Friday, July 1, 2011

Heaven is for Real

As you can see, I'm about to get faith-ful on ya, but please stick around regardless of your beliefs because I think this is an important part of me. I am not very Evangelical, it's not my strength, but I do hope that the light of Christ in my life shines out through me and may at some point make someone think "hmm, maybe there's something special there" cause there is, just sayin. I am writing this post because sometimes something crosses your path and makes you fall to your knees, so to speak. Well, a few months ago my sister mentioned this book to me, Heaven is for Real, and then last week she gave it to me. Good timing because a couple of nights ago I finished my pile of "to reads" and was ready to pick up a new book last night. So, I picked up this pretty short (155 page) book at 10:30 at night to read a little before bed. Well, I put it down, finished, early this morning. I am NOT that kind of reader anymore, even my fave kind of books have the tendency to put me to sleep in my tired Mommy state, so when I told my husband this morning even he said "You FINISHED it!" If you get no further in this post, then please pick up this book and read, even if it's just for fun, or a "what are those crazy Christians talking about now" kind of read. Here, though, is my "Heaven is for Real" kind of story because I don't just believe that God answers prayers and is present in my life, I KNOW it.

If you are/know any Christians than you know there is the "asking God and Jesus into your heart" moment. Well, that's really where I begin because I think about it every once in a while. I was 6 years old and a busy kid who loved to pretend and play just about anything. I was also in Sunday school, and I'm sure one Sunday our teachers told us about asking God or Jesus into our hearts, I really don't remember these details. What I do remember in vivid detail (which they call flash bulb memories in psychology I've now learned, by the way) was the moment I asked God into my heart. I was sitting with one leg tucked under me and my other knee by my chin, next to the air conditioning vent in our living room playing with a peice of paper in the cold air comming from the vent, and I remembered "oh yeah, I have to ask God into my heart" so I closed my eyes and prayed in the way a 6 year old knows how "Dear Jesus, please come into my heart and stay there forever, thank you" Then I opened my eyes and got up and ran into our kitchen. That's all I remember of that day, but the point is I REMEMBER it, in vivid detail. I'm sure I pretended to be lots of things at that age, but they are vague memories of a beautiful childhood, not pinpoint. I also remember feeling light and happy, like I'd just accomplished something, which I remember seeming silly since all I'd done was ask God to come into my heart when I already knew He surrounded me everyday. I now know I had accomplished something, the most important something of my life.

I could take you through numerous examples of God working in very tangible ways in my life, I don't know where it really begins or ends, it just always has been. I know one of them was meeting my husband, because had it not been for Christ we would not have come together and Tim has been one of the greatest gifts God has given me. I want to focus for now though again on my Mom and my journey with her disease and death. I know I've spoken of her in some depth in another post here but I want to tell the whole story.

My Mom was diagnosed with brain cancer the summer before I went into 8th grade. This timing, well sucked. I was an ackward, at best, young teen and had never really faced any difficulty and was not even close to prepared for the year that was to come. My Mom's 13 hour surgery came and went very well, we were surrounded by friends and family lifting us up and what I thought would be the hardest single part of this journey would turn out to be by far the easiest. After surgery came radiation, and this is where the troubles began. I don't even remember all of the hospitalizations and challenges during this period, but one example was a point where Mom got really really sick, lethargic, and out of it. When my Dad took her to the hospital they found out that her blood sugar level (which at the very high end of "normal" is 180) was 1300, and she could have died if he hadn't took her in. This was a complication, turns out, of the steriods they were giving her to control the swelling in her brain from radiation treatment and we were totally unprepared for it. Between all of these side effects and things happening Mom just was too sick to be Mom. She was in and out of the hospital, I remember she had to be in the hospital that year for Christmas, which was incredibly hard on me. We were taking over the household things, and were trying desperately to cling to some sense of normalcy. It was during this time that I began writing, and have very poignant verses from these days:

A Cry

A cry in the dark sent her in
To her child's side, My Side

Through my life her love kept growing
My light in the darkest of nights

So many nights now I am weeping
In need of her constant care

But even love unending
Can hide in darkness and despair

I'm scared, I'm crying
To no prevail

"Where oh where is my Mommy"
Where oh where is her care?

I can hear my Father weeping
even though he hides his tears

I can see my Sisters heart breaking
hiding nothing all is fear

I sit here lost and lonely
knowing there is little I can do

My whole life is slipping
sliding like my tears

Where I turn to
Where I go

Because I know You are out there watching
Caring for me so Dear

Written when I was just 13 years old, and it makes me cry to write it now because I can not imagine that child (for I was) that was hurting so very much. As these verses indicate, I clutched to my faith during this time, but I won't say this fixed everything. I will never forget laying in my little bed one night, aching so deeply, crying as hard as I've ever cried saying "Please God, I just want a hug, just give me a hug, it hurts too much". But, no giant arms reached through the ceiling to pick me up out of the hurt. The answer to that prayer was yet to come which I did not understand and just hurt so very deeply. My "friends" were 13 year olds just like me who couldn't handle navigating their own lives, let alone the struggles I was having, so I lost most of my friends except one amazing friend, Karina. I drifted through my classes, my school life in general, looking for nothing more than something away from the hurt I felt inside. I remember that year having several suicidal thoughts, but felt like I couldn't share this with my family because I thought it would be too much more of a burden on them. I thank God today that through his grace and my friendship with Karina (a friend from church, I might add) I made it through that period even though I hadn't reached out for help.  We came through it as a family, and my Mom healed and was well as I entered high school and life seemed to be getting back to "normal".

Our indication that the journey was not yet finished came as my Mom started forgetting little things. Now, if you know me then you know a little of what my Mom was like. She was an amazingly organized, thoughtful, and make-it-look-easy multitasker. Then at first, she'd get a little confused, then she had a hard time at work, eventually being asked to resign when I was a senior in high school, and by and by her mind slipped away more and more. My last best memory of her was the weekend of orientation we spent together at CU. She was determined to be present and supportive of me in every way possible. I, of course, was a headstrong 18 year old girl ready for my freedom. It was a nice weekend, though, that we spent walking the campus together and talking about how the school was, and how proud of me she was. She always was and always expressed it. I love her still for this, because my self confidence now is a by product of this. During my first semester of college, this Mom I knew, ever present and involved, taking care of anything and everything I needed, slipped away. By second semester freshmen year I was taking care of everything from finances to my health care that I had so recently taken completely for granted. I now know that this fostered an indepence and strength that I needed in life, but at the time I threw a pretty good self-pitty party and racked up substantial student loans to "give myself what I needed since I had to now". If I'd asked, I could have gotten more help, I just didn't know that I should. During this time, I "met" Tim. Really, what happened was that I recognized Tim from our shared history so we became friends and quickly more. God gave me someone special, and I know this saved me in many ways, but that is another story.

I don't remember when Mom started having her "episodes" but she would get a headache, get really confused, and then seem to recover, if not entirely back to her previous self. My sister had moved in with my parents at this point to help out. The doctors would rule out major strokes or other issues, but my Mom again spent periods of time in the hospital. A moment here came when I was home visiting my Mom in the hospital when a neurosurgeon came to talk to us, Dr. S. Yup, I still rememeber his name and will NEVER recommend him (a word of caution to cavalier Dr's, we are not mindless sheep, we will remember your name for decades and your attitudes and behaviors will catch up to you). Basically, Dr. S to me, my sister, and my Mom (who was concious, just a little confused at this point) insinuated that trying to figure out a diagnosis or treatment was pointless considering the "quality of life" it would offer my Mom. Yup, he basically said it would be better to give up on her than to fight the fight which SHE STILL WANTED TO FIGHT. My Mom basically thought she was dying, good job Doc, way to follow the Hippocratic Oath. Up until that moment we had been fighting hard to try to help my Mom, focusing on the positive and hope, but in that moment I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach and deflated. I went out into the hallway and let it all out in a flood of sobs and tears, thinking "Not AGAIN, I CAN'T go through THAT again". I'm sure I looked a mess and would have attracted attention, but what came next shook me so deeply it gives me goosebumps today. As I cried, a nurse came up to me, handed me a box of kleenex, and gave me a hug (which after becoming a nurse I know isn't extremely common either). Then, another visitor at the hospital came up to me and gave me a hug. Next a hospital chaplain came up to me, asked if he could pray for me and gave me a hug. Then, my sister came out into the hallway and held me in her arms, and we shared our hurt together. After I had calmed down and was by this time sitting on the floor against the wall, I thought "In all the time I've been in hospitals I've never had that many people all of a sudden pop out of nowhere just to give me a hug". Suddenly, I had one of those "flashbacks" to laying in bed all those years ago crying out to God for a HUG. Tears started streaming down my face again, but not because I was sad. I realized that the prayer I'd felt had gone unanswered and hurt from so deeply had not gone unheard. God had LISTENED to me and in this next close to breakdown moment HE would NOT let me feel that alone again. We are God's body, and you may touch someone in ways you cannot even imagine with something as simple as a hug.

 In December of 2003, our Junior year of college, Tim and I got engaged. My Mom was so happy, it seemed to be something we could finally connect together about again. We started planning the wedding, found my dress, tasted cake, picked out flowers. She was still pretty sick, but she did her best to be an involved Mom, just like I'd always known her. Then, in August of 2004, just 4 months before my wedding, she had another "episode". I happened to be in town at a friend's for the weekend and I rushed in the middle of the night to the emergency room to meet my sister. As I drove the song "How Do I Live" by Leann Rimes came on the radio and tears were coming so hard that I consider it another small miracle I made the drive in one peice. "How do I, Get through one night without you, if I had to live without you, what kind of life would that be?" Deep down, I don't know how, but I knew.

I met my sister in the ER, Mom was having scans done to check her brain for stroke. It came back with no signs of typical stroke activity, just as it always had. They brought her back to the room and she was awake. When she saw me she smiled a little, the same smile she always used to try to comfort me. Then, was trying to ask us something, but she couldn't get the words out or communicate. I could tell she was confused, frustrated, and scared. That was hard. I tried to reassure her, to let her know she was being taken care of. They moved her to a regular room, and sometime in the early morning she went to sleep. That was the last time I saw my Mom awake, or smile at me, or heard her voice. I wish this last memory was better, but to be honest, it just hurts. The next week is a blur of hospital rooms, Dr. theories, strings of hope, then seizures, ICU, and finally, the peace of hospice care.

The torment and struggle all seemed to calm down the moment hospice got involved, but we began another difficult process...letting go. After watching my Mom struggle and suffer for the week, I was ready for her to be at peace. It still hurt so much though, and there is a lot about that whole time that is still healing. We got to bring Mom home, though, and that was priceless. We set her up in the sitting room just outside my parent's bedroom and began the care and wait of dying. The hospice nurse was wonderful, and showed us how to mix and administer the medications to keep her out of seizures (watching your Mom have a Grand Mal seizure is something I don't wish on anyone) and keep her out of pain. The nurse told us the first day we were home that she thought my Mom would pass sometime that night...but she held on for days. I struggled, wondering what she was holding onto, and whether God was even there was to lift her up and help her. I remember a lot of these thoughts, mixed with laying with her in her bed, brushing her hair, putting lotion on her hands, singing lullabies to her with my sister at night, and telling her she could let go. Her care was round the clock, and we set alarms to help remember along with the meticulous charting of dosages (I was practicing for my future career). In the middle of the night I was up getting some of her medications ready. Our upstairs back deck is shaped like an L, and the kitchen window looks out onto the deck in front of the sitting room window. I was looking at the syringes on the counter and rinsing out a medicine cup when I glanced up, was startled seeing someone out there, so I looked up again and my mouth dropped along with the medicine cup I'd been holding. In front of the window to the sitting room I saw a man, his face looking at the window with compassion and concern, his arms spread with his palms to the sky, and there was a light around his whole being, especially around his head. His body was clothed in white and it seemed almost like a mirrage as it shimmered ever so slightly all around him. He looked in the window, and then up at the sky and then was gone from my sight. I realized we were being cared for deeply, and God was RIGHT THERE with us and I started shaking, and was still shaking but smiling when I walked into the sitting room. I looked at my sister and said, "I think I just saw an angel".

Doubters may question what I saw with ideas about sleep deprivation or the deep emotional state of grief I was in. That's fine, I've had two babies now, and I know what sleep deprivation does to me. I grieved and ached deeply for months and years, but have had no recurring visions like this. What my journey taught me was that God does hear, and in the deepest darkest moments he is there, and answers prayers. I still fall into doubt, and I will admit that because I love science and thinking things through that it is true that sometimes God and his plan just don't make a lot of sense. What I know is that my sense doesn't matter. When I read "Heaven is for Real" last night, I got goosebumps a few times, but one was because when the little boy, Colton, described the was just like what I remembered Mom's angel looked like. I put the book down, lay in bed smiling, and the thought suddenly came "I can't WAIT to see my Mom again" and I starting crying, again, with the grief and sadness, but also renewed hope. I got up to go finish crying and blow my nose in the bathroom so I wouldn't disturb Tim. We leave the Christian radio station on in my girls' room at night as background noise, and as I sat down to wipe my eyes I heard the song change and goosebumps jumped to my skin again:

"Dancing with the Angels", a song that started playing on the radio shortly after Mom's death and we actually played at my Wedding reception in honor of her. Yes God, I hear you, Thank you for being ever present in my heart just like I asked over 20 years ago.


Michelle said...


Mama to three said...

Katie!! You touched my heart deeply. Thank you for sharing.