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Friday, February 14, 2014

Open letter to Dr James (Jim) Quintessenza

Dear Dr. Q,

You have met me. You have shaken my hand and you have answered all of my questions without making me feel rushed or stupid. I have walked past you in the hall so many times, star struck, but your head was always down with your brow furrowed. It took me over a year to realize that you don't know me, not even a little, but I know you.

When I found out my baby girl would be born with half a heart, I dug in deep. I asked countless sources which doctors I should use. From a cardiology standpoint I got a mixed bag of suggestions. From a surgical standpoint I only heard one name....from my pediatrician, from my nursing friends, from my adult friend who you have operated on and even work with and he greatly respects your work....I talked to some of the top doctors at leading cardiovascular hospitals and asked for honest opinions about you about other doctors in our hospital, plus their recommendations of packing my family up to come to them vs staying put. They all said the same thing- I have great respect for the man and his work and feel confident you will receive good care under him. I had no idea then that you are ranked at in the top 1% in the country for cardiovascular surgeons, but it was clear you had it under control.

I remember the day we met. I had to wait a good long time in a cardiology exam room (something we are familiar with now but scared me then). You swept in, your peppered hair showing your years and burdens, your scrubs well worn by this point of the day, and your firm handshake showing your agility and strength. You were clearly exhausted.  At the time it annoyed me. This was "our meeting". The time your world should be all about MY world, my unborn Teagan. And you were tired?!?! Ugh. 

We talked so briefly I can't even tell you what we spoke of.  I was more researched than most residents, you felt you had little to add as we talked, and your PA Ashley and the cardiologists had educated me so thoroughly that we met but a moment. We shook hands again, you wiped your hand down your face (that pesky exhaustion, I suppose), and literally tripped over a tray as you backed out of the room.

I was terrified. Would you be the man who cut into my daughter's walnut sided heart, the man I trusted to not only keep her alive but to save her from certain death?

Ahhhh, how little I knew then.

She was born 5 weeks early at 5lbs 12 oz, screaming and mad at the world. She was scheduled for surgery 5 days later.  That wasn't to be, but you came and spoke with us each of those days leading up to her first planned surgical date. You commented more than once about her feistiness and took encouragement from her batting at the nurses for simple bed changes and temperature checks.  It took nearly a month to get her even remotely close to healthy enough to endure her first operation, and always you checked in.  I begged to nurse my babe, something you encouraged but cardiology rejected. More than once you went to bat for my wishes, as I cited research and journal papers and leading centers.  Honestly, we were vetoed every single time but I can never thank you enough for listening to me like you did and truly giving me a voice in the matter, not patronizing me but fighting for me. 

Once Teagan got her Norwood surgery, the first of three open heart surgeries, you again checked in on her daily. She wasn't able to be extubated quickly, and you made sure to keep up on her and her progress. I have heard you are known for that more so than any other heart surgeon at ACH.  I waited for your visits every day and would read your face and body language as to whether it was time to worry yet. I watched you go to blows with our favorite intensivist, both doctors we respect and prayed the right party would prevail.  

There were so many unknowns and ugly situations with Teagan's case. She was tiny, she was repetivley septic, and she was running out of time. You never gave up. You were always blunt but compassionate.  You answered every single question I asked without frustration and you were honest when you didn't know.  We had so many challenges I have lost track....7 PICC line attempts that were unsuccessful and ended up with a blood clot, a ventilator mishap that resulted in every staff member in her tiny room and the chaplain praying us through it, and Teagan earning the phrase "well usually this is why happens....but it IS Teagan."

Teagan is now 18 months old and, while I know you know her name and her case intimately, you wouldn't blink twice if you passed her in the halls of the hospital.  Truth be told, I now understand that. She is finally thriving, kicking CHDs booty and doing so well I don't want you to recognize her.  That would mean she needed to be under your surgical care, which at this point she shouldn't be.  You have bigger fish to fry, newborns to focus on getting past that ugly critical Norwood. Transplants for those littles whose 3 stage surgery plan became a dream that would never come to fruition. You came in that day looking haggard and I was irritated.  What I know now is that your days start way earlier than I could imagine, that you may have come from one or more open heart surgeries before meeting with us, or maybe an emergency surgery, or lost an infant on the table.

I get it, Dr. Q. You are a hard man to get ahold of in a hospital that ranks #38....so you are in high demand. You are amazing. This isn't an ego booster, this is fact.  God has given you a gift and I am forever thankful my daughter was on the receiving end of that. I don't think you hear it enough, and I know you aren't "nationally recognized" the way some doctors are. I also know you blush when someone does say something like this, showing your true humility. You are harder to contact than the Pope, and I have again sought out second and third opinions. I know you would be the first to encourage me to do so. 

Anyway, thank you. You may never read this and I am ok with that. But one day you will retire from saving lives and have a little extra time on your hands. Maybe you will Google your name and this blog post will show up. I hope so. To me, and so many others, you mean the world. 

We will be meeting again in the not too distant future because we still have the Fontan (3rd open heart surgery) to tackle. I am scared. We have lost several of our fontaners the last year or so, seen major complications, and lost some when all was supposed to be well afterward. However, knowing we have an amazing surgeon in our own backyard makes the journey a little brighter. 

Until then, I will walk past with butterflies in my chest as you contemplate the next big case and give me no mind....because you did the same for my Teagan. I know each case consumes you and you give everything you have to get the most favorable result. I will see you, and be thankful you don't see me.  Know you are loved, appreciated, and cherished.  That is all.

With much love and appreciation,
A humble heart mom

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

No Words Are Enough

I am so angry right now. I am also in pain, tears flowing down my face as Teagan plays with her 13 year old brother and smiles like she hasn't a care in the world. And I am terrified.

I have written about these emotions before but today they are fresh. We lost a warrior, one of our own. It happens. Often. It is part of who and what CHD is. An ugly, hateful, deceptive killer of innocents.  What makes it hurt the worst is how unexpected it was. We bought into the lies and we all were breathing easy. He was post-Fontan, the promised land, where we are all striving to get so we can let out our breath that we have been holding for years and stop worrying so much. 

And then he was gone. A blink of an eye. Just....gone.  

It is so unfair.  An ugly reminder that there is no cure, there is no so called promised land. There will never be a day guaranteed for Teagan and her half a heart.  I can't just kick back and say "Well, we are all good because everything looks as great as it possibly can on her echo and clinical."  In the last two weeks we have lost two boys in the CHD community who were in that exact spot, then were just gone. I am sure there are countless more I have never met.

So what *can* I do? Because I seriously cannot live like this everyday for the rest of her life....watching, waiting, speculating, holding my breath.  I can't. 

And we shouldn't.  None of us should. Our days are numbered, whether we want to think about that or not. CHD or not, this life is temporary and just a vapor. I assure you I didn't schedule CHD into my daughter's life, cancer isn't chosen, and accidents aren't planned ahead of time. Our life is finite. Do we live in fear? Do we cower and hide from the world, insulating ourselves against as many boogeymen as we can? Will that even protect us?

I won't. I can't. I don't even want to.

So. Today. Today I will love a little harder, hug a little tighter, be a little kinder. Today I will say yes more than no, give when I see a need, smile at strangers. I will say yes to fingerpaints that require extra cleanup, to throwing a baseball with my son even though dinner needs to be cooked, play a game for the bazillionth time even though the toddler is running around with no pants on. I will send a card "just because", share the Gospel even when it seems hard, and say thank you to my friends for loving me for me. I will dish out grace and mercy and love in heaping cupfulls instead of in tiny tablespoons. I will live out every cliche that I can like "dancing in the rain" and do so with gusto. I will smile, laugh, hug, cherish, pray, thank, dance, and sing until my joy is so overflowing that I cannot help but to infect others.

Because that is what I choose.  I refuse to live under a rain cloud of "what ifs" and let CHD rob my life of all the beautiful things God intended it to be. I refuse to live in fear or sorrow, because I know I mourn with hope and the promise that we will see this warrior again one day.  I refuse to take one more day for granted. 

So as Teagan now scarfs down cantaloupe making a huge sticky mess amongst her sticky brothers and sisters, I praise God for today, for now, and smile at the gift that is. I will praise Him in this storm called Life and know that He is still Sovereign and good, even as my heart is broken and the tears flow. 

I pray you will choose the same. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Can We Get Serious For A Second?

So let's talk organ donation. I have never received an organ or even remotely needed one. No one in my family has either. I have always been kinda flippant about organ donation and a little weirded out by the concept, to be honest. Being as I had never really educated myself on it and didn't have any interest in doing so since it didn't affect me (the self-centered American way, I am afraid), it wasn't even on my radar. I mean, it didn't impact me so why should I care, right?

Until it did.

10 years ago this past December my cousin died. For my emotional sanity and the sake of sparing you the details, I will just say he was in his early 20s and loved by many.  I had gone to the hospital to visit him when a member of my family came out and asked if I wanted to go in to say goodbye. I was shocked because I was simply going up to visit and just that fast he was gone. I went in to see a shell of a man I once knew.  He was on a ventilator and his entire right side was impacted by neurological issues (maybe a stroke-that part is fuzzy now).  I talked softly to him while I massaged his feet and toes that were clenched and curled so tightly. His very pregnant wife came and hugged me and said they were waiting on the results of a second brain scan to confirm he was brain dead. I just kept talking, making jokes that he would have laughed at convinced he could hear me. I refused to wrap my brain around goodbye because death wasn't supposed to touch my life, his life, at such a young age.  We weren't done living so I just ignored it, as if I had to acknowledge it for it to be real. 

The doctor came in and brusquely told us he was, in fact, gone and asked if he was an organ donor. My heart started racing and I asked what felt like a million questions. His wife said he was, and in what seemed a blink of an eye I had to say a hasty goodbye and he was wheeled away to from me.  I was shattered inside and felt like they were adding insult to injury with his death and now they were going to take all his spare parts before they discarded him.  I share this as a raw admission, not to sound insensitive.

In the end, something made him incompatible with organ donation and his organs were not able to be used. But I was still hurt and angry. I made my husband take "organ donor" off his drivers license and stiffly said "no" when asked if I wanted it on mine. I never wanted my family to live through the scene I had just gone through nor would I do it again if I lost one of them.  

I didn't give organ donation any more thought. No need. It didn't affect me. It was easier to just pretend it didn't exist, a non-issue. I felt comfortable being able to say,"it doesn't effect me."

Until it did.

As most of you likely know, in August 2012 we had a beautiful daughter born with half a functioning heart (Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, or HLHS), a congenital heart defect that has no cure.  The treatment for HLHS is a series of three open heart surgeries that allow for a longer life with a transplant being an eventuality down the road.  A bandaid of sorts.

I understood I would have to reassess my issues with organ donation at some point but that would be a loooong way off.  I would just deal with it then.

We prepared for Teagan's first open heart surgery at just a few days old.  She quickly developed a blood infection called sepsis that could easily become fatal and surgery was postponed. 3 times she battled sepsis back to back and I realized I may have to reevaluate my thoughts on organ donation much sooner than I had planned. We were struggling to get her healthy enough to even make it to her first heart surgery and it was only a matter of time before her 5lb body and tiny heart would give out at the rate we were going. I feared the "T" word would be brought up daily. I couldn't go there, not yet. 



I prayed a lot. I drew close to God and asked more questions of Him than I could ever expect answers to. And I waited. Every day the doctors would say,"We just have to wait and see." Wait through the collapsed lungs, the endless attempts to get a PICC line, the all staff ventilator emergency, the blood clots and fluid issues. All the while I prayed her tiny walnut sized heart would hold out and ignored the transplant concept.

In the end, Teagan was in a position she had to have her surgery because her anatomy was changing to where she would die if we didn't (super simple explanation). She wasn't 100% going into the surgery but we had no choice. What was to be had to given to God and we trusted that wherever He led it would be for our good.  

Fast forward-Teagan got through her first heart surgery and plodded along til her second. It has been a year since that operation and she is now a firecracker who has surprised all of her doctors with how well she is doing. Our main concern now is simply getting her to gain enough weight so she can get the third surgery.  


But....a persistent thought has followed me....what if we ALL waiting until it applied to us? Wow. Sobering.

During the last two years I have watched other heart babies grow and thrive with the 3 stage surgery plan, I have seen way too many pass as a casualty to the very nature of HLHS, I have seen some get the gift of life in the shape of a new heart, and I have seen babies die waiting on their gift.  I have followed pages, become friends with other heart moms, cried through the challenges and setbacks, prayed hard for just a few more days and the possibility of a heart becoming available, and rejoiced when the gift of life does come.  

Turns out God has been working on me all along, through precious angels like Nolan, Sonny, and Caleb.  Some children have even gotten multiple organs transplanted at the same time like Julian and Athena. 

In that moment where I was angry and in denial with my cousin, when I thought it an atrocity that organ donation could be brought up when my heart had just been shattered, when I wanted to scream and claw against death and God.....another family who was walking in the very same shoes chose life for another child.  Someone, experiencing what I am convinced would be the very worst pain in this earthly life, saying goodbye to their child....chose to allow another child to live and spare those parents the same heartache.

I didn't get it then.  Maybe it was the way the doctor handled it (he was very insensitive), maybe it was because I didn't have time to process it, maybe I was spoiled and ignorant in my young age. I don't know. What I do know now is the beauty of such a selfless act and what it can bring to those who need it. I know now how horribly wrong I was and how little people understand organ donation and the need for more people to be donors.

Did you know:

-there are currently approximately 120,000 men, women, and children waiting for an organ transplant.

-roughly 1,851 of those are children.

-in 2012 there were 14,013 organ donors in a country with a population of over 300,000

-each donor can save up to 8 lives and can bless many others with tissue and eye donation as well

-18 die every day waiting for an organ transplant

It isn't hard to do the math. There are not enough organs for those who need them.  Please, if you haven't done so already, sign up to be an organ donor. Clearly let your family know your wishes and intentions, as none of us know when our journey here will end. 

And pray. Pray regularly for those who have lost loved ones, particularly children, and have made the single most selfless gift to extend the gift of life to another family in the midst of their intense loss. 

Without that sacrifice we wouldn't be blessed to watch Sonny being a big brother....



Or Nolan conquering the world with a smile....

<<<2.5 months before transplant:2 months after transplant>>>


Or Caleb being a living testimony to so many....




Signing up is super easy through donatelife.net and ensures that your wishes are known and honored, or you can register with your state DMV to be an organ donor. And SPREAD THE WORD!!!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

In Which I Post Nothing About Meatballs

I am a passionate person. There are very few things I am lukewarm about. In my world it is black and white, but often that black and white may look very different to different people and I love and encourage that. I truly do, and I don't presume to know where God has led others.  My passions cost me friends, usually because I am too passionate on my personal Facebook page. There are only a few heart mommas that have stuck around because I share mercilessly the info I learn about vaccinations (I am a little "passionate" about that subject and can get a little, ahem, lippy about it too). I have peeved people for pointing out, as politely as I can, that their car seats facing forward before a year old or installed improperly can be deadly (we were T boned by a drunk driver many years ago so the whole "it won't happen to us" or "you kids survived in less" argument is kinda lame).  I have gotten into lengthy conversations over circumcision, gun control, birth control, abortion....you name it and I have not only discussed it but discussed it passionately. I have lost friends over it, some I was shocked to lose, some that I wasn't surprised at, some in a very nasty way with no forgiveness offered. I admit it, I can be bold to the point of blunt and sometimes downright nasty. Passion can cloud our judgment and words sometimes. I am likely the worst offender, and I have apologized more than once in my life. 

I became befuddled, solemn, withdrawn. I ached because my intention is never to offend, but I also don't want people to live under misconceptions or false information. I was hurt because no one thought that maybe there was more going on behind the scenes in my own life and to offer grace. I was jaded because so many of opposing views scream "Respect us! Don't judge me! Freedom to choose!" yet they disrespect, judge, and limit freedom to others. I was utterly lost.

I ran back to my Jesus and I hid in His Word, the only friend who would never abandon me and the only truth that is guaranteed. Wow. I found immediate comfort, and shortly thereafter I had enlightenment about my passion.  When I started my Facebook account I used it as a ministry, a way to spread the Gospel, to be passionate about my Savior. Now? Now I am spreading my passion about everything but Christ. How quickly the world takes our eyes off the things that are eternal and distracts us with things that are so temporal! 

In fact, Satan is so talented at swaying us from keeping our eyes on Christ that he has consumed me lately with his distractions. I have found myself at odds with my husband because of the choice to focus on his faults rather than his amazing strengths. I have beenriding a  rollercoaster of fear and false peace watching children struggle with their Fontan (our next open heart surgery) and losing their battles with CHD very suddenly and unexpectedly. I have forgotten to see life through eyes of thankfulness and joy and instead have been steeped in busyness and routine.

I don't know about you, but that makes me mad. Really really mad. I want a relationship with my God, to walk beside him and talk with Him throughout the day like the old friend he is. I want his word to be the first thing that comes to mind any time any question is asked. I want my life to be a reflection of Him. And Satan was able to rob me of that, stealing that away from me and my joy with it, because I had allowed him to.

I chewed on that a bit, prayed a lot, and mourned the time I lost with my best friend. 

Then, I began to seek Him.  Hardcore. I can't pretend my troubles are gone. I can't pretend I am any less passionate about my beliefs on everything from buying new vs. thrift to homeschooling to the president. But my focus isn't being put on them or on swaying people to believe the way I do in trivial matters. My focus is on Jesus, pleasing him in all I do, raising my children in His image, sharing what I learn with others who are walking the same scary journey I am, reflecting his glory instead of my flesh, and conveying life-saving information so that people do not spend eternity somewhere God never intended them to be. After all, eternal stakes are far more important than the consequences of whether we eat organic or use coupons. It just is.


Friday, December 13, 2013

Ahhhh, 2014

Know what what I wanna be when I grow up? An engineer. Or a writer. Or to work in a department store.

I want to go to exotic places and experience true cultures like tourists rarely do. I want to sit on the beach with my eyes closed and feel the warmth on my skin, just because I can. I want to taste food and meet people and feel the rainforest. I want to spend too much on a cupcake, have furniture and clothes that stay clean and nice for more than a blink of an eye, to live in a one room cabin in the mountains. I want to go on mission trips and minister to people in person,  not just over the phone or internet. I want to go to the bathroom without someone talking through the door, finish a sentence before being interrupted with more demands, and to have an adult conversation (in person over a leisurely cup of coffee).

If it was up to me, this is not the life I would choose. Having a brood of kids, no career, no furthering of my mind. Oh gosh, don't get me wrong. I love my kids. Every single one of them. I would never change that. But......

When God calls us to something, it doesn't always fit into our plans. In fact, it rarely does. That is why he is God; He kinda knows more than we do. 

I went to the mall a few days ago, somewhere I rarely go anymore. The smells, the sights, the sounds. Oh man did it tug at my heart.

I know, it sounds so weird. I am a Type A personality....to the extreme. I like control and order. God has worked wonders on me through the years but there is still a lot of breaking and molding to do.  Point is, this isn't where I thought I would be, where my "heart" is. I want....more?

I put heart in quotes because my heart and soul is here with my family. It really is. My ambitions and dreams are out there, where people work and climb ladders of worldly success and feel accomplished. I struggle with this regularly. Almost daily.  I feel like I have "more" to give, an intellect that God gave me that shouldn't be wasted raising kids, that I have so much to offer society. I feel almost every single day that I am *missing* something, something so very important. There is a whole world out there, and I.am.missing.it.

See? I am human. I am so imperfect and jaded and misled.  I would love to wrap my life into a pretty package and often find myself coveting (sometimes with the help of my buddy Facebook and Instagram) the lives that my acquaintances lead. It sure is tempting. It looks like they have the high life. They seem to be experiencing so much more than me. 

And then God gives me such a refreshing gift of truth. The true blessing that I have right (literally) under my feet. I get to see the joy of a child connecting letters and reading their very first word. I get to teach love and tolerance and empathy. I get to show innocent minds, and see through their eyes, the wonder and beauty of things that seem mundane to us....leaves changing colors, sand running through our fingers, a deer slinking through the tree line.  I get to minister to 8 amazing human beings face to face on a daily basis and help them discover who they are and who they are meant to be in Christ.  I get to carry life in my womb and feel a literal miracle happen every time I give birth. 

And I am the one who feels cheated? Boy, is Satan the great deceiver!!! How easily swayed we are by the things of this world and the way it entices is to take our eyes from God. He has such a great plan and purpose for each of us, for me, and here I am thinking the grass is greener on the other side. In truth I am the blessed one, abundantly and with my cup overflowing.

Colossians 2:8 " See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy,which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ."

So yeah. They can keep their fancy island vacations and their perfectly matched designer clothes and their jobs that allow travel and conquering the corporate ladder.  In 2014 I am purposing to fully know the depth of who I am where I am, to give my heart and soul to the only job that God intended for me in this season with the gifts he has equipped me with, and to truly relish every fleeting moment of shaping these amazing children into men and women on fire for the kingdom of God. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Reality Sneaks Up On You, Doesn't It???

I was waiting in line at a department store today and a couple ladies were behind me in line. As we waited it came up that one of the ladies was declared cancer free the day before. I smiled and congratulated her as I fought back tears of joy for such a wonderful outcome. She had such grace and dignity and in a small voice she said, "Yep, I defied all their odds."  She was buying plates to celebrate. Such a simple thing but when you aren't sure how much time you have left certainly not something you spend time shopping for.  I know it was a not-so-little pleasure for her.

Almost immediately I shifted to fighting tears of own grief.  It quickly reminded me that we don't have the hope of "remission". Our hope is in watching and holding our breath as those with HLHS enter their 30s, and counting with them every additional year they survive. The surgeries are still so "new", so that is where the oldest survivors are as of today. Some are doing phenomenal.  Some struggle with chronic health issues due to their heart conditions.

Now, before anyone gets their feathers in a ruffle, let me save you time and energy.  This isn't a childish competition to see which disease stinks more. I hate cancer. I hate what it does to children as well as those who have done nothing to ask for such a gnarly fight for their life. I hate hearing "terminal" when chemo, radiation, removal and every other trick doesn't work. 

But that's just it.  Many people don't get that fact.  HLHS is terminal. The surgeries and treatments Teagan gets are considered palliative, or "an approach that  improves the quality of life of patients and their families facing the problem associated with life-threatening illness, through the prevention and relief of suffering by means of early identification and impeccable assessment and treatment of pain and other problems, physical, psychosocial and spiritual."

One day her heart will kill her, either directly or indirectly. We pray it isn't for a long, long time but there is no cure for HLHS.  No remission.  No long term studies on the meds she takes daily to keep her alive.  This is our reality, and it is a hard pill to swallow.  

And so I got in my car and cried. Hard. That soul wracking cry with a grief so deep I rarely allow myself to pull it out and inspect it for what it is. 

In that moment my Jesus met me there, in all the fear, uncertainty, and doubt. In the pain, tears, and guilt.  It didn't take long to remember that we have today, now. Teagan is home from the hospital and we will be decorating our Christmas tree. We have a Christmas tree because we are blessed to have a job that provides us this luxury on top of our physical financial needs.  Our family is healthy and together and even on the roughest days that she has Teagan radiates a strength and joy like no other. How can I possibly complain about that?!?!

God is good, ALL the time and I will choose to dwell in that truth. When I was pregnant with Teagan I happened to memorize a verse that I had no intention of even remembering and it has truly become my own life verse and one for peanut, as well.

John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

How true. We all will have trouble. That is a fact. BUT we can also have peace. What comfort there is in that knowledge. The victory is already won. Rest in that, friends, and hug those you love.  No man knows the number of his days.


****As I prepare to post this I have learned of yet another heart baby, Joy, who has gone home to meet Jesus.  My heart is shattered for her family and encourage you to cover them with your prayers in this time.****

 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Ok, So It Isn't All About Me

Last weekend our precious friends took over our family for Daddy and I to go away for a few days to reconnect.  I won't lie-it was hard for me to pull myself away from Teagan like that, something I have never done before.  At the same time it was so needed and so refreshing.  I feel like a different mother and wife and can already see the fruit of our break.

We had several neat things happen and met some very cool people in our excursions.  We had the coolest experience that I can't stop thinking and praying about.

I had decided I wanted a different bathing suit than what I had brought and Daddy and I went into a beachwear store.  The owner was super helpful and accomodating and struck up a conversation with us as I perused the racks.  I was struggling to find something I liked because I try to keep my attire modest.  She did her best to find something that would satisfy me but the selection just wasn't really my style.  I found something that *might* work and while I was trying it on, she and Daddy were chitchatting.  I cannot remember the exact line of discussion let led up to it, but somehow the fact that we have 8 children came out.  Naturally, she looked like we had slapped her and she said, "What, did y'all start when you were two?!"  (I have heard this before ;)  Her next question was, "Are you guys religious?"  (I hadn't heard this one before.)  I smiled and kinda nodded my head and kept thumbing through the rack of shirts I was looking at.  I was on vacation; I didn't really want to explain our whole life story yet again.  I was also caught off guard by the way she asked if we were religious.  I have heard just about everything....don't you believe in birth control...are you mormon....are you catholic...did you mean to have that many?  I have never been asked, however, if I was religious.  It was odd.

I was perfectly content to keep my eyes down and finish my business, even with the knot in my belly from saying "yes" to being religious.  You see, I don't see myself as religious.  That term always makes me bristle.  I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and that really doesn't have a whole lot to do with "religion".  Like I said, though, I wanted to be left alone and not explain for the billionth time our story and how we had a big family at the Lord's leading.  I really just wanted to get back to the beach and enjoy the limited time we had to ourselves.

Daddy was having none of that.  He quickly told her that while we weren't religious we did know Jesus on an intimate level.  He then went into no man's land.  {key sppoky music here}  He asked this sweet lady, "If you were to die right now, would you go to Heaven or Hell?"  Dum dum duuuuummmm....

I nearly froze in my tracks.  I have heard others tell stories of sharing the gospel boldly like this, but I have never been there when it was done and I certainly haven't done it this way myself.  Oh, I share the gospel often, but it is in a far more subtle beginning and it happens naturally as the situation allows.  This was in.your.face.  My skin got clammy and I lowered my head a little more as my heart about beat out of my chest.  I hated myself in that moment for feeling fear and wanting to disappear, knowing that Satan wanted nothing more than to use fear to keep me from sharing about Christ.

She answered him, "Oh I would go to Heaven, sure."

Daddy asked her how she knew this.  Why did she think she would go to Heaven?

The story played out that day the exact way I have heard it retold by others time and time again.

"Because I am a good person."

EEK!

I finally pulled my cowardly head out of the t-shirts that I long ago had lost interest in and smiled.  I saw where this was going and my fear quickly turned to a rush of excitment as I saw a beautfiul opportunity to share our Savior with this lady.

Daddy asked a few questions and assessed that she was not actively involved in any church, though her husband was an orthodox Jew who "loved Jesus".  Daddy continued by asking how you would determine what a "good person" looks like.  The ten commandments?  Yes, yes of course, she replied.

You can probably see where this is going.  :)

He asked her if she had ever lied (she said yes).

Had she ever stolen (no never!).

Had she ever looked at someone with lust (she kinda mumbled a response).

Daddy then showed her that none of us can live up to God's standard, as evidenced by the fact that none of us has ever kept all ten of the commandments.  Only through the blood of Christ can our debt be paid and we be reunited with our Father, and only by that blood will we be in Heaven with Him for eternity.

At this point I was all smiles, lit up like a Christmas tree as Daddy shared the best news I have ever heard, eager for her to listen and drink deeply of the truth that breaks all chains.  ::sigh::  Even as I type this my heart is pitter pattering in my chest and I am flush remembering the joy of sharing the gospel with someone who was so willing to listen.

She shared some intimate details of her life, and we shared a bit of ours, including the journey with Teagan this past year.  We were quick to give God all the glory as she rained praises on us.  It opened my own eyes in a fresh way about how dependent I am on His strength, that none of the good in me can be attributed to my own worth.  God is SO very good and faithful, even when I am complacent and lazy in my relationship with him.

I have prayed for this dear woman and her family many times since then.  Her story weighs heavy on my heart and I doubt I will ever know if the seed that was planted will bear fruit.  But, man, what a privilege to share Jesus with her, and how humbling to see my husband be so bold while I shrunk away in selfishness and pride.

There was another couple that impacted us deeply at the hotel that I have prayed for many times as well.  They blessed us by paying for our dinner one night and Daddy couldn't stop saying how he coudn't believe someone had done that for us.  Again, I was humbled and blessed to see God's hands move in a chance encounter and to see my husband in a light I haven't seen in a very long time.  I look forward to corresponding with this couple in the future, and seeing God work in their lives, as well.  I was so refreshed to see my husband for the man he has become, an amazing and humble man, something I have missed in day to day life all too often.

I have been so selfish, absorbed in my own world and my own survival for so long that I have lost sight of who God has called me to be, what He has called me to do.  I have found myself being a crabapple and letting the world, the here and now, feel like it is all I have to look forward to.  I have taken my eyes off of eternity and the knowledge that this world is not my home.  I ask for forgiveness of all who have seen that side of me lately, and pray that I realign my heart with God and his purposes.  I look forward to the refinement that God is working in me, regardless of how painful it may be, and seeing the beauty that He can make of this heap of bones.  I am seeking after him in a way I have neglected for a while now, persuing my Jesus and knowing that he loves me enough to forgive me and embrace me yet again, despite all my failures.

Be encouraged, friends.  Not one of us is perfect, and Jesus never asked us to be.  What a blessing that is!  Lean into him, yield to him, and be full of joy in his presence.