Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Let Go and Let God: A story of a monkey and a banana, a Casting Crowns song, and my own stubbornness

This post is about a monkey and a banana, a Casting Crowns song, and my stubbornness. Those may sound like completely random things but all play a part in my learning to “let go and let God.” 

We all have flaws after all we are human. Two of my biggest flaws are my stubbornness and my need for control. I like to do things my way, after all I tend to think it’s the best way so why wouldn’t I want to do it my way? See, controlling and stubborn. So you can imagine when I have a certain plan for my life I don’t easily let it go. So it’s safe to assume I didn’t like or appreciate being thrown some curveballs this past August and September. They didn’t fit into my plan for my life. I found God trying to show me the same lesson I have yet to learn; once again he was showing me that I am not in control and once again I argued back. Which brings me to the first part of my story.  This was not the first time God and I had words on the subject. This has been a long term lesson and one I have a hard time learning. 

An illustration that I once heard a preacher use in a sermon several years ago has stuck with me.  The story was on the monkey and the coconut. For those of you who have not heard the story it is about a form of trapping monkeys. To trap the monkeys they used a coconut and they would hollow it out and put a banana inside. The hole would be made just big enough that the monkey could slip his hand in the coconut and grab hold of the banana, but not wide enough for the monkey to bring out the yummy treat. The coconut would  then be bolted to a chain with the other end of the chain secured to a tree. The monkey would  come along and slide his hand into the coconut grabbing hold of the banana. The problem is apparent when he goes to pull out his treat. He cannot get his hand free. He will try to bring the banana out to no avail. He will try and yank the coconut off the chain so he can take coconut and all with him. He will become enraged when he realizes he has been trapped. He will continuously bang his fist against the tree trying to free his hand and the banana. All the monkey has to do is to let go of the banana and he will be free. All he has to do is let go. Instead the monkey will fight the coconut and chain. He will fight even when the trapper is coming to for him, or if the trapper is delayed in returning he will come back to a battered and broken spirited monkey still gripping the banana, becoming an easy target. It is easy to see why this has stayed with me all of these years. I get the monkey. In many ways I am like the monkey, I hold on to my sense of control, to my plan for my life. I refuse to let it go. 

Eventually I will share the whole story of those crazy few months that all began August 26th, the day I went in for my 28 week appointment. I continue to type it out as time allows or when the memories really hit. But for now I will skim through and just hit a few of the big things from that time. The biggest parts come down to two things; the  very premature birth of Kaleb and the birth diagnosis of Down syndrome.

 I felt cheated. I felt angry. I felt heartbroken. I felt cheated out of the rest of my pregnancy and out of the typical labor and delivery experience. I felt cheated out of the last three months with Kaden before little brother was set to arrive. I felt cheated out of the newborn phase. Many have said at least Kaleb was your second, can you imagine going through this if he was your first? Well in the hospital in some ways I believe it made it harder. You see I had a typical delivery the first time around so when I was in my postpartum room I was reminded of Kaden’s birth. There I was again in a hospital bed with TJ again sleeping over on the couch. However, one thing was missing, a baby in between us. I was uniquely aware since it was my second that usually there would be diapers, blankets, pacifiers, and other baby items around the room. Instead the only baby item to be found was one little trial size baby soap that I don’t know where it came from. I kept staring at the poster talking about the importance of “the golden hour,” the hour of bonding that the mother gets after birth with her baby. It too was just another painful reminder of something else I was cheated out of. Nights were hard, visitors would be gone and TJ and I would walk back together to our room after leaving the NICU. We would walk past the rooms with Mommas and Daddys admiring their newest edition or couples being discharged with their brand new baby. Several nights one or both of us would have tears by the time we got back to room 2213. 

Two days later another bomb was dropped. Kaleb has Down syndrome. Talk about a change in my plan for my life. I can’t begin to write, nor would I want to the next few hours in my hospital room. I’ll admit it wasn’t my greatest hour. Slowly we tried to move past the initial grief, because yes it was grief. You grieve the loss of the future, the future that all of a sudden looks different for our child than the one we had planned and the unknown is terrifying. We tried to move past the overwhelming initial grief to a processing but functional mindset. While I worked to process this latest news I felt frozen in my frustration and hurt. Had I not dealt with enough already? I was already signing on for an extended NICU stay and the newborn phase that dealt with wires and machines. Wasn't that enough? 

I remember going to church a couple of weeks after having Kaleb. It seemed that every where I looked I saw mothers with their big beautiful pregnant bellies or mothers holding on to their young children. I was heartbroken. That was suppose to be me! I somehow held my emotions in and didn’t let the tears out that were threatening to spill as we walked in to take our seats. I remember the worship team beginning to lead worship and a lady with this beautiful voice was leading the song. I didn’t know her but I remember becoming angry. I could just picture her, this beautiful and stylish lady with her beautiful voice, who probably had her beautiful family. A family that I could picture, she probably even had two beautiful boys. I could even picture this beautiful family smiling in their family photos. They would be smiling as if they didn't have a care in the world as the pictures hung in their beautiful house. If they did have problems or worries  it was probably something trivial, something most wished were the “problems” in their life. It was irrational but the anger and frustration were there. I was battling to accept my new reality. I wanted the life I had pictured, that I had planned on having. I didn’t sign up for a full team of specialists, therapies, and other unknown and unwanted components. 

The newest Casting Crowns song “Just Be Held” had already became one of the new tracks on my playlist with its beautiful lyrics, but in September it became the official soundtrack for that time in my life. It was as if that song was on auto repeat in my head. 

Just Be Held lyrics:
Hold it all together
Everybody needs you strong
But life hits you out of nowhere
And barely leaves you holding on

And when you're tired of fighting
Chained by your control
There's freedom in surrender
Lay it down and let it go

So when you're on your knees and answers seem so far away
You're not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your worlds not falling apart, its falling into place
I'm on the throne, stop holding on and just be held
Just be held, just be held

If your eyes are on the storm you'll wonder if I love you still
But if your eyes are on the cross you'll know I always have and I always will
And not a tear is wasted
In time, you'll understand
I'm painting beauty with the ashes
Your life is in My hands
So when you're on your knees and answers seem so far away
You're not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your world's not falling apart, it's falling into place
I'm on the throne, stop holding on and just be held
Just be held

Lift your hands, lift your eyes
In the storm is where you’ll find Me
And where you are, I'll hold your heart
I'll hold your heart
Come to Me, find your rest
In the arms of the God who won't let go

So when you're on your knees and answers seem so far away
You're not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your world's not falling apart, it's falling into place
I'm on the throne, stop holding on and just be held (stop holding on)
Just be held

I would love to say that after those first couple of weeks that I quickly came to grips with this new life that I had been handed, but that would not be the truth. It took a while. It took longer than I led those around me to believe. I loved Kaleb and accepted him, he was mine, but I was angry at God. I questioned him and His plan. I couldn’t let go. Why did Kaleb have to face these obstacles? I banged and banged my fist trying to hold on to the life I had envisioned for Kaleb and for us as a family. I slowly began to understand that I was the monkey. I was chained by my control and banging and banging my fist trying to hold on to my plan. It would never work. I would simply be like the monkey and become battered, broken, and in my case bitter. Or I could let go and trust in Him. Even if this meant that I had to pray and let it go every day as I continued to try and grab hold of my old idea and plan. I would play the song over and over again. My favorite part being “Your worlds not falling apart, it’s falling into place.” Slowly I began to let go. As I did I experienced many emotions as I watched my son fight to grow and for his chance at life. 

Kaleb has opened the door to emotions, people, and experiences we wouldn’t have had otherwise. Are they always experiences I would have picked such as the extended NICU stay or team full of specialists, no. But I am thankful for them and the care they have given him and it has opened my eyes to new communities of people. Groups such as other fellow NICU travelers, both past and present. The Down syndrome community that continues to amaze me with their support for each other, as well as various other groups of people that due to health issues we have a common bond. It has brought awareness and compassion for those with special health needs. 

Kaleb may only be a few months old but God has already used him to open my eyes and make me a better version of myself than I was before. No matter what else Kaleb does in his life, one of his purposes will forever be to serve as a constant reminder to me to let go. Let go of the limitations of what I am capable of envisioning for my life and to fully trust in Him. As the song says, “I’m making beauty from the ashes, your life is in my hands.” I continue to pray that I let go of my control, my stubbornness, and my plan in order to experience life, whatever form that takes. To let go and let God. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

How do I say goodbye?

This was inspired by a photo taken of my grandmother (Nanny) by my uncle and given to me by my mother. It is a photo that speaks of the love and history between a couple as their journey on this earth has come to an end. It is definitely a photo that speaks a thousand words. 

This is not only for my grandparents but all of those couples that have battled life together and miss their battle partner and to those of us aspiring for this type of marriage. 

How do I say goodbye?

How do I say goodbye? For this I have no answer. I look down at my hands bent with age and instead see them as they were when you first took my hand when we were a couple of kids just trying to figure out this life. Then as they were when you took my hand in marriage and we were two kids saying we would figure out this life together.

I bring my hands to my eyes to wipe away the tears and I am brought back to all of the times I brought my hands to my eyes as I attempted to wipe away sleep during those sleepless nights with infants. Babies who only seemed to be content in my arms. That was okay though, I savored those moments staring at their little faces seeing the pieces of you and me brought together in miniature form. Wondering if they would have my smile or your sense of humor. 

I touch the flag draped over your casket and again the years melt away as I remember. Together we battled a war. You protected and maintained our country's freedom and I worked to protect and maintain our family. 

No life has not always been easy. As I sit here unable to stand on my knees for long periods of time I remember all the times that life brought us to our knees. Life hasn't always gone the way we thought, then again life rarely does. Oh but darling the things we have gone through, together. 

So no I'm not ready to say goodbye. While one might look and see nothing more than a little old woman sitting at a casket of a little old man; I see a lifetime lived. A life time of love. It's not their fault, for they weren't with us on our journey. While they see you laying here in your suit, they are not transported back to the day I helped you into your suit jacket as you prepared to walk our little girl down the aisle. They can't imagine all of the memories that are ours alone. They were not there for all the whispered conversations in the dark or early morning talks. 

My mind and heart remember the birthday parties, anniversaries, holiday dinners, and other moments that found us together as life played out around us. Even as the years appeared to speed up and our bodies slowed down, life found us together.

How do I say goodbye? All of our years together have been unable to answer this question or prepare me for this moment. The moment we both knew would eventually be ours. The moment when our journey on earth would come to an end and our journey in eternity together had yet to begin. In the meantime how do I say goodbye? For this I do not have an answer. So I will sit here beside you one more time my darling and remember... 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Manna in the dessert

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I have days when I handle the past few months better than others. Even on the good days inevitably there will be a moment or two that I find myself struggling with the weight of it all. Feeling as if I don't know how I'm going to do it all. 

We may be home now, in fact Kaleb has officially been home for a month now, but it has become a new set of crazy. Currently we are averaging two  doctor appointments a week and caring for a baby that comes with wires and a cart of equipment. Last week I had one of these moments as I drove to the health department to fill out paperwork for Kaleb to begin therapy. On my drive I was thinking about the fact that I was signing my child up to begin physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. I was also worried about an insurance issue with one of Kaleb's monitors, my mind would then bounce to all I needed to do in preparation for the upcoming semester, and trying to figure out how I was going to make it all work. It felt like too much. Yes, I am guilty of having pity parties and feeling sorry for myself. It is easy to slide into the mindset, "this is not what I pictured, I'm not sure I can handle it."

Then the words that have been said to me many times the past few months came to me, "manna in the dessert." You see I have a dear friend that seems to be the person who always seems to call or text me when I'm at a low point. After listening to me vent or cry the past few months she always says the same thing to me, "this is your manna in the dessert time." Her reference coming from Exodus 16. In this chapter of Exodus the Israelites every day were to gather all the food they needed for that day and no more. If they tried to take more it would ruin. Keri has constantly told me this to remind me that he will give me all the strength I need for the day. He will give me the strength I need for THAT day and no more. I don't need the strength to get ready for tomorrow or next week, it won't keep. One day at a time, strength for one day at a time. As someone who is futuristic, in fact it is even one of my top five strengths in personality assessments (Strengthfinder 2.0), this is not easy to do. 

With Kaleb and the uncertainty of his progress and health I definitely find myself wishing for time to pass so that I know more of his development. How long will he be on oxygen, how long until oral feeds, his heart defect, and any issues due to his ds/preemie/IUGR. The uncertainty can be terrifying. However,  it is a fruitless effort, my worry for the future will do no good for today. I can't borrow strength for today to take into the future. No more than I can store up strength and build muscle to take in the future. You can't stock pile strength so that you can take a break and have it in the future. If you do not continue to exercise or lift you will lose the strength. As the saying goes, "use it or lose it." 

The same goes for the strength needed as we go through this time. It's a daily decision that I can do this with His help. I can rely on Him and His strength to help me through this day. I can find the strength to once again navigate and untangle myself from the wires hooking up to the oxygen and monitors. I can choose to be grateful for this life that is mine when I see other journeys that do not consist of therapy or in and out of doctor's offices. I can let go of my consuming fear of Kaleb's future and be here for the present and these baby cuddles that I am so grateful for. I can do what I can do this day and let go of the rest. I will find the strength to let go and be present. 

Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength. -Corrie Ten Boom

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift. That is why we call it the present. -Winnie the Pooh