Monday, October 31, 2011


This weekend I had the joy and privilege of participating in a women's retreat sponsored by my wonderful home church.  It was a first for me--though I've been to plenty of meetings and get-aways during our life overseas, this was the first time that I had been able to join in on something quite like this.  The retreat is over a Friday night and all day Saturday, with a speaker chosen to lead several sessions and then plenty of time built in for fellowship, fun, time in the Word, and even free time to take a walk, take a nap, or whatever you liked.  I enjoyed the mix of scheduled and unscheduled time.

I've written before about how important I feel it is to occasionally get away and retreat, but this was the first time I was able to do it in a corporate setting.  Of course, the experience of it was extremely different than a solitary retreat, but the idea is still the same--getting away from normal life and responsibilities for a brief period of time so that we can hear more clearly from the Lord and focus on His word in a different way.

The planning team had done a wonderful job, and thought of so many special details that made me feel so spoiled!  Lovely, crafty decorations, delicious foods, small gift bags placed on our beds, a wonderful packet to take home--it was all so beautifully done.  I was impressed!

I really enjoyed the teaching that was presented throughout the weekend.  The main theme was "Clinging to God's Promises" and the woman who taught has lived this truth as her husband is struggling with an incurable disease.  She had much wisdom to share that hit close to home as I think about the fears that are threatening our family right now.  She also helpfully provided a chart of many, many Scriptural promises and I hope to spend some time meditating through that list this week.

One wonderful benefit of the retreat was the opportunity to have significant, uninterrupted conversations with women whom I don't see very often.  There are only so many people I can speak with on Sunday morning after church, and there are some women whom I interact with much more frequently, but this was a chance to meet some new friends, connect with others whom I wanted to get to know better, and have significant conversations with several women whom I greatly respect.  I approached the retreat wanting to be intentional about conversations...not just chatting but asking "heart" questions and being willing to share myself as well.  It was just wonderful to have the chance to do this!  I got very little sleep, it's true, but I don't regret it one bit!  I'm thankful!

One reason I think those conversations are so important is because as I look back over how the Lord has worked in my life, sometimes He did significant work in me--changed a direction, convicted me of a sin, helped me see a situation clearly--simply through a very brief word spoken by a Christian sister.  Can any of you relate to this?  I could give a lot of examples but I won't go into long stories here...but the point is that I do remember specific conversations that the Lord used to change me, though those conversations may have even taken place in a casual setting, not a formal mentoring relationship or small group setting. 

So, I'm so very thankful that this weekend provided an opportunity to be with sisters in the Lord, enjoy great teaching and thinking on God's word, encourage one another, worship together, and rejoice in what He is doing in one another.  I took my camera, but was too busy talking (and listening) the whole weekend to take any pictures!  But, I'm thankful for the chance to go, for my husband who stayed and held down the home fort (quite well, I might add!), and for those that planned and really worked hard so that we could be treated to such a great retreat.  Thank you Lord!

And now, the challenge is to let the things I am learning impact me as I begin a new week and normal responsibilities again.  We'll be back at home schooling again tomorrow, working on character and habit training with the girls, and all of the other normal stuff that is part of daily life.  I came back from the retreat with a fresh conviction about persevering in training my girls in godly habits and responses.  We need a little refresher course, I think!  Things like "NO whining" and obeying right away, all the way, and with a cheerful heart, and also learning to clean up our messes when we make them...we'll keep on working to make those standards a reality again this week!  I'm thankful for His new mercies and will be looking for them again tomorrow morning. 

If you've never had the chance to go on a corporate retreat like this, may I encourage you to consider it?  Or, if it's simply not available (like for me when I was overseas), set aside a half a day and spend that time yourself with the Lord.  It's worth it!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Facing our Fears

Clara Anne, my sensitive, perceptive, imaginative, and lovely almost seven year old, has been battling fear recently.  We have been having a hard time putting her to bed at night, because she keeps on saying that she is scared.  She has been getting out of her bed and coming to ask us to pray for her, sometimes two or three times before she will fall asleep.  Sometimes she is crying already just a moment or two after we've left the room.

As we've talked with her, we've tried to find the reason for her fears.  Her answers have varied:  she doesn't like sleeping in the basement (it's too dark, she says, though we have a night light for them in the bathroom), she feels lonely being on a different floor from Mommy and Daddy, she feels alone in her bed (despite the fact that she is sharing with her sister), generally it's been things like this.  One night we had a rather longer discussion where she tried to give me her theological reasons for being scared.  It went something like this: "Mommy, when it's morning I feel gayful (yes, her word :) and joyful because it is light and sunny, but at night I feel so small, just like a little girl, and like maybe God isn't with me anymore."  When I asked, "Clara, why do you feel God isn't with you?  He promised to always be with you!", she said, "But Mommy, before there was anything, it was all dark.  God wasn't there when it was totally dark before the world was created."

I quickly corrected this theological error (No, Clara Anne, God WAS there, He just had not created anything yet!  He was there in the darkness too, forever.) but she seemed unconvinced.  Clara Anne was feeling the fear that we can all feel sometimes, especially the fear of not being able to change how we feel about something.  In her mind, if she feels scared, she's scared, and there's nothing she can do about it.

I can relate, as I've been fighting my own fears lately about my dad and his condition--Alzheimer's disease that seems to be progressing quickly.  There are so many unknowns as we look at the future, and there are certainly lots of things to worry about.  Fear is threatening to choke me, to steal my joy, and to reach its tentacles into every moment.  What will happen to Dad?  When will he need more help than my mom can give?  How will he get that help?  How expensive will that be?  Do I need to be with them or do I stay here and try to support from a distance?  What if something happens to Mom in the meantime?  Can they stay in their house?  The questions just go on and can be so easy to fear.

But, we've been giving Clara Anne some very specific advice to face her fears, advice that we are reminding ourselves of as well!  One: she HAS to fight against fear.  She cannot allow her mind to get fearful and scared and then just give in to it, crying and making things worse.  We have repeatedly encouraged her to fight back with Scripture.  We are always memorizing Bible verses, so she can have a review each night as she seeks to put her mind on things above and not give in to fear. 

A second strategy for fighting fear is to be thankful.  When we are actively using our minds to thank God for what He has done, it gets us thinking the right way again.  Thankfulness and fear cannot coexist!  It's always a good exercise for me to force myself to list the things I am thankful for--I have to remind myself of God's goodness and faithfulness by being thankful, and this just chases the fear away.  We've told Clara Anne: "If you start to feel afraid, say 'NO!' to that fear and start to think of everything you're thankful for!  Make a list in your mind and praise God for your blessings!"

And, finally, spending time in the Word is really key as we face our fears.  We now are allowing Clara Anne to have a reading light on for 10 minutes after we turn out the light and she reads her Bible for that time.  She loves this and since we started allowing the light and Bible reading, she is sleeping much better.  She hasn't been up at all during the night this week and we are thankful that she is going to bed without quite so much drama.

Fighting against fear is so key for us as Christians.  Our lives can sometimes seem to be spinning out of control, but in reality the Lord holds all things in His powerful hands.  The "what-ifs" and unknowns can be daunting, but I am so thankful that He is in control of past, present, and future, and He can be trusted.  I do not need to fear, my Savior will give me all that I need, for my good and His glory.  I hope Clara Anne is learning some valuable lessons as she fights her fears as well.  I'm thankful that she is sleeping better and hopeful that she is putting down a marker in her own life:  Don't fear!  Trust God!  He is trustworthy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

In Brief

A few newsworthy notes tonight:

As we are still processing through my dad's Alzheimer's diagnosis, some decisions have been made for the immediate future, at least.  Mom and Dad will continue to stay in their home in Iowa, where they have excellent support from their church and community, Dad still knows his way around, and Mom has some income from her piano students.  We feel this is a wise course of action for now and though I'd love to have them here in Louisville, there isn't any real immediate need.  They are well-cared for there and their daily life is blessedly routine and familiar, something my dad needs a lot of these days.  I am thankful for that. 

Chloe and I have been back to the doctor again.  During her recent appendectomy, it was discovered that Chloe had a "twist" in her bowels at one point which caused her appendix to be located on her left side rather than her right.  This was unusual but "a conversation for another day" said the doctor.  Well, "another day" arrived last week as we visited Dr. F at her office.  She shared with me that Chloe's condition, called a malrotation, is potentially quite serious and can be fatal.  Though Chloe was asymptomatic, she felt it was necessary for Chloe to have a Upper GI test done to determine the extent of the malrotation and the potential dangers--essentially, to see whether Chloe needed surgery to fix this problem or not.  So, we spent a large part of Thursday at outpatient radiology and Chloe cheerfully and willingly drank the "special milkshake"  (some of you know just how "special" it is) and they xrayed her insides every hour or so to see how the barium was progressing.  Thankfully, though she is diagnosed with malrotation, it is "functional malrotation" and there is no need for surgery at this point, PTL!  We are very thankful for this!  We have one more follow-up appointment to discuss potential warning signs of future problems, but hopefully that will be the end of the story.

The girls and I continue to keep on in home schooling and are making some nice progress.  I feel like this is the year Clara Anne is going to "take off" in her reading ability and we've been having fun with our math, memory verses, reading time, handwriting, and playtime as well.  John will be starting History soon with the girls and I am trying to be consistent in getting Clara Anne to practice the piano.  Our most anticipated time each week, though, is our Music Time--we have four other little girlie friends that come over on Friday mornings and I am teaching them a music curriculum that I borrowed from my mom.  These girls are doing great!  Everyone can keep a steady beat--even the 3 year olds!--and last week we had such fun with rhythm instruments.  It's been a special part of our week!

We have some neighbors who live just up the road that are members of our church and we are now doing a date night swap with them.  They have four boys and our girls think it's great to play with boys once in awhile too!  So, Tuesday nights are fun for everyone as the kids get some quality playtime and the adults get an evening out every other week.  We're thankful for new friends and playmates!

Our neighbors next door are an interesting couple--he is an astrophysicist and she is an artist.  Last week she invited us to to come over and let the girls make a small clay figure which she will fire in her kiln after they have dried.  The girls had a great time working with the clay and we had a fun time getting to know our neighbor better too. 

Small groups have begun at our church for the fall, and we were asked to co-lead with some friends of ours.  We are excited to be a part of this ministry!  We've only had one meeting but I am already thankful for this group.  We're looking forward to learning and growing together this year.

And, the last bullet point for you: I foolishly and impulsively decided to get a flu shot on Saturday.  Why did I do it?!  I had never had one, and hadn't even researched it much, but suddenly decided I should have it done.  Within six hours I had a temp of 102 and was absolutely miserable.  Thankfully that fever broke after about 12 hours but then I felt like I had been pummelled by some invisible hands.  My shoulder muscles are still sore but I feel generally much better.  Let's hope it actually prevents me from getting the full-blown flu later on!

Well, I titled this "In Brief" and it hasn't been, really!  Hope you enjoyed the update from our family, though, and hope your week is off to a great start! 

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Difficult News

My heart is grieving tonight.  I have some difficult news to share, and I hate to do it through a blog, but this may be the easiest way to let everyone know about my dad's situation.

We have known for quite some time that something was seriously wrong with my dad.  After his heart attack in December of 2010, he was recovering at a normal pace for a few months and then suddenly seemed to take a turn for the worse.  He began to lose weight at an unhealthy rate. He started having trouble sleeping.  He became stressed and anxious about daily decisions.  When I came back to the States in May for my mom's surgery, my dad did not seem himself at all.  He was very quiet, seemed to have a very difficult time making decisions about simple things (should we order a pizza or eat in the hospital cafeteria?), was very slow in his response times if he was asked a question, and often would respond with, "Well, I don't know" or "It's hard to say" or some other unclear answer. 

When our whole family moved back to the States in late June my dad was clearly not better.  He had had to stop working because of some of these problems.  He lacked energy, was still not sleeping well, seemed to get anxious about "little" things (like being convinced that the milk was spoiled, no matter the date on the carton) and was having difficulty knowing what to say in social situations. 

Mom and Dad tried to get to the bottom of why he wasn't feeling well.  Several months of making many trips to a variety of doctors yielded little fruit.  The cardiologist said his heart looked pretty good, actually, had healed up pretty well from the heart attack.  The family doctor ran a bunch of tests and said there weren't any real red flags.  The psychiatrist offered low doses of antidepressants and said it might take some time to see their effect.  The behavioral health specialist offered advice on sleeping better but didn't see any real issues.  An endocrinologist evaluated some issues with Dad's thyroid and but didn't seem too alarmed.

All of that changed on Thursday.  My mom, convinced that something was truly seriously wrong, persevered through all these appointments and finally the family doctor referred Dad to a doctor in Sioux Falls.  Thursday they met with this doctor for over 3 hours and the conclusion was something none of us wanted to hear: Alzheimer's disease. 

Dr. W, who saw Dad on Thursday, was absolutely convinced of this diagnosis.  He did extensive testing, asked Mom to fill out a very comprehensive form, and in his conclusions, he felt that the disease had been approaching Dad for some time.  As he explained the effects of this terrible disease, he said that it is evident that Dad is a very intelligent man, with all Dad's years of teaching language arts, coaching sports, singing, and caring for my Mom and her health problems, but now his brain is not working properly anymore.  Dad did not seem to comprehend the diagnosis.  When Dr. W looked him full in the face and said "Jim, you have Alzheimer's disease,"  Dad just sort of smiled at him.  I think he knows in his head that this isn't good but he has no ability to think through all that this means. 

When the doctor shared this with my mom, he spoke straight: "I think you have 18 months."  Obviously this is only his prediction, but he made it based on looking at the rate at which the disease has progressed so far.  He also warned my mom that her life was about to be changed drastically, that she would be responsible for Dad's care and was going to need help, and how important it would be for my dad to have routine and structure in daily life.

The initial shock is over now, but my heart is still grieving.  Before this news, we were still hopeful that Dad would get better.  That he'd regain some energy and vitality again and seem more like himself.  That he'd make some silly joke or bad pun and we'd all groan at him.  That he'd have interest in life again and give me the sports report every time I talked with him.  That he'd be back at church again, serving drinks at the potluck meals and volunteering to lead the men's early morning Bible study. 

Now I am facing the reality that I may not see Dad get "better"--on this earth, anyway.  That we may have already had our last significant conversation.  That he may slip away from us more and more.  That he may one day not know me, his daughter.

But that is where we have Hope.  For this life is not all there is, and Praise Jesus, these fallen and corrupted bodies won't be ours forever.  We will have new bodies, be new, sinless creatures, and we'll have all the time in eternity for conversations of significance. 

The gospel gives us hope for the future.  We want to give my dad the best care possible.  I feel a longing to be with him as much as possible.  I'm not sure how that's going to work out, yet, but I am thankful to be on this side of the ocean where at least togetherness is a little more feasible.  So though our hearts are grieving, we are thankful.  Surely the Lord has us in His precious care.  He knows us and has laid down His life for us.  In that we rejoice and are glad, and I am thankful for my Dad's faith in Jesus.  I pray that the Lord will sustain us as we look to the future.

We would appreciate your prayers for our family.  Thanks for reading, and thanks for praying.