720 Grams Plus 30 Years

Do you know how big 720 grams is?  I confess I had to look it up and do the math.  (I am metrically challenged.)  720 grams is one pound, nine ounces — about half the size of a rotisserie chicken in the grocery store; less than a medium cantaloupe, a pineapple or a small laptop.  But 30 years ago 720 grams changed my life.

When you become a parent, life changes.  With each child, life changes.  But perhaps most of all, with the first.  You can read all the books, hear everyone else’s anecdotes and think you are ready to become a parent.  But you are never fully ready until you are plunged into parenthood.

For Michael and I our first experience with parenting was even more extraordinary than we expected.  The years leading up to this time we had walked away from God’s leading in our lives.  There were lots of circumstances and feelings, but we made the choice to move away from God.  So the pending birth of our first child was not a time of leaning on him.  Rather it was a time of turmoil and uncertainty.

The joy and anticipation we should have been experiencing were instead replaced by preoccupation with a failing business and depression over difficult decisions we were making.  When the doctors told us unexpectedly that our first child would be born at 25 weeks gestation, the news sent us running back to Him.  Funny how a crisis does that.  Sends us running back to the one who is our Protector and Defender.  Michael often relayed to people how he went home the night before she was born and fell on his face begging God to take him instead of our baby and me.

When our first baby was born, 30 years ago today, she weighed 720 grams.  1 pound, 9 ounces.  She was 13 inches long.  Her prognosis for life was very poor and her expected quality of life was nonexistent.  It was three days before I got to see her, to reach my hand in the isolette to touch her.  But I did get to touch her and talk to her and tell her that I loved her.

With each passing day she surprised the doctors and nurses.  She never had a setback or any of the many surgeries that so many preemies have.  And though they continued to tell us not to expect much for her, God continued to show the doctors that He had other plans.  After eleven weeks in the hospital, we brought her home.  As time passed, she grew and begin to mark all the milestones that we see in childhood years.  Then came the teenage years and she again went through all the typical highs and lows that adolescents endure.  (She calls these the awkward years. Haha).

When she was in college one day we were having a conversation about what it would be like to lose a parent and she said one of the most beautiful things she’s ever said to me.  “I couldn’t stand to lose one of you — there’s too much I need to learn from you.”  (Music to a parent’s ears.  Still makes my eyes leak.)

Do you know how big 720 grams is?  Big enough to steal your heart and change your life forever.  Big enough to redirect the path you were taking in life.  Big enough to make you laugh and cry at the same time.  Big enough to change you from a woman to a mom, and 30 years later to a grandmother.

Happy 30th Birthday Christy! I love you! And nothing you ever do and nothing that ever happens to you will change that.
Sent from my iPad

Being Good Again

I’ve noticed a pattern in recent months.  When I see folks, whether it be old friends or new, you share the first few words and then inevitably they lean in and say, “How are you doing?”  (Relax, this isn’t another rant about the things people say to me.)  My pattern of response is usually, “I’m ok.”  I know this may not seem like much to you, but when I say “I’m ok”, I haven’t been saying it with any enthusiasm, but rather more of a resignation.  (Ok, so maybe this is a rant about what I say to other people.)

Well, no more. Because I’m not ok.

I’m GOOD!  I’ve been dragging through these last few months falling into a dangerous pattern.  I’m not just ok.  I’m good!  I’m tired of short-changing God by just being ok.  I have awakened every day and most of my body parts work without too much aching.  I have a great house to live in, a car in the garage, places to go and friends to go with me (most of the time).  My kids are all healthy and pursuing their dreams.  I can walk three miles on the treadmill, do 20 push-ups and hold plank for 90 seconds.  My mind still works most of the time and I laugh more than I cry.

More importantly God loves me and still has work for me to do.  I’m not sure exactly what His plan looks like, but I have a few ideas and the rest He’ll fill me in on when He decides I need to know.  I’m beginning to feel a call back into some of the things I was involved in before I became Michael’s caregiver; but I’m leaving the timing and details of that to God.

No more being ok.  No more being resigned to what my life looks like right know, because my life looks pretty darn good.  No more dragging around being ok.  I prefer to waltz around being good.  I’m under no misconception that every day will bring sunshine and gumdrops.  But I’ve survived for nine months of what I thought was the worst thing that could ever happen.  And even though I’ve sometimes pushed Him away, God’s never left my side or stopped loving me.  As my devotional read a few days ago – His love is not dependent on my performance; they are two different things.  Praise God!

Disclaimer:  Writer reserves the right to have an occasional pity party, limited to brief spans and decreasing in frequency.  Writer also acknowledges that tears are a more prevailing part of her life, whether they be induced by joy, sadness, sentiment or hormones.  And finally, writer concedes that her heart has a break which will leave a scar for as long as she is earth-bound, also knowing that this and all things shall find their definitive healing in heaven.

Come out of sadness from wherever you’ve been                                         Come broken hearted let rescue begin                                                               Come find your mercy, oh sinner come kneel                                                  Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal                                                     Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal                                                                                                                                                                              –David Crowder


Friends of the Heart

When I was in the Girl Scouts we had a song we sang, “Make new friends but keep the old; One is silver and the other gold”.  I have had the privilege of making so many friends, but today I share with you some of my life-time friends which I would call “friends of the heart”.  Seven women who have known me most of my life and who have made life so rich.

Though we come from different places, our friendship was founded in one church in which we all worshipped and served.  These friends offer advice and support and sometimes just an ear to listen.  One of the first Bible verses I ever learned was Proverbs 17:17, “A friend loves at all times.”  This simple verse tells me two things – that friendship involves the deep emotion of love and that it endures over time.  While each of us has other friends outside of this circle, these seven women and their husbands meet the true definition of friend.

The eight of us range in age from 57 to 63.  I won’t tell you who’s the oldest, but I will tell you that I am the youngest.  (Insert smile.)  Some of us have known each other since elementary school, but we have all known each other for at least thirty years.  We have each been married only once, but together we have been married over 310 years.  Six of our eight husbands own their own businesses, in which we often find ourselves involved.  We have five bachelor’s degrees and two master’s degrees.  We have had many jobs: secretary, legal secretary, accountant, computer programmer, director, consultant, interior designer, school principal and teacher – from preschool through high school.

We have 21 children – 15 boys and 6 girls.  Our children have attended 8 different schools and 13 different colleges.  Fourteen of our children are now married and three are engaged, so our families continue to grow.   Among our children we have businessmen and women, preachers and teachers, a doctor and nurses, a coach, a lawyer, a speech therapist, a painter and a musician.  We currently have 25 grandchildren with one more on the way.  And so our joy multiplies

Together we have shared: Laughter and tears, maternity clothes, pediatricians, physicians, dentists, orthodontists, school uniforms, recipes, science fair projects, business partnerships, homes, vehicles, vacations, office space, diets, workout routines, and hair dressers. Some of us have even shared plastic surgeons, but I won’t be telling you who – after all some things a girlfriend never tells!

Together we have survived: the death of three children, marital struggles, depression and abuse, bankruptcy, empty nests and the death of a spouse.

Together we have celebrated: Awards and achievements, championships, tailgate parties, homecoming queens, scholarships, graduations, birthdays, engagements, weddings, anniversaries, birthing babies and traveling together.  We have cheered and celebrated every possible milestone of our children’s lives.

Together we have supported each other: through school setbacks and dropouts, loud parties, calls to the police, juvenile detention, drug and alcohol abuse, unwed pregnancy, countless fender-benders and speeding tickets, multiple health crises, including cancer, and burying those we love.

We have each lost at least one parent and several of us have lost both.  We have learned to coordinate caring for our parents and our children at the same time.  We have been known to have loud spirited discussions followed by prolonged periods of silence.  We have sometimes taken different paths in our lives, but never drifted so far that a mere phone call doesn’t bring us all running to help.  These friends are loyal and dedicated; they are honest and forgiving.  They can make the ordinary extraordinarily fun.

Through the years I have learned that these are women I can count on to cheer me, to be honest with me, to grow with me.  They encourage me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  And in so doing they help me to be a better me.  Though we have changed over the years, we have always had in common our faith in Jesus Christ.  While we don’t all serve in the same church anymore, our faith hasn’t changed and is still the foundation for the friendships we share.

To our children and grandchildren – May you continue this tradition of friendship with each other as well as with others you meet along the way.  May you remember the adventures and laughter our families have shared long after we are gone.  May you have those in your lives who encourage you and grow with you as we have.  And may God bless you with friends of the heart whose foundation of faith matches yours.

And this is what I pray for each of you – that your lives will be blessed with great friends as mine has, and that you will be the same good friend to others that these have been to me.

PS – The picture below was taken recently when 13 of the remaining 15 friends were able to get together. It’s a rare occasion!








The Scariness of Death

Michael wasn’t scared of death.  But Michael was always very brave.  He would press forward to try things that he had never done before.  He would dream of bigger things than I could dream.  He would make plans far into the future for the development of ideas and ministries and opportunities.

So many times during Michael’s illness and even after his death, people prayed the 23rd Psalm.  In particular I think of the 4th verse.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil for You are with me.

To walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  It’s just the shadow of death.  But to cast a shadow that covers a valley, death must be large and looming.  And to cast a shadow, death must come between the valley and the light.  So I picture this large looming presence that blocks the light.  It doesn’t eliminate the light.  The light is still there.  But it blocks our view of the light.  Maybe death wants us to think the light is gone, or ineffective.  This, to me, is a little scary.

To me, death is a little scary.  It’s not what happens after death.  I know my eternity is with God and all that He promises in His word.  I know that He will never leave me or forsake me.  (Hebrews 13:5)  I know that nothing can separate me from His love in Christ Jesus.  (Romans 8:38-39)  But it’s the transition from this life to the next, the door that we walk through to go from this life to the next, that’s a little scary to me.  I guess because I’ve never done that before. I’ve never made that transition.  I’ve not walked through that doorway.  And anything I’ve never done is a little scary for me to do.

But I admit that since Michael’s death, it is a little less scary for me.  For one, because I saw him make the transition so bravely and so peacefully.  But most of all because I know that now, when I do make the transition, Michael will be there to hold the door open for me.  Just like he’s held open my door for so many years.  When the time comes I picture him being there to hold the door open for me so I can walk through and see Jesus face to face.  And that makes it a little less scary to me.

As a friend recently told me – Heaven is a little more real to me because I have so much invested there.  Michael.  A child never born.  Mom and Dad.  And so many others we have loved and lost over the years.

Update: I recently heard someone say, regarding all the scriptures we quote:  “What if it’s actually true?  What if all those verses we say we believe are actually true?  And what if we actually lived like it?”

The thoughts above, I wrote within just a few weeks of Michael’s death.  And I still feel every one of them.  But as time passes I tell you that I marvel at Michael’s faith.  It is one thing for me to lay my head down each night knowing that I may not wake in the morning.  But I’ve always waken.  And most of us do.  It’s quite another thing to know that God is ready for you to come home, ask for the medical care to end and know that you are looking for the last time at your family and friends.  What incredible faith he exercised in knowing that when he closed his eyes he would no longer be on this earth.  What incredible faith he showed by closing his eyes to know he would open them in the presence of God.  He walked ahead of me through that doorway.

Because He lives I can face tomorrow
Because He lives all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just because He lives

And then one day I’ll cross the river
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain
And then as death gives way to victory
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives

Because He lives I can face tomorrow
Because He lives all fear is gone
Because I know He holds the future
And life is worth the living just because He lives

A Trip to Bethlehem – Lagniappe

I wrote recently about my trip to Bethlehem and the rather intense experience I had.  What I didn’t mention was that we had some extra time at the end of the day, so there was a special visit I made while in town.

Here’s the background for the visit: About 10 years ago I met a lady while in my favorite spa in Destin.  Her name is Wafaa and she is from Egypt.  At the time she had just begun working at the spa and was training to learn how to give facials (I don’t remember the exact term used).  Over the years as I returned to the spa I would always request her for services and we’ve become friends.  Wafaa is a Catholic Christian who is always praising God and encouraging me when we meet.  We had a very interesting conversation several years ago.

Wafaa: I have three children.

Me: I have three children.

Wafaa:  I have two daughters and a son in the middle.

Me: I have two daughters and a son in the middle.

Wafaa: My son is studying to be a priest!

Me: My son is studying to be a pastor!

Wafaa: My son’s name is Peter!

Me: My son’s name is Andrew!

How funny!  My Egyptian friend and I seem to be leading parallel lives! As the years have passed we have kept up with each other and our children’s lives, though I’ve never had the opportunity to meet any of her family.  She tells me how she misses her family so far away, but because of the political situation she is rarely able to go visit them.  She also tells me how much she loves being here in the U.S.  Last fall she told me that her son Peter had been assigned to Bethlehem University in Bethlehem.  Bethlehem University was established in the 1970’s.  It’s a Catholic University that works to provide quality higher education to the people of Palestine.

Since we found ourselves with some extra time while in Bethlehem, we decided to see if we could find Bethlehem University.  The directions we simple – left at the light, take the first right and you’re there.  Easy enough – we turn left at the light and make the first right.  Now is when I remember reading that the University was at the highest point in Bethlehem.  That first right led us about three blocks straight up hill!  Well, you don’t go all the way to Bethlehem to give up easily, so up we went.

After dodging traffic and much huffing and puffing, we arrived at the back entrance to the University.  We found what looks like any other college scene – young men playing basketball, co-eds walking around, loading cars with all sorts of belongings.  We asked one of the students to show us to the main office – “Up the stairs to the top floor, go to the next building and then go to the second floor”.  You’re kidding right?  But off we go.

At some point, a member of the staff recognized that we obviously were visitors and stopped to ask if he could help us.  I told him I was looking for Peter. “Oh Peter!” he says.  He actually knew Peter!  Then he spoke to some students in Arabic and told them who we were looking for.  “Oh Peter!” they said.  They actually know Peter too!  Immediately they set off leading us too his office – actually backtracking because we had in fact passed him on our way up those many flights of stairs.

When we entered the office I could see a young man sitting at a desk in a glass office working with a female student.  Oh no!  I sure didn’t want to interrupt him.  I hadn’t made an appointment because I didn’t know if I’d get a chance to stop by.  But some of the students went right in and told him he had a visitor.  Immediately this young priest gets up from his desk, comes out of his office and walks toward me.  Oh no – I’ve taken him away from an important duty just so I can say Hi?  What’s he going to think?

As he walks closer I hear him say, “I’ve been waiting for you!  I’m so glad you’re here.  My mom is waiting for me to send her a message that you came!”  Well you can imagine my surprise!  This wonderful, friendly young man has been waiting for me to visit so he can tell his mom.  It was awesome!  We hugged and talked and laughed.  It was amazing!  Before I had the chance he asked if we could take a picture to send to his mom.

He explained a little of his work there – how even though he is Egyptian, he is accepted by the Palestinian people.  He said that they are the most generous people he’s met and he loves being there in Bethlehem.  And he talked about how incredible it is for him to be able to have his morning prayers in “the grotto” (the cave under the Church of the Nativity where it is believed Jesus was born).  I told him about my son Andrew studying to be a pastor, to which he responded “My brother!”

It was such an honor to meet Peter in person.  It was a privilege to hug him like a mother hugs her son.  And it was a pleasure to know that by seeing my friend’s son I had brought some small joy to her.  Because when someone does something for your child they do something for you.

Peter Gadalla

A Trip to Bethlehem

While in Israel recently I had the opportunity to spend a day in Bethlehem.  I’ve been there several times before, always to see the Church of the Nativity and to shop in a favorite place for souvenirs.  But this was a new opportunity to spend the day with some new folks and to learn about everyday life there.

Bethlehem is part of the West Bank and is therefore under Palestinian rule even though it’s just a few miles south of Jerusalem.  To go there means going through a checkpoint between the Israeli and Palestinian guards.  On this particular day, our driver was a Palestinian Christian who lived in Jerusalem, which allowed him to have the necessary credentials for access without the usual waiting and red tape.

We had two appointments on this day.  Our first was to meet with Pastor Jack of the Bethlehem Bible College.  The BBC was founded in the late 1970’s as a Christian college providing education to the Bethlehem community which is overwhelmingly Muslim.  When we first arrived we were invited to attend their chapel service.  A Palestinian woman, modernly dressed, was on stage teaching passionately from the bible in the Arabic language.  Through our interpreter, we listened as she used Old Testament examples to point to Jesus Christ and the changes He wants to make in our lives.  When she finished we listened as 50+ young college students sang a worship song in Arabic.  While we couldn’t understand the words, the devotion was evident.

After chapel we had the opportunity to meet Pastor Jack.  He gave us a tour of their campus and greeted students along the way.  While it is certainly small by American standards, he pointed out the dorms, classrooms, and gave us an up close look at their media center where they are producing programs for the community on both secular and religious topics.  We were able to spend time with him in his office and later over lunch to discuss the work they are doing there.

What I haven’t mentioned so far is that Pastor Jack is a Palestinian Christian.  He was kind and gentle, incredibly welcoming to us and took time to not only explain but to listen to our views and experiences as well.  The woman preaching in chapel earlier that day was his wife.  Together with others on staff, they are reaching other Palestinians in Bethlehem, regardless of their faith, to create relationships that will lead to peace.  Maybe peace on a world-wide or nation-wide scale is a big goal; but if they can begin to live in peace with the people in their city and in their neighborhoods, if they can help to meet the needs of those around them out of love, then perhaps peace in a divided land is reachable.

Our second appointment on that day was with another gentleman named Marwan.  Marwan is a Palestinian Muslim who was volunteered by a mutual friend to take us into one of the Palestinian refugee camps in Bethlehem.  I didn’t even know there were refugee camps in Bethlehem, but there are three.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’m just beginning to realize some significant details in the Israel/Palestine conflict.  While I have for years heard about how Israel became a nation in 1948 when the British Mandate allowed them to return to the land, there is one fact that I had missed.  When the Israel people moved into the land, there were folks already living there.  Before 1948, Muslims, Jews and Christians lived in the land beside one another.   In 1948, Arabs were told to move out so that Jewish folks could move in.  And they moved right into the homes previously occupied by the Arabs.  This was supposed to be for a short period of time – weeks – but continues still today.

Marwan did a great job of showing us around and explaining the current and historical situation as he sees it.  (I say that because there are so many sides to this story.)  He became quite passionate when he walked us through the “neighborhood” and reviewed for us the way the people are made to live and the losses they have suffered – property, dignity and the loss of life in the ongoing military conflicts.  As he talked, we watched children playing in the streets, traffic bringing people to their daily activities, school girls coming home in their school uniforms.  The housing is a mix of do-it-yourself styles that you would expect where there are no building codes and people are left to create what they need to survive.  Much of the walls are covered in “graffiti” type paintings depicting their history and social struggles.  The longer Marwan talked, the more passionate he became, and I must admit the less comfortable I felt.

As we returned from the refugee camp, Marwan began to speak of a group of American and British Christians that have begun to come to Bethlehem during the olive harvest to help the local people.  These folks come with no other motive than to help with the harvest and to establish relationships with the Palestinian people.  I was amazed to see the change in Marwan when he spoke of them.  He called them angels.  His voice softened and he smiled as he talked about what an honor it was to have these people in his presence and how he invited them to his home.  The same man who so passionately ranted in the streets of the refugee camp about violence and fighting and who was at fault, now smiled and spoke with genuine love for those who had come to help him.  How incredible to see the change in his demeanor when he was approached with love and respect.

I must confess that my mind and heart were changed on this day.  Over the years I have developed a mental image of what all Palestinians/Arabs look like.  It wasn’t pleasant and it was scary.  The combination of reading Genesis 16 – that Ishmael would be a wild donkey of a man, that he and his descendants would always be fighting with everyone – and watching the evening news have created a picture in my mind of a people I should fear and distrust.  And while that may be true of some, it certainly wasn’t what I experienced that day.

I understand God’s promise of the land and I certainly want the Jews to have what God promised.  But is it fair for others who were living there to be arbitrarily thrown out of their homes?   Surely when a government comes in and tells one family to leave a home so another can move in the same home, there will be resentment between the two.  When the resentment isn’t just two families, but two neighborhoods, then two people groups, the feelings begin to be stereotyped.  Resentment turns into violence, which is then answered by reciprocal violence.

My best understanding is that God gave Israel a land.  He promised it to Abraham back in Genesis.  And He said the land would be theirs forever.  Forever means forever.  But, can no one else live in the land with the Jewish people?   After all, God’s purpose for choosing them wasn’t just so they could be land owners.  He chose them to bring people to him.  To share their faith in God.   God who forgives us when we repent and trust Him.  How can they bring the world to God if they are isolated in a land?   I know the situation is much more complex than I’ve described.   I just peeled back one layer of an onion to discover there are hundreds more layers.   But within each of these layers of issues are people.  People who mostly just want to have a job and a place to live, a place to raise their children so that they can have a better life.   I don’t understand all the politics.  And I don’t think our media, no matter which channel you watch, is doing us any favors in understanding the situation.  Politically, I don’t think I want to be pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian.   I just want to be pro-people.