Hope in the Lord: Philip's 1 year anniversary with Crohn's Colitis

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Monday marked one year since Philip started bleeding rectally. He was four.

Anniversaries are a funny thing. On the one hand, you are thankful for how far you’ve come. On the other hand, those anniversaries bring back to mind those dark days, and it’s almost like you can taste the worry and anxiety that you once felt.

When Philip started bleeding we were very concerned. Perhaps we would not have been so concerned had not just two weeks prior (the first week of December), I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. A week and a half before my colonoscopy, I woke up and saw blood when I went to the bathroom. Following my colonoscopy, I remember groggily getting into the car with the help of a nurse and looking at Osvaldo as soon as the door closed. I could tell then he was sad. He told me I had ulcerative colitis, and I cried. Receiving a diagnosis, even if it isn’t cancer, makes you feel vulnerable, fragile, and aware of your mortality.

But it wasn’t just my recent diagnosis that made us worry that December Monday. Osvaldo had been suffering from ulcerative colitis for 12 years! What was so strange was that our gastro doctor said our colitis was identical—in the same spots of our colon. I didn’t know whether I should be angry with God that we both had an identical disease or laugh because what are the odds! I told a friend, rather sarcastically, we should just be called, The Colitis Family.

When Philip began bleeding, we were concerned but it was difficult for us to believe that it was related to colitis at first. It would be too coincidental that he would start showing symptoms for colitis three weeks after I did.

That week was not only the longest week of our lives to that point but it ushered us into a very dark time. I’m crying even now remembering.

Four days before my bleeding began, I gave two talks on Matthew 6:25-34 at my church for its Fall Coffee event. In this passage Jesus addresses anxiety. “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life … Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” I told the women who had gathered for coffee that Thursday morning that circumstances change in our lives but our faith is in One who doesn’t change and who loves us. God is a good Father who loves us even when our circumstances might try to tell us otherwise. It’s interesting that the appeal to not be anxious comes after the Lord’s Prayer. I argued that it is within the context of prayer that we are able to be strengthened when worry and anxiety overcome us. “For your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt. 6:8). Little did I know how much I would need this sermon, this reminder that God is good and He loves us no matter what our circumstances would have us believe.

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A year ago Monday began a long journey and one we are still on. That week in December took us down a dark internal journey as well. As parents you love your child more than anything in this world, and when something abnormal begins to happen it triggers the fear of every parent—that of losing their child. Coupled with that fear is the fear of your child suffering, of your child not developing, of your child being left behind, etc.

This Sunday we will mark one year when we took him to the ER because the bleeding had increased. Next week will mark one year that Osvaldo and I were convinced that Philip had colitis and when we finally got Philip an appointment with Children’s of Alabama Pediatric Gastroenterologists for early January. This Christmas Eve and Christmas will mark a year when, as we were in Texas, Osvaldo and I were so troubled in spirit that it cast a shadow over the holiday. We hardly could put forward a smile or sing happily along with carols without crying. We were tense as we both dealt with worry and sorrow differently. We remember those nights in Texas as Philip lay asleep looking at him with worry about what lay ahead.

“My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’ … Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Ps. 42: 3, 5a)

A dear friend put it so well: “I was afraid of not knowing and I was afraid of knowing.”

We lived for more than two months of not knowing. I will never forget the first doctor’s appointment with Philip’s gastro doctor. Philip knew something was wrong with his body. As he sat on the paper-covered office table waiting to be seen, his face became worried and his lips began quivering. He was scared. I held him, and he cried. We all cried; we were all scared.

It would take an hour and a half for his colonoscopy to finish in late February. When the doctor came in to see us, he broke the news that Philip had colitis. But given the location of his colitis, they felt like it was behaving more like Crohn’s Colitis. Prior to the exam, we had come to terms with a colitis diagnosis but worried about Crohn’s. Colitis is much easier to deal with than Crohn’s. Colitis only affects the colon; Crohn’s affects the throat all the way down to the rectum. When we heard the word Crohn’s, we were crushed. Osvaldo and I held each other and for the first time sobbed deeply. Relieved to finally have a diagnosis, we also broke down under its weight.

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Anniversaries are a funny thing. They not only bring up the memories of that one day but they set into motion remembering what follows that day. Perhaps because Monday’s anniversary marked a new way of living for our family: giving Philip medicines three times a day, hospital stays for complications, change in diet, pain management, etc. Monday’s anniversary reminds us that Philip has an incurable disease.

But we have a lot to be thankful for. Monday, on his one year anniversary, Philip is not showing any signs of blood. He’s gaining weight; he’s growing. He’s happy, and doing well in school. He’s alive. There are many medicines on the horizon for Crohn's and colitis and much research is being done. Who knows? Perhaps one day his disease will be curable! We also recognize there are many parents whose children receive a diagnosis that ends in death. We remember that many parents will be celebrating Christmas this year without their child. Osvaldo and I pray for these parents often.

It’s been a difficult year, but what I said on Nov. 13 is still true, even--or perhaps especially so--after our diagnoses. Even while we walked through the valley of the shadow of death, God was with us. His presence sustained us. His Word was our food. The psalmist responds to his own question, Why are you cast down, O my soul, not with a because. Like me, perhaps the psalmist knew exactly why he was cast down. But he answers with what will lead his soul out of the place of deep sorrow. “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” Hope in God. That’s all we could do. All we could mutter to God in prayer was “Have mercy.” But it’s not what we were able to do this past year but what God did. He sustained us. He held onto us. He enabled us to hope. He enabled our feeble prayers. He did not let anyone snatch us out of his hand (John 10:28). And He was with us and will continue to be with us on this journey. Thanks be to God.

Prayer Wednesdays: You alone are good

Dear Heavenly Father,

You make all things new. In you alone is life, light, peace, and all things good. And yet you give these things to us to share in -- life, light, peace, goodness; what a gift! You are a good Father, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love, and patient. Your mercies are new everyday, and I stand in awe of you. I, who am created in your image to look like my Father, am in awe of that relationship with you. I pray two things for my life: that the name of the Lord Jesus may be glorified in me and that the Word of the Lord may go forth as a light to the nations.

Forgive my many sins, those things that break your heart. With each passing day may my sins decrease until the day I see you face to face and they are completely gone.

I know you are with us and have brought my family to this place. May we draw so much closer to you and simultaneously draw closer to one another. Protect us from bodily harm and from spiritual attacks. You alone are good and your mercies they fail not.

I submit to you. Conform me to your likeness, and give me ears to listen to your voice.

In your precious, most Holy Name, my Father and Savior Jesus Christ,

Amen.

The God Who Covers Our Shame

TGWCOS

When we sin as Christians, we immediately (should) feel shame.

When I lose my temper with my spouse or child, when I hurt a friend with my words, when I break the rules, or when I lie, what inevitably results is shame. I feel so ashamed I don't know how to face myself let alone God. What will God think of me? Will he still love me? Will he be able to forgive me again or for such a sin as this?

These are thoughts and questions many of us experience in the heat of our shame. How do I approach God? How will God respond? Many times in my shame I want to run away or hide from God. Have you been to that place?

I think a good place to turn in our Bibles to address these questions is to the very beginning. Prior to the Fall, the author of Genesis describes the condition of the first man and woman in the garden as that of innocence and purity. They "were both naked and were not ashamed" (Gen. 2:25) as a result of being in a right relationship with God.

Then some time later the serpent enticed the first couple with his lies and the woman and man fell for it and sinned against God. Because of their sin, they went from being in a state of honor to a state of shame. "Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked."

They tried covering up their nakedness, their shame, with some fig leaves, but when God came "walking in the garden in the cool of the day" they still hid themselves even though they were "clothed."

"But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, 'Where are you?' And he said, 'I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.'"

Why was Adam still afraid of being naked if the text just told us he and Eve had made clothes for themselves? There are several possible reasons. Possibly "because I was naked" meant he was now conscious that he was naked. Possibly because his attempt at clothing was poorly done and he still felt ashamed to be naked. Possibly because it signified that he ate the fruit and sinned. I think all three possibilities are very plausible. The point is that when Adam and Eve sinned it caused distrust in their relationship with God that was once full of trust.

But God, after issuing the punishment that was justly deserved, looked upon this first couple whom He had made with compassion and mercy. He saw them in their misery and shame and before sending them away performed an act of mercy. He clothed them. "And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them" (3:21).

God takes their shame and covers it with grace. He replaces their poor attempt at clothes with something better that will cover them, protect them and keep them warm. To be sure, though, the garments -- this act of mercy -- came at a cost; it costed the lives of animals.

The beauty of this account is that it is both historical and universal. The Genesis account tells us the story of our ancestors as well as the story of our own humanity. This story, in addition to being about a particular time in history, is a dramatization of what happens every time we sin.

How often have you hid from the Lord because you were afraid and ashamed over your sin? Our sin breaks a trust that we have with our God and causes us to doubt and fear Him. But what I witness about the character of God from the very beginning proves to be true over and over in Scripture. That is that in our misery and shame God looks down on us with compassion and acts mercifully toward us.

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ -- by grace you have been saved -- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." (Eph. 2:4-7)

When you sin, instead of running away or hiding from God, turn to God in repentance knowing that He is rich in mercy and will look upon you with compassion.

Here is the cool thing. When Adam and Eve left the garden they left with clothes stained with the blood of animals. When we as the people of God reenter the garden we, too, will be clothed with garments made by God. But these garments will be white, and they will have come at a different cost. This time it will not be the cost of an animal, but rather it will have come at a greater cost — the blood of God, the incarnate Son.

"'...For the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure' — for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints."

"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law ... the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe."

God's mercy which was evident from the beginning continues throughout time, even to today, until the kingdom of God is fulfilled. So when you sin, when you experience great shame, turn to a God full of compassion and mercy who wants to meet you and cover your shame.

Forever and Ever and Ever: Reflections on eternity

Lake Today is a day that we mark the passing of time and the hope of time to come. It is precisely because we are thinking about time in the form of a new year today that I want to offer some reflections on when time will be no more. We call this eternity.

 

Humans are obsessed with time. One recent example can be seen in the movie Interstellar. We are bound by time. And, we have a love-hate relationship with it. Time moves us toward the end of our days on earth. We hate it. Time moves us past hurtful and painful pasts. We love it. With time comes aging bodies. With time comes new birth. We know no other reality than that which is time-bound.

 

So when we think of a place where time is nonexistent, it can be difficult to grasp. At least this has been my experience.

 

From the time I was a little girl the concept of eternity, living forever and ever and ever, made me upset. I could not wrap my mind around this other reality and it scared me. If you ask my parents they will tell you that many nights I would come into their bedroom crying and afraid because I had been pondering on the idea of eternity.

 

As I grew I taught myself not to think about it and to reign in my thoughts so that I wouldn’t upset myself. Although I was a Christian and looked forward to the day when I would be united with my God who loves me, I still struggled with the idea of living in a world where time did not exist.

 

At some point in our dating or engagement period, the conversation came up with my now husband. He said to me, “Kristen, here is how I think about it. Imagine a moment or moments in your life when you were enjoying something so much you lost all track of time. Perhaps there is a moment in which you said to yourself, ‘I don’t want this moment to ever end.’ I believe eternity with God will be like that but better. It will be a place where you lose all track of time (so to speak because time won’t exist) and where you will enjoy it so much that you wouldn’t want it to end.”

 

What he said was immensely helpful to me. For I realized that even in a time-bound-world I had already experienced many glimpses of eternity, glimpses of what it is like to enjoy something or someone so much that even for a moment time could seemingly stand still or stop.

 

These glimpses were there in the perfect sunrise in the mountains. In the beautiful sunset at the beach. In the first holding of my son. In the embrace of my spouse. In the arms of my mother. In the hands of my father. In the laughter with close friends. In the California weather. In the Spring. In the saying of my wedding vows. In my first kiss with my spouse. In the singing of worship songs to Christ. In these moments where time was forgotten, where I was thoroughly enjoying myself, and where I didn’t want it to ever end, I was given glimpses into what eternity will be like with the Triune God.

 

I say these things by way of analogy to help us reflect on a concept that is in some ways completely foreign to us.

 

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Rev. 21:1-4 (cf. Isaiah 65:17-19)

 

For those in Christ, those who have believed upon Jesus and have found forgiveness of sins, eternity with him is our greatest reward. For Christians, eternity is nothing to fear. We will have never experienced so much enjoyment as we will when we are with him. And oh what joy to know that time will not be able to steal that moment away from us — ever.

 

A few days ago I was sitting on the front porch of my mother-in-law’s home in south Florida at that golden hour leading up to the sunset where the sky has turned to hues of purples, pinks and golds. The weather was perfect, with the temperature sitting at somewhere in the mid-70s, humidity low, and a steady breeze. Her front porch overlooks a small lake surrounded by typical foliage you’d expect to see in south Florida: palm trees, bougainvilleas, bright pinks and oranges. Ducks were paddling in the lake leaving little ripples behind as they swam from one side to the other. I sat there for a long time enjoying the tranquility of the moment including the feast that had been rolled out for my five senses. I worshipped God in that moment and didn’t want it to end. Another glimpse into eternity.

 

I'm no longer afraid of eternity, a world without time. Rather, these moments I've mentioned have helped me to look forward to that glorious day “when Christ Jesus I shall see, and I shall look upon his face, the One who saved me by his grace. … What a day, what a glorious day it shall be!” And that day, my friends, will never end.

 

“There is coming a day, When no heart aches shall come, No more clouds in the sky, No more tears to dim the eye, All is peace forever more, On that happy golden shore, What a day, glorious day that will be.

What a day that will be, When my Jesus I shall see, And I look upon His face, The One who saved me by His grace; When He takes me by the hand, And leads me through the Promised Land, What a day, glorious day that will be.

There'll be no sorrow there, No more burdens to bear, No more sickness, no pain, No more parting over there; And forever I will be, With the One who died for me, What a day, glorious day that will be.

What a day that will be, When my Jesus I shall see, And I look upon His face, The One who saved me by His grace; When He takes me by the hand, And leads me through the Promised Land, What a day, glorious day that will be."

(Song: What A Day That Will Be; Written by: Jim Hill)

Advent devotional: God stooped

“Hallelujah!

Give praise, you servants of the LORD;

Praise the Name of the LORD. (1)

Let the Name of the LORD be blessed,

From this time forth for evermore. (2)

From the rising of the sun to its going down

Let the Name of the LORD be praised. (3)

The LORD is high above all nations,

And his glory above the heavens. (4)

Who is like the LORD our God, who sits enthroned on high,

But stoops to behold the heavens and the earth? (5)

He takes up the weak out of the dust

And lifts up the poor from the ashes. (6)

He sets them with the princes,

With the princes of his people. (7)

He makes the woman of a childless house

To be a joyful mother of children.” (8) (Psalm 113)

What may be an unfamiliar psalm during the Advent season sums up so well the reason we celebrate and worship God during this time -- God visited us. Or, as this psalm puts it, He stooped to behold us.

The first two verses of this Psalm give us its purpose. The psalmist cannot contain his joy over God's grace, mercy and love for His people. So he begins his song with praise to God and exhorts us to praise God along with him all day long and forevermore. But why should we praise God, you might ask? The psalmist answers this for us.

Just like I wrote in my first Advent post about how I was overwhelmed by the stark contrast between God's status and our status and yet how He came to us, the same is true of the psalmist. God is greater than all nations and His glory transcends higher than the heavens. He is seated on the highest post possible, higher than our imaginations can take us. He is so high that he looks down on both the heavens and the earth; neither can contain Him. He is that big! Then there is God's people. The imagery the psalmist uses is of one that describes the people being in extreme poverty and misery. They are as low as you can go. And, they are without dignity, as "the barren woman" suggests. Perhaps the psalmist had in mind Sarah, an old and barren woman, married to Abraham. Perhaps the psalmist had in mind his people when they were slaves in Egypt. There are many accounts in the Old Testament of which this psalm could be true.

The point, however, is that this God who is so great "stoops to behold" His people in order to raise the poor, lift the needy, give dignity, and make the barren women "the joyous mother of children." One scholar wrote, "This short hymn of praise celebrates the way in which the great and majestic God who rules over all takes notice of the lowly. … God's majesty never implies his remoteness from those who look to him; it implies instead his exhaustive attention to detail, and his inexhaustible ability to care for his faithful."*

As God intends, Scripture doesn't just point backwards or speak of present things, but it all points to His Son, Jesus Christ. In the Old Testament, God's stooping only came so far. He sent angels; He spoke through a burning bush; He worked through mighty acts of His people. But there came a day when God himself came to earth. As Philippians 2 tells us, Christ humbled himself. He left the majestic presence of the Trinity to become human. He didn't give up his deity, but became incarnate, both God and man, so that His name could be "Immanuel," which means "God with us."

As was true of Sarah, God made Mary pregnant. It was not because of her age that her pregnancy was a miracle. It was because she was a virgin. She had not had sexual relations with a man. There was also another who became pregnant, more like Sarah because of her age, and her name was Elizabeth. Unlike Mary, Elizabeth was not impregnated by the Holy Spirit but by her husband. Still her pregnancy was a miracle given her age. Elizabeth’s child, John, would prepare the way for the Christ child. In fact these two miracle pregnancies were indicators that God was up to something, was in the business of stooping to behold us.

Mary’s Song, the Magnificat, gets at this great reversal. God’s stooping results in the raising of the humble and poor in spirit and the demotion of the prideful and wicked.

The season of Advent, therefore, reminds us that God has not left us alone in our misery, in our poverty, or in our states of improbability. No; because of his great love for us He will raise us up to sit in the throne room of heaven with Him! "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)

The greatest irony of all is that in His stooping to notice the lowly, He himself became lowly. A baby. Born in a place where animals are kept. Born to a poor family. But He became lowly so that in raising Himself up from the dead He might also raise us up to walk in the newness of life with Him!

So with the psalmist I, too, say, "Hallelujah! Give praise, you servants of the LORD! Praise the Name of the LORD! Let the Name of the LORD be blessed, from this time forth and forevermore! From the rising of the sun to its going down let the Name of the LORD be praised!" Amen.

*See ESV Study Bible notes on Psalm 113.

Day 1 of Advent: He became small

IMG_2191 It took me from 10:30 a.m. yesterday morning until 8:30 last night to set-up, put lights on and decorate my 9-foot Christmas tree. During the midst of the endeavor my father-in-law asked me how many lights were on the tree. I stopped to give a good estimate and said, "3,000." He then asked if I knew how many hairs I had on my head. I laughed. "No, do you?" "Yes," he responded. "24,000." He laughed. Of course he didn't know. But God does.

Yes. I immediately thought of Matthew 10:30 and Luke 12:7. "Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows."

"Do you really think God knows how many hairs are on every person's head in the world?" my FIL asked. "Do you know how many people are in the world?" 7 billion people (I just checked!)  "Yes," I said. "Only God could be big enough to know that. Only a person who is bigger than the Universe, who created it all, who is so big that even the heavens cannot contain him, could know something like that."

Then my eyes glanced over to my WorldCrafts nativity to a little baby wood figurine of Jesus.  When I ponder the greatness and bigness of God in light of the story of Christmas, I am left in awe and wonder. The God of the Universe, the One who cannot be contained, became small through the Son, contained Himself in a woman's womb, became a baby, so that we might be reconciled to God. Take a moment to read John 1:1-18 and note the paradoxes.

Jesus was timeless but became time-bound. Jesus had no beginning yet was born. Jesus was God and was human. Jesus made all things yet was birthed through that which He created. God is unseen and yet God is seen through Jesus.

It's too wonderful; too lofty for me! The good news that our great God, Creator, Magnificent, Holy One sent the Second Person of the Trinity to become as small as a baby, so that we might see God, touch God, look upon God, and be reconciled with God puts me on my knees in a position of humility, love and gratitude to our great God and King!

This is the story of Christmas. God becoming man; God with us. Immanuel.

Happy Advent season! If you haven't experienced the great love of God through Jesus, I pray you will find it this Advent season. God bless.