Christmas Calamity and Christmas Peace 2015

I would have never put calamity and peace together. We still have a lot to travel on this journey. A lot to learn, to wait, to sift through, mountains and valleys. Psalm 23 comes to mind easily.

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I SHALL NOT WANT.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He LEADS me beside still waters.

3 He RESTORES my soul. He LEADS me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I WILL FEAR NO EVIL, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

On Wednesday, December 16, my niece, Melissa Johnson, was driving to pick up her employers from the airport. She hit a pole, lost control of her  truck, it flipped twice, injuring her badly, leaving her without breathing. She was wearing a seatbelt, headed to pick up her employers, then to prayer meeting. 19, first semester finished at Indiana University South Bend, gifted with children, loved Minions, three older brothers.

25 Days later, Melissa’s condition remains unstable. She is out of ICU, breathing on her own. Her body will heal (broken leg has been operated on, bruises are fading), but how much of her mind and her cognition will return remains unanswered.

Joel, the kids and I drove to Indiana for Christmas to be with his sister, Kay and brother in law, Dave, and our nephews. Melissa did not wake up when we were there, but we wanted to be there to support the others.

This was a difficult time for me to face an ICU unit. The sounds, the IV beeps, the ventilator, the nurse suctioning her mouth, positioning her body. The smells of rubbing alcohol, the gloves, the IVs – yes, they each have an aroma.  I left each night GRATEFUL I could stand up and walk out, because during my transplant experience and relapses, I would shrink further into the bed every time my loved ones would leave. I would cry endlessly. I would watch the clock and listen to the clicks, listen to all the IV beeps in the rooms surrounding me.

Each evening we left the trauma center I had panic attacks beginning, quick breathing, tightening of the chest, pain down my arms, severe headaches. Guilt. Thankfulness. Growth, Recognition of what Joel, my parents, and my caregivers at Emory did for me.

Most of all, I left with an enormous amount of thankfulness for my donor’s family that gave me a 2nd chance on life. After 3 and 1/2 years, I finally wrote UNOS (United Network For Organ Sharing).

The first year, they don’t allow you to write. It’s too raw, too hard for the donor’s family and the recipient. The 2nd year, I’d had a relapse and had to go through rehab again.

We started family therapy, marriage therapy, I was depressed, had suicidal thoughts, was lonely. Many friends and even family members began to desert me, thinking I “should be over this, “or I “wasn’t thankful or joyful enough.” My second year was tough as people expected me to be the mom, housewife, homemaker, get back to exercise, fitter, stronger, faster — I had a heart that was 20 years younger. I should be a powerhouse!  But I wasn’t. Through the year, I progressed, our family progressed, and God revealed more of Himself and His Word.  He also blessed me with physical recovery.

It took seeing Melissa in a trauma unit for me to write to UNOS, having them to contact my donor’s family with my letter of thanks. I don’t know what, if anything, will come of it.

But I wanted them to know how grateful I am and how much it matters to Joel, Chloe, and Jack.

 

Why does everybody keep giving my kids junk food?

  
 In a society with impatience, instant gratification, entertainment, rewards, everywhere we go someone is eagerly trying to give my kids, 9 & 7, junk food.

  • Read for 500 minutes a month – earn a personal size pizza at Pizza Hut with 620 calories & 67 carbs, courtesy of Book It, a program encouraging young students to read daily.  
  • Say your Bible verse at Sunday school, earn a fun size of M & Ms , 75 calories, 3 grams sugar. 
  • Complete a music lesson, receive a kid’s handful of skittles (or comparable) for 25 cal or 4 grams of carbs. 
  • Study hard for 9 weeks at school, receive an Oreo milk shake, courtesy of Applebee’s at a whopping 840 calories and 100 carbs.  

Throughout the year, let’s take Valentine’s Day ( which used to be cheap little cards), Easter baskets, Halloween, Thanksgiving (or Bust A Gut Day), Christmas ( candy canes, candy, cookies, hot chocolate), birthday parties with grab bags filled with sugar. Really? This is how we reward ourselves and our children?

Every mom wants to be the mom at school who brings in “treats” because it’s a pick me up, it makes the kids happy, gets in good with the teacher. It doesn’t help a diabetic child, or a child struggling with their weight. It sets them apart even more than they already are.

Sugar is everywhere. The checkout line, the school, the church, retail. Has the entire country gone insane? Hot chocolate and donut holes at church while singing Christmas carols? A Christmas party with cookies, brownies, candy & juice boxes?

What would that same parent say if I offered their child a cigarette ? But it’s a “ treat” to give my children a full sized Oreo milkshake because they worked hard for their grades? Why are we rewarding with things that will ultimately destroy their bodies when it’s not a “ one time thing?” It’s every place we go.

And a 9 year old and a 7 year old cannot make long term decisions. That is why they can’t join the military, sign a contract, get married. They cannot understand long term effects.

With the epidemic of childhood obesity, please consider non food based rewards and treats like games, puzzles, dollar store items, certificates. For functions with food, such as a birthday party, offer cake or ice cream, not both, water bottles to drink. How about encouraging words? Instead of a personal pan pizza, credit to a book store?

Just like most people wouldn’t give out food containing nuts because some kids might have nut allergies, be aware that some kids may also have medical issues with sugar.

Treat Yourself!

Indulgence, celebrate, extravagance, pleasure, delight, satisfaction.

I love treating myself & boy, can I rationalize getting a food or drink treat. I LOVE getting a coke ( which is now off limits for the kidney diet restriction. Off limits, but yes, I’ve had one.). I LOVE a Starbuck’s iced caramel macchiato decaf, with extra caramel. I enjoy baking breads, brownies, etc.

A while back I was talking to my sister about giving my kids treats and how I’ve gotten into regularly giving them or myself treats. If it’s a regular habit, it’s not a treat. A treat implies that it’s unusual or the minority of time.

So my nerd, analytical mind is thinking …” How many days a week? Once a month? Once a week? How often? What’s healthy for the kids or for myself? Do I restrict the size to a tall, or a grande? I haven’t settled on an answer, just that it’s the minority of the time, a minority of our diets. For me, it won’t reflect in labs or mistreat my new healthy organs someone sacrificed for me & God graciously gave me.

Moms… Any input on giving cookies, chips, candy, worthless juice or soda or junk to your kids is helpful to discuss. How many “exceptions” do you make for birthday parties, holidays ( Valentine’s Day, Easter coming up)? What about if you are a guest at someone’s house? What if you want chocolate cake, but don’t want your kiddo to have it? To sneak or not to sneak?

Thank You and Reflections on 2012

New Years Day is always a time for reflection, and we have a lot to reflect on from the 2012. Going back to the beginning of 2012, we had much uncertainty, waiting for transplant calls and trying to hold things together.

Looking back at 2012, I don’t think of it as a good year or a bad year. It was an adventure, filled with dramatic highs and lows, and a lot of sitting and waiting. Seeing Stephanie pushed to the brink of death, only to be rescued by organ transplants at the last minute, then the slow and painful recovery.

We have much for which to be thankful. We thank God for sustaining us and delivering Stephanie from her failing organs, and for keeping our family together despite all the turmoil. His providential hand has been very visible through the past few years, and especially evident this year.

We are very grateful for the love shown to us by so many people, many of whom we didn’t know. So many of you generously and sacrificially gave to Stephanie’s transplant fund. It vastly exceeded our expectations, and every month when we get the bill for Stephanie’s medicines, we are very thankful for your help.

We are very thankful for Customer Effective, Joel’s employer. They stood behind us and supported us through it all with Joel’s unpredictable schedule, and we could not have made it without them.

Some lessons we have learned in 2012:

  • We are not in control. We think we are, and we make plans, but we aren’t in charge. Nothing last year went as we had planned, but in hindsight, we are thankful that it didn’t   I had to learn to trust others for things like caring for my children, buying groceries, making meals, things that we think we control.
  • Kids are resilient. They had some very difficult times with their mom being in the hospital, and still do even now during the slow recovery when she can’t do some things that they want her to. We try to teach them that it is OK to feel angry or sad sometimes, and how to deal with those feelings in constructive ways, and we point to the milestones of the past year to show how God has worked and is good. It forced us to be more open with them about life and death, and we could not shelter them from the reality that their mommy could have died. Parents, don’t try to protect your children from all bad news. This wold is a scary place and dying is a part of living, something that we all must know how to face.
  • Men, you should practice doing some of the things that your wife does—wash laundry, do dishes, cook meals, give the kids baths, comb your daughter’s hair. Some day you might have to do these things.
  • Never say “now that I have gone through X I’m never going to worry about the small stuff anymore.” It’s not true. You would think that living through a triple transplant would make you immune to worrying about stupid everyday stuff or petty arguments. It doesn’t.

Who Deserves a heart?

I have just passed 6 months on the transplant list and through talking with many people, I have found many people have misconceptions.

Misconceptions include: how you get on the list, what is your # on the list, how long you wait & why, and many more.

The waiting process is different for everyone. It is based on your body size, blood type, tissue type, and where you will receive your transplant.

The process of getting on the national transplant list, managed by UNOS (the United Network for Organ Sharing, a private, non profit agency, http://www.unos.org) is very difficult. Your specialists needed to have exhausted all other avenues of treatments, decide whether or not you can live through a transplant, be mentally and psychologically strong, and if you can agree to the contract with UNOS.

With UNOS, there is no way to cheat the system. The most sick patients (in the hospital) get organs first; if there is no one that matches that organ, then the patients very sick, but living at home receive the organ, and so forth.

Your fame, money, or powerful job status CANNOT BUY an organ. it just doesn’t happen.

Since Dick Cheney received a heart at 71, there has been more questions and accusations of cheating/buying. Does he deserve a heart at 71, when there is a shortage of organs and younger people are waiting? Who deserves to live? Some people bitterly say “at least now we know he HAS a heart.”

It comes down to Who you believe is in charge of life. Who chooses when life begins and end? Who has the power & might, Who created all things? If your worldview is based upon God, then you believe God gave Dick Cheney an extension life. If your worldview is based on chance and “common sense”, then you may believe that young people deserve to live and once you get “old” then you are not as important as a 37 year old with kids. When I was 19, I thought 37 was old.

Yesterday someone was asking me if I think Mr. Cheney deserves a new heart? Am I jealous? He’s 71, I’m 37 with young children. No, I’m not jealous or wistful or any other term. I am so happy for him and hope he helps to promote organ donation awareness. He has children & grandchildren that are rejoicing he is still alive. He is as important to his family as I am to my family.

At the same time, I am compassionate to the donor’s family. They are mourning the loss of a spouse or parent or son/daughter.

So who deserves a heart? Biblically, no one. We don’t DESERVE anything from God. He gives his grace and steadfast love to those who love worship Him. He loved us before we loved Him. ANYTHING He gives us, is because He loves us & has mercy on us.

The Perfect Woman, Wife, Mother

The perfect woman, wife, mother…otherwise known as the Woman of Proverbs 31:10-31. Ok, for the girls out there, this was always the impossible achievement taught to young ladies and women in church, schools, etc. There are so many descriptions, that turn into misconceptions about her: she’s the perfect wife to a successful businessman in the community; she’s wealthy, upper class, manages a large household, strong, hard working, caring, patient, never sleeps because she’s always staying up to sew & do laundry, and my personal favorite–“her children rise up and call her blessed.”

Any of you out there get called BLESSED by your kids???

The two things I can take away from this larger than life Christian woman are: she feared the Lord and she made the most of her time. These are two characteristics I can practice in my life, even in the hospital or at home. As a Christian, I have a healthy fear of God as I walk with Him daily. Knowing He’s my Heavenly Father who I can ask anything in faith, He’s also holy and just, and a Judge. Using my time wisely, I can spend quality time with Joel and the kids. I can read more, I can pray more, I can strengthen my friendships.

So, in my own life, I can apply principles of the Proverbs 31.

Sunday Morning Late for Church Blues

I heard this song “the Sunday Morning Late for Church Blues” when I was 12 & it described our family then, and describes my family until recently.

When Chloe came into our family, then Jack, we got acquainted with the Sunday Morning Late for Church Blues. To us, having young children made it acceptable to be late to EBC. As they have gotten older, the fighting, disobedience, accidents all started to be regular routines in trying to get to church. My hair and makeup, as well as Chloe’s hair had to be perfect. Our apperance mattered to me. It has always bothered me to be late and I know it’s inconsiderate, and I am willing to change it & do more to prepare for the next day.

However, as my health has been breaking down, it takes me a long time to get ready. I regularly have to sit down in a chair after I shower & get dressed. I am on oxygen, and have to take it off when showering or doing my hair, slowing me down more. I have to eat a nutritious breakfast (no Panera bagels for me!). Get my meds, purse and oxygen tank. Joel supervises most of the stuff with the kids. (except for Chloe’s hair & earrings). Settle the arguments from the kids, then drive 20-25 min to church.

So what am I learning?
On the surface… I cannot comprehend how one healthy person or couple without children cannot be regularly on time for church, and attend the entire morning. I just don’t get it. Sorry.

I don’t know why people with one or two kids can’t get to church on time and attend the entire morning.

Post 6 months transplants, being on time for church will seem like a breeze, even with driving.

Under the surface…do we really want to be in the Lord’s house and with other believers? Do we go, because we have to be in the nursery or see people or it’s good for the kids or the music is inspiring?

Or do we go because we know we need to minister to other believers; adore, confess, thank and petition to our Heavenly Father; we are bound by our covenant to other believers to educate their children, encourage, rejoice with with other believers?

Maybe I am being to tough on my fellow Christians, and I am apologetic if I was brash. If I was not terminally ill, I would not see it this way. Being in the hospital or shut in my own house on Sundays made me so grateful for this past Sunday and wish I could attend all services. But that’s not the way the Good Shepherd has for me right now.

Trials, suffering, and sorrow either turn us away from God or toward Him. Without my husband and my EBC family encouraging & admonishing me, I could easily turn away from Him. But in His great love and abounding mercy, He seeks me and provides peace for me.