chaney over 10 years ago I had a couple birds. Well, several would be more accurate. He gives me a hard time saying I was one bird short of being the “Crazy Bird Lady”.  How many birds you ask? Eight. Eight of my feathered friends consisting of a parrot, cockatiel, two doves, and four parakeets. I’d tell you all of their names, but I don’t want to bore you. (I’m sure you’d rather know the name we have decided on for our baby boy…but I’ll get to that here in a few paragraphs. Just stay with me I promise this all has a purpose). I had a two bedroom apartment…one bedroom for me and one for my birds. They needed plenty of room to fly and exercise their wings. Needless to say when Chaney and I started a family, several of the birds had to go. It was really tough, but a new baby  trumps pets every time. Three were particularly close to my heart so we made it work & Chaney put up with my bird loving self. Ahem…. I’d like to add here —> I’ve also put up with Chaney’s reptile loving self. We have had several snakes & lizards over the years and to say I’m not a fan of the slithery kind is a drastic understatement.

 

One of these three was my parrot Kiwi, who flew away several years ago. That was rough, but is a separate story and a rabbit I won’t chase. The other two were my doves, Bebe and Coco. I found Bebe at a carwash 12 years ago, when she was a baby. She didn’t have any feathers and I had no idea what kind of bird she was. I went to Pet Mystique, my local pet store, and my friend Cindy guided me in the process of hand-feeding a baby bird. She had another customer who found an identical baby bird but had no desire to raise it, so I had two baby birds to take care of. Raising baby birds is no easy feat. I fed them every couple of hours, kept them warm, kept them clean…all while continuing to work and go to school. Luckily I worked for my Papa at Johnson Bros. Oil Co. and he and Barb (the real boss) let me bring the doves with me. I was able to stick to their feeding schedule during the day and at night.

 

At the age of 19 I learned a little bit about commitment and nurturing and how hard it really could be. In a way it was a crash course for motherhood. They thought I was their mom and would fly to me wherever I was in the house. They basically acted like a dog would, except not…they acted like two little doves. There is just something about doves that is very calming and peaceful to me. If you can’t relate, just think about your favorite pet of all time and pretend I’m talking about him/her. (Channel those emotions so you can experience this story and not miss out.) I bonded with these little doves and they have been with me ever since. They met my three kids. Moved to each new home with us. The girls enjoyed letting them fly around and see who they would fly to. The last 12 years of my life have included them. When we came home from my Papa’s 90th bday celebration in Austin this past weekend, I found out they were gone. I was in no way prepared to lose them anytime soon. However the way it happened made it devastating. Chaney met me on the way into the house and told me I didn’t want to go inside. The bull snake we’ve had for 9 years got out of his cage and into my doves’ cage. He killed them and ate them. I am a total mess. I could not get ahold of myself and Chaney picked me up off the ground and held me while I bawled. I didn’t have to see any of the aftermath as he cleaned everything before I came inside, but I’m still finding evidence of the attack, think of my sweet little doves and then I lose it all over again. This whole event came out of NO WHERE. I couldn’t have made the scenario up if I tried. Seriously after 9 years of having them both…..no problems…and then…. Ugh. I can’t even explain how torn up I am. Yes, I know snakes are a natural predator of doves, but I’m still baffled. I was not prepared for this. I’m heartbroken.

“For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven”

Ecclesiastes 3:1

Life is so much that way. Circumstances happen that absolutely wreck me because I am not prepared. I don’t see them coming. I am blindsided. These events can be life altering situations or smaller upsets, but truly don’t most situations that catch us off guard seem huge? Accidents, loss of job, sickness, just change in general…anytime these events hit it knocks the breath out of me. I’m learning more and more as I go through life how important it is to be prepared. I can’t be prepared for everything, and I get that, but I can continually gain my courage and strength from the One who isn’t surprised by anything. It’s almost paradoxical because the more I let go and trust God, the more prepared I am for what life has in store. Yet if I try to hold on and control every detail of my life, I find myself completely unprepared and my resources inadequate to face the uncertainties that inevitably come my way.

This week one of those uncertainties has shown up in our pregnancy as we had an elevated MCA scan on Tuesday. They were all over the place, with some very low, but we did have a couple at 1.5 MoM or over. Obviously that is not what we are wanting, but we are grateful for technology to let us know if our baby boy is becoming anemic. I emailed Dr. Moise’s office in Houston and they would like to see me on Monday. Chaney, Michael & I will head down on Sunday and be there for a couple days or the week. They will perform their own MCA scans and if our boy truly has become anemic due to my antibodies attacking him he will have an IUT performed to keep him from having a chain reaction of health issues. (If all these terms are completely foreign, I did my best to explain our anti-kell journey & terms in this previous blog.) The good news is we will already be in Houston for the IUT if it is in fact needed. If it is not, we will get to come home grateful for The Fetal Center and their expertise closely monitoring our boy. We will also have an opportunity to find out what we can expect in the weeks going forward pertaining to a tentative time frame for my temporary relocation and induction date.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

2 Peter 1:3

 

If you’d like to pray for our boy by name, we have decided on Chaney Tyler Vines. Most likely we will call him “Tyler” as having more than one “Chaney” in the house could get somewhat confusing. This name thing was a really interesting process and I’m so relieved to finally be able to talk to this man child and pray for him by name. We have talked to the girls and explained, as best we can, why we are seeing a doctor in Houston and why Tyler is going to be born there. I don’t want them to be worried, but I do want them to be involved and aware of what is going on. We are so thankful for the prayers and support from all our family and friends. I know we will continue to need your prayers and support in very practical ways especially in these coming weeks as our family’s lives will be out of routine and spread out across the state.

 

With my pregnancy, my prayer and focus has been to trust the Lord. My tendencies to control and get stuck in the details are constant and an area I must surrender repeatedly. Sometimes I struggle through the emotions and anger before I realize that I’m attempting to run the show. I’ve had many days where I scream in frustration and finally voice, “Man, I really need your help today Lord!” Then I start crying, because trying to do it by myself is really exhausting. Part of the joy of being human is experiencing emotion. It helps us have empathy for one another through the highs and the lows. Another part of being human is struggling through emotion. I think I’m getting better at “feeling my feelings” vs. “thinking about my feelings”. If you understand what I’m talking about we may have similar personalities/mind-styles. Typically I deal with life by logically approaching situations, including my emotions. Sometimes this can be really useful, but other times “feeling feelings” can be so vital to healing. Crying isn’t something I do very often, but I’ve done it quite often these past several months. I’m taking the time to slow down and be honest with myself about how I’m feeling and then allowing time to deal with it.

 

Not knowing how everything will happen logistically is driving me a little crazy, but this is where I’m doing my best to focus on faith in action. The foundation of scripture in my life is the most valuable gift my parents and spiritual mentors have passed to me. Without scripture I don’t know how I would have made it through difficult times with grace and dignity. There are so many verses that remind me of specific seasons of life. They remind me of moments in time when God revealed more of His character to me through his Word. I couldn’t really say “This is my FAVORITE verse” because there are countless verses that are meaningful. However right now, this verse is one that sticks out above the rest. It is one of comfort because it doesn’t focus on the variables of life but the certainty of God. This assurance is what I need remember every day, in every moment. This truth is what I cling to so I can be prepared for whatever happens. This verse to me signifies the intentionality of being prepared. Preparation is all about where my FOCUS is directed. He’s got my back.

“ I know the LORD is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.”

Psalm 16:8

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