Tuesday, June 30, 2015

how can our summer bring such a thing?

it’s  an overcast evening in ohio and i've been out snapping some pictures of my mother’s rain drenched garden. today is the 53rd wedding anniversary of my parents. i wish i could tell you that i’m here tonight in the beautiful midwest to celebrate this sweet occasion, but that’s not the case. just a couple of weeks ago my mom was diagnosed with endometrial cancer and tomorrow she faces surgery.

we won’t know much about the stage or seriousness until pathology comes back post-surgery. all i know sitting here on this last night of lovely june, is that cancer is back in our midst much too soon. most of you are aware we lost rick’s mom not six months ago to cancer. how is it possible after this past winter of sadness that our summer would bring such a thing? my mother-in-law and my mom -- the last two women in the world who should receive such news. but, just like marilyn, my mom, sandy, is handling this with grace and dignity.

i shouldn’t be surprised, both of these women have always placed themselves and their families in the hands of Jesus.

i'm not surprised at my mom's grace, but i'm saddened she has to go through this kind of grief.

and i'm really not sure why cancer has had to be such a part of our lives. my own daughter questioned that recently. “it’s crazy mom, you, grammie and now grandma …” and all i could do was shake my head in agreement, “i know. i know, it is. crazy.”

it certainly feels crazy and wrong and even god-forsaken. but, friends, no matter what it “feels like” i know it is anything but god-forsaken. God is in this. He is with us. He is FOR us. i cannot offer up a scientific explanation, but i can assure you of the sincere faith the women in our family have. and my own girls get to see that, not just in the lovely haze of good times, but even more so, in the struggles and anxieties of real life -- where it really counts. and though we don’t have all the answers and we certainly wouldn’t choose this path for our loved ones, we trust in Him.

i'm sitting up here tonight on the summer sleeping porch writing, and my dad just poked his head in to say good night. before leaving my room he said, "jod, we don't know what tomorrow brings, but the Lord does. He is in control."
how thankful i am for parents who have this kind of faith.

but even with our trust and faith, i looked around my mom's garden tonight and i couldn’t help but feel heavy. my mom loves tending to her flowers. passionate doesn’t begin to describe my parents when it comes to their perennials! earlier, she and i were walking around the yard and i was listening as my mom pointed out the changes, additions, improvements. she knows every inch of this space: every bloom, every name, every weed ... i love that she enjoys this so fully -- that she enjoys life so fully. and, the simple fact is, i want her to always have this. as her daughter, i just hate what she has to go through tomorrow.

i cannot always wrap my brain around why beautiful things must be put on hold or taken from us. i don't get it and i don't like it. but, like the seasons which these flowers weather here in ohio, there is a time for all of it … as my dad said, "we don't know, but the Lord does." 

and somehow ... that's enough on this rain drenched night in ohio up on the summer sleeping porch.

can i ask you to pray for my mom? pray that the surgery would be successful and smooth and that her prognosis will be excellent.… and that she will be back on her feet and enjoying her garden very soon!

(dad, sorry, but you’re just gonna have to handle all the weeding for awhile).

53 years ago today, they said "i do!"

had to include one pic of "princess!"

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

not abandoned. never alone.

there's this delicate, white scar running the length of bella's chest. it's quite visible, but, honestly, i hardly see it anymore. not because it is disappearing, but because time has passed and it's just become a very normal part of her. like her button nose, or bony knees or that freckle on her third finger.

as far as scars go, it's a beauty.

but regardless of where it falls on the beautiful to ugly scale, i am thankful for that scar. i am thankful how it reminds me, even today, 6 years later, that bella's life was saved in a hospital in china.

recently, our girl has become incredibly curious about her start in life. very normal for an inquisitive 7 year old, but, i'm not going to lie, sometimes also a little challenging to explain the complexity. we take it question by question and pray for the right words. often (mostly at bedtime when she especially likes to stall) she asks me to tell her the story of how daddy and i flew in an airplane across the big ocean just for her. she especially likes the part when we first met and we found her holding a small carton of milk, a floral pillow and sack of powdered medicine. something about those items always cracks her up. (don't ask me. what can i say, she's 7). she wants to know about her orphanage and her gotcha day and our return trip back across that vast ocean. she has seen pictures (because, in our house, someone tends to take just a few) and i can almost watch her little mind at work piecing together the beginnings of bella grace xue mcnatt.

she is also starting to ask me a lot of questions about her surgery and that scar on her chest.

though she's pretty patient with the story, she still cannot understand why we weren't there with her when she went through surgery. truth be told, i don't quite "get that" either.

and i sugar coat the telling just a bit. i sugar coat because, the truth is, the truth is too hard for her to hear and too hard for me to tell right now. there will be a day, but that day is not at age 7.

our bella, whose name means beautiful, has some very non-beautiful parts to her beginning. but, like any parent, we focus on the good, the joy, the hope.

and that's how we try to live our day to day. because that's what parenting requires regardless our child's beginning. and because, seriously, how can we do it any differently?

but over the years of loving bella, one of the things which has always haunted me most about her emergency heart surgery is that she was alone. not quite 18 months old and alone in a hospital for a life-saving surgery. a year and half and no choice but to spend 30 days in recovery without a daddy by her side or a mommy to stroke her hair.
like, y'all know,  i can't even go there.
in fact, i've always done everything i could to not spend too much time on that piece of her story. as her mother, it just flat out feels too heavy -- my little girl going through a risky-no-guarantees-open-heart-surgery on the other side of the world ... alone.

it won't surprise you, but i have wept over that knowledge -- even in recent years.

enter meredith and ruby.

meredith is a gal that i kinda-sorta "met" last spring while we were both in birmingham for the big step-sing performance at my daughter, emily's college, samford university. meredith, a samford graduate, was also attending on behalf of the charity this event supported. meredith was in b'ham for the festivities, but, actually, china is home right now as she lives and works at the morning star family home. this young woman, not that far removed from the college scene herself, is serving and loving the vulnerable. the morningstar foundation, in china and uganda, cares for orphaned and abandoned children with severe heart issues.

and little miss ruby is one of those heart babies.

ruby, an almost 18 month old ray of pure sunshine, has a serious heart defect which, a couple of weeks ago, led her to a no-guarantees-kind-of-surgery. in fact, i bet a lot of you have been following her story already. it's the kind of story you would have wanted to follow. and though this chapter was all about ruby and her heart and the prayers for her healing, it's been meredith's role in it which has been the most beautiful balm to my own heart.

this young woman, not attached by blood or paperwork, but taking care of baby ruby on the other side of the world.

young meredith loving ruby just like her very own. 

i follow meredith on facebook and instagram (and you should too, because she's brave and brilliant and oh-my-gosh-so-hilarious). i follow along, and, admittedly, pretty much stalk the poor girl, "liking" just about everything she posts and telling everybody i know about her and why they should follow her too.

and then one day she begins to post about ruby.
ruby. orphaned and alone and in dire need of heart surgery. 

meredith's IG post: ... {you might want to grab a tissue first. or the whole box}.

so now you sorta understand what i'm talking about, right?

this post where she writes and tells about handing ruby off to the doctors and watching her head into surgery. this post where meredith claims ruby not as abandoned and alone, but as treasured and loved. "ruby did not go into that surgery as an orphan. she went as a treasured daughter, loved so fiercely that neither blood or piece of official paper was needed to prove a single thing. she has my whole heart, this little gem. for as long as she is a part of my life? i am absolutely the lucky one."

and i read that and wept for meredith and ruby and bella and the joy of a love like this that can only come from Jesus.

this post pierced that haunted place in my heart about bella's own surgery 6 years ago in china. it left me raw and wide open, but for the first time completely reminded of God's merciful presence. i don't know if bella had a meredith out in the hallway cheering for her. i don't know if she had a meredith pleading in prayer for her life or waiting for permission to kiss her tiny hands ... but reading meredith and ruby's story this month, i am given such great peace that bella was, indeed, never alone. not for one single minute of that 30 day hospital recovery.

not for one minute in that staircase where she was left as a sick baby.

not for one single second of her life since.

and though no mama ever wants to think about her child feeling abandoned or frightened or alone, it is such grace to be reminded that Jesus came to this earth and did what He did so that we, no matter our circumstances or our heart-breaking situations, are treasured and loved.

“nevertheless, I am continually with you …”    ~ psalm 73:23

meredith is the hands and feet of Jesus to sweet little ruby. she'll always be that baby girl's heart-mama. this young woman (did i mention she's only a couple years out of college) who watched this little gem head into a surgery with no promise of success; this young woman who waited "not so patiently" in the waiting room; this young woman who prayed and pleaded and kept vigil ... she, too, is a jewel.

and the sweet encouragement she's given me about my own little girl 6 years ago, is pure treasure.

in two weeks i'll be heading to africa as a storyteller for the orphans and widows who are a part of wiphan {widows+orphans} in zambia. i don't know what kind of opportunities i'll have to listen and talk and love and touch ... but as i prepare to visit this country, i am going with a heart full of hope and joy for all children who have had, like bella and ruby, some not so beautiful beginnings. there's hope that even these little ones whose lives have been left vulnerable and whose hearts have been unjustly broken, these children are not forgotten, not abandoned and never alone.

"let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, 
for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." ~ matthew 19:14

the children of zambia's stories. bella's story. ruby's story. meredith's story. my story. your story. they are all about the work Jesus can do in any heart. 

"the Lord GATHERS the outcasts ... He HEALS the brokenhearted and BINDS UP their wounds.He determines the number of stars; He gives to all of them their names. great is our Lord, and ABUNDANT in power; His understanding is BEYOND MEASURE. The Lord lifts up the humble."
  ~ psalm 147: 2-6

don't forget to follow meredith (meretoering) on instagram -- you'll be so glad you did! 
you can also find her on facebook.
please click on morningstar foundation to find out more about this ministry.