Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Miracle of Hope

If you read my post "The Cost of Missions," I completed the post leaving you at my lowest point where Satan had found my weakness, and he had delivered the fatal blow - so he had thought!  I'm so glad our story didn't end there, but I never dreamed how incredible our story would transform from that point.  It all began with the most amazing miracle!

After a difficult day of work on December 20 caring for my patient while dealing with phone calls between Josh's school's principal, our behavior specialist, and Tim, I was emotionally drained and extremely stressed and frustrated.  I left work to go pick up Josh from Tim's office since Tim had to pick him up from school early due to behavior issues.  On my way, I had yet another difficult and frustrating phone call with Josh's principal which led to another call with the behavior specialist at which point I arrived at Tim's office an emotional mess having spent the majority of my day sobbing over the circumstances, crying at the pain and injustice Josh was experiencing, frustrated that I was stuck at work unable to be with my son when he needed me most, and stressed to get home because I knew David's bus would be dropping him off shortly.  At that point I got the final phone call from the behavior specialist who said there was no hope in changing the unfair circumstances for Josh for the day.  As I hung up with her, I got a call from David who arrived home and wanted to know where I was.  After telling him I'd be home as soon as I could, I hung up and broke down.  I had reached my end.  I was done fighting.  Satan's attacks on my family had been way more than I could have ever imagined, and I just couldn't stand to have him attack my kids one moment longer!  In sobs and tears, I said in defeat to Tim, "I can't do this any more!  I'm done fighting this battle!"  The moment those words were out of my mouth, my phone rang yet again.  Too emotional to answer it, I threw the phone at Tim for him to answer.  It was David, and the words he said proved that God existed, he cares, He's still in the miracle business, and He answers prayers and gives us the desires of our hearts: "The cat just came back!  He's really here!"

At my lowest point, I needed a miracle to snap me back from the pit of defeat, and that's just what God gave me.  After 10 days of going missing, our beloved Lightning Tabby Russell had returned to us!  When I thought all hope was lost, God gave me hope that He's still greater than the attacks of Satan, and He will bring us through this.

“But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one.” 2 Thessalonians 3:3

“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” Psalm 34:19a

The story gets even better...

As I talked to David on my way home with Josh, David said there was something wrong with Lightning and that he was having trouble walking and was dragging his back left leg behind him.  He was also skin and bones and sick looking.  I knew that God wouldn't bring him back to us only to take him away, so I had to trust that God was working all things together for good.

By the time I got home, David asked to talk to me privately.  When we were alone together in the bedroom, he began crying and told me that earlier at school that day, he was struggling with focusing on his schoolwork because he was worrying about the cat wondering what happened to him.  He began praying to God begging for him to let the cat come home and telling God, "You know that I am struggling to trust you and believe that you are really there and care about me.  Please show you me You are there and bring Lightning home TODAY!"  God had done just that, and David was overwhelmed with God's answer!  God is so good!

After making a trip to a local animal hospital, we knew God wasn't finished with the miracles for our family.  We were told that Lightning had 3 fractures in his left hip and that he would need to be sedated the following day to get better x-rays to see the extent of the damage.  Nerve damage was also present in his left leg as a result of the fractures.  Because of the area of the injury, the vet was also concerned that the bladder had been ruptured which would mean Lightning would need to be put down.  We brought Lightning home in a crate to monitor whether or not he was able to urinate.  If he did, he could be sedated in the morning.  We prayed for miracle #2!  The next day left us in suspense as to what his outcome would be.  By mid-afternoon, we found out that the orthopedic surgeon felt that surgery would be necessary for the best outcome to put a plate across the 3 fractures of his hip and a procedure would need to be done to put his femur head back in the hip socket.  However, the surgery would cost over $4,000.  There was still hope of decent healing without surgery, and often animals heal surprisingly well on their own.  Enter Miracle #3.  We chose to go with this route and pray that God would provide sufficient healing to Lightning without surgery.  As a result, Lightning is on cage rest to prevent him from further injuring himself and to allow time for healing.  We are allowed to let him out to walk around/exercise and to play with him.  Each day, we see him as God's miracle of hope to our family at our lowest time.

God cares about our family.  He answers prayer.  He makes a way.

Since that miraculous day, God has continued to give us hope.  We received notice that both boys' schools will allow the boys to miss school for this trip.  Satan is not going to win this time!  All four of us know that Satan may continue to attack.  We continue to deal with the battles of the significant crises we have been hit with the last few weeks, and the resolution may take a few more months in coming.  In the meantime, we are doing our best to arm ourselves daily for battle.  We are so grateful to have a daily visible reminder of that HOPE that is within us each time we look at Lightning, cuddle with him, or even give him his pain medication every 12 hours!  We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us!  Our HOPE is in the Lord!

The Cost of Missions

"Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

Before Tim and I were married, both of us felt called into missions, so when we met and it seemed as if God was leading us to be married, we started making plans to do missions together as husband and wife.  Tim was a Bible major, and I was a Pre-Med major.  We had great plans for how we were going to work as a team on the foreign mission field.  We got married in 2002 in time for Tim to finish his final year of college.  In 2003, we moved to Pennsylvania for him to go to seminary.  I had chosen to not continue on to med school and instead became a Certified Nursing Assistant with the desire of some day getting my nursing degree.  We were full speed ahead for getting to the mission field.

In 2004, we were blessed with our first child.  In 2006, we found out we were unexpectedly expecting our second child.  We were discouraged to have to decide for Tim to drop out of seminary because we couldn't afford to have him continue and be able to provide for yet another baby.  In 2007, I was forced to begin my nursing degree because I found out my science credits were all expiring.  That same year and into 2008, we were overwhelmed by the increasing special medical needs of our youngest and starting to be concerned by some behaviors of our oldest.  In 2009, our suspicions about our oldest were confirmed, and Josh was given the scary diagnosis of Autism.  By the time I finished my degree in 2010, Tim was in full swing of being a financial adviser, and really excelling.  The action of missions was changing, so we decided that instead of having Tim finish seminary, we could do mission work looking into opportunities for business as missions.  Also, because of the special needs of our children, God had given us a heart for ministering to those with special needs.  We knew that we'd never be able to minister in a third world country due to our children's medical needs, so when we discovered the field of Bulgaria, we saw many doors of opportunity open before us, so we excitedly started walking through each one.

In April 2011, Tim and I went to Bulgaria on a Vision trip with the hope to figure out how our family can live there, see what schooling options were available, make sure we'd be a good fit with the ministry already there, and understand what our housing options were.  We loved everything about being there and saw many opportunities to minster.  We came home encouraged and believing we could make it work and that God was continuing to open necessary doors.

However, upon our return, David's health took as turn for the worst and by September, he was needing weekly antibody transfusions to help him fight bacterial illnesses.  In November, I ended up with a migraine that took 3 months to finally break despite several drugs, visits with 4 neurologists, and a 4 day hospital stay.  At the beginning of the ordeal, a CT Scan revealed 2 brain lesions that the doctors were concerned may be cancer or signs of Multiple Sclerosis.  All tests for those were ruled out, but they never could figure out what the lesions were or what caused them.

By February 2012, Josh had his first psychiatric hospitalization, and we were told that he had Bi-polar in addition to Autism and would need to be on a mood stabilizer for the rest of his life.  A few months later, we had a huge family crisis that nearly crushed us.  In November, Josh was hospitalized for the second time.  By then, we were so discouraged and felt that despite the call to missions in our lives, the door for Bulgaria as well as any full-time missions had been permanently closed.

We had to find contentment in the mission field at home where God had us in dealing with many medical and psychological specialists and finding opportunities to minister to families in similar situations as ours.  Missions didn't look anything like we had planned, but we knew God had a plan and purpose greater than ours.  We also found comfort in doing short term missions work and being able to be involved with a partnership in the Middle East.  We enjoyed the trips we were able to make over there and the growing relationships with our dear brothers and sisters in Christ.  In 2014, we had toyed with the idea of going over there as a family bringing our boys with us, but with the unrest happening in the country, we decided it wouldn't be wise.

In each of these attempts to serve God in missions, we felt these trials as a heavy hand of Satan working hard to keep us from the field.  We related to Job in many ways.  However, through each situation, we felt that God used the attacks of Satan to redirect our steps.  After all, Satan is not able to thwart God's ultimate plans!

Finally, in November 2016, we starting praying about taking our family over there in the Spring of 2017.  After much prayer, discussing logistics, analyzing the calendar, looking at the cost of flights, and coordinating dates with a gathering that was to happen in the Spring as well, we made the decision to go as a family and start making plans accordingly.  Within less than a week of that decision, our stable family situation crumbled in several directions.  It started with a crisis regarding David's outpatient therapy on November 30 that led to dealing with a legal agency which then resulted in the need to figure out another way for David to get help because of the trauma and loss of confidence in his counselor.  The decision also affected Josh's therapy hence disrupting the therapy both boys were receiving.  While in the midst of dealing with that emotional roller coaster, our beloved family kitten, who has brought so much joy to our lives the last several months, went missing after we let him out for the night on December 3.  He is an outdoor cat, but he would come in a few times a day to be loved and cuddled.  The missing cat brought heavy hearts to all of us but really took its toll on the boys, particularly Josh who began perseverating over his missing cat causing increased behavior issues at school and home.  It was difficult for us to hear the boys prayers pleading with God to bring their cat home and see their discouragement when in their minds "God didn't listen."

Seeing this battle in their hearts and seeing their tenuous faith shaken even more, I started to struggle with why God would do this to our children.  In the midst of working in the kitchen on December 14 praying and asking God to protect my boys' hearts and faith and asking Him "Why," God reminded me of the cost of missions and the struggles of our past each time we pursued missions.  I had that "aha" moment that this was Satan once again attacking our family trying to ruin our plans before they could even be put into action.  Tim and I had a great discussion that night about the circumstances, and while we had seen God using the circumstances in the past to redirect our paths, we really felt that God was in this trip and its timing and desired for us to go.  So, we decided to declare war with Satan and persevere and not let his attacks keep us from serving.  It was time to arm up for battle and move forward to show Satan he can't win.  We sent requests to both boys' schools for an excused absence for the trip, and we started working on a support letter.

Ephesians 6:10-13a - "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground."

It didn't take long for Satan to take things up another level this time causing significant issues at school for Josh and unjust treatment of his behaviors and the resulting situations leading us into a battle for Josh's well-being and the legal rights of a kid with his diagnoses and the requirements of his Individualized Educational Plan (IEP).  This began the week of December 19 for us.  After the events and frustrations with Josh's school on December 20, I had reached my breaking point.  I could not fight Satan any longer.  If he wants to attack me, fine, so be it!  But LEAVE MY CHILDREN ALONE!  It's not fair to them!  Satan had found my weakness, and I was ready to surrender.

Luke 24:26-27:  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple."

I Peter 4: 12-13, 16, 19: Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed...However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name...So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good."

Thankfully, our story doesn't end here!  Read "The Miracle of Hope" to hear how God miraculously intervened.