Not Really the Teenage Witch…

IMG_2437

Did you know you look like…

English: Melissa Joan Hart at the film premier...

Sabrina? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“You look like the girl on that  TV show —  what’s it called again?”

I am downtown, buying a P.E. uniform for my daughter.  The lady at the counter is studying my face.   I am nodding my head before she even finishes her thought.

“Sabrina the Teenage Witch!  That’s it.  Has anyone ever told you that you look like her?”

Why yes.  Yes, they have.  For the last two  decades.

Apparently I share a lot of genetic traits with Melissa Joan Hart, who played Sabrina on the 90’s sitcom.  People have been saying so since high school.

I admit that I can see the similarity.  I’m pretty sure that with access to a personal trainer and a  Hollywood makeup team, I could be a decent Melissa Joan Hart impersonator, should the world ever need one.  And we apparently still need Elvis impersonators, so why not?

I can picture it now — I’ve spent a year getting back into shape, maybe with Biggest Loser Bob, ’cause I like him better than Jillian.   A team of talented stylists  goes to work on my hair and makeup and voila!  I am Melissa’s personal body double.  I can go speak and raise money for her favorite charities, guest star on whatever reality show invites her to star for a little extra cash.  I can BE her, at least in the eyes of the unsuspecting public.  Because, the public doesn’t really care  about real people.  They just like celebrities.  They are easily deceived.

Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s a huge demand for my services.

But there’s a growing demand for other impersonators.   I’ve been watching, and you should, too.  There are several new Jesus figures out there  that look a whole lot like the real thing at first glance.  A few  are the “hellfire and brimstone” types, but most of them these days  sound smooth, look good, and talk a lot about love.

Jesus said Himself that many would come in His name, claiming to be the Messiah, and that many would be deceived.  (Matt. 24:5)  I used to believe that individual men would claim to be Jesus in the flesh.  And of course, there are a few who try this, but they aren’t usually the problem — at least not for the masses.

No,  more dangerous is the fresh new Jesus in our churches, a “body double” carefully sculpted to look like an airbrushed version of Himself.  This Jesus is nice.  He doesn’t say anything offensive.  He talks vaguely about love,  but says very little about sin or our need to repent from it (unless it’s the sin of judging others, which is legitimate, but is evidently the only one anyone is concerned about.)  He also doesn’t seem to believe his own words when it’s not convenient.  Above all,  he sounds so comfortingly real and human.

In real life, though, Jesus says things that aren’t comfortable or politically correct.  He’s all about love, yes.  But he’s also about repentance.  He’s about telling the truth when it isn’t the culturally right thing to say.  He’s not manipulated by anyone’s agenda.  And interestingly, He’s able to say these hard things AND love people — at the same time.

Nobody needs a Sabrina double, but there are a lot of people interested in  Jesus impersonators.   Question is — how can you tell which one is the real deal?  Even the Bible says that in the end the deception will be so strong that  believers themselves would be sucked in without God’s intervention.  But it’s our responsibility to listen to the Lord and know His Word and His character so that we can tell what’s right and what’s wrong.

Get to know the real Jesus, not the one presented to you by someone else.  It’s more important than ever.

Substance — Faith Project Part 3

Heathcote National Park

“Oh, the riches of Your love have made me a wealthy, wealthy son.

Oh, the rivers that flow down have made me a strong and fruitful ground.” 

From a worship song by Katie Koontz

After a very emotionally draining summer, things began to change for us.   Two things contributed to this.  First, we received an unexpected financial blessing from Jason’s dad that gave us room to  negotiate both on the sale of our own house and the purchase of another.   This would not change the fact that our dream home was still out of reach financially, but it did give us room to breathe.   Second,  at my grandmother’s funeral, I was reminded of her strong and abiding faith.  My mom mentioned one of the ministers my Granny listened to, Charles Capps.  He taught often about faith and the power of our words.  I listened to one of his podcasts and mentioned it to Jason.  At work one day, he put in his headphones and began to listen to these teachings on faith.  He listened to them over and over again, soaking in the words.  And Jason began to change.  His prayers became stronger, his faith in the Lord more firm.  I could see the difference inside him as he meditated on the Truth.  As he said later, the teachings were not so different from what we have been learning for the last 15 years at our own church, but the repetition and speaking his faith out loud began to change things inside him.

Late in the year, we got a call from the man who had seen our house before.  He had decided he was tired of waiting for his house to sell.  He would rearrange his finances to allow the purchase of a second home.  Suddenly, we were rolling.  On December 7, seven years EXACTLY from the day we bought it, we sold our house in town.

The question then was — could we purchase the house we wanted?  We spent several weeks talking with banks, with lawyers, with the owner.  Many, many things had to come together to make it possible.  I can’t even name all the miraculous things that happened to open the doors for this purchase.  The owner agreed to sell us the house and six acres of the land — a treasure to us.  We did have a few moments of doubt and panic.  At the last minute, we wondered if we were doing the right thing and spent a miserable week looking at other options.  In the end, we returned to our original plan.   We had prayed over this house for over a year!  No way did we want to waste those prayers on something more convenient or appealing.  Our financing came through in the most surprising and beneficial ways, and we sailed through the process.  Three days before Christmas, we moved into our new home on a rental agreement which would come to an end as soon as our loan closed in January.  We spent the holidays in complete bliss, contentment, and exhaustion.

January came, and we began preparing for our closing date.  I had written “Part 1” of this Faith Project series, but for some reason I was having a hard time continuing.  I felt hesitant to finish the story somehow.

Four days before our tentative closing date, Jason called me into our office and shut the door.  “I got a call from the mortgage company today,”  he said quietly.  “They said they will not give us a loan.  At all.”

I stared at him, horrified.  “What do you mean?”  I asked.  As it turned out, the mortage people didn’t like something on the appraisal for the new house.  It had nothing to do with the actual property and everything to do with technicalities.  I felt suddenly panicked.  We already moved!  We already sold our house!  What on earth would we do?  But before I could even voice these concerns, Jason stopped me.  “We are not going to fear,”  he said firmly.  “The Lord gave us this house, and we know He did.  It’s ours.  We just have to find someone to give us a loan.”

And that’s exactly what he did.  He got on the phone and spent the next two weeks talking to people in the financial world.  None of them liked the number on the appraisal — all of them hesitated and said they didn’t think they could work with it either.  But Jason did not get discouraged.  He kept praying and believing for the Lord’s provision, and it came.  One day a lady with a mortgage company looked at our situation and said, “No problem.”  Two weeks later, we closed on our home.

I can’t describe how this experience has changed our way of thinking.  It’s an Ebenezer for us, a place to firmly plant our faith and know that the Lord does indeed work on our behalf.  Every day I wake up to the joy and beauty of this place, the peace that pervades it.  And I know that the Lord gave it to us.  Already it has been a place of hospitality and blessing to others as we have hosted family get-togethers, out-of-town guests, and a weekly Bible study attended by 30 people.  We anticipate more.

My story here is not about the actual house, although I love it.  It’s about the process, the way God works to change and strengthen us when we first listen for His direction and then move forward in full confidence that He will make it possible.  In our own strength, we could never have achieved this, not if we tried a million different ways.  We were in no position to sell or buy a house.  In fact, our monthly income has not really changed over the last year.  But our spiritual wealth has increased exponentially.   This is what is valuable to me, and it is what I think about every day when I pull in the driveway that now belongs to me.

Things Not Seen — Faith Project Part 2

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1IMG_2348

Learning to walk by faith and not by sight is a process. Jason and I had found our home, and we believed that it was ours, despite the obvious problem that it was not financially possible or practical. We felt a little shy about this. Our hope sounded crazy to most people.

For the next six months, we showed our home to interested people. Every weekend we put our plans on hold, cleaned the house frantically, and opened up our house for showings, which we had to do ourselves because we weren’t working with a realtor. This quickly became annoying. Most people who called were not serious. A few came just out of curiosity,to see the pretty historic home.  No one made an offer. We cleaned, we prayed, we showed — and nothing happened.

We became very discouraged. What were we thinking? Even if we sold our own home, which looked unlikely, how on earth could we buy our dream house? The owner had not even agreed to separate the house from the huge parcel of land that came with it. She just told us to pray and left it at that.

There came a time when Jason and I sat down and really hashed it out together. Should we just give up? Or did God really speak to us about that house? We spent a few hours talking and praying, and came out confident. No matter how long it took, we would continue to believe God for that house.

But we didn’t just wait. We had permission to walk around the property, so Jason got up early on Saturday mornings, drove across town before the sun came up, and walked the land, praying over it, asking for wisdom. He prayed that it would be a place of peace and joy, a blessing not just for us, but for anyone who came into it. For months, on our date nights together, we enjoyed dinner in town and then drove to the house and prayed over it together. We prayed that the Lord would work it out in His timing, not ours. We prayed for favor in our finances and in the sale of our home.

In the meantime, people kept traipsing through our house every weekend. One Saturday, after I’d cleaned frantically for a no-show, I answered the phone and spoke to yet another prospective buyer. This one was an older man, single. He wanted to come see the house — in 15 minutes. He was, in fact, across the street in his car, hoping he could get a tour before driving back home to Charlotte that night.

I said yes and flew through the house throwing toys in baskets, shoving things in closets. The kids groaned and griped about yet another interruption.

But this time was different. The man loved the house and spent nearly an hour and a half inspecting it. He was originally from Salisbury, and he wanted to retire here. He WANTED an older historic home, and he wanted to invest money into fixing it up. Our house was perfect for him. Inside, I was jumping up and down. Yes! Finally!

But — unfortunately, he had to sell his own home first. My heart sank. I knew how that worked. Houses do not move quickly around here.

His was no different.  For the next three or four months, he called us to reassure us that he wanted the house.  But he was, like the rest of us, stuck with his own piece of real estate to sell, and it wasn’t moving.  In the meantime, we tried everything.  We reduced our selling price twice.

This time of waiting and praying lasted for nearly a year.  And in the middle of all this, we faced some very difficult events, including the unexpected  illness and death of Jason’s father and my grandmother.  Nonetheless, we kept practicing our faith.  And it was PRACTICE, because what we believed for certainly could not be seen.  I’d never believed steadfastly for something like that in my whole life, and it often felt foolish, or even selfish.  But in my heart I knew that it was more than just a dream home for us — if that was all, we would have picked a fancier house with more bells and whistles.  We believed for this particular place because the Lord whispered it into our hearts — it was HIS mark on it, HIS hand we recognized.

Things Hoped For — Faith Project Part 1

When I was a kid, my dad used to encourage us to work on a “faith project.”   Faith, he explained, is a little like a muscle — we are  all given a measure, but how strong it is depends on how much we exercise it.  Jason and I have been working through our own faith project for a long time now, and we are so excited to share the results with our family and friends.  As usual, I can’t tell any story the short way, so I’ve broken it up into three installments.  I hope that it serves as an encouragement — because this has been a life-changing process for the two of us!

A little over a year ago, Jason and I decided, after much discussion and prayer, to put our home on the market.  This was a crazy decision for many reasons.   Houses simply weren’t selling, especially not old historic houses with gaping holes in the dining room ceiling.  We also had a foreclosure on our record as a result of the entire 2008 economic crash.  But we stuck a For Sale By Owner sign in the front yard anyway and waited to see what would happen.

It didn’t take long.  The very next Sunday, driving around the county, we saw it.   Off the highway, across a creek, surrounded by woods —  a little brick house with the prettiest yard ever.  And a For Sale sign in front of it.  We stopped and took down the number, which I called the next day.IMG_2279

The lady who answered the phone was pleasant.  “What do you want to know about the house?”  she asked.  I had my pen poised over a Post-It note,  and I started with the most important question.  “How much is it?”    She hesitated and then said, “I’m asking $500,000.”  I dropped my pen, disappointed.  “Oh,”  I said,  “That’s a little too much for us, but thanks anyway.”

I  started to hang up, but  she stopped me.  “Wait, wait,”  she said,  “Let me tell you a little about it.   This was my mother’s house, the one I grew up in. The price is  so high because it’s got 39 acres of land attached to it.   And it’s a large house, bigger than it looks from the road.”

“A big house would be great — we’ve got four kids,”  I said,  “But $500,000 is way out of our price range.”  The lady didn’t seem to think that mattered.  She just kept talking,  giving me the square footage, number of rooms, acreage — and so  I picked up my pen and wrote  it all down.  Somehow, by the end of the conversation, we had an appointment to come see the house the next day.  “Just for fun,”  I said to Jason, and he said, “Why not?”

The next evening, we pulled up the long driveway , and the kids piled out of the van, chattering excitedly.  “This is so pretty, Mom!”  Alyssa said.  Her artist’s eyes had already picked out the beautifully landscaped driveway, the cute bridges over the creek, the tiered green hills behind the house.IMG_2282

The owner stood waiting for us.   She looked pleased to see the kids.   “Mother raised seven children in this house — three of her own and four foster children,”  she said,  ” I’ve always hoped a family with children would buy it.”  As she showed us each room, she told story after story about her happy childhood spent in the house.   I noticed a brass plate on the back door inscribed with a scripture — As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.   Perfect.

We stood outside afterward,  talking, reluctant to leave.  The stars had come out, bright and clear.   Jason and I both  felt  something special had just happened.    This place was meant to be our home — we knew it.

But still, there was that problem of money.   Finally Jason  sighed and got down to business.  “This is an awesome place,”  he said, ” but there’s really no way we can afford it.  Even if you divided the house from the rest of the property, it would still be out of our price range.”IMG_2335

Her response completely surprised us.    “I understand,”  she said.  “But don’t give me a definite answer until you go home and pray about it.     I have prayed for two things concerning this house — that God would send a family with children, and that they would be Christians.   So go home and ask God what He says, and I’ll do the same.  We’ll talk later.”

That night,  hope sprang up inside us, that crazy, sparkly hope that comes from God.    We knew that in the natural way of things, that piece of property was out of our reach — completely impossible for us to attain, no matter what we did.  Could we even hope for such a thing?

We went home and asked Him.  And guess what?

He said yes.

To be Continued…

What’s in YOUR Wallet? Thoughts about the Heart of Education.

Cover of "God in the Dock: Essays on Theo...

“No generation can bequeath to its successor what it has not got… If we are skeptical, we shall teach only skepticism to our pupils, if fools only folly, if vulgar only vulgarity, if saints sanctity, if heroes heroism… We shall admit that a man who knows no Greek himself cannot teach Greek to his form:  but it is equally certain that a man whose mind was formed in a period of cynicism and disillusion cannot teach hope or fortitude.

A society which is predominantly Christian will propagate Christianity through its schools:  one which is not, will not.  All the ministries of education in the world cannot alter this law.  We have, in the long run, little either to hope or fear from government.”

  — C.S. Lewis (God in the Dock, “On the Transmission of Christianity”)

Education is a pretty controversial topic, especially within the church.   Public school, private school, homeschool — which one to choose?  And why? (And what will the neighbors think?)

I’ve probably read every argument out there and have  adamantly argued several of them at various points in my life.  (Thanks to all you friends and family members who so patiently listen to my rants and raves!)   However, I’ve come to see that it’s not necessarily about the format of the education — it’s about the heart.

I had an eclectic education myself.  Most of my school years I spent in various Christian schools, from Texas to North Carolina.  For two years, my mother homeschooled me.  And then I finished out my junior and senior years in public school.  Guess what?  I got educated.  I got socialized.  I successfully completed college and got a job.  I still love the Lord, and I still like other people (mostly!).

I love what C.S. Lewis has to say about education — so much of it depends on the people doing the teaching.  Yes, we should choose carefully which venue is right  for our own children.  But every educational system has its pros and cons — every single one.  You could argue all day long in favor of one or the other.  In the end, take a close look at WHO is teaching your kids.  What are they passing along on a daily basis?    We can only pass along what we have in our possession.  And remember, as parents, we are the teachers our kids learn from the most — whether they stay home all day or go out to school.

Short-sighted Dreaming

Dreams

In a moment all was shattered, changed forever.
But what shattered was not my faith.
The broken pieces of my dreams lay around me,
These, and no more.

We hold our dreams so dear.
A hope, a vision, a picture of things to come.
But we are short-sighted in our dreaming.

(Kristen Carmitchel, 2003)

One early morning in 2002, while I was praying , I heard the Lord speak to me.  He said one word:  “Sons.”  At the time, we had two little girls, and had been debating whether we wanted to add to our family or not.  Although  I’d not really had a particular yearning for boys — I enjoyed my two girls and they kept me quite  busy — I felt a sudden joy and excitement when the Lord spoke.  It was an excitement from Him alone, the kind you can only experience when you KNOW that you heard His voice.   I told Jason about this, and we began to anticipate the arrival of these little boys.  We even felt like one of our sons should be named Isaac, which means “Laughter” and “Son of Promise.”   Not too long afterwards, we learned that another little one would be joining our family.

I began to dream, and this is how I pictured my life:  I would have twin boys, and our family would be complete.   After all, the Lord had promised me sons, and I only planned to go through one more pregnancy.  His idea + my idea = twin boys.    I had it all worked out.

Only that’s not exactly how it happened.  Because I wasn’t pregnant with twin boys.  Instead, God gave us a single little girl — and she had a  severe chromosome disorder.

I could not understand it.  He had specifically told me we would have sons.  What was this?  Some kind of test?  Had I heard Him wrong, or made up some kind of crazy word from God out of my own head?

When we got the diagnosis, I put the thought of sons out of my head to deal with later and focused on the reality in front of us.  But in the back of my mind, I kept wondering –why did He mention boys to me, if this was the way things would turn out?

I wondered all the way through the last months of the pregnancy, knowing I would give birth to a very sick little girl.  All the way through her short life.  All the way through the next numb year of mourning.  I wondered about a lot of things that year. ( In my first post about our experience with Isabel, I talked about another word the Lord gave me — about the “why” of our Trisomy 18 baby.  You can read it here — First Face I Wanna See.  )

See, God doesn’t tell us everything.  He told me I’d have sons.  He just didn’t mention that they’d come after a daughter.  The Lord was faithful to His word — He gave me two sons after Isabel.  Isaac, our first one, brought us laughter after a time of mourning.  And Joseph, who surprised us, has been the completion of our family, the fulfillment of God’s promise to me years before.  He did not lie to me, and I didn’t invent these sons off the top of my head.  They just arrived later than I expected, and in a different way.  And as an added bonus, we were honored to have Isabel, whose life changed mine in ways I could never have predicted.

Looking back on those days when I wrestled with the destruction of MY plans, I am thankful for the foundation I stood upon — that God is good, no matter the circumstance.  I knew that in my heart.  I didn’t understand the situation, and I certainly didn’t like it.   But sometimes when I’m watching  my boys play, I think back to that clear voice I heard that morning, the promise that seemed like a mistake, and I am awed.  God truly does work all things for our good.  His thoughts toward us are  deep, and beyond our imaginations.  But they are so, so good.

Trisomy 18 — How Things are Changing

English: Characteristic clenched hand and over...

Last week I wrote about Isabel, our third daughter, born with Trisomy 18.      You can find it here:  First Face I Wanna See For several months I’ve been planning to blog about our experiences with T18 — a series of posts covering the five weeks she lived, from June 13-July 18 (2003).

For us, one of the most difficult aspects of dealing with a T18 diagnosis was the lack of real support from the medical community.  I was somewhere around 20 weeks pregnant when we found out through a routine ultrasound that Isabel had a serious heart defect.  At that point, the heart problem seemed like the only major issue.  But when we went for a more advanced ultrasound, other T18 markers were visible to the technicians.  A doctor came to speak with us and offered us three choices in this order:

  •    Abort the baby.
  •   Get an amniocentesis to confirm the diagnosis.
  •   Wait until the due date and handle things from there.

For us, abortion was not an option.    Our main concern was taking care of our sick baby.  If she really had a genetic disorder, we needed to know what it was and how to handle it.  If she only had a heart defect, we wanted to arrange for surgery immediately after her birth.  We opted for an amniocentesis (ouch!) and then waited for a very anxious week and a half.  A counselor called with the results — an incurable genetic disorder.

From the very beginning, we were told that Trisomy 18 is “incompatible with life.”   I was given a brochure — just a little fact sheet, really — on the effects of T18 and statistics on the survival rates — which were grim.  Many T18 babies don’t make it to delivery at all.  Those who make it do not usually survive their first year.

This is not easy to accept when you are still carrying a living child, feeling her kick and move every single day.   I kept looking for more information — what could we DO to help her?  What were our options?  The fact sheet told me that there were a few children living with the disorder — some  lived happy lives with their families, despite their health issues.  I scoured the Internet, trying to find out more information about these kids.  At that time, there was so little — only medical articles filled with jargon I could not wrap my tired brain around.

So we waited out the last months of the pregnancy, preparing to turn this corner in our lives completely blind, with no idea what to really expect.  Towards the end, we met with the neonatal doctor from the local hospital to discuss what to do if she made it to term and needed care from the NICU.

English: The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NIC...

He was a youngish doctor, good-looking and confident.  I’m sure he meant well, but he was one of the worst parts of the whole experience.  He did not agree with our desire to do everything possible to help our baby live.   I am sure he had experienced this many times, and that he knew the sad results.  Maybe he wanted to spare us the emotional rollercoaster, or maybe he was just plain insensitive.  Whatever the case, he challenged most of our ideas.   He questioned our decision to have an emergency C-section if Isabel did not respond well to labor.   He seemed very frustrated, almost angry with us for choosing this option — one that I’d already discussed and settled with the OB.  “That’s not a good decision,” he told us.  “She’s not going to live anyway, and the surgery could cause problems for you with future pregnancies.”

We were pretty angry by now.   People have  C-sections all the time, sometimes out of a personal preference.  We had one basic guideline for our decisions–we would give Isabel the same chances we’d give a child without a fatal diagnosis.   If it would be offered as standard care for our healthy children, we wanted it for her.

Later in the day, this doctor  even spoke with  my OB/GYN.  He asked her to call me and make sure I understood the diagnosis — that it was INCOMPATIBLE WITH LIFE.   Did I understand  what that meant?

I am not stupid.   I understood both the diagnosis and the statistics.  But I’d also seen– in the materials given to me by this same hospital —  a small sliver of hope that we’d get to enjoy our child, even if it was only for a little while.  Was it so foolish to desire time with our baby?  She was a person, someone important and real to us — not a medical problem to solve.  There was a definite sense of disconnect between us and our medical providers.  From the first conversation with that doctor, we felt defensive, and this colored everything that came later, all our interactions with the hospital.    Talking through our goals without a sense of resistance would have helped.

This is something that many T18 families have faced, as I discovered later.  After Isabel’s death, I found a message board online, full of T18 parents talking, sharing information, helping one another.  I joined immediately and spent many months getting to know these moms, finding comfort in the shared experiences.    Here, I found information I wished I’d known when we were making our decisions — how to handle doctors, what to ask, what to look for.   This board later grew into a non-profit organization — you can find it today at http://www.trisomy18support.org .  Some of the same women I chatted with are now running a foundation dedicated to research on Trisomy 18, committed to raising awareness within the community, working toward a better future for these babies, and a better experience for the families.  Advocating for better awareness within the medical community is a primary focus.

I appreciate the work that the Trisomy 18 Foundation is doing. It offers information, hope, and support for families in the situation we faced.  And it all grew out of a simple message board, a few people who put their heads together and decided to make a difference.  They are changing the T18 experience for families today, and they are giving tomorrow’s babies a future.   Here’s to determined parents making a difference!

trisomy18support.org

The mission of the Trisomy 18 Foundation is to improve the lives of families who receive a Trisomy 18 diagnosis for their child through national leadership in research, education and support, and advocacy. We have a vibrant online community of families supporting each other and a growing list of educational, research and legislative advocacy initiatives.