“Are You There, God?” Part 3

This post is for anyone struggling with questions like, “If God is good and in control, then why do horrible things happen to the people who love Him and serve Him?”

Continued from “Are You There, God? Part 2″

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Many of my readers know me personally and are aware of what is going on in my life right now, but many of you don’t know about the biggest issue my family and I are facing in the near future. I haven’t really talked about it until now simply because there has been a lot of hope for a reversal of circumstances and also because the situation has deteriorated so quickly.

My father, 62 years young, a man in the utmost perfection of health all his life, strong, a man that everyone who met him said looked 10 years younger than he was, has been battling a chronic illness the last few months. This is a man who had most of his 8 children after the age of 45, a man who has never been anything but hard-working, strong, capable, a provider, energetic, hardly ever even came down with a cold. A man who did not drink, who stayed active, who ate healthy and took vitamin supplements religiously. This man has been battling liver disease, probably much longer than any of us realized, but we’ve only been aware of it for a little less than a year.

It started with an aggravating cyst behind his knee. My dad does not like to go to doctors unless he has to, part of his motivation to stay healthy. He has been a truck driver for years, so routine physicals were part of his job requirements, but he was always pronounced more than healthy and in the most recent years even his weight was great, something many truck drivers have trouble with. Of course, being sedentary for many hours at a time and sporadic sleep patterns are not the healthiest, so when my dad’s cyst lingered and became more and more bothersome, he went to the V.A. hospital to get it looked at. During that visit they took routine blood samples and ran routine tests for a man his age with his background. (He fought active duty in Vietnam the last 2 years of the war.)

What came back was surprising and a bit unsettling. My dad had Hepatitis C, they wanted to run more tests. (This came, most likely, from the immunization method back in the day when soldiers would be given their shots using the same needle, simply wiping it off with a towel before sticking the next man, back before blood born diseases were a big thing. This is what the doctor said. The disease can go undetected for years, especially in the case of my dad where he remains mostly healthy all his life and doesn’t go to the doctor very much.) This we found out about February of 2011, I can’t remember exactly.

They did run more tests, on his liver, and they found out his liver was in fairly bad shape. They wanted to do MORE tests. Long story short, as the situation unfolded, they found my dad had cirrhosis of the liver, he was in stage 3 of 4 stages of liver failure. As this information unfolded gradually over a few months of doctor’s visits and tests, my mom began to research liver disease too. She and my dad began to adjust their diets to help combat the disease and make things easier on his liver. They had never been drinkers, especially not the whole time I was growing up, but they cut out even the occasional beer or glass of wine. (We’re talking one every two weeks if that.) They began to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, drink filtered, distilled water, cut back on coffee and drink more herb tea. By May 2011 my dad had dropped about 20 lbs. and he felt fantastic. He had passed a bunch of gall stones that the doctor was amazed he had been able to pass instead of having surgery. Things were great, he looked great.

However, somewhere around September he found himself filling up with fluid. He had a strange abdominal swelling and swelling in his legs, it was harder and harder for him to get in and out of his truck. For the first time in 62 years he realized he would have to quit working – indefinitely. The swelling was all fluid from his malfunctioning liver, the liver was unable to process toxins normally and an acidic fluid was leaching back out into his abdominal cavity and swelling his legs.

At first, being more active and getting adequate sleep improved his condition, but soon he went back on the decline. The first time he had to go in to the doctor’s to have the fluid drained with a needle was very upsetting and traumatic for him, but this has since become more and more frequent and is now a weekly routine. His weight has kept dropping and except for the weird swelling, he is very thin. You feel his bones when you touch his back even while he is wearing a heavy coat which he needs to stay warm since his temperature stays a couple of degrees below normal. His mind is beginning to be affected now, something the doctor said would happen. In fact everything he is experiencing is something the doctor warned us about and is part of this chronic disease at this stage, but nobody could prepare us for how quickly this has unfolded. Really, September, when Dad quit working, that is the first time where we all realized this was very serious. In less than 6 months it has just been a downward spiral and we are all left trying to catch our breath.

The person who is the most courageous in all this (in my opinion) is my mother. My mom met my dad when she was 16 and he was 30. They were together from that time until she married him at 18 years old. This September 11th (of all days) will make 30 years of marriage. That is a long time to be with one person. She has been a stay at home mom, wife, and homemaker almost completely during that time, save for a few short-term jobs here and there over the years to help with bills every now and then, but she mostly found work from home as a baby sitter or close to home taking care of a neighbor or cleaning a house. Later, once she had my five little sisters, totaling  8 of us, she was very busy taking care of them and also being a full-time teacher as she home schooled us all. My youngest sister is about to turn 9 years old, so that gives you a picture of how much my mom still does every day. The first three of us, myself and my 2 brothers, have moved out of the house and have life and families of our own, but my 5 sisters remain at home, 16, 15, 13, 10, and 8. And now she has my dad, too.

The man who has taken care of her and his family so well and always with so much strength and vision, so much definite leadership, this man is currently dependent on her for so much. Where she once rested knowing every day that “Chuck will handle it, ” or “Chuck will know what to do,” she now finds herself having to take over and make all the decisions not only for her and the girls, but also for my dad, more and more.

We have all come to terms very recently with the fact that my father is probably not going to be alive much longer, though we still don’t know how long he has. He has declined so much in such a short time, and while we all still hope for a miracle (because we believe miracles do happen) we are preparing for the worst.

So how does this tie in with my last 2 posts? Well…

I have asked God for 3 years now why my daughter had to die, not angrily, but just searching for His purpose because I believe that all things do work together for good for those that love God. None of us have really ever had to face something like this, not only the death of a loved one or someone you are so close to, but being the family that must make arrangements and carry on after the passing. Nobody in my family was directly responsible for caring for a sick loved one and then funeral arrangements, or had direct experience with deep grief, then I lost my daughter so suddenly and unexpectedly.

Because of that I am not only sensitive to and compassionate toward my mom and other family, but I am able to have valuable first hand insight into what we will all face and be able to help my family cope, physically, emotionally, mentally. Already I feel I have been able to help my mom and sisters especially just by understanding the myriad emotions and the roller coaster of feelings they are riding. Just for myself, I am able to cope much better with the prospect of losing my dad, not that it is easy by any means, but at least those feelings of the unknown don’t plague me and scare me the way they did with my daughter.

We are still in the midst of handling all of this, I am so far away from having all the answers or seeing all of the picture. I don’t think that will happen till I get to Heaven, honestly. Still, I feel I can absolutely say from my heart and believe with the core of my being, there is a God. He cares for each and every one of His children. Bad things do happen because of mortality, imperfection, and evil, but God cares and He is able to take the most wretched circumstances and make them into a beautiful tapestry. This is not something I say just to repeat something I was taught that I blindly and naively follow. I have tried and tested these things in my own life and they are truth for me.

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps there is nothing on the other side but darkness and ceasing to be, but living life with this thought, for me, is so horribly unbearable. With that thought, there is no hope, but with my belief, there is hope. Hope that this life has meaning, that even a tragedy has a purpose, that I will see my daughter and my father again where there is no more pain, loss, or tears. If I go to my grave a fool with hope at least I had hope and that is not foolish at all, we all need hope. Hope is why I can smile right now, in the face of  uncertainty and pain.

I am 26 years old. I am still young. I am a Christian. I believe Jesus Christ came to set the captive free. He did not come to condemn, He brought freedom. He has freed me, this I believe with all my heart. I am not perfect, I fall, I make mistakes, I don’t have all the answers, but I know the Man who does. This is my testimony, I pray each day that I be worthy of it.

Are You There, God? Part 2

This post is for anyone struggling with questions like, “If God is good and in control, then why do horrible things happen to the people who love Him and serve Him?”

Continued from “Are You There, God? Part 1”

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I am far from perfect. My record, both as a person and especially as a Christian, is far from perfect. I am no better than any other human being on this planet, but God has blessed me with honesty, not just with others, but honesty with myself. Because of this, I have rarely strayed far from general morality. My conscience has always gotten the best of me. However, as I entered young adulthood, I went through a period of “breaking out”. I had been raised in a fairly strict, sheltered home. I did not get my first kiss until I was 19, and I had to go out-of-state to even make that happen. By 20 I was my own woman, making my own decisions, being adventurous for the first time in my life and quickly gaining a new-found confidence. This was not always for the better, in fact I made many mistakes and did many things I’m not proud of.

I met and married my husband when I was 21. I had been out of my parents house a little over a year. I did not know it at the time, but this was one of the better things that would come from this time period of wild self-governing. I started to settle back down a little, at least, I was with one man and we were trying to be independent adults. We did not make the best long-term decisions for at least the first year of our marriage. Actually, I feel like this year, the beginning of our sixth year, is finding us finally starting to make good decisions when looking at the big, long-term picture. The first year, however, was pretty touch and go. I was a server, he was a chef, there was a lot of de-stressing with drinks at the bar late into the night, a little sleeping, and then starting another night shift at our restaurants to repeat the cycle.

We knew from the get go that we wanted a couple of kids, but we did have the presence of mind to wait a year before getting pregnant with our first child. Part one of this story shares the links that talk about Skye’s birth and death, but I will add here, for my readers who don’t know, that during my pregnancy, we also moved from Kentucky to Colorado to open our own restaurant. However, due to our over excitement, lack of reading the signs, and some naivety, we got involved with the wrong business partners and lost our business a few months after moving there. We had accumulated about $15,000 in debt from those few short months alone. To make matters worse, the only work Josh could get after closing our restaurant was over 100 miles away one way and gas was almost $5 a gallon in that area at that time. One more month and we were so broke, there was only one thing left to do. We sold almost everything we owned that we still had, furniture, tv, bed. We tried to sell other things like my much-loved and treasured piano that had been with me through my life crisis at 18 and had been fought for time after time when my dad and my husband had not wanted to move it on several occasions. Nobody cared though, nobody cared about the tears that had polished those keys as I wrote poetry in my old tattered note-book and poured my soul out in song there. Nobody valued my old, weathered friend, and in the end, we left it there with other odds and ends of personal treasures that nobody valued but me. We loaded the stuff that was essential, the stuff that could fit into the smallest trailer U-haul offered, pulled behind our little car. Most of it was stuff for our baby who I was due to deliver in 3 weeks. We drove back home to Kentucky to move in with my parents. We had no job, no house, we lived in one of the bedrooms that one of my five sisters vacated for us. We had lost everything, we had no money. We were about as destitute as we could be – then we lost our baby girl.

It is hard to convey these feelings that are conjured up at remembering this horrible time. What I had gone through before in life was so pale compared to this that it is transparent. There is not a term to describe what I felt as I attempted to begin living in the wake of these horrible events. I just know that it is exactly how Job must have felt.

Josh had gotten a job at a small town restaurant 2 days before I delivered. His employers were wonderful, upon hearing that he would be gone indefinitely to stay in Louisville at the Ronald McDonald House to be there for our angel in the NICU at Kosair, they said he could take whatever time he needed and his job would be there when he was ready to come back. Of course, we did not know that would be just a little over 17 days later, once the funerals were done. There were two, one for my family and friends in Willisburg, then another in Salem, Western Kentucky for his family. For almost every single one of his many family members, seeing Skye in her coffin was the first time they got to meet her. It was absolutely heart wrenching.

So, there is a lot of cloudiness. I have very little about the following months that I remember. I guess I have blocked them out as a coping mechanism. The initial time during the days following her death, the funerals, there was a lot of numbness. There was a lot of crying and numbness and more crying. When we got home to my parents house after the funeral in Salem, we both decided we needed our own place. Obviously, we had only money that wonderful family and church family gave us, so we moved into the cheapest place we could find, about 20 miles from my parents. It was an old, very small school building that had been converted into apartments.

If there is one word I could use to describe this apartment it would be “dank”. We might as well have lived in a cave. It was dark carpet, dark paneling, it had inadequate lighting for a place that had an all white interior, let alone the dark interior. It had 2 very small windows on one side of the apartment, the other side opened into the long hall. It came with an old broken down couch and chair, also in dark colors, that smelled badly. It would have been deeply depressing for a unicorn made of rainbows, let alone for two grieving young people who had nothing.

As the days passed, Josh went back to work. I also tried to work. I thought throwing myself into a job would be a good thing. I got a job serving at the little country place Josh worked. Long story short, there was very little traffic to that restaurant for reasons that became very obvious to Josh and I, and it seemed like every table I got was a young couple with a baby girl. Needless to say, I didn’t last too long. I was a mess.

I found myself with a lot of time, after I quit working, to sit alone in that horrid apartment. Winter had set in, it was so cold. I did a lot of sleeping. The only good thing about all that darkness was it fostered sleeping. Josh would get up at 7am to be to work by 8am and I would sleep. Sometimes I’d get up and eat something then go back to sleep until he got home around 9pm. I had set up all Skye’s things in the second bedroom of this apartment, I had put the blankets and fluffy animals in her crib, I had put up her few pictures, painful pictures of her wrapped in gauze, or the ones of her the day she was born, fire engine red with pieces of her skin coming off and wrapped in clear plastic. Her room was beautiful, one of the two windows lit it up quite well, ironically. There were hours where I would sit in there cradling her pictures and weep for her. My heart felt like it was being pulled out of my body through my throat and that feeling only went away when I would sleep.

And I talked with God. Yes, even here, even now, I still believed in my God. I still knew that my God was real. I finally understood why I had gone through those tortured years as a teen. I could not have survived this horrible thing had I not gone through those anguishing moments. Even still, it was all I could do to not rail at God and once again ask Him “Why?”

I was much older and much more mature at this point. Having gone through my crisis at 18 and surviving 5 years of complete Hell, I knew at least with my heart that this thing I was going through now also had a purpose and it too would pass. My brain refused to acknowledge the things that my heart said, however. My brain wanted very badly to convince my heart that these things were not true, because misery loves company I guess. But even when my brain would get close to convincing my heart that its belief was ridiculous, my heart would always counter that without hope, life really would become unbearable. Without the hope of one day seeing my daughter again, she would just be a tragedy with no closure. Without the hope of this being a tiny piece of a bigger picture filled with greater good, my life would just become one giant tragedy of loss and waste and pain.

Like I said, most of the time between my daughter’s moment of death and the moment I found out at 20 weeks of pregnancy that I was having another girl, that time is cloudy and gone. Most of you know I have since had the surprise joy of giving birth to my second beautiful girl, Christian Faith. Her very name was a life ring I clung to during that dark time after Skye died. I named my unborn child Christian Faith, not knowing if I would hold her or if like her sister, I would have her wrenched away from me way too soon. I began to read my Bible for the first time in forever. Josh and I hadn’t even gone to church regularly since we’d been married, but I just knew that my only hope of finding comfort and sanity was with The One who had given it to me many years before. Time and again I randomly stumbled upon verses that comforted me so beautifully, verses I had read before, some I had not, but they seemed to apply directly to me, as if that verse had been written to me personally. I read the story of David and Bathsheba and the loss of their baby. How I could relate to Bathsheba on many levels. Why did this happen? She’s not the one who lusted and committed murder, that was David’s fault, yet Bathsheba, the mother of that innocent baby, she suffered. Of course, the story focuses on David, but now I was able to take this story, this person from thousands of years ago and relate and find the humanity and imagine this mother’s anguish and turmoil. Perhaps one day I will get to hear her story, but I did take comfort in the verse where David rose and said, “I cannot bring the child back to me, but one day I will go to the child.”

I feel a bit like I am rambling. It is just so hard to describe and then condense grief into these few paragraphs. However, one thing I know, it is over 3 years later and while the pain is still there to some extent and always will be, my God helped me through this tragedy. Without hope in my God, without faith to believe He has a purpose, I would have been crushed under the weight of unthinkable hopelessness, under the thought that everything I have experienced is for nothing.

God does not create pain. The imperfection of man and humanity, the flaws of a mortal body, that creates pain, tragedy, loss, etc. God allows these things, however, because He knows that we need them to become stronger. You cannot help a baby bird hatch from its egg, it needs the pain, the struggle, to make it strong enough to live. God could not help me “hatch” from my “egg” because He knew that I too needed extra strength to face what life had for me.

So I have explained why my crisis at 18 was necessary to help me through the death of my daughter, but why did my daughter have to die? What is the purpose there? Well, I’ve again run out of time and will save more of my thoughts for another post.

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TO BE CONT.

 

Are You There, God? (Part 1)

This post is for anyone struggling with questions like, “If God is good and in control, then why do horrible things happen to the people who love Him and serve Him?”

I was recently asked, in a round about way, to give the testimony about how my relationship with God affected/stood up against the loss of my first daughter. I have not written in this blog for a while, definitely not a piece of my personal history, but I am going through some things right now with my family that tie in quite well with this subject and I have wanted to write a post for a while now, so here goes…

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First of all, I have given the history of Skye’s birth and death at various points in past posts. Those can be found here:

https://natasiachampion.wordpress.com/2010/09/01/wake-me-up-when-september-ends/

https://natasiachampion.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/maternal-instincts/

https://natasiachampion.wordpress.com/2010/02/16/when-the-honeymoon-is-over/

https://natasiachampion.wordpress.com/2010/08/18/my-happiest-moment/

To give this testimony, I have to begin a bit farther back.

I have always grown up with God and church in my life. My dad was raised Catholic, my mom got saved into the Baptist church when I was a baby and my dad soon started going to church with my mom. By the time I was 4 I had asked Jesus to come into my heart like I had learned in Sunday school. But how much does one really understand as a child barely out of toddlerhood? I won’t argue that point here, but I understood enough to know that Jesus died for my sins and I wanted him to live in my heart so I would go to Heaven one day. Perhaps it is the very faith of a child that we adults have trouble understanding that makes us question it.

Life progressed for me. A lot of my personal history can be found in the pages of this blog. Many of you have been reading and know already some of the places I’ve been, some of you are new to my story. If you are, feel free to dive into the other stories here, each one shows a piece of the me that has developed into what I am today.

My teen years, however, you will find noticeably absent here. Well, it is not because they were insignificant. It is because 1) I have found them so complicated to relay since they were so unusual by modern American standards that I have set them to the side, and 2) I have not yet felt comfortable as the adult me that they specifically had the largest part in shaping me into. However, over the past 2 years I have become more and more aware of my own individuality. See, I have struggled with that all my life, individuality. I’m the second of eight children and my maiden name is hard to say and remember, so I have been known most of my life as “one of those kids from the big family” or “the older girl in that big family”. I was a shy, creative child, which translated into “weird” and “unpopular” for my peers in elementary school. Of course, I didn’t have to worry about school stigma for long since I was homeschooled from 3rd grade forward, but that didn’t help the shyness or wierdness factor. As you can see, already my story is complicated and hard to explain due to so many facets.

This post alone will turn into a book if I let it, so let me just say that at 18 I found myself at a cross roads. Through a number of circumstances, including the loss of my first love to my best friend, my older brother leaving home and losing contact with him for several years, and living in a place I despised yet was reluctant to leave because of what my parents went through with my brother, I came to a breaking point with God. I had started to question whether God was real and if  He was, how could He possibly care for me at all and put me through what I was going through.

I can’t go into details, but my situation, where I was emotionally and mentally was bad. I battled suicidal thoughts, I had been battling anorexia, I (under my parents) was involved with a group of people who proclaimed they were Christians but were nothing at all like the Biblical picture of Christ. (That is putting it mildly.) The things being taught by this “preacher” were so off base and I was conflicted. If this was Christianity, I wanted no part of it.

I was struggling badly one hot summer day right after I turned 18. I lay on my bed shut into my room and God and I were about to have a show down. I, through my pain and confusion and tears, looked up at my ceiling and in an audible voice, challenged God. I said, “God, if you are real, you tell me right now, in a voice I can hear, in a way I can know, not this ridiculous interpretation of some other man, it’s just you and me God. If you are real, you tell me! Not my parents, not my preacher, you talk to me!” I was angry, I threw accusations at Him, I hurled questions about my present circumstances, my past hurts. Why did a 16-year-old girl have to bear the load that most adults did not have to bear? Why, at 16, and 17, and now 18 was I expected to hold on my shoulders the things that my parents had not even had to hold? While this sounds very much like a teen ager that thinks they know everything, even my mother will tell you that at the time, she prayed very similar prayers, albeit much more gently. Even she marvelled at some of the things I had faced in a few short years emotionally.

My battle with God went on, I’m not sure how long, several hours. I heard nothing but silence as I cried and my anger boiled over. I was fully determined to walk away an atheist. I began to feel hopelessness at talking to my ceiling. There was nothing on the other end. Finally, I fell quiet. I was exhausted. No answer…. that meant there was really no reason to not kill myself. There was no reason to stay around for my parents and be the good girl anymore, there was no God to see and care. There was no logical reason to stay here and be miserable.

As I remained quiet, pondering these realizations, something happened. I do not care what anybody says, what logical mind wants to explain it away, I heard God. It was not an audible sound, more like a sound that you feel, I felt a coolness blow over my torn soul and a calmness surround me and Love enveloped me. It was cooling and burning and soothing like Vick’s Vapor rub and it was applied to my soul. I started to weep, but these tears were different from the angry ones. I knew in that moment that God was real and He cared and He was my God, not the God of my parents, or the God of someone’s religion, but He was real to me in that moment.

I had been “saved” as a child after inviting Jesus into my heart, but at 18, Jesus consumed my heart and became real to me. In that moment I settled it with Him. I have never again questioned whether or not He is real or if He cares for me. It’s a good thing, because I had not yet faced the most difficult thing in my life.  All that pain and confusion at 18, the questions for God, “Why do I have to go through this, God?” Those questions would be answered down the road in a way I would have never dreamed.

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TO BE CONT.