Three Peas in a Pod

This is a totally “mom” photo.

I had brief emotional moment at the kids’ annual physicals yesterday as the pediatrician declared them all healthy.

How incredible is that?!!!

I wanted to whoop, dance, and holler all at once but settled for a picture, one for which John was non-too-thrilled to pose.  What an amazing thing to behold, this stark examination table lined with blue bath towel and three squirming miracles.

After all that we’ve been through, it’s incredible to me that some days pass without a thought to the gaping wounds we’d once experienced daily.  The full impact of the miraculous-ness of their existence often takes my breath away, and I find myself in complete awe of the God Who has healed them.  To think that each one of them nearly died but now lives, physically strong and running around the yard with smiles and sunshine.

O Father, thank You!

We celebrated the good report at IKEA with chicken meatball platters and chocolate cake.  I bought two desks, one for myself, the other for Christian.  I hope to sit at mine often, writing posts about these sweet gifts and the Awesome God Who’s allowed me the privilege to be their mother.

Please help me, Lord, to steward these three peas wisely and well.  May I trust You to carry and keep them, both today – and beyond.

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

 

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.

 

 

A Timely Reminder

It’s finally done.

After years of living it, writing it, and praying over it, the manuscript and full proposal for my book, Carried & Kept Through the Hospital: A Provider, Patient, and Parent’s Perspective, stand complete and ready to head to the literary agent I at a conference who was interested in representing it years ago.

I pray she still is.

God’s timing is perfect.  While I sat in the River Edge Diner (locals have dubbed it the R.E.D.) on Monday night madly typing, a waitress approached me, peering at my screen.  She’d taken care of me before, and even though I had not been seated in her station, she’d wandered over to say hello.

“What ‘cha writin’?”

I told her briefly about my blog, Drinkingfromthewell.com, and its purpose, to help families during crisis and beyond.  Her face paled as her eyes clouded with tears.

“I sure could have used that.  My brother died in May of 2016 of ALS.”

She launched into a heart-wrenching account of her family’s struggles with his diagnosis,  their difficulties in acquiring resources for his care, and the toll it took on all of them.

Her story moved me.  Hers was the face of why I sat surrounded by piles of papers at a greasy spoon in the late evening hours, urgently refining pages crammed full of information that I believed would help families in their most desperate hour.

Families just like hers.

How timely the reminder.  As I finalize the proposal to send out tomorrow, please join me in praying that God would open doors far and wide for our family’s message of hope, help, and healing.  May many hear and be blessed.  May many be helped and find hope.  May all turn to Him, that He may carry and keep them.

Always.

Strategic Planner

Do you enjoy personality/strength/weakness tests?  I do.

A few years ago, I took one located in the book titled Now, Discover Your Strengths by Buckingham and Clifton.  The questionnaire proved similar to most I’d previously taken, but the labels for the end results were uniquely termed.  And I liked it because I felt that it not only gave an overall great assessment but it also pegged my number one strength to a T.

Strategic planning.

When I think of great strategic planners, two amazing women come to mind.  My mother and my good friend, Wendi.

The kids and I had the pleasure of spending an entire six hours yesterday with my dear friend, Wendi Fulton Wetzel Pickel.  There’s much wisdom to be had in this little 50-something package, who kindly delivered herself to my doorstep that damp February morning.

I’d met her seven years ago during one of my darkest seasons.  She’d contacted me online regarding a book I’d written, and after chatting back-and-forth, we realized that we’d both planned to attend the same fundraiser for Kenyan orphans in Philadelphia and took the opportunity to ride together.

It was a Divine appointment.

John had been home from the hospital roughly six months when I popped into Wendi’s car.  Even though medically he was doing great, my husband and I found ourselves in the midst of a marital mess, mopping up after our son’s crisis had passed.

I have no idea to this day what made me do it, but I dumped my bucket to this sweet, compassionate, total stranger.

I’m so thankful I did.  She’d been through nearly the exact same thing.

God paired us up that night, as she became intimately acquainted not only with my family but also our troubles.  Because of her incredibly challenging life experiences, she was uniquely qualified to walk beside me through mine.

She has listened for hours upon hours.  She’s done my dishes and brought me ice packs, she’s met me in hospitals and made me oatmeal, she’s cared for my children and spent countless hours boldly loving, pouring herself unreservedly into my life.  A fabulous sounding board, yet discerning and wise, unafraid to be a truth-teller, a blessed one who holds me accountable to biblical principles.

I thank God for her.

Wendi couldn’t stop smiling as she watched the kids play yesterday.  “It’s amazing to watch them together,” she said as she shook her head.  “They look so normal – so healthy, so happy.”

She saw them at their worst.  The meltdowns, the feeding tubes and oxygen tanks, the downward spirals.  I’ll never forget a bittersweet moment when Abby turned a corner after a difficult bout in the hospital and was unexpectedly discharged early.  We were ecstatic . . . but I had no idea how we were getting home.  The timing seemed terrible.

Until I called Wendi.

All she said was, “Great!  What’s the exit?” as I heard keys jingling and feet walking . . . and then the car door closing.

She’s been through much – I have great respect for her and have found her amazingly gifted at helping others during crisis because she knows how best to survive them.  Through much adversity , God has made her shine like the sun into the lives of many in their darkest times.

He’s even taking her international.

This brilliant retiree has met her unexpectedly challenging life-stage head-on as she and her wonderful husband, Tim Pickel, have channeled their energies wisely and well.  They’ve partnered with a missions organization founded by Larry Roth and Marsha Roth called OneMillionChildren, which serves to bring clean water, medical care, and the Word of God to one million children in Africa.

 

Thank you, Wendi, for all you’ve done to lift me up and walk with me in this life.  Thank you for your steadfast example and countless selfless acts.  Thank you for your wise counsel and uncompromising quest to strategize what’s best for everyone.

Thank you for being an absolutely wonderful friend.

I praise the number one Strategic Planner for allowing our paths to cross in this life – I’ve already put in a request for a regular time-block with you in eternity.

May He continue to use you to bless many as He richly blesses you and Tim and the work of your hearts and hands both today – and beyond!

 

Crazy Great Shirt

I’d thought we were out of the woods.

How quickly one seemingly small glitch nearly turned my son’s health down a disastrous spiral.

John was born with Gastroschisis, a birth defect in which the intestines are formed outside the baby’s body through a large hole in its belly.  Because John’s intestines were also blocked and required additional surgical intervention, the doctors initially gave him only a 15% chance of making it.

Praise God, he made it.

After four-and-a-half months in the hospital, John came home with an NG-feeding tube, which ran through his nose down to his belly.  He detested it and continually yanked it out.  The tube proved necessary because John threw up every time he ate.  The only reason the doctors had let him come home was because, in spite of the vomiting, he still gained weight.

Once we came home, our brilliant pediatrician, Dr. Scott Rice, started John on a motility agent, which solved the vomiting problem.  The tube came out, and we all rejoiced, thrilled to eliminate that source of irritation from his life.  Within the next two years, he dramatically improved and was eventually directed to stop all medication as he was discharged from the outpatient GI service, taking only probiotics for gut health and a standard children’s multivitamin.

So for the past five years, things had been going extremely well.  Until.

I’d lately detected an increasing resistance to his probiotic in the early fall.  His occasional vomiting episodes gradually increased, so much so that I began researching alternatives.  John is picky due to his sensitive gag reflex, and finding a new brand proved not only expensive but also fruitless.  Within a week, I realized how long I’d been out of the nutrition field and that I’d used up all of my dietitian know-how and tricks.

It shook me.

John needed help.  Before his gut stopped working.

It hasn’t happened since his discharge, and I was surprised by how intensely the thought of him regressing threatened to paralyze me with fear.  Even though many moons had passed since he’d had any problems, the nightmare of his hospitalization and ensuing medical crisis flashed back in an instant.  I fought the urge to panic.  As soon as I identified my “peace-snatcher”, I hit my knees.

“Lord, please help me find a permanent solution for John – and fast!”

Enter Aegis Boyer Stuart.

I’ve known Aegis a long time and have followed her from afar on Facebook, noticing her frequent posts about various nutrition products but letting them gloss right over me.

Until I needed something.  Desperately.

As a former Registered Dietitian, I had a bad taste in my mouth for alternative health products because I’d spent years dispelling myths to earnest weight-loss seekers and trying to spare my cancer patients from emptying their pocketbooks on bogus products designed to deceive, not heal.

But I knew I could trust Aegis.

I now considered for the first time what she had to say and clicked on her post about probiotics, now excited to learn about the available products and research how well-made they were.  I reached out to her, and she was extremely helpful, connecting us with a combination multi-vitamin/probiotic for John, praying it would work.

Thank God, it did.

He’s only vomited once since he started taking it, and I think that’s only because he ate candy on an empty stomach.  Amazing!  While I haven’t yet researched the rest of the product line, I’m proud to stand behind her Plexus XFactor Kids combined probiotic and multivitamin.  I ordered four additional bottles today.

As I typed a quick update/thank you message to Aegis this week, I realized that this wasn’t the first time God has used her to bring healing to my life.

I remember the first time I met her at church.

We were at one of the first gatherings of a new 20-30’s age group Bible study.  With eccentric flair, Aegis sported the grunge look and wore a T-shirt that declared, “Body piercing saved my life.”

Images of nose rings and ears laden with studs flooded my mind, and disdain rose within me.

Really?  How in the world could cosmetic body piercing and self-inflicted pain actually save?  

Looking back, I can see the upward turn of my top lip and sneering countenance, not understanding until she turned around and I saw the accompanying image that the pierced One her shirt referenced was her Savior.

My Savior.  God forgive me.

Years ago, I confess I had a profound aversion to non-traditional “church people”, not knowing what to do with them beyond exchanging polite formalities and general well-wishes.  They unnerved me.

I’d grown up in an ultra-conservative environment, one that strived to please God but was often tainted with cynicism and judgment, and when I traversed outside my whitewashed bubble, I found myself unprepared to handle and reconcile difference, somehow feeling like I was compromising if I allowed myself to consider things from a different angle.  I coped by displaying warmth and respect while inwardly harboring prideful contempt.

Hypocrite.

I ended up in her mom’s Bible study.  As I got to know Aegis and her family, I came to the painful realization that I had a serious heart issue, one I didn’t want to have, a poisonous cancer that if not lacerated and extracted would cause serious damage to my spiritual life.

Ouch.  But so worth the process.

Over time, as iron sharpens iron, God has used (and continues to use) people like Aegis to expose what He wants to change in my life.  Shortly after I was married, I asked my husband what he wanted for Christmas.  Totally in the dark about the past mess in my mind, he said, “I’d like one of those ‘Body piercing saved my life’ t-shirts that Aegis wears.”

Ha!

I think of her every time I launder it.  I owe much to this loving wife and homeschooling mother of two, this gifted entrepreneur and devoted follower of Christ.

Thank you, Aegis, for not only talking the talk but also walking the walk.  Thank you for spending much of yourself to help others find health and healing.  Thank you for wearing that crazy great shirt.

I rejoice with you for all the good God has wrought in your life and pray He continues to richly bless you and your precious family both today – and beyond.

Boo Boo Bear

I must tell you a story.

Friday night, my 11-year-old daughter, Hannah, brought her fuzzy friend, Tashi, to the Tim Tebow Foundation‘s Night to Shine event at Riverbend Community Church in Allentown, PA.  Both Hannah and I volunteered as makeup artists at this amazing prom for people with special needs, but I had no idea how deeply and in what ways the evening would impact her.

I would drive the 200 miles again.  In a heartbeat.

Nine years ago, my sister, Krissie, had given a huggable, lovable Winnie-the-Pooh to Hannah on her second birthday.  She had fallen in love with it instantly.

“Oh, Aunt KiKi, I just love her!  I’m naming her Tashi.”

From that moment on, Tashi ate at our table and shared Hannah’s bed, rode in the backseat and sat alongside the bathtub.  They were inseparable, these two.

Until one dreadful evening.

We’d gone to my in-laws’ for Chicken Scampi when, lo and behold, sweet Tashi slipped under the table and fell prey to their frisky Labrador Retriever named Bodi.  Papa came to her rescue, but not before she lost her right arm from the shoulder down.  Try as he may, Papa couldn’t repair the severed appendage.  Sweet Hannah had to settle for a simple seam in place of the arm that once was.

And it was hard.

Hannah grieved the loss for her friend.  No more dancing in the fall leaves like princesses do at a ball.  No more patty-cake.  No more two-armed hugs.

She asked for a new bear, one that could do all of those things.  Aunt KiKi complied as did my mother-in-law.  One of those new animals got lost on a grocery trip, so the remaining bear assumed the role of “Tashi” in Hannah’s life.

During our next basement spring cleaning as we thinned out all the toys and stuffed animals, Hannah found herself unable to part with her disabled friend and decided to rename the original Tashi “Boo Boo Bear”.  It was a great segway into talking about how upset Hannah been when Boo Boo had gotten hurt.  Hannah realized how much she’d missed Boo Boo and that she was still a really good friend because her heart mattered more than her arms ever did.

“I want to keep her forever, Mommy.  I love her.”

Years passed with few ups and several drastic downs in Hannah’s life.  One of the worst was when Aunt Ki Ki was in a terrible accident.

She lost her right arm above the shoulder.  Just like Boo Boo Bear.

I’ll never forget telling Hannah and her siblings about Aunt KiKi’s arm.  After everyone cried together, I brought out Boo Boo Bear.  Hannah’s small smile spread through her tears.

“See how much we love Boo Boo Bear?” I asked.  Everyone nodded.  “Aunt Ki Ki is still the same wonderful amazing person inside.  A missing arm can’t change that, right, Hannah?”

She nodded gently and reached for Boo Boo, hugging her fiercely.

Five years later, Hannah has remained sensitive to her aunt’s disabilities and asked to volunteer with me at Night to Shine.  Right before we left for PA, she got the dreadful news that Tashi, the Second, who’d been MIA since a beachside hotel stay, had been discarded the previous month.  We’d had trouble tracking her down, so by the time we connected with the person in-the-know, it was too late.  The staff had held onto Tashi for a while, realizing she was special to someone, hoping she would be claimed but had finally given up.

Hannah’s heart broke.

She was inconsolable, and I ached for her.  Dear God, what can I do?

He put it in my heart to go down to the bin in the basement and resurrect Boo Boo Bear, the original Tashi.  I complied and then made my cautious approach.

“I thought you might like to hold her – Boo Boo Bear.”  I held out the fluffy golden animal. Hannah refused to touch it.

“But, Mom,” she said, “I still miss the other Tashi!”  Hannah’s defenses rose, and I felt the drawbridge of her heart begin its creaky rise above the moat.

“Of course you do,” I said, intentionally pausing long, hugging her close.  “Tashi was and will always be a special friend.”  I felt Hannah relax against me as I sat next to her.

After she cried a little, I reached over and placed Boo Boo Bear on her lap.  Hannah gingerly grasped her torso and then carefully fingered the seam on the bear’s right shoulder.

“I think it’s amazing you still have this one,” I said.  “She was your first friend, you know.”

Hannah stared for a long moment.  Then, ever-so-slowly, she nodded as the corners of her mouth turned up.  “That is neat.”  She gave Boo Boo a warm embrace and spun around the room.  “I’m going to call her Tashi again.”  Hannah glanced at me.

“I think that’s a a wonderful idea, Sweetheart.”

“Can she come with us to Night to Shine?”

“Absolutely!”  I smiled, elated and relieved.  I checked my watch.  “You’d better hustle upstairs and get Tashi ready – we need to leave soon.”

“That’s right!”  Hannah beamed, staring with love at her dear friend.  “Come on, Tashi!  I’ve got just the dress for you.  And wait until you see my new JoJo Siwa bows I got for my birthday!”  The pair disappeared down the hallway.

My heart sang the rest of the night to see how my daughter had blossomed and grown through painful loss and challenging times.  How she delighted to volunteer and be blessed by Night to Shine.  How she was moved to tears many times throughout the night.  She had been given the opportunity to not only apply the guests’ eye shadow and lip gloss but also experience the importance of making people with special needs feel valued, honored, and beautiful.

Because they are.

How fitting, how touching, how amazing, the timing of it all, these three precious ladies sharing this evening together, dancing the night away.

Aunt KiKi, Hannah, and Tashi.

Shining.