Friday, January 30, 2009

Favorite Reads of 2008

I've been meaning to update my sidebar of Books Read in 2008. Obviously, you can still search the history of my blog, under book reviews, and find all of them. Before I cleared the list, though, I wanted to select my favorites.

Top 5 grown-up books (I always hate writing "adult books" - sounds like "adult movies"):

A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini
Three Weeks with My Brother, by Nicholas Sparks
The Shack, by William P. Young
Musicophilia, by Oliver Sacks
Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom

Top 5 Children's or Young Adult books:

Gossamer, by Lois Lowery
Belle Prater's Boy, by Ruth White
Diary of a Wimpy Kid, by Jeff Kinney
Regarding the Bees, by Kate Klise
Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Book Review: Poe's Heart and the Mountain Climber

The human body is an intricate and amazing thing. If ever there were an argument for the existence of God, human life, in all of its strengths and vulnerabilities, would be a strong piece of evidence. To think that something so complex and varied arose out of nothing - a big bang, devoid of any Creator - is inconceivable to me.

I have mentioned before that one of my favorite books is The Gift Nobody Wants, by Philip Yancey and Dr. Paul Brand. That book discusses pain as a "gift." It explores the tangible drawbacks we would experience if pain were completely eliminated from our existence. In a similar way, Dr. Richard Restak's book, Poe's Heart and the Mountain Climber, explores the role of anxiety in our lives and culture.

My ES is convinced that I am obsessed with this book. It is a book I stumbled upon while seeking an audio book for the car. Now that wrestling season is in full swing, I have more opportunity to listen as I drive him to and from practices and meets. He would routinely tease me about the book. "Oh no, not this again. 'Anxiety blah, blah, blah, anxiety, blah, blah, blah.'"

Truly, I did enjoy the book immensely. As I was searching for a graphic, I happened upon several unfavorable reviews for the book. I'm guessing these readers were expecting a book about Edgar Allen Poe or about mountain climbing. The book's subtitle clarifies its objective: "Exploring the Effect of Anxiety on the Brain and Our Culture." Although, I am a fan of Poe's works, it was really this subtitle which caused me to pick up the CD version of this book.

Besides having a great interest in non-fiction concerning the human brain and how it functions (or malfunctions), I was also drawn to this book because it dealt with anxiety. I would venture to say that my husband is a fairly anxious person and comes from a family with obsessive-compulsive attributes. Moreover, I also battle various anxieties and have fought clinical depression (brought on originally by a miscarriage on the heels of a very stressful year). When doctors recently suggested that the source of our son's headaches and stomach issues might stem from anxiety and might respond favorably to a low dose of fluoxetine, I found myself thinking a great deal about the tendencies towards anxiety which ES may have acquired from his parents.

This book offers a fascinating and well-articulated journey into the study of anxiety and how the brain handles anxiety. After listening to only a few chapters, I wanted to acquire a hard copy of the book, so that I could digest the information more fully. From his discussion of how our brain fails at estimating probabilities for disaster to discussions of various research and experiments, Dr. Restak tackles the fodder of brain-surgeons and makes it accessible to those of us who merely have a brain and experience anxiety.

The main thrust of the book was focused on understanding anxiety and its crucial role. The author's perspective, like Brand's view towards pain, is that we should recognize anxiety as a biological response to life's stresses and rather than try to eliminate it, we should try to understand it and manage it. He does offer some advice in the epilogue on ways to manage anxiety beyond the medical interventions (which he considers only part of the solution to managing anxiety).

I came away from this book encouraged. So often anxiety and depression sufferers wonder why they respond to life's stresses differently than others. Even as neurologists acquire more information about how the brain functions, those who suffer from anxiety or depression often feel a social stigma, the opinion of others that we are merely weak in the face of difficulty. Restak asserts that anxiety is a valuable biological response. He shows how research has indicated that certain individuals may have a genetic tendency towards a higher degree of anxiety.

Restak discusses the correlation between our capacity for creativity and intelligence with our capacity for anxiety. This seems to follow the historical evidence of the percentages of highly creative individuals who suffer from anxiety or depression. Restak quotes Soren Kierkegaard, "The more original a human being is, the deeper is his anxiety." He urges that the absence of anxiety would be a costly liability. Another favorite quote he uses, is by German psychiatrist and philosopher, Karl Jaspers: "Large numbers of modern people seem to live fearlessly because they lack imagination. They suffer from an impoverishment of the heart. Total freedom from anxiety is the inner expression of a profound loss of personal freedom."

Restak asserts that anxiety is "part of our genetic make-up" (no different than our eye color, skin pigmentation and emotional temperament). Our best course of action is not to attempt to escape or deny it, but rather to accept it and discern the best route for managing it.
If you suffer from anxiety, but find the technical discussions of the molecular structure of anxiety to be dry, skim the book and focus on Restak's epilogue. He offers helpful suggestions for managing anxiety (i.e., understand what triggers your anxiety, journal your experiences, avoid isolation, and pursue proper nutrition and exercise). Now, I'm off to Amazon to purchase a copy of the book and I'll probably try to snag a similar title by Dr. Restak, Mozart's Brain and the Fighter Pilot.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

There's a price on her sweet head

My niece, Amelia, has the most beautiful dark brown locks of hair. She is a spunky little cancer survivor. She lost those curly brown locks twice due to chemotherapy. Yet, she continues to fight in the cancer battle. She has agreed to have her hair cut for "Locks of Love" during the St. Baldrick's Foundation event in Green Bay on March 14th.

Last year, my brother Tim, Amelia's dad, and Caleb, Amelia's brother, both shaved their heads in honor of Amelia and her cancer fight. This year Amelia is letting go of some of her hair once again, in an effort to raise awareness and funding to fight children's cancer. What a sweetie she is. She is participating in honor of several cancer buddies (including one girl, Janae, who is from DeKalb, IL, where we used to live) and in memory of her friends Mariah and Aaron.

At this point, she is at her 20% mark towards meeting her goal. I hope to donate on her head sometime this week (just donated to Wheaton College last night, so will have to discuss this with hubby). If you would be interested in donating on her head, you can visit her St. Baldrick's profile page. Even a five dollar donation will help her reach her goal. I'm sure there will also be further information (and probably photos), at her Caringbridge site.

Hmmm ... ES needs to get a haircut before his first wrestling tournament on Thursday. Wonder if he has enough to donate to Locks of Love? Ha! I'm betting he's not as brave as Amelia!

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Face Tells Everything

I'm one of those individuals who "wear their emotions on their sleeve." Actually, my emotions are always pretty easy to assess. However, I will admit that sometimes my physical expressions or demeanor have confused others.

For example, when I was in high school, I was often singled out by my teachers, in front of the other students, for my "look of pain." In reality, I was trying to concentrate so that I wouldn't miss a thing that might appear on an upcoming exam. My concentrated look is apparently one of great pain (since I heard the same thing from various teachers).

My poor MS! He is afflicted with this same trait. He has always been very expressive, but it is a whole package. He gesticulates when he talks. " Are you EVER going to come, Mom? You said you'd come look at my picture hours ago, but you just keep staring at the computer!" (with great arm thrusts) Of course, he is also given to statements with radical descriptors, like "hours", "always," "never," "forever," etc.

ES has recently been teaching MS several computer and Playstation games. He revels in watching MS play. He doesn't watch the computer terminal or television screen. No, he is fixated on MS's facial expressions during play. The other night, he insisted on producing video documentation of his brother's "unique game face" and has been begging me to share this on my blog.

Perhaps a minute and a half is too long to endure, but if you pay attention at the 1:13 point, MS even mouths the words spoken on the game. Too funny! No matter what game he plays, this is what he looks like.

I have to say, I won't be playing any games in front of my ES any time soon. Then, again, at the moment he can't find my camera. This weekend, I forced him to sit down and let me attempt to french braid his hair. I had come across an old photo of me, which a friend shared on Facebook. In the photo, my hair is french-braided, and I swore, looking at it, that my pre-teen son looks a lot like that, if we could get his hair out of his eyes. He fought tenaciously (without fighting so fiercely as to arouse my hubby's wrath), but I managed to snag two photos of him with his hair partially french-braided.

Perhaps, I should bargain with ES and tell him "I'll post the video of your brother, when you let me post the photos of your hair in a french-braid." Nah, I was humiliated by a photo when I was a teen. I don't think I could bring myself to inflict that kind of "great pain" on my son. The video of MS is merely amusing, not humiliating. If at any point in the future, he should ask me to remove it, I will certainly do so. Then, I'll wave my arms wildly and say, "But, you ALWAYS made such HILARIOUS faces when you played ANY video/computer games!"

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Fine Walk

Lately, I've been really battling the blues. It is not at all surprising. I often encounter this in January. The rush and hustle and bustle of Christmas has given way to dull routine and the weather often keeps us indoors more than I'd like. Last week, the little boys didn't make it to school at all. On Tuesday, YS was still recuperating from his bout with croup (would that be recrouperating?) and MS didn't feel like going. Then Thursday was a snow day.

By Tuesday of this week, I was really needing some time away from my children. Unfortunately, my time was taken up with shopping (although, I do appreciate being able to shop without the constant distractions aid and assistance of my two little guys). Today, I was determined to take more time for me.

Alas, ES was home sick from school. I ended up using the entire time (while the little boys were in pre-school) cleaning the house and getting food and drink for the helpless 12 year old. I knew that a good walk in the sunshine would do wonders for my mood. So, after putting YS down for a nap, I decided to let MS skip a nap and take a walk with me (he naps on school days, but I'm beginning to wonder if I should just skip his naps entirely, so that we can keep his bedtime more consistent). The misfortune of having ES home from school became advantageous, since it afforded one-on-one time with MS and a fine walk.

Come along and join us, won't you?

MS could barely look at me, there was so much sunlight as we set off.

This is a tree which split during an ice storm a few years ago.

A while back, ES was reading Holes and thought it would be fun to dig his own hole near the entrance to our woods. MS wanted me to take a picture of him down in the hole. This brings to mind that book, Look Me In The Eye, about the Aspergian who dug holes and put his younger brother in them. Not surprising that the younger brother went on to write a book entitled, Running with Scissors!

I'm not sure when this tree fell in our woods, but it IS magnificent, isn't it?

King of the stump.

Looking down on the creek which wends its way through our woods.

We noticed this large purple ball in the brush near the creek when we were walking with my family just after Christmas. At the time, I was convinced that it was our purple ball, which must have blown out of the yard and into the creek at some point. Then, a few weeks ago, I pulled into the garage and oddly noticed that our purple ball was nestled in the wagon, where it is usually kept. (The miracle of the multiplying of purple balls? - only in a boy world!)

A moment to rest.

Looking back on our progress so far.

Come on, buddy, you can keep up!

Even though these signs are posted, people still trespass and come onto our property to hunt.

MS loves exploring the equipment.

And a walk wouldn't be complete without getting dirty!

As we headed to the white barn, I heard a rustling in the brush. I told MS, "Deer" and sure enough, one sprinted away from us.

When it was a safe distance away, it turned and stood watching us for quite a while.

Running to the white barn.

Two broken windows in temporary repair. Thanks ES!

Another magnificent tree (wish I could identify all these, like my brother can).

In the walnut grove.

MS told me to keep heading home. He would go "this way." It took some convincing that his way wouldn't get him home. Finally, I enlisted his help to pick up the trash along the side of the road as we made our way home. We both arrived home with arms loaded - one outdoor Christmas decoration box, one candy wrapper, two fast-food drink cups, and five aluminum cans. Kind of makes me want to burst out into song (Don't put your trash on my side of the road ...), so I guess it was a beneficial walk. I think we should do this more often.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Gotta Love a Brass Band!

How I love and MISS Salvation Army banding. I've been inundated with old photos from my band camp days on Facebook lately. It all makes me smile (with a hint of wonder as to why my path veered off when so many other Salvationists are right where they were when I left).

So, I smiled tonight when my mother sent me a link to this You Tube clip of Mr. Bean directing a Salvation Army band! Hope you enjoy it, too.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Book Review: A Midnight Clear

As a college student, I remember one of my roommates reading and raving about Katherine Paterson's Jacob Have I Loved. Shortly after I finally read that book, Mrs. Brown asked if I would read The Great Gilly Hopkins, to her class of fifth graders. That was a real joy.

Thus, when I happened upon a book of Christmas tales by Katherine Paterson, I decided to check it out. These 12 Christmas stories were written over the years for her pastor-husband to share in his annual Christmas Eve services. I must admit, the very first story was a bit odd and I put the book down for a while. Still, I generally won't give up on a group of short stories after reading only one.

Eventually, I finished the entire book and would have to choose "The Handmaid of the Lord," as my favorite. This was a tale about a minister's daughter who wished to have a "good" part for the Christmas play. The character is drawn well and the story moves to a clear moment of climax.

Other stories I enjoyed were:
"Exultate Jubilate" about a Scrooge-like man who finds a bit of holiday spirit in unusual circumstances, "Amazing Grace," about a young couple lost in the night and awaiting the birth of their child, and "In the Desert, a Highway," about a scholar and a illiterate watchman in Communist China.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Quick Note: MRI Completed

I feel bad that I haven't updated on my ES's health concerns recently. After the pediatric GI took him off of the Reglan, they suggested we get psychotherapy for him. I felt very strongly that this is a physical issue and not a psychological one.

Thus we determined to get a second opinion. On January 2nd, I took him to see a pediatric GI at Riley. I left that appointment with very mixed feelings. For one thing, the doctor did not have a chance to review the previous tests prior to our office visit. This was the first appointment I took ES to. I wondered if my presentation of the difficulties made it sound different than if my husband had presented the medical history.

Also, by this time, we had experienced a relative decline in complaints over the break from school. I think we were wondering already, if some of the difficulties were related to anxiety. Thus, when this second doctor, spoke with us and immediately suggested putting ES on Prozac, I felt the quick stab of "They think this is all just in his head." The doctor's explanation was that, he felt ES originally suffered from an infection which led to a level of anxiety. He suggested that the Prozac med might allow the anxiety issue to subside and also bring relief to the stomach ailments.

I'm no stranger to meds for depression and anxiety, so I probably took this suggestion better than my husband would have. However, even I was wondering what to really make of the weight loss, the stomach pains and the numerous headaches. The doctor did seem concerned enough about the recurring headaches to request an MRI.

For some reason, I dawdled on the arrangements (I think I have still been trying to determine my own take on ES's current health). Finally, today, he had his MRI appointment. He was a tad bit nervous. He did make me chuckle because the thing which concerned him most was his perception of his inability to remain still for 40 minutes. They suggested bringing a CD to listen to and he only felt this would make it worse. He is a drummer. Music (even silence, really) just makes him tap and move. His secondary concern was that they would tell him he had to cut his hair in order to get the MRI (big grin! - if only I had known the technician and could have pulled off that argument)!

As I waited (there was no way he was having his "mommy" go in with him, like he was a baby or something), another woman arrived for an MRI. I overheard her explaining to the receptionist that she was quite anxious. She is, apparently, claustrophobic and was really dreading the prospect of failing a third MRI attempt. If she failed today's MRI, she would have to be sedated for the exam.

I found it all very interesting. Especially, since the book I am currently listening to is entitled, "Poe's Heart and the Mountain Climber: Exploring the Effect of Anxiety on Our Brains and Our Culture" by Richard Restak, MD. If you follow this blog, you know how much I love reading books about the human body and the human brain.

Now, we await news of the MRI results (which, even we are believing will probably be normal) and another appointment with the initial GI. Thankfully, the second doctor encouraged ES to participate in the wrestling season (as long as he is not pursuing weight loss), engage in as many normal activities as possible and continue to avoid taking the bus to school in the morning, if this puts him at ease (this is my biggest complaint, since it is no fun getting ES off to school with two little ones added into the mix and ice and road and freezing temperatures to boot!).

I must admit, mean mother that I am, I forced him to take the bus twice this week. They had a two hour delay, for goodness sakes, and usually by 9:30 a.m., his stomach is beginning to feel better anyway. I'm sure he hated it. He said that both mornings, his damp hair froze in the walk from our door to the door of the bus (which pulls up to our driveway).

If I had to venture a guess, I would say that the new meds are helping. He has eaten lunch at school twice this week. Hopefully, it is, now, just an issue of anxiety and something he can work through with medicine and altered thought processes. Still not sure about the headaches, but hubby wonders if they were caused by the other medicines and by the anxiety. Anyway, may his MRI be AOK!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Compared to ES's Week

Perhaps last week was a bit too much for me to sit down and blog about. But, tonight, after sharing YS's relatively difficult day, I must fill you in on ES's difficult week. Only four more months until we have a teenager in our home. I feel so anxious and unprepared.

I always feel a bit leery when ES begins to hang with a new friend. It is not because I am worried that the new friend will be a harmful influence. Rather, I know the stages my son goes through when courting a new friend. In the beginning, it seems, he is overly-eager to impress. Given that I know this trend, you would think I would have been more alert to possible outcomes last week. Alas, though I know my child, I remained clueless.

Last weekend, Robert had called to say he wanted to go hunting in our woods (I believe he said it is the last weekend in the season???). On Sunday of that weekend, ES begged to have a new friend come over. He wanted to show him our woods and take a walk back to the barn. Where was my mother antennae? It should have been screaming, "Warning! Warning! Red Alert! Red Alert! Danger! Danger!"

We attempted to call Robert, but couldn't reach him. Hubby decided to let the older boys go for their walk anyway. When the boys returned my antennae was trying to pick up some sort of message. They seemed to be chuckling over something and I did enquire, but they passed it off as nothing. They decided to head over to the friend's house.

Just after they left, Robert called. He wanted me to know that some kids must have been messin' around near our barn and knocked out one of the windows with a brick or a 2 x 4. I immediately said, "Or perhaps my kid ... since he was just back there for a walk with his friend ..."

Robert said, "I'm not wantin' ta get anyone inta trouble." He explained that he had gone into the woods around 10:30 that morning and when he returned to his truck around 3 p.m., he noticed the damage to the window. We were truly thankful for his keen observation!

My husband called ES to see when he planned on coming home. When I heard him begin to question ES, my first thought was "Oh, what are you doing? We should question him here, where we can watch his body language while he answers!"

Sure, enough, I could tell that ES was claiming ignorance and innocence. My husband persisted in probing and encouraging honesty. Finally, I think he threw in the tid-bit of information that Robert had called and the damage occurred some time between his arrival and his departure. I'm guessing that is what suddenly made honesty seem more appealing than dishonesty.

As we sat him down for a parent-child heart-to-heart, we explained that his attempted deceit bothers us far more than the broken window. With our new distrust, came a new set of restrictions and boundaries. We reminded him that he would need to re-establish our trust by behaving in a trustworthy manner. In addition, he is required to pay for the cost of the repair.

I must say his pre-teen perspective is a little hard to understand. He admitted that he was trying to show off. Furthermore, he felt that damaging a window on his own property shouldn't be considered vandalism. "Besides, it is just an old barn full of old equipment," he quipped. We were pretty sure the man who farms this land and stores his equipment in our old barn wouldn't agree (thankfully, he also raised sons).

How quickly parent-child conversations fade from their memory! On Saturday, he begged to go over to a different friend's house. I reluctantly agreed, figuring he'd had a whole week indoors and they would probably spend time playing the friend's Wii.

A few hours later, my husband answered the phone. I could tell it wasn't a good conversation. When he hung up, he said, "Here's the address to (the new friend's) house. ES needs you to bring him dry clothes and shoes. I'm not goin' to pick him up."

I'm pretty sure ES expected to see me pull up instead of his father. I squirmed as I introduced myself to the other boy's father. He was in the same frame of mind as my husband - livid! As ES took the clothes from me, he handed over his ruined cell phone - a recent Christmas present.

On the drive home, I asked what had happened and why he called from the other boy's house.

"Well, we were at C's house, but then his mom kicked us out. I knew we didn't want to all go to my house because you guys don't trust me would make us stay in the house and do boring stuff. So we were walking around K's neighborhood. We went to the pond and I walked across to the middle. The other guys were all like 'Dude, man, how can you do that? Dude?' C. wouldn't even go on the ice. He said, 'I'm not retarded!' D. only walked on the edge. Then, I said,'Somebody's gotta come out here with me,' so K. did. At first, he was right behind me, but then he went back. When I got to the middle this time, the ice broke and I went in. The water was up to my neck and I couldn't feel the bottom at all. K. thought I was gonna die, so he came back over by me to try to help out, but the ice broke under him, too. But, where he was, the water only went up to his waist. I pulled myself up and out of the ice."

Of course, I had plenty of questions. I asked where the pond is in relation to K's house and why they walked all the way there when he was only wearing a sopping wet t-shirt, hoodie and jeans? His explanation?

"Well, we were gonna go to E's house cuz' she's the closest, but then, I knew I had to get out of my clothes and they wouldn't have any boy clothes I could change into. I asked D, if we could go to his house, but he said, 'No way. My mom would freak if she knew we were on the pond.' K. and I had to walk to his house, since my cell-phone was soaked in my pocket."

His final thoughts were clinchers, too. He said, "Man, I'm never walking across ice with my cell phone in my pocket again. I should have handed it to C. He was the only one who wouldn't get on the ice."

I can't remember my responses too well. I remember saying something like, "I don't think that's going to be a problem for you, since you won't have a cell phone to worry about." I also remember informing him that this wasn't exactly the best way to earn back our trust.

He tried to ask if he could buy a new cell phone with his own money. I remember my response to that one. "What money? All your money is going to pay for the repair to the barn window/s (I still haven't seen it, so I'm not sure if it was one or two)." He didn't think it would require ALL of his money. I said, "You'd be surprised!"

So, ES is still alive and didn't end up contracting pneumonia. YS merely had an ER trip for croup and a small steam burn. I have three sons and at least sixteen more years before they become entirely responsible for themselves. SIXTEEN YEARS! Whoever said "Children keep you young?"

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Quite a Day for YS

YS's morning started early this morning with another episode of croup. As I drove to the emergency room, I found myself thinking, "This was a sad night for the little critter population!" I must have passed six different scenes of road-kill. Then again, this is the COUNTRY! It may be like this every morning. I'm just not usually out on the roads in the early morning hours. Plus, each time I make this trip, it becomes more of a routine, and I notice other things, besides his stridorous breathing.

Of course, this time around he can talk, so he continued to say "Go home now," through everything. Still, he did very well receiving the oral steroid and the breathing treatment. They kept him for observation for one hour and then sent us home.

At lunch, just before nap-time, he spilled chocolate milk all over "sleepy bear." Thus, his nap was quite delayed because I couldn't get him to go to sleep until sleepy bear was washed and at least partially dry.

At bedtime, I decided to run the vaporizer once the two little ones were in bed. Unfortunately, hubby went in to check on them (trying to determine a reason they were still awake - as if they ever really need a reason!) and came out with YS, declaring that he had a dirty diaper keeping him from going to sleep. I was already logged onto the computer, so he agreed to change him and put him back to bed. Sadly, when hubby went to wash his hands, YS scampered back to his room and touched the vaporizer.

Thank goodness for sleepy bear. He wouldn't let me put anything cold near his hand, yet cried in pain. Finally, I tucked an ice pack into his sleepy bear and encouraged him to hold sleepy bear. It worked like a charm. He is asleep, as I write, on the couch, holding the sleepy bear adorned ice pack. Since his head is nicely elevated on the arm rest of the couch, I might just sleep out here with him. Sure hope he has a better (uneventful) day tomorrow.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

My Insides are Smiling, Can You See Them?

I don't even have time to be on here blogging tonight (yes, it is nearing 1 a.m. and hubby has been after me all week for persisting in my late nights), but I'm bursting with internal smiles and will explode if I don't share!

First off, today was Coleman Larson's funeral in Iowa. How I wish I could have travelled the distance to be in attendance, to meet the family personally, and to express my gratitude for sharing their journey. Last night, I was trying to express some of these feelings in a comment on another CarePage, but couldn't quite locate the Scripture verse or song lyrics which popped into my head. All I know is that the line was something about how God redeems every sorrow we bear. In searching, I did find an excellent article, from a book called Never Give Up, (how appropriate when thinking of Team Larson!) regarding blessings resulting from sorrows. I have been far more blessed by the Larson family than I could ever repay. I will continue to walk next to them on their journey and petition the Lord for his blessings to cover them abundantly.

This reminds me of another journey which has me smiling. I found the Larsons shortly after finding Boothe Farley's blog about her Trisomy 18 baby, Copeland. They welcomed a new baby girl in November and I have been anxious to hear how things were going for them. How thrilled I was to read a new update. Boothe began by apologizing and claiming that art is usually cultivated in sorrow and harder to duplicate when life is calm. However, this post was anything but dull. She has such a gift for articulating what many of us feel. I am smiling inside when I think of the spring they are experiencing after their harsh winter.

Once again, I gotta say - I love a good redemption story! We had the privilege of watching an excellent movie this evening with a fine redemption story. Years ago, my hubby and I had watched "The Spitfire Grill," and I remember that my husband thought it was very touching. So, I purchased this as a gift for him and when he opened it, he said, "Why would you get me a movie we've never seen." I insisted that we had seen it. He finally vaguely remembered it about a half hour into the movie.

This was also about the same time that MS came out for a "supposed potty run" and ended up on the couch between us watching the. entire. movie. Here's the kicker. My kind-hearted, intuitive, sensitive little guy cried at the end and cried in his bed while falling asleep. He told me he prefers scary movies to sad movies. He's only four years old, for cryin' out loud, and he's already crying at sad movies. That boy made me smile through my tears.

Then, I received the most fabulous news tonight. My pen-pal Katja, had been deeply grieved over news that she would be unable to conceive a child. She has found out that she is unexpectedly expecting. I know it is early in her pregnancy and I know that this redemption story is far from complete. But, inside I can't stop grinning from ear to ear thinking about her news. I will be praying for God to richly bless Katja, Martin and this baby in the year 2009!

Another thing which made me smile tonight, and I hope it has a mirror effect (i.e., may my smile be duplicated on your face!) - this quote which my sister-in-law sent out:

"God doesn't give you the people you want. He gives you the people you NEED. To help you, to hurt you, to leave you, to love you, and to make you into the person you were meant to be." I don't know who said it, but it is good and so is God!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Power of Prayer

I wrote this post out by hand last night (Yes, CG - I used my new Sharpie pen and Yes, it is magnificent!). I wanted to log on and write a post, but ended up fighting a headache at bedtime (that is a completely normal occurrence around here with boys who seem to keenly understand that I am waiting for their weary bodies to hit dreamland so that my weary body can hit cyberland and lasso a few moments for myself). MS begged me to lie with him and I fell asleep. I awoke at midnight and went to wash up the dishes and finish a load of laundry. Just before I shut down the computer, I decided to check my e-mail.

I quickly read an update from my mom concerning my sister-in-law, who is fighting a physical battle in the hospital. I noticed an update from Team Larson, but thought, "maybe I'm not ready to read that yet." Instead I opened up another CarePages update and read the news of Coleman on that site. Coleman's physical battle is over. Caden, Scott and Peggy's emotional battle has shifted to a new field. How I ache for and with them!

Before I could head to Coleman's page, my Internet connection broke off. My mind held a blur of thoughts, despite the lingering headache. This is how I used to do things - with pen and paper at night, wringing out all the emotional intensities and tornadoes of thoughts, so that I could sleep unencumbered.

Although a large part of last night's emotional storm included waves of grief and sympathy, it also swirled around the concept of the power of prayer. Yesterday, just after listening to a phone message from my mom explaining that Miriam was in the hospital, I read an update which my brother Tim had posted on Amelia's Caringbridge page. Tim requested prayer for Miriam and my brother David and family. He emphasized his strong belief in "the power of prayer."

Indeed, I prayed for Miriam throughout the day yesterday. Mixed in with the prayers, were many comments of gratitude to God for the blessings Miriam has added to my life over the years.

I ended up digging out the bag of letters I had retrieved from storage at my in-laws' house last year. These were the letters that helped to keep me afloat during my lonely senior year in high school, when my parents had moved from Chicago to Sioux Falls, SD. Several of those letters were from Miriam.

In one letter, she encouraged me to hang in there because the following year I would be going off to college as she had done that year. She shared the freedoms and challenges of college. She wrote, "It's really great and I'm learning to trust in the Lord every day. I can't do it by myself. Only He knows what the future holds for me."

She closed her letter with the following poem:

Life's Little Tests

We don't need the courage to face life's big tests.
What we need is courage to meet life's little tests.
What we need is the courage to follow a regular routine,
the courage to stick to our plans,
the courage to keep the petty irritations of the day from blocking our efforts,
the courage to keep on going hour after hour.
We need to remember that it isn't the big trees
that trip us up as we walk through the forest,
but the vines on the ground, the exposed roots, the low underbrush.

by: Clay Hamlin

I know the poem was a tremendous encouragement because the loneliness I faced in that period of my life was really one of life's little tests. It was not a major battlefield, but it still demanded courage.

As I read of Coleman's passing, I began to think again about the power of prayer. Just the other night, when ES couldn't sleep, I asked him to pray for Coleman. I added, "Pray for Caden, too. He's only 5 and his parents are trying to prepare him for this big loss."

ES has asked me why I follow the CarePages of families I don't even know. As I felt the tug of grief over Coleman's outcome, I was tempted to wonder the same thing. Thousands of individuals have been praying for Coleman. Thousands like me are grieving his loss and asking God to carry his family through this difficult time.

Of course, those thoughts led to other streams of thought: The thought ... "I'm just one among thousands who have been beating on heaven's door begging for a miracle." The thought of the Scripture, "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much!" (James 5:16b) The thought, "I'm not righteous enough. Other prayer warriors have availed more than me." And, "Were our prayers for nought?"

Then ... hang on! I AM a prayer warrior. Wait a minute. I'm a prayer warrior? I've never really considered myself a prayer warrior. That is not to say that I haven't functioned as one. In fact, for years, I would wake in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, and if I wasn't frantically writing, I was kneeling by my child or my husband, praying over the battles we were engaged in. But I prayed fervently for my own pressing needs and concerns.

I began to recognize a shift in my spiritual situation. I have noted before that my relationship with God is not as strong or clear as it used to be. Going to church has often been more painful than uplifting. Many a Sunday, I would be surrounded by praising worshippers and my heart would be screaming, "Where are you, God? Why aren't you fighting this battle for me? Why am I losing ground instead of gaining ground." (I had claimed the verse in II Chronicles 20:17 which states that the battle is the Lord's.) I noticed the wounds of my present situation and misinterpreted the outcome of the battle.

It is interesting that God has brought to fruition many of the changes I begged for in my marriage, yet that doesn't make me feel closer to Him yet. I still feel like a naughty child out in the hallway, doing a time out. Sometimes, I still question whether or not God truly loves me.

However, the shift in prayer focus drives home a new truth. I may not be able to feel closeness with God in Sunday worship or in quiet times. I still may not be ready to review the real losses and victories in my personal situations. But, I have grown a new found closeness to the Lord in these petitions for the families of Coleman, Julian, Nicholas, Janae, etc.

As in the assessment of my own battles, it would be easy to look at Coleman's death and feel defeated. To wonder if our prayers did indeed avail much, when the outcome brings such pain. Yet, I'm thinking anew about the power of prayer.

In my lonely senior year, the fervent prayers of my family and friends helped to carry me. In my lonely isolation of our lives here in Indiana, my prayers for others are carrying them. Praise be to God, they are carrying me as well!

I wish that no families faced the loss of their vibrant young child to the ravages of cancer. I wish that we could be spared the grief and heartache. I wish that we could be free of the burdens of illness and sin and suffering. But, I thank God for the ability to access Him in prayer. I thank Him for hearing our screams and being patient with our limited understanding of these battlefields and their outcomes.

I continue to cling to the power of prayer. I continue to hold His hand in the dark tunnels, praying that He will get us safely to the other side. And when I get to "the other side" which is eternity, I intend to toss Coleman in the air and thank him for being "Turious Toleman" and for being a part of my life and for offering me a chance to experience the power of prayer.