Almost There

Never in a million years did I think I would make a music video.

Thanks to Bob Lockwood of Full Armour Studios and Indie Studio Space, the filming stands complete.  My wonderful husband, Christian T. Morgan, is in the midst of the editing process, putting it all together in order to produce the best snapshot into the story behind the song.

Our story.

I finished the book manuscript at the end of August 2017, but something surprising happened a few days earlier.  One night while attempting to capture a particularly difficult scene, I found – to my horror – that I couldn’t write.

Searing emotion poured out, disconnecting thoughts from pen, wreaking havoc on pretty paragraphs and pages.  All I could do was bullet my fragments of thought, lashing them onto my rumpled legal pad, its yellow pages bearing black streaks and slashes.  I tried to force myself into some kind of solid format, something usable with which I could finally complete the work.  I was so close!  I’d put off writing this scene long enough, and I knew I had to face it.

The hour had come, and here I was.  Struggling.

After wrestling for thirty minutes, I tossed everything proper and poised aside, threw my inner thoroughbred the reigns and let it run wild and free, rushing across the page, leaping high and falling low, rolling and trotting, gaiting then halting.  Panting.

Weeping.

The paper I then held in my hands no longer resembled a book chapter, structured and formed.  It was a stand-alone piece, a tale of a perilous journey though unchartered waters, breathtaking yet ominous, heart-wrenching but beautiful.

It was a song.

I’d written only one other for my husband’s 30th birthday, and the process had proven quite different.  God had been writing this new song on my heart for years, but I’d had no idea it was in there.

After the words were down on paper, I took them over to my keyboard and started messing around.  Christian passed through the room and stared at me.

“What are you doing?”

“I don’t know,” I said.  “I think I’m writing a song!”

His mouth fell open.  “You are?”

“I think so,” I said, nodding, eyes wide.  We stared at each other and then at the keyboard and then back to each other.

He smiled and said, “Keep going,” as he walked out of the room.

Within three days, it was finished.  My first stab at songwriting also birthed an idea for a video portrayal of what some of the days were like for us over the past several years.  Our hope and prayer is that families everywhere would be encouraged, helped, and drawn close to Him through our family’s story.

Please pray with me during these final days of revision that God would bless and protect our efforts to communicate with the world how well He has Carried & Kept us through our darkest times.

I cannot wait to share it with you!

 

Aiden’s Light

 

https://www.aidenslight.org

Have you ever procrastinated on something important?

That’s typically not me, but it was last week.  My topic for this post hit close to home, and I had trouble with the “going there”.

I remember the first time I left Abby for an entire weekend.  After all of the years with children in-and-out of the hospital, I’d been yearning to finally get away with “girl-friends” now that my family appeared medically stable.

As the date of the 2015 Living Word Community Church Women’s Retreat drew near, I hesitated, knowing that I would be leaving my toddler behind, one with half of a functioning heart.   One from whom I’d rarely parted.

One who’d nearly died many times.

I admit to being nervous.  Christian and I had spent countless hours over the course of several years fighting to keep our children alive.  Their birth defects and challenging diagnoses had transfixed us into this perpetual state of crisis, torturing us to no end with the pain of possible outcomes . . . the not-knowing how things would turn out . . . and worse yet, the dark moments when we thought today was likely the last . . . nearly drove us mad.

Thankfully, it all drove me deeper into the arms of God and made me trust Him more.

I decided to go.

I’m glad I went.  I met Joanna Beck on the very first night.  Pretty and quiet with her hands tucked into the pockets of her sweatshirt, she’d offered a “hi” and a simple smile when a mutual friend introduced us.

While I discerned Joanna’s greeting to be sincere, I noticed that her countenance saddened immediately after our introduction.  My instincts screamed that something unrelated to me was amiss, but I didn’t know until later that night the reason why.

Her little boy had drowned less than two months prior.

Beacon of joy and player of drums, Joanna’s precious Aiden had lost his life due to a negligent caregiver.  With one horrible phone call, Joanna and her husband, Chris, found themselves thrust into the midst of a heart-wrenching tragedy, immersed in the darkest moments of their lives.

My worst nightmare of eight years had become their reality.

How moving the moment when I next gazed into the eyes of this mother, this beautiful woman who’d loved and lost, this wife who’d survived utter anguish of soul!

The results of such loss can be devastating.  Shock melts into anger and despair.  Depression soars.  Addictions increase.  Bitterness breeds.  Marriages fail.

But not the Becks.

While they have endured an intense grieving process, and, truth be told, some days still prove difficult, this amazing couple has founded a non-profit organization, Aiden’s Light, Inc., with a mission to counter the negative effects of poverty on children.

Swimming lessons.  Piano lessons.  Scholarships for education majors.  Mentoring and goal-setting, psychological counseling and emotional support, academic tutoring and additional programming.

That’s not all.  Their long-term goal is to build community centers in underserved areas in order to provide further support and opportunities that empower local youth.

Living Word Community Church will sponsor the first fundraiser for Aiden’s Light, Inc. on June 2, 1018.  Please visit Aiden’s Light, Inc. for more information regarding their 501(c)3, upcoming events, and ways you can support this incredible ministry.

O Lord, I pray you would richly bless the efforts of this inspiring couple!  Swing wide the door for them to help children find light in the darkness, to know that they belong and and that they matter in this world.  

May Aiden’s Light shine brightly upon many children, that they may dance into their future, brimming with confidence and full of hope, living testaments to how You give beauty for ashes and trade joy for mourning (Isaiah 61:1-3).

https://www.aidenslight.org

 

 

 

 

Three Mighty Warriors

What would cause one to delay taking down their Christmas tree until February?

A family end-of-life illness and death.  A manuscript deadline that must be met.

And three other non-negociables, one including a visit in the thick of a snowstorm to the ICU bedside of a woman I barely knew but had prayed for . . . for years.

It all started back in 2015.  Christian and I had recently moved to NJ and started attending Living Word Community Church.  Two weeks in, I caught wind of their upcoming Women’s Fall Retreat, and I thought it would be a great way to get to know the women without three children in tow.

“It’ll be the perfect opportunity,” I told Christian.

“But you don’t know anybody,” he said.

“Exactly!”

I had a great time.  I left the area knowing maybe five ladies’ names and returned home with 60 friends.

Christine Staffa and Alicia Figureoa among them.  Jillian Staffa also attended, but I really connected with Christine and Alicia late one night while we created masterpieces with adult coloring books and colored pencils.  Our conversation would go deep and then lighten with laughter, rolling around like waves in the ocean.

What a treat it was getting to know them!  This mother and daughter shared that they were excited Jillian had come to the retreat for the first time, and they also asked for prayer that Shayna, Christine’s third daughter, would come one day.

So after I came home, the kids and I made a leaf for Shayna on our kitchen prayer tree.

Shayna didn’t come the following year, but the week before this year’s retreat, I got wind that she was finally coming!  Christine introduced us, but I didn’t get to see much of Shayna because I had the privilege of speaking about how God carried and kept my family and I through medical crisis.

Little did any of us know how pertinent that message would become.

Roughly a month later after a Sunday service, Shayna became a Christian!  Tears of joy ran down many faces as she made her way to hug her mother, sisters, and brother-in-law, Chris.

Their FaceBook pages erupted with smiles and and cookie baking, Christmas lights and pajamas, their faces aglow as they celebrated Shayna’s newfound joy and the birth of our Savior.

Until New Year’s Day.

Shayna had had a terrible cold the few days before.  Due to a headache, she skipped the New Year’s Eve’s festivities and went to bed before they began.  Christine had been concerned, so Shayna had agreed to stay at her mother’s house (instead of her apartment) that night.

Thank God.

The entire family had hoped and prayed that Shayna would recover from her nasty illness quickly, as they had planned to leave four days later to celebrate Shayna’s 30th birthday in Mexico.  But they never got off the ground.

Thank God.

Christine woke Shayna at midnight with a “Happy New Year’s!”  Shayna woke but said she was so confused.  Assuming she was disoriented from sleeping in a different place, Christine told her to rest.

I got a text the following day that Shayna was in the ICU.

My family had driven to Chicago to visit cousins, and as we sped down the highway, my mind reeled.  This sweet family.  Their holidays had been so full of joy and now . . . blood work and exams, spinal taps and tests.  Revealing nothing.  The doctors put her on antibiotics and antiviral medication, hoping that would hold her until the cultures came back.

As I joined the many pleading for her life, praying mile after mile, I stared out the window, not really seeing anything at all, wishing we weren’t hundreds of miles from home while sweet Shayna lay in the ICU.

Suddenly, I noticed a far off movement in the sky, a large, lone bird coming into view.  My breath caught in my throat as I noticed its powerful brown wings, fierce golden talons, and bald white head.

Looking right at me.

Christian glanced at me, then at the bird, nearly pressing his nose to the glass as he drove.  The bird made a sharp right and disappeared from my line of sight.

“Is that . . . was that a bald eagle?”  He craned his neck, glancing back, then forward to the road, then back again.

“Yes, it was,” I said, tears forming in my eyes.

“Where?  Where?”  Three heads whipped around in the back seat, one claiming to see it while the others searched the sky.

After the ensuing hullabaloo died down, I returned to my thoughts, thanking God for what I believe He sent as a sign to reassure me.

I have her.

Peace washed over me as my heart kept speaking those words.  I didn’t know what the eventual outcome would be, but I could rest in the waiting because I knew He would carry and keep Shayna – and her entire family – every step of the journey, however long and windy they would find it.

Once home, the kids put up another prayer leaf for Shayna.  We’d moved her first leaf from the PLEASE, GOD tree to the THANK YOU, GOD tree, so we felt like she deserved a fresh one.  That night at church, the kids told Chris that we were praying for their family.  He knelt down and took time talking with each one, knowing they understood much of what his family was experiencing.

It was a powerful moment in their young lives.

In the days that followed, had I not had the sign of the eagle, I don’t think I would have been able to maintain such steadiness.  A decent snowstorm descended upon our state the day I’d planned to visit Shayna, but it didn’t phase me in the least.  I woke up that morning knowing where I needed to go.  The storm was simply the background on the set.  Some might think I’m crazy, but after all my family has been through medically, 99.9% of the time, weather doesn’t alter my plans.

People are important.

I remember every person who came to see me in the hospital and those who visited my children.  I will never forget you.  May God forgive me for not making more such visits in my earlier years, for only now do I understand their full impact.

Tests came back positive for viral encephalitis, a condition treated by the antiviral medication she’d begun receiving upon her admission to the ER.  By January fourth, the drugs really began to kick in, to the point where she responded clearly to the doctors’ questions and to family members.  Shayna continued to quickly improve and was soon discharged.

Hallelujah!!!

When I got the text from Alicia that Shayna was being discharged, I ran outside to tell the kids.  They whooped and danced around, sharing in the miracle of the life they’d prayed for, one through whom they had witnessed miraculous healing, one they could relate to.

“She’s a miracle,” one of the kids shouted, “just like us!”

Shayna’s healing as well as this family’s faith has renewed my personal sense of urgency to tell others how GREAT our God is and that He still works miracles today.

Time is so short.

Thank you, Shayna, for coming on the retreat and giving it a chance.  I’m grateful you’re my sister in the Lord and have found healing in both body and soul.  And thank you for sharing your Three Mighty Warriors inspiring clothing, decor, and accessory designs with the world.

Thank you, Jill, for standing strong in the midst of difficult seasons – I know it isn’t easy.  And thank you, Alicia, for being such a diehard, inspirational prayer warrior and friend.

Your family is amazing, Christine.  Thank you for being such a great example of a wife and mother, raising three mighty warriors for Him.

May God continue to richly bless you all.

As a special thank you to Shayna for letting me share her story, I’m offering a Lion of Judah Tee Giveaway from her Etsy shop, Three Mighty Warriors.  Please complete the survey below for a chance to win!

 

(Three Mighty WarriorsLion of Judah Tee modeled by Chris and Alicia Figueroa)

Survey (click link below):

https://gleam.io/lUFNB/drinking-from-the-well-lion-of-judah-tee-giveaway

 

The Gentleman

I love this picture.

Christian took it with his drone when the two of us snuck away last fall to Rockland Lake State Park in Rockland County, NY.  He also made this movie:

When I caught sight of this amazing creature, it took my breath away.  Bursts of autumn rusts and golds amid the greens served as the perfect backdrop for the lone marvel of the sky, its stately reflection dancing up towards the sunlight.  The bird, majestic and graceful, its wings outstretched, its blue-gray feathers gently moving with deep, deliberate strokes above the water.

How effortlessly he seemed to fly, this great blue heron, his twiggy legs dangling, his long powerful wings carrying wherever he wished.  So handsome was he, this “Lord of Rockland Lake”, clothed in sunlight and splendor.

I named him The Gentleman.

In homeschool this week, we are studying gentleness, which our family counselor, Dr. Wayne Schantzenbach, describes as, “strength under control.”  The kids and I have enjoyed many conversations about this important character quality, one which Christian and I strive to not only instill in our children but also model for them.

We sometimes fail, sometimes miserably, but it remains a goal.  And we’ve found that the “I’m sorry”s that follow the failing often serve to teach and grow us up together.

I’m thankful to have Someone to Whom I can turn for help in the midst of my struggles, the One whose gentleness surpasses all.

“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30, NKJV).

Thank You, Lord, for this majestic bird, a breathtaking reminder of Your unsurpassed strength that can carry and keep us through every storm – and beyond.

Stuck – in a Good Way

What’s the current song that’s stuck in your head?

Mine won’t leave – I pray it never does.

In one fell swoop, Hillsong Worship’s Grammy Award Winning Song, What a Beautiful Name, has bombarded my every waking minute with not only its captivating melody but also its soul-stirring lyrics, even stealing into my dreams throughout the night.

I love it.

I sing it constantly.  My kids are sick of it.  They actually love the song, too, but they have long since passed the point of retaining any fond feelings for it.  I’ve ruined it for them, I suppose.  Sorry, dear ones.  I simply cannot stop.

What’s funny is that I’ve caught them humming a few bars here and there.  Hannah hollered at me last night as the first few words rolled off her lips.

“Mom!  You’ve got that song stuck in my head!”

I grinned.  “Well, it’s a good song – ”

“I know it’s a good song.  I just want to sing what I want to sing, and this is all stuck in my head.”

“Um, sorry, I guess?”  She laughed.

“It’s okay, Mom.  It’s stuck in a good way.”

My life is an endless song, as it seems some melody or another constantly runs through the chambers of my heart and echoes through my mind, playing a melodious background that surfaces whenever I find myself engulfed in silence.  I remember each of them, these welcome friends, played over-and-over, journeying with me through one or more of life’s many seasons.

I know what played on the radio (Mighty to Save) as Christian and I drove away from the hospital the night of John’s successful surgery.  I will never forget how God used Laura Story’s Blessings to soothe my soul during dark trials and Hillsong’s At the Cross and Oceans to quiet my heart throughout countless nights.  My spirit still thrills whenever I hear Kari Jobe’s Forever and Nicole C. Mullen’s My Redeemer Lives.

Like a patchwork quilt woven together with precious scraps of the past, each song telling its part of my story, my song plays perpetually in my mind.  I am grateful for this most recent addition.  What a Beautiful Name It Is will forever be my 2018 winter/early spring melody, one full of basking in the Precious Name of my Lord Jesus and how Beautiful, Wonderful, and Powerful He is.

I’m thankful it’s stuck – in a good way – both today and beyond.

 

It Is Finished

I don’t remember a super-sunny Good Friday.  Ever.

Perhaps somewhere in the world, but never where I’ve been.  And that’s okay with me.  It matches my mood as I take more time than usual to remember the life of Christ.

My dad took part in an Easter musical years ago when we lived in Texas.  Our church performed it in my high school (which was huge – 707 in my graduating class!) and put on a stunning recreation of Jesus’ story.  It bore great significance in my life – I still sing many of the songs to this day at the top of my lungs when I shower.

But sadly, when I went to retrieve the DVD of his musical yesterday, I couldn’t find it.  Grrr!  I was not happy about not partaking in what has become one of my most precious Easter traditions.

I opted for my second choice, The Jesus Film.  

As I watched it with my children, I found myself struck once again by the submission of Issac.  My Pastor, Frank Bolella, had taught a few months ago about Abraham sacrificing his only son, the one he had waited for and yet been called to give back to God.

Believing God would somehow restore Isaac’s life, Abraham headed out with two servants and his son, finally stopping to do the deed atop Mount Moriah, the very place where hundreds of years later, Jesus would die on the cross for the sins of the world.

Isaac carried the wood on which he would lay, as Christ did His cross.  And once Abraham readied the altar, Issac took his place, without struggle, without malice.  He submitted fully to the will of his father and became what would have been a sacrifice.

If I had been Isaac, would I have tried to reason with my father?  Would I have insisted a lamb would have proven good enough, a substitute God would surely accept?  Would I have thought my father mad and launched a physical defense?

Would I have been so humble?

Had Isaac not yielded, he would never have known the miraculous outcome of his remarkable obedience.  How his father heard the angel’s voice commanding him not to slay his son.  How the testing of God brought about tremendous blessing for generation upon generation.  How well Isaac modeled the actions of the One Who ultimately died for him.

For you.  For me.

Abraham sacrificed a ram caught in the thicket that day as a substitute for Issac.  Years later, there was no sheep in the thicket, no last-minute intervention by a just yet grieving Father.  He provided the ultimate perfect sacrifice, His Son.

Jesus.

Rejected by friends.  Declared insane by family.  Tortured while innocent.  Envied by leaders.  Despised by brothers.  Beaten without cause.  Spit on by soldiers.  Mocked by accusers.  Denied by disciples.  Scorned by thousands.  Abandoned by followers.

Separated from His Father.

Unfathomable pain, a wounding only imagined by man.  Neither the bleeding nor the beating, not the thorns or the nails, but the searing agony of feeling forsaken by the One He loved most ultimately cost Him the most.

All that He may utter, “It is finished.”

Jesus’ passionate pain of great price ushered in the most magnificent victory that ever was and will ever be.  Crushing victory over the enemy and all his treasonous angels.  Victory over sin and death, suffering and sorrow, pain and sickness.

Victory to be enjoyed and celebrated forever and ever, thanks to One with the humility of Isaac, a lowly Carpenter named Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Savior of the World – Hallelujah!!!

 

 

What Love Looks Like (to Abby)

I’ve chosen to repost (below) my blog entry from last year’s Holy Week today, believing Abby’s beautiful illustration perfectly captures the essence of Jesus’ great love for us all.

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.