Friday, August 31, 2012

A Testimony of Two Little Miracles

I am completely overwhelmed with my Savior's love for us. He has blessed Rence and I more than we could have ever imagined. We have always known and trusted that God is capable of anything, but it's absolutely breath-taking to experience His miracles in the making. His blessings are truly by His grace alone (a free gift that we don't deserve)!

Many of you already know that I have had severe back issues. The onset of my back condition was at 15 years old and has gradually worsened since then. I have been diagnosed with two torn/leaking discs (my L4/5 and L5/S1) and three bulging discs (my L3/4, L4/5, and L5/S1), as well as fibromyalgia and sciatica. Needless to say, I experience moderate to severe pain on a daily basis; however, I have complete trust that the Lord uses this in my life to help and relate to others (and I have already seen Him at work through my circumstances). I was highly discouraged by my doctors to pursue a pregnancy. They warned me that my weakened back (especially in the lumbar region) would not be able to support the weight of a pregnancy and would likely cause more damage. I was also told that my pain would worsen during a pregnancy and that I would have to manage on very little medication. As a result, the severity of pain could throw me into preterm labor.

Rence and I knew we wanted a family. We were battling with what to we adopt? we go against doctor's warnings and pursue a pregnancy?...what would my back condition be like after a pregnancy?...could I take care of a child if my back was damaged further? There were many occasions that Rence and I held each other while in tears. We wanted a family so desparately. We didn't have the finances to adopt, and we thought our likelihood of me carrying a baby without negative repercussions to both me and the baby was slim. After a couple of years of battling with our desire, we both gave it up to the Lord. While in tears, I wrote this in my prayer journal:
Father, I love You and praise You for what You've done in my life. Father, I've obviously faced many challenges, but also many victories through You. Having children is the strongest desire I've ever experienced, and I believe that this exact desire is the work of You. I pray that You will give me the strength to continually pray about this. I also pray that You would give me peace and clarity about this if it is or is not Your will. With all of that being said, I want the desires of my heart to be shown to You. We want our own child, and I think of the stories in the Old Testament of women who were by all means past the ability to have children. They were heartbroken about not being able to have children. When they finally trusted You with the situation, You blessed them. I pray this will continually be my hope and peace - that You are in control. Again, Father, I desire this so very deeply and ask of You to provide children that are healthy to Rence and myself. These are my desires, but I also need to trust in Your will and Your timing in every situation. I realize that this may not be in Your perfect will for us, and I pray that You would give me clarity and peace. Thank you for your loving arms that are around me right now and always! Amen.
We continued to pray about our desire, but we were not at peace with the possibility of starting a family. In late November, Rence and I began to feel an overwhelming peace about starting a family (the kind of "perfect" peace that only God can give). We knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that we should pursue starting a family. We knew that my health during a pregnancy would be at risk, but we also knew that God was in control of the situation.

This would be our one and only pregnancy, even though we desired two children. Needless to say, we were thrilled when we found out we were pregnant in mid-January. After finding out we were pregnant, I was in my daily prayer time and "mentioned" that if He knew I could handle two babies at once, I would love to have twins so that our family could be "complete." We went to our first prenatal visit at 10 1/2 weeks into the pregnancy (February 28th) and found not one, but two little blessings! We were in awe! This was again the work of our one true Savior.

I began coming off my medications gradually. By the last trimester, I was only on 1/4th of my medications and doing very well. My pain seemed to decrease as my pregnancy progressed. I was amazed by how the Lord was taking care of me and these boys during the pregnancy - many of this was a direct result of devoted brothers and sisters in Christ who were lifting us up in prayer.

At 31 weeks, my water broke, and I was rushed to UAB Hospital in Birmingham where my labor was stopped. The plan was for me to remain at UAB as an inpatient until 34 weeks, when I would deliver our boys. As soon as we sent news of this, fellow brothers and sisters in Christ began to pray. Those prayers were felt and the results were powerful. Prior to me arriving at UAB, I was being evaluated at RMC Hospital in Anniston. The doctors and nurses were preparing Rence and myself to deliver that night. When I arrived at UAB Hospital in Birmingham (after news had reached others and prayers were being lifted up), the nurses and doctors were able to stop my labor within 12 hours - those prayers made a difference! Even though they were able to stop my labor, there was a 50% chance that labor could begin again, which could not be stopped. I went into labor three days before my scheduled c-section (at 34 weeks); however, I was able to make it to the date of my scheduled c-section (on August 13th) - again, prayers were heard and answered!

At 34 weeks (August 13th), I delivered two beautiful boys by c-section. They were breathing on their own, but needed help supplying oxygen, blood, and nutrients to their little bodies. As we expected, they were moved and remained in the NICU/CCN at UAB. There were many ups and downs that we did not expect. One day the boys would be off all IV's and tube-feedings, then the next day they would be back on them. There were unexpected infections and exposure to potentially serious illness, as well as minor procedures that had to be performed (spinal taps and transfusions, for instance). It was during this time that Rence had to return to work (1 1/2 hours away) while I stayed at UAB with the boys - much of the time, I was alone. It was terribly hard for Rence to go a week at a time without seeing me or his precious boys, and hard on me to not be able to see Rence. Even though our boys were born very healthy compared to many others, the situation proved challenging for me to deal with alone. I only had one person to lean on - my Savior. My faith (especially in the area of my prayer life) was strengthened greatly. I also saw other ways that the Lord was working through the circumstances. I ran across many young ladies like myself that were going through similar, if not the same, situations. I was honored to be placed in their paths and lend a listening ear, encouragement, or a shoulder to cry on. The Lord placed me in that situation so that He could use me as His vessel, even though I am so unworthy. I grew so much closer to my Savior during this time. He uses the mountains and valleys in our life to help us grow in our faith.

I am still in awe of how the Lord heard and answered our prayers about our little family. It's amazing how He used the trials leading up to the pregnancy and the boys' situation (after birth) to help Rence and I grow in Him. I praise the Lord for all He has done for us!

    Born at 11:01 AM on 8.13.2011
    4.4 lbs / 16.5" Long
                                          Born at 11:00 AM on 8.13.2011
                                         5 lbs / 16.5" Long
    First Family Photo!
          1 Week Old

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Wise & Foolish

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Proverbs 1:7 (NIV) - The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Only fools despise wisdom and discipline.

In Proverbs Chapter 1 and 2, Solomon outlines the topics of wisdom and knowledge and the repercussions of not accepting God's wisdom. I use "The Message" Commentary along with various translations of the Bible, and I particularly like what "The Message" says about Prov. 1:7. 
Start with God - the first step in learning is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning.  Regarding Proverb 1:7.
I really got thinking about this verse. It seems so simple - if you're a believer, this verse isn't for you, right? On the contrary, I think this can speak even more to the believer than the unbeliever. Being very honest, how many times do we avoid talking to the Lord or spending time in His word because we know that we will be "called out" on an area of our life that needs changing? Maybe we faithfully spend time in His word, but we "choose" what we study so that we don't face conviction of sin. After all, who enjoys correction?

I believe the key to true wisdom and knowledge is humility. When our hearts our humbled before God, we are open to correction and change, and we desire to learn more about Him.

Bottom line...there are two options we can choose from.

Option 1: Reject God's Wisdom & Knowledge
If we remain "complacent" in (v. 32) or get comfortable with our spiritual walk, are we truly growing in Him? Keep in mind that true faith requires us to get out of the comfort zone.
Proverbs 1:27-29 (NASB) - 27 When your dread comes like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. 28 "Then they will call on me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but they will not find me, 29 because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord."
Option 2: Receive God's Wisdom & Knowledge
The Rewards: He promises that those who seek, listen to, and obey Him will have security, peace of mind, and protection.

          Proverbs 1:33 (NASB) - But he who listens to me shall live securely and will be at ease        
          from the dread of evil.

Proverbs 2:7-8 (NASB) - 7 He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, 8 guarding the paths of justice, and He preserves the way of His godly ones.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Attitude of Gratitude

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Have you ever thought back to a time that seemed to be associated with great memories...a time period in which you would gladly take the opportunity to revisit? These times are usually associated with memories of happiness and fulfillment.

As I read Numbers Chapter 11 last night, I couldn't help but think that the Israelites must have felt this way in the midst of their long march to the Promised Land; however, they take their desire for happiness too far. They can't seem to grasp that we can never "have it all" if we are true and obedient children of the one true God. They grumble, complain, and continually gripe to God about what they don't have. Keep in mind that their needs are provided for. Bottom line is that they are not grateful for the blessings they do have. We have to trust that the Lord will provide for all of our needs (not our wants). It's also important to remember, however, that He always hears the prayers of His faithful children. He knows and provides for the needs of those who are obedient to Him.
The Israelites are not just in request for more, but they are actually testing God! They are on very dangerous ground for these actions. Therefore, God disciplines the Israelites for their greed and unwarranted complaints. God's plan for the Israelites is to give them freedom in a new homeland, which in many ways is an opportunity for a fresh start.
As I read this, I was convicted that I can strive harder to have the "attitude of gratitude" in my life at all times. We may have a really rough day, for instance, and begin to focus on why everything seems to be going wrong instead of praying ourselves through the day and being grateful for what we are given. But, really, how different are we in our everyday lives from the Israelites? Do we live hours, days, weeks, months, or years with an attitude such as theirs? Even an upright man like Moses had to be reminded of his blessings.

Here's the question that really convicted me last night:

Do we tend to focus on the blessings God has given us?
Do we focus on the blessings we could have but have not been given (do we envy others' blessings)?
The conclusion I came to is this: when our hearts are truly focussed on the Lord, we will be content; however, misery will fill our lives when our hearts are not right with God. Remember, there is nothing wrong whatsoever with making requests to God. There is a problem, however, with making requests when we are not grateful for what we do have or out of envy. Where do we stand on a daily basis with our "attitude of gratitude"?
The Israelite's Complaint
Numbers 11:1-6 (NAS, emphasis mine)
1 Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the Lord; and when the Lord heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. 2 The people therefore cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the Lord and the fire died out. 3 So the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burned among them.

4 The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons of Israel wept again and said, "Who will give us meat to eat? 5 We remember the fish which we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, 6 but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna."
God's Response
Numbers 11:31-34 (NAS, emphasis mine)
31 Now there went forth a wind from the Lord and it brought quail from the sea, and let them fall beside the camp, about a day's journey on this side and a day's journey on the other side, all around the camp and about two cubits deep on the surface of the ground. 32 The people spent all day and all night and all the next day, and gathered the quail (he who gathered least gathered ten homers) and they spread them out for themselves all around the camp. 33 While the meat was still between their teeth, before it was chewed, the anger of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord struck the people with a very severe plague. 34 So the name of that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had been greedy.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Trusting in the Almighty

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God seems to be working on me continuously with the issue of trust. He has grown me in that area for years, and I have learned through experience that complete trust in the Almighty is not easy. I can think of many situations in which I became anxious in how I could control the outcome - situations like the decision to start a family (against many odds of a safe pregnancy), a sudden house search and move (while I was 7 months pregnant), complications during a twin pregnancy (31-34 weeks along), our twin boys' month-long stay in the NICU, and a desperately-needed full-time job for my husband. These are all examples of times when God was whispering so very gently in my ear - "Trust Me!" In every experience thus far, after I surrendered all worries to God, everything has fallen into place. It may not have been the way I expected, or even the path that I would have chosen, but it was perfect in the end, because His hand was on our life.

The cure for basic anxiety (a "chronic illness" in today's society) is trust in the Almighty....but how do we get there? In order to get to that point of trusting God radically, we need to bring ourselves to His throne (prayer) and check the attitude of our hearts (repentance). When our hearts are right with the Lord, our daily lives will be transformed, which affects how we live our lives on a daily basis. We have to live humbly and take the focus off of ourselves, living with the fruits of the spirit evident in our daily lives. The act of trusting Him completely will bring us the peace that "surpasses all comprehension" (Phil. 4:7).

I struggle with worrying over the big and little things in life. It's a constant battle, but God keeps me in check. Here are some scriptures that deal with the area of trust and how we are to  refocus our hearts and be renewed in Him:

(NAS, emphasis mine)
Psalm 73:23-26
23 Nevertheless I am continually with You; You have taken hold of my right hand, 24 With Your counsel You will guide me, And afterward receive me to glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

2 Corinthians 4:16
16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.

Philippians 4:6-7
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

1 Peter 5:6-7
6 Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.

"Relying on God has to start all over everyday, as if nothing has yet been done."
~ C.S. Lewis

* Please know that I am a big proponent of mental health awareness campaigns, and I believe anxiety that gets severely out of control (not at the individual's own fault, but the malfunctioning of the body's firing-mechanisms) should be treated by someone in professional health care. It should not, however, be a "simple fix."

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Waiting for the Rain

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I Kings 18:41-46 (NAS, emphasis mine)
"Now Elijah said to Ahab, 'Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of the roar of a heavy shower.' 42 So Ahab went up to eat and drink. But Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he crouched down on the earth and put his face between his knees. 43 He said to his servant, 'Go up now, look toward the sea.' So he went up and looked and said 'There is nothing.' And he said 'Go back' seven times. 44 It came about at the seventh time, that he said, 'Behold, a cloud as small as a man's hand is coming up from the sea.' And he said, 'Go up, say to Ahab, 'Prepare your chariot and go down, so that the heavy shower does not stop you.' ' 45 In a little while the sky grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy shower. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. 46 Then the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he girded up his loins and outran Ahab to Jezreel."

James 5:17-18 (NAS)
"Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit."

I believe God sends rain in our lives to help nurture us, grow us, and help us thrive spiritually. There are times that are between the rains, when we must have faith and hope that our rain is coming. I believe that, like Elijah, we must have the humility to get on our knees and cry out to the God of heaven (he "crouched to the ground and placed his head between his knees" - v. 42). Elijah prayed seven times, and it was on the seventh time (seven is the number of completeness in the Bible) that Ahab reported back. After intense prayer, there appeared a cloud the size of a man's hand. From that tiny cloud, a heavy rainstorm appeared (v. 45). If you're going through a rough time in life, remember that "our rain is coming" (thank you, Beth Moore, for that precious reminder)! When God rains His blessings down, it pours!

"Side Notes:"
(Think metaphorically) If God sent a constant rain, the crops would have ruined, there would have been flooding on the land. Spiritually speaking, we would not grow in Christ if there was a constant rain. Spiritual growth requires times of hardship. Then is usually when a believer will excel in his or her faith.