Sunday, July 18, 2010

To Be The Mission Field

I was just 17 years old when I traveled to Romania to spread the Word of God. My peers and I spent our days and evenings on Romanian streets singing, teaching and cuddling with children who roamed about. We wanted them to know the Lords love and to know they could develop a personal relationship with Him. It was overwhelming and intense. It created a range of emotions. I knew it might be years before I had this type of opportunity again and I tried to soak it in so that God could use me as best He could. I realized that I might never know the impact we would make.

It has been nearly 14 years since then and I am now a mother of four. I do not know if it is something I will ever do again but for now, my children are my mission field. Growing up I thought of the mission field as people who didn't know Jesus. As the years have passed, I have come to realize that the mission field comes in a variety of forms. It is the inner-city homeless. It is the single parent. It is a widowed parent working full time. It is the elderly person across the street with no nearby family. It is the recovering addict sitting beside me in church, striving to remain clean for the Lord, family and friends. The most humbling example - my own family - the special needs family.

I first heard about Camp Attitude a few years ago. It is a family camp designed for the special needs family so they might enjoy the camping experience in a safe environment - something they rarely get to do. In the material I sifted through, "volunteer buddies" would be available to help out the families. It was also free to the entire special needs family: parents, siblings, etc. It seemed too good to be true.

We attended for the first time last week. Here, our family was the mission field. As we entered, we saw young people in yellow shirts milling about. We piled out of our car and a young man - just 18 - greeted us and pointed us to check-in. Our kids were swarmed by the teens in yellow shirts. They were off and running to the playground while we were shown too our yurt. The same young man who had first greeted us asked which yurt was ours and asked for our keys. Within minutes, that same young man and about ten others were delivering our luggage and handed us back our keys . The car had been unloaded and locked. The kids were playing happily with the "yellow shirts". We had arrived barely fifteen minutes ago. We were slowly beginning to pick up our jaws from the floor of the yurt. It was hard to do. The young man who had greeted us had two robotic, aluminum legs. We were surrounded by people who "got it". We were in heaven.

As the evening progressed, we came to understand how Camp Attitude worked. Every individual in a "red shirt" was "staff" or "servant". They are not paid - they pay to come! Those in "yellow shirts" (aka "buddies") were a youth group from the state of Washington who had also paid to be here! They ALL paid so that the families with special needs might come for FREE! We are their mission field this week. The "buddies" were to serve all kids in any way possible: run along side them, push them on swings, give wagon rides, take those in wheelchairs on strolls, take them to various programs being offered all week, provide assistance on the boats and jet skis and time at the river...even take our meals with us!

Camp week flew and saying goodbye was heart-wrenching. Our lives have been changed and I'm already counting the months, weeks and days until next years camp. We will be back for many years to come. As I got to know the two buddies assigned to our family, I am constantly reminded of how unique my Lord is. The youth group serving as buddies this week is a Slavic based church. They are all immigrants from Russia and surrounding countries and came to America at various ages - as infants, toddlers, adolescents and a few as teens. One of our buddies was from Romania. She is 17. My family was her mission field this week. Just as I raised funds so many years ago to visit her native country to minister to children and their families, she did the same.

I was humbled to think that my family was the mission field, yet so very grateful. I grew up camping and boating. But doing such things with my own family seemed impossible as Dylan began to grow. It could be dangerous. But at Camp Attitude it is not. We rode in a hot air balloon with a wheelchair ramp. (There are only four in the US.) Dylan and I rode on a jet ski....our driver had an artificial right foot and lower leg. We have stayed in safe accommodations and I slept soundly, knowing that Dylan could not escape and wander down to the river or deep into the woods.

Do I think it was coincidence that our buddies were native to an area I once had the privilege of doing the Lords work? No, I don't. I have often thought back to the time I spent in Romania, wondering how the Lord used me as His vessel. I realize now that the Lord worked through me to show His great love and compassion to the children who sat in my lap, just as these young people did this week for my family.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Footprints in the Sand

I looked at the menu above me and blinked my eyes. Then I blinked them again, trying to to figure out why I on earth it seemed like a blur. The lady behind the counter seemed annoyed. "What can I get you?" she asked for the second time. I looked down at the food. I was starving. I was nursing Savannah nearly every 1-2 hours and felt as though I was inhaling food to keep both of us nourished. I pointed to a few items and said "I'll take that, that and that". Rob ordered next.

Pay. We needed to pay. I couldn't seem to maneuver through my purse to find my wallet. Rob gently pushed me aside, paid and took the trays. We arrived at a table, surrounded by family. I told them that I couldn't read the menu. My Dad gently reminded me, "You're mind is on overload. It can't process even the simplest things right now". He was right. I prayed the hours before me would pass quickly, but I highly doubted they would. We ate. I drifted in and out of the conversation. I was recalling the seven weeks up until this day...

It had been chaotic. Oxygen readings and weight checks at least twice a week. At first those readings were good and she was putting on weight, but things started to spiral downward and she began having blue spells. I didn't want her out of my sight. Who knew when I might have to shove her tiny legs into her chest to open her airway? Then Dylan got sick and that was the final straw. She would be admitted and wouldn't come home until surgery was done and over with.

While surgery day was intense, there was also a sense of relief. Assuming all went well, this could very well be the only surgery she would ever need. But we had to get through today. In those hours that I waited, I went through the motions of walking, talking and anything else that I could find to keep myself occupied.

When I look back at this day, I often think of the poem "Footprints In The Sand". Handing Savannah over for surgery had been intense. Would I hold her again? Would I have the opportunity to kiss her sweet face? Would I rock and sing to her? They were operating on her heart - what if something went wrong? When I think of those moments of dealing with blue spells, surgery and post surgery, Rob and I were literally being carried by the Lord. I truly believe that if I didn't have the Lord I would have fallen apart. I don't believe the human mind is capable of processing these type of circumstances without Him.

When I couldn't focus, I would close my eyes. He brought me clarity. He brought me peace. He brought me strength. Just as He was holding me, He was holding Savannah. His hands were upon the surgeons hands, guiding every move. His wisdom was with the surgical team, keeping them alert and focused during a lengthy procedure. When the time came for her to be taken off of the heart-lung machine and her heart was asked to begin beating again, He allowed it to come to life - for a second time - whole and complete - just as He had months before in my womb. He is in charge and always will be. He loves me. He loves Savannah. In my darkest times when I am lost and can not see in the darkness, He is carrying me through and will set me on my feet when I am ready.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


When you have a baby and the time comes for you introduce them to your family and friends, you're confronted with a few basis questions: Is it a boy or girl? What's their name? How much did they weigh? Are they healthy? Those are easy questions to answer most of the time....for most people. We aren't like most people. The birth of our daughter came with some very unpleasant news: she would need heart surgery. I would be out in public and someone would say, "Oh, how sweet - so perfect & healthy!" I would just nod my head, pretending that my child's health was perfect....not wanting to explain this and that.

The morning after we got the bad news, we stared at Savannah, tucked between us in bed and sleeping soundly. We were lost in our own thoughts. I broke the silence and asked Rob what was going through his head. "Honestly, I'm just annoyed," he admitted. I understood exactly what he meant. I asked him how he wanted to handle it. He didn't know and neither did I. The truth was that we wanted to lie there forever and pretend that nothing was going on. We both knew that reality would set in the moment we pulled ourselves out of bed and we would have to move forward.

Rob was annoyed that we had to tell everyone about Savannah's condition. There would be questions and we would need to provide answers. Her health needed to remain optimal for heart surgery. That meant we had to keep everyone in the family healthy....not an easy task with six people under one roof! Hibernation, here we come! We would also need help - again - with the boys while I shuttled Savannah to and from doctor appointments. I was worried about exposure to germs. I was worried about meals when I wouldn't be home to cook. I was worried about getting people to stay with the boys when surgery time came. It was daunting. It was miserable. Help was the last thing we wanted to ask for. We always seemed to need help and we just wanted to be able to help others for once!

People worry about you when you go through something of this magnitude. While we were certainly concerned about Savannah's health, it didn't consume us. Our relationship with the Lord is strong. That may seem odd to some people, but she was in the Lord's hands and that brought us a peace I will never be able to explain. We had relinquished control to the Lord years before through our experiences with Dylan and Jeremy. We knew the drill. We were used to hospitals, doctors and medical terminology. We were just frustrated that we had to request help and tell everyone - AGAIN!

Should we call everyone? Send them all email? What was the best route? Facebook is the "new thing" - maybe it could just be our status update? We joked. We had too....laughter is what got us through those intense moments. I called my sister the same evening we had found out about Savannah's condition. She gets it. She's the one can I go to when I need a level head in the midst of chaos. I can joke with her about my children's crazy health issues without either of us getting too emotional. I was doing that enough on my own. She asked me, "So, how are you going to tell you really want to call everyone?" We just didn't have the energy to repeat the details to each set of parents, siblings, and close friends. An email seemed like the best option. We could spell it all out and people could process it in their own way. We would call our folks, but be able to refer them to the email, which would have more details.

There was a knock at our bedroom door. It was Jeremy. He climbed into bed with us, gazing at his new little sister. I don't recall all that was said, but I remember Jeremy getting restless after cuddling for a bit and I found myself looking at Rob. He returned my gaze and said, "Well, let's do this!" as he climbed out of bed. We shuttered at the thought of the long day ahead and the roller coaster ride we were about to embark on, but we were in it together. Even though we hated asking for help, the Lord had blessed us with amazing family and friends. This was the deck of cards the Lord had chosen to deal us, so we pushed our pride aside and dove in.