21 November 2011

Looking Back

November 20, 2010 was a Saturday.  It was the morning after my pulmonary thromboendarterectomy surgery.  With a doctor close by the nurses had administered a drug to "wake" me up after 24 hours of anesthetic sleep.  It felt more like 5 minutes.  My first thought upon awakening was, "Oh, I've just been napping. I wonder if it's time for my surgery yet."  My very next thought, likely produced by the doctors and nurses telling me it was Saturday morning and that my surgery was a success and the realization that there was a giant breathing tube down my throat, was something like this, "Wow, the surgery is over and I'm still alive!"  I definitely felt a sense of relief.  However, I had no idea that some of the most difficult days of my life were ahead of me as recovery from PTE is a great challenge!  Those next several days in ICU were incredibly long and painful and difficult both mentally and physically.  Even now, a year later, reflection brings mixed emotions.  Remembering the experience is bittersweet.  There are so many thoughts and emotions that have been swirling around in my heart the past few weeks.  I have moments where I can't stop smiling because I am so overwhelmed with gratitude and joy that I am alive and healthy today!  My heart rejoices when I remember how God redeemed my life from the pit and has set my feet in a steady place!  Not only did God use the surgery to bring healing to my body, He slowly but surely delivered me from a pit of despair to a steady place of emotional and spiritual restoration and very real hope for the future.  In so many ways 2010 was a desperately difficult year and in so many ways 2011 has been a wonderful year full of hope and healing and life!  

And yet, the looking back is bittersweet.  My physical, emotional, and spiritual heartache of those days before and after surgery spill out as tears even now.  The truth is, it doesn't seem like it has already been a year, and I'm a bit sad that it has already been a year.  I've been trying to figure out why I feel this way.  I think it has something to do with the depth of both the struggle and the deliverance and the lessons I am still learning from both of those things.  It was such a deeply significant and powerful period of time in my life that I am afraid of forgetting.  Afraid of forgetting how hard it was learning that I had an incurable disease that would dramatically shorten my life.  Afraid of forgetting how God met me in so many incredible ways in the midst of the despair and how He provided again and again and again.  Afraid of forgetting God's goodness to me before I knew a cure was possible.  Afraid of forgetting God showing me that His goodness was not based on whether He brought physical healing to me.  Afraid of forgetting how my family and friends and acquaintances loved me, upheld me, cried with me, laughed with me, listened to me, walked with me, carried me, hurt with me, shared God's Word with me, and more than anything prayed and trusted God to do what only He could do.  I'm afraid of forgetting how God breathed life into certain passages of Scripture that anchored me.  I'm afraid of forgetting how much peace God gave me the week before surgery.  Afraid of forgetting how by God's grace I was able to look death in the face and say, "You don't scare me."  I never want to forget going to sleep the night before my surgery and the next morning kissing my parents goodbye as they wheeled me to the operating room with the overwhelming peace to know, "To live is Christ and to die is gain."  I never ever want to forget that truth planted in me by facing a surgery inherent with great risk and yet knowing I had the assurance that I would spend eternity with Jesus.  I'm afraid of forgetting that Jesus really is all I need and want and have.  If I lived through the surgery I would get Jesus and if I died from the surgery I would get Jesus.  Jesus either way! Surely that one truth is enough to make me not want to forget, don't you think?

And yet, there's so much more I don't want to forget!  I don't want to forget how hard recovery was because it makes me grateful for today and it makes me compassionate for people who have to endure so much more than I did.  The list goes on and on in my head and heart of moments and memories that I don't want to lose.  Those days are full of so much significance.  Those days are full of so many lessons I still want to learn along with so many more applications from those lessons I still need to address in my life.  Those days are full of richness.  

Reflecting upon the richness brings me to this place one year later with an unexpected sense of grief.  I'm actually not quite sure whether it's a good thing or a bad thing that I'm not ready to let go.  Don't get me wrong, I'm glad I'm not still in the midst of those darkest of days!  But at the same time, I'm sad about the passing of a year and the distance between those days and now. I don't want to say goodbye to those days. I wonder if and how God could ever work in my life in such a profound way again?  I find myself thinking, "Oh God, please don't ever send me back into a furnace that hot!"  The fire was so hot and so dark that many days I couldn't see or feel or hear God.  I didn't know where He was or what He was doing.  However, looking back with the ability to see from the outside in, I can see Jesus in the furnace there with me.  No doubt, the time that has passed has given me the perspective I need to be able to see Him there, or rather to see Him more clearly there.  Now I can see Him there with me in the flames and in the fire and in the deliverance and in the pain and in the healing and in the restoration.  This year I have often been reminded of the account when Moses asked to see God's glory...

Moses said, "Please show me your glory." And He said, "I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name 'The Lord.' And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But," He said, "you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live." And the Lord said, "Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen." (Exodus 33:18-23 ESV)

I believe this explains why there were days when I couldn't see God.  I believe that God was actually so very present and active that His glory would have shined too much brightness for my little eyes to see!  I believe it was His grace that hid me in the cleft of the rock until He passed by.  (There were many times in the hospital before and after surgery when the words of the familiar hymn would play in my head..."and covers me there with his hand, and covers me there with his hand.")  The passing of time has been a bit hard to accept this week,  but it also brings me great joy and delight as I recognize that God has now removed His hand and has allowed me to look back and see His glory and to see where He has been!  What a wonderful thing to not only look back and remember the struggle, but to see Him there with me and to praise Him for all He was doing!  This is God's gift of the passing of a year, and what wonderful gift it is!

27 May 2011

14 Gifts

Today has been a most marvelous day - a day off work and with absolutely nowhere I had to be! I love my life and enjoy all the things that fill it up, but I also treasure the times of rest and relating! Here's what I'm thankful for on this day...

1. Sleeping in this morning
2. Being healthy enough to walk to Starbucks
3. Starbucks
4. A nice long chat on the phone with my lovely friend Abby all the way from Istanbul
5. Having a friend like Abby who doesn't just pray for me, but always makes a point to pray out loud on the phone together. I love that she prays for God to give me "happy patience!"
6. "He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" Romans 8:32
7. Meeting up with Kasey spur-o-the-moment at the mall to do a little leisurely shopping
8. Making an impromptu appointment and getting my hair cut
9. A great haircut (but still long!) that looks and feels so much better on my little punkin head :)
10. Laughing on the phone with Linda and talking to sweet little Katie too
11. Finally finishing my outline of the book of Acts
12. A quiet night at home
13. Getting ready to enjoy my leftover delicious tilapia from dinner last night
14. Seeing my name on a flight itinerary to Israel in 55 days!

19 May 2011

Happy Birthday!

Today is the 6 month anniversary of my PTE surgery!!!  It feels like a new kind of birthday to celebrate when I got my life back afresh!  I continue to feel great and grateful for all that God has done for me!  I was reading in 2 Corinthians yesterday and was amazed at these words in chapter 1.  I had tears in my eyes - not of sadness, but of joy!  Joy that I am on the other side and joy that I have been rescued!  Thank you all for sharing in my suffering and now sharing in my joy!  If I could write with the skill and inspiration of Paul, I would like to say something like this...

2 Corinthians 1:6-11 (The Message Paraphrase)
When we suffer for Jesus, it works out for your healing and salvation. If we are treated well, given a helping hand and encouraging word, that also works to your benefit, spurring you on, face forward, unflinching. Your hard times are also our hard times. When we see that you're just as willing to endure the hard times as to enjoy the good times, we know you're going to make it, no doubt about it.

We don't want you in the dark, friends, about how hard it was when all this came down on us in Asia province. It was so bad we didn't think we were going to make it. We felt like we'd been sent to death row, that it was all over for us. As it turned out, it was the best thing that could have happened. Instead of trusting in our own strength or wits to get out of it, we were forced to trust God totally—not a bad idea since he's the God who raises the dead! And he did it, rescued us from certain doom. And he'll do it again, rescuing us as many times as we need rescuing. You and your prayers are part of the rescue operation—I don't want you in the dark about that either. I can see your faces even now, lifted in praise for God's deliverance of us, a rescue in which your prayers played such a crucial part.

06 May 2011

For Moms, Former Moms, and Wannabe Moms

For Moms, Former Moms, and Wannabe Moms

This is an incredible article which provides truth for all kinds of women on Mother's Day - single women like me who long to be a mommy some day or married women who keep praying and hoping for a baby despite much frustration and sorrow and women who are faced everyday with the intense challenge of loving and caring for their children in a Christlike way. I hope each of you finds the encouragement you need on this wonderful, but sometimes difficult day!

And P.S. I really love my MAMA! :)

30 April 2011

Psalm 30 on April 30

Psalm 30
"I will exalt you, LORD, for you rescued me. You refused to let my enemies triumph over me. O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you restored my health. You brought me up from the grave, O LORD. You kept me from falling into the pit of death." (verses 1-3)

"I cried out to you, O LORD. I begged the Lord for mercy, saying, 'What will you gain if I die, if I sink into the grave? Can my dust praise you? Can it tell of your faithfulness? Hear me, LORD, and have mercy on me. Help me, O LORD.' You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy, that I might sing praises to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever." (verses 8-12)

My death was not immediately imminent last year when I was ill. It was, however, threatened to come within only a couple years. On November 17th, my San Diego doctor, the amazingly kind Dr. Bill Auger, was explaining the results of several days of testing and explaining my possibilities, and particularly explaining the complicated pulmonary thromboendarterectomy surgery.

My family and I knew that I was ill, we knew that pulmonary hypertension was serious, and we knew that God had provided the possibility of this surgery. However, we did not know exactly how severe the pulmonary hypertension was. I had heard just bits and pieces from previous doctors and had read information online, but that is different. Different than hearing that in the main measurement they use to determine the severity of the effect of high pressure between my heart and lungs, my level was in the 900's, instead of around 125 or so (if I'm remembering this correctly). Not good. Dr. Auger explained the surgery and lined out my specific level of risks - risk of various complications, risk of death. From what he could tell, it looked like my mortality rate for this surgery was somewhere between 2-3%. Slightly better than average. Then he gave us my three options.

Option 1: Continue on with my life without any major medicinal treatment. Also with option 1, a 20% chance that I would still be alive in 2 years.

Option 2: Begin intense and expensive medicinal and oxygen therapy for the rest of my life with no guarantee that I would dramatically improve. Actually, I believe about 20% of the people show marked improvement. However, treatment does not cure the pulmonary hypertension, but merely lessens some of the symptoms. Many people's situation continues to get worse leading to heart failure even with the treatments available (which have their own risks) and so longterm studies are not available.

Option 3: Agree to having the pulmonary thromboendarterectomy with known risks. Of course, no guarantees were made, but the possibility and HOPE of completely being cured of the pulmonary hypertension was within reach.

We aren't exactly rocket scientists, but my parents and I immediately agreed that Option 3 was the way to go! :) God had provided! 6-7 weeks prior we first heard about the surgery and that I was a possible candidate. We spent those weeks making travel and lodging arrangements, obtaining my Houston medical records, filling out LOTS of paperwork, completing a living will and power of attorney, dealing with medical insurance, making schedules with the San Diego medical team, learning everything I could about the surgery, and asking for LOTS of prayer! However, it wasn't until this very moment around a table with Dr. Auger after examining my results of a specific type of heart catheterization I had that morning that we knew for sure I could have the surgery! They said "YES" and we said "YES" and "Praise the Lord, let's do this thing!" And this is why I say with the psalmist, "O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever!" for He really did refuse to let my enemies triumph over me. He really did restore my health. He really did bring me up from the grave and keep me from falling into the pit of death. He really did hear me and have mercy on me. He really did turn my mourning into dancing and exchanged my mourning clothes into clothes of joy! Your story and journey isn't the same as mine. God's plan for you is different. But, this I know, every word of God proves true and what He really did for me, He will really do for you.

24 April 2011

Beautiful things

I'm learning something new. I'm learning that God can bring hope, comfort, and healing retrospectively. Sounds strange, doesn't it? Before I explain, let's take a step back, shall we? A little over a year ago I began a very difficult process and journey of discovering I had a life-altering and life-threatening illness. While trying to keep some semblance of my regular life, relationships, work and ministry, I spent months and months filled with bad news and doctor visits and scary medical tests and procedures and phone calls and medications and oxygen treatment and fatigue and prayer and tears and fears and more questions than answers. The most difficult journey of my life. It was a year of survival mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically. Survival meant that time and energy and capacity for processing all that was happening was quite minimal. I believe I am just now beginning to really process and hopefully glean what God has for me.
However, looking back into such a dark time is difficult, even on this side of the storm. So...I begin to tiptoe my way into this next step. The good thing is that I can still remember how I felt in so many of those moments and days. Here's where the retrospective (perhaps retroactive?) healing comes in. A few times during the past couple months I have found myself singing a worship song or reading a scripture when it hits me. I am filled with hope and faith and trust, but not just for now in the present. It's like myself from last year gets filled up with faith and assurance that everything is going to be okay. It seems almost silly to me to have the faith now. I mean, is faith after the fact really faith at all? I'm not sure I really understand it, but it seems like God is giving me this great gift of infusing my current faith into all the pain of last year. I can sing the songs and I can read the promises of God with the fullest measure of belief and rest without the darkness overwhelming the light. I had a measure of faith last year. The mustard seed variety. I clung to the hope that God's Word offered. I sang songs with tears streaming down my face with a prayer that my heart could really believe the words I was singing, but my hope was fighting with hopelessness and the faith was fighting with fear and the darkness made it hard to see ahead.
It's so much different now. Now I can sing the songs and read the scripture passages and I can say to myself, "See Rebecca, it really is okay. Your God really did come through. You really are going to make it. God really is good. God really keeps His promises. Believe, believe, believe!" I look back and see a hope which was slight and timid and bravely (or not so bravely) trying to accept whatever road or plan God had for me. I wanted to believe that God could do a miracle, but the sorrow and disappointment and fear seemed to drown out the voice of faith. But now, my faith is made stronger. My Jesus has infused my faith with his resurrection power that is not timid. My faith now shouts, "My God is able! You can trust Him!" What a mystery how the darkest foreboding clouds fade into a mere backdrop for sunlight to break through. I'm telling you, this God of Easter - this life from the dead kind of God - He's good. He's really really good.

All this pain
I wonder if I'll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all

All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come out of from this ground at all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in me

You make me new
You are making me new
You make me new
You are making me new


20 April 2011

You have GOT to see this!

This is a live stream of an eagle nest in Decorah, Iowa.  I can't stop watching!  Right now it's dinner time and the three baby eagles are being fed some fish!

09 April 2011

Time after Time

One of my favorite things about friendship is knowing someone over a period of time...as in years and more years. God has been abundantly kind to me in the friendships He has given me to share this journey of life! In the past seven days I've been connecting and reconnecting with some of my "old friends" (not old in age of course!).  I sent a funny picture of a crush I had in college to my best friend of 19 years, Rebecca, who lives across the country in San Diego. One of the greatest things about Rebecca is that she has grown up with me! She shares those silly memories of us talking about boys, reading Elisabeth Elliott, and dreaming of what our futures would hold. She knows how nervous I used to be around that boy I had a crush on who now is happily married, writes amazing worship songs for the church, and has the straggly-est bushy-est goatee I've ever seen -bleh...I'm just saying, one Charlie Hall in the world is enough! :)  She KNOWS me and I KNOW her and that is such a safe place to be in a friendship. And, do you know that God planned before either one of us were born that the place I would be sent to San Diego for surgery last November, the toughest three weeks of my life, just so happened to be where she and her husband and two little boys are living? I'm telling you, God is good!

I've also been Facebooking like crazy with my friend Linda the past week or two. We have so many inside jokes it's crazy and we just crack each other up! Even though we haven't lived in the same state since our Southern Seminary days, we've kept in touch. One of the blessings of last year's health stuff was the way that Linda and I grew even closer as she hurt and hoped with me through the journey.  Linda now lives outside of Chicago with Mark and their girls and I'm hoping to get to go visit for some in-person laughter later this year! 

Speaking of in-person, for the first time in about 3 years my friends Will and Kristi came to visit all the way from Louisville this week! Will and I spent several years working together when we were both new to Tallowood. I have great memories of him doing the electric slide past my office door, eating doodle soup at the Testosterhome, and my favorite - watching him fall madly in love with Kristi who showed up for a summer, but ended up becoming Will's wife and one of my closest friends! Knowing them then and watching them now with their three ADORABLE foster/soon-to-be forever family kiddos is truly amazing! I can't get over how fun it is so see God's faithfulness in the lives of my friends. God sometimes does dramatic things in a moment's time, but more often He's working things out and accomplishing His purposes over a period of years, and THAT is what I love to see!

I also had the joy of reconnecting with one of my roommates, and adopted little sister, from my time in Turkey who is now planning to serve along with her husband and sweet baby boy working among Austrians and Turks in Austria. How fun is that?! She has been married several years now and living up in Boston so yesterday was the first opportunity I had to get to know my Kimberlytasim's husband as we spent an hour or two catching up and sharing our hearts and visions for the future. I told her husband as I was leaving that if I could have handpicked a husband for her, it would have been him. He is just so well suited to her. It was fun to hear how God has been leading them, spend time praying with them, and now looking forward to partnering with them in prayer as they look forward to what God has planned!

And, that's not all! As if the week wasn't already good enough, my friend Annetta blew into town like a breath of fresh air yesterday all the way from Australia! She looked beautiful as ever and it was special to see the beautiful things God has been teaching and birthing in her the past 9 months down under.  It did my heart good to hear her stories, share some of my own, and pray with her like the good ol' days!

All that to say, my heart is full this morning as I reflect on the past week and am so grateful for the dear friends He not only has placed in my life, but also has KEPT in my life. Good stuff! 
Sent using BlackBerry

29 March 2011

Can you hear me now?

I've been thinking a lot lately about how we hear God's voice. How do we hear when He is asking us to do something specific or telling us not to do something else? Obviously, Scripture is full of God speaking to us and although we may all-too-often (knowingly or unknowingly) tweak God's perfect Words to fit our own liking or limited understanding, it is also true that most of God's desire for our lives is clear and easy to understand in His Word. We have no shortage of commands to obey or warnings to heed. But, although I've walked with Jesus a long time and heard Him speak to me so many times in different ways, I still find myself confused sometimes. Sometimes I so clearly hear and understand the path He wants me to take. Other times, it is all muddled and it's like we have a bad connection and it's full of static.

I believe there are times when God is silent or when He speaks more softly to sift my heart and make me draw a little closer to Him and strain just a little harder to hear what He's saying. But, I also believe that most likely the problem with the reception has more to do with me the receiver than it does with the Sender! And why are there certain areas in my life where I hear Him clearly and other areas where I have repeatedly misinterpreted His voice or so obviously (in hindsight) made up my own thoughts and yet sincerely believed they were His thoughts? This is frustrating to me. It makes me doubt myself, doubt God, doubt that I can hear His voice at all, and doubt whether I should seek His purpose about a specific issue or question. I'm incredibly grateful that not only is God completely sovereign, but also that I believe it enough to find the rest and beauty in that truth. Therefore, even in my confusion over hearing His voice regarding a matter, I am confident that His plan cannot be thwarted. He will fulfill His purpose for me. I have plans in my heart but His purpose prevails. Yes, this brings me great peace and confidence in my God! But! I also really want to be obedient. I want to treat every decision as a spiritual decision. I don't want to blindly walk into something crossing my fingers or assuming that God will just go along with my plan. If my plan brings pain or temptation or struggle, I want to know if it's just because I was being stupid in walking into something that wasn't wise, discipline for disobedience, or merely just part of the refining process which comes even when we are walking in obedience. So this is why it matters to me that I learn to hear God's voice clearly. That I put myself in the best position for that to happen. I have to remember that God reveals Himself. That is a huge part of who He is. His nature. He is not hiding from me. Wooing me, yes, but not hiding Himself or His will from me. He also desires that I be like Him. He desires that I obey Him. He desires that my life is best used up for His glory every day. He desires to speak to me. He desires purity in me. Perhaps that is why He lets these questions bother me.

He knows that as I ask the questions and struggle with hearing Him that I'll discover sin that clogs my ears. He'll open my eyes to see places where I have been deceived. He'll show me where I have made idols. I guess sometimes I don't really want to hear what He has to say or want to see the sin and lies I've been believing and living. It's because I doubt God's goodness is what it is. I'm only afraid of what He might say about something because I don't always truly believe that His plans for me are good, that obedience - no matter the cost - is always better and for my good. I don't always believe that everything I "give up" is nothing compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Him. Oh, but I want to believe that! Even now as I write, God is sweetly talking to me, reminding me that I can hear Him. What an incredible marvelous thing! Oh God, make me brave enough to look at my heart with your eyes, clear out the static, and tune my heart to hear You when You speak because I can trust You. You are good, You are good, You are good, You are...