you name it,
than I am!
Before you get all into the theology of prayer, let me just tell you - I'm not here to talk about either of those subjects. I'm here to talk about the prayers that you never even prayed. You know what I'm talking about? The things that you need but you never really got around to asking for and, lo and behold! The need is provided before you ever even asked and you almost get goosebumps because God really does care about little old you.
In case you don't know what I'm talking about, I have two stories for you:
Jennifer has been begging for a bike. She learned to ride a friend's bike one evening, and ever since that's all I've been hearing. It isn't that I didn't want to give her a bike. I even did some searching for a second hand one but when none crossed my path, I kind of shoved it to the back of my mind and went my way.
Well, last week I did a quick grocery run one morning. I was trying to hurry and I debated whether I should stop at Goodwill (you already think you know where this is going but it's even better than you are imagining!). Since I had a bag of stuff to donate, I decided to make a quick stop.
Bikes were the furthest thing from my mind that morning; I didn't even look in that area of the store. I did a quick scan of some clothes racks and found a couple articles I decided I couldn't do without, made my purchases and drove around to the back to drop off my donation; next stop, home.
As I hopped out to press the doorbell in the back, my eye caught sight of 3 or 4 bikes propped up beside a dumpster. Bikes! Those things promptly had my full attention. From what I could see, there was a tiny bike, a medium girl's bike and one or two boy-ish looking bikes.
"Are those bikes over there going to be put out for sale soon?" I asked the lady who came to the door and took my bag.
"I think those are some that aren't worth selling," she told me. "Dry rotted and not good anymore, you know." I nodded and explained about my little girl begging for a bike and how I hadn't seen any second hand ones lately. "We do get them," she explained, "But they get snatched up pretty quick." She paused for a moment, then added, "Let me go look at them."
She trotted over to the dumpster, gave the bikes the once over and came back, "They look nice, actually," she told me. "I'll go ask him about them if you want me to."
I wanted her to!
She was back in no time. "He's gonna clean those up and put them out before long," she informed me. "Probably just be 2 or 3 dollars," she added in a conspiratorial tone.
I wondered if I could just take the one I wanted and clean it up myself but she told me that would get them in trouble. She hesitated a minute, then leaned in and said quietly, "I'll just take it in and clean it up real quick and you can come around and get it if you like."
I thanked the lady profusely and hopped back in my van. I drove around the store, re-parked, and hauled Charles back inside to claim my bike. I imagine my eyes looked just about as starry as Jennifer's did when she walked in from school and saw a BIKE parked in the living room; a pink and purple bike, just her size. Isn't God amazing?
Then, there is the story of the treated lumber.
As most of you know, we are in the process of building a house. Anyone who has ever tried such a thing knows what it takes: time and money. Since we don't have much extra of either but far less of the one, Chris spends lots of time hunting down good deals. He is, most definitely, his mother's child when it comes to good deals; if there's one to be had, he will find it!
Chris spends his time these days squeezing in as much work at the house as he can. He's trying to get the outside of the house done before cold weather comes and they get too busy at the tire shop to take time off. This means that some days he gets up early and works at the house til 11 or 12 then finishes the day at the tire shop, and some days he does it the other way around.
On this particular day, he went in to the shop to start the day, then headed off to Lowes later on to pick up a stack of treated lumber for the lovely, large front porch he is working on. He had spent some time before hand checking prices and Lowes had a sale on the lumber he wanted.
Chris often meets up with customers from the tire shop when he's in town and that morning he recognized the man who was walking into Lowes at the same time he was. They exchanged friendly greetings, and the man wondered, "So, what are you doing at Lowes?"
Chris explained what he was building, and that he needed some treated lumber. "Oh? What kind of treated lumber?"
"Well," Chris told him, "I'm looking for 2x8x8s and 2x6x8s."
"I've got a bunch of 2x8x10s out at the house."
Chris pointed out that he really just needed 8 footers. "No, no, you don't understand what I'm saying!" The man shook his head. "Come over here and let's see what those 2x8s cost." They were $7.67 a piece. "I'll sell you all you need of my 2x8x10s for $5 a piece," he offered.
Turns out the guy had gotten some oil and gas money and was using it for a little re-sale business. When Lowes had close out sales or items they wanted to move out of their store, they would call him up. He would buy the stuff for a super reduced price, then re-sell it and give others a good deal. Til it was all said and done Chris was headed home from the man's house with a pile of all the treated lumber he needed for his porch floor at a greatly reduced price.
I ask you, what are the chances of those two men walking into Lowes at the same time on that particular morning? Pretty small! Not only did he get the lumber he needed that day at a great price, it's very likely the man will have other things we will need later on in our building project.
I think, like us parents, God enjoys supplying His children's needs. And I like to think, just maybe, He takes particular joy in surprising us with answers for those prayers we never even prayed.
The characters in the narrative are Linford and Stephanie Leinbach and their 5 year old daughter, Tarica. The story is epilepsy.
The past week and a half their story has reached a climax with brain surgery, a procedure they've been preparing for for weeks and months. Because Tarica's seizures were unable to be controlled with medication, the decision was made to accept the only hope of a cure: brain surgery. This decision was not made lightly, and many, many details have worked their way into opening doors and bringing confirmation and peace to the monumental choice that they at last settled on.
I'm not sure why this story has gripped me so tightly. Possibly because Stephanie and I have exchanged a few emails, and in the process of her encouraging me in my writing and me allowing her to edit a project, I felt like I gained a friend. Possibly also because I have a daughter who recently turned 6 which makes every step in their story a stark 'what if' in my mind. There's no doubt too that Stephanie's writing abilities add to my interest and intrigue as I follow the pictures she so vividly paints with her words.
All those reasons aside, I've realized there is something deeper to this story that has gripped me so tightly and not let me go. It is not just the empathy of one mother for another that has made my heart heavy and brought me to tears over a story who's characters I have never met. No, what has tugged at my heartstrings and caused me to look deep inside is the glimpses this story has given me of what faith in God is all about.
You see, the surgery that required so much prayer and so many intricate little details and miracles lining the pathway to it's decision; the surgery that was entered into with so much hope and trepidation, that surgery did not go as expected.
In a nutshell, the expected process was to remove Tarica from her meds before surgery. They would then go in, open her head, place a mat of electrodes inside, then close the wound temporarily while they did some other procedures and waited for seizures. Once seizures occured, with the help of the electrodes, they would be able to pinpoint the exact part of the brain that required resection.
All went well, exceptionally well, except for one detail. The alloted week passed, and there were no seizures. Two more days went by, still no seizures. Without seizures, there was no way surgery could be completed. Even with all the collected data and all the signs pointing to where the seizures most likely were coming from, resection without seizures was unthinkable.
What crushing disappointment; what a turmoil of questions! Can you imagine the intensity of emotion as a parent? But here is where the beautiful pictures come in of what Faith is all about.
Before surgery, we were asked by Stephanie, "When you pray, will you pray that God's will would be done? Would you pray that God would be glorified in Children's Hospital? We desire these more than her healing—or at least, we are trying to."
I imagine those of us reading all nodded our heads in agreement. Yes, yes this is the way we should ask, this is the way He taught us to pray. In the midst of the agonizing waiting and no seizures, it was not quite so easy to nod in agreement. Every part of us wanted to turn our face to the sky and demand, "Where are you, God?? What are you waiting for? Why? Why do it this way?"
The characters in our story are human. They readily admitted the turmoil - the questions, the frustration, the heartache, the bitter disappointment. Still, the beautiful pictures of Faith shone through.
In the middle of the intensity and emotion of waiting, Stephanie wrote, "But sometimes people die of cancer and are crippled in accidents. Sometimes babies die before they are born. Sometimes God allows bad to happen so that good, His good, may come of it. Sometimes God says "No."
If God always gave parents miracles, there would be no need for Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.
We've been praying and praying for a miracle. The trouble is, I had decided that our miracle would be a hospital stay like the one in February, when she seized as if on a schedule and amazed the doctors and nurses. But we don't get to pick our miracles. If we could pick, they would be selfish wishes, not miracles. God is not a genie in a lamp or a wishing well to toss in our coppers.
I still believe God has a miracle for us, but maybe our miracle will not be seizures. Maybe our miracle will be the grace to accept what looks like God's "No" and trust that He has good in it for us and for her.
Right now, my heart says that would be a greater miracle than seizures."
And later, before going back into surgery to remove the electrodes and close Tarica's head, Stephanie related this conversation with the doctor, "If you had seen this kind of abnormal brain activity in another patient, would that patient have been seizing?"
"Oh, yes. Absolutely."
"So. . . you're saying that this case is an anomaly? This is an exception to the rule?"
"Yes. There is no reason why she isn't seizing."
I took a deep breath, let it out slowly. Goosebumps swept over me.
She should be seizing, according to the medical world. She isn't.
Whenever there is an exception, a deviation from the expected, I look for God, because there is the miracle.
This morning, for a few minutes in room EP7, I saw Him and the miracle He had for us. We had everything: a history of uncontrollable seizures, multiple failed medications, abnormal brain activity, a February hospital stay where her seizures went crazy, statistics proving seizures are all but inevitable for her.
We had everything, everything but seizures. An exception. A deviation. The unexplainable. A miracle.
I looked for God. I found Him, holding back the surgeon's blade.
It is both glorious and heartbreaking all at once."
The beauty of Faith makes my heart ache.
I have struggled with this blog post. I've started it and stopped it and brought it out again and searched for words to express what I've been feeling. Even now I feel like I've used up a lot of words and still failed in my mission.
The God we call Father is the God of the big picture. His vision is not confined to a little hospital room in Pittsburgh any more than His vision was confined to the prison cell where Joseph of old found himself. It's easy for us to look at the whole picture of Joseph now and say, "How amazing! What a beautiful story of faith and how perfectly God had all the details worked out." Had we been in Joseph's shoes, confined to the view in that prison cell, I imagine our comments would be quite different. And I am sure Joseph was human, like the rest of us, and that there was a lot of turmoil and questions asked about where God was and what He was up to. It was hard; hard, hard, hard. But that prison cell was only a tiny part of God's big picture.
I guess the elusive something that has touched me so deeply is this: My life is such a small part in God's big picture. That doesn't mean that He doesn't care about me or that I'm not important. He does, and I am! What it does mean is that this present moment - this illness, this loss, this disappointment, this pain, this darkness - is not the whole picture. It is only a very tiny part of a Big and Amazing picture that the One who is in control can see from start to finish. What a transformation that realization can bring to our lives! Because of that, though whatever we are facing feels unbearably hard, it is possible to place our hand in His and accept the way He is choosing, knowing it is the only way to make the Big Picture complete.
That, is Faith, and it is pleases Him.
I think I've said this before, but it bears repeating.
As far back as I can remember, the idea of staying at home alone has been a welcome idea. I cannot identify with my kiddos who don't like to be left alone in the house. Even as a young child I always thought staying home by myself was great fun. So far I have one child who inherited my "home alone" gene.
By the same token, I am a very private person. Our house in Arkansas, with it's dirt lane that took us back behind the trees to a quiet little nook where no one could see us but you knew there were neighbors right up the hill, was perfection in my mind. I don't like to be watched. I am the person who goes to a Scrapbooking party and fiddles around with her pictures all evening, then goes home and does page after page of pictures the next day in the privacy of her own house. As a rule, I'd rather sew my own clothes, clean my own house, do my own canning, take care of my own business, By My Self.
Now that I've ruined all my chances of ever having any offers of help in my future, let me quickly add that I do enjoy people too. In fact, I often enjoy them more than I think. And, although I suppose I will always like privacy, I'm also learning to value interaction.
After we moved to Ohio four years ago and I found myself in a new community with none of my immediate family, I began to realize that I do need other people. In Arkansas I always had my mom and sisters for the times when being married to my best friend wasn't enough. Here I would have to initiate friendships if I needed someone besides my own small world; and I soon discovered I did need someone!
I found that it was important for my own well being to make sure I did some things outside my small world - like go to the sewing ... even though I hated walking in those doors as the new kid on the block! And joining the choir to help with a Christmas program ... even if I hated going alone and felt way out of my league! And various other community activities that pushed me to learn to know people outside of the 'dressedupforSunday' four walls of the church.
Maybe it should be no surprise to me that lately God has been actively pushing me out of my corner even further -- prompting me to call people, putting in my head to visit people, nudging me to be a friend, repeatedly bringing to mind the idea of having ladies over to my house... These ideas can only come from one place, because they certainly aren't coming from my own head! I told a friend the other day, "I'm not sure what God is up to?" She said, "He is using you." And then she added, "Are you okay with that?"
That little question threw me for a loop for a bit. I don't know, am I? Later I decided I'm not sure that I am. In fact, I told God, "I'm not so sure about this. I thought you asked me to write, not be a counselor!!"
The interesting thing is, that in spite of the scary unfamiliarity outside of my comfort zone, there's also the excitement of God working in my heart. I'm reminded of a quote that I heard once. "God is more interested in what He is doing IN you, than THROUGH you." God takes us out of our comfort zones for various reasons. One might be so that we need Him. Another might be that He is using us in someone else's life. But mostly? Mostly, I think, He wants to work in us, and He does that in many creative and interesting ways.
I'm a littled awed to see what interesting ways He has of working in me. I want to allow Him to continue that work, even as I retreat into my corner now and then to say, "Wait a minute. Am I okay with this?!"
As humans living in a fallen world, we all carry the knowledge somewhere in our subconcious that those we love will possibly one day be taken from us. Some of us keep the knowledge well hidden. Most of the time we refuse to acknowledge it's presence at all; as if pretending it isn't there will dispell the truth of it somehow.
As a wife, the idea of my husband being taken away is something I particularly struggle with. Most of the time the knowledge of it lies well hidden beneath the daily activities of life but at times the truth of it stares me hard in the face. One such time comes to mind. We had been living in Ohio less than a year when we received news of the death of Chris' cousin's husband. They were a young couple and the news was especially shocking. Fear washed over me in waves. Having just come through a year of more loss than I had ever dealt with before - leaving my family, my church, my house, my home state, and with no house to call our own... suddenly anything seemed, not only possible, but likely!
Fear can nearly drive one wild if you let it: What would I do without my husband to support us? Where would I go? How would I pay the bills? How could I possibly live without his wisdom and love in my life? What would become of my children? And on and on. Time and again I have had to open my fearfully clutching fists, and give my loved ones back to my Father to do with as He sees best.
I nearly deleted this post after starting it. While I'm not superstitous, it feels rather scary to write about death and fear. Just suppose my writing this is like all those story books with the lines, "Little did she know what the future held....."? There's this little part of me that doesn't want to say these things for fear the Lord might decide to see if I really mean what I say.
But I think it needs to be said. It bothers me when I read/hear about people who have cancer or other life-threatening situations and all you seem to hear is them doggedly holding onto hope; trying every possible treatment to stay alive and seeming to completely deny the fact that quite possibly the time is coming to say good-bye. Let me quickly say, I often don't know all the details AND, I realize that I do.not. know what I would do were I actually in those shoes.
In one of our recent conversations about death, Chris said to me, "The fact is, as a married couple, one of us is going to die first. The majority of us most likely won't see our children die but for you and I, it's not IF one of us is going to be left without the other, it's WHEN."
Of course I told him in no uncertain terms that it had better be me first, not him! In all seriousness though, I think I've lived my life just a bit differently ever since he said that. There is something freeing about looking that fear in the face and acknowledging that it is not IF, but WHEN, and setting out to make every minute count before that 'when' comes. Because it is coming, like it or not.
By God's grace, instead of the reality of death driving me wild with fear, I want it to cause me to look at my loved ones with new eyes. May it spur me to say the I love yous and write the notes and make the good memories and say the kind words in the short time I have with these people. Because, while I am in this fallen world, it is not IF I will need to say good-bye, but WHEN.
I'm still waiting for all the nice, quiet days with just Charles and I at home....... sometime life is bound to settle down and those days appear, right? Feels like I do a lot of running hither and yon rather than enjoying the quiet at home. But life is good and I am happy. Amen.