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.

Prayer Wednesdays: A bountiful treasure

I love writing down my prayers. For me, writing prayers is a devotional experience. Starting on Wednesdays, I'd like to share portions of some of these prayers. My prayers, like everything else I write, do not carry the authority of Scripture. My words must always be tested and approved. However, I hope that through this form of devotional writing, that it will minister to your souls in ways that my other writings do not. And perhaps these prayers will draw you into a time of prayer as well. To the glory of God. Amen. 

"Your word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path." Psalm 119:105

"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Heavenly Father,

I open your Word, and it is like a treasure chest or treasure room filled with countless precious things. It is beyond rich, food that satisfies my soul. I never go hungry or in want when in your Word. Everywhere I turn I gaze upon treasure. My eyes are round and big, and I cannot get enough. Unlike the treasures of the world that have the power to destroy man, your treasure brings life. Your treasure doesn't rust or disappear with age. Your treasure doesn't produce greed or envy. Rather, your treasure is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Many may think we are poor, but they don't know we are rich! You are so good to give us treasure that we do not deserve. Your Word is that treasure. We cannot know you apart from your Word. Your Word is life. Your Word tells us -- proclaims to us -- your salvation! The more I'm in your treasure getting to know you better, the more I want to stay. Keep me in your Word. Embolden me to share your treasure with others. Help me to proclaim the good news to the poor, both physically and spiritually. Help me to protect those who are in the path of those who want to exploit the treasure for evil and false purposes. May I be corrected and rebuked by your Word when necessary but also encouraged and strengthened by your Word always. May your treasure continue to go forth into this world, unhindered, revealing truth where there is falsehood. And may others find the richness of faith in Jesus Christ through your holy Word.

Amen.

6 Ways To Meet With God In The Midst Of A Busy Life

As a mom I have found it more difficult now more than ever before in my life to spend quiet, reflective time with God. Before Philip was born, my morning routine consisted of coffee and reading Scripture and praying. Rarely do I get that time anymore. I don't know about those of you who have children, but my son has a sixth sense about when I wake up. Our bedrooms are on opposite sides of the house, but the minute I decide to get out of bed I will hear our bedroom door open or see him at my feet. My mornings are no longer my own. Then once the day starts, we go from 0 to 100 mph and we don't slow down. Chasing, running, feeding, picking and dusting him off, cleaning after him, calming him down, playing with him, disciplining him...Whew! I'm just exhausted typing it all up. These days are long and hard but so much fun!

However, finding that quiet time with God and His Word has been a daily struggle. And because I have not been consistent in going to the well to receive spiritual nourishment, I have seen the effects in my attitude, thoughts, my relationships, my words, etc.

You don't have to be a stay-at-home mom to share my plight. You can be an outside-the-home working mom or dad. You can be a caregiver for an adult. In fact you can just be any adult with any responsibility. Life is simply busy and complicated.

But if you are like me, then you yearn for that time with God. You yearn to protect and treasure the relationship you have with your Creator and Savior. You yearn to hear from God, to feast on His Word and be fed by Him.

I haven't figured it all out, and this is not a comprehensive list, but the following are some ways I have found to foster spiritual formation and spend time with God in the midst of a busy and crazy life. I hope some are helpful to you. Perhaps you are already doing many of these, and perhaps you have more to add! I'd love to hear ways you find to spend time with God.

1. Use The Book of Common Prayer. I grew up Southern Baptist and am still a Southern Baptist girl in many ways. If you have any knowledge of Baptists, then you know, for the most part, we do not use The Book of Common Prayer nor do we use written prayers (nor creeds, nor confessions) in our corporate or private worship. One of the many advantages of going to an interdenominational seminary was that I was exposed to other evangelical traditions in corporate worship, in the classroom and in conversations. One aspect of Anglicanism that I really like are their written prayers. These prayers are rich in theology, Scripture and doctrine, and they are fashioned in such a way that the words are almost poetic in nature. Consider this prayer: "Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against thee in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved thee with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in thy will, and walk in thy ways, to the glory of thy Name. Amen. What I love about this book is that it has prayers for different days (Monday, Tuesday, etc.), different times of the day (morning, afternoon, evening), holy days in the Church (Advent, Lent, Easter), and seasons of life (marriage, birth, adoption, sickness, and death). It also contains the Psalms and a reading plan for the year. While there are doctrines that I do not agree with (e.g., prayers for the dead), I find this book very enriching to my spiritual life. What are some other books or devotional guides that you use in addition to your Bible?

2. Download a Bible, Bible study tool or devotional app. In the beginning days of Philip's life, I spent most my days holding him, whether it was feeding him, soothing him or getting him to sleep. There were times that I could barely keep my eyes open because I was so tired. In those moments I would turn to my iPhone to keep my mind busy and awake. I wish I could say that I used those times to go to the Bible on my phone or a devotional app, but I didn't. However, that would have been the best time to do so! Just recently I discovered that there are many apps designed to help one who is always on the go spiritually, some good and some not. My favorite app (surprise, surprise) is a Book of Common prayer app called Mission of St. Clare.IMG_4445

As you can see, it gives me the option of a morning or evening prayer. The word prayer is a little deceptive here, because when you click on a prayer option it gives you Scripture readings (Psalms, Old Testament, New Testament) in addition to prayers. It's quite lengthy, and so I only have time to read part of what it has to offer. However, this tool has been great! When I wake up and before I get out of bed, I grab my smartphone and spend time in Scripture reading and prayer. When I sometimes rock Philip to sleep, after he has fallen asleep in my lap, I grab my iPhone and go to this app. When I am at a doctor's office, in carpool line, in the grocery store parking lot, wherever I am that I can stop and spend a few minutes with God, this app comes in handy as it is convenient, thoughtful, structured and rich theologically. It doesn't have to be this app. It can be an app that is your favorite Bible translation or another app with prayers. What are some of your favorite Bible-related apps?

3. Listen to sermons and podcasts online. One of the many things I miss about being a seminary student is being able to listen to great sermons during the week. Chapel time was my favorite time each week. After graduating seminary, my husband (who teaches at the seminary) would come home telling me what a great sermon he heard in chapel. Thanks to technology, it dawned on me that I could listen to chapel sermons too! At least once each week (if not more), when Philip goes down for his nap I pull up a sermon online while I fold laundry or do other chores. Listening to sermons has not only focused my mind on the Word of God but it helps usher the divine into the mundane. It is much easier to do mindless, endless household chores when I am hearing a sermon about the glory of God. Beeson Divinity School has its past chapel sermons online available for viewing and listening here and has a weekly podcast you can listen to here. Overall it is a trusted center for excellent, expository sermons.photo 1I also like to listen to the sermons of my dad, who is pastor of First Baptist Church, Big Spring, here and I like the sermons of Don Guthrie, pastor of First Baptist Church, San Antonio, here. I also like the sermons of Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington D.C., here and Time Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York, New York, here. Many of these churches and institutions will have podcast apps that allow you to listen to sermons on your smartphone. I also recommend listening to sermons in the car, especially when you are going to be travelling for quite sometime. In addition I think it is a great idea if you are a pastor or someone who preaches weekly to listen to someone else preach at least once a week so that you are being fed and sharpened by other preachers of the Word. Who else would your recommend? What other institutions with sermons or podcasts would you recommend?

4. Listen to praise and worship music. One thing I have started doing recently is writing down song titles we sing in worship each week at my church. I am REALLY bad at remembering names/titles. In the past I would want to listen to a song sung on Sunday but couldn't remember the name of it. Now I keep a list and either find the songs on YouTube, iTunes, or Pandora. I turn off the TV and put on these songs while I am getting ready in the morning (Or afternoon or night! You never know when it will happen with a toddler.). I'll put on music when I workout at home or when I am not listening to a sermon while doing chores. Sometimes when my son and I are playing quietly, I turn on worship music. What this music does for me is to fashion my mind on God, His glory and, if the songs are written well, on Scripture. It is much more difficult for my mind to wander, to worry, to be distracted, or to be tempted when I am focusing on God through music (not to mention it's a nice break from Veggie Tales!). I am also realizing that my son is picking up on lyrics and singing about Jesus. This is a great way for him to be exposed to who God is, His Word and the love of Jesus. My all time favorite person to listen to is Fernando Ortega. I find playlists of his music on YouTube. Some of my favorites are: Our Great God, Sing to Jesus, Give me Jesus, and Lord of Eternity. I also love Keith and Kristyn Getty and Kari Jobe. Who do you like to listen to and what are some of your favorite songs?

5. Make time for silence and prayer. It is VERY difficult to cut out the noise in our lives when we are addicted to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. I am speaking from personal experience! Social media, our phones, our iPads, our laptops are our biggest distractions, I believe. I have noticed in my own life that when I do have a few moments of silence I immediately want to try to fill it with the things mentioned above. I am allowing these things to steal my time, my thoughts and my energy away from God and family. I am in the process of learning to put these things down and give it to God. Obviously I haven't given it up all together, but I am learning to not give it first place. I want to learn to use these social media tools in moderation and only after I have spent time in prayer, silence and mediation with God. The more time and practice I put into being quiet and still before my God, the easier and more natural it becomes. Just recently I stopped listening to music for the entire duration of my running/walking. I'll listen to music for part of my run and then spend the rest in complete silence. I use to try to fill up my time driving in the car by talking on the phone; now I try not to call people as much. I substitute talking on the phone with quiet prayer. I have noticed lately that by setting aside time to be silent and to pray, I am more aware of the sin in my life and equally, if not more powerfully, aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit. What are some ways you cultivate silence and prayer in your life?

6. Don't forsake Scripture. None of the five above options are meant to replace reading Scripture. As Christians we confess that Scripture is the Word of God. If this is indeed true and if we want to hear from God and know God's heart, we must remain in Scripture. As Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." Some of these suggestions, like the aforementioned app, provides daily Scripture readings, but a devotional app or worship music or sermons should never be a substitute for reading God's Word. Practically speaking, I have found personally that I don't do well with the reading the Bible in a year plan. I feel overwhelmed and rushed. Instead of understanding what I am reading, I feel like I am checking off a box. For some, however, this works well. If it works well for you, then don't stop. However, what works for me is to pick one book of the Bible or two books (one Old Testament and one New Testament) and read little chunks at a time. I like to consult good biblical commentaries on the specific book I am reading and go slowly enough that I understand what I am reading. If I am unsure which book of the Bible to read next, I consult the reading plan in The Book of Common Prayer so that I am reading what many Christians and churches are reading at the same time. Sometimes I spend an entire week on just a couple of verses because they are so powerful I am not ready to leave them. Because my son is a morning person (like me!), I have given up reading my Bible in the mornings (unless I can on the app mentioned above). Now, I try to read when I eat lunch or when I am about to go to bed. Or, I read Scripture when my husband and son are playing together. I have had to change my thinking and my routine. This has been hard, but I realized if I didn't do it I would never find time to read Scripture.

I hope these suggestions have been helpful to you. I am still on a journey of trying to give more of my time and thoughts to God and less to things of this world. I am still trying to figure out how to be creative in receiving spiritual formation and spending time with Jesus Christ during the week. I would LOVE to hear from you. Perhaps there are blogs you like to read because they are spiritually edifying. Perhaps there is a book that you would recommend as an addendum to reading Scripture. Let's keep this conversation going so that we are encouraging and helping each other in this Christian walk!

Peace~

 

Simple prayers.

Every semester my alma mater and my husband's current employer, Beeson Divinity School, publishes a little booklet to go along with that semester's chapel series. In the booklet from Fall 2012's Love In The Ruins chapel series, they have these little one to two-liner prayers at the bottom of each page. (As a side note, if you are looking to listen to some great sermons, check out Beeson's past chapel sermons here: http://www.beesondivinity.com/media) Back to these prayers, I don't know who to credit them to other than Beeson. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed praying one a day and now want to share them with you. My hope is that as God has used them to minister to me, He will do the same for you. "Creator of all, give me an undivided heart to fear your name and follow your call."

"Sovereign Lord, I seek you with my whole heart. Give me love for the broken world I live in, though it is not my home."

"Merciful Redeemer, cleanse my heart from my wantonness. Make all other springs dry up so that I seek satisfaction only in you, the wellspring of life."

"Three-person God, wound my heart as you wounded the heart of the prophets. May I never look on sin unmoved."

"My maker and my God, give me a soft – not stubborn – heart that bends to your will. Set me apart for your service."

"God of Compassion, save me from despair when my heart is breaking. I commit to you my cause."

"Lord of Hosts, though I have stubbornly followed my own heart, have mercy on me and deliver me from your wrath."

"Author of life, write your law on our hearts. We love to know you and we long to know you."

"Lord God of Israel, let our ambitions be lost in your love. You alone are our righteousness and our glory."

Friday Devotion

The following are prayers and readings from The Book of Common Prayer, revised in 2006. I pray it will be a blessing to you.

A Collect for Fridays

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Christ our Passover (1 Cor. 5:7-8; Rom.6:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:20-22)

Allelua. Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast, Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Allelua. Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So also consider yourselves dead to sin, and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Allelua. Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.

The Collect

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.