Lessons Learned in the ICU

Disclaimer:  I certainly recognize that many others have gone through more serious, long-term stays in hospitals.  These are just a few thoughts from my own personal experiences this week.  

Our oldest son, Gary, went to the ER with respiratory distress early Monday morning.  He was admitted to the ICU, sedated and paralyzed, and put on a ventilator.  My husband and I hopped on a plane and have been with him ever since.  While I wish Gary and his sweet wife, Chelsea, didn’t have to go through this, there are several reasons I feel blessed to have been here this week:

  • God’s Family has no geographical borders.  Our home is in Colorado.  Our son’s home is in Alabama.  We have been welcomed and helped by Christians here just as if we were one of their own.
  • Christians are second-milers.  Oh man, I don’t have enough word-count to share every kindness that’s been extended to us.  We’ve had visits and messages of encouragement.  We’ve been brought snacks, homemade bread, blankets, parking tokens, meals, a gift certificate to a restaurant that delivers to the hospital, a vehicle to borrow, and magazines.  We’ve only slept in the waiting room one night because of the generosity and thoughtfulness of friends and local churches.  The kindnesses just keep coming!
  • Every prayer matters.  Within a couple of hours of our first morning here, we had four different area preachers come by and pray with us in the ICU.  Through the years Neal and I have circled up with folks for a prayer around a patient’s bed.  I never really knew how courage-bolstering that could be.  So many others have let us know they are praying.  Every single time, we feel comforted and grateful.
  • Things get put into perspective.  The world goes on outside these hospital walls but in here it feels like time stands still.  We are mostly focused on life, faith, and family.    Questions rise to the surface:  Does Gary know how much I love him and how proud  he makes me?  Do our Christian friends know how acutely we feel their concern and how much it means to us?  Through it all, we’ve been praying and contemplating.
  • Love is greater than fear.  It seems like every time my heart begins to worry, some kind gesture or word comes our way.  We are really seeing the Light this week.  Its warmth covers our cares.
  • Inside beauty is invaluable.  Oh, our sweet Chelsea.  She has helped Gary through things that weak stomachs won’t want to read about.  She works long hours and sleeps short nights in a hospital room but has yet to complain about a single thing.  Just now Gary asked her, “How are you holding up?”  She answered, “I’m fine, Hon.  You don’t have to worry about me!”  She is a cutie pie but more than that, her inner beauty has been a blessing to us all.  She is a worthy woman and we thank God for her.
  • Progress is worth celebrating.  Every little step on the road recovery causes rejoicing.  From big things (like coming off the ventilator) to little things (like sitting up for the first time), we smile and hug each other as we witness evidence of improvement.  I was never so excited to walk in and see someone eating applesauce.  When we share these good bits with others and they rejoice with us, it makes us smile all over again.  Consider how much more important spiritual progress is for new babes in Christ or for those making their way back from waywardness.  Every small step is a victory.  If we celebrate with them it can only encourage them to keep trying.
  • God is so good!

I was going to include a point about vanity.  It doesn’t matter that I only had five minutes to pack and left behind hair products and other beauty essentials (um, like tweezers).  Our first visitor was an old college friend we haven’t seen in over 26 years.  We’ve been meeting people for the first time and reuniting with family members this week.  I’m wearing sweats and have my hair pulled back in a ponytail.  I was going to include that point about vanity, but I do care.  I wish I looked better.  Ah well, I haven’t learned everything in the ICU.

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The Romans 12 “Do’s & Don’ts” List for Social Media

Social media is pretty great.  Apparently a lot of people think so since literally billions of people use it.  I love staying connected with long-distance friends and family, seeing what God is doing the world over, and laughing out loud over a hilarious meme.  It’s wonderful being able to post a prayer request or read an encouraging status.

But social media can also be misused.  Wasting time, ranting, sowing discord, getting involved in an ungodly relationship, or promoting self are a few examples of being a poor influence through our activities on social media.  Chris Pirillo said, “Twitter is a great place to tell the world what you’re thinking before you’ve had a chance to think about it.” Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36-37).  Which category will our posts and messages fall into?  Justified or condemned?

The following list is from Romans 12.  It seems perfect for making sure our social media activity stays good and Christlike!

  • Don’t be conformed to this world- v. 2
  • Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought- v. 3
  • Show mercy with cheerfulness- v. 8
  • Be loving- v. 9
  • Avoid all evil and promote good- v. 9
  • Be devoted to one another in brotherly love- v. 10
  • Give preference to one another in honor- v. 10
  • Contribute to the needs of the saints- v. 13
  • Bless those who persecute you- v. 14
  • Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep- v. 15
  • Don’t be haughty- v. 16
  • Associate with the lowly- v. 16
  • Don’t be wise in your own estimation- v. 16
  • Never pay back evil for evil- v. 17
  • Respect what is right in the sight of all men- v. 17
  • As much as possible, live at peace with all men- v. 18
  • Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good- v. 21

“Don’t use social media to impress people; use it to impact people” (Dave Willis).

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Image credit: WordStream

 

God Will Be by Your Side, and I’ll Be on Your Other Side

Every now and then I get caught up in the what-if’s.  This afternoon was just such an occasion.  I was worrying about something to the point that Neal asked me what was wrong.  I unloaded my fears.  “What if this happens….what if this doesn’t happen…?” Neal listened and reminded me that God is in control.  I said, “I know but what if…..?”  And I proceeded to try to get him to understand all my reasons for being concerned.  He finally said,

“Even if the very worst scenario happens, God will be by your side and I’ll be on your other side.”

Okay, that was powerful.  How comforting to know that, no matter what, God will never leave me and neither will my husband.  That truth helped me take a deep breath and let go of the useless worrying.  I thank God for His promise to always be with me (Heb. 13:5).  I thank God for Neal’s wisdom and his commitment to caring for me.  I know that next time my “anxieties multiply within me” (Psa. 94:19), I will recall the peace-giving image of God and Neal flanking either side of me.

I wonder how many others need those words said to them?  I can think of individuals I know who are hurting and could probably use the reminder that they’re not alone.  May I never get so caught up in my own little world that I neglect to comfort those around me.        That’s part of the purpose of the church, right (Heb. 10:24-25)?  I love knowing that I could go to another Christian with my fears or failures and be reminded of God’s faithfulness and their love.  May I ever strive to be that Christian for others, too.  I may not be able to solve problems or make the pain go away, but I can certainly hug more, pray more, and remind more that “God will be by your side and I’ll be on your other side.”

Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another…1 Pet. 4:8.

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You Can Always Come Home

HOME SWEET HOME.  Those three simple words engage the senses.  They conjure up images of loved ones, the home place, your childhood tree swing.  Perhaps you associate it with the smell of apple pie, your favorite birthday meal, or your mother’s perfume.  Or maybe you can close your eyes and hear your father whistling while he’s working on the car.  We want to fill our own homes with that same sense of belonging and rightness, so we intentionally create good memories for our own families:  laughter around the dinner table, nightly devotionals, loving touches, and sweet traditions.  Home is synonymous with comfort and security.  When we’re away from it, we long for it.  Not every earthly home is ideal, but many would agree that “there’s no place like home.”

Thank God for the home He provides for His family!  He must want us to enjoy that same sense of love and security because He gives us a home to enjoy now and one to look forward to in eternity.  When I close my eyes and think of my church family, I can’t help but recall warm hugs, precious memories, dear songs, and loving support.  No matter where we live, we have a home made up of Christian family.  What a blessing!  I can’t imagine trying to get through this life without it.  Jesus promises a heavenly home with our Father (John 14:1-3).  This one will be big enough to accommodate all of our loved ones.  There will be no goodbyes or sad memories (Rev. 21:3-4).  It will be the ultimate Home Sweet Home.

As dear as home is, some choose to walk away from it.  Whatever the reason for it (indifference, rebellion, sin), the absence is keenly felt by the Father and family.  I ran across a song recently called, “You Can Always Come Home.”  It is based on the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15.  In that passage, Jesus tells a parable of a young man who chose to leave home to experience the world.  He lived wildly and recklessly.  He cared not for his reputation or his family name.  But his new lifestyle brought no satisfaction.  The thrill was short-lived as he found himself broken and alone.  That’s when he thought of home and his wayward heart longed to return.   This passage never gets old for me.  My breath catches every time I read of his father running to meet him.  His father didn’t say, “You made your bed; now you have to lie in it.”  He didn’t say, “What do you have to say for yourself?!”  He most certainly didn’t say, “I don’t know you,” or “You’re no son of mine.”  Instead, every action on his part said, “Welcome home, my son.

I have loved ones who have wandered away.   I pray they will long for home and make the journey back, regardless of time or distance.  As the song pleads, “Remember, you can always come home.”

My own heart has struggled with seasons of waywardness.  May I always be drawn to the real love and security offered by my Father.  May HOME remain my favorite place to be.

 

 

 

 

 

The Heart of Stone

Perhaps the choices you made over the past year were hard on your heart.

By Kathy Pollard

I know what a stony heart feels like, don’t you?

  • It’s when I am indifferent to the needs of others.
  • It’s when I am disengaged in worship week after week.
  • It’s when I’ve been involved in sin and my conscience is no longer pricked.
  • It’s when I withhold forgiveness.
  • It’s when I no longer hunger for the Word.
  • It’s when I stop thinking souls.
  • It’s when Calvary doesn’t move me.
  • It’s when my heart has become divided instead of devoted.

It is an unhappy thing when you know your heart has hardened in any of these areas but you lack the desire or discipline to do anything about it.  Perhaps the choices you made over the past year were hard on your heart.  Perhaps you can tell you’ve drifted away from God, or you’ve allowed your connection to your church family to grow cold.  When that happens, it’s easy to become disheartened, discouraged with yourself, or indifferent in your spiritual walk.  Have you ever looked in the mirror and asked, “What’s the matter with me?  How did I get here?”

Listen to what God said to His people.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).

God gave this beautiful promise to people who had misrepresented His holy name.  They weren’t acting like people who belonged to Him.  Those who saw them acknowledged their hypocrisy.  In modern terms they said, “They call themselves ‘Christians’ but they don’t act like it” (v. 20).  Yet God still wanted their heart.  He wanted to redeem them and give them His Spirit (v. 27).

This encourages me.  There are times when my heart problem is obvious to others.  But there are times when only I am aware of the hardening while I continue to go through the motions.  Either way, I can know that God still desires to cleanse me and save me (v. 29, 33).  God is willing to act on my behalf for my good (notice all the “I will” statements He makes in v. 23-38).  This may not be pleasant at first.  It may be in the form of exposed sin or an unhappy trial.  But I can see how necessary it is to shake me out of my complacency.  It reminds me of the song, “Break my heart, dear Lord.”  I am thankful for the opportunities God gives me to soften my heart again.

 

Most People Complain Once a Minute

By Kathy Pollard

According to an article published in Entrepreneur a couple of months ago, “most people complain once a minute during a typical conversation.”  I’ll be paying more attention to my speech to make sure I don’t fall under the category of “most people,” but even if I don’t voice a complaint in my conversations I wonder if I think it?  The article goes on to show the negative effects of complaining:

  • It rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely.
  • It becomes your default behavior, which changes how people perceive you.
  • It damages other areas of your brain.
  • It raises stress levels.
  • It lowers your immune system.
  • It’s contagious.  Like second hand smoke, it negatively affects those around you.

The article states that the solution to complaining is “to cultivate an attitude of gratitude.”    “When you feel like complaining, shift your attention to something you’re grateful for.”  Gratitude:

  • Reduces stress levels
  • Improves mood, energy, and productivity
  • Lowers anxiety

I imagine gratitude is also contagious and will positively affect those around you.

I find it interesting that this nonreligious article (based on scientific research) is simply confirming what God has been telling us all along.  “Do all things without grumbling or complaining” (Phil. 2:14).  Instead, “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:18; Col. 3:15,17; Eph. 5:20).  It doesn’t surprise me that it’s been proven that complaining is bad for our health and gratitude is good for our health.  As the saying goes, “When God says, ‘Thou shalt not,’ He’s really saying, ‘Do yourself a favor.'”

The article suggests that, over time, complaining or gratitude can become a way of life.  This means my words may reveal more to others than I intended.  They reveal my heart and all that I choose to focus on (Luke 6:45; Prov. 4:23).  My words affect more than I intended.  They affect my own health and even the health of those around me.   Complaining or gratitude.  This simple, daily choice has great impact.

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord”

(Psalm 19:14).

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What the Promised Land did for Me

The most frequently asked question since our return home from Israel has been, “What was your favorite part?”  That is nearly impossible to answer.  There were too many wonderful experiences and highlights, each of them meaningful for different reasons.

I can say for certain that it was my “trip of a lifetime” and that it impacted me in multiple ways.  I am most thankful for three of those ways:

It strengthened my faith in the Word.

No doubt about it, the places and people we read about in the Bible are REAL.  Archaeologists continue to uncover locations, discover documents, and learn about practices that prove the truth of God’s Word.

For example, the Bible mentions a place called “Sha’arayim,” which means “two gates” (Josh. 15:36; 1 Sam. 17:52; 1 Chron. 4:31).  Scoffers declared this unlikely as no Judaean city ever had more than one gate, according to archaeological discoveries.  But in 2007, an entire fortified city was unearthed having, not one, but two major gates.  It overlooks the Elah Valley, confirming the Bible’s mention of it in the account of David and Goliath.

I knew the Bible was accurate and reliable.  But it is so faith-building to have that truth confirmed by walking through the MANY “proofs” that populate the land of Israel!

It enhanced my understanding.

David took refuge in “the stronghold” (1 Sam. 22:3,4).  Masada (which means “stronghold”) was a city that sat atop a steep hill out in the middle of an arid wilderness, overlooking the Dead Sea.  It’s location made it easy to see approaching enemies.  It had a “snake path” up the side that could handle only two people wide at a time.  It was impressive!  Scholars believe that this was David’s stronghold.  Now when I read about it, I will be able to see it.

In You, O Lord, I have taken refuge…Be to me a rock of strength, a stronghold to save me, for You are my rock and my fortress.

Psalm 31:1-3

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First view of Masada

 

And when I read about David hiding in caves in Adullam (1 Sam. 22:1-4), I will be able to see it.  I understand how easy it was to do that in a land dotted with large, hidden caves.  Adullam means “refuge.”

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One of the caves at Adullam

When I read about Jesus praying at Gethsemane (Matt. 26), I will be able to picture Him among the twisted trunks of the olive trees.  I can now see exactly where He pleaded with His Father.

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Olive trees in Gethsemane

There are so many accounts that have come alive in my mind!  I can add extra senses (sight, sounds, smells, touch….) to my understanding.

It engaged my heart.

You don’t have to go to Israel to be touched by the love stories in the Word.

(How can you read about God’s call to Abraham to take his son and offer him, and then God’s deliverance and provision when He rewarded Abraham’s obedient faith without being moved?)

But I had the opportunity to go to Beersheba.  It’s in the middle of the Negev desert.  It’s where Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech and planted a tamarisk tree (Gen. 21), where he sent Hagar into the wilderness, and where he went to live after God said, “Because you have not withheld your son, your only son, I will greatly bless you….” (Gen. 22).  I looked all around me and imagined the account playing out in front of my eyes.

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Beersheba

I had the opportunity to visit the two proposed sites of the Garden Tomb.  While at the first one, I read John’s gospel account of the empty tomb.  I looked at the rock tomb in front of me and read of Mary standing there weeping, of Jesus approaching her and calling her by name, and of her declaration to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!”

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The Garden Tomb

There were so many emotional moments as we walked through the land of Israel.  I imagine part of that had to do with stepping away from the distractions of the world and immersing myself in the unfolding story of God’s redemption and love.  My heart was revived.

I pray that I will remember that I don’t have to go to Israel to do that.  I can still shut out the world’s distractions and immerse myself in the beautiful and powerful message of God’s love.