Friday, November 27, 2020

Abortion Hurts Families--A Personal Story


For those who know me or who have followed my writing over the years, it should come as no surprise when I say that I am passionately pro-life. I have not shied away from speaking and writing about this issue and have always been crystal clear about where I stand. My deep convictions in this regard stem from a few different roots that are all intertwined to make me who I am today. At the very core, as a born-again Christian with deep love for my Lord Jesus Christ, I believe that every life, born and unborn, is created in the image of Almighty God and has intrinsic worth and value. I believe God’s Word that says “For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb,” (Psalm 139:13). I believe God’s Word which instructs “You shall not murder,” (Exodus 20:13) and that God hates “hands that shed innocent blood,” (Proverbs 6:17). I cannot see abortion as anything other than the intentional ending of an innocent life. In short, abortion is murder, and it is morally wrong.

I am also the parent of a child with Down syndrome. My heart breaks as I consider how many women choose to and/or are pressured to abort their precious children with an extra chromosome. Some nations have even boasted of nearly “eradicating” Down syndrome through this evil practice in eugenics. It is my desire to demonstrate to others how very valuable every child is, regardless of any disabilities or struggles they may have. Our sweet Benjamin has been a source of much learning, growth, and joy in our lives, and it is my privilege to be his mother! 

What I have not shared up to this point is that there is another very personal reason I am passionately pro-life. This reason is very deep, at times very raw, and certainly very real. I have not had the liberty to write openly about this until now, though it’s been burning inside of me for years. The burden I carry is one that I believe countless others carry as well, though it seems there are few stories to be found. I carry the grief and pain of having lost a sibling to abortion. And now it’s time to tell my story…

I grew up as the oldest of two, with one younger brother. Whenever I saw families with sisters, there was always a sense of longing inside of me. Though I wouldn’t have even known how to give voice to it at the time, there was always a part of me that felt like I “should” have a sister—as though she was “missing” somehow. My parents were divorced when I was eight years old, but the longing within remained. I even unknowingly embarrassed my single mom at a Sunday evening church service when I was ten years old. Christmas was just around the corner, and our pastor asked the small group gathered what we would ask for if we could have anything we wanted. Without considering any logistics or ramifications, I shot my hand up and wholeheartedly declared, “A sister!” I was perplexed by the laughter that followed and the red blush that crept up my mother’s face!

It would be a few years later, at age thirteen, that I would learn a dark secret—one that would shock, rattle, and confuse me—one from which the full weight of impact would not hit me until my young adult years. With a heavy countenance and pain-filled voice, my mom disclosed to me that I was not actually her first baby. As a teenager only a few years older than myself, she had been taken advantage of by an older boyfriend and over the course of time ended up pregnant. When my grandma found out, she only offered one course of action—abortion. It was 1970, and abortion was only legal in a few states, New York being one. They took a snowy flight to this destination a few days before Thanksgiving, where a Planned Parenthood completed the bloody deed. She estimates that she would have been 14-15 weeks gestation at the time. In only a few short years, the nation’s doors would be swung open to the mass, legalized bloodshed of the innocent that continues to plague our nation to this day. My mom and my unborn sibling were some of the early victims of this monstrosity, and the effects for her have been lifelong (more on that later). 

As a thirteen-year-old, I didn’t really know how to process what she was telling me. I was only mildly familiar with what abortion even entailed—I certainly didn’t know the gruesome reality of the procedures. But I was left feeling hurt, angry, and confused. Why did my grandma do what she did? Why didn’t she want her grandbaby? Why didn’t my mom try to stop it? How was I to process that I could have had an older sibling? After the initial shock, however, I buried the issue deep inside, and it would be years before it would surface again.  

Fast forward to December 31, 2004. I was twenty-two years old and had just graduated from Oklahoma Wesleyan University that spring. Shawn and I were in a serious dating relationship, though not yet engaged. We had recently been introduced to the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, MO, where they have literally held unbroken day and night worship and prayer since 1999. They were hosting their annual One Thing Conference—a gathering especially targeting young adults with a call to make knowing Jesus the center of their lives and to usher in the New Year with teaching, worship, and prayer. We carpooled with a group of friends to attend the event. That weekend was lifechanging and a turning point for me in many ways, but I want to focus on one particular incident that truly rocked my world.

On the last day of the conference, Lou Engle got up to speak and to lead in a time of intercession for the ending of abortion in America. I was not familiar with him before this time, but he is truly a father in the prayer movement, having founded The Call, which drew large gatherings of solemn assemblies for prayer and fasting all across the nation. For the last twenty years he has also carried what he believes is a divine mandate to raise of a generation of intercessors who will fast and pray for the ending of abortion in America. As he spoke, his overwhelming passion and conviction for this issue were provoking, convicting, and deeply inspiring.

As we moved into a time of prayer following his message, I felt a deep impression to pray for women whose wombs had been damaged during abortions, resulting in future infertility. I prayed that God would not only heal their hearts but would heal their bodies, making their wombs functional again. I prayed that justice and redemption for the loss of their aborted babies’ lives would come through future children born to them who would carry the justice cry of heaven concerning this shedding of innocent blood and would be used in their generation to be a voice for the voiceless. As I prayed, I felt the Holy Spirit speak to my heart as clear as day, “You are one of those babies!” I. Was. Stunned. I immediately began to weep, completely overwhelmed. I know that thought did not originate from me. It was nowhere on my screen. How could it be that my own birth and life could be part of an answer to a prayer I was now praying? Something deep had taken place inside of me, and I knew that I could never be silent or apathetic about this issue again!

I’m really stepping out on a limb even sharing that particular piece of my story. It is so deep, and so precious to me that I don’t want to treat it lightly, and hesitated putting it out there for all to see, knowing the potential misunderstandings and criticisms that could come as a result. However, this story has been burning in me for so long. I feel like it’s time to get it out. All of it. Lord, use this as You will.

Shawn and I were married at the end of 2005, and in 2007 we both were hired to work at The Salvation Army (TSA), following Shawn’s graduation. I worked there until 2009 when our first child was born. During the two years at TSA, Shawn and I participated in and spearheaded multiple prayer initiatives. We also had permission from our supervisor to use the chapel after hours whenever we wanted to come to pray. One particular evening as we were praying there together, we focused our intercession on the issue of abortion. Without warning, deep sobs erupted from the core of my being. At the time we were struggling with infertility, and longing for a baby of our own. As I wept over all the precious babies whose lives were being ripped apart, it suddenly became really real to me for the first time that I had truly lost a sibling. It was my first experience of grieving for the relationship that was lost.

Now that I’ve really opened the door of vulnerability, I’m going to take it deeper. Fast forward to April 5, 2012. It was Good Friday, and I was standing in the Dallas Convention Center with over 4,000 other women for the Esther Call. Once again, I was directly impacted by Lou Engle’s ministry, as he had spearheaded this one day gathering of fasting and prayer for women to cry out to the Lord for the ending of abortion in our land. It was named the Esther Call after Queen Esther from the Bible, who petitioned the king to reverse the evil death decree against her people the Jews. In the same way we were petitioning the King of Kings to bring revival to our land and reverse the death decree of legalized abortion. Leading up to this powerful gathering was the 21 day Back to Life Prayer Walk. Beginning in Houston at the largest Planned Parenthood facility in the nation, 39 women, representing 39 years (at the time) of legalized abortion walked 250 miles to Dallas, the “birthplace” of Roe v. Wade. They called it the “Women’s Trail of Tears.” As they walked, they were interviewed about their personal stories and why they chose to walk for the ending of abortion. Some were post-abortive women, living with the grief and pain over their decision to end their child’s life. Some were abortion survivors. Some, like me, had lost siblings through abortion. Their stories were powerful.

Over the course of the day I heard testimonies that hit a deep place within me. Stories of men, women, and children who always felt like someone was “missing” from their family, only to later learn that their sibling had been aborted. The grief, pain, and loss are real, but these stories are rarely heard. I finally understood the gaping hole I had felt as a child with my longing for a sister. Another woman shared about an experience she had, either a dream or a vision (I can’t remember), in which she saw a multitude of babies in heaven who had been aborted. They were holding mantles, representing the purpose and destiny that was supposed to mark their lives but were never given a chance. In this experience, she saw the babies throwing the mantles down to earth and asking the Lord that someone would pick them up and carry them.

This really resonated within me. I began to pray that God would redeem the destiny of my lost sibling in my life. I had no idea what that would really mean, but the prayer came from deep inside. I also asked the Lord if my aborted sibling was a boy or a girl, and I felt Him speak to my heart as clear as day that the baby was a girl, only reinforcing to me why I had always longed for a sister.

At one point we were also encouraged to declare out loud with one voice that “Children are a blessing from the Lord!” I joined in with this declaration with wholehearted fervor and a deep ache inside. At the time we only had Benjamin, and I already mentioned that I had struggled with infertility prior to his conception. We had been praying for a second child for nearly two years, and the longing at times was overwhelming. Little did I know that less than a year later our beautiful daughter Joelle would be born. Josiah would follow in 2015 and Ava Rose in 2018. The Lord has blessed us indeed!

I returned home from the Esther Call, feeling very glad that I had attended, but at the same time strangely numb. However, that would soon change. On the morning of Easter Sunday, I was getting ready for church and pondering the recent gathering. I considered the confirmation the Lord gave me about losing a sister. I considered that my mom had always known she wanted to name her first daughter “Dana.” She had told me that if she had ever had a second daughter, she would have named her “Charlotte.” I felt like a ton of bricks hit me as I realized that my aborted sister would have been Dana, and I would have been Charlotte. It may sound strange, but I almost began to feel somewhat of an identity crisis in that moment. It also felt so incredibly unfair that I had been given the gift of life while she had been deprived of hers. Suddenly a DEEP well of grief opened up from inside, and the tears flowed for the rest of the day. I was part of the worship team at our small church at the time, and I could hardly sing through my tears and pain. Later in the day I was literally curled up on our bed sobbing and wailing with grief. It caught Shawn completely off guard, and he wasn’t sure how to best help me or to respond. It caught me off guard as well. I had never grieved in such a deep way before. It felt like the years of a lifetime of loss were all surfacing at once, and it was suffocating! Before the evening was out, I had written a poem to my sister. I have been very vulnerable with everything I have shared thus far, but I’m not ready to be that vulnerable. I don’t know if I will ever share what was written that day or not, but it was what I needed to do at the time.

When I considered our names that morning, I looked up the meaning of “Charlotte” in a baby name book. One meaning was “little woman.” One of the meanings for “Dana” is “bright as day.” As I grieved and processed, I felt the Lord comforting my heart that I’m not simply a “little woman,” but one who has been called to shine as “bright as day” for Him and for His Kingdom. I knew that part of how I could honor my sister and help to protect other women from the pain my mom experienced, would be to take an unapologetic stand for life and continue as a voice for the voiceless. I could also do so by welcoming all the children the Lord would be pleased to bless me with and model to others the beauty and value of motherhood. As the years have passed, this fire within me has not dwindled, but continued to burn stronger and hotter. I will continue to cherish my children and the gift of motherhood as I pray for the sanctity of life to be highly valued in our nation and the scourge of death to be ended. I will continue to pray for post-abortive women to finding healing and wholeness in Jesus Christ and have the courage to share their stories with the world. I will rejoice in the fact that I will get to meet my sister one day in eternity. What a beautiful reunion that will be!

*As mentioned at the beginning of this post, this is a story I have waited long to tell, but in honor of my mother, I knew it had to be when she was ready. This week marks the 50-year anniversary of her abortion. She has lived with decades of grief and regret. She experienced physical damage from her abortion that nearly caused her to miscarry my brother. The emotional wounds, however, have been deep and lifelong. This year she had the courage to share her experience in her own words on her personal blog. I am including a link to her written story (much shorter than mine), and I encourage you to read it here. I love you, Mom!    

 


Saturday, October 3, 2020

The Moral Argument

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month--a month to celebrate the lives and stories of individuals with Down syndrome and the beauty of each one. Our sweet son Benjamin is no exception. He has brought joy to our family and to the lives of so many others who know him, and I am proud to call him my son! 

I will, however, be taking this blog post in a rather unexpected direction today, as something has been weighing heavily on my heart. While this is a month to celebrate the LIVES of people with Down syndrome, the heartbreaking reality is that many of these precious lives were never even given the chance to live. According to an article by The Tennessean, "The best calculations suggest that 67% of US pregnancies where it is suggested that the baby would be born with Down syndrome end in abortion."  The seeming prevalence of Down syndrome related abortions has even led some states to seek passage of legislation that would prohibit abortions solely based on a pre-natal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Of course many cry "foul" at such laws, claiming they unfairly limit a woman's "right" to an abortion. Others say (rightfully so) that it is a form of discrimination to end the life of a child through abortion simply because they have a disability. Yet let's take a moment to consider what legislation like this is really saying...

If it is discrimination to abort a child due to a disability, then clearly that child is a PERSON who has rights and is deserving of protection. This immediately blasts a hole in the entire abortion debate. If it is wrong to end the life of a pre-born baby due to a disability, then WHY ON EARTH would it be okay to end the life of a pre-born baby who does not have a disability? The baby in the womb cannot be considered a person in only select circumstances but not in others for convenience sake. Human beings give birth to human beings. The baby inside the womb is just as human as the baby outside the womb. Abortion ends a human life. Abortion. Is. Murder.

This brings me to my next point. In addition to all the euphemisms about it being "the woman's body" and "the woman's choice," one of the most trumpeted arguments favoring abortion is "Well, you can't legislate morality." Is that so? Well how is it then that we have any laws? By their very nature, laws are more often than not the legislation of morality. We have laws that prohibit theft, rape, murder, fraud, domestic violence, child abuse, etc. All of these are moral issues, and we rightly have a system of laws in place to seek to protect against such behaviors. When these laws are violated, consequences are to follow. Without the legislation of morality we would live in frightening anarchy. 

On a side note, many of the laws we have are rooted (whether intentionally or not) in the wisdom of the 10 Commandments found in scripture. I believe that much of the breakdown we have seen in our society in recent generations has been because we have moved further and further away from God's commandments, which are not meant to be a hindrance but a protection. For example, how much heartache would be avoided in the lives of countless families and individuals if we followed the wisdom of God's law to not commit adultery? 


Since the Garden of Eden, Satan has been waging war against women and against her seed. All throughout human history he has sought to destroy the fruit of the womb. When the ancient Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, Satan worked through Pharaoh with the evil decree to throw all the newborn Hebrew baby boys into the Nile River. After taking possession of the Promised Land, Israel would later come under God's judgement for their adoption of the wicked pagan practices of the nations around them--one of the most horrific being child sacrifice. 

"You shall not worship the Lord your God that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods."
Deuteronomy 12:31

"But they mingled with the Gentiles and learned their works; they served their idols which became a snare to them. They even sacrificed their sons and daughters to demons, and shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan; and the land was polluted with blood."
Psalm 106:35-38

In the New Testament we see King Herod issue the death decree against every male child two years old and under in his demonic attempt to kill the baby Jesus. History itself is littered with horrific human rights abuses and genocide, including infants and children. Over 61 MILLION babies have been aborted in the US since the fateful passage of Roe vs. Wade in 1973. Are we any less barbaric than the ancient pagan practices of child sacrifice? Living babies are violently suctioned, ripped apart piece by piece, poisoned, and chemically burned in our various methods of "women's healthcare." Satan has destroyed generations through our legalized murder as the world triumphantly cheers that we are "empowering women." God have mercy on us!

Another widespread argument used to justify legalized abortion is that if we do abolish it, women will still seek abortion and many will die from "back alley" abortions and unsanitary conditions. The premise of this argument has already been refuted (see here ). Also, though it often goes unreported, women still die from complications related to "safe and legal" abortions. Still the logic goes, "If women are going to do it anyway, we better make it legal so we can make it safer." Let's dig a little deeper into this rationale... 

I am going to lay out a perfectly OUTRAGEOUS idea with the hopes of illustrating just how ridiculous this argument really is. Rape is against the law. Rape is violence against another human being. Rape results in mental, emotional and physical harm to the victim. Rape can result in unwanted pregnancy. Rape is against the law, yet we all know that evil individuals will still rape and women will still be hurt. So, in order to better protect women should we set up legalized "rape centers?" Should there be places where assailants could take birth control measures and women would have immediate access to physical and mental healthcare following an assault? Of course we don't want anyone to be raped, but since we know it's going to happen regardless, shouldn't we provide some legal "safety nets" to limit the damage done? Would this cause rape numbers to go down or only further incentivize the brutality? I fully realize how absolutely PREPOSTEROUS this analogy is, but is it really any less unconscionable that we think it's necessary to make the widespread murder of innocent babies legal as a "safeguard" to protect women? (On another side note, allowing abortion in the case of rape is not the answer. Sentencing an innocent child to death for the sin of the father is horrific and the violence and trauma of abortion often only ADDS to the woman's mental/emotional and even physical harm).

Legalizing the murder of babies will only lead to more widespread murder of babies--over 61 MILLION! Instead of funding abortion, why not channel resources into pregnancy care centers, adoption agencies, etc.? Don't pit the mother against the baby. Love them BOTH. 


Finally, many prefer to go the route of neutrality, claiming "I'm personally against abortion, but who am I to tell someone else what they can or cannot do?" To those I would ask, "Do you believe abortion ends the life of a human being?" If your answer is no, then you are choosing euphemism over reality and turning a blind eye to basic biology. If your answer is yes--if abortion ends the life of another human being--how can you be possibly be neutral? That would be akin to saying, "I'm personally against child abuse, or pedophilia, or human trafficking..." You get the point. How does history view those who were neutral and/or accepting of the great travesties of their time? What about those who remained silent about the horrors of slavery in America's earlier days? What about those who remained silent during the Holocaust that claimed the lives of at least 6 million Jews? 

We are at 61 MILLION BABIES and counting as the silent slaughter continues day after day and year after year. Don't tell me we cannot legislate morality. How will future generations look back on our hard-hearted apathy. LIFE. IS. PRECIOUS. Regardless of the circumstance. Regardless of the chromosome count. Regardless...

Don't stand on the sidelines of history. Let your voice be heard. Stand up for life. Cherish life. Vote for life. Future generations are counting on us...


 
    

 

 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Why I am Voting for Donald Trump

I cannot believe how much time has gone by since I last posted a blog--lots of change and transition in our lives and so much happening around the nation that most could not have fathomed 6 months ago! At some point I hope to get back on here and give some family-related updates, but that will have to wait for another day. While the ultimate purpose of this blog has never been to be political, I had some thoughts that I felt the need to get out, and this is the best platform I have to do so at this time....

I realize that the very title of this post will rub some people the wrong way. We are living in a time of great division on many levels, and people hold very strong convictions/opinions on “both sides of the aisle,” so to speak. My purpose in writing this is to share clearly and thoughtfully why I hold the convictions I do in regard to the upcoming election. 

A few disclaimers first: There are people I love and respect who hold different political views than me. I do not believe that God belongs to a political party. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I believe that both parties have many flaws, and there has definitely been corruption in both. I recognize that both candidates have flaws and areas of questionable/inappropriate conduct. My support of Donald Trump does not mean that I agree with or justify everything he says or does. The reality is, there will never be flawless leaders or governments anywhere on the earth until Jesus Christ returns. His leadership is the only perfect leadership. He is my Hope. He is my Savior. That being said, God has given us a stewardship on this earth, and I believe that as a Christian I will be held accountable for how I choose to vote. I cannot base my decisions on cultural mindsets (which are increasingly steeped in humanism/secularism) but on the Bible. The long-term ramifications for this election will affect things in our nation for long after either candidate’s presidency has ended. From a biblical perspective, I cannot in good conscience support the present platform and trajectory of the Democratic Party. I have multiple reasons for this, but I want to highlight the three most significant ones for me. 

1. Abortion 

“Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths,” (Isaiah 59:7). The Bible is clear that God hates the shedding of innocent blood (Proverbs 6:17). Over 60 million babies have been slaughtered in the womb since Roe v. Wade was passed, and the numbers keep climbing. For instance, in New York City a black woman is more likely to abort her baby than birth her baby. This is the same Democratic run city that chose to light up the WTC in pink to celebrate the passage of abortion legislation that removed virtually all restrictions on abortion up until the moment of birth. They literally cheered. Think about it…They celebrated greater “freedom” to kill babies, not to mention the mental, emotional, and often physical harm many post-abortive women suffer. 

By and large, the current Democratic Party is championing abortion on demand, for any reason, up to the moment of birth. They are also adamant about continued tax payer support for Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the nation that has been caught harvesting and selling the body parts of aborted babies and has been complicit in the cover-ups of minors who are being sex-trafficked. Many times, I have heard arguments to under-cut the abortion debate through “what-about-isms” in which multiple other human rights issues are presented. I recognize that there are other serious, human rights issues in our culture that are important and in need of attention. However, I believe that abortion is the greatest human rights issue of our time and the greatest sin of our nation. There is NO OTHER demographic of people in our society who are being brutally murdered by the HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS every year. It must come to an end. Donald Trump has shown more support for the pro-life movement in both word and policy than any other president in modern history. In stark contrast Joe Biden (endorsed by both Planned Parenthood and NARAL) has called abortion “essential healthcare” and vowed to “codify Roe v. Wade,” promising his support of abortion “under any circumstance.” Abortion MURDERS children. I cannot support those who support this. 

  2. Marriage/Family 

“So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it…” (Genesis 1:27-28) From the dawn of time God created two distinct genders and ordained the sacred union of marriage between one man and one woman with the purpose of producing children, whom He calls a gift and a reward (Psalm 127:3). The marriage union itself is a prophetic picture of Jesus’ love for His Bride, the church. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,” (Ephesians 5:25). Much of the turmoil we have in our society is related to the breakdown of the nuclear family as God intended. We have de-valued both marriage and children, which has led us to an “anything goes” mentality. Our culture’s attempts to “re-define marriage” are a mockery and an affront to God’s prescribed wisdom and ways. 

Jesus dearly and deeply loves all people, including those who are living in a homosexual lifestyle. However, His love does not condone sin--not my sin, not your sin, not anyone’s sin. His love calls us to REPENTANCE from sin and a turning back to His ways. When we stray from His ways, there will always be destruction left in the wake, and we are keenly seeing it in our nation with ever increasing immorality, confusion, perversion, and broken families. 

The Democratic Party leaders have been front-runners in promoting and celebrating the re-defining of marriage and even the re-defining of genders, which is already taking a toll on religious freedom across the nation. Much of the legislation they desire to pass (and that Joe Biden said would be his first legislative priority) would gut religious freedom protections even further. Regardless of how anyone perceives his spiritual life, Donald Trump has been an advocate for preserving religious freedom in our nation. I want these protections to continue for my children and grandchildren. 

3. Support of Israel 

“I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed,” (Genesis 12:2-3). This was God’s promise to Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel. God ordained Israel to be His chosen people—the people through whom He would send the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who offers eternal salvation to all mankind if they will place their trust in Him and submit to His Lordship. God’s promise still stands. He has not forgotten the nation of Israel. When Jesus returns again He will set up His Millennial Reign from Jerusalem.  It is my firm belief, rooted in scripture, that we cannot be rightly aligned with God if we stand against Israel. Donald Trump has shown great courage in his support for Israel, moving the embassy to Jerusalem—a promise which our nation promised long ago but never followed through with until now. I am thankful for the President’s bold stance. Within the Democratic Party, there has been a growing trend of anti-Israel sentiment, and while this may not characterize the party as a whole, it does raise concerns.

These three, pivotal points are the main guiding factors in how I choose to cast my vote in any election. However, I believe that this coming election may perhaps be the most consequential one of my life time thus far. I am increasingly alarmed by the Democratic Party’s push towards Socialism and Marxist ideologies. History has proven time and time again that the descent into Socialism and ultimately Communism, brings forth horrific oppression, suffering, poverty, and destruction. Millions of lives have been snuffed out in decades past (and the bloodshed continues today) in nations where this ideology has taken over. In every place this has been implemented, Christians have been persecuted. We are watching some very dangerous trends unfold in our nation at present, and I pray that America does not continue down this road. I pray that my precious children and future grandchildren will still be able to live in a nation that truly upholds freedom. I will pray for our nation. I will pray for our leaders. I will vote according to my biblical convictions in November. And above all, I will pray that God sends revival once again to America, turning the heart of our nation to Him and His ways that we can truly become “One Nation, Under God, Indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All!” 

  

  

 

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Gently Lead


My eyelids were feeling heavy at the end of another busy day, and my heart was feeling even heavier. As I slipped under the covers, I turned my thoughts to God, asking Him to speak to me before drifting off to sleep. Isaiah 40 popped into my mind, so I quickly grabbed the Bible on my bedside table and flipped it open to the passage. My heart took comfort as my eyes fell on verse 11...


This last month has been a difficult one for our family. We've had some sudden and rather frightening medical concerns for Benjamin catch us completely off-guard, and we are still waiting for definitive answers. A few days after the Lord strengthened my heart with above verse, we received some difficult news concerning our second son Josiah as well. We are still waiting for more clarity; we are still processing what we know so far; and honestly I am too emotionally raw to go into more details at this time. Ultimately my boys will be okay, but this mamma's heart has been aching. 

  

As parents, we are given the extraordinary responsibility of shepherding the little ones given into our care. It is an enormous undertaking; one that should never be taken lightly. When special needs are thrown into the mix, the task can feel even more daunting. So often there are more questions than answers. Every time our child hurts, we hurt as well. The constant demands can feel draining. The progress we see in our efforts to teach and lead effectively can often feel unbelievably slow. There are times when challenges can seem insurmountable. Yet the promise remains...

"He will...gently lead those who are with young." 

I'm so thankful for my Good Shepherd who is leading me in this journey of motherhood in good times as well as in times of struggle. I can look back and see the evidence of His leadership and care, even when it was not always clear to me in the moment. He is faithful. 
As we prepare to enter the holiday season I reflect on the first Christmas when the angels appeared to a group of lowly shepherds to announce the birth of the Savior. It is significant that the Father chose to first reveal the birth of His Son to those who were poor and of little standing in their community. He came for the least of these. I believe that it is ALSO significant that the shepherds were the first to receive this glorious good news because their very occupation was a prophetic picture of the ministry of the Messiah. Jesus is the Good Shepherd come to seek and save the lost. 

The One to whom I have entrusted my eternal soul is certainly trustworthy with each little lamb He has so graciously given to me, even when things look differently than I expected or wanted. He is my Shepherd, and I will follow Him, come what may...




Saturday, October 26, 2019

Awareness that it's Hard

Seriously, sometimes I feel like I blink and another month has flown by! Between school drop-offs and pick-ups for Benjamin, a new venture of homeschooling my six-year old, and keeping up with a preschooler and a toddler, my life feels like a whirlwind most days. So, here we are nearing the end of October, and I am finally sitting down to pen a blog in honor of Down Syndrome Awareness Month. In all honesty, the past few years I have struggled to know from what angle to write during this month. My goal is to always be truthful and to speak from the heart. We are ten years into our journey of raising a child with Down syndrome, and two-and-a-half years along the unexpected twist in our road with Benjamin's more recent diagnosis of autism.


Maybe it's just me, but sometimes I feel an unspoken pressure, especially during the month of October, to only write the "feel good" posts about life with Down syndrome. I have written much over the years about the joys and delights we have experienced with our son, but raising a child with special needs is in many ways a two-sided coin. There is joy, but there is also grief. There is beauty, but there is also struggle. There are victories, but there are also many defeats. To say it plainly, it's HARD, and no amount of sugar-coated sentiment or rose-colored glasses views can change that reality for those of us who are living in the trenches day in and day out.

I think that it if we truly desire to promote Down syndrome awareness, we must be honest about the joys AND the struggles. We have to be honest that some days, many days, are just plain hard, and it's okay to admit that it's hard. I believe that parents/caregivers of children with special needs, especially moms, can often fall prey to feelings of guilt when we admit our sadness and struggles. The lies and accusations internally screaming in our ears can be jarring...If I really loved my child enough I wouldn't struggling so much...I must not be accepting enough of who my child is if I'm feeling this way...What right do I have to be grieving when others have experienced much harder circumstances? My child is still with me. I should just be grateful...You get the idea.


This quote speaks volumes. When you are raising a child with special needs, you are often living in the tension of both joy and pain. One does not cancel out the other. Both are present, though one may be felt stronger on certain days than others. As I live life with my sweet Benjamin, there are moments when my heart feels as though it will burst with love and affection, and there are moments when my heart feels as though it will shatter with grief and pain. No matter what I'm feeling at any given moment, the constant thing is that I LOVE MY CHILD, and acknowledging the difficulties does not undermine the strength and sincerity of my love. If anything, it is a testimony to it. The greater the love, the greater the possibility for pain.

This journey can be a lonely one for parents. Well-meaning friends can come across as dismissive or out-of-touch with our struggles on the occasions in which we open up our hearts with vulnerability. I have felt the sting of this when others have tried to relate to a difficulty I am experiencing by comparing our situation to a very different one involving their typical child. I have felt this sting when others have tried to give what they sincerely believe to be an "encouraging" response in an attempt to make me feel better. (ex. "God only gives these children to special parents because He knew you could handle it.") Sometimes the best response someone can have is to simply LISTEN. Acknowledge that it's hard. Don't pretend to understand when you haven't walked in our shoes. Don't feel like you have to find the "right" thing to say. Just be present and allow us to share. (I wrote about this in greater detail in the post Help that Hurts. You can read it here.

Over the last ten years I have become increasingly aware of my own weaknesses and shortcomings, and I have had to come face to face with the often glaring contrast between my good intentions/ideals for motherhood and how I'm actually mothering on a given day. I will never be a perfect mom. I will never "have it all together." It's okay for me to grieve. It's okay for me to admit that it's hard. However, it's NOT okay for me beat myself up with guilt and unrealistic expectations or to wallow in self-pity.  It's ESSENTIAL for me to acknowledge that I can't do this in my own strength. I was never meant to do this in my own strength. I need help. I need community. And above all--I need JESUS. 


He is the Strength I must draw from in the midst of my weakness. He is the Hope I must cling to when I am tempted to feel hopeless. He is the Shepherd I must follow when I feel lost. He is the Servant I must model as I serve my family. He is the Healer to whom I can entrust my heart. He is the Source of joy in the midst of pain. He is the place of Comfort in which I can rest my weary soul. He is the only One who can truly meet my needs as I raise my child with special needs. He is the Love that fills me and empowers me to love with greater capacity. The greater my awareness of Him, the greater my ability to walk out this journey with faith and with joy, even on the hardest of days.   


If you have enjoyed reading this blog, please check out my book, Reflections from Holland: A New Mother's Journey with Down Syndrome, available in paperback and Kindle. Thanks for reading!

      


Monday, September 2, 2019

The Family Table: Burden or Blessing?


Over the summer, a presidential candidate proudly celebrated her birthday at a Planned Parenthood Action Fund event. (Yes, you read that right). She enthusiastically stated, "What better way to celebrate my birthday than right here with Planned Parenthood?" I could easily write an entire post about the sickening irony of this scenario, but it was something she went on to say that prompted me to sit down and write today. Speaking at the event, she made a link between restrictions on abortion "rights" and the feminist disdain for the seemingly oppressive role of homemaking as she defiantly declared, "You're not going to lock women back in the kitchen. You're not going to tell us what to do." (You can read the article here)

The modern feminist movement has been pushing the narrative for decades now that marriage, homemaking, and child-bearing are somehow oppressive and degrading to women; chains put in place by a patriarchal and domineering society. According to them, true freedom and empowerment for a woman comes from pursuing a career, foregoing starting a family (at least in her youth), and indulging in sexual relationships with whomever she wants, whenever she wants, without consequence. This is their prescribed path to success, contentment, and happiness we are told. There is so much we could unpack here, but I want to focus today on the politician's specific reference to the "kitchen."

Recently I was in my kitchen preparing dinner for my lovely family, when I began to reflect on the sheer volume of meals that have been prepared in this little space. We have lived in our current home for over nine years now. Three meals a day for nine years adds up to 9,855 meals served. Wow! Obviously this is only an estimate. There have been vacations, meals eaten out, postpartum meal trains, and, yes, my husband has cooked meals as well! However, as a homemaker, I do prepare and serve the majority of our family's meals. Over the years my cooking habits and skills have evolved and improved, as has my love for cooking in general. Am I always in the mood to cook? No. Are there days I want a break? Absolutely. But overall, I count it a privilege to be able to lovingly create nutritious meals for my beautiful family. In no way do I feel oppressed or enslaved in my occupation. On the contrary, I wholeheartedly believe that I am giving myself to one of the most worthwhile pursuits there is in life--raising up the next generation within my home. And a key component to this is the family table.



In our busy, digital age, fewer and fewer families take the time to sit down together and share a meal around the table on a regular basis. Meals are eaten on the go from a fast food drive thru as we race to the next activity or in front of a glowing screen, maybe even multiple glowing screens in different rooms. As a society, we have largely lost the value and significance of the family table and have settled instead for individual ease and convenience. But at what cost?


A number of years ago, The Washington Post ran an article entitled The most important thing you can do with your kids? Eat dinner with them. It goes on to chronicle the profound, research-based benefits that a regular family mealtime around the table can have on children and adolescents. The benefits impact developmental/academic performance, emotional well-being, and physical health. According to this article, young children's cognitive development is enriched for "dinnertime conversation boost vocabulary even more than being read aloud to." For the school-age child, "regular mealtime is an even more powerful predictor of high achievement scores than time spent in school, doing homework, playing sports or doing art." 

The benefits can be especially profound for the teenage years as the article reports "Adolescents who ate family meals five to seven times a week were twice as likely to get A's in school as those who ate dinner with their families fewer than two times a week." They are also less likely to be obese in adulthood and more likely to maintain healthy eating habits. In addition, regular family meals help to lower the chances of many high risk teen behaviors such as "smoking, binge drinking, marijuana use, violence, school problems, eating disorders and sexual activity."

Daily meals are not meant to only nourish our bodies, but to nourish our souls. All through history, celebrations, commemorative events, and traditional hospitality are most often centered around the sharing of food. In our modern day and age, holiday meals are an anchor for our family gatherings and celebrations. Many of us deeply cherish these times. If we so value this time, why not celebrate life together every day by gathering with those we love around the table as we nourish both body and soul?

Though not mentioned in this particular article, I believe family mealtimes are also crucial for the spiritual development of a child. Around the table the family can give thanks, pray together, discuss the things on their hearts, and even share a devotion time. In our own family, we have developed the habit of pulling a prayer topic out of our little "prayer box" at the end of the meal. We then take turns praying over the focus for the day. Only one of our four children is cognitively able to fully participate at this point, but we are setting a precedent for years to come. Even though mealtimes with young children can often feel a bit chaotic, we know we are investing in both the present and the future well-being of our family. We have come to really cherish these times! 

The Bible is also filled with examples of the significance of sharing a meal with others. This was even demonstrated throughout the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. It was around the dinner table that the Son of God washed the feet of His disciples, demonstrating to them the loving, servant-hearted leadership He was calling them to. It was around a shared meal that He spoke to the disciples about the New Covenant that was about to be enacted by the shedding of His blood on the cross. It was around the dinner table that He shared the deepest things of His heart with His closest friends just before heading to the Garden of Gethsemane as He prepared to lay His life down for the salvation of the world. 



If the benefits of the family table are so great, then why not consider it a noble privilege instead of draining drudgery for a wife and mother to prepare meals for those we love? Our families need to eat every day. Somebody somewhere will have to prepare the food. Why shouldn't it be us?

Now, I am not advocating for women to be treated as second class citizens, as though they are incapable of anything other than domestic work. I am not advocating for women to in any way be denied the freedoms that we enjoy and so often take for granted as Americans. However, I believe we make a grave error to explicitly link homemaking and motherhood with the oppression of women. Not only is this a false notion, it is a grace disservice to the countless women who choose to invest their time and energy as homemakers, raising children and serving their families as their full-time occupation. Instead of viewing the realm of homemaking with disdain, we should give it a place of honor and respect in our society. It is anything but second-rate!



Of course, a woman does not have to be a full-time homemaker for a family to experience the benefits of a shared mealtime. The main point is that families are intentional to gather around the table on a regular basis and enjoy fellowship together. The rewards will always outweigh the inconveniences. May your table be blessed today!


Saturday, June 29, 2019

What You've Taught Me

My sweet son Benjamin,

I can hardly believe that an entire decade has passed since we welcomed you into the world, and you made me a mommy for the very first time! The school of parenthood is one of the most glorious, most difficult, and most complex classrooms of life, and you have been a profound teacher for me, even as it is my purpose to teach you. I have been reflecting today on some of the key lessons you have taught me over the years. A single blog post could never fully encapsulate the depths of this learning, but I hope to at least capture the essence.

You have taught me...the beauty of unconditional love.

From the moment I saw the positive pregnancy test and the happy tears flowed, to your frightening delivery accompanied by torrential tears of fear and pain as I helplessly watched my baby fighting for life, to the tears of relief and joy at your eventual home-coming, I was overwhelmed by the depth of LOVE I felt for you! It was a love that knew no bounds, a love that completely consumed me, and a love that marked me in such a way that I would NEVER be the same again. You are my child. I love you, because I love you, because I love you. And as I have loved you, I have caught a greater glimpse of the unconditional love of our Heavenly Father--a love that knows no bounds, a love that is completely consuming, and a love that marks the very purpose of our existence.


You have taught me...that life will give us many unexpected turns.

After nearly three years of longing to conceive our first child, your daddy and I were sure that we would be welcoming a baby who was completely healthy and whole. We prayed over you every day. I took so many precautions to ensure a healthy pregnancy. We daydreamed about what you would be like and what your future may hold. We were blindsided by the necessary preterm delivery, the life-threatening holes in your little heart, the confirmation of Down syndrome, and the doctor's continuous reminders that you were "a very sick little boy." How could this have happened? This was not how we envisioned your life to be! Yet, in the the midst of the upheaval we experienced, we discovered incredible joy in spite of our pain, and we have been on a continual journey of embracing the beauty of the unique path we have been given to walk. Life holds no guarantees. We can make our plans, but we must hold them open-handed. Whatever unexpected turn life may bring, though, I have learned that God is constant, and He is good, NO MATTER WHAT.


You have taught me...the importance of trust.

As your mother, I have had to learn to trust on a whole new level. I have had to trust God for you in literal life or death scenarios. I have had to trust in God's provision, especially when I left the workforce after your birth to begin my full-time calling as a stay-at-home mom. I have had to trust God for each new milestone that we have worked so hard together for. I have had to trust God to sustain my heart when I have felt overwhelmed and unable to bear the weight of responsibility and care. I have had to trust God for the specific future He has in store for you, knowing that He is faithful, and you will be blessed. I have had to trust the help and support of others He has brought into our lives along the way, realizing with greater clarity the importance of community. I have also learned about trust by watching you. Benjamin, you have such an ability to trust with ease. You fully trust your daddy and me to care for you and provide for you. You don't worry and fret about the future or about how your provision will come. You are free to live in the moment, and I so love that about you!



You have taught me...the power of perseverance.

As you fought for life in the NICU a good friend encouraged us to "Celebrate your son every day." We have come back to this exhortation time and time again over the years. We have persevered together for months and years to help you reach developmental milestones that many would take for granted. Yet the harder the struggle, the greater the celebration! I am so proud of the many hurdles you have faced and eventually crossed--the first time you sat up, the first time you crawled, the first step you took, the first time you held a cup or a spoon, the first time you said "Mama" at age eight, and a myriad of other "firsts." These milestones, both physical and mental, have resulted in great celebration in our home. You are a little over-comer, and I know that many more triumphs are in store!



You have taught me...that my broken pieces can become food for others when offered Jesus.

As human beings, we naturally shy away from pain and suffering. We want to avoid it and often try to shield ourselves from a myriad of possible scenarios by insisting, "That could never happen to me." But the truth is that none of us are immune to pain, and all of us will experience suffering in our lives. These things will take on many different forms, but in some measure they will come to every life. How we choose to respond will either keep us bitter and broken or lead us to greater compassion and purpose. I have offered my pain to Jesus countless times over the years, knowing He is big enough to shoulder it and to bring healing in my heart. One specific way I have offered my pain to Him has been through the written word. When I first began composing bits and pieces of our story, it was simply a personal outlet to release my emotions and process the journey we were on. Soon, I was encouraged to begin this blog (something I had never considered myself) to share our story with others. I felt such a deep sense of satisfaction and purpose as the words continued to flow, and the blog posts were birthed. More time passed, and I realized that a book was in the making. With nervous vulnerability and bubbling excitement, my heart was placed into print form with the release of Reflections from Holland: A New Mother's Journey with Down Syndrome. Through this blog and my book, I have been given the privilege of connecting with the hearts of people across the country and around the world. Many I will never hear from, but sometimes I'm given the gift of hearing how people have been touched and encouraged through my writing, and I thank God for the opportunity to serve others in this way! 


You have taught me...that our value is not measured by our performance.

This is a sentiment that I would have always insisted was true, but my internal reality was very different. Since childhood I wrestled with insecurity and the faulty belief that my worth was tied to how well I could perform in any given area. If I was doing well, I felt worthwhile. If I was doing poorly, I felt shame. I knew deep down that this was not true, but I was living in a bondage that was difficult to break free from. Over several years, God has worked healing in my heart in this area (and I'm still a work in progress!) One way He has done so is through your beautiful life. Benjamin, you are a good and precious gift just as you are! While I am always thrilled when you overcome another hurdle related to your disabilities, the love I have for you, and the value I place on you are in no way contingent on these things. You are valuable because you are you, a beautiful child created in God's image! There are many things you may never be able to do, but that's okay. Your life has purpose and value and meaning, regardless of how simple or complex it may be. This leads me to my last point...


You have taught me...the simplicity of joy. 

Son, you have a smile that can light up a room, and a laugh that brings delight to the heart. Of course you can and do experience and communicate a broad range of emotions, but joy has always marked your life. I love to watch your wonder and enthusiasm over the simple pleasures of life: a favorite song, a scrumptious meal, a walk in the sunshine, a kiss and a cuddle, and the list goes on and on. You have taught me to slow down and savor the moment. Life is full of little blessings and opportunities for joy in the midst of the common and the mundane, if only we have the eyes to see and a heart of gratitude to receive. Thank you for demonstrating to me day in and day out that there are always reasons to celebrate and smile! My sweet Benjamin, I celebrate you today, and I thank you for all that you have taught me over these past ten years. I look forward to how much more we will learn and grow together in the next ten years to come and beyond. Mommy loves you so much!