Monday, December 23, 2013

He Came Near

I had the opportunity to write a reflection for our church's Advent devotional this year.  I have posted it below.  Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

Isaiah 60:1-6
1 Arise, shine, for your light has come,
 and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples, 
but the Lord rises upon you
 and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
 and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Lift up your eyes and look about you:
 All assemble and come to you; 
your sons come from afar,
 and your daughters are carried on the hip.
Then you will look and be radiant,
 your heart will throb and swell with joy;
 the wealth on the seas will be brought to you,
 to you the riches of the nations will come.
Herds of camels will cover your land,
 young camels of Midian and Ephah.
 And all from Sheba will come,
 bearing gold and incense
 and proclaiming the praise of the Lord.

As we celebrate the eve of Christ’s birth, this passage gives us perspective.  “Lift up your eyes and look about you,” the prophet calls!  Yes, there is darkness in the world… a palpable, “thick darkness” that we all grapple with daily. I certainly appreciate the juxtaposition of light and darkness.  The Lord affirms our desires and deep pain… indeed, the darkness is all too real.  But friends, so is His light. This greater reality is found in the Lord’s glory that literally covers us. 

On a personal note, I couldn’t help but “lift my eyes” and notice the sentiment found in verse 4: “All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar.”  As a mother of a precious son in heaven, I was incredibly touched by this vivid picture of restoration, of a son coming from afar.  To glimpse a day when my children will come to me, especially the beloved son we had to bury all too soon… this day when we will take on the Lord’s radiance as we will finally see face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12), surrounded by His abundant provision. 

This passage is ultimately about restoration, yes, the specific restoration for which your heart longs. It points to both the hope found in Christ’s birth, God taking on flesh, and also to the ultimate hope we have in our eternal home where all will be fully restored, Christ’s promises finally consummated. 

I invite you to take in this beautiful picture of restoration, of light piercing the  darkness, of abundant provision where there had been lack, and of God’s praises where there had been doubt and fear.  We were once a shadow people living in darkness, but, with Christ’s incarnation, we have been brought into His glorious light.  On this Christmas Eve, I pray our hearts will “throb and swell” with the Lord’s joy!

Check out this cute video of John as a shepherd with the other preschool and elementary school children at church. Meade is walking him down the aisle in this video before the children sang "Away in a Manger" during Lessons and Carols.
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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Paving the Way

“He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
-Psalm 40:2

To start out, we have updates on your faithful prayers, as this then ties into what I’d like to share today: John’s ear tube surgery went very well and revealed how far the Lord has brought us since the early days!  First, John was completely back to his happy self about 15 minutes after waking up from the anesthesia.  He really didn’t miss a beat and was back in therapy and at school the very next day!  I think I was the only one who needed the afternoon off to “rest and recover” after the procedure! 

Secondly, John’s teachers have all noticed positive improvement since the surgery and report he is making more and new sounds!  We are so grateful!

Lastly and very significant in our hearts was the redemptive experience of the surgery/hospital itself.  One of the main reasons we moved to Atlanta was to be in close proximity to a large children’s healthcare network (Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is actually the largest in the country), including traditional as well as alternative approaches, therapy centers, etc.  It’s also nice to have a grandfather for a pediatrician!  Hopefully “B” won’t get tired of the calls asking him to drop by with his otoscope on the way home from work!

Now we realize no hospital system is perfect, but it is nice to have options!  Many doctors, many facilities, and simply a NEW place to make new memories.  A place without so many triggers reminding us of our trauma both in losing Warren and also with John’s former care.  In our old city, I basically couldn’t even step foot inside the hospital without Meade. In stark contrast, I realized I wasn’t even phased as I had to go through John’s ear tube surgery by myself.  (Meade already had a critical business meeting planned out of state and this Mama wanted to take the first surgery appointment available to fit it in before the new baby arrives!)  This was a huge feat in and of itself.  

At one point after John was prepped and our surgery time was nearing, some of the old anxieties returned.  I couldn’t believe I had forgotten to give my “put the fear of God into the doctors and nurses” spiel, the one where I shock them with the medical error that took Warren’s life.  My initial thought was, “It’s not too late! Go grab the nurse and tell her the story.”  But then this peace washed over me, and it was as though the Lord released me, saying, “It’s okay.  You can be free.  This is a new place, a new season, and I’ve got it.”  And so I sat back and actually relaxed.  And as it turned out, John did not even need to have an IV placed.  Praise God!

As we have looked back on the last few years, we have seen how God has truly paved the way for us, setting our feet upon the rock, giving us a firm place to stand after years of wobbling. Of course, He carried us in the weaker moments as well, but it is an immense blessing to feel His anchoring presence in tangible ways and know that we can plant our feet firmly upon Him, the higher Rock. 

“From the ends of the earth I call to you,
I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe.”
-Psalm 61:2-3

Since the early days of dating, Meade was given a vision of building our relationship upon the Rock with Christ as our foundation.  It was on top of Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, TN where He felt the Lord impress upon His heart the truth found in Genesis that “it is not good for man to be alone.” Then the following year, He found himself on Table Mountain in South Africa for a missions trip of sorts and felt confirmation that He was definitely supposed to ask me to marry him.  Therefore, it was only fitting that He proposed on top of Bear Fence Mountain right before I graduated from UVA.  It was beautiful as we looked from the summit out upon a 360 degree view of mountains surrounding us.  

On October 22, 2005, my last name even tied in, as I became Mary Elizabeth Stone.  Six and a half years later, we moved to Atlanta, and, unbeknownst to us, our new home is literally built on a rock.  A HUGE granite deposit… explains why we don’t have a basement!  And the more we have attempted to tame our wild backyard, the more rock we have been able to expose.  Now we see it every day as we look out the windows and doors leading to our backyard.  What an amazing reminder that the Lord is our ROCK and He wants us to live in light of this firm foundation He has provided.

From doctors to therapists to an AMAZING school for John to support from a church home, family and friends, the Lord truly went before us and paved the way in Atlanta (Deut. 31:8).  And despite the trials, we can look back and see the He was our Rock all along.  He brought Meade and me together, gave us a truly rich and formative season in Virginia, and then brought us to Georgia.  Who knows what He could have in store for us next?  It is truly redemptive to get to wonder with anticipation rather than dread. That is how He feels about YOU, as well.  He is unfolding rich plans for your life.  Yes, sometimes it is easier to see His hand at work as we reflect and have the perspective years and their emerging themes can bring. 

As you can see, one of our themes has been how He has paved the way for us and set our feet upon the Rock.  What are your themes?  How is the Lord carrying you in the hard and beautiful moments (recognizing these are often intertwined)?  Ultimately, we can all trust that one day everything will be made new as we join Him on His holy mountain.

"The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
    and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea."

-Isaiah 11:6-9

Hunting for the perfect tree!
Meanwhile Daniel is more interested in this trailer, no surprise there!
We found "the one!"
Our big boys!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Spacious Place

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” 
-Isaiah 43:18-19

Several months ago, I mentioned wanting to share about the new season we are in and what the Lord is doing in our hearts through it.  So here goes!  I hope you can relate based on whatever season you may find yourself in and as you reflect on changing seasons that have come and gone in your life.  Additionally, we have included some recent medical updates and prayer requests at the bottom.

 Enjoying a fall day!

First, there was the season of joy and anticipation of what our life would soon look like as I was pregnant and on bed rest with our precious twin boys.  Next, we hit the season of crisis and utter grief after experiencing the highest of highs bringing John and Warren into the world.  The following months were filled with the complexities involved in processing our grief, adjusting to (or more like resisting) our “new normal” that didn’t feel normal in the slightest.  I could go on and on about this season, but for the sake of time, I will jump to when we found the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential when John was almost a year old. 

Hope entered the scene once again.  With only glimmers at first.  A feeling long in hiding.  And we embarked on a season that the Lord used to truly save our lives.  We were given John’s intensive home treatment program.  Pouring myself into this program certainly made a huge difference in John’s life, but what I didn’t realize at the time was the immense difference it would make in mine.  I was given back some control and say regarding my son’s health and development.  Finally, there was something I could do!  I was no longer stuck with appointment after appointment with either no answers or horrible answers and simply told to pay my bill and come back in 3 or 6 months. 

We found a team of people who not only didn’t look down on us for believing in John, but also championed our cause, gave us renewed vision, and helped us pick ourselves up and dust off the debris from battling on the front lines for so long.  There was hope. And there was something worth fighting for despite the outcome.

I heard the following quote a year or two ago from one of our soldiers in Afghanistan:  “We cooperate and we fight as hard as we can, because there will perhaps be disappointment but there will be no shame.”  I can hardly think of a better way to capture our time devoted to the Institutes’ program.  Yes, the days were oftentimes grueling and long with apparently little or no progress made.  But there was certainly no shame as we knew we were doing what we were called to do, crazy as it may have been, to help John.  And like I said, in that, God was pulling us out of the wreckage and into this new season of hope and vision.  Without these two things, I don’t know how we can survive.  I was content in my role of full time therapist. 

Fast forward again… we have another son on earth.  We move to Georgia.  We line up new therapists, doctors, Medicaid, his public school Individualized Education Plan (IEP), etc, and now we have another son coming soon!  Life is full!  If I am honest, I became quite exhausted much of the time carrying the weight of John’s development along with juggling life’s additional responsibilities.  The program was a Godsend for a season, but I frequently found myself feeling burned out and guilty for not doing more.  It was time for a change.  I needed help with John’s care without releasing hope for his future.

This help came in the form of the neurodevelopmental center and fully accredited school we found in May just 35 minutes from our home.  Here we found another wonderful team that spoke our language, also believed in John, and wanted to give him every chance possible to fulfill his potential with individualized therapy, academics, and brain stimulation.  A place much like the Institutes but with energetic amazing staff ready to help me in my own city!  And they love John like one of their own.  It is a dream come true.  I am still amazed at how God paved the way for us here before we ever moved, knowing exactly what we would need as our family grew and as our seasons changed.

John's first school picture!  Rocking his new glasses which he seems to love. :)

We are grateful God never stops fighting for us and provides “a way in the wilderness” and “streams in the wasteland.”

Another verse we love that completely applies in this new season is found in Psalm 18:19:
“He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.”

Although it doesn’t always feel this way, God does delight in each one of us and longs to be our rescuer.  I spent quite awhile focusing on my role as full time therapist.  And now in the last 6 months, I have simply been able to be “Mommy.”  And this is a role I relish.  So redemptive!  Thank you Lord Jesus for bringing me into this “spacious place”! 

What roles or seasons are changing in your life?  I encourage us all to step back and soak in this evidence that the Lord is certainly at work making all things new.

A few updates and prayer requests (and a few more pictures):

-John is having surgery this Thursday morning, December 5th, to have ear tubes put in both ears.  John tends to retain fluid in his ears and also have negative pressure in one or both ears.  This procedure should help these things and, at best, may help his vestibular system (which relates to balance and movement) as well as his articulation/speech (which we pray will still emerge at some point).  Please pray for a successful surgery and for a quick recovery from the anesthesia.

-John had an appointment with Dr. Shoffner (mitochondrial disease guru) last week.  It was helpful and of course interesting to hear he does not think the genetic mutation we’ve most recently been told is a main cause for his condition is actually responsible.  We don’t really ride the roller coaster anymore; it’s almost laughable how many diagnoses, prognoses and probable causes for John’s challenges we have been given over the course of his life that have later changed.  However, John gave blood to have further genetic testing that we will go over in a few months.  And there’s always hope that a correctly identified cause for his problems will lead to better treatment in the future.  It’s amazing how rapidly this field grows every day. Grateful for the doctors working hard on this research!

-I am doing well and am less than 6 weeks out from my due date with our 4th precious son.  We can hardly wait!  But after being pregnant with twins and the fears of preterm labor, we are grateful for every week this little one stays in the womb!  Also, we praise the Lord that my high risk factors have not been an issue at all thus far in the pregnancy.  We are praying for a redemptive and peaceful delivery in a new hospital with new memories to be made.

-We continue to adore John’s new school and thank the Lord for it every day!  They have been working with his new communication device in addition to all the other amazing interventions they do there.

-The big news in Daniel’s life is potty training!  He has done very well so far!  Can’t take these “normal” developmental tasks for granted! 

We were beyond thrilled to host Katherine and Jay Wolf in our home in early November and have some friends gather to hear their amazing story.  Check out their inspiring website, Hope Heals.
Daniel has successfully transitioned to a big boy bed!
 This was our best Thanksgiving photo.  Haha!