welcome to the war zone.

We’re on our way to Shriner’s right now.

For Owen. image

Every time I type or say that, I have to stop myself from retracting it. The rote memorization part of my brain gets loud, “you mean Gabriel, Abby. You mean you’re taking Gabriel to Shriner’s. It’s ok. You’re tired. Here’s a latte.”

I’ll take the latte, little friend, but it’s time for you to add a file to your drawer labeled “Owen – Right Knee.” It’s real.

Jared drives us, we listen to the Undisclosed Podcast like the Serial fanatics we are, and the boys nap in the backseat, graciously lulled to sleep before we made it out of town. I started in the backseat but snuck up to the front when they escaped to dream, and now I sit and stare ahead, familiarity meeting me at every curve – the outlet mall, strip after strip of stores and restaurants, high schools, office buildings, car dealerships. The familiarity neither welcomes nor repels me, it’s just there, barely noticing us. “Oh, it’s you again. You sure come this way often.”

When Owen woke up on Tuesday and said he couldn’t walk, we had no idea what to believe. Pretend is as frequent as real world conversation these days. Half the time, Owen is not Owen, he is Thomas the Train. I am not mama, but Percy. Jared, Sir Topham Hat and Gabe, James. We spend our lives dancing between concrete and abstract, real macaroni and cheese for lunch and imaginary macaroni and cheese offered to me straight from the palms of his little hands. If a friend is injured, or Gabriel comes home with new equipment, Owen suddenly has a “boo-boo” too, empathy finding its footing in a two-year-old’s mind.

Gabriel just had an appointment last Friday and came home with new hand splits, as well as no longer wearing his bar all the time, and Owen had certainly noticed. Was he trying to relate? Interested a different type of attention? I just didn’t know. As he started to tell me that he couldn’t go to Kingdom Kids because he had to go to the doctor, a few more tally marks went into the column for “this is real.” Owen asks me every day if it’s a Kingdom Kids day, opting out has never crossed his mind. The final straw was when I attempted to stretch his leg fully, and he reacted in obvious pain. My disbelief migrated from him to the situation, and I incredulously called his pediatrician’s office. An appointment, X-ray referral, and a few phone calls later, there it was. More news. Another pill to swallow. A dense area on the top of the knee, perhaps an extra piece of bone, or one that is improperly fused.

“He’ll need an orthopedist.”

And the battle was waged, armies of bitterness and gratitude taking up their armor and marching toward the warpath of the deepest valley in my heart.

When we discovered that Gabriel’s orthopedist could see Owen, the battle reached a critical climax. Sarcasm threatened to make bitterness the victor, irony turning sour in my mouth as I pondered how sure I had been that God led us to Dr. Stephenson for Gabe as well as maybe a future foster child or to refer friends. But for another biological child? God’s messing with all of my paradigms, all of my boxes for Him and how my life should look. Again.

Gratitude warred back. How incredible that the Lord would have already given our family a trusted expert in exactly the area we need. How comforting to already know the drive, the parking, the elevators and the check-in process, little thing that don’t feel little at all when your stress level for your child is already threatening to spill over. What a relief to have already discussed family history, to have previously become comfortable enough with one another to tell stories about our little ones and show pictures of their latest antic. The blow still stings, but it is softened in the face of God’s obvious provision.

I’m struck by memories of the words I have said in the last few months, how I have preached to myself and encouraged other mothers to set the tone in our homes, to recognize the power we possess and to wield it for good, for peace and joy in the lives of our people. That choice is still mine, though the stakes seem to get higher every time I think I’ve found a stable grip.

“Yet this I recall to mind, and therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, great is His faithfulness.”

As the stakes keep getting higher and the battle harder, there is no greater comfort than remembering that right there in the mess and disbelief, there is his mercy, his love, his hope, his faithfulness. And though mysterious, it is not hidden, though higher than me it is mine to have. So I’m looking for Him today, I’m keeping my mind stayed on Him and thanking Him for whatever I can – that Owen is back to walking and playing, that Gabriel has never been so happy as he is with his bar removed, that this appointment was offered to us on Jared’s day off. These thanks are all part of the battle – why couldn’t we have avoided this entirely, Owen’s playing and walking never threatened? Why did Gabe even have to have that awful bar in the first place? Why can’t we have a day off that actually feels like a day off? But I can’t dwell there. I can’t sit next to that scoffing version of myself because I will lose my grip and fall intertwined into her, indistinguishable. I will risk missing out on seeing what He has for us if I am fixated on the why. And I just won’t have it, simple as that. I won’t miss Him. I think I mentioned recently writing years ago that I would wrestle with the Man and not let go without a blessing.

Today, I’m wrestling hard, clinging wild.

Bruises may show, bones may break.

So thank God we already have an orthopedist.

the next chapter.

I have been slow to share details about Gabriel’s upcoming neurological test. Even explaining it to family face to face has been awkward and jumbled, like the words are begging me to let them just stay inside, because maybe if I don’t speak them they won’t come true. But they will, and the only thing I can do now is ask God to impress upon my heart that He goes before, that Tuesday and tests and tears belong to him.

Gabriel’s EMG and Nerve Conduction Study will be very unpleasant for him. They will be painful and not over nearly as quickly as I would like for them to be. They will be a microcosm of this journey, friends, this long and hard journey. And for days now, maybe weeks, I’ve known it was time to ask for something new from each of you who have cared for us so deeply, from each of you who have begged God to let this cup pass and been the very hands and feet of Christ through meals and gift cards and babysitting and so much more. I’m humble before you now, nearly trembling as I ask this, partially because I’m still in shock from our circumstances and partially because what I need to request is so much to ask. But I have to, because, silly/freaky/crazy as it may sound, I’m confident the Spirit is telling me to.

So, in what I believe is obedience, I’m telling you now that if there’s anything you can do for us, it’s to grab our hands and choose to understand with us that this is just the beginning of our new reality, of Gabriel’s story that isn’t the one we thought would be written or that we would choose to write. We want you to keep praying for healing, we really do. But we also need you to help us to accept however God chooses to make His presence known in this trial, and to know that we believe He is telling us that these are yet the early days of Gabriel’s physical struggles, that, while He could choose to heal at any moment, He is telling us now to be strong and courageous and ready to struggle long. If God chooses not to restore Gabriel’s physical abilities fully during these fleeting earthly days, He is still good. If all the strange, difficult things our family has been through were the 5k races preparing us for this marathon, we need you to run alongside us for these 26 hard miles, to embrace the race and not resist it, to preach these words I’m writing now back to us when our hearts grow weary and faint.

Oh how I hope my message is clear, how I hope you all know how much you mean to us and strengthen us and encourage us, how deeply we have treasured your prayers for healing and renewal. We are in need of you. We are people who are used to being strong and capable and the first to help; we are admitting weakness and insufficiency and need. Accept God’s hand with us, friends. Help us press into transition from a perception of short-term crisis to long-term faithfulness, from our planned trip to Italy to the Beauty of Holland. We see in a mirror so dimly now, and we are every day a step closer to beholding His face. Will you help us take those steps with faith, not begrudgingly or slowly, but confidently and with open hearts? Help us believe that He is here, that all of the promises of God find their Yes in Jesus.

I have never been so aware that His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, or that His ways are higher than our ways. That He upholds and strengthens and that He can do anything but may not do the thing we ask and that He works all things together for the good of those who love Him. What I want now is to see the Lord’s goodness in ways I could not imagine, to trust that our labor on Gabriel’s behalf, that Gabriel’s pain and frustration and limitation, are not in vain. We are so very blessed to have so many people who love Jesus partnering with us, to be helped in our unbelief by the Scripture spoken from your mouths and the refreshment you have offered us.

I almost always refer to Gabriel as “Gabe,” but today I need the reminder of what “Gabriel” means – the Lord is my strength. He is Gabriel’s strength, the One who upholds him, the One who writes his story and does not have to disclose it to his mother because He holds Gabriel in the palm of His hand, because Jared and I are not Gabriel’s ultimate protectors. We trust now that God will continue to show more of Himself to all of us through Gabriel’s life, and we are honored to behold God’s glory displayed alongside each of you.

the january trees.

Screen Shot 2015-01-14 at 3.48.11 PM

The veil of exhaustion is thick upon me today.

I consider it, and it makes sense. Thursday was The Day Everything Changed, a new beginning, a fresh grief, a higher call, a deeper joy. Today is Wednesday, so in a way, it is the end of the week that began that heavy day. It’s like my body knows this somehow, like it senses that after 6 days of hard it is time for 1 of slow, easy, calm, rest. I am hungry for a weekend that isn’t likely to come in the form I would choose. And it definitely isn’t coming right now, in this moment, on a Wednesday afternoon at 3pm, smack dab in the middle of the week when a preschooler wakes early from his rest and the baby’s nap schedule is opposite his.

So, I let the oldest watch a movie while the youngest dreams; the coffee percolates and my heart brews alongside it, pressing the grounds of this weighty season through the filter of what I know to be true, what I know of God, what I believe of the world and myself and good. The pressing is slow and strong, the heat turned up high. And I sense that what will come from it will be both bitter and sweet, heavy and heartening, not unlike the mug-full I just poured.

I couldn’t quite bear to remove every touch of Christmas from our home when the new year came. I resonated with Owen a bit more than I may care to admit when he saw our tree stripped bare of ornaments, packed away till the season returns. He hung his head with both sincerity and flair, tearfully exclaiming, “oh no!”

In solidarity with him, and aware that the year to come may hold a greater need for resolute faith than ever before, I kept two miniature trees atop our mantel, calling them “the January trees,” as though a name could transform them into being seasonally appropriate. The trees are decorated with cards from Naptime Diaries advent calendar, and the central most card is from Christmas Day. “HE IS HERE,” it reads. I look at it several times a day, like the Israelites to the bronze serpent (Numbers 21), desperate for healing and sure of the only One who can give it. But the healing I’m craving isn’t physical per se, not even for Gabriel, though I would give my legs for his if given the chance. Those basic instincts run deep and true, the desire for healthy children, for their opportunities and freedom and the ability to run unhindered and silly and agile. But, by grace, beneath them is the certainty that the healing every person under our roof needs more than anything else is the healing of soul, the working out of salvation in us, the freely received but hard lived truth of the gospel burrowed deeply into us. He is here, my heart testifies, He has not left or forsaken us. How now shall we live?

I’m learning that a heart can feel both heavy and free. The January trees remind me of this as they sit atop that mantel, next to a whimsy wooden “JOY” that sits like a mantra made visible over our home. They remind me that, when considering a word for the year, I immediately chose “rooted,” the deeper place, the firmer ground. The trees preach truth in their branches and I pray that their roots grow deep through our walls and into our foundation, unable to be extracted, limbs unshakable. I want what comes forth from me to be like those trees, wild and strong, free and secure, certain of the undying grip of their roots.

This year calls for so much. For grieving the loss or delay of dreams, some I knew I had and some I didn’t, for advocating on behalf of a child entirely dependent on me, for food, for ability, for love. For questioning and believing and living a life that some may call brave and inspiring but I know simply as a journey toward obedience by a traveler ever-reliant on grace. For letting the Maker lift up my head so I can see the beauty from ashes, the truth that hangs in the January trees and never changes.

He is the root; He is the one who roots us. And buds of hope, of belief, sprout green.

but even if You don’t.

The summer after Jared and I were married, we moved to Ireland for two months. We lived with a missionary family who had been there for thirty years and whom I had stayed with two years prior. We thought God may be leading us to Europe and we wanted real life missionary experience. So, we quit our jobs, put our stuff in storage, and got on a plane. I guess if the crazy isn’t happening to us, we’re making it happen.

I have the clearest memory of standing in the kitchen with our hostess one day, soaking up her wisdom over uncountable mugs of coffee and tea. I told her that I didn’t want to forget anything she had imparted to me, that I wished it were possible to just memorize everything she was saying. She smiled and told me that if God is kind enough to allow us to hear wisdom in the first place, He’ll be kind enough to call it to mind when we need it. Of course, I thought, that’s our God. The tenderness of His character cemented itself in my heart in a new way that day.

When we lived in Swiss Tower during Jared’s seminary days, we crammed a keyboard and amp into our office. I fumbled through teaching some piano lessons to neighbors’ children, and I loved to rest my laptop on the top of the keyboard and look up chord charts to my favorite songs so I could play and sing them. I don’t remember when, but sometime during that season, I fell in love with the song Burn Us Up by Shane & Shane. It tells the story of Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego (Daniel 3), Hebrew men who refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol, even under threat of death. Moments before they were to be cast into a fiery furnace, they professed the ability of their God to rescue. They said to Nebuchadnezzar, “…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” They are thrown into the furnace, God rescues them, and through their faithfulness and God’s power, Nebuchadnezzar blesses their God. I love this story. I love God’s display of omnipotence, I love that the men are rescued, I love that hearts change. But I think what I love most of all is the same thing that Shane & Shane saw fit to draw out – “but if not.” Or, as the song says, “You are able to deliver from the fire of affliction…but even if You don’t, we will burn.” I sang this song over and over and over again in that tiny space of student housing. I marveled that I was held in the hands of the same God that rescued these men from incredible earthly opposition. I wanted their brand of unbreakable faith. IMG_2221

Gabriel’s 20 week in-utero appointment started an additional track in my life, one running alongside the others already barreling along. The clubfoot diagnosis alone introduced a new dynamic to our family, a different vein of motherhood with which I was previously unfamiliar. New terms, new doctors, new schedules, new necessities. It was a lot to take in and my heart took a long time to catch up, to deal with reality. That is, if it has yet. Some days I’m still not sure.

Seven sets of casts and a surgery later, we were headed for the next phase of treatment – braces with boots and a bar connecting Gabriel’s feet. I battled raging anxiety in the weeks leading up to surgery, but the day of, God brought about incredible peace. Hundreds of friends were praying, many texting or emailing to share Scripture, and we felt carried throughout that harsh early morning and the surgery.

And then our doctor came in.

She told us that the procedure went well, that Gabriel was being casted and that they had molded him for braces. Then she told us that she thought we were dealing with more than just clubfoot, that the tiny flickers of reflex we had seen thus far weren’t enough, weren’t normal. And then the nurse came to the door because Gabriel had woken up much earlier than they thought he would and was screaming. I bolted from the room and spent what felt like an eternity trying to help him get comfortable enough to nurse, only to sit holding my writhing child while the nurses searched for the anesthesiologist so she could put in an order for pain medicine to calm him enough to fitfully sleep and attempt to eat. By the time we were back to Jared, I had practically forgotten about the conversation with the doctor. Jared had to remind me, and then shared the rest of what she had said. Potential for braces much longer than we thought, maybe forever. Maybe he would never walk normally. Maybe the hundreds of times we had heard, “he won’t remember any of this” had suddenly come untrue.

Yesterday, we traveled to Gabriel’s first appointment since surgery. I slept well the night before it, something I attribute entirely to precious friends waking in the midnight hours to pray on our behalf, to stand in the gap for us. The day felt so heavy but so peaceful as my Mom and I traveled to the appointment, well aware that if Gabriel’s reflex didn’t present, it was unlikely that clubfoot treatment was the only course of action his little body would require.

The reflex did not present.

Sometimes I feel like I can watch myself as though I am someone else, like I’m watching my life unfold before my own eyes on television, or in a dream. This happens often in moments of shock, and it happened yesterday, though shock may not be the perfect word for that specific experience, because I didn’t really expect the reflex to present. I knew God could do whatever He wanted, but I also knew, through prayer and the wisdom of others and God calling to mind the lyrics to Burn Us Up, just like my dear missionary friend said He would, that He was convicting me, as Gabriel’s mother, to utter nothing other than, “Thy will be done.” I couldn’t pray anything else. I was so thankful that hundreds of others were praying for Gabriel’s physical healing, but the Spirit had me locked into a place of desiring acceptance only. That may sound strange or radical or unkind of God. It wasn’t. It was the kindest place I could be, perhaps the closest to God’s heart I’ve ever felt.

And perhaps it was a coping mechanism, an extension of that kindness, that when the doctor began to explain what she thought Gabriel could be facing, what the next many, many years could look like, I felt like I was floating outside of my body, like I could see myself sitting on that rubbery hospital table, inhaling the clinical smells of Sharpie and gauze and sweat, holding my exhausted, poked and prodded cherub of a baby, while I tried so hard to stay alert, to hear every word, to keep from shutting down. This out of body state happened when I got the phone call that I had cancer, when we heard that Owen may be in danger in the womb, when I was told I may have Multiple Sclerosis or Lupus, when we first learned Gabriel had clubfoot. In my memories of those moments, I am not looking at the doctors, I am looking at myself, watching a new reality unfold. It is not lost on me that not all of the possible predictions in these instances came true. But some did. And there is a new one that we are likely adding to the list.

The doctor explained that her “educated guess” is that Gabriel has Atypical Clubfoot and Focal Anterior Horn Cell Disorder, a little known issue that affects the same area of the spine where polio strikes. This is what she believes causes Gabriel to have very little movement in his feet and toes, as well as low muscle tone below the knees.

We can’t know for sure right now, she told us. He’s too small for an MRI and it’s too early for him to undergo anesthesia again to conduct one. Maybe we can do an MRI at one year, but he may be too small even still. This is a tiny area we need to see, she explained, and so what’s inside it is even smaller. She told us that Gabriel is likely to require braces for much longer than we thought, much longer than just sleeping with the bar attached until he is 3 or 4. He will probably need braces until he is finished growing. His feet may appear as though they are slapping the ground, or he may compensate by picking up his feet entirely, like marching. In order to help his gait appear normal, he may choose to wear braces throughout adulthood.

We are asking God what it looks like to cope right now. We are exhausted as Gabriel is trying to adjust to his braces, sore, tender, uncomfortable, and restless, and as we are trying to adjust to a new reality, to more wait and weight. We had to drive back to Houston today because Gabriel’s first pair of orthotics didn’t fit properly. I put him to bed just over an hour ago and he has already woken twice, when he typically wouldn’t wake for 10 hours. To put it succinctly, our van is out of gas and we are too.

And yet, in God’s infinite goodness, in His wisdom and kindness and peacefulness and compassion, we are not without hope. We are overwhelmed by the hands of Christ extended toward us through friends and family who encourage and help and offer and say, “I’m so sorry. This is so hard.” It is. It’s so hard. I don’t want to hear much of anything else right now. This is hard. God is good. That is the Christian life. I want straight up, honest truth because that’s where the life is, that’s where the pressed in place is, that’s where God is.

Oh, there is so much more I could say. There is a book inside me already with all that God has done in just these few short months since Gabriel was born. Maybe He will have me write it, maybe He will have me treasure it up in my heart for the time being. I don’t know. But I know, somehow, that He is good. I still know that to the core. And maybe this is circular logic, but right now I know that He is good because He is allowing me to believe that He is good. If that makes sense to just one of you, then I’m willing to risk the folly of how it sounds. I am in the thin place, the place where honesty and grace abound and where maybe what I have to say won’t make anyone feel warm and fuzzy but I think it will sound like Jesus, because He’s all I know to cling to. To whom shall I go if not with Him?

I’m so thankful for each and every one of you who takes the time to read my thoughts spewed out and spilling over. You lighten the load we bear just by seeking to understand it. Join us, please, in trusting that in all our sorrows, Jesus is better. May He continually bring our hearts to the place where our mouths can say, “You are able to deliver…but even if you don’t” we will rejoice, we will believe, we will trust.

surgery day.

Gabriel just went into surgery. It should take about 45 minutes.

I woke around 3am this morning. Peaceful. I still wouldn’t choose this path for our child, but I’m okay today. God is glorified in my phone flooded with texts of verses and prayers and encouragement, in the doctors and nurses exercising gifts He gave whether they recognize them as such yet or not, in tendons and faith stretched. And that is just the beginning of His presence and renown made known in this journey.

I’m watching the sun rise over Houston and listening to All Sons and Daughters sing, “Our Great Redeemer, Glorious Savior, Your name is higher than the rising sun.”

Christmas draws closer and I realize advent means everything to me this year. Rescue is coming. No more pain or tears or sadness or disappointment. No more realizations that my faith is weaker than I thought, that fear is a monstrous battle, that anxiety can grip with rage, because He Who is our peace will set all things right. No more asking my children to sacrifice or explaining brokenness or wondering why the hard things happen. On this day, where locked doors keep me temporarily from my son I realize that in God’s unfathomable love nothing at all keeps me from the Son. I’m clinging to Him; I’m craving Christmas and His return.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end.

I lift my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.