Wednesday, April 9, 2014

a heart of flesh





"And I will give you a new heart,
and a new spirit I will put within you.
And I will remove from you the heart of stone...
and give you a heart of flesh."
Ezekiel 36:26 (ESV)

Getting away for the weekend was just what I needed. Some quiet time and space to reflect and just "be."

My family has continued to work with Neurogistics to help re-balance our neurotransmitter levels. Most people experienced restored health after about a year. Unfortunately, our family has experienced one trauma after another over the past four years. We have yet to re-find our balance.

After receiving my latest lab report, my sweet (and praying!) practitioner said to me, "Amy, you have the epinephrine level of a trial lawyer."

I knew she was acknowledging my stress level, but I wasn't quite exactly sure what she meant. So, after a quick Google search, I read, "Trial lawyers are under a tremendous amount of stress twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week."

Ah, OK. Yeah, I get it. As usual, Pam was correct. (Sigh)

Epinephrine plays a role in the "fight or flight" response, metabolism, energy, depression, and cognitive function. Last year, I was at 2.94 (a healthy range is 8-12).

I'm now down to 1.78. And, that is with supplementation! Eek. It always helps to see what our numbers are to explain we how are all feeling.

Oddly enough, Geoff got his latest results back last night. His epinephrine is actually 1.77.

Quite the pair we are! The good news? We totally get each other. (Smile)

And, of course, epi is only one of my neurotransmitters that are out of balance. My numbers were all over the board. In short, I am working (or more precisely trying to RELAX) to recover from adrenal fatigue and PTSD.

My body and brain hit a wall from the constant production of stress hormones being released and over-flooding my system.

One of the things you quickly learn about me is that regardless of the experience I am going through, I always seek to find a purpose in the struggle. A constant in all of "this" has been a deep and growing gift of compassion for others.

Although we may feel bad when we hear others are hurting, it's not until we walk a similar path that we are able to truly understand the anguish in their souls.

I am not only watching my own children experience trauma after trauma, and loss after loss. I am walking over the hot coals of suffering with them. And many times, by God's grace alone, I am carrying them. I ache for them, yes. But I also ache with them. Both as a mother, and as a fellow mourner. Blessings come through the fires of suffering.

That said, there are times when I have to set them on their own two feet, and say, "Honey, you need to walk this part of the path on your own. But don't be afraid. I will be with you every step of the way."

It's probably one of the hardest parts of being a parent. The blessing in this is that it helps me to understand the times when God does the same with me. And, it's a reminder that He is always right beside me, even when I feel very much alone.

Jesus said, 
"I have said these things to you,
that in me you may have peace.
In the world you will have tribulation.
But take heart;
I have overcome the world."
John 16:33 (ESV)

It helped to hear Pam both acknowledge and reassure me when she counseled, "Amy, you have been through both a physical and emotional trauma. That's a double-whammy. Usually it takes about a year for a person to recover from a trauma."

Thankfully, God has blessed me with a extremely compassionate and supportive husband who has parroted back those very words to me on more than one occasion. Thus, my weekend away. (Thank you, Abba, for my Geoffrey! And, thank you, G, for your patience and grace!)

After a restorative weekend away, I packed up my car and took a walk down to the beach along the inlet. As I walked along picking up different shells and rocks that caught my attention, I asked God to help me find a heart-shaped rock. I found all kinds of treasures, but none of them were shaped like a heart.

As I turned around and started to make my way back, I spoke aloud to the Lord, thinking I was alone. I'm sure the kayaking couple was more than a little curious as to who I was talking to. (Grin)

Through the course of the walk, my heart and prayer had changed.

"Lord, it doesn't have to be a heart-shaped stone. Any kind of heart-shaped-something would be great."

A few minutes later, I looked up from my search to see my host, Chris, making his way toward me. We hadn't yet met and he thought perhaps I was their new guest waiting to check in.

By this time, my pockets were literally bulging with all of my "beach finds" (minus the much-desired heart-shaped stone.)

I was actually a bit embarrassed by a couple of larger rocks I had picked up, so I jammed those in my pockets as well. Thankfully, he didn't seem to notice. (Smile)

After asking how I enjoyed their cabin, Chris began to share with me how he came to build the log cabin with his very own hands.

There we stood, amid the fog on the beach, our hearts connecting. Me with my overflowing pockets sagging, and he with tears of remembrance and thanksgiving in his eyes.

You see, Chris battled and conquered cancer of the stomach and esophagus 10 years ago. He went through chemo, radiation, and had his stomach and part of his esophagus removed. He now stands at a scant 106 pounds after losing 80 pounds from his frame.

Today, he shared with great joy he's "healthier than he's ever been." Even the diabetes he used to battle is now gone.

The plan to build the cabin came from two seemingly devastating experiences. His cancer diagnosis and a storm knocking down a ginormous tree on their property.

One day, he shared, he was sitting at home feeling sorry for himself. The diagnosis was grave, and he wasn't expected to survive. He knew he didn't want to leave his wife with the sagging roof over his carport. So, he picked up the phone and asked the city to deliver a dumpster. That very day he got started working on the roof. He then crossed another to-do item off his list. He built a mother-in-law suite above the carport.

Then, a tree fell higher up on their property. And, with a chuckle, he explained, "When you live on the water and have a flat, open piece of land, you build." It would take me too long to share all the incredible details Chris told me, but that was the beginning of the story of how the Heron House came to be.

It took him two long years of work to build his little gem of a cabin. He told me that he has also been battling the county years and has spent over $20,000 seeking to get licensing in place. This guy does not give up!

Even more inspiring was when Chris told me that it took him another 2 years and 7 sanders to finish off the inside of the cabin. He wanted the logs to be a lighter color. And, even though it was a huge job, he set about to do it every free moment he had.

He told me that even if he only had twenty minutes free, he would walk up the hill to the cabin and work on a small section. The end result is beautiful and makes the cabin feel even more cozy inside.

As our conversation came to an end, we shook hands again. But, before Chris turned away so that I could finish my walk, I looked my host in the eye and said with sincerity, "Thank you for taking the time to share your story. I think I really needed to hear your experience today." And, as the words escaped from my heart, I realized that my Ever-Faithful God did in fact answer my prayer.

Nope. I didn't get a heart-shaped stone. I got something much, much better. I received the gift of a new heart, that of a life redeemed. And, the promise of a renewed future.

In sharing his journey with me, Chris gave me a new sense of purpose and hope. Something I have been struggling with lately.

The tears are flowing as I write this. (Don't be worried, fellow-Panera diners. All's well! My King is alive...and I have a new heart of flesh! God is good. All.The.Time.)

I was encouraged by Chris' story that cancer doesn't have to mean a death sentence. Yes, I still have a suspicious lump in my breast after three long years of observation. So far the doctor's believe it's benign.

It's not something I really allow myself to worry about. Even while I'm in the waiting room, during the mammogram, back in the waiting room, during the ultrasound, and then waiting again for the final prognosis.
I actually stay pretty peaceful.

However, I will admit that after the long appointment and all of the waiting, I always need a nice long nap to decompress.

Even if I don't allow myself to fret and worry, the burden that my life could suddenly be turned on its head does take it's toll. (As does the reality that other women, and men, do have their lives turned on end and are working through the cancer diagnosis.)

Then, of course, comes the letter inviting me to go yet another 'round of waiting' next year. Boy, I will be glad to get off this merry-go-round of waiting one day! Until then, I am experiencing a tiny taste of what others are walking through.

And, even "if" the malignant diagnosis were to come, cancer doesn't have to equate to a death sentence. Even if it does turn out to be terminal. 

Why? Because my God is bigger than the dreaded c-word.

I was also encouraged by Chris' perseverance through the storms he and has family weathered. And, how he chose to spend his time. He made plans and got busy. He built not one, but two, amazing homes.

Finally, I was inspired by the truth that even if we want to complete a really BIG project (which I personally have one or two in mind), it doesn't matter how long it takes, or how small the pockets of time we have to work on them.

Over time, great things can be accomplished. 
We just need to take the first step...and then each step thereafter.

As I'm wrapping up this post, I was reminded of a picture I sent to Geoff on Saturday. As I looked above my comfy chair next to the wood stove, I happened to spy this special heart on one of Chris' carefully placed and beautifully sanded logs:


Dan Allender wrote a powerful statement in his book To Be Told:

"Your plight is also your redemption." 

That's a truth to hold onto. God can and will use every big and little thing in our lives to draw us closer to Him. I don't know about you, but I don't want to waste a single experience.

The deepest desire of my heart is to know Christ truly and intimately.

          Do you want to know the BEST news ever?
                 He desires the same.
                         Only magnify that by eternity!
                               And, it's not just me.
                                       He also desires for YOU,
                                              My Friend,
                                                    to know Him
                                                          and His incredible love for YOU.

On a side note, Friend, if you have suffered any kind of trauma or stress and have noticed a toll on your health and mental well-being, might I suggest you check out a company like Neurogistics? (No, I don't get any kind of kick-back or compensation for recommending them!) I know their program and supplements aren't for everyone, but my family has been extremely blessed by not only their products, but their huge hearts of compassion, understanding, and support.

I personally prefer to avoid prescription drugs if at all possible. Their program allows you to know exactly what your neurotransmitter levels are so they can prescribe the right supplementation. And, the vitamins and supplements help your body to heal itself and manufacture the appropriate levels you need to be healthy. That way, you don't have to stay on the supplements forever. Just something to keep in mind. 

Wow. Another painfully long post. My apologies! I keep trying to be short and concise so it doesn't take you all day to read my posts. I'll keep working at it! (Wink)

Until then, keep your eyes open. You never know when you might stumble upon a heart-shaped stone. Or, better yet, a heart of flesh!

And, as always, KEEP LIVING A BLESSED LIFE!

With a heart full of thanks and joy,

Saturday, April 5, 2014

a (very) unexpected journey - chapter 3


"For this child I prayed,
and the Lord has granted my petition to Him.
Therefore I have given him to the Lord;
as long as he lives he is given to the Lord."
1 Samuel 1:27-28 (AMP)

...continued. See Chapter 1 here and Chapter 2 here.

On the morning of Chelsea's return, I sat outside in the beautiful summer sunshine and spent time reading my Bible and journaling to the Lord.

Here is an excerpt from this day's entry (click on the image below if you are interested in trying to read my 'chicken-scratch'):


Yes, my heart was beyond full! (grin) I was overflowing with praise and thanksgiving to the One who had seen me through so many, many painful and difficult seasons. My sweet family had been through so much, especially the past three years. 

With a new baby on his/her way, we all felt like we were f.i.n.a.l.l.y. leaving the cold and dreary winter months behind. Hope was on the horizon! Praise God!

On the next page, I wrote out the next verse of Psalm 37,

"Commit your way to the LORD,
trust in Him and He will act."
(ESV)

As I write this post, I am sitting in a gorgeous log cabin located just south of Seattle, overlooking the Eld Inlet. Geoff and I stayed here together a couple of years ago, thanks to Sara's awesome RAD Nanny. 

This particular weekend, however, my husband is blessing me with a weekend alone(!) He knows his introverted wife needs to occasionally sneak away for some much needed quiet time and reflection with the Lord

(Thanks, Babe! You are the BEST! You know I miss you!!!) 


The above picture is my view from a cozy ottoman next to a wood stove.

What a healing gift it is to be able to go back and remember the events of the past nine months. 

As I read in Dan Allender's workbook, To Be Told, this morning: 

"Choosing to engage our stories honestly requires a great deal of courage...Socrates once said that the unexamined life is not worth living. One of the privileges of being human is that we have an enormous capacity to reflect and learn and change. When we settle for simply getting by, we mar the glory that was created in us and we thwart the potential for growth and maturity...The only reason worth reentering...pain is the hope that somehow it can be transformed, that through it we will learn to love better and will know more joy. We trudge through the valley of the shadow of death clinging to the hope of what lies on the other side. We could take the shortcut putting the past behind us and leaving it there. But instead we choose the difficult path back through stories because of our sacred hope that this path will lead to something beautiful and good: God has a history of redeeming. Perhaps He will redeem my stories as well." (p. 2)

It is with that hope and prayer that I continue my story...

The next day our family attended church with big smiles on our faces. The youth group was planning to share about their mission trip to Washington, and Chelsea was asked by our pastor to sing a solo.

I sat next to my friend, Jane. We had met a few years back when our daughters took dance class together. God had recently been revealing to both of us why He had connected our families together. We had more in common than we initially realized. I absolutely love it when He does that!

As soon as Chelsea started singing "Oh How He Loves Us" with her youth group joining her for the chorus, the tears started flowing. I was so very proud of my daughter...and perhaps just a 'wee-bit' hormonal to boot! (Grin)

We hadn't planned on sharing our news with anyone (well, except for my Chatties who know just about every detail of my life!), until after our first doctor appointment. The kids were so excited, though, they begged me to share our news with Jane and her family.

After the service Jane told me that she wasn't able to look at me during Chelsea's song because seeing the tears streaming down my face made her cry even harder!

You have to know that Jane has a gorgeous British /South African accent. Everything she says makes my heart happy. Not to mention, she has a very sweet, sweet spirit about her. Makes you want to meet her, doesn't it? (Smile)

I took that as an opportune moment to share our news. I leaned in close and quietly whispered, "Blame it on my pregnancy hormones!"

Her response was one I will never forget. And, again, was just what I needed in the moment. I am so blessed by the friends God has brought into my life.

Jane's eyes grew wide and she let out a squeal of delight. The next moment found me in a huge celebratory hug, followed by more happy tears. 

God is so good!

"I will proclaim the name of the LORD.
Oh, praise the greatness of our God!"
Deuteronomy 32:3

Geoff was standing with us, smiling. Thankfully, by this point, he was starting to find his own center of gravity after his initial shock. Jane turned to him and congratulated him with an exuberant side-hug. 

Ah, such sweet memories to hold onto. 

"My soul is weary with sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word."
Psalm 119:28 (NIV)

Before we knew it, our teenager daughters were quickly formulating plans on how best to tell their friends in the youth group. They were both so excited to welcome a new little one into our lives.

Ah, how sweet friendship is, both in times of blessing and times of trial. God always knows what we need and He provides at just the right time.

One of the interesting things about our family is that all of our birthdays fall within a two month period. I was excited about the baby's due date because it fit our family's pattern. 

Admittedly, having a baby born any time of year would have been a blessing. However, I would have felt a bit sad to have all of us celebrating birthdays between April 21st and June 11, with the sixth birthday sometime in the Fall/Winter. 

To me, it was just another sign that God knows my heart and cares about even the tiniest of details.

So, I'm really trying not to make these posts too long. I know your time is precious, my Friend. I am blessed that you are taking the time to read my words as I continue to process all that was, so that I may embrace all that God has yet to reveal to me. 

Although this is not easy for me to share, I do hope and pray that at least one person will be touched by the incredible story God is weaving through my life. 

It really is all about Him and His amazing and sacrificial love and grace for us, His beloved children.

He loves us. My Beautiful and Brave Friend, God loves YOU.

As Dan went on further to say, "So, as we journey through stories, we hope for a deeper taste of joy and a glimpse of redemption. We are detectives searching for the fingerprints of God in our lives. We look for traces of his authorship in the rubble of a fallen world." (p. 2-3)

I pray you are inspired to look back at the storms you have weathered...or are currently weathering...and seek the fingerprints of God. Even in the midst of heartache, they are there.

Especially in the midst of heartache.

He is there. I promise. Better yet, He promises!

"You will search for me. 
And when you search for me with all your heart, 
you will find Me!"
Jeremiah 29:13 (NCV)

What a blessing it is to travel this amazingly, crazy, and challenging journey together.

Keep seeking Christ, and KEEP LIVING A BLESSED LIFE!

Prayers for peace and joy,

a (very) unexpected journey - chapter 2


"Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths smooth."
Proverbs 3:5,6

...continued. Read Chapter 1 here

When Chelsea finally came home, I was bursting to share our big news. My frequent trips to the restroom those few days leading up to her return helped Geoff and I adjust to our new reality.

We couldn't wait to share the news with our kiddos. Understandably, Chelsea was excited to share all the details and photos from her trip. After over an hour of listening to our excited 15-year-old recant stories of living and working among the people of the Yakama Nation, I finally got a chance to sneak in, "So, we have some exciting news to share with all of you..."

The words were barely out of my mouth before Liam piped up with, "What? Are you having a baby?!?"

I think he was only partially serious, given the shocked look on his face when I responded with a stunned, "Um...YES..." (smile)

The girls were thrilled. In fact, one of them (whom to this day will deny it) actually teared up (cough*teenager*cough.) 

Liam, on the other hand, expressed a bit of apprehension about our family dynamics changing. As even-keeled as my boy is, it takes him a while to process change. Especially big change. 

I appreciated his honesty and assured him that while his dad and I were both incredibly excited, we had a bit of anxiety ourselves. In the end, it took Liam less than a day to come to me and assure me that he was very excited and felt better about the new changes we would be facing.

Meanwhile, his sisters were busy with discussing how amazing it would be if I was expected twins. As crazy as it sounds, I was secretly hoping the same thing. (Must have been those lovely pregnancy hormones messing with my level-headed thinking. Wink.)

Geoff and I both knew we would all have our own adjustments to face in the future. Big life changes are like that - even when they come in the form of blessings.

As I mentioned yesterday, this story will take me awhile to share. So please check back again soon to continue reading about the (very) unexpected journey God has taken our family on...

Until then, I pray you are doing well, my Friend. Whatever season you find yourself in, may you know without a shadow of doubt that YOU ARE LOVED

You may not feel loved. You may not even feel you are lovable. But, the reality is that God loves you. Truly. Deeply. Unconditionally.

You are alive, living the life you are living for a reason. You may not know what that reason is yet - but I assure you, there is a purpose for your life. An eternal purpose. 

Your life has purpose and value - to the One who created and loves you - and to those He has placed in your life. (Yes, even those thorns in your side. Grin)

May you find hope and encouragement to embrace today fully. And, I pray you will find rest and peace in the God who loves you with an everlasting and sacrificial love.

More soon...until then, KEEP LIVING A BLESSED LIFE!

With grace and hope,