Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A tribute to grandmothers: the glue and legacy of our families

Second Timothy 2:4-5 "As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy.  I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well."

My Great (x5) Grandma Lemmen

As I grow older I observe how many traits pass down through generations.  My aunt recently posted stories about my great, great, great, great Grandfather Berend Lemmen, who immigrated with his mother to America in the mid-1800's and set up a homestead in Graafsshap, Michigan, not far from the town of Holland where I was born over 100 years later.  He was known for his hard work and faith in God to get him and his family through tough times.  His mother, my great, great, great, great, great Grandma Fenigje Lemmen, was imprisoned for her faith in Christ.  Perhaps that's the reason why she and her family left Germany to start a new life in America.  When I read stories like these and hear more recent stories passed down by my grandparents, it makes me want to follow in their footsteps. 

Many of us have grandparents that we admire, respect, and love.  It is difficult to say goodbye when the time comes for them to be "absent from the body, but at home with the Lord".  It is even more difficult when they do not know the Lord.  Fortunately, Kris and I know that our grandmothers know Jesus as their Lord and Savior.  They have taught God's Word to their children and have exhibited a life of submission to the Lord and His will.  They all have strengths that we admire and oddities that we laugh about.  Often those same idiosyncrasies are present in our own personalities! (Funny how quirky genes are the first ones we notice!).
I am certain my strong will and determination come from my ancestors.  The will to work hard, be independent, and stubborn determination to not be a burden on others (resulting in refusal to accept help) runs deep.  I can see it in my parents, grandparents, and most recently, in my ancestors who until a few weeks ago I didn't even know the names of.  We are fighters!

Psalm 92:14-15 "They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him."

Just a few weeks ago my Grandma VanKampen went home to be with the Lord.  She was deeply loved by her family, but I think we could never love her more than she loved us.  Her sacrificial love extended until the last year of her life, where at the age of 90 she would exhaust herself to no end to contribute towards cooking a meal for our family when we came to see her in Michigan.  Memories of stacks upon stacks of gifts lining walls of her cramped, frigid upstairs space, requiring two cars to carry them to the annual family Christmas party remain vivid in my mind.  We asked her how she managed to wrap them all and her answer was "I shop a little at a time and I wrap what I get when I return home".  She started shopping months in advance!  She only slowed down her gift giving the last few years of her life, but still came to our party with her signature, huge smile on her face, and watched us as each household opened an envelope holding a check to spend on our families.
My Grandma VanKampen wasn't just a generous giver of food and gifts.  She was also a very hard worker.  For 20 years, when most women would have retired, she was a nurse aide at a nursing home.  She never stopped being active, serving others by preparing food when needed, and making quilts for the Lady's Aide group in her church to distribute to those in need.  She sewed a quilt for every one of her 42 great-grandchildren and wedding quilts for many of her 19 grandchildren.  Despite crippled hands which held hands with several permanently folded fingers, she still managed to maintain beautiful handwriting to sign every birthday, anniversary and Christmas card we received each year.  I hope to have half the hospitality, generosity, and heart of unselfish service that my Grandma had.

Grandma Breuker is another tough act to follow.  She married my Grandpa young and lived on a chicken farm with him while they raised their 5 children.  She was never happy about the smells and dirtiness that came from farm life, yet made the most of it.  She grew beautiful flowers on their land.  She had a tastefully decorated home which she kept very clean and tidy. She was very thrifty with money and wasted nothing.  I love looking at old pictures of her children because they were always dressed in pristine condition.  How they stayed clean and neat and wrinkle free on a farm I'll never know!  My Grandma is now in her final years.  She struggles to walk, is almost blind, and suffers from several medical conditions.  Her determination to keep going shows her strong will as well.  She still has an uncanny sense of humor and surprises us with her wit whenever we come to visit.  She coaches my Grandpa on how to cook since she can no longer stand in the kitchen to do it herself.  She still has to shop for every new great-grandchild no matter how badly she feels, so they can have "the cutest outfit" as a gift from her.  I love her and hope I can have the willpower, heart for humor, and delight in my family when I grow old.  

I can't fail to mention my grandparent "in laws".  Though I have only known them for about 12  years, they have become a special part of my life.  During this season in our lives, they live locally to our family.

Kris' Gran Dixon presently lives next door to us.  She has always been one to enjoy reading and is still learning and studying in her old age.  It says something about her thirst for knowledge when one sees the stacks of Bible commentaries and numerous C.S. Lewis books on her bookshelf.  When she sees an article she thinks someone in our family would enjoy, she clips it and sends it home with us.  She tells me stories of the days she would make clothing, grow a garden, help her neighbors in need, and care for her two children.  She is understanding, a good listener, and is very patient with her husband whom she cares for.

His Grandmother Mathis is nearing 99 years old and still enjoys life.  After the passing of her husband, she lived alone at home until her mid-90's.  Up until shortly before her move to assisted living, this sweet hostess insisted on making us fried chicken on our visits to see her.  She is spunky, positive, and loves to share with others.  We never expected her to live to the century mark, but she's one tough lady.  She still walks around her facility by herself, participates in activities, and welcomes visitors.  She remains a delightful person to be around and amuses us with her stories! 

In this day in age where value in our western society is placed on one's usefulness and productivity, we are encouraged to push aside the elderly.  They are often criticized as a burden on our medical system, a strain on our resources, and an inconvenience to care for.  God has a reason for every day He has given them on this earth.  He determines the length of their days, not our government, not their insurance, and not a third party.  They should never be cast off and forgotten in order for us to receive benefit as the world wants us to do.  In reality, we are doing ourselves a disservice.  Not only are we missing out on the blessing of enjoying their company and learning from them, we are also missing out on having the opportunity to serve them.  To see someone's grandmother's face light up when a little child enters the room and gives them a hug and kiss, to hear them share stories about their childhood (even though we may have heard that story a dozen times before), to be able to bless them with a delicious meal like they blessed us with so many years before; it is a treasure for us to take part in.  Don't listen to the world's voice saying these precious people have less value or worth.  They are truly worth their weight in gold!

If your grandma is still living and lives close by, hug her today and tell her how much you love and appreciate her.  If she isn't, go to a rest home and hug someone else's grandma.  They need to hear it and know someone thinks they are still amazing.  I am pretty certain you will both be glowing for the rest of the day!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Our Tough Little Cookie

Ready for bed at the hotel (not!)
January 20th was another long day at Centennial Hospital.   We arrived at our hotel in Nashville the night before and tried to get Anna Faith settled into bed, but she was very restless.  This isn't normal when we travel, as she is usually very tired from a long drive and wants to go to sleep without a struggle.  We could tell she knew enough of what was going on to not be able to sleep.  Since we had to wake up at 5:00 a.m., and she finally dozed off at 11:30 p.m., it was a bad start to a rough day.

Centennial Women and Chldren's Hospital

Little lady had butterflies.  She could explain enough to us about her spots getting fixed and getting boo boo's there that it was making her anxious.  This was a first for us.  She didn't walk into the hospital with a huge smile, greeting people and enjoying the attention.  Instead, she held my hand, was polite to everyone but was reluctant to let the nurses touch her.  She clung to me and Kris when we sat down and even though her gown had Minnie Mouse on it (we were happy for the girl-friendly change in gowns since she had never been fond of tiger gowns), didn't want anything to do with it.
Clinging to Daddy when we entered the hospital
When anesthesia came to introduce themselves, the OR nurse entered as well.  She was Chinese!  She was very excited to meet Anna Faith and told us it was her daughter's 3rd birthday that day, and she looked a lot like our Little Lady.  She also told us she was a Christian and we swapped numbers and email addresses.  It was such a comfort to know that someone who thought of her own daughter while she was working on Anna Faith in the OR was going to be watching over her.

Waiting to be taken to the OR

They took her back at 7:50 for the 8:00 a.m. surgery.  The best advantage to having the first surgery of the day is getting to go back on time!  They had given her Versed, so she was loopy and goofy as always.  She finally was willing to put on her gown, smile for a picture, and happily go to the OR nurse's arms and be carried away.
We got a call at 8:20 that Dr. Chester had begun cutting and everything was going well.   We were supposed to get a one-hour update, but it never came.  At 9:40 Dr. Chester appeared in our door and exclaimed as we looked up "That was the quickest one yet!".  She told us she got all of the bald spot on Anna Faith's scalp, but it wasn't going to look smooth for a while.  She glued the incision on her neck and covered it up this time.  We'd have to wait three days to do an "unveiling" to see it.  
Asleep in the PACU
Sleeping on Mommy while the anesthesia wore off
To avoid having post-operative delirium (also called emergence delirium) like she had in two of her four previous surgeries, the anesthesiologist really doped her up.  We waited almost an hour to go back to see her, then when we did, they informed us she still hadn't woken up, but the nurses needed to tend to other patients coming in from the OR and needed someone to sit by her bedside.  As soon as I came, I took a picture of her sleeping for Kris (he was on the phone with his family on the other side of the hospital where there was reception) and as I was talking to the nurse, she heard my voice and opened her eyes, reaching for me to hold her.  She was incredibly groggy, but did nod her head to questions as she dozed on and off until they moved us to her room.  She slept another two hours before she was awake enough to try some juice.  We had never seen her so tired after surgery!  We were ready to go home by 1:00, and she was very sweet about letting the nurse take out her IV and other monitors.  We thought she'd throw up in the van as we were leaving Nashville, but she held it in and never ended up vomitting the entire time.  The anesthesia team knew just what to give her to keep her juice down.  We got home in time for dinner, and she was ready for crackers.  She finally woke up enough to talk to us, but wasn't herself until the next morning.  

The morning after surgery, happy with her bow
Here are before and after pics of the results:

Before surgery #5 
Final result after three excisions (4 days post-op)
Before surgery #5- a bald spot that formed after the second excision to the scalp

After three excisions to scalp (four days post-op)
I'm going to be doing the "honors" of taking out her stitches again in about two weeks.  Believe me, it's no honor.  It's a necessary evil to avoid having to drive back to her surgeon in Nashville. In the meantime, she's going to be sporting a Pebbles ponytail, since she's insistent about wearing a bow (the morning after surgery she cried until I put one in- this girl can't go a day without a bow!).  
Little Lady has bounced back quickly and has already come off Tylenol after three days.  She is One Tough Little Cookie!  When I called her that before surgery this time, she clarified that she was a "chocolate chip" cookie!
Since our surgeries are over (Lord willing) I'll be posting about various other subjects on this blog.  God has taught me many lessons along this journey, and now that we have more free time as our kids grow (imagine that!) I can spend more time writing things down and sharing them with others.  
This season in my life is a unique one, not a necessary one.  I can either wallow in pity about the things I must sacrifice as a mother of four "littles", or see the beauty God has placed in the midst of seemingly mundane, every day happenings.  I may not be exploring the Himalayas for unreached people groups, feeding the homeless in a third world country, or even reaching the many in our community who have needs every day, but I am raising children who could one day be doing all these things themselves.
Why did the Lord give me three boys who are hard working, determined, little sponges who love to talk about Jesus?  Why did He gift us with our daughter, who is a living testimony of the redemption of God and his mercy, who has a tender and moldable heart?  I may never see this side of heaven all the impacts our family is presently making for eternity.  While we aren't a typical American family (we kind of stick out around here), we will never have a book written about us. This blog will never go viral like those amazing moms and wives out there whose articles are so inspiring to me.   Nevertheless, I resolve to live every day to please my Savior and bring glory to Him in the noisy, sweet snuggly, boo-boo filled, classwork saturated, dirty kneed, messy bedroom, filled-up sink days in our home.
Thanks for all your prayers, texts, sweet words of encouragement and concern, and support of Anna Faith's journey.  She is one special little girl, and I know her "future is as bright as the promises of God". (Quote taken from William Carey).

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Facebook's wake-up call to the hearts of all Christians

I look at people's Facebook posts and they make me think a lot.  What is the motivation behind sharing your thoughts, news, and memories for the entire world to see?  Many of us have a mixture of reasons, and sometimes they can veer out of control.  Sure we love to keep communication open with far-away friends and family, share news and invites with those close-by, and make everyone laugh at good-natured happenings in our lives.  But the longer one lingers on our news feed and the more they read and respond to posts, the more ugly heart issues can be revealed from beneath our activity on our nicely organized, beautifully presented profiles.
We love to look good.  When do you ever see a mom friend who has just gotten out of bed in the morning toting a half-dressed, soggy-diapered baby on her hip ask her husband to take their photo and post it on Facebook?  It rarely happens, y'all. And how many of us have cropped out our muffin tops when we forgot to suck them in?  Can we have a confession? Then there are those who abuse photo shop....  I think you get the idea. We crave praise and honor.  Admit it. We quote Scripture sometimes out of the motivation, not to inspire someone to follow Christ more, but to look more holy ourselves. Ouch.  We want our family to be seen as superior.  It is almost unheard of to see a parent praise and uplift another parent's child of the same age as theirs.  How often do you see your kid's classmate's parent get on Facebook and say "Congratulations to Jane Doe's little Tommy for beating my little Johnny's t-ball team with a grand slam today!"  So that we can justify sharing it, We want to appear humble through prideful moments.  Ever read someone say "We are so blessed!" as they post a photo of a new fancy sports car or very expensive home?  I have read a famous conservative blogger make the statement that we are the most egocentric generation of humans to ever occupy the planet earth.  "Out of the recesses of our hearts our mouths (or keypads) speak". (Luke 6:45) It's easy to let that craving for acceptance and popularity spill out onto a newsfeed when you have 800+ people as your audience every.single.day.

Facebook and other social media can dig at every vulnerability our fragile egos hold.
- when you see that childhood friend post pictures of her fourth baby and a tinge of envy stirs within you on a day when you are trying to stay content with your lonely only
- when you see someone celebrate the purchase of their enormous house when you have never had the means to buy even a starter home
-when those friends celebrate success upon success of their children's accomplishments, seemingly flaunting them on the screen with photos of awards, honors, and recognitions, while your own child with a learning disability or behavioral problem struggles just to behave well and study enough to keep up with his peers
The whole social media "blessing" can become a stronghold of bitterness, guilt, and jealousy.

How do we battle these emotions?  How can we overlook the possible motivations behind the people who appear to be boasting (when actually they may NOT be).  How can we not respond with competitiveness and try to outdo their number of "likes" or comments?  Is there a passage in Scripture that can help us and guide us in this area?  
I battle these feelings all the time.  Like Paul states in 1 Timothy 1:15 "I am the chief of sinners."   I am tempted (and sometimes give in) to the urge to respond, and in turn look smaller, more immature, and prouder than I appeared before.  It is an ugly cycle.
So should we as Christians who are vulnerable to these sinful actions avoid social media?  Should we delete our accounts so we can live purer and holier lives and be more content with the blessings we have been given?  Should we de-friend or block everyone who posts things that tempt us to stumble?  Some would say yes to all of this.  I don't condemn you for doing so.  If your right eye causes you to sin, you must pluck it out, right? (Matthew 5:29) You are taking action for removing what is an irresistible temptation.  If this is the course you feel God wants you to take, then I commend your decision to do so.
Facebook and other social media is like many technological advances we have been given in this day in age; it can be a blessing and a curse at the same time.
So how can we best safeguard those impulses to feed those innate desires to receive what our sinful natures crave?

#1: Remind ourselves that our identity comes not from what is around us, but Who is within us.  Deuteronomy 7:6: For you are a people holy to the Lord your God.  the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.  I am a treasured, adopted child of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords!  It can't get any better than that!

#2: Remember that we should always strive to please our Savior, not our audience. 1 Corinthians 10:31: So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

#3: Reflect on your emotional reaction to someone else's accomplishment and ask yourself "Is this humility or pride?"  Pray for that person to be even more blessed if your answer is pride (that will keep your heart in check, guaranteed!) Proverbs 11:2: When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom. 

#4: Respond to posts with this Scripture in mind.  Philippians 2:1-4: "Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.That is the mind of Christ!

#5: Renew your mind with God's promises in His Word every time you are envious or discouraged by others who appear to be liked more than you.  Remember what really matters is the applause and approval of God.  Galatians 1:10: Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God?  Or am I trying to please people?  If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.   

#6: Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who morn (Romans 12:15)  Pray for them when they need it, and encourage them when they are dejected and hopeless.  Don't judge them by their apparent motives for posting, but remember that we should love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)  I'm not saying condone what God's Word says is wrong.  If I see a post a sister in Christ made displaying and talking about obvious sin, will I "like" her status to show support?  No.  That is what she is seeking to ease the conviction in her heart.  Should I pray for her and look for opportunities to point her to God's Word and restoration?  Absolutely.

Facebook, Twitter, and other social media can be used as a tool for us to be ministers of peace, a light in the darkness, and ambassadors for our Savior.  Sure, everyone is going to mess up every now and then in a moment of pride and weakness, and this is an opportunity for each of us to show grace.  Christlikeness is a continual process.  

I am just beginning to sort this out.  If you have useful ideas that have worked for you, I highly encourage you to share them in the comments section so all of us can benefit!  I don't want this post to be seen as a guideline, but as a motivator to examine our hearts. Hopefully this can be a springboard to discuss, share, and keep each other accountable as we strive daily to have hearts more like Jesus and less like the world.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Another one-week countdown

Surgery #5....I was really hoping we'd never have to reach that number.  Anna Faith has always been so tough and recovers quickly, but the agony of waiting, the risks of anesthesia, the torture of stitches removed at home by a reluctant mommy nurse, I was hoping it was all behind us.  But unfortunately, it isn't.
Our Little Lady has another plastic surgery to endure.  It is scheduled for 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday, January 20th.  The removal of one of the large nevi on her scalp healed poorly, causing a half-dollar sized bald spot to form due to new skin growing in over a 2 month period as the incision site pulled apart and wouldn't heal properly after surgery #3 last year.  She also has a jagged scar line along the front of her neck where Dr. Chester couldn't neatly cut the second half of the nevus there last summer.  She left several tiny dots around the line as well, so this time she can get all of them and create a smaller, less noticeable incision line that won't be so obvious as her neck grows.

Christmas 2014

Her first United States Passport

Every surgery is scary.  Fortunately, we know what to expect and know many of the staff with anesthesia and outpatient surgical services by name.  They love to see Anna Faith come as she greets everyone and is polite and cooperative (at least before surgery!).  We still covet your prayers as every time she goes under general anesthesia there can always be a complication.  There are always risks and we know that ultimately God is in control, not the physicians, anesthesiologists, or nursing staff.  Please pray for peace for our hearts, pain and nausea control for Anna Faith, and skilled, complete work for the hands of Dr. Chester as she hopefully cuts and stitches Anna Faith's skin up for the last time.

After surgery I hope to give this blog a cleaning up and try to add some new tabs.  My heart is always learning new lessons as our family grows and I want to share them with others to encourage, motivate, and teach through experiences I encounter in this life.

On a boat tour to see dolphins on the Gulf of Mexico

Making sand pizza