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! 
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