Her Room Looks Empty

Her room looks empty.  Her dresser is bare.  Her bags are packed.

This is happening.  My firstborn is leaving home.  It isn’t her first adventure, but it is her longest so far.  Seeking God and helping others is her mission, taking photos along the way.

                How can I say goodbye to my right arm, the joy of my heart, and my best girlfriend?  I fear I will be overcome with testosterone and daily tasks without her.

  But I know that it is her time to fly. 

God’s timing is perfect, and His grace is sufficient for me.  She graduated two years ago, an amazing student.  She stayed to save money and help me through my hardest pregnancy and recovery yet. 

                She is a second mother to the others.  She diapered them, fed them, washed them, dressed them, educated them, had fun with them, and loved them.  They are the children they are today because of her.  I am a sane and happy mother of 10 because of her. She had a job and was a leader at youth group.  Many have been blessed by her! 

                “What will we ever do without her?”  my heart keeps asking.  “How will I bare the emptiness?”

                The truth is, we are not becoming smaller as a family, we are expanding.

We are not losing Areli, we are going to be seeing a whole new world through her eyes.  Her room won’t be empty!  Two little girls will being filling the space with feminine joy and enthusiasm soon.  And what a good change it will be.  Four year old Annalise is still in a crib in her brother’s room, and it is time for a change.  10 month old Aria will be a wonderful roommate now that she sleeps like an angel.

All the children will take a step up and grow in maturity. They will learn new skills and take on new jobs.

                Areli will be going to the same missionary school that I attended just a brief 25 years ago.

  25 means double grace, and there is double grace on her life.

To live…to love…to learn…to grow…to embrace each moment!  Our hearts are going with her, and our prayers are surrounding her. 

 One of her walls looked awfully bare. So I pinned up some photos of Areli and the family. Aria will be able to lay on her new changing table see that beautiful smile everyday. 

We are so proud of you Areli!  It won’t be long until we are all together again.

The Hunted Becomes the Hunter

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger from Pexels

Sometimes living in this world overwhelms me.  One of those times happened recently.  Concerns and fears were pressing in on me, and I was trying to hide.  I realized that I had spent most of my life avoiding any person or situation that I thought would hurt me. In my mind’s eye, I could see myself.  I was a pitiful, little field mouse.  I was running from one hiding spot to another, not wanting to be in the open field.  I knew that if I ventured there, the powerful birds of prey would pick me off.  I felt like a victim, too small to fight back, too lowly to be confident.  I felt ashamed of all that I was not.  The snakes of shame were hissing reminders of what I was – a pesky, dirty, little rodent.

                Then I felt the slightest breeze of the Spirit.  The picture in my mind flipped.  I rose from the ground and began to ride the wind.  I was an eagle.

I WAS THE BIRD OF PREY.

I saw that pesky vermin running on the ground. 

THAT WAS MY ENEMY.

The enemy was so small, yet I could spot him from a mile away.  I could easily hunt him and swoop down to finish him off.  And all the shame?  Those filthy snakes of shame?  Those were my food!

The Hunted had become the Hunter!

                How glorious it felt to fly above the ground!  How freeing and beautiful it was to be who God had made me to be!  How wonderful to not be afraid!  Then I remembered a passage of the book I had been reading by Rick Joyner, “The Valley.” In this prophetic allegory, a group of sojourners were making their way to the Mountain of God.  They had to pass through the Valley of the Shadow of Death in order to get there.  Elijah had come to give them guidance.

“You do not defeat an enemy by just getting past him.  You defeat fear by growing in faith.  You defeat despair by growing in hope.  You defeat death by growing in life.  True life is only lived by those who no longer live for themselves, but for The King, and do all things for His sake and for those He gave His life for.

                “This valley is here to help you find true life…but to find that path, your goal must be greater than getting through the valley.  You must resolve to seek out and destroy the enemies that are in it,” Elijah continued…

                Finally Charles spoke up:

                “This would be a radical change of not just our strategy, but my understanding of our purpose.  So the path of life is found by seeking the enemy?  And then to be on the offensive and attacking?  I am sure most of us were thinking we needed to do all we could to avoid the enemy, to just get through it.  I thought finding the path of life was done by seeking the path of life, not fighting.”

                “To do His will is the path of life for everyone.  This is His will for you here.  This valley has a high purpose, and part of it is to prepare you for the rest of your journey to the mountain, and then to be of use to The King in the great battle to come.  You must become true warriors, and no true warriors seeks to avoid the enemy…

                “In this valley lie your greatest fears.  They are your greatest threats and your greatest challenges.  That gives the potential to be the place of your greatest victories…

                “The Lord created this valley, but men made it the Valley of the Shadow of Death.  So He uses it to seal in His people who they are called to be – warriors that do not kill, but impart life. They do not wound, but heal.  They do not oppress, but set captives free.”

                The enemies that I am to hunt and destroy are fear, doubt, and shame (just to name a few) in myself and others.  But when I flap my great wings, I will bring the wind of healing and refreshing to people.  People are not my enemies.

                A few days later I randomly opened my Bible and started reading Esther 8.  Again I found an example of divine reversal.

The Hunted becomes the Hunter!

                The King had given Haman permission to draft a law that authorized the enemies of the Jews to rise up and kill them.  The King didn’t realize that his lovely queen was a Jew.  Her people were facing utter annihilation.  The queen went to the king and in one moment, with one decision of the king, the entire picture flipped.  He allowed Mordechai to draft a law that permitted the Jews to strike back.  Fear of the Jews fell on all the other people.  Just the day before Esther was praying for the courage to reveal that she was a Jew.  But in that day:

“In every province and in every city to which the edict of the king came, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating. And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them.” (Esther 8:17)

                Esther was bold, and she and her people fasted and prayed.  But it was God who gave them victory over their enemies.  I went back to reading Psalm 18.  I had been reading it for a few weeks and I just wasn’t getting it.  Why did I keep returning to it? What did God want to tell me?  Finally it became clear.  God was taking me from being the prey to being the predator.

The Hunted becomes the Hunter!

34 He trains my hands for battle;
    my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
35 You make your saving help my shield,
    and your right hand sustains me;
    your help has made me great.
36 You provide a broad path for my feet,
    so that my ankles do not give way.

37 I pursued my enemies and overtook them;
    I did not turn back till they were destroyed.
38 I crushed them so that they could not rise;
    they fell beneath my feet.
39 You armed me with strength for battle;
    you humbled my adversaries before me.
40 You made my enemies turn their backs in flight,
    and I destroyed my foes. (NIV)

                As I was pondering all these things in my heart during the next week, I encountered this scripture on Facebook and then Pandora.

Psalm 2 GOD’S WORD Translation (GW)

Why do the nations gather together?
Why do their people devise useless plots?
    Kings take their stands.
    Rulers make plans together
        against the Lord and against his Messiah by saying,
            “Let’s break apart their chains
                and shake off their ropes.”

The one enthroned in heaven laughs.
The Lord makes fun of them.

As soon as I picture God up on His throne, laughing at my enemies, I am up there in the sky with Him.  I can see how small and weak the enemy is compared to my God.  I can see the joy on His face, the fire in His eyes.  He isn’t worried.  Not about the mice or the snakes.  Not about me either.  He is laughing because He knows all that there is to know. He sees all that can be seen.

He is laughing because He sees His eagles rise and begin to hunt.

(Recently David Lebo released a prophecy confirming all of this.  “I am setting My Eagles Free.”)

A Surprise Visit from My Marine, a Family Picnic, and another Eagle Sighting

It was 7pm and dinner was still not ready! I was working in the hot kitchen as the children were running all over the house and yard.

“This just does not work!”  I lamented to Areli, my oldest daughter.  “It is simply too late to be eating supper.”

How did it get so late, and why was I so unprepared today?

“It is alright, Mommy” she said sweetly as she helped.

I was putting the finishing touches on chicken chili (why did I decide to make soup on such a hot day?) when I heard a voice behind me.

“Mom! Mom!”

                I turned around and to see a face I hadn’t seen in four months.  The grown-up, handsome face of my oldest son, Cole.  It took a few seconds to register in my brain.  Then I rushed to hug him, and hugged him, and hugged him, and hugged him some more.

He had just graduated from his Marine MOS training school that morning.  We had all texted him congratulations, and his only reply was that he was off to his next duty station.  He had told us earlier in the month that he didn’t have enough time to come see us, and that it could be quite a while before he did.  Little did we know that he had bought a car and had gotten enough leave to drive home.  Areli knew all about it and had been in communication with him the entire time.  My heart was so happy, so thrilled, so blessed that I couldn’t put my emotions into words. Suddenly I was thankful that dinner was so late and I simply said.

                “Cole, you are just in time for supper!”

 

That Saturday we decided to take the whole family to Little Buffalo for a picnic.  We had many happy memories of day trips and camping trips there, and it was a beautiful day!  As we started the journey in our 12 passenger van, my heart was overflowing.  Our van was full, and I was so thankful that all 12 members of our family were together again.  I sent up a little prayer.

                “I would really love to see an eagle today since we are all together and Cole is here, since Cole is an eagle too.”

About five minutes pasted.  We drove across the Susquehanna River and there it was.  A big black bird.  Flying across the road right in front of us.  It had a white head!

It was a bald eagle!

“There is an eagle!” I screamed 5 times as I pointed frantically.  Most of the children saw it before it flew out of sight.  Cole didn’t spot it, and he started laughing at me.  The other children looked at me strangely and someone said, “Mom, I don’t think I have ever seen you so excited!”

“I was definitely more excited to see Cole when he came home…but you guys don’t understand!  I just prayed and asked God to see an eagle today.  Literally 5 minutes ago I asked Him, and there was an eagle!”

Chris had just been telling me how he had to drive this route many days to deliver packages.  It was a lovely drive.  But he had never seen an eagle before.  The rest of the day I spend in gratitude and wonderment.  Why would God so quickly answer my frivolous little prayer?  What had I done to deserve to be surrounded by such beautiful and handsome faces?

DSC_0002DSC_0010DSC_0018DSC_0071DSC_0127DSC_0156DSC_0191DSC_0209DSC_0211DSC_0216 (2)DSC_0218

These people made up my whole world, all my hopes and dreams. They are large portions of my heart walking around outside of my body.

They are all so precious, so special, and so important to me.  They were all here together on this perfect day.  Finally we had to head home, clean up and make supper. The perfect day was fading into twilight, and I wanted to hold on to it.

Cole would be leaving for his first duty station soon.  Would our entire family ever be in our van together again? I began to worry.  It is easy for a mother to worry.  So many details for each child.  So many hurdles stand between them and accomplishing their destinies.  Sometimes one of those hurdles is me!  (Did I check all their school papers?  Did I look that child in the eyes today and see his heart?  Will this one overcome my bad parenting techniques in the past?) A hundred fears began to pop up their ugly heads, and I began to play whack-a-mole with them in my mind.  Not a fun game because they just keep popping back up again.

                Finally I remembered that God had just shown me an eagle.

He had done that twice before, and both times He had used the eagle sighting to tell me something very important.  The first time was in response to a very specific prayer of mine.  He showed me that I do hear His voice, He does hear my voice, and that He created me to be a spiritual eagle.  (Details in “A Hawk, A Vulture,and an Eagle” Part 1 and Part 2.)

The second time I was on a long drive and He told me that I could trust Him with my Children and that He loved me more than I could imagine.  Then I saw the eagle.  Right at that moment this scripture came on the Bible CD I had been listening to.

So don’t lose your confidence. It will bring you a great reward. You need endurance so that after you have done what God wants you to do, you can receive what he has promised.

“Yet, the one who is coming will come soon. He will not delay.

The person who has God’s approval will live by faith. But if he turns back, I will not be pleased with him.”

We don’t belong with those who turn back and are destroyed. Instead, we belong with those who have faith and are saved.

Hebrews 10:35-39 (God’s Word)

                It was clear that these fears had no place in my life.

God loved me, He was holding my husband and my children in His hands, and had given me the faith I needed to stand firm with confidence.  Then I was reminded of something He had been showing me a few weeks ago.  Frankly I had kinda forgotten about it, because it was just too hard to wrap my brain around, so against my normal way of living.  However, this third eagle sighting had convinced me that this was truly a message from God that I had to believe and attempt to live.

It is called, “The Hunted becomes the Hunter.”

To be continued….

A Tricky, Sticky Kickball Game

My husband, Chris, and I were sitting at the dining room table as night was falling.  We were having dinner with most of our ten children.  The relative calm was interrupted when our middle three boys came bursting into the house with the delicacy of a herd of elephants.  They had been at the park and were returning home late. The chilly November air usually reminded them to return home much sooner than this. 

After much banging, clanging, and slamming of doors, the three of them stood before us.  Chai, age 13, was tall and muscular.  Cooper, 11, and Calvin, 9, were often mistaken for twins because they were so close in height and both wore glasses.  The resemblance ended there, however.  Cooper had dark hair and was very passionate.  Calvin, with his light hair and generous sprinkling of freckles, had a milder personality.

“Did you guys have fun?” Chris asked.

“Not really,” Calvin answered.

“Then why did you stay so long?” I asked.

Cooper, the natural comedian and storyteller began, “Well, we got the kickball stuck up in a tree.”

Cooper went on to recount the story of a very tricky, sticky kickball game.  Chai and Calvin chimed in with extra details now and then.

The boys had walked to the charming neighborhood elementary school just a block from our home. There they met many of the neighborhood children and had decided to play kickball.  All was fine until Isaiah made one powerful kick that landed the kickball in a tree. 

No problem.  Isaiah would simply launch his basketball and dislodge the kickball so they could get back to playing.  Except it turned out to be one sticky kickball that had perfectly wedged itself in between three branches.  After several failed attempts, the basketball got stuck in the tree too!

                No big deal.  Cameron had his basketball.  While Cameron threw his ball again and again, trying to hit one of the wedged balls, Jacob decided to climb the fence to see if he could reach the tree.  He was unable to get close enough, but he did get hit in the back by a wayward basketball. Unfortunately, Cameron fared no better than Isaiah, and his ball found a permanent perch in the tree as well. 

                No worries.  Someone offered their football.  This would surely work.  But alas!  It had the same fate as all the other balls.

                Now things were starting to look grim.  Desperate times called for desperate measures.  Cooper took off both of his shoes.  Maxwell took one of the sacrificial shoes and with strength and accuracy aimed at the kickball.  The shoe missed its intended target and landed right on a branch.  Cameron tried with the other shoe with the same result.  At this point Cooper was reprimanding them with rather high-pitched screams.

                Chai and Maxwell decided that they needed backup.  They walked back to our garage in search of more balls to throw.  All they could find were four deflated basketballs, but that was better than nothing.  While they were gone, Cooper’s feet were getting very cold.  He managed to fit one of his gloves onto one of his feet. 

                Just then Cooper noticed the School Principal, Mr. Stewart, walking to his car after a long day of work.  Cooper ran up to him and asked, “Is Mr. Dan [the janitor] still here?  Can he help us get our balls out of the tree?”

                Mr. Stewart glanced down and noticed Cooper’s feet.

                “What happened?” he asked with a funny look on his face.

                “I got my shoes stuck in the tree.” Cooper replied. 

                I am not sure what thoughts were going through the mind of the kind and wise Principal, but he simply replied, “We will have to get them down tomorrow,” and continued walking to his car.

                To Cooper, this was not an acceptable answer.  So what brilliant solution did Cooper devise with the help of his younger brother?  To throw this brother’s brand new shoes up into the tree, of course! When both of those got absorbed into The Tree, Calvin resorted to running across the street in his stocking feet to enlist the help of a neighbor friend.  This friend was not home, so it was back to square one.

                Janice, our energetic and joyful neighbor, had walked to the park with her young grand-daughter. She had been watching this entire drama unfold and found it quite amusing.  She took out her phone and was documenting the event with photos.  Her grand-daughter took on the role of cheerleader and kept saying in her cute, little girl voice, “You almost got it!  You almost got it down!”

                Chai and Maxwell returned with fresh ammunition and the tree received further battering by the four flat balls.  The tree proved to be a worthy adversary and claimed all but one of those balls. Thankfully, one of Calvin’s shoes was dislodged, so he returned it to one of his very cold feet.

The score was:

Elementary Playground Tree: 10  (1 kickball, 2 basketballs, 1 football, 3 flat balls, 3 shoes)

Seven Determined Boys: 2 (1 flat ball, 1 shoe)

                The boys were not to be defeated, however.  They continued with their strategy until eventually…slowly…one by one… each ball and each shoe had been knocked from its nesting place.

When Cooper finished his narrative, we were all consumed with laughter!  Finally the hilarity died down and Chris asked a question.

“Why didn’t you boys just get the ladder out of our garage?”

Cooper responded as though the answer should be obvious, “A bunch of boys walking to the park with a ladder?  That would just look silly!”

The Naming of Aria Iolani

It was an early Sunday morning in July.  Most of the family was still in bed.  I was on the computer Googling “names meaning eagle” and hoping no one would come down the stairs and see what I was doing.

I felt rather silly, looking up baby names.  I was 41.  I already had 9 beautiful children.  I had no reason to think that I would ever be blessed with another one.  I would say from time to time, “I think I would like to have a baby in my 40s.”  My husband would always respond, “You’re crazy.”

I felt a little crazy just then, but I felt compelled to do it.  I just had to know what names were out there that meant “eagle.”  Over the past few years God had used many amazing encounters to convince me that I was meant to be an eagle.  I was beginning to let go of who I thought I was (a quiet girl who was deathly afraid of heights) and believe who God made me to be.

I found many names that fit the bill.  However, I needed an “A” name for a girl and a “C” name for a boy to follow the pattern of all our other children.  I could find no suitable boy name, try as I might!  A girl’s name struck me as though it were jumping off the computer screen .

Aria Iolani

 Aria:

Hebrew from Ariel – lion or lioness of God

Italian – air, melody

Sanskrit and Persian – noble, honorable

Teutonic – intelligence of an eagle

Iolani (ee-oh-lahn-ee):

Hawaiian – hawk of royalty, bird of heaven, to soar like an eagle

How perfect!  How beautiful!  A dream had been planted in my heart; a tiny seed carrying the perfect name. A dream that I would one day have a daughter who would bear this name.  A daughter who would have the vision and intelligence of an eagle.  A daughter who would know her identity from the womb. She would not have to live 40 years on the ground before it began to dawn on her…she was meant to FLY!

A few months later, in December, I found that I was pregnant.  The revelation came at a time I didn’t expect.  It didn’t seem like the right time for another baby.  But …perhaps this dream in my heart had been a dream in God’s heart all along.  Perhaps now was THE TIME!

My oldest daughter, Areli, loved the girl’s name I had found!  The boys did not like it, mostly because they wanted the baby to be a boy.  Chris liked the named “Aria” but wasn’t sure about “Iolani.”  It was too hard for him to remember and pronounce correctly, and he thought it would difficult for others as well.

I checked out a bunch of books from the library about Hawaii since Areli was planning on going there for school in the next year or so.  I discovered that there is an Iolani Palace in Hawaii, the only royal palace in the United States.  That settled it.  “Iolani” was THE middle name!

I was excited but told myself that this baby could easily be a boy.  Soon sickness and other pregnancy discomforts (that I had never experienced before) came upon me.  The dream of “Aria Iolani” was still a lovely thought, but it was overpowered by the thoughts of a victim pleading for release from her prison.  I understood that all that was going on in my spirit was being experienced by my baby’s spirit as well.  I tried to be thankful and upbeat.  I tried to speak over my baby love and peace and truth.  Half the time I doubted the truth myself.  That God really loved me and that someday I would feel good again.

Many fears started to plague my mind.  What if there was something wrong with this baby?  What if there was something wrong with my body?  And the worst fear of all, what if this child had a chromosomal abnormality like Ashlyn had?  I love Ashlyn and I am still amazed that God would trust us with such a special child.  Still, I always thought that having two special children would be absolutely too much to handle, and I would break under the strain of it.  With each pregnancy there has been a small chance, and each time this fear rears its ugly head.  This pregnancy the fear was worse than usual, almost suffocating me at times.

I didn’t go to church for two months.  Finally I was feeling well enough to go to a Sunday morning service.  As I entered the balcony of the sanctuary, I heard the Helsers leading worship.  I felt the sweet presence of God, and I longed to linger there forever!  They were singing, “Mt. Zion.”

We have come to Mount Zion

City of the living God

Heavenly Jerusalem

By his blood we have come

I felt God’s presence.  I felt peace and joy.  I felt safety and security.  The fears dissipated.  Hope started rising.  This is where I should have been living this whole time.  This is where I wanted my baby to live, even in the womb.  I felt sad that I had been such a bad mother so far.  I had tried to abide in the presence of God in my own home.  But most of the time I just felt sick and discouraged.

Here at church I could feel His presence, as though Mount Zion was a reality I was dwelling in. The song continued:

Thousands of angels dance around his throne

Thousands more sing out new songs

And elders throw their crowns down

As all of heaven sings out

 

“Baby, this is where you are to live all the time,” I told the precious little one.

                “I know, mama.”

I heard a sweet little girl’s voice say these words.  At least I thought it sounded like a girl. I knew it was my baby.  This was very unexpected and unusual.  It wasn’t said in a sassy voice as if to imply that I was being dumb for thinking my baby didn’t already know this.

It was said in a comforting voice as if to say, “Mama, you worry too much.  I am just fine.  I just recently came to you from heaven.  I could see those angels in person, and I can see them still.  I am still surrounded by His presence.”

I felt more at peace than I had in a long time.  My baby was more aware of spiritual realities than I was.  She was most definitely an amazing child.  I began to remember all the fears I had confronted during previous pregnancies.  One by one those fears had fallen by the wayside, replace by peace.  Almost across board just the opposite had proven to be true.

I didn’t need to worry about this baby’s health, well-being, or intelligence.  She (or possibly he, I had to remind myself) was extraordinary…a super baby!  She (or he) had just spoken to me from the womb for goodness sake!

DSC_0413 (2)DSC_0417 (2)

On March 30th we had an ultrasound that revealed a perfect and beautiful baby girl!  My dream was growing inside me.

Aria Iolani

About four weeks before my due date, Aria dropped.  She was sitting low and I was uncomfortable.

“At least she is head down and in the right position.  She is getting ready to be born, and it won’t be long now,” I thought.

Each week she dropped a little lower.  Each week I was more uncomfortable.  I kept having signs that labor was near, but no real labor would come.  The last week, each day felt exponentially worse than the day before.  My due date, August 16th came and went, and Aria became my first baby that was actually late.

Finally my water broke the night of August 17th.  The next day labor still had not started, but my homebirth midwife came over to check on me.  I was already dilated to 5 cm and Aria was at +3 station.  The midwife said that babies normally are not that low unless the mom was already in labor.  We both thought that once labor started, Aria would be born quickly.  We were wrong.

Labor finally began around 3pm on August 18th but it progressed very slowly.  I was listening to worship music, scriptures, and birth affirmations.  I was enjoying God’s presence.  He was speaking to me and showing me visions of Himself.   Before I knew it, it was evening.  I didn’t feel like I was in transition even though I was dilated to 10.

Then it got difficult.  I never really had a difficult labor, so it was a new experience.  Aria was so close to being born, yet she wasn’t being born!  I am sure it was difficult for her too, but her heart-rate remained steady.  Finally after an ambulance ride, an epidural, Pitocin, and some sleep; Aria supernaturally came into the outside world at 2:33 am on August 19, 2018.  I felt no pain and consciously did nothing at all.

I simply slept and prayed, “Jesus, you do this because I can’t.”

I woke up to the slightest bit of pressure.  My midwife looked under my covers to see that Aria’s head was crowning!

She was born quickly and placed in my arms.  The rest of the room faded away.  There was only my baby.

Aria Iolani

She was beautiful and peaceful.  I noticed her eyes first.  They were open wide and moving slowly back and forth, scanning and taking it all in.  To me they looked like the eyes of an eagle.

DSC_0197 (4)

She is now six weeks old.  Aria had not been as sleepy as my other newborns.  She is more alert and her eyes are always looking.

DSC_0294 (3)DSC_0260 (5)

The midwife saw her at three weeks and said, “She seems more like a 6 week old that a 3 week old.”  At 3 ½ weeks she began to really look at our faces and smile! The most adorable smile.

Not all is prefect of course.  My recovery had been much slower this time.  Aria finds it hard to just fall asleep, and she spends a good amount of time crying when she is tired.  She also had the worst case of thrush I have ever seen.  Then came the baby acne.

But when I nurse her and look at her baby face, I am so thankful for the chance to have her as a daughter, my 10th child.

DSC_0086 - Copy

What a rare and precious jewel.  When I prayed for her during my difficult pregnancy, God showed me so clearly that Aria is vitally important – to this family, to this world, and to eternity.  She was not an extra baby or an optional baby.  She NEEDED to be here.  Just like every single baby ever to be conceived.

Of course to me Aria is amazing!  Brilliant, observant, and born to fly.

DSC_0133

Aria Iolani

A dream come true.

Prayer Warriors Needed for Ashlyn’s Foot Surgery

DSCF0886 (2)

Ashlyn is our special 14 year old.  She was a happy and healthy baby.  We didn’t know until she was 6 weeks old that she had a chromosomal abnormality.  We couldn’t get into a pediatric geneticist until she was 3 months old.  It was then that we learned that a piece of her 6th chromosome was missing.  This was very rare with less than 25 cases in the world similar to hers and none on record just like her.  I felt amazed that God would trust me with such a special little girl.  This also meant that no one knew what the outcomes would be for her.

“Wait and see,” is what they said.  Chris and I were sure that she would be almost normal.

We were wrong.

With each passing month, each passing year it became more and more clear how wrong we were.  I asked God for wisdom.  I read What to do with Your Brain Injured Child by Glenn Doman and it became my guide.

I let Ashlyn lay on her belly all the time.  It seemed like forever until she lifted her head, but she did it!  I made a crawling track for her and eventually she started to scoot!  That is, after many excruciating months in a brace to fix a right dislocated hip.  Still, that right side didn’t seem quite right.  She would drag that leg behind her while using the left leg to move forward across the floor.

300717_240310076004371_2823406_n  It took many years and a trip to the Family Hope Center to get Ashlyn to start the cross-pattern crawling.  Learning to climb up the stairs is what did it for her.  I was overjoyed!  I was ecstatic!  I didn’t care how long she crawled.  I knew she would get up and walk eventually.

                Again, I was wrong.

She didn’t get up and bear weight on her feet.  Slowly, ever so slowly, a mysterious and invisible force inside of her body began to pull her feet inward, the right more than the left.  The legs began to become internally rotated on the hip sockets, the right more that the left.  I didn’t notice and neither did all the doctors and specialists that she went to.

Ashlyn at the Hope Center 072

Finally we recognized a progressive club foot deformity. We employed many different types of therapies and braces which allowed her to stand independently for the first time when she was almost 9 years old and take 11 steps by herself by age 10.

We built her a walking track and she worked up to over a hundred trips a day!  She could walk independently around the house.

Capture

However, that invisible force kept on pulling, robbing her of all the progress she had made.  Now the only option left is surgery.  I hate the thought of surgery.  The pain.  The 8-12 weeks of recovery and non-weight being.  The bulky and difficult casts.  The unknown outcome.  The scar tissue and possible pain and arthritis later in life.  I asked God for wisdom and I figured that we had to give Ashlyn the chance to walk.

No surgery would mean no walking.

739947_574299335938775_1542733185_o

I decided to get two opinions on Ashlyn’s case.  The first with Dr. Sorenson at Hershey Bone and Joint Institute and the second with Dr. Herzenberg at the Rubin Institute for Advanced Orthopedics in Maryland.  We saw Dr. Sorensen first.  I like him so much!  He recommended a Posterior Medial Release for the left foot and a Talectomy for the right foot (removing of the talus bone.)  He had gotten a medial release when he was 12 years old and it has been great for him.  He thought that Ashlyn would be able to walk just fine!  I was so encouraged and left his office with hope.

I don’t ever remember leaving a doctor’s office with so much hope!

SAM_0639

I researched the two doctors online and my heart sank.  Dr. Herzenber had around 30 years more experience that Dr. Sorenson.  I didn’t want to travel all the way to Maryland to see him, but I felt like I would be a horrible mother if I didn’t.

Thankfully Chris came with me on the day of the appointment.  The drive was long.  The wait in the office was even longer – 2 ½ hours in the room!  Dr. Herzenberg sure knew his stuff!  He said he had done many talecomies over the years but came to realize that a triple arthrodesis produced better results.  A telectomy didn’t leave a joint at all, just scar tissue between two bones that didn’t fit together.  This was not good for a major weight bearing part of the body.  A triple arthrodesis would fuse three smaller joints but reform the talus bone into a working joint.

                I left that visit feeling like this surgery would be totally impossible!

I had to give Ashlyn the best surgeon and the best option, but I could never drive back and forth to Baltimore time and time again for pre and post-op visits.  I could never stay away from my family for the days that she would be in the hospital.

I decided to talk all of this over with Dr. Sorenson.  I didn’t know how he would react.  Some doctors bristle when you question their authority and opinion.  I prayed and prayed.  When I told him that I had taken Ashlyn to see Dr. Herzenberg for a second opinion he said, “Oh really!  He is wonderful.  I actually went to see him for a second opinion when I needed knee surgery.”

I showed him the report of Ashlyn’s appointment and Dr. Herzenberg’s recommendations.  He sat down and read the entire report, WORD FOR WORD!  I never expected that!  It was clear that he admired this other doctor greatly.

When he had finished, he said, “I see his point with the triple arthrodesis.”  He examined Ashlyn’s feet again and declared, “Yes, I think that would really work!  Yes, I agree.  I could do the surgery here for you or you could go see Dr. Herzenberg.  I wouldn’t be offended at all.”

I told him that I would much rather do the procedure here in Hershey with him as the doctor.  We talked about all the details; four weeks of casting prior to surgery to stretch the muscles as much as possible, three days in the hospital, 4-6 weeks in castes, 4-6 weeks in special boots.

“I am so glad you went for a second opinion,” he said at the end of the appointment.

                I was overjoyed!  I liked this doctor and the office much more than the Baltimore option, but I never dreamed that it would work out so well!  I thanked God over and over for this humble and wonderful Dr. Sorenson.  I prayed that God would make him brilliant beyond his own abilities!

Little Buffalo 2012 Areli 189

As I thought about writing this article in hopes of raising a prayer army for Ashlyn, I realized something.  I wasn’t really expecting this surgery to work, to actually give Ashlyn the ability to walk.  I was doing it because to not do it would seem like neglect.  But my expectations were of pain and suffering for Ashlyn, myself, and the entire family; not of a breakthrough. There were two reasons for my dismal outlook.

  1. There were other issues that made walking difficult, her hips and the 50% curvature of her spine that would not be addressed in this surgery.
  2. Everytime we had followed instructions that were supposed to help Ashlyn’s feet, it failed to do so. Doctors, therapist, and The Family Hope Center had prescribed 8 different therapies or equipement to use and here Ashlyn is…a 14 year old who can’t walk.

God has been coaxing me away from my expectations rooted in the past.  He is bringing me into faith.

Faith that the future could hold more healing and more promise than I can see right now.

fall-winter 2012 035

I am also asking Him for miraculous healing since I know that He is the great Physician and that He would do a perfect job with no pain or scar tissue!  I am taking Ashlyn to a healing room this Saturday and hope to take her To Randy Clark’s healing service on Good Friday.

Ashlyn goes for her first casting on March 21st.  Her second casting is April 4th.  Her surgery will be on April 19th at Hershey Med Center.  Could you please pray for God’s amazing healing to be displayed and for peace and comfort for Ashlyn and the rest of the family as well!  I am not sure how I am going to deal with showers and potty-time with Ashlyn in two casts, unable to stand or walk at all.  Pray for God’s wisdom and grace!  Thank you for standing with us and expecting wonderful things!

How to Rise Above the Vultures

We all have them.  Bad days, bad weeks, even bad months…when it feels like we are living under a dark cloud of depression.  All circumstances seem to agree with the discouraging thoughts inside our heads.  Yet if we know Jesus, we understand that this is not the abundant life that Jesus promised.  We realize something is wrong, but exactly what and how to fix it is a little fuzzy.  Fuzzy because the vultures are circling overhead, creating a dark atmosphere that blocks out the light of the Son.

                How can we live a life without those pesky vultures bothering us?

For me, they speak a language that I readily understand.  A language of condemnation, self-doubt, and self-pity.  Whenever I fall short (which is every day), my perfectionist nature can hear the toxic voices of the vultures.  I agree all too often and lose sight of God’s truth.  How do I stay out of their reach?

The book, The Final Quest offers a clue.  In Rick Joyner’s vision, he was fighting in the Lord’s Army.  He saw many Christians in the enemy’s camp being held captive by weak little demons of fear and being oppressed by the vultures of depression.  They could have easily fought off these puny creatures with their glorious swords, but chose not to.

Even the Christians who were not prisoners but were mighty warriors on the mountain of the Lord, were still vulnerable to the vultures. If they drifted too close to the edge, they could slip on the condemnation vomited on the rocky cliffs by the vultures.  Once they had fallen off the mountain, they were easily carried off by the enemy.  Rick avoided this fate by spending his free time driving his sword (the Word of God) deep into the side of the mountain and tying himself to it.  He finally climbed to a level that was above the reach of the vultures.  This level was called, “Galatians Two Twenty.”

                “…and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (NRSV)

This scripture speaks of a life I have not yet learned how to live, but I want to.  I want to climb up that level where I dwell in the reality, “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”

My life is no longer about me.  My life is about Jesus!  No one (not even myself) has any grounds to judge me.  My value doesn’t come from being good, or perfect, or hard-working, or talented.  My value comes from the value God puts on me.  He knew me before the world began.  He made me.  He knows who I am in the depths of my being.  He knows who I will become.  He knows that His word is powerful to enable me to do anything He tells me to do.  He knows His finished work in me.  He says that I am worth His Son – His Life, His Death, His Resurrection.

                It is no longer about me!

                It is Christ living in me!

 My past mistakes – Jesus has signed his name to those and claimed them as His own.

My victories – I win them in His power.

My weaknesses – He is turning them into strengths.

My Strengths – It is His likeness in me.

My embarrassments…

My insecurities…

My shame – They no longer apply to me!

My condemnation – I say to those vultures, “Take it up with Jesus!  This life belongs to Him!”

DSC_0517

It is not I who live but Christ who lives in me!

When I start to get discouraged, when I tumble down the slippery slope to depression, I am focusing on myself.

My failures

My faults

Why I am to blame for all the imperfect circumstances.

Why other people don’t like me.

How I could never become the person God wants me to be.

Why all His goodness doesn’t apply to Me!

 I AM SO TIRED OF FOCUSING ON ME!!!!

Even Bill Johnson said that no one comes out of a time of deep introspection encouraged.  There are times that the Holy Spirit will lead us to look into our past or look into our hearts, and shine His Light and Love on whatever we find there. But looking inward all the time with our own understanding makes our world smaller and smaller, darker and darker.

“Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.” Romans 8:6 (MSG)

I want that spacious, free life!  I want to soar above the circumstances, soar above the vultures.  I want to mount up on wings like an eagle and rise above the grey clouds, to see the sun paint glorious colors on the sky.

DSC_0251

When I am being bothered by those vultures and thinking all sorts of disparaging thoughts about myself…

I turn my gaze to Jesus!  I start to worship Him for all of His excellent attributes.  I rehearse all of His goodness to me.  I see how beautiful and powerful He is.  I give Him His job back, being the King of the Universe.  My burdens become light.  He becomes so big.  My problems become so small.  I lift my arms in surrender and I feel faith arise within me.

IMG_2179

                I feel my wings unfold.  I feel the wind of His presence lift me high.  High above the vultures. High above everything…

except HIM.

 

 

Our 21st Honeymoon: A Moonrise, A Sunset, and a Sunrise

IMG_5858

Chris and I celebrated our 21st anniversary on August 3rd.  It is always so hot in August, and we are not fans of heat and humidity.  Why did we pick August to get married, we ask ourselves?  Last year we celebrated our 20th on the hottest day of the entire year!  This year we decided to wait until October.  God provided a beautiful beach getaway at Ocean City, Maryland, and it was lovely!!

I have only been to the beach a handful of times in my life.  Florida when I was a preschooler.  Ocean City, New Jersey when I was in Elementary School.  The beautiful white sand beaches of Belize after I graduated from High School.  Brigantine Island for our honey moon.  Duck, North Carolina with the family 6 years ago.  This time I think I really understood why people return again and again.

First we decided to walk on the beach and then the boardwalk to see what we could see.  We ended up walking 68 blocks that day and night, because we didn’t know much about Ocean City.

Finally we found a beautiful restaurant with great Italian food.  We could sit outside and watch the full moon rise over the ocean.  My first moon rise over the ocean!

DSC_0044DSC_0054DSC_0063DSC_0085

The next day we decided to drive rather than walk.  We drove to the very end of the board walk which was the most exciting part.

 

We saw lots of little shops.  We saw hundreds of fancy cars in a car show.  Chris got some Boardwalk fries and frozen custard.  We went to the Life Saving Station Museum.  It was amazing to learn about the men who would patrol the beaches at night, looking for ships in distress.  The accounts of rescues touched me deeply.  The men would risk their own lives, work for hours in freezing temperatures and horrible weather, and think of nothing else except the person they were trying to save.

“That is like you, Jesus.” I prayed. “Give me your heart for your people in distress.  But how do I save them if they don’t even know that they are dying?”

You don’t have to do my job.  You don’t have to save them, heal them, know everything about them, or make everything right for them.  Just love them and obey Me,” I heard Him answer.

Later we ate a delicious meal on our balcony overlooking the bay.  Then we walked on the bay as the sun began to set.

DSC_0099

It was my first sunset on the bay…

DSC_0103

Stunning!DSC_0105

A Blue HeronDSC_0122

DSC_0130

Night falls.

DSC_0151

The next morning we woke up early and walked to the beach one last time.  The sun was about to rise.

I was surprised by all the other people gathered, watching the horizon.

DSC_0164

There is the first bit of sun peeking over the ocean!  My first sunrise on the beach.  We watched as it rose quickly into the sky.

DSC_0169DSC_0177DSC_0183

We shared the beach with the trucks and the morning fishermen.

DSC_0189

And a woman doing acrobatics.

DSC_0194

And two pelicans.

DSC_0191

I could feel His presence in the wind that carried the birds.  As we walked along the edge of the water, I could hear God’s voice in the waves.  They were unrelenting and drowning out all other sounds.  I can see why people love it here.  Away from the rest of the world.  Encounters with God come loud and clear.

DSC_0180

I am struck by how God reveals himself in His creation.  He is like the ocean.  Unpredictable.  Just when you think you have figured out where to walk to just get your feet wet, a large wave comes and gives you more seawater than you had bargained for. Uncontrollable.  The waves push and pull and can’t be stopped.

Unimaginably beautiful.

DSC_0186

 

Have Patience!

 

rain

I love shopping at Costco! It is usually a lovely experience…usually…

At first I was nervous about paying for a Costco membership, because I didn’t think we would get our money’s worth out of it.  Now I shop there twice a month.  It really has become inconvenient to NOT buy in bulk.

Frequently I shop with some of the children with me.  This particular Saturday morning Chris was able to come along too.  What a treat!  We had a delightful time trying all the samples, browsing the aisles, and filling our cart to overflowing.  We finally paid and pushed our heavy load out to the exit.  We found the place packed with shoppers with their carts, watching the torrential downpour happening just outside the large open doors.  We tried to maneuver our cart close enough to the exit to see what was actually happening outside.

A perfect summer storm!  Sheets of rain pelted down, unrelenting.  No one was willing to go out into it, yet new shoppers with full carts kept pushing towards the doors from the checkout lines.  A few people rushed in from the parking lot, wanting to start their shopping, only to find an almost impenetrable wall of people just inside.  With grumpy, disgruntled faces they tried to wiggle their way out of the rain.  I felt very in the way.

Chris decided that he would make a dash for it.  He was going to get the van and pull up to the entrance.  A good start to a plan.  Without discussing the details any further, he plunged out into the rain with his phone in his pocket.

I waited and waited with two very antsy boys and an ever increasing mob of people.  We were lined up by the door, but no one was going out.  Where was Chris?  I couldn’t see him through the rain.

“Do you have the big van out there?” a nice woman asked.  “I see it back there behind my daughter.”

I inched my head around the corner and saw our van sitting behind a rather long line of vehicles.  Yet no one was moving, no one was loading up their groceries.

“What is happening?” I thought?  “Should I wait for Chris to get to the entrance?  But no one is moving.  Is he waiting for me to come out to him?  He is always accusing me of being slow.  Maybe he is wondering where I am.”

Cooper and Chai were urging me to go out to the van.

“Come on, mom! Let’s go!!!”  they kept saying.

After several more annoyed looks from incoming shoppers, I decided to risk it.  It could rain like this for the rest of the day, and we couldn’t stay here forever.

“OK guys, we are going to run as fast as we can to Daddy.  Stay with me!  Ready?”  I said.  I was no wimp!  What is a little rain?

As soon as we left the building I realized what a mistake I had made!  The “little rain” soaked us to the bone in one millisecond.  It was too late to go back inside so I plowed on, pushing my load up the sidewalk which had been transformed into a river.  The water covered my shoes and was soaking my pants.

Through the sheets of water pelting me, I caught a glimpse of Chris’ face in the front seat of the van.  The van that was so close yet so…far…away.  He was shaking his head with a look of bewilderment that said, “What in the world are you doing, woman?!”

I knew that I had made a very bad decision, yet I had to keep going.

“Boys, help me push!” I yelled.

They tried to help until we came to the place where a drain pipe exited the side of the building.  Water from the roof was shooting out of the pipe like a fire hose.  The boys stopped moving forward and began to play in the water!

“This is the life!”  I heard Cooper say happily as I was still struggling to get our very soggy groceries upriver to the van.  I finally get there and Chris jumped out.

“What are you doing?”  He yelled with a crazy kind of laugh and immediately started loading groceries in the back.  The boys began to help, although it pained them to leave their fun.  We all threw ourselves into the van in a matter of minutes, dripping and soaking the seats.

“Cutie, I wanted you to wait for me.  I could see on the radar that this storm is about to pass, but I couldn’t call you because you left your phone at home.”

I was trying my best not to sink into a disgusted, self-loathing depression for all the groceries that I had just ruined.  I was thinking about all of us having to change all our clothes – more laundry! Arghh!  I was thinking about having to dry out the van.  I was thinking about my sopping wet hair matted to my head.  When it finally dried, the humidity was going to make it poof into a frizzy mess.

The words of Bishop Joseph Garlington came to my mind.

“If it’s funny later, it’s funny now,” Chris said as though he was reading my mind!  I was trying to see the humor in it, but I was just feeling foolish and oh so very wet!

Chris began to maneuver the van out of the parking lot.  Before we even turned out onto the street, the clouds cleared.  The sun came out and painted the most beautiful pinks onto the now blue sky.

“See, if you would have just waited a few more minutes!”  the sun seemed to say, as if to mock me!

What have I learned from this unfortunate event?  Clear communication is very important.  Discuss a plan thoroughly and understand what the other person is thinking.  If you are unable to obtain the needed clarification…simply wait!  Have patience!  Wait on the Lord and listen to His wisdom.  His radar is perfect and He knows exactly when those storms are going to clear.

I have gleaned a few more pearls of wisdom:

Don’t take advice from impatient pre-teen boys.

Don’t worry about the rude looks of other people or what they might be thinking.

Almost all of Costco’s products are wrapped in plastic so you don’t have to worry about a little rain.

Even a wrong choice is not the end of the world and can make a pretty good story.

 

God Encounters ~ Part Three; Maleficent offers a message of Hope!

Maleficent

After going through a season of loss, it is hard to allow yourself to dream again.  There is something beautiful and freeing about surrender.  Lay all my dreams down and cling to God alone?  Sure, I can do that.

But what happens when I feel dreams stirring in my heart again?  Old dreams.  New dreams.  Forgotten dreams.

It should thrill me and fill my heart with excitement…but instead, I feel fear.  The fear of being disappointed again.  The fear of being wrong, of being foolish, of going around that same painful circle again.

God sent me a message that gave me permission to dream again.  And he sent it through a famous Disney villain – Maleficent!

If you haven’t seen the new live action movie, Maleficent, you might want to watch it before reading this article (I don’t want to ruin any surprises for you).  I never had any interest in seeing this movie.  I hate Disney villains!  They are so scary!  I don’t let my small children watch them.  Yet when the movie Maleficent came on the TV, I was drawn in.  Maleficent was a young girl with piercing eyes.

young Maleficent

She was a powerful fairy.  In fact, after the death of her parents, it fell to her to protect the fairy kingdom of the Moors.  She didn’t look at all like a fairy with great horns growing out of her head and massive, dark wings.  Yet she was wise and good.

I was captivated when I watched her flying with her strong wings,  joyous and free, shaping the clouds with the force of her flight.  I wished to do the same!  My recent obsession with eagles that I wrote about in “God Encounters ~ Part Two”, fueled the desire that I could enjoy that same freedom that Maleficent had.

Clouds

She trusted a young boy even though humans were usually enemies of her kingdom.  She and the human fell in love, and on her 16th birthday, the boy gave her, “true love’s kiss.”  Her trust was rewarded by abandonment and an empty heart.  Soon the boy forgot about her in his ambition to become King.

Years passed.  That boy had become a man and returned to Maleficent with kind words.  She forgave him and let him into her heart again, only to be betrayed. The man had intended all along to kill her, for whoever killed Maleficent, the great protector of the Moors, would be given the human kingdom that wanted to conquer it.  This man couldn’t bring himself to kill the dark and beautiful creature he had once loved.  So instead he drugged her and cut off her wings, thinking that this would be all the proof that was needed.

Normally I am not that deeply impacted by a Disney fairy tale, but this time I truly grieved for Maleficent.  To see her painfully crippled by the one that she loved hit close to home.  I could feel her pain.  What a tragedy for her to be earthbound when she was created to fly!  The sorrow and suffering turned into bitterness in Maleficent’s heart, and she cursed the daughter of her betrayer, Aurora.

Aurora was so sweet, so happy, so innocent, and so defenseless that Maleficent began to love the child despite herself.  She became Aurora’s sustainer and defender, her “fairy Godmother.”  As I watched Maleficent’s heart turn from unforgiveness to love, I still felt so sad.  Sad to see her only a shell of what she once was.  Yet that happens to many of us in this life.  I comforted myself with the thought that even if our physical bodies are broken and our circumstances are prison-like, we can still be free on the inside.  Our spirits can still soar above the clouds in God’s presence.  Still, we long to see restoration with our physical eyes.

Maleficent tried to renounce the curse she had put on Aurora, but she could not.  When Aurora turned 16 and fell into the death sleep, Maleficent showed no concern for her own life when she brought a prince into the castle to give Aurora “true love’s kiss” and break the spell.  It didn’t work!  Maleficent was heartbroken, coming face to face to with the fear that has always haunted her – there was no such thing as true love.  She promised to always protect the sleeping girl.  When Maleficent stooped to kiss the one she truly loved with a selfless devotion, the spell was broken!  Aurora was awakened!

The king, now a tortured and crazy man, did not even notice that his daughter was well again, so intent was he on killing Maleficent.  Aurora ran from the battle and came upon Maleficent’s wings, locked in a glass case.  They were still alive and flapping!  This was something I never expected!  Cut off a body part and it surely dies.  In the years that had passed, they would have decayed and been long gone…yet here they were, as strong and true as ever.

Aurora shattered the case and the powerful wings were reunited with their owner, carrying her above the battle.  Maleficent’s true identity had been restored, and it was a wonder to behold.  This was a miracle!  I was rejoicing!  This is the type of miracle that only happens in fairy tales…or is it?

Could this just be a message from God to get my attention, to lead me to the real miracle of the restoration of all things found in Is 35 and again in Is 65 all throughout the Bible?  This will really happen in all people and to the entire earth…someday.

But what about right now, inside of me?

Could it be that God is restoring my true identity – the parts of me that were stolen or crippled?  My true self, my purpose and all of the freedom and thrill and excitement that comes along with it?  Could God be storing up all of the dreams I ever had, all the dreams He ever had for me?

-before they got trampled and crushed by life.

-before I experienced betrayal and pain.

-before I hear the words “You can’t,” “You shouldn’t,” “You Never Will!”

-before I morphed into a shell of what I was created to be, a wingless eagle living in the dirt.

Could those wings of mine be alive and viable somewhere?

Perhaps I WILL feel the wind rushing around me!

Perhaps I will rise above the earth again.

dream

Perhaps I will see the miracles I once expected.

Perhaps I will be whole and strong.

Perhaps I really will be a fearless one!

Perhaps I  was born to fly!

And perhaps you were too…