Monday, July 23, 2012

Three Groups

Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found.  ---Psalm 32:6

As we have all seen the events in Aurora, Colorado, unfold over the last several days it is gut-wrenching.  Many non-Christians ask "Why would a God of love allow something like this to happen?"  They need to know why, they need someone to take the blame for this.  Maybe they will become bitter or maybe they will learn to know who Jesus is through it.

As Christians, we have a different perspective.  We know that the world in which we live is temporary and it is evil.  Since the Fall of Man the world has been under a curse, subject to decay.  Romans 8:20-22 says:

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

There is evil in this world - it is caused by man's free will.  The same free will that caused this man in Colorado to kill innocent people is the same free will that allows you and me to not kill people.  God doesn't allow just "good choice" free will - that defeats the purpose.  If this world did not contain evil, there would be no reason for us to seek out the better option - salvation.  For those not willing to accept this, they will continue to ask "why" this happened. 

As I read Psalm 32:6 (above) I couldn't help but realize that God will always be available to us, will always be there (He's not the one making it hard to be "found").  The evil in this world is becoming more and more prevelant and is closing in, making it harder for some to find Him.  It puts a greater, more urgent calling on those of us who are saved, who know Him.  We have to do greater, wider, more intese work to reach people.

During this "furnace of affliction" God has opened my eyes to my own work for Him.  The work I was doing before wasn't bad work, it wasn't wrong work - it was teaching, leading, volunteering.  But I was mainly doing all of my ministry in the comfort of my own church or in settings among Christians.  I have been convicted that that is not enough.

I believe that God does 3 things with Christians:
1) Let's them continue His work because they are doing exactly what He wants them to do.  They are serving in the ministry He has called them to and they are being productive, active and joyful in it.  This is probably a smaller portion of the people.

2) Let's them continue in their self-absorbed lives.  These people are probably serving, but they may be doing so out of obligation or habit and not because they want to serve in the name of Jesus.  This is the group I was in until 9 months ago.  This is not a bad group; but it's a group in which people are going through the motions and just "surviving".  This is the soccer mom group that has so much on their daily to-do list that they will never, ever get it all done.  They squeeze God and service in when they can.  They will get to the end of their lives and wonder what in the world they did (this is also the group that finishes a busy, tiring, stressful day or week and wonders what in the world they actually accomplished; they can't recall where their time went; they can't recall a single life they enriched or made better).  Look at the pace they are setting for their children and the lessons they are teaching them.  My heart breaks when I think about it (more on this subject another day). This is probably the majority of Christians today.

3) Plucks them from their #2 life and completely empties them - through tragedy, accidents, illness or some other form of significant loss or awakening.  These people have a chance to sit back, re-evaluate and consider making a difference.  They can see that God is so much bigger than their little lives.  They realize that God is allowing them an opportunity that most don't get.  They see the world so differently than anyone else because of their pain.  And I believe that if you are in group #2 and you don't look at warning signs and signals, you will soon be in group #3 if God wants to use you in a significant way.

I now realize that I should have, as all of us should, regularly consider where we're serving.  We should not continue to serve out of obligation or habit.  We should regularly re-evaluate if we're where God wants us.  We should consider other opportunities.  We should think beyond our own church walls.

In our world today I believe it is getting harder and harder for people to find God.  Not because He's not where He's always been but because of all the evil closing in.  As Christians, we need to be sure that we are actively serving, living out a faith and life that others seek out and not just rushing, racing, checking off to-do lists just to get through the day.  I'm sure 9 months ago I would have wondered, "How can I remove anything from my to-do list; it's all so important?"  It's funny but now my daily to-do lists are about 3 items long and none of that is critical; if it doesn't get done, it will keep.  Yes, others have picked up some slack but I've also changed the way I do a lot of things and certainly changed the way I see things - anyone can do it if you really want to.

I have a friend that I rarely get to see b/c her life is so busy.  During the school year she always says, "Well, summer will be here soon and life won't be so hectic."  Then I don't hear from her all summer and close to school starting she says, "We're so glad school's about to start and we can back into a routine and life won't be so hectic".  And I know her situation is not unique.

We try too hard to be too many things to too many people.  Do we ever stop and wonder what the only person (or being) that really matters thinks? 

There are a lot of people out there, a lot, doing really great things for God.  No doubt.  They walk so closely with Him that they can manage life and take advantage of every opportunity and calling He has for them.  They are that elite group #1 I described above.

But I think the sad truth is that so many more are just getting by, just surviving - those in group #2.  I was there and now have the unique advantage of hind-sight.  Having "been there" I know that without a tragedy or significant event, it will be extremeley difficult for those people to completely adjust their lives and their to-do lists.  But the Bible assures us it can be done:

With man this is impossible, but with God ALL things are possible.  ---Matthew 19:26

I wasn't one of the ones who proactively changed my ways.  And so now I have been emptied; all of who I was has been stripped away - very painfully I might add.  However, I feel blessed that I am now in group #3 and I pray with everything in me that I will make my heavenly Father proud.

If we all fulfilled our callings the Light of the world would far outweigh the present darkness.  Take time to re-evaluate your ministry, your day, your to-do lists.  One of Lydia's favorite phrases that she pretty much made up and uses out of context is "What Matters?"  Even though when she uses it I have no idea what she's talking about, it's an extremely applicable question in light of our role in this life...

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Looking for the Good

"This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it" ---Psalm 118:24

It's been a rough week so far.  I've been really dizzy with little relief.  I want to try and explain what I mean when I say I'm "dizzy" so here goes...

Dizzy is the term I use when I'm just "off" - it could mean that I feel like my brain is doing somersaults, or that feeling you get when you have a ponytail in too tight or if you've been wearing a hat too long.  Have you ever had butterflies in your stomach?  Most people have, so when someone uses that term you can relate.  If you had to just describe that feeling to someone and they hadn't felt it before it would be difficult for you to describe and for them to comprehend.  Well, I feel like I have "butterflies on my brain" sometimes.  When I'm having a really bad night (like I did Tuesday) I wake up often during the night and the spinning doesn't stop.  Have you ever had a dream where you're falling?  You feel like everything in your mind is out of control, but you wake up and it stops.  Well, when I wake up it doesn't stop and the nightmare that this is my waking reality sets in.  I have a very recurrent dream that I'm driving up a steep, narrow bridge with no guard rails on either side and the road feels like it's covered in oil b/c I'm sliding all over the place.  My brain is just scrambled b/c of the motion I'm sensing plus the fear that any minute I will be free-falling over the edge. 

And just so you know I am dizzy to some degree every single day and have been for almost nine months.  I am tired a lot b/c my brain is doing double-time trying to work properly and just think plus having to deal with this misinformation that my vestibular nerve (balance) in my ear is sending it.  Basically that nerve is what keeps us all standing upright and what alerts our bodies when we lie down or move position so that our brain can adjust.  That nerve in my left ear is constantly sending misfires to my brain.  So anything I'm doing takes twice the brain power to accomplish.  If I seems spacey lately (more spacey that normal I guess) it's legit!

Just thought I would try and share how I feel physically with this condition.

Even though I am feeling this bad physically, I am learning from my dear friend with MS that you just have to be thankful for the things you can do and not focus on what you can't do (love you Jimmie!).  Let me tell you about what I could do yesterday even though I felt awful... I played Candyland with my kids, I painted pictures with Lydia, I did Mosaic Art with them, I watched Beau play a game and get 1st place and I got lots and lots of hugs and kisses from them yesterday.  I'd say that's a pretty good day!

And I'm going to take a minute to brag on my kids.  I am so very, very, very blessed.  I can't imagine having this condition and having bad kids to worry about.  I laid down for hours yesterday and they entertained themselves without one bit of strife.  I wasn't actually sleeping so I was aware of their general status but it was peaceful the entire time I was in the bed.  I left them watching a movie, but came out of the bedroom to find the TV off and them diligently working with items they keep in their craft bins.  They were making blankets for their stuffed animals by cutting up equal lengths of yarn and taping them together.

"Blankets" made from yarn
They could have been destroying things, running out into the street, sticking things up their noses that require medical attention to remove (I've heard of this happening so it is a potential threat)!  But they were peacefully playing together.  What a blessing!  They recently painted "Fruit Trees" and they earn stickers each time they exhibit a fruit of the spirit to put on their tree.  At the end of an 11-hour day cooped up inside yesterday they both earned a "goodness" sticker because of their behavior.  That's a feat for anyone much less a 6-year-old. 

"Fruit" trees
Even though my day started out with lots of crying and asking God "why" I was able to see His blessings too.  As mentioned above, I'm trying to live as my friend does: being thankful for what I can do and not thinking about or focus on the things I can't do...  it's a daily challenge and one that I constantly struggle with.  And I'm praying that I am leaving a legacy for my children through this.  That even though there's a lot of "I can't" there's also a lot of "God will."  I feel so convicted to ensure that my attitude is the right one so that my kids learn something from this that they can take with them for all of their lives.  I believe that how I handle this adversity will have a direct and lasting impact on their ability to handle adversity in their lives.

"The righteous man leads a blameless life; blessed are his children after him." ---Proverbs 20:7

Still praying for a miracle - divine and complete healing.  I know it will come, I know it will.  There is no question in my mind.  I just don't know when.  It may be days, it could be years.  But I know it will come.  And I will be sure that people know of God's goodness.

"I will not die but live* and will proclaim what the Lord has done." ---Psalm 118:17

* This living will be the abundant living that Jesus promises in John 10:10

Final note - after a promising start, we have not heard back from the doctor at Mayo.  Waiting...

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Pieces of the Puzzle

The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O LORD, endures forever - do not abandon the works of your hands. ---Psalm 138:8

This is what I wrote in my journal this morning:
"If He's about to let me spread my wings, I want to be sure I've done all I can to GET READY for the flight!"

Let me explain...

Last year my mom and I took the kids to my niece Ashley's High School Graduation in Pensacola, FL.  We made a week-long beach vacation out of it.  The condo that we rented was fully furnished and equipped.  The owners even had some books, games and best of all a jigsaw puzzle for their guests to use while there.  I am a puzzle fanatic.  I haven't done many since the twins came along (for obvious reasons).  It took a couple of days, but we all worked together and finished the puzzle.  So, what's the big deal?  It was about 300 pieces and it was stored in a Ziploc bag - that's it!  No picture of the finished product.  The challenge was that much greater, as was the opportunity to mess up, try over and the sense of accomplishment was even better.  It turned out to be a fun, cartoon beach scene with crazy fish, sand critters, flip-flops, sunbathers and a hodgepodge of other beachy things.

I was laying in bed last night thinking... I really feel that my season in the "furnace of affliction" is coming to an end.  And an end to the "furnace" season means I'm about to live again!  And I am praying desperately that living again looks completely different than it used to.  And I'm terrified and worried.  I don't know what God has in store for me.  I truly cannot fathom what ministry opportunity He has for me beyond this season, but I know it will be something significant for His kingdom.  And it reminded me of the puzzle - I am steadily working on (or pray that I am) putting all of the pieces together so that He can reveal the finished picture to me.  That is my new daily prayer, "God, is there anything more or different that I need to be doing to get ready for your work?"  Am I reading the right scripture?  Am I praying enough?  Am I working through the most applicable study material?  And I really don't know those answers, so I am seeking His direction to be sure that I am ready.  I want to know that I'm not putting the wrong pieces of the puzzle together.  And as long as I know that, it doesn't matter what the opportunity is, because He won't let me fail.

But I am so thankful, soooooo thankful!  Because we are all called to ministry.  But not many of us get the opportunity I have had to get a very intense training season.  I feel like I am in an elite group of people because God has taken everything out of my life to make time and room for Him.  Before I just had to fit Him in where I could... well, I didn't "have to fit Him in" but that's how it looked in my life.  Without the last nine months, I would not have slowed down or changed my ways.  I have had the rare privilege of spending hours a day reading the Bible and praying.  Like Job said at the end of his trials and restoration:

"My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you."  ---Job 42:5

I have committed to reading my entire Bible cover to cover.  I'm not saying by the end of the year, but I'm just doing it.  I read in a book some time ago that the author didn't want to get to heaven and admit to God that while here on Earth he had not read every word that God left for him.  That made a huge impact on me and convicted me to read!

And I know that we cannot be followers of Jesus and stay comfortable.  That thought both excites and terrifies me about the next step of my life.  Let's all pray that we are getting ready for God's work in our lives.  If we all did that, who knows what could happen???  I do hope that God allows me to keep writing when I'm well, because it is a joy and an honor!

I dropped dose 3 of 3 of my medicine 2+ weeks ago and have been down to 2 doses.  AND I dropped dose 2 of 2 four days ago and seem to be doing ok without it.  This is significant.  Getting off this medicine is key to allowing my therapy to work and coming off this "easily" is nothing short of a miracle to me.  I'm taking one dose a day and it's a really small dose!!!!

And I'm making a much longer story short here:  We found a close friend/family connection who is a doctor in Internal Medicine at Mayo.  Jonathan talked to him on his cell phone yesterday and the doctor said he would track down my application and call us early next week.  He said he's "not making any promises but will do everything he can" to speed the process.  Jonathan called the doctor and the doctor called Jonathan back within 30 minutes (that in-and-of-itself is a miracle)!

Please keep praying for the things above:
1) complete restoration and healing (so I can get on with ministry)
2) continued ease to get off my "dizzy" meds
3) an appointment at Mayo

And also, I've been having migraines the last few days. The GREAT news is that during a migraine, I'm not dizzy (or maybe I just don't notice it). It's funny when a migraine is a welcome relief!  But I really am not a fan of migraines and sometimes they can actually cause vertigo so I'd really rather just not have them.

Thank you, friends, for your continued prayers, love and support. 

One final note... I was talking with a friend yesterday and telling her all of the nice things people continue to do for our family.  She commented that before I never would have allowed people to help me the way I do now and I agreed (I needed a lesson in humility).  We were laughing saying that we hope people aren't just trying to say the "right thing" and offer their help because I don't turn anyone down.  So, beware, if you offer to do something for me, I will take you up on it!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Unexpected Blessings

Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world.
---Isaiah 12:4-5

As you know, I've been going through vestibular rehabilitation therapy (vrt) to strengthen my damaged vestibular nerve and get rid of this daily dizziness.  Some of the greatest blessings have come through this and I want to share some of those with you:

1) Melanie Massey Physical Therapy (MMPT) - what should be a place of great sadness because of the physical infirmities all around is a place of peace and joy.  With 88.7 The Cross radio playing in the background, patients singing Jesus Loves Me and EVERY employee (the ones I've seen anyway) with a SMILE and kind word ALWAYS, there is such peace there.  And don't get me wrong... I HATE therapy as much as the others that are there I'm sure.  It's pushing our bodies to limits that make us uncomfortable.  Yet, I always leave there feeling better (mentally and spiritually) then when I came.  I've had therapists other than my own come and work with me (Becky) in the hopes of finding other answers that may help me.  On a really bad day recently when I was crying and frustrated, one of the therapists, Brian, walked by the room I was in and just hollered out, "I'm praying for you Nicole!"  It was more encouraging than I'm sure he even knows.  From day 1 when Krystal was so kind to get me set up for my first appointment to Mrs. Bev working with me on my weekly schedule, they are always so kind and helpful.  And that's just the activity in the adult building...

Lydia is also in PT right now for her "toe-walking."  It's an extremely minor "infirmity" but we've got to get her flat-footed!  Every person there in the children's building - Robin, Renee, Melanie, Jessica, Madison, Courtney - are so happy when they see Lydia.  It's such a comfort as a mom to see others who love your children and who want to work with them to make them better.

To know what the people at MMPT see on a daily basis - so many physically and mentally impaired people, including children - yet to still spread joy and kindness, they are very special people and I am so thankful for them.

Be joyful always.  ---1 Thessalonians 5:16

2) The patients at MMPT are blessing me beyond measure.  We all "work out" in a big open area, rotating around the room as we need so we can work at different stations.  We don't know each other, yet we cheer each other on, clap for accomplishments and congratulate each other.  I don't know the conditions of the other patients but I know they are a lot worse off than me - some with severe physical limitations, some with mental limitations and other limitations I probably don't even know about... Scotty, Kim, Tony, Mr. Joe - these are some that I have been praying for, even though I don't know them and they don't know me.  I love seeing their accomplishments and hearing them cheer for me too!  I love when Kim walks her "laps" around the floor singing "Jesus Loves Me."  I love hearing Tony's jokes and jabs.  I love Mr. Joe's stories and poems.  And it's fun when Scotty tries to throw me off when I'm doing one of my balances exercises with my eyes closed.  It has been truly humbling to see these others push through great obstacles - and with such joy and strength.

I got the greatest blessing of all on Thursday.  Kim's therapist asked her if she wanted to play the piano and Kim said yes.  I assumed it was just another exercise to help strengthen muscles.  I expected Chopsticks, Doe-a-Deer or Mary Had a Little Lamb.  Stephanie, Kim's therapist, plugged in the electric keyboard, and the next thing I heard was beautiful music.  To watch Kim struggle through so many exercises on a regular basis and then to hear such talent coming from what I thought were damaged fingers - it was overwhelming.  If I had not been standing on a rocker board (pseudo-surfing motion) throwing and catching a ball across the room to Bobby, I would have sat down and cried.  In the midst of our pain and troubles, God continues to surprise and awe me.  Beautiful is the only way I can describe it.

If you are ever having a bad day, complaining about something in your life or mad at God b/c of something trivial, come spend an hour at MMPT.  You will be encouraged and you will be humbled.

3) Summer - I could write a book about my therapist.  She cares deeply about my healing and progress - as she does for all of her patients.  She is not just my therapist, she is my friend, sounding board and prayer warrior.  Outside of Jonathan and my mom, she knows what I'm going through better than anyone.  She understands (to the best anyone can) the weirdo nature of this condition and the roller-coaster.  She has sat in MMPT and held my hands and prayed for me while I cried, she checks in with me every single day without fail, she sends me scripture and she researches vestibular disorders like a mad-woman.  She probably knows more about them than any local doctor.  That's not a slight to local doctors, it's a fact.  She is tenacious.  She shares with me too, so I can pray for her.  It's awesome and a blessing to me.  If for no other reason, this disease has brought me a friend and a sister, and I am eternally grateful.

I know this blog is different, but I wanted to share that there is still beauty, hope and caring... in the midst of any trial and suffering.  There are still places and people in this world who care.  I've never seen water turned into wine, but I have seen and heard Kim play the piano and it was a reminder that God still works modern-day miracles.

And one day, I will be writing here that I am healed - completely and totally of dizziness, brain fog and "swimming in the head" - and you all will know someone who was given the gift of a modern-day miracle.  I believe the day is coming.  Even though this has been a pretty bad week, it's coming...

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. ---Hebrews 10:23

Friday, July 6, 2012


Do you guys worry terribly about me when you read my writings?  You probably think I'm a complete lunatic... one day I'm singing and writing about my goofball dog and the next I'm sobbing through my words.  Yes, my life is erratic, but I want you to know that I do not lose my hope or my faith.  I'm just being real... I told my friend yesterday that I feel somewhat like King David.  Read Psalm 13.  He was also on a roller-coaster of faith and trust and I'm so glad he was honest with his thoughts and God included them in the Holy Bible.  It's a sanity check for me!

First, the praise:
  • Three months ago yesterday was my last full-on vertigo attack.  That's a QUARTER of a year without one.  Thank you, Jesus! 
  • I have gone NINE nights minus one medicine dose.  So, that means I'm down to a very small amount of the medicine I'm trying to wean off!  Please pray for me over the next few weeks that I will continue to cut down and completely get off of it. 
  • And finally, I spent TWO HOURS at a neighbors pool with my family on the 4th of July.  This was the most social activity I have had in MONTHS!!!!!   It's a praise but read on to find out "the rest of the story...."
July 3, 2012
This day was a not good at all.  I drove Lydia and myself to West Monroe (30 minutes away) to physical therapy.  I KNEW better.  I didn't feel well before we left.  Long story short - I had to call Jonathan to once again rescue me.  He had to drop what he was doing to tote me home.  He had to get his cousin (thank you Darryl) to take the time later to drive ALL THE WAY back to WM to pick up my car.  My mom had to leave work and come straight over to keep the kids (again).  And I spent the rest of the day in bed.  It was a bad, bad day on Tuesday. 

July 4, 2012
The plan for the day was to go to the neighbors at 3:00 to swim and grill out, then we were all taking the kids to the clubhouse for jumpers, face painting, fireworks, etc.  I had pre-planned to only attend the pool party and let Jonathan take the kids to the other stuff.

Around noon I started feeling dizzy.  And I got mad at God... REALLY, REALLY MAD.  I just cried out, "God, why?  Tell me why?  What could your purpose possibly be for making me sit home feeling so dizzy while my family goes swimming, grilling and fire-working without me?  It makes NO SENSE!  It's ridiculous.  There are so many deadbeats who can't care less what their children and spouses are doing.  I WANT to be with my family.  I don't understand!  What could you possibly be doing in this?"  I was begging God to show me, just give me a glimpse of His plan b/c I cannot understand it!  I laid in bed because I was so tired and dizzy.  And I felt Him say, "It's because I need you to be content in ANY circumstance.  I don't need you to be content if you can be with your family.  I need you to be content if it's my plan for you to stay home alone again."  This verse came to mind as I drifted off to sleep:

Paul said, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances." ---Philippians 4:11

I woke up around 2:00 - one hour till swim time.  I felt a little better but I never really know until I get out of bed and start moving around.  Before I got up, I prayed, "God, if I am well enough to go, thank you.  Give me confirmation that I can go.  Let me get up and feel good and not be indecisive about how I feel (physically).  And if you don't want me to go, give me the peace to be home and be content."

I got up and felt better.  At 3:15 we headed to our friends.  I swam, I fixed my kids' hot dogs, I talked with friends, at one point someone said something so funny I laughed like I haven't in months (Jonathan said it was so awesome to hear me laugh), I ate a delicious hamburger and then Jonathan drove me home.  He and the kids swam for a little while longer, came home, changed and went out till 10:00 watching fireworks. 

I was soooooooooooooooooooo excited.  And I feel like God had to get me to the place of not being able to go so that He could reveal some of His purpose to me.  He didn't owe me that.  He's God.  His plans and ways are bigger and higher (Isaiah 55), but He chose to give me a glimpse, some confirmation that He does have purposes for everything that I'm going through.

It's still a roller-coaster.  I will continue to have "David-moments" - it's the nature of the disease and the season that I'm in. 

Yesterday, I Fed-Ex'd a HUGE package of paperwork to the Mayo Clinic; it will arrive there this morning.  I was told that a doctor will review it "in his spare time" and determine my course of action so that my visit there is mapped out and efficient.  I was told that's why the process can take 4-6 months.  Please pray together with me that the paperwork will get in the right hands quickly, move through the system quickly and that I can get an appointment without waiting 4-6 months.  I am willing to hang on and not do anything until I get an opinion from the doctors at Mayo, but 4-6 months more of this seems unbearable if I think of it today. 

THANK YOU for all of your love and support.  And thank you for giving me your input on what YOU would do in this situation.  Just so you all know, most people (almost all) said they would exhaust every least invasive procedure/process they could before doing anything more severe.  And that's what I had pretty much decided and what I'm content with... for TODAY anyway!