Wednesday, March 28, 2012

See ya, Whine Bag Chair!

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

I have decided to give up whining. This is much easier said than done. I have an affinity for whining; some would say talent. It’s definitely a habit that comes easily. I can whine anywhere anytime. If I only knew more languages, well, I’d be a bilingual whiner.

But no more. At least, I hope no more. See lately, since my stomach trouble, I’ve been practicing whining almost 24/7. In the hospital it was almost required, but since I’ve come home, it’s been more obligatory. A choice. Being an amateur wordsmith, I’ve discovered different ways to express said whining. “It’s a dull ache.” “Sharp stabbing as if I was mugged very quickly.” “Sluggish as if my pipes are full of sludge.”

Still whining.

I’m sick of my own voice. I know that my pain is valid, but I feel my words, my whining, has given the pain more power over me. Jesus told us we’d have trouble. I am going to have pain. But HE has overcome every trouble and if I choose to focus on Him, then the whining will lessen. Pain might stay for a bit, but His power will cause me to rise above it.

I’m reading Some Assembly Required by Anne and Sam Lamott. In it Anne writes, “Life is already an obstacle course…why bring any more items and hurdles to it?” Paraphrased a tiny bit.

Have you seen those movies where soldiers have to complete obstacle courses in boot camp? It is absolutely ridiculous to imagine one of those soldiers stopping in the middle of the course only to go to their car, open the trunk and pull out another obstacle for them to add to the course. Silly, right?

And yet that is exactly what I do. God has given me a wonderful opportunity. This weekend I get to fly to California and attend the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. The enemy of my soul does not like this, because it is my next step in following God’s call on my life. Ergo, obstacles. Including a trip to the hospital for an abdominal infection. I’m much better, but I still experience pain from time to time. Obstacles to preparing for this trip.

So what do I do? I go to my car and open my trunk and pull out the big ‘ole whine bag chair and place it on the obstacle course.

During my whining, it’s occurred to me that many wonderful people have chronic pain and live wonderful, fulfilling lives. They’ve gotten past that whine bag chair. At least one as big as mine.

If you are a whiner, I ask you to join me and let’s drag the chair off the obstacle course. Life is going to be difficult enough without it. God is in the business of taking whine bag chairs to the dump. And then He takes His place on the obstacle course, handing out power bars and cups of refreshing grace.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Giving Thanks Precedes the Miracle

“He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was four thousand men, besides women and children.” Matthew 15: 36-38

I spent three days in the hospital this past week for an intestinal infection.

While there, all the doctors and nurses were great to me, with one exception. She was one of my ICU nurses and happened to be quite pregnant. I could tell she wasn’t happy while helping me.

So I made a choice that I’ve started practicing. I used the supernatural power of thankfulness.

“I really do appreciate what you’re doing for me.”

She looked at me and I saw a flicker in her eye. “I mean, I know you would probably enjoy having your feet up right now, but you’re being kind to me.”

She smiled. Her countenance lit up.

Thanksgiving changes attitudes. The power of gratitude is not just manifested in a smile or a warm feeling; it can change the direction of a conversation, an action, even a life.

I finished the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp not long ago and it seared into my heart that thanks has the power of God. One example of many she gives is when Jesus fed the 5000. (See above - Matthew 15:36-38.) What does Jesus do before the miracle? He gives thanks. Thanksgiving precedes the miracle.

At a point when I was feeling quite frustrated in the hospital, my sister Karen called and prayed for me. During her prayer she started listed things she was thankful for, including the fact that my condition wasn’t more serious. After that call, I made my own gratitude list. My attitude changed. The miracle happened and I took my eyes off of “poor me” and put them on “Wonderful Him.”

A couple of weeks ago, I was doing the dishes in the morning while quite angry with John. I honestly don’t remember why. But I do remember being furious and silent, allowing the banging of all the dishes to do the talking for me. John asked me if I was okay. I said, “I’M FINE!”

Then the Spirit whispered to me the power of thanksgiving. I made a conscious choice and through gritted teeth I said, “Thank you for going to work so I don’t have to.” And a few seconds later, “I really appreciate that you put up with a lot at your work in order to provide for us.”

And then the miracle. Anger dissipated and my heart began remembering the admiration and love I have for my husband.

When you see someone down, give them a little gratitude with a prayer and watch His power at work. When you are feeling sorry for yourself, give thanks, and feel Him pull your focus away from yourself. And when you’re angry, give thanks, and watch one of His many miracles unfold inside of you.

By the way, you who are reading this right now: THANK YOU! By reading my scribbling you are allowing me to use the gift God has given me.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I Will Rage Against the Dying of my Light...and the Swelling of my Intestines!

“We looked at the CAT scan and your small intestines are swollen and there’s a pocket of blood by your liver. You might have some internal bleeding going on.”
John and I exchanged quick glances. What? I looked back at the ER doctor. “What now?”
“I’m going to admit you and the surgeon will be here to talk to you in a minute.” The gray haired man, obviously tired but kind, left the room only to return immediately. “Have you had any injuries lately?”
“No. I did some abdominal crunches today at a gym. Haven’t done that in a while.”
“I don’t think that would do it.” And once again, he left.
I arrived at the ER at 7:15 on Wednesday night in a world of hurt. I left the hospital on Saturday at 1:00 p.m. For 68 hours and fifteen minutes, I experienced pain the kind I cannot remember having endured (if you don’t count the last episodes of Lost) and healing so wonderful it gave me a new sense of gratitude for living.
And yet…
Here I am, almost midnight of the day of my release and I can only think about one moment during the entire stay. It happened this morning, a few hours before the glorious exodus of the hospital. The doctor was telling me she was releasing me. I think she was probably 25, but maybe older. They all look like babies anymore. I asked her a simple question.
“So what exactly happened to me?”
Her response began with five words that haunt me.
“Well, when you get older…”
Now I sit in that nebulous world of futility, the ecclesiastical questions of why floating through my brain so loudly I cannot sleep. Why work out and eat healthy if I am going to end up in the hospital anyway? Why fight against the clock? I am old. I AM OLD.
The great half-century mark is approaching in September, a mere half year away. When I was eight, I didn’t envision me as an old woman. In my twenties all I cared about was having a boyfriend or husband. My thirties was a decade to get married, have my son and figure out what I wanted in life. My forties have been a glorious discovery of confidence in myself in countless ways.
And then some snot nosed Doogie Howser implies I’m getting old? No!! I will rage, Dylan Thomas! I must rage against the dying of my light!
So I laugh. I look at the past three days and I find that visiting a hospital is fraught with perspective begot by humor.
Consider those moments after the doctor told us about the CAT scan. I’d just received news that my liver might be bleeding and I was in shock. The surgeon came to see us soon after. His first question, “Have you been injured lately?”
I told him about the gym. He snickered. People who are in shape don’t consider a trip to the gym a possibility for bodily tragedy. People like me always consider it a possibility.
He left after telling us that he was going to hold off on surgery in the slight chance it might be some kind of weird infection. Before he exited he asked me again, “So you can’t think of any kind of injury you suffered lately?” He glanced at John while asking me this. I told him no.
When we were alone again, John said, “They’re going to ask you if I hit you, you know that, right? Well, remember that line you use that you think is funny? Don’t do that.”
I burst out laughing. He was referring to a party for us after our honeymoon, 15 years earlier. A huge group of John’s friends gave us a welcome back party. I didn’t know many of them. When I was talking to two of the women there, one asked me how the honeymoon was. With a straight face I answered in a whisper, “He beats me.” They didn’t know what to think, but I thought I was being hysterical. I told John about it later and he saw no humor in it whatsoever. I’ve used the line, just for laughs, a couple of times since.
“I won’t tell them you beat me.” I said, probably too loudly. I laughed again and felt pain that the dilaudid they’d given me did not suppress.
Dilaudid was a new experience for me. I have the ability to recall accurately my behavior while stoned. When I arrived at the ER I was in doubled-over “Someone please help me” pain. So those smart triage folks did their job quickly and injected dilaudid into my system. Wow. This drug is powerful and effective and I got happy very quickly. I remember telling my ER nurse Ray that I loved him. Was he gay or in a relationship? John had stepped out of the room. I don’t know if Ray thought this “old” woman was coming onto him, but he did smile. Not a “Oh, you are making my day” smile but a “Lady, you are high” smile. I didn’t care. I remember when my ER doctor told me goodbye I reached out and grabbed his hand and held on. Even as he tried to leave. Dilaudid makes me affectionate. John asked for extra before we left.
When we got to the ICU, I was treated with kid gloves. The room was large, but it seemed empty. The bed was one of those super-duper techno beds that do everything but give massages. I looked for a slot for quarters. No luck. But it was extremely comfortable. When I arrived and my nurse and her assistant were hooking me up to every single electrical gadget available while putting needles into my arms, I glanced around the room and noticed something missing.
“Where is the bathroom?” I asked.
My nurse, busy poking me, flicked her head to the corner. “Over there.”
I glanced over and saw nothing but a cabinet. Dilaudid causes hallucinations, I thought.
Her assistant did the honors and walked to the cabinet, opened the doors and wheeled out a toilet.
Am I in prison, I thought? Is internal bleeding a crime?
But it turned out I didn’t care, especially that first night. Things happened that night that I need not write out. It’s been said that good writing is writing the truth no matter what. Well, that truth is not going to be covered here. See, my Mama, a strong Texas woman, used to tell me “Robbie Gail, you don’t need to tell everything.” My mother is deceased, but I believe in the afterlife, so if I wrote it all down I would just be putting off my whooping ‘til I get to heaven. So I’ll just leave it at that. Things happened.
The next morning I was watching the clock for pain medication time, having declared dilaudid my new favorite invention of all time. I was told I could have it every three hours. My next dose was scheduled for 9:10. But when I hit my little button, no one came. At 9:30, I wasn’t shaking in pain but I was feeling uncomfortable.
 John, my ever present best friend and man who makes me laugh no matter what said, “Listen, I’ll go out there and do Shirley MacClaine from Terms of Endearment.” He then did his impression of the character in that movie yelling at the nurses in a hospital, “Give my wife the shot!!!”  Want a visual? Here is the clip from that movie. Imagine my husband as Shirley.
Again, laughter soothed me. And more dilaudid arrived.
The prayers of many faithful warriors, laughter and dilaudid helped me immensely. And so did the kindness of friends visiting and calling and sending messages through Facebook and emails. As I lay in that super duper bed in ICU, I felt like Sally Fields at the Oscars.“You like me. You really like me.” Every time someone sent me some love, it was as if they’d come into that ICU and rubbed healing salve on my skin. Since then, I’ve had three friends apologize profusely for not being able to come and see me in person. It really doesn’t matter if they were actually in the room, I tell them, I felt their prayers. I mean that. On the other hand, what a blessing to have people drop in and say hi and bring me stuff. A bunny, lots of reading material and flowers. Of course, I had no idea you can’t have flowers in an ICU. It was a learning experience. No flowers and no real bathroom. I’ll file that info away. The love of those folks who stopped by meant so much. And to have the ladies from a book study I facilitate all come in and gather around my bed and pray for me…well…that’s love, pure and simple.
I was only allowed ice chips Wednesday night, all day Thursday and Friday until about noon. Apparently the surgeon wanted my tummy empty in case he needed to swoop in and operate. But the tide changed after my second cat scan Friday morning. The nurse came in and gave me a menu with real food on it and my heart jumped for joy. She told me to go ahead and order whatever I wanted.
I perused the menu with relish, feeling like someone ordering their last meal. I chose grits and toast and bacon, being true to my Texas roots. When it arrived, I felt as if I were eating in a four star restaurant. This was the first sign that I was going to be okay.  
Then I was moved to the sixth floor, a sure sign I would be going home soon. I asked for less dilaudid, another clue that I was on my way to recovery. The difference between the ICU and the sixth floor soon became obvious to me. If I needed the ICU nurses and hit the little nurse button on my remote control, well, here they came, practically breathing hard to meet my every need.
The sixth floor was…different. First, they had a real bathroom. And second, I sensed a dramatic change in servile responsibility. “Get it yourself” was the attitude.
But all the medical personnel were good to me. I appreciate Ray, my new love and ER nurse, along with the stately Dr. Griffin, my ER doctor. Castle, the elderly woman who put up with a lot my first night (still not gonna say what) told me she’s been nursing for 1000 years and I was not anything unusual. This was a compliment. And there was my surgeon, Dr. Ismael. He looked just like the Indian game show host in that movie Slumdog Millionaire. The one who pronounces it mill-un-air. I kept wanting to ask him to say that but I didn’t. I did tell him I’d pray for him to figure out what was going on with me. He called me a mystery. And he told me he’d pray for me. After he left our room, John said, “So you’ll have Allah helping out, too.” :0) A bit prejudice but funny.
And of course, my final doctor, Dr. Dulay, the sweet young thing who told me that my small intestines developed an acute infection, probably caused by some kind of diverticulitis. The swelling due to the infection caused edema fluids to be released. So the blood by my liver wasn’t blood but infected fluids. Antibiotics, fiber and rest would have me 100% in a week.
She also implied I was getting older. I guess she’s right in that area. I’m never gonna be Cotton Top, the little white haired girl my daddy held in his lap. And I’m never going to be that shallow young woman who wanted nothing but a male in her life. And thank God, I won’t have to be that insecure wife and mom who is trying to figure out what is important.
I guess little Miss Doogie Howser was correct. And even if it means I’ve gotta watch my small intestine intake the rest of this life, it’s worth it to not go back. I will go forward, wit and perspective in hand, with a bag to chunk a little of life’s wisdom into from time to time. Again, as Dylan Thomas wrote I will “not go gentle into that good night.”
I’m better now and that’s what matters. Thank God for a good gut that works another day. And thank God for those folks over at Skyridge Hospital who helped an old woman come off of dilaudid and see her way home to her own bed. Which is calling me right now.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

You'll Need a Tent Peg and a Hammer

“But Jael, Heber’s wife, picked up a tent peg and a hammer and went quietly to him (Sisera) while he lay fast asleep, exhausted. She drove the peg through his temple into the ground, and he died.” Judges 4:21

Jael is one of my favorite women in the Bible. Read Judges 4 for the entire story, but to summarize, God used this woman to take out a really bad guy. Imagine Osama Bin Laden being killed by one female Navy seal.

I am a pacifist by nature and choice, so I don’t necessarily rejoice when our enemies or convicted criminals are killed. But I understand that “putting to death” is an action that God used all through the Bible and uses today.

Consider Colossians 3:5: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”

Paul doesn’t instruct us to reason with our sins or hope they’ll change. He says very simply – put them to death.

When I think of the sins I consistently deal with, number one is eating emotionally instead of going to God. I seek comfort, joy and numbness in eating. Food is fuel, but I’ve perverted it to be much more. I am on a journey to end this. It may take my entire life but I will keep fighting.

One thing that helps me in this battle is to remember Jael and her profound courage and decisiveness. Imagine her in that tent with the sleeping Sisera. She had to be stealth-like to come upon him and not wake him up. Jael possessed no wishy-washiness as she approached Sisera with the tent peg and the hammer. She made a decision and she did it. Wham! Not pretty, and definitely not passive or pacifistic.

Sin in our lives needs to be put to death. When we play around with it and fail to realize its seriousness, we fall prey to its dire consequences and pervasive wickedness.

The other day I was tempted to eat something that was not fuel and was not a blessing from God to me at that moment. It was only a way to numb myself from dealing with a situation. The Spirit brought Jael to mind. I was inspired to get my tent peg and hammer and go to town. “Get behind me Satan!” And WHAM! I put it to death. Someday I’ll look up Jael in Heaven and thank her for her fearless heart. She’s only mentioned in the Bible 6 times, all of which are in Judges 4 and 5, but her influence is great.

The last time she’s named is Judges 5:24: “Most blessed of women be Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite, most blessed of tent-dwelling women.”

Most blessed, indeed. Today, fellow sinners, get your tent peg and hammer and get busy in the name of Jesus. With a little nod to Jael.

(Before I send out my Joyvotions, I usually show them to my husband to get his opinion. Yesterday I sent him this and he replied, “Looks good. But I am now frightened to sleep next to you.” )

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Tu-ba or Not Tu-ba be Part of the Body

“Just as each of us has one body with many members,
and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Romans 12: 4-5

Last Friday night John, Noah and I were invited to a concert by our friends Mark and Denise. We enjoyed a symphony orchestra playing classical music featured in movies. I loved it! And as I sat and listened to the violins and French horns, trumpets and percussion, cellos and a harpist, I thought of the similarities between the orchestra and the body of Christ.

Each musician comes with his own personal instrument, prepared to do his part in contributing to the end effort, a glorious song that inspires, comforts and entertains.

In the same way, each of us, as followers of Jesus, have been given gifts and it is our responsibility and our honor to use our gifts to contribute to the unity among Christ followers shown in the song of LOVE.

When I was in 6th grade I began my band experience with the alto saxophone. Later on, the band director, Mr. Z, switched me to the oboe, a very difficult instrument to master. The oboe is only a concert instrument and so during marching season I was asked to play the tuba. That’s right, the most unfeminine instrument, in my opinion. But I did it and actually had a great time. So half the year I played the oboe badly and the other half I played the tuba with mediocre skill but tremendous joy.

Looking back at those years, I am thankful for the lessons I learned about practicing, teamwork and doing my part. I also remember those moments of looking at the flute players and wishing I could be one of them. I remember watching the percussionists and thinking “if only.”

We, as Christians, struggle with that same sense of discontentment. If only I were gifted in teaching or singing. If only I were a Bible scholar. Such a waste of thought. We also need to stop the opposite. If only those Christians were more like me. Again, a waste.

The key to making great music is knowing your part well and watching the conductor so the music can blend into something beautiful. A trumpet player complaining that the drummers don’t play like he does is silly. A cellist putting her instrument down in the middle of a performance, simply because she wants to play the clarinet, is unheard of. And I simply cannot imagine an orchestra made up of only triangles.

So what is the instrument God has given you to play? If you don’t know, ask the Father. Find out and use it and offer it to your local church. Be a part of that body of believers, not just as an audience member but a participant. And today, perhaps your gift is teaching your children to obey or to rely on Jesus. Maybe you have been given the gift of organization and today God wants you to use that gift at your job and do it as to Him and not your boss. Or maybe, like me, you have been called to encourage others to keep looking at the conductor.

Christians, let’s come together and make some beautiful music for Him.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Part 3 - What God is Teaching Me about Rejection, Writing and His Tender Love

I should’ve taken a shovel with me when I went to the monastery this past weekend for a couple days alone with God. I didn’t, of course. I had no idea I was going to spend a major part of that time digging up a big ‘ole, and a bad ‘ole root in my soul.

God provided the shovel and helped me and we got it out and threw it away. It was painful work, but in order to keep walking into who God wants me to be, it had to be done.

Before I left, John told me, “Robbie, think about what need you are trying to meet that can only be met by God. I think you might start with security.”

He was completely correct. I took some time and asked God about what I was putting my security in when it came to writing. After some harsh truth flooded my heart, I admitted that I wrote in order to make money so that I would feel “safe” financially.

I just knew, I knew, that I was close to a big book deal in which I would make a lot of money and basically have all my financial needs and dreams met. So when it didn’t happen, I crashed.

God’s timing is perfect and it’s no coincidence that I am going through a Bible study entitled “Enough” written by my friend Stacy Voss. God’s been teaching me about my level of greed and my lack of contentment in who I am and what I have. I’m ashamed of the way my heart has believed that if I had more, or if I were more, then my life would be so much more. LIES!

I am in a position that is truly a blessing. My husband has said to me, “Robbie, I will work and provide for our family. You follow the call God has on your life WITHOUT any thought about money.” What a gift!

And yet, I haven’t believed him. I’ve felt guilty, earning next to nothing as a writer/speaker. I’ve continually dreamed about being able to pay my fair share, or even making more than enough as a famous author. But now I know it would have never have been more than enough. It wouldn’t have been enough.

Why? Because my heart, like yours, will never be satisfied with anything less than Christ and His fulfillment in our lives. Period.

So I took the shovel and dug up dirt in my heart – greed for more, more, more, disobedience in allowing God to be my security and fear of the unknown future.

In its place, God renewed my by planting satisfaction in His goodness and satiation in His abundance. HE is enough. He has my back. He will provide. ALWAYS. If I had to sum up what God planted in me this past weekend it would be:

Jeremiah 31:14 “I will satiate the souls of the priests with abundance. And My people shall be satisfied with My goodness says the Lord.”

So now what?

I keep going. I keep writing and trying and enjoying this adventure. I use the gift He’s given me and live out the call He has on my life the best I can. I expect rejection and crashes and I practice reacting by living in the joy, the satisfaction, the satiation of who He is. Love. Lord. Savior. The Author of All. Redeemer and Forgiver. The Gardener of my soul.

My prayer for you is that you will stay close to His heart. And if you need a shovel, ask Him.

Next week I am going to try my hand a vlogging – video logging. :0) See you Tuesday if there is no technical difficulties – meaning I can’t figure it all out. :0)