What Love Looks Like

“What does love look like to you?”

I asked my five-year-old Abby Mae this question one day.  She responded by quietly smiling and hopping off her chair.

“I need my art box, Mommy.”  With titled head and thoughtful gaze, she poured over a simple sheet.  I expected something with hearts and flowers, maybe butterflies and family, but her final masterpiece took my breath away.

“Jesus on the cross.”

My eyes filled with tears as had hers.  I took in her glowing countenance, her tender gaze.  Her love for Him was beautiful.

“Sweetheart, this picture is wonderful!  Please tell me all about it.”

“There’s Jesus on the cross,” she said, her small finger tracing his form, “and all of those circles are his boo-boos.”

The week prior, I’d searched online for Easter movie clips and briefly previewed a scene of The Passion of the Christ, which portrayed Jesus’ agony immediately after Roman soldiers scourged Him.  Abby had passed through the room at that moment and froze when her eyes landed on the screen.

“Why is Jesus bleeding?  He’s not on the cross yet.”

I explained to her that the beating was part of His punishment, the one He bore but never deserved, for her, for me.

It bothered her.  To her core.

“I don’t want Him to bleed, Mommy.”  She wept and wept.

It had obviously affected her in a profound way, for as I sat with her, gazing at the picture, something about it further struck me.

“Abby, I’ve never seen Jesus smiling while He’s on the cross.”

“He’s smiling because He loves me.”

I had the privilege of leading our children’s Sunday school class in their Palm Sunday song, The Salvation Poem, on Sunday.  We’d practiced for several weeks, and even though Abby had always sung with a smile, the difference was marked after we’d seen the movie clip.

After she’d noticed Jesus bleeding.

Her every word flowed past thoughtful lips, her misty eyes closing at times.  Her little hands moved fervently as we made a cross with our arms and hung our heads to die.  Radiant joy spread across her face as we sang the news of Jesus rising to save the lost and forgiving our sins.

At only five years of age, this sweet girl loves her Savior and feels deeply loved by Him.

May we all bask in the precious love of the Savior.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3-16

My little Abby Mae turns five today.

Tears blind me now, for I cannot recall her birth without remembering how close she came to death.  Many, many times.

We praise God for the gift of her life and love.  Although we celebrate today with butterflies and flowers, sparkly ribbons and bows, strawberries and sunshine, my heart trembles under the crushing weight of memory, ushering in mingled wonder and sorrow, hope and pain, joy and suffering.

And to think, the first specialist to diagnose Abby’s heart defect recommended I abort her.

I distinctly recall gasping at the mere mention.

“Mrs. Morgan, really!  Think of it.  The baby’s heart is a mess, her organs are positioned backwards . . . ”  The doctor shook her head and folded her arms with disgust.  “Why rush to CHOP (the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) and make them go through all sorts of heroics to try and salvage this?”  She swallowed and softly said, “Besides, haven’t you been through enough already?”

She referred to my son, John, who’d received his diagnosis in the same office some two years earlier, a boy with intestines forming outside a large hole in his belly, intestines that were also blocked and likely damaged severely if not fatally.

The doctors had given him a 15% chance of making it.

I numbed out as the specialist built her case.  The inconvenience, the expense, the unknown outcomes.  As the doctor prattled on, I inhaled deeply.  I looked full into her fiery eyes and calmly said, “We’re going to CHOP.”

I will not lie.  Christian and I had both looked forward to a pregnancy without problems, a wondrous time we could spend with our children and heal from John’s traumatic birth and infancy experience.  What a crushing blow.  Thrust into the nightmare once again, same storyline, different details.

After extensive testing, CHOP informed us that our daughter did indeed have a severe heart defect, as well as Heterotaxy Syndrome (where the organs are abnormally placed within the body).  This five person team, although not nearly as blunt and insensitive as the first physician, waited for my decision about procuring further care.

I swallowed hard.  Then I smiled as tears rolled down my cheeks.

“We’re cheerleaders.  And besides, we already know where to park, the cafeteria menu cycle, and how to avoid the construction traffic.”  I cried a little, and then I said, “As long as there’s hope, we’re in.”

My father sat at the table in lieu of my husband’s presence, his tears saying it all.  I knew I needn’t call Christian, for I knew what he would have me do, what God would have us do, what the mother in me longed to do, and what the warrior in me was destined to do.

FIGHT!!!

On our knees, day and night, night and day, hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month, fight for this little life we did.  Born with little chance in this world, but oh, how her cries and the prayers of all those who loved her moved the Heart of heaven.

And today SHE TURNED FIVE!

My thoughts began to swirl a few weeks ago when my church sent out a general email announcing the annual fundraising banquet of Lighthouse Pregnancy Resource Center (LPRC).  In the past, our family had participated in various support opportunities, and since we continue to lay down roots here in NJ, I spoke and prayed with Christian at length about contributing.

We decided to attend the banquet, but I neglected to make the necessary connections until after the deadline had passed.  As I sat up late one evening reviewing past emails, I discovered my error and froze.  I hadn’t realized until that moment how important it was to me but couldn’t explain why.

I had no idea how personal the connection would become.

Believing that God would make a way if He wanted us to attend, I shot an email to the Lighthouse events team, expecting to be graciously turned away.  Then I clicked to Facebook to check my most recent blog post picture.  Somehow as I scrolled along, a man’s voice came over the speaker, startling the daylights out of me (I thought I’d muted it).

Our family friend, Eric Bugbee, had shared a link to Wildcard’s video of Tim Tebow’s recent interview about keeping his priorities straight, which greatly aided him in keeping his cool on the field.  He recounted picking up castaways in Haiti, not mincing words as he declared his desire to be known as one who emits faith, hope, and love rather than as a  successful ball player.  While thankful for the platform sports has given him, his obvious passion is serving others, namely those who have no voice.

I was highly impressed.

I continued scrolling over the next few days and found that another family friend, Aegis Boyer Stuart, had posted a link to a live event at none other than the Tim Tebow Foundation!  Riveted, I viewed her video.  Again, Tim spoke from his heart, sharing his vision to supporters and proclaiming undying devotion to “those needing a brighter day in their darkest hour of need.”

I’d heard Tim mentioned among our homeschool community and knew he played ball, but I didn’t know about his foundation nor the parties it served around the world.  Curiosity caused me to thoroughly investigate, and sure enough, what I discovered blew me away.

Hospitals and play rooms.  Proms for the mentally challenged.  Dreams fulfilled for the terminally and chronically ill.  Outreach to orphans.  Surgeries for the sick and disabled.  Rescue for victims of human trafficking.

All totally up our alley.

Everything I saw and viewed resonated loudly with the call God’s placed on my life, and witnessing others living it out in such amazing and far-reaching ways stirred me to the core of my being.  Not only Tim but also his parents and siblings have long been involved with these causes, in years past as missionaries in the Philippines and currently in different countries and capacities.

As I researched the amazing Tebow family, I grew more excited about the possibility of attending the Lighthouse banquet.  It seemed a wonderful way to take another step forward in the same direction as they, a way to serve families in crisis with no voice.

I checked my email one more time after my research binge and read the Lighthouse event flyer one more time.  Lo and behold, I’d glossed over the name of the banquet speaker earlier in the evening, but now, it jumped out at me as if arrayed in Broadway lights.

Pam Tebow.

By the grace of God, two seats opened up.  Christian and I headed to the Venetian awed and humbled, for I had shared with him all that had transpired that week.  We knew that He had something special in store.

Pam shared her testimony about how, when she was extremely ill in the Philippines and carrying her fifth child (Tim), her obstetrician recommended an abortion in order to try and save her life.  She obviously declined and gave birth to not only an incredible athlete but more importantly, an amazing servant.

She also told of how her son wore the reference John 3:16 on his eye black during the 2009 college football national championship, during which 94 million people googled John 3:16. Exactly three years later to the day, Tim led the Denver Broncos to a win in the playoffs against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and after the game, his rep informed Tim that all of his stats included the digits 3-1-6.

He threw for 316 yards.  Yards per rush: 3.16.  Yards per completion 31.6.  Ratings for the game: 31.6.  Time of possession: 31.6

No coincidence.

Thank you, Pam Tebow, for sharing your story around the world.  Thank you for all you are doing to encourage mothers to give their babies life and inspire them to bravely face the challenges ahead.  And thank you for the reminder that every life is precious.

Even the most delicate of hearts.

Thank you, Abby Mae, for lighting up every room with your smile and song.  For the way you curl up in the arms of grizzly bears and melt their hearts like butter.  For the way you paint away problems, encourage the pessimist, and dance into the loneliest of hearts.

Young in years, yet a wise old soul.  Mistress of joy, deep and unspoiled, lavishly given and freely enjoyed.  Forever may you blossom and grow, little girl, spreading your sunshine and adoring ways.

Thank you, God, for this precious life.

Born on 3-16.

 

Finding the Good

Have you ever had lice?

I hadn’t.  Not until last year.  Christian’s former workplace had given us a generous gift certificate for Christmas a few years back, so I took Hannah for a haircut from the participating vendor (an upscale salon, which will remain nameless).

Lo and behold, she scratched her golden curls almost immediately afterward, prompting me to advise her to shower and wash off all the hair fragments lingering on her neck and hairline.  Nothing more was mentioned.

Two days later as I shampooed Abby, I yelped when I noticed tiny squiggles squirming around on her scalp.  Christian rushed to the doorway and grimaced at the sight.

“This means war!”

Off to CVS he dashed, soon to return with lice kits, extra combs, and lots of shampoo.  All five of us soon became victims of these persistent, itchy little creatures.  Christian dug out his electric razor and rid himself of the beasts entirely.  He also shaved John’s head while we girls watched, coveting, wishing it were as easy to rid our long manes of the uninvited guests.  We scrubbed and combed, scrubbed and combed, combed and scrubbed until our scalps turned red and raw.

I bagged up nearly all of our blankets and throw pillows, sheets and stuffed animals, clothes and towels – thirty garbage bags full – and headed to the laundromat.  Of all times for my dryer to be broken!  The kids fell in love with the laundromat and asked me if we could sell our washer and dryer.

I found myself thankful I’d gone to the laundromat because, as I placed contaminated laundry items into the washer, lice literally hopped from the sheets onto my arm – ICK!  I squealed and shoved the entire mass into the machine, and then I ran to the sink to thoroughly scrub my arms in hot water.

I went home and scrubbed the floors and carpets, curtains and blinds, sofas and beds.  We sanitized the entire house from top to bottom, leaving no stone unturned.

We did NOT want to go through that again.  Ever.

Needless to say, the word lice now has a new meaning in our home, but amazingly, that meaning has morphed yet again.  Last night as Christian and I trained for our upcoming spring triathlons after the kids went to bed (a very fun date night – he runs on the treadmill while I bike – or vice versa), we watched a fascinating documentary titled Corrie ten Boom: A Faith Undefeated on Pure Flix (http://pureflix.com) about a courageous Holocaust survivor.

I love her story.  I’d read The Hiding Place many years ago, and as I briefly searched for the movie, I came across this documentary that showed her real home, the watchmaker’s shop, etc.

Fascinating.

One thing that I’d forgotten and am thankful to have been reminded of as we watched was how Corrie and her sister, Betsie, learned to be thankful for everything.  During their imprisonment, they lived in a barracks that was infested with lice and fleas, so much so that the guards refused to enter it.  They left the prisoners’ food at the door and let them pretty much fend for themselves.

Horrible tales surfaced about what guards had done to prisoners in the other barracks, but thanks to lice and fleas, the happenings in Barracks 28 at Ravensbruck proved vastly different.  Twice daily, Corrie read from a small Bible that the enemy had miraculously not confiscated, and all 700 women prayed together in this small room built to hold only 200.  Thrust together by their dire circumstances and crammed into a filthy hole of a home, these brave prisoners held on, surviving one minute at a time.

As I snuggle up in my soft pillow-topped queen, complete with clean sheets, thermal blankets, and patchwork quilt, I feel spoiled, unworthy, and humbled as the legacy of these incredible saints thunders through my mind.  I loathe my comforts and detest my comparatively complacent spirituality as these women risked their lives for years, hiding and helping those hunted and cruelly sought out, those if caught would be tortured and possibly killed by the hands of an unyielding, voracious enemy.

How my heart breaks for them, these precious sisters, enduring such terrible suffering and horror day after day after day.  And yet, the recordings taken from Corrie’s speeches after her miraculous release reveal a radiant, joy-filled voice so powerful that goosebumps erupt down my arms every time I hear it.  Devotion to God permeated her words and defined her life as she acted without hesitation, reservation, or thought of self-preservation.

Both Corrie and Betsie sacrificed all to save those who would likely be lost had God not used them to intervene on behalf of His people.

I scarce can take it in.

May their example serve as a searing reminder to me that no matter how bad things get, no matter what circumstances I face tomorrow, God will help me find something for which to thank Him.  In the darkest nights, when I’m infested with the lice and fleas of my life, may I fight to find something good, something for which to praise Him, even when I don’t understand the “why” of it all.

Thank you, Corrie and Betsie, for reminding me to find the good and that the Ultimate Good can always be found anywhere.

Loved

Happy Valentine’s Day yesterday!

I teach a kindergarten Sunday school class, and thanks to the genius of my teaching partner, Miss Jackie, we had a wonderful party last week with the girls (Darien was absent – we missed you!).  Jackie had thoughtfully brought red plates, napkins, and cups along with goodie bags of candy – she went all out to make these sweet five-year-old ladies feel loved.

I had to ditch my crispy brownies (okay, slightly burned) and whip up some cupcakes with pink icing and sparkly sugar.  I also swiped an idea from John’s school teacher, Ms. Buttery (thank you!), and made the girls a personalized valentine.  The girls, Miss Jackie, and I sat around our feast table and shared things we appreciated about each other.  I jotted them down onto small colored paper hearts, and Miss Jackie glued them onto bigger paper hearts, one for each girl.

The center focal point of each heart was the phrase “God loves ____ (girl’s name)”.  Our hope was that each girl would walk away that day knowing she is loved not simply by her peers and teachers but more importantly by God.

That is one of our greatest desires as teachers, for the children to know God loves them.

It is also one of my greatest desires as a parent.

In the midst of all the Valentine chatter and activity, my son, John, informed me at the end of class that it was time to head downstairs and find Daddy so that we could go home for lunch.  I gathered my daughters and complied with John’s request, following my hungry boy down the stairs and up the sanctuary aisle.

The girls took a seat, but John stood still.  He slowly walked toward the pulpit, hand outstretched, eyes mesmerized.  Immediately I saw what he couldn’t resist: the crown of thorns hanging off the front.

My pastor had taken a team to Israel two years ago, and this gem had returned to New Jersey with him.  Once vibrant and green, it now hung there, beige and brittle, looking as if one flick of a finger would send it to the floor as dust.

I saw John grazing his index finger across the tip of the largest thorn, nearly two inches long.  He had a faraway look in his eye.  I walked over to him.

“Mom, look at how long this is!”  I nodded as we examined the thorns together.

Pastor Frank noticed him from afar and came over, rubbing his forearm.

“John, do you know that the big thorn on the backside there scraped nearly the length of my forearm last week?”  All three of us looked at his arm, but the injury had healed completely.  “I was walking by the pulpit, and that big thorn snagged my skin right here.”

He went on to explain that the thorns here in the U.S. tend to be short and squatty.  These thorns, however, resembled long, sturdy needles between one and two inches long.

“Ouch,” I said as Pastor Frank moved to speak to someone.  John continued to stare at them, slowly fingering each one.  “Can you imagine wearing that on your head?”

“No.”  He shook his head back and forth.  Then he smiled and looked into my eyes with tears.  “Jesus must really love me.”

“He does, John, He does.  So very much.”

May all of our children know the precious love of God all the days of their lives – and beyond.

Through It All

I had the privilege of spending last weekend on a Ladies’ church Retreat in Long Beach Island, NJ.  What a wonderful time!

We stayed in a large retreat center right on the water.  Our back door opened to a sandy beach and long dock over the water.  The view took my breath away and gave quiet respite to my soul.

Since breaking my foot in June, my leg and foot muscles have not yet returned to their pre-injured state, so I probably should not have eagerly participated in a pickup volleyball game wherein I wrenched my right knee.  It’s slowly healing, but I’ve learned my lesson.  Strength training and toning for me throughout the remainder of the year.

The best part was the testimonies.  Women of all ages and life stages came forward to share how God had worked in their lives over the years and how He still moves hearts and minds today.  Friend after friend got up and spoke about various trials and heartaches, joys and sorrows, pain and loss.  Some had lost parents or children, others homes and husbands.  One woman had been raped at knife point.

Courage and strength shone through their countenances as each described how the Lord had carried them in the midst of suffering.  Some stood in the midst of fire even as their shared, believing their Lord would continue holding them up by His mighty right hand, challenging me to trust Him whatever storms come my way.

I spoke about my family and some of the trials we’ve faced.  Then, my friend Ivette and I sang Through It All, an oldie but goodie by Andrae Crouch.  I’m pasting the link below – may God bless you through its message.

New Digs

Sorry for the posting delay.  After many months of inspections and papers, fees and transactions, assessing and phonically, we bought our house today!  And the best part is that we haven’t had to pack a single box because we’ve been living here for the past 21 months.

Sweet.

Truth be told, it’s not the house we initially would have picked to purchase upon our arrival to a foreign land, but God knew well and positioned us perfectly in the home He made available just for us in January 2015.

Looking back, it was amazing.  We’d had little time to find a place when Christian was offered his position in the Bronx, so we’d hopped online, trying to search out as many wonderful options as possible.

It came down to only two.  We quickly realized how hot the rental market was in our targeted demographic and that we should simply high-tail it out to NJ as soon as we could make an appointment with the realtors.

We snagged one definite and one maybe, so we threw the kids in the car and headed to River Edge.  Christian had eyed the first property, I the second.

We never saw the inside of “my” property, the one with the “maybe” realtor.  When we got the call that he wouldn’t make it, I was disappointed.  I liked this property much more because it had a swing set for the kids, a big yard, bigger rooms, newer kitchen, etc.  Everything about it seemed better.

On the Internet.

We did a drive-by while we waited for the other realtor and never looked back.  Feeling choice-less and vulnerable, we finally headed to our appointment.

The realtor was lovely.  Genuine, down-to-earth, and now a neighbor one street over.  The house was quaint, the neighborhood pleasant.  Christian sensed almost immediately that this was THE house, but it took me a little longer to warm up to the idea.

The fit is now undeniable.  Like a glove.

At first, it didn’t seem to make sense.  We’d traded one-third of an acre for a postage stamp, a two-story colonial for a modest brick cottage, and an organic garden complete with homemade compost for mere property borders of evergreen triangles and squares.

But today, looking back, I’m thankful.  God used this wonderful little house to help heal us.  When we rushed into our house after closing this afternoon, I experienced that same rush-around-the-house-and-kiss-everything feeling George Bailey had in It’s a Wonderful Life, appreciating anew the precious five feet of kitchen counter space and Abby’s walk-through hallway bedroom, the tiny living room and the cheap wall-mounted “hotel” lights on both sides of the master bed that swing in-and-out overhead.

Every detail has served us perfectly, smushing us all together, forcing us to constantly interact and love each other in new ways, further cementing our hearts together.  Away from the visual triggers, away from the constant reminders, away from the past we didn’t deny but couldn’t seem to escape.

Moving was a blessing.  We miss family and friends, but our hearts needed to heal.  Perhaps one day God will send us back to the Lehigh Valley, but for now, we plan to continue blooming where He’s planted us, enjoying our “new” home – and each other.

Many blessings upon each of your homes both today – and beyond.

 

Image source: Cliparts.co</a>

Love Walking

You would never have known I had purchased the plain black, somewhat saggy umbrella at a dollar store had you seen the radiant smiles emitted from beneath its cover.  My four-year-old and I giggled as I wrapped my arms around her like a mother pretzel and made our way into school all snuggled up, holding hands.

So sweet.

Abby tilted her head to the side and leaned into me, smiling, smitten by the beauty of the moment.  We sauntered slowly across the lot, savoring each step, making a memory.  As we approached the security guard, Abby glanced up at him.   She’d never before uttered a word in his presence, but today, she could not contain herself.

“We’re love walking.”

He had grinned at our approach, but when he heard her explanation, he nodded straight-faced.

“Love walking, yes.  Yes, you are.”

He and I exchanges smiles.  I floated to class with my Abby Mae, not wanting the moment to end.  When we reached her room, she pulled my head down and kissed me fast and firm.

“I love you, Mudder!”

I walked back to my car alone, remembering the countess times I’d crossed a parking a lot just to be with her.  That particular lot never saw rain.

It stood beneath The Children’s Hospital of Philadeplia.

Over the course of several months, this massive gloomy dungeon of a garage bore little light, happiness, or hope.  I will never forget the oppressive, smothering feeling that would overtake me as my SUV lumbered through the entrance, sinking lower and lower into the quagmire of emotion and unknown below.  The dim lighting, bland concrete walls, and blunt yellow lines provided no comfort, serving only to highlight my heartbreaking reality.

Parents from all over the world walked this very lot, not knowing whether their child would live or die.  The unwelcome enemy loomed around every corner, waiting to send families home with empty carseats and devasting loss.  We all prayed that today would not be our turn.

Some have loved and lost.  Some have experienced joyful discharge celebrations and have whisked their child away, never to return again.  Some are still there.

All of my family is finally home, praise God, but I still remember.   Every day I pray for the families going through hospital crisis, praying that one day they would finally cross the horrible yellow parking lot lines and carry their children home.

Yellow is Abby’s favorite color.  She loves yellow parking lot lines and relishes the opportunity to balance beam her way across them.  I find it ironic how her sunniness often defies all logic, the amazing way she brings quiet out of the corner, giggles to the lips of lonely, and joyous song out of sorrow.

Adversity has made her shine.  I checked my watch and sighed.  Only 8:32 am.  It would be a full three hours and five minutes until I picked her up.

May it be raining when I return.