Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Set Free from the Chains - Part III of Persevering in this Race of Life

<If you missed the previous parts to my story, checkout Part I and Part II>

Things improved greatly since my junior year of high school in my struggle to heal from being molested until my sophomore year of college. I had helped to organize a missionary forum through our Student Missionary Fellowship during a missions conference week. One of the missionaries who was on the forum looked, acted, and sounded like the man who molested me. I experienced for the first time the “feeling” of the sexual abuse rather than just “seeing” it as on onlooker. This sensation rattled every fiber of my being.

Now I must say that God definitely has a sense of humor, because He chose to use a guy friend of mine (the closest and one of the first male friends I was ever able to have after working through my issues in my junior year of high school) to be the one to minister to my deeply troubled soul. This friend called me on the phone that same night and realized something was terribly wrong. He met me outside my dorm where I poured out my heart to him. He held my hand to comfort me (and I didn’t even flinch) and stood at my side while I called to talk to my parents. God certainly does work in mysterious ways, and little did I know that God had ordained for this guy friend named Tim to become my husband in a few years.
Tim and me at the Christmas Banquet in 1999 (this was the first event that I had ever gone to with a guy escort besides my dad) - We were really good friends at this point but far from dating
This picture was taken during Spring Break, days before the dark night of the Missionary Forum. Tim & another good friend from college came to my house for Spring Break.  Also present in the pic are my sister & brother (this was taken outside our church)

A wonderful psychology professor at my Christian college offered to provide free counseling. Tim attended the sessions with me for moral support. Through those wonderful counseling sessions, I came to the realization that God was powerful enough to totally remove those scars that I had convinced myself that I had to live with. This professor used thought-stopping therapy with me by using specific Bible verses about thoughts that I had to memorize for the purpose to quoting in my head every time Satan had my mind drift to my struggles, which proved to be extremely helpful.  In the end, I gained complete victory over being molested and was able to forgive my molester and live a life free of pain, fear, and hate. Like the songwriter Chris Tomlin wrote about the power of the forgiveness of sins in “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)”, I could say, “My chains are gone, I've been set free.”

Monday, May 16, 2011

David's Current Situation and Prayer Needs

October 2010
So all of that history mentioned in the previous post of the summary of David's life brings us to now where David is a thriving 4.5 year old despite the recurrent sinus and ear infections he continues to get.  His doctors are beginning to be concerned about his immune deficiency because most kids outgrow it by 4.  He had great test results just before he turned 4 making us all hopeful he was outgrowing it.  Then his most recent immune studies showed a decrease in his numbers shocking and disappointing us all.  In light of the last few months of sinus infections back to back as soon as David finishes an antibiotic treatment and the last test results, his one specialist wants to run more tests to determine the underlying cause since it seems that an immature immune system can no longer be blamed.

On Wednesday, David will be having a Milk Scan done at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.  He had one of these done as an infant which revealed that his GERD was the cause of his blue spells.  He has since been discharged by his GI doctor who said her GERD is resolved.  His allergist and ENT both wonder if there's residual GERD going on causing the sinus infections.  David is also going to be tested for Cystic Fibrosis, which could also be a culprit.  David is going to also have a comprehensive immune work-up done, which will give a better picture of how his immune system is functioning to see if there are any other defects contributing to the IgG Immune Deficiency.  These last 2 tests will be done at CHOP on June 14.

On August 26th, David will be having his 5 year echocardiogram done to check to see his the hole in his heart has closed.  We are praying that the hole has closed on its own with God's help.  If it hasn't, David will need heart surgery to close it by the time he becomes a teenager.

Today marks day 5 of really high fevers for David.  He hasn't really been acting sick except for an unpredictable appetite, momentary complaints of an upset stomach, and a cough that went right to an asthma flare (it's not been fun waking up at night to his complaints of not being able to breathe, hearing him wheeze, and having to do nebulizer treatments while half asleep).  He only gets lethargic when his fever gets over 103.  It has gotten as high as 104 (under the arm).  I took him to the doctor today, and he is being treated for strep throat.  We will know for sure if that's what he has when we get the culture results in 2-3 days.  This marked a full 3 week of no antibiotics for David, which sadly is a record for him since last year!  He just came off of a 30 day treatment on Augmentin (a very strong antibiotic that's horrible on the belly), which seemed to buy him a little time, but definitely not enough.
So that pretty much sums up David's life, medically speaking.  As you think about our family and our precious children, please lift little David up in your prayers!  We praise the Lord for this unexpected child who brings us much joy with his big heart for God and people!
March 2011

David's Complicated Medical History

For those of you who are friends with me on facebook, you know David, my 4 year old son better than those of you who only follow my blog of the last few months.  Now it's time for me to get my blog current with the life of precious David!
One of David's Birth Announcement Pictures

David is our sweet, thoughtful, shy-upon-first-meeting, easy-going, and obedient child.  Everyone who meets him either tells us he's "so cute" or "so sweet!"  Behind his lovable face and bubbling personality is a body that has known its struggles for all of its 4.5 years of life.  Although David was born a healthy baby despite being borderline premature, within a few months, we knew something wasn't right.  To make a very long and complicated story short, I'll give you a quick timeline of his young life:

3 months old - mouth area, hands, feet, legs started turning blue at various times when he was lying on his back

4 months old - found out David had 3 heart defects including a hole in his heart and an artery coming off of his aorta that was going the wrong way and pressing against his esophagus

5 months old - diagnosed with Gastroesophageal Disease (GERD - "reflux")

7 months old - scheduled for open heart surgery which ended up being canceled 2 weeks before the surgery when a cardiac MRI showed his heart defects weren't the source of his blue spells (ended up realizing his GERD was the culprit after a milk scan was done- he was aspirating on his relux)

David at 7 months
9 months old - big month of development because he finally was put on the right medicine to control his acid reflux -- started babbling for the first time (delayed in speech because of pain from GERD); was no longer considered "failure to thrive" for his weight/height

0-1 years - several bouts of bronchiolitis and 1 bout of pneumonia during the winter and spring; exhibited allergic symptoms but tested negative for all allergy testing - put on allergy medicine anyway to control symptoms (doctors thought he just had an immature immune system and would outgrow it)

1-2 years - multiple ear infections; diagnosis of asthma
Almost 2 years old

2-3 years - fractured and lacerated left index finger in heavy metal door at church requiring stitches and splinting; got a concussion because he talked his brother into sending him down the stairs in a laundry basket only to crash into the entertainment center; Surgery to drain infection in his ears that was resistant to 5 different antibiotics and to insert tubes in his ear drums (Jan. '09); start of multiple sinus infections
David sporting his fractured and stitched up finger (Jan. '09)

3-4 years - multiple sinus infections (at this point, he had been on antibiotics more months of his life than he had not been on an antibiotic); Surgery to remove his adenoids (Feb. '10); diagnosis of IgG Immune Deficiency
David in June 2010 - he and Josh were ring bearers for their Uncle Tim's wedding

For a summary of David's current health concerns and needs for prayer, see the next blog.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sudden Change of a Life's Course - Part II of Persevering in this Race of Life

I stated at the end of my previous blog in this series about my salvation experience at the age of 4 being a testament to God's perfect timing, "for in a year’s time, my life would be turned upside down."  The continuation of my testimony below explains why. 
Me at 5 years old (my Kindergarten picture)

5 Years Old

When I turned five, I faced a huge trial. I was molested by a deacon in my church, my Sunday School teacher’s husband. My world came crashing down, and I became a shy and frightened child afraid to talk about what happened to me and desperately afraid of and hateful toward the male race. That short moment changed the whole course of my life. In many ways, it robbed me of my childhood. Whenever I had to buy something at the store, I would choose a female cashier unless there were only males available. I would try to brace myself, but every time there was an innocent touch of my hand by a male cashier’s hand in the exchange of money, I would visibly shudder. This was an embarrassment to me and struggle for me until college. Prone to keep my feelings to myself, I harbored my pain and fears in my heart with God as my only source of comfort until everything came to a head my junior year of high school. I found out I was going to have the same male history teacher I had had the year before who consistently violated my very large personal space, so I tried desperately to get out of the class. Left the only options of having this teacher or giving my dad a good reason to not have him, my fears forced me to reveal what I had been harboring in my heart for all of those years. Despite the circumstances, I had to have this teacher in order to have the class and be able to graduate. Even though he was warned to keep his distance from me and I was allowed to sit in the back of the class, the year was difficult and forced me to cling to God even more.
Me in 11th grade - Horses have been a huge passion of  mine for pretty much all of my life

11th Grade - I had been training horses since 9th grade - Abi was the 3rd horse of my training career

God used this time to help me come to terms with the whole ordeal and give my pain over to him. My struggles were out in the open, and I was finally ready to let go of the hate and let God start the healing work inside of me. Romans 8:28-39 became really meaningful to me and and comforted my disconsolate heart. Even a horrible act that I was victim to could not separate me from the love of God! God would work even this horrible thing out for my good and His glory! I told myself that from that point forward, I could live with the scars that event left in my life and let God lead me on. (This wouldn't be the end of God's work in this area - more on this later).

Romans 8:28-39: "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,'For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Saving Faith - Part I of Persevering in this Race of Life

I year ago this month, I started writing a book about my life mainly for my own sake to remind me of what God has brought me through and the lessons He has taught me each step of the way.  A few months ago, I had the privilege of sharing my testimony at a women's prayer retreat giving me even more incentive to get my story written.  It has been a blessing to marvel at God's goodness in my life and see a broader glimpse of His Master Plan for my life.  It has also been comforting to see how God has used certain trials to prepare me for even bigger ones or equip me with more tools for ministering to others.  I chose the title/theme of my book/life "Persevering in this Race of Life" because I feel that concept totally sums up what I've been doing.  We are all in a race striving to reach the goal for the prize of the upward call of God (Philippians 3:14).

Anyway, Tim has encouraged me to put samples of my book/life on our blog as a way to allow others to rejoice with me in God's faithfulness and be encouraged by the fact that "...He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6). So, in response to his prodding, here I go!

Hebrews 12:1, 2: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Endurance is definitely what I have needed to continue on in my race of life. My life, thus far, has not been easy, to say the least, but at the same time, it has been so much easier to endure because God has been with me every step of the way. With his strength and grace, I have continued in my race because I have been able to keep my eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of my faith.

In each step of my life, God has kept His promises of never leaving me or forsaking me. Throughout my life, God has been my hope, my comfort, my peace, and my joy. If it were not for God’s hand on my life, I would not be alive today and filled with such wondrous peace.

God blessed me with the privilege of growing up in a Christian home. From infancy on, I was taught the truths of the Bible. I am indebted to my parents who taught me from the beginning and who instilled in me the importance of going to church to learn more about God and to worship Him with a body of believers. When I was four years old, I made a profession of faith. I still to this day remember that evening. I was looking at one of my favorite books, which halfway through had a picture of a baby in a baby carriage. Having always been fascinated with babies, I made a comment about the baby to my mom who used the opportunity to remind me that Jesus came to this earth as a baby to grow up and die for my sins, which I had heard multiple times. Looking at that tiny, innocent baby, I was struck unlike ever before about the magnitude of God’s love and was awed by how a baby had to be condemned to a life that would end in a cruel death on the account of ME! Right then and there, I prayed and asked God to forgive me of my sins and to save me. I thanked him for sending Jesus to the earth as a baby to grow up and die for my sins. I asked him to be Lord of my life. From that point forward, God has done just that! His timing in calling me to Himself was perfect, like always. For in a year’s time, my life would be turned upside down. (See Part II for continuing story)
Me at 4 years of age

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Complete Submission

Exhaustion, confusion, struggle, doubt, fear, pain, heartache, frustration...all sum up our time since returning from Bulgaria and trying to recover from jet lag.  We haven't even been back a week, and so much has happened that being in Bulgaria seems like a thing of the distant past.  All we can say is that our adversary, the Devil is seriously coming down hard on us attacking our faith and trust in God in a relentless manner.  It all came to a head for me two days ago, and although my faith was greatly shaken, it was not lost.  Through the Godly counsel and wisdom of a friend yesterday, the faint light I saw in my dark world became a beacon that strengthened my resolve to put myself at the feet of Jesus in complete submission to His will for my life.

For the first time in my life, I have come to the realization that my circumstances are completely beyond my own control.  I have no clue how things are going to work out or what my future is going to look like, and there's absolutely nothing I can do about but surrender my will and heart's desires to my omnipotent, sovereign Lord.  However, this is so much easier said than done.  I am getting a glimpse of how Joshua feels in his Asperger's mind when he realizes when a situation is happening and there's nothing he can do to control it.  It's frightening, anxiety provoking, and very unsettling.  I am so thankful that I don't have to deal with these feelings alone but can cast my cares and anxieties on the Lord, for He will answer my prayers and sustain me (Psalm 55:22; Philippians 4:6,7; I Peter 5:7). The struggle is far from over, but by God's grace and strength, I will endure, and I will be victorious.  There's nothing better than being in the very capable arms of God and being at His mercy for direction in my life.  Along with turning to the Bible and prayer for my spiritual battles, I find it helpful for me to write my feelings and the things that I am learning down in the form of poetry.  Just like many of the great Psalms we have were written during David's times of struggles and challenges of faith, most of my poems are an outpouring of my heart's cries to the Lord or the quiet peace and assurance God fills within my spirit.  In my pleas to God yesterday, I wrote this prayer to God:

The Cry of My Heart
By: Christine Russell

O Lord, I cry out to you today
Because my heart is bleeding and my broken spirit is weak--
Life's circumstances have crumbled around me and look bleak.
Through my human eyes, my situation looks dark and drear,
Yet deep within my soul, I find comfort that You are near.
My faith is faltering -- Help my unbelief, I pray.

O Lord, I am floundering to know Your will.
I know in my heart my own plans of what I want to do,
But I know following Your plan will carry me through
The struggles and fears, the bitterness and strife,
The pain and sorrows of this fallen world and life.
My plans I lay at your alter -- Your will I must fulfill.

O Lord, I ask for Your abundant mercy and grace,
The strength to mount up on wings as eagles is what I need.
Help me to acknowledge You in all my ways and straighten my paths I plead.
You alone are the maker and keeper of my soul.
It's in Your peace that I rest even when billows roll.
My body is frail -- Give me the strength to finish this race.

(c) 2011. Christine Russell.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Leaving Bulgaria

The day had come and the sun had set on our time in Bulgaria.  We left Sofia Friday morning with mixed emotions.  Our very full week of experiencing Bulgaria went very quickly.  We learned a lot about the country's history and current status, had a chance to talk with its people, and spent a lot of time asking questions of the missionaries serving faithfully there.

Since we did not have a "lighting bolt" experience confirming or negating God's call for us to serve in Bulgaria full-time, we have decided to continue to pray about and pursue serving God in Bulgaria until God clearly shuts the door.  The next steps include the team leader talking to the other team members on the field.  It is ultimately up to the team to decide to extend an invitation to us to join them in their work there in Bulgaria.  Also, in July, we go to the REV which is an assessment/boot camp of sorts in which we are observed and carefully scrutinized to determine whether or not, we are fit for missionary service.  At the end of the week, we are either given a green light to serve as missionaries, a caution in which certain things need to be worked on before we can serve or a red light saying we are not up to the rigors or serving on a foreign field.  All of these are ways in which God can use to direct us.  If we are given the "go-ahead" from the REV but are not offered an invitation to serve in Bulgaria, we will start looking at other fields.

The biggest concern for serving in Bulgaria is education for Joshua.  However, we know that if it's the Lord's will for us to serve Him in Bulgaria, He will work those details out.  We will be looking into the options that are before us for Josh's schooling to decide what would work best if we did end up there.

Please pray with us as we seek God's will for our future service.  Pray that God would make His will clear to us and equip our family with whatever is needed to serve God effectively.  Thank you to all who prayed for us while we were in Bulgaria.  God answered all of our prayers and those we didn't even think to pray about.  The boys did extremely well with my parents and Tim's parents.  God sustained David's health and gave Josh the strength he needed to cope with his anxieties about our being gone.  Josh did not have any of the behaviors we were seeing right before we left.  We were able to either video skype or talk on the phone with the boys every day, and many times, they were having too much fun to talk to us for more than a couple of minutes, which is fine with us.  We'd rather that then having them crying for us to come home.  We are praising the Lord for His goodness to us as we were away and to our boys while they remained here in the States.