One thing that has been a struggle for me, really for most of my life, is prayer.  Prayer is simply talking to God.  I have always struggled to make it a priority.  When this last year hit, while prayer was becoming a more regular thing in my life, it became a necessity.  When Reece was in the hospital, I posted many, many prayer requests.  There were so many needs, that I only posted what made sense for the general public to read.  There were numerous times when I felt like I was scrambling to post all my requests–to cover all my bases with Reece–for prayer.  There were many times I considered the phrase, “praying with great faith”.  Was I doing this?  Were my prayers faith-filled enough?  Then things really began going awry and by the time Reece was admitted to Amplatz for his final stay, I gave up on writing our prayer requests.  I realized that really no one had a clue other than God himself as to what was needed.  Trying to ask God for specifics in regard to Reece seemed almost silly.  And knowing that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and prays for us when we don’t know what we need or what to pray for, I decided to rest on that and not try to add anything further.  There were so many people praying–faithfully praying–how could God not be hearing us?  I concluded that God was indeed hearing us and accepted that he was, in fact, saying “no” to many things.  Eventually, I accepted that his plan was certainly to heal Reece, but not here on Earth.

A couple of months after Reece passed away, I attended a Christian women’s conference with a couple of friends.  While I took many positive things away from attending, I witnessed a big emphasis on how when you pray with great faith and put your specific requests before God, he will heal.  In light of what had just happened with Reece, the whole topic felt crummy.  Many people were clapping and excited about healing stories that people shared and all I could do was sit in my chair and feel numb and hardened.  How many stories have I read about this happening to other people?  How many people highlighted their own stories at this conference?  What about the people who get a “no” despite their great faith in God?  Where are those stories?  Does my “no” answer in regard to Reece mean I didn’t have enough faith in God or that I didn’t actually believe in my heart that he could do what I was asking?   I know that isn’t the case; I believed that God could have turned the whole thing around in a heartbeat.  But hearing countless stories about other people–their miracles and happy-endings–was like pouring salt in my wound.  Certainly, I don’t wish harm for other people; I’m glad they got the answer they were looking for.  But how do I make sense of our situation in light of our own faith-filled praying?  If I really sit in this place for a long time, it’s easy to feel ripped-off, cheated, and wronged.  And over the last several months, when I’ve found myself in these mental places, I’ve been gently reminded that the victim mentality only minimizes Reece’s life’s purpose and further destroys the joy in knowing him and the work God is doing through his life.  While I feel God nudged my thinking in this way, it still has left me in a confusing place in regard to my prayers.  Why bother lifting up my specific requests to God, if he has a plan and he knows what is going to happen?  Why does it matter?  And, for that matter, I am tired of hearing “no”.  My question is not can he do it, but will he do it?  I have greatly shied away from praying many specifics because of this and it has become its own wound, independent of other hurts in life.

We’ve been in the book of Genesis this year in Bible study and, more specifically, we have been studying the life of Abraham.  This week, we read about God and his discussion with Abraham about Sodom and how he planned on destroying the city.  Abraham had a relative (Lot) in the city and he was concerned about his well-being (in addition to other people in the city).  Abraham humbly discusses with God his desire to have God spare the city if there is a small number of faith-filled people.  Although Abraham never mentions Lot by name, God eventually promises to spare the city if there are 10 people of faith.  You can read the full text from Genesis 18 here.  What eventually ends up happening is that God destroys Sodom, but spares the life of Lot, his wife, and his two daughters.  Even though Abraham did not specifically ask about saving Lot (at least as it is recorded in the Bible), God did honor Abraham’s concern for Lot, despite his destruction of Sodom.

As I was answering the questions from our study, two things about this conversation stood out to me in regard to Abraham and his relationship with God.  First, God knew what his plan was and also what was on Abraham’s heart.  God answered Abraham by sparing Lot in the midst of Sodom’s destruction.  This is not what God and Abraham had discussed; 10 faith-filled people were not found in Sodom.  Sodom was destroyed, yet Lot and some of his family were still saved.  Second, what I took from this passage more than anything was the tolerance of his conversation with Abraham–how he knew Abraham’s request and how he knew the end result.  He allowed Abraham to give several requests in a row and relayed information that gave Abraham an understanding about the situation and about God himself.  What stands out to me, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, is God’s parental nature.  He desired to have the conversation with Abraham for Abraham’s understanding.  He spoke with him and discussed the desires of Abraham’s heart and also revealed part of his nature to Abraham.  He showed concern, compassion, and approachability.  And Abraham approached him with humility and respect.  There is a lot packed into a couple of paragraphs of scripture!

After pondering this for while, it is the first time in a very long time that I feel like I’ve had some sort of healing around this issue or at least some direction on how to proceed in prayer.  I have been able to separate the faith piece from the answer–at least in regard to a heart that genuinely is seeking Him.  After all there is no algebraic equation for getting prayers answered the way in which we desire.  If that was the case, I’d be a math wizard by now.  I think that there are times when that is nearly implied–the more faith you have, the more God will answer your prayers with the answer you want.  I know this is not the case and I don’t think I have been misguided on this in the past.  What gives me great comfort and where I think some of my own healing lies is in the demonstration from this story that even though God knows the desires of our hearts, he still wants to discuss them with us.  He still wants that relational piece.  The discussion isn’t just about the request and the answer, but also about the teaching that lies within the process of asking.  I think I’ve somewhat closed myself off to the details with God so I can lick my wounds and not give him an opportunity to say no to me.  It feels like a door has been opened to begin those types of discussions with him again, which is a definite answer to prayer.  Somewhere deep inside something feels slightly soldered back together and while it feels foreign, it’s probably the best place to start.

finishing well

I will never forget the sermon given on the Sunday that Britta was dedicated at our church.  Our pastor was wrapping up a sermon series entitled, “Thirty Days to Live” and it was about how we would choose to live our days if we knew our time on Earth was coming to a close.  On this particular Sunday, his final sermon of the series was about finishing well.  He used the analogy of pitching in baseball.  Roy Halladay had just pitched a no-hitter a few days prior and the pastor used the story to describe how hard it is to pitch a no-hitter, as often times relief pitchers come into a ball game.  By definition, to “pitch a no-hitter” requires the pitcher to throw a full nine innings of a game.  It doesn’t happen very often.  Pitching a full game, I have to believe (although I’m certainly no expert), must be taxing on the body.  Additionally, there is this thing called “winning” that teams strive to do, so bringing in a fresh pitcher often times helps in that department.  Our pastor went on to discuss that the reality is, in life, we don’t have people to come in to relieve us when we are tired and worn-out; we have to persevere until the very end.  So, how do we do that well?

I’ve thought a lot about Reece in this context–how he finished his life here.  Realistically, no one went into transplant thinking that these were his last days; no one talked about it that way and no one treated him that way until the very last day of his life.  Certainly, Terry and I had considered this many times over the course of his transplant and as he continued to decline in our home and at the hospital, we were very concerned about losing him.  But he abruptly coded in the hospital–no one ever said, “We are concerned that something may happen, here.”  He wasn’t in the PICU before he coded; he was in a regular BMT room and had just completed occupational therapy.  I’m sure the doctors were always aware that it could happen, but my point is that unlike many people with terminal illnesses, Reece was never treated that way.  His transplant was always considered “successful” in that he was 100% donor.  The focus was on his recovery, on making it all turn out swell.  We didn’t have the opportunity to say our good-byes and acknowledge the end was near until after he was on life support.  I am convinced, however, that he had some sort of inclination that he may not have much time here; there were signs of that.  It wasn’t, however, because we observed him giving up.  It seems really obvious if you look through the pictures of him from January to June that his body was slowly giving way.  But we didn’t know all that at the time or view it as such and his attitude never demonstrated that he was giving up.

I really don’t like the phrase, “Live each day as if it is your last.”  What does that mean?  Travel today; spend the day in an airplane or a car?  Do something reckless?  Sob unceasingly and call everyone you know?  Yes, those all sound like wonderful options…if you actually know it is your last day, the likelihood that you are able to do anything other than rest is probably unlikely.  But in a not-so-different way, “finishing well” is probably quite similar to fully living life.  I’m convinced that finishing well and fully living have more to do with shedding fear and meeting the day head-on, regardless of circumstances.  I believe it means to honor God in fulfilling the days he has marked out for us and to trust that God will meet us in our need and provide relief and rest.  After all, no person can step in and live our lives for us.

Yes, whether or not we know our last days are imminent, we will all be at a place in life where death is staring us in face.  We either have no clue we are in our last days, so the opportunity is now, or we will know it is coming and the challenge will be to release the grip of fear and meet our final days the best we can.  Reece truly modeled this for us.  He wasn’t in a place of defeat in his last days.  He certainly didn’t feel well and was very limited based on his health.  In fact, he somewhat became a prisoner to his body, but only physically.  Regardless of the physical challenges, he lived the days set before him with an attitude of perseverance, until his final breath.  As was the case with Reece, finishing well–phenomenally well–may simply be letting the body rest.  What a beautiful way to honor our life– to respect what God has given us by fully living within the circumstances that present themselves.  For my own day today–what a challenge it is to move through the day without Reece.  Yet I know there is a bigger plan than sadness and pain–how do I finish well, despite this challenge and other issues that present themselves?  I hope and believe that it can be done.

I think the tendency is to avoid the topic of death until we are absolutely facing it head on.  But what if today is one of my last days and I am facing it.  Maybe where I’ve been wrong about the statement, “Live each day as if it is your last” is in my interpretation of it.  I think it’s more accurate to say, “Live each day in confidence that you will finish it well.”  I do not claim to know what it feels like to be staring at death–I haven’t been there yet.  Truthfully, this whole entry came to be after I stumbled across a video posted about a young man who battled cancer for several years.  I know these stories can be hard to watch, but I am incredibly encouraged by what he has to say.  You can learn a lot about living from a person who is dying.  Knowing his cancer was terminal, he did not allow it to take over what remained of his time here.  This man was not covered in fear, but in life.  He finished well on Nov 7, 2012.

a new year

I’m glad to be blogging on a new site.  This new site is still a work-in-progress in regard to its configuration, but I wanted to get it up and running, as to not lose my motivation.  Truthfully, Like Olive Shoots has become, to me, similar to all of Reece’s things…sacred and somewhat untouchable.  I want it preserved the way that it looked last year.  I don’t want to add anything further to it or change things around.  I’ve realized over the last month that I needed a different site if I wanted to keep writing.  Tonight’s post will be a short one, to get the ball rolling.

We made it through Christmas and Terry and I looked at each other and said, “We have to do this again?”  The whole season felt overwhelming and took quite a bit of energy to wade through without Reece.  We actually had a nice, quiet holiday season (by design), but the holidays are exhausting even without the grief aspect and avoiding much of the season, as it turns out, takes a great deal of energy as well. The celebration piece of Christmas was low-key–we avoided malls, parties, baking, and most social situations.  It is a season of perpetual merry-making and conversing.  Small talk either requires we lie to people or bring them into the heaviness of the year…neither is enjoyable.  We decided to not put ourselves or others in those types of conversations, at least for this year.  While there is no way to know how I will feel years down the road, I get this feeling that right now–when the kids’ ages are still in the appropriate “order”, when Reece hasn’t been gone for very long–it will be easier than another 5, 10, 20 years down the road.

A year ago we were thinking that we would be vacationing someplace warm this January to celebrate a year of new blood for Reece.  We were marching forward with little option of turning around or changing our minds on anything.  We were beginning the process of grieving Reece; he was so different during his transplant.  And while I’m sure this isn’t exactly the way that people want to start their year, as we approach anniversaries and the triggers of the time of year–the cold, the date, the approaching birthdays–it makes me want to crawl in a hole.  I don’t think it would be wrong to do so.  And I definitely don’t think there is a right or wrong way to feel in regard to grief over a child (or any loved one, for that matter).  Anyway, I’m going to try my best to re-program my brain to avoid constantly comparing this year to last year.  I’m not big on “anniversaries” and I could spend six months in perpetual anniversary-mode.  We are charging forward into 2013.  My Facebook status last January read, “2012, I’m not sure how I feel about you.”  I guess my status for this year could be something like, “2013, at least you aren’t 2012.”