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My Facebook status the day after my dad woke up and began speaking again in the hospital:

This is going to sound melodramatic, but do me a favor: give your dad a huge, long squeeze. Tell him you love him. Have a long conversation with him, just to hear his voice. Today I’m crying and grateful because my dad couldn’t stay awake even a minute yesterday, and couldn’t say anything more than two words. I went to sleep praying that God would just allow me the opportunity to have a conversation with Him today. He answered that prayer. Things are getting better, so thank you for all the prayers! But if this has taught me anything, it’s that life is fragile. The little things-like hearing your dad speak-are the big things.”

 Life can change in a heartbeat. In a late night call or a down economy. In a ferocious storm or a devastating diagnosis. In a divorce, a death, or even in the very midst of our every-day lives.

So many times in life tragedy hits our blind spot, and we never realize it’s coming until we hear the crunch of metal and recognize we’ve collided with it.

It’s then we learn the fragility of life. But it’s also when we learn to treasure time as well.

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve written and re-written this blog post. I feel as though the message is such an important one, and it’s been burning in my heart to share for quite a while now. I can never say it the right way, so I finally decided to share it anyway. This may be messy and not the most well-written piece, but maybe that’s sort of fortuitous. Because life is sometimes messy, and it doesn’t always look good or make sense on paper either.

Some of it started with the wildfires. As I watched the wildfires in Colorado take in a matter of minutes what others had spent years building, the injustice of it all shot through my heart like an arrow.

Fire doesn’t play favorites. It doesn’t care how greatly we treasure something, nor how closely we guard it. I heard the phrase over and over again as I watched the news, “You never think it’ll happen to you.”

I really began to learn the lesson when my dad went into the hospital. The day before my dad landed in the back of an ambulance, I could have never imagined him unable to stay awake for even a full minute or say more than two words.

But here’s the thing: none of us are guaranteed tomorrow. We’re only given today.

It’s a terrifying feeling when you realize just how fragile life really is, am I right? Suddenly the whole world feels about as safe as an abandoned alleyway.

It’s one of the most painful lessons to learn. Fire burns mercilessly and leaves scars. But it also teaches us a very important lesson we wouldn’t learn any other way.

Though we may consider something as sacred and untouchable, nothing in this life is truly sacred and untouchable except for the Lord Almighty.

That’s not necessarily a comforting thought. It may not seem like the price we pay to receive that revelation is worth it. But there is deep comfort in knowing the truth: though life can change on a whim, the Bible tells us the unfailing love of God never changes.

Maybe you know what it feels like to have something burn. Or maybe you live in fear of a coming fire. Either way, if we stare into the fire too long, it can begin to look hopeless. It stings the eyes and scorches the soul.

But dear one, listen to me: our hope is not in this world. Our hope is in Him.

He came to deliver and rescue you from the fire. Not only that, loved one-He came to walk with you through the fire: “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:1-2.)

Whoever or wherever you are today, please know I am praying for you. Please know I care for you and whatever fiery trial you may be going through.

But also know this: you can meet with the Savior today. In the very middle of your pain. In the very middle of the fire. And when you do, He will have healing for your hurts. Peace for your pain. And He will have love to wash over your fear.

How do I know? Because like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, He was with me in the fire, too:

So touched by God’s abundant love, mercy, and grace. A week ago today my dad couldn’t even get a straw to his mouth, let alone stay awake for a few seconds. Circumstances said he should have died, gone into a coma, had a seizure, or suffered brain damage. But God said otherwise. Today he defied the odds and walked into church to praise his God, raising the same hands that could barely move last week. The same voice that couldn’t say more than two words, and the mind that kept shutting down. I don’t know about you, but that sure sounds like a miracle to me. He is all deserving of praise!

(My Facebook status a week after the first.)

I Hear Ya: Please share how I can pray for you today, or about a time when God delivered you from a fiery trial, and let’s lift up and encourage one another today!

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Part I: Speechless

There is no fear until you’ve faced the fear of wondering if one of your loved ones will make it through the night.

Last month, I had to face that fear as my dad went in and out of the hospital. I learned a lot through that time, and my perspective changed on many things. The blessings God has given have made me speechless. But I’ll go into more detail on that with Part II of this post. Right now, I just want to tell a story. The story not as it ended, but as it began-before I learned the lessons.

When Dad first went into the hospital, we didn’t think he was suffering from anything more serious than food poisoning. The doctor sent him home with instructions to drink lots of fluids. Mom and Dad were on their way home when they got a call telling them to come back to the hospital immediately. The results from a test were back, and Dad’s sodium levels were so low that he was in critical condition and could have a seizure at any time. Normal sodium levels for most people are between 130-140; Dad was at 113.

That was scary, but they immediately hooked him up to an IV, and his sodium levels began to rise. The doctors didn’t seem concerned and told us he could go home on Sunday, so we counted our blessings for having caught it in time and looked forward to his homecoming.

However, something in my heart told me he wasn’t coming home that particular Sunday. I called Mom that morning to see how he was doing, and knew immediately from her voice it wasn’t good.

“He’s slurring his speech, Lizzie. And he can’t stay awake.”

My heart plummeted with her words.

I packed my bag right then, knowing I needed to get to the hospital as soon as possible. Right now he was still talking and still pretty cognizant. What if he slipped into a coma and this was the last time I got to speak to him? I needed to get there while he was still aware enough to understand what I was saying. I needed to see him awake at least once more. I needed to tell him I loved him and have him understand.

When I arrived, the doctor made my sisters and I leave the room so she could talk to Mom. I knew that wasn’t good, and I was mad. We were his family. Didn’t she know Mom needed us? Who wants to hear bad news alone? We should be there to support her!

Once we were allowed back in, Mom was sobbing and inconsolable. The doctor told us Dad had a tumor on his Pituitary, and we girls were going to have to be strong for Mom. On one hand, I agreed with the doctor. I stepped up to the challenge. The other part of me asked: but who will be strong for me?

The nurse wheeled Dad in from his CAT scan, and the room grew quiet. I could barely recognize the strong, brave man I’d known and loved all my life. He sat in a hospital gown his shoulders seemed too wide for; a wheelchair his legs seemed too long for. Hospitals, wheelchairs-they were for frail, old people. Not this man. Not my dad.

He looked haggard. He covered his face. He tried to speak, and his voice was hoarse. Only two words emerged: “What now?”

The sight broke my heart. I wanted so badly to be brave and strong for this man who had always been brave and strong for me. I recognized in him the person I’d been at different times of my life-maybe not physically, but at least emotionally. Times when I’d been broken, discouraged, wondering, “What now?” And I wondered how he’d always found the right words to say.

Mom replied that we would be taking him in an ambulance to St. Mary’s.

He tried to drink from a straw, and I watched as he missed his mouth twice before taking a drink.

He fell asleep in the middle of the day, and we gathered around him to pray. I wanted so much to pray. To cry out to God, to speak hope into this situation and to be brave for everyone else around me. To remind them-and myself-that God was with us.

But I stayed mute. What could I say? What words could express the anguish of my soul? What plea would be desperate enough to plead for the life of my father? What words to explain the depth of my confusion? Words were empty. So I let my soul cry out instead.

I nearly cried when our dear friends who’d come to the hospital found the words for us. They said the things I wanted to, but couldn’t find. They asked for healing, strength, peace, answers.

We ended the prayer. Mom’s face blanched, and I followed her gaze to find out why. A stretcher was outside waiting.

Suddenly desperate, I asked Mom if I could hug him before they took him. I needed to touch him. To tell him those three words. To wake him up.

I needed to find a way to wake him up. If I didn’t, he might never wake up.

I hugged him tightly, and suddenly I didn’t want to let go. I knew my sisters were waiting for their turn, but I stayed where I was. My face was buried in his chest as it had been so many times before, but I’d never been so eager in my life to stay there. How had I taken this for granted before?

I finally drew back. “I love you, Dad.”

His eyes fluttered, and he focused on me for an instant.

“Bye, Dad. I’ll see you soon, okay?”

He nodded once, his eyelids fluttering back shut. He briefly pressed his lips into a kiss as he always did to say goodbye, and I almost cried. At least he could still understand.

When we arrived at the ER room of St. Mary’s, the doctor told us the Pituitary Tumor was nothing to worry about; it was very large and would need to be removed, but it wasn’t what was causing his problem now. He didn’t know what was causing his problem now.

95% of the time Pituitary Tumors were not cancerous, so he wasn’t concerned about that; what concerned him was the sudden change in my dad. From being healthy and normal the day before, to slurring his speech and having mental fogginess a day later after no significant trauma puzzled him. He’d treat him for an infection and would stop by later to check on him, but that was all he could do for now.

I remember reading the sign above me as we were transferred to a nicer room: “Neuro Trauma.”

Mom and I opted to spend the night in the hospital room with Dad. I slept in a chair, while Mom slept in a chair that rolled out into a bed beside me. She instantly fell asleep from the stress of the day, but I couldn’t even close my eyes.

I stared at Dad in the bed. I just wanted him to be himself again. To have a conversation with him, like we always did. Dad and I loved a good talk. It’s what we did. I wanted him to hear, respond, and understand. I wanted to hear his voice. I wanted my daddy back.

The tears came to my eyes, and in the dark I begged God, “Please, please, please. Let my dad be normal again tomorrow. Please let me talk to him again. Please just let me wake up to him talking and acting like himself.”

I prayed the same thing over and over until finally God answered. With a strong and confident voice that felt like arms wrapping around me, He said, “You will.”

You will… Finally at peace, I fell asleep.

I woke up several times during the night to nurses checking on Dad, poking him for blood draws, and asking him his birth date.

They’d shake his shoulder and say, “Terry? Terry? Terry?” It would always take at least three tries to wake him.

At one point they asked him to cross his arms on his chest. Confused, he rolled to his side. “No, like this,” the nurse said, demonstrating it for him. He finally got it on the third or fourth try.

Once I woke during the night to the whisper, “His fever’s back up.”

I had a dream. A peaceful dream. Dad was fine, and walking and talking normally. He was carrying a suitcase of some kind, and we were going home.

I opened my eyes. My heart sank. It had only been a dream. He was still laying in the bed. We were still in the hospital. And even though it was morning, he was still asleep.

Mom got up, and we talked for a little while. Not long after that, Dad opened his eyes. And he spoke. And he didn’t slur. He’d made it through the night, and he was here. Really here.

I spoke to him, and he responded normally and as himself. No longer slow, no longer with a slur. Completely awake and present. I smiled through the tears as several whispers throughout the night came back to me in a rush…

Terry, Terry, Terry.

His fever’s back up.

I squeezed Dad’s hand and savored the sound of his voice.

You will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello, readers! I have a special treat for you today. (And no, for once, it has nothing to do with fear.) The blog I normally use for book reviews hasn’t been working of late, so I decided to share one here!

Please read on to see what I thought of Sandra Byrd’s The Secret Keeper.

Title: The Secret Keeper

Author: Sandra Byrd

Publisher: Howard Books

Pages: 352

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

First there was To Die For: A novel of Anne Boleyn. Now Sandra Byrd returns to regale us with The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr.

As King Henry VIII’s last wife, Kateryn Parr enters a world of opposition and intrigue when she steps into his court. The story is told through the eyes of Juliana St. John-a young maiden who has come along to attend Kateryn.

The court may be full of trickery and deceit, but it is Juliana who may hold the biggest secret.

Not only does Juliana have the gift of prophecy, but in one of her visions she has also seen a prominent family friend shredding the dress of a very high-born woman.

Now Juliana is left to wonder: was she brought to the court for such a time as this? Will she have the courage to intervene when the time comes? And will she ever find true love of her own?

Once again, I couldn’t put this book down. I was transported to the very courts of King Henry himself. There was also a huge twist in the middle that completely surprised me.

Before reading The Secret Keeper I knew little of Kateryn Parr, so it was both fun and enlightening to get to know her through Byrd’s adaptation. She was a fascinating woman, and played a large role in the upbringing of Queen Elizabeth I.

Likewise, Juliana also played a strong female character. I especially loved how Byrd gave her the gift of prophecy. That’s something I’d never seen before in fiction, and I felt she made it both relevant and interesting.

The one and only reason I shaved off a star for The Secret Keeper was because I felt as if it was a little too similar to the first book, To Die For. Each book is set in King Henry VIII’s court, each has a queen with strong protestant leanings, and each has a lady’s maid who cannot have the love of her life because of social reasons. Because of the similarity between plots, it came down to a “Favorites” game: which was my personal favorite? For me, it was To Die For. So I feel as though I may be a little biased.

However, I’m confident those who haven’t read To Die For will find nothing to criticize in The Secret Keeper, and there are several variants to keep it interesting and worth reading for those who have.

There is one scene that depicts a rape, so please be advised.

But overall, I thought The Secret Keeper was fabulous. It’s one I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend, and I eagerly look forward to Byrd’s future installment: Roses Have Thorns: A novel of Elizabeth I.

Based on these first two books, I have a feeling this will be a strong series that readers won’t soon forget!

(Thanks to the author and Howard Books for giving me this book to review.)

Recently, I talked about the fear of being still. (If you missed that post, you can read it here:https://thefearlist.wordpress.com/2012/04/03/be-still/ ) If you’re constantly busy, feeling depressed and overwhelmed with the to-do list you can never get to the end of, and wanting to go deeper in your spiritual walk, then I’d highly recommend checking out Grace Fox’s book Peaceful Moments to Begin Your Day: Devotions for Busy Women.

To learn more and to find out why, read my review below.  

Review:

Title: Peaceful Moments to Begin Your Day: Devotions for Busy Women 

Author: Grace Fox

Publisher: Harvest House

Pages: 286

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Have you ever felt overwhelmed with all you have to get done? Felt as if you’d never reach the end of your to-do list? Struggled to catch your breath? Then I can relate.

I received Grace Fox’s book Peaceful Moments to Begin Your Day: Devotions for Busy Women at a time when I felt unbearably busy. There was schoolwork to be done, friends to call and wish a “Happy Birthday” to, blog posts to write, family business to attend to, and oh, yeah, I should probably read my Bible too.

So I drank in the title of her book and eagerly began reading, hoping against all hope that the book itself would deliver on what the title had promised.

To my great delight, it delivered on all that and more!

I literally began each day by reading Peaceful Moments to Begin Your Day and it truly became one of the few restful moments of my day. I felt so refreshed and inspired after reading, it quickly became something I looked forward to every morning.

Each devotion was long enough so as to deliver something of value, but short enough that I didn’t feel overwhelmed at the prospect of reading it. Every devotion included an “Upward Gaze” (a prayer to pray), an “Inward Glimpse” (questions to reflect on), an “Outward Glance” (a pre-written prayer to pray for someone else), and “One More Peek” (one final Scripture related to the topic to meditate on).

The devotions were full of personal stories and easy to read. I especially liked the “Outward Glance” sections of the book. At times, it can be difficult to know how or what to pray for our loved ones, and often the “Outward Glance” portion for the day would be exactly what I needed and couldn’t seem to find the words to say.

I’d only recommend this book to two types of people, and they are these: If you are A) busy, or B) a woman.

If either of those things describe you, pick up this book, ladies! You won’t regret it.

Strange Praying II

Hello everyone! First off, I just want to offer my sincere apologies for being away so long, and let you know that I miss you all terribly! It’s killing me to not be as able to blog as often, and I’m hoping to get back into the swing of things soon!

School has heated up for me in work load, and I’m finding myself in the process of beginning to write a book, which I’m very excited about! But that also makes me one very busy lady.

I’ll be posting as often as I can in the next few months, however! Prayers would be greatly appreciated if you happen to think of me. 🙂

The lovely Jennifer Slattery recently had me on her blog to talk about my fear of praying out loud and of reaching out to someone in her Reach Out to Live Out Campaign, so I thought I’d share that with you all here! I originally posted this story on October 21, 2010, but in case you missed it, you can read it at Jennifer’s blog here: http://jenniferslatterylivesoutloud.com/2012/06/04/when-god-says-stay/#comments.

Thank you, and I’ll hope to talk to you again soon!

Recently, God has really been working on my heart with my fear of reaching out to others. It can be a scary thing to reach out to someone. It can stretch us out of our comfort zone and leave us wondering if we really can make a difference. But as my friend Jennifer found out, it can also be very rewarding.

Today I’m welcoming back Jennifer Slattery to share about a time when she was afraid, and how God worked through that experience. In this post, she’ll also be sharing more about her “Reach Out to Live Out” campaign-a project I am extremely excited about, and one I hope you’ll join with me in supporting.

Read on to find out more, and let’s welcome Jennifer!

Die to Self is Figurative-Right, Lord?

by Jennifer Slattery

I sat sandwiched between my husband and chattering daughter, forcing a smile while my insides catapulted. We were headed to El Salvador, traveling by plane, and I was ready to hurl. Passengers sauntered on, smiling as if they had no idea how many planes crashed in the past ten years. Okay, so neither did I, but I’d seen a news clip or two. Besides, percentages aside, it only took once to kill you.

They say flying gets easier the more you do it. Not true. The way I figure it, the more you fly, the higher the probability you’ll crash. It’s a statistics thing. And yes, all these thoughts raced through my head the entire flight. They reached a crescendo when darkness fell, a storm hit, and jagged lightning zipped through the night sky. At one point, the plane actually dropped. Trying to assure me, my husband said that was only because we were going through the mountains. I didn’t find his explanation helpful. Before we reached baggage claim, I told my husband I never wanted to fly again.

Sitting on the plane a week later, after spending time with sweet orphan girls, I started to think about how I might return. How could so much change in such a short time? God allowed twenty-eight giggling girls to grab hold of my heart.

It’s funny how things changed once I turned my eyes off myself and started to let God love others through me. My fears diminished and my excitement grew.

Serving has a way of doing that—of forcing one out of self-imposed misery and inviting one to be part of something bigger than one’s sel. More than that, it allows one to rise above the here and now to catch a glimpse of eternity. I’ve seen this happen again and again. When people begin to join God’s love-circle, sadness turns to joy, hopelessness turns to purpose, and isolation gives way to community. There’s no greater adventure this side of heaven, and in my opinion, there’s no better way to fully experience the love of Christ.

Jesus said He came that we may have life, and have it to the full, only first we have to surrender. But oh, what a glorious gift we get in return!

“For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will save it” Luke 9:24 (NIV).

For me, my moment of fear, once placed in God’s hands, resulted in a beautiful blessing that drastically changed the way I view the world. It enabled me to experienced God’s love on a deeper level and stirred within a passion for orphans.

What about you? I’d love to hear about a time when God pushed you to reach out, even though it was hard. Who knows, your story may encourage others to do the same! I’ve launched a “Reach Out to Live Out” campaign to encourage others to join the great adventure. My prayer is when people read about some of the big or small ways other believers are reaching out, they’ll be encouraged to do the same. Want to join me? Send your “Reach Out” story, photo, or video to jenniferaslattery(at)gmail(dot)com, and I’ll post it on my blog. You might even win something! Visit http://jenniferslatterylivesoutloud.com/reach-out-donors/  to find out more.   

***

Jennifer Slattery lives in the Midwest with her husband and daughter. She writes for Christ to the World Ministries, the ACFW Journal, Internet Café Devotions, and Jewels of Encouragement. You can connect with her online at her devotional blog at

http://jenniferslatterylivesoutloud.com or via Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/JenSlatte

The Soul’s Ibuprofen

Once upon a time, there was a girl who was afraid to reach out to others. Out of that fear, she wrote a farewell letter in her heart:

Dear Compassion,

I’m afraid it’s time for me to move on. You see, I have too much to do to waste any time with you. I can’t slow down to listen to you if I want to get any work done. Besides, listening to you only brings me more misery. I have enough pain of my own, and you want me to add even more to my burdens by taking on others’ hurt? It’s much more productive to focus on my own worries and troubles.

How do I know these people even want my help? I’d probably only make things worse. What if I say the wrong thing? Reach out to them only to have them reject me in return? Or worse, draw them away from God?

No, no. I think everyone would be far better off if I just said goodbye to you, Compassion. You take me out of my comfort zone, and you make me feel things that I can do nothing about. Not everyone can make a difference. I certainly can’t. The only thing you bring me is more pain-pain that I can’t fix. It’s time for me to protect my heart.

Farewell, Compassion. I hope you understand-it’s easier on everyone this way.

 

But God wasn’t ready to give up on the girl. One day, He spoke to her through a song:

After listening to the song, the tears flowed down her face. With shame, she realized just how hard her heart had become, and she wrote a prayer pleading with God to bring compassion back into her life:

 

Help me see tragedy, and

Break me out of complacency,

So I can help the poor and needy.

 

Take away the umbrella,

So I can feel the rain,

And take away the soul’s ibuprofen,

So I can feel the pain.

 

Give me arms to hug and heal,

Give me knees that bend and kneel.

Give me a heart sensitive to your Word,

Help me set the captives free as a bird.

Give me calloused hands and skinned knees,

Oh, Father, please!

Give me tears that cry for change,

Put room in my heart, rearrange,

Break me, pour me out;

Oh, love’s what life’s about.

 

Put me in the ICU with the mom holding her son’s hand,

And place me in the impoverished land.

Let me feel the burning hunger of another,

And taste the stinging tears of my fellow brother.

Put me in the trench where the fear and blood is thick,

And in the child whose body is so sick.

Give me a heart tender and compassionate,

Oh, Lord, I want to be sent.

 

Jesus placed his feet on sinner’s land,

Accepted our hurt with an open hand.

Got his hands dirty and made a stand,

Touched and healed the leper’s hand.

Took on our sickness and pain,

Washed us anew in Heaven’s rain.

Walked into our darkness and gave us the light,

Took on our blindness and gave us sight.

Took our wounds and healed our souls,

Became broken so we became whole.

 

Became a prisoner so we could be free,

Walked through the fire with me.

Left heaven’s throne,

So I would never be alone.

 

‘Twas love that led him up to Calvary,

And ’tis love that says, “Take up your cross and follow me.”

My eyes, once blind, now see-

With perfect love comes bravery.

 

God honored that girl’s prayer, and for the first time in a long while she noticed the starving children on her television, and felt the tears stream down her cheeks. She noticed the sadness hiding behind her friend’s eyes, and remembered there were many who lived in darkness, just longing for the light. Light she could share with them.

The girl began to pray more, speak out more, and even cry more. But instead of adding to her burdens, it made her feel alive and free-as if a part of her had been re-awakened. And things around her began to change.

She has more purpose in her step now, more joy within her heart. For she realized that when you are loving is when you’re truly living. And she realized what the devil had been lying to her about for years, and it was this: that she could make a difference.

Now she lives in the truth, and the truth has set her free.

Once upon a time there was a girl, and that girl was me.