Experiencing Joy and Freedom

Oh how I love those moments of pure joy when I fully understand and can celebrate the forgiveness I have received. If you have ever heard the testimony of someone from Adult and Teen Challenge, you know what I’m talking about. How does someone achieve that kind of joy?

The only times I can feel that type of pure joy is when I fully understand the extent of what I have been forgiven. In other words, when I am honest with myself and acknowledge that what I did is wrong and that I need forgiveness. If I don’t admit that what I’ve done, or thought, is wrong, then how can there be any appreciation, joy or relief from forgiveness?

We are surrounded by so many accepted bad and inappropriate things that I can talk myself into rationalizing certain thoughts and actions; and thus, hoarding them like little possessions and not fully giving them over to God for forgiveness. It is no wonder then that I don’t always feel the freedom and joy that He intended for me when Christ took those sins and put them on the cross.

So, this is a reminder to myself as much as anyone else to not make excuses for the bad things I say or do, but to acknowledge them so I can move on by letting Christ remove them from me. Then I can be free to forgive myself, experience joy (Galatians 5:20) and try again.


We Can’t Do It All Ourselves

When your hands are completely full because you are trying to take care of everything yourself, you are not able to reach out for God’s help. And when your heart is so weary that you do not have the energy to lift your hands for help, relax and rest in God’s arms.  He will carry you.

I had to do just that this past year as I spent time watching God:

Protecting the heart of a child,

Providing a job for my husband,

Healing friends,

Providing the information and direction I need to lead a healthier life,

Leading and providing for my children as they mature,

Moving us to a place of worship that is helping us grow,

And the special way He lined-up circumstances and repeated messages to give clear direction,

All to teach me more about His Grace.

To my friends and loved ones who are hurting and overwhelmed, please find a way to close down some of the busyness in your life so you can find God’s hand reaching out to you and so you can hear how He is leading you.  Then test what you feel God is telling you against His words in the Bible so you will know if it is truly from Him.  And don’t forget to respond.

Hope for an Adopted Sister — part 9

In 1949, when my mother was 18, she had a child out of wedlock. That was a big deal back then so the stress from that may have been what caused her schizophrenia to kick in. My mother’s eldest sister took care of the baby for a couple years while my mother was receiving psychiatric help but, eventually, child welfare took Bonnie away. They may have taken Bonnie from her mother’s presence but they did not remove her from her mother’s heart. My mother was thinking about Bonnie throughout the years. She talked about her as if she were just next door playing with friends. We even had this picture of Bonnie to look at all of our lives:

In the meantime, Bonnie went through a few foster homes before she was finally adopted. She says that one of those homes “sent me back to the social worker complaining that I looked Japanese because of my eyes. Many Finns have eyes like mine.” At the time, however, Bonnie did not know she was Finnish.

I asked Bonnie to share her story and this is what she wrote:

“Despite having loving, God-fearing adoptive parents, I felt I had no one that understood my hurt, anger, and longing to go back to the people I missed. People thought I was ungrateful, aloof and difficult. My adoptive mom cried a lot at first and her friends told her to send me back. But she refused to do what others had done. I remember clearly, one evening at dinner when I was a teenager, the thought struck me that ‘this is my family now. I’m not going anywhere else!’ Why it took years to figure that out I’ll never know. Despite the lack of bonding and complete difference in temperaments, my parents did make me feel physically safe and loved. I had come to believe that if I didn’t find my birth family and foster families again, I would see them in heaven. This thought consoled me and relieved some of the grief I felt.

If my birth mother hadn’t had me baptized, I might never have found my birth family. That’s how I found her maiden name and my identity. At long last my first six years of life were acceptable to talk about and the people I constantly dreamed about really existed! I was not the unruly, difficult ‘orphan’ anymore. I was just a good ol’ feisty Finn!

I was 18 when I discovered my heritage but it wasn’t until the age of 44 and the encouragement of my pastor and my husband that I actually felt comfortable enough to reach out to my birth family. I decided to look up those with my mother’s maiden name in my birth town and my first call ended up being her brother. This put me on the path to find the people I remembered so fondly, and the ‘new’ family I would get to know. My uncle gave me the phone number of my sister down in the cities. And, before I could call her, my grandmother called me with the announcement ‘I’m your grandma and I don’t want to lose you again!’ Then, with my husband by my side, I called my sister and a whole new wonderful world opened up to me.”

I remember the day Bonnie called me in 1994. When I answered the phone, she started the conversation by saying “you may not know me but my name is Bonnie.” As soon as she said that, I some how knew she was the only Bonnie in the world that would ever call me. I responded with “Bonnie! We’ve been waiting for you to call!” Needless to say, she was overwhelmed not only to find out that she had two sisters and a brother, but that we were waiting for her. She told me how she had found us and I carefully told her about her mother hoping that she would understand her mother’s mental condition. We both recognized God’s preparation for this situation. Bonnie was working at a psychiatric hospital with chronic schizophrenic patients so she knew what to expect.

At times, my mother would nonchalantly say she saw Bonnie in the neighborhood or down the road waiting for the school bus. She was still saying this when I was an adult so I don’t think Bonnie grew up very fast in my mother’s mind. Therefore, when it came time to tell her about Bonnie, I was a little worried about how she would react. As Bonnie and I were planning how we would approach mother with the news, our grandmother was so excited that she called her and told her before we could. After all the worrying, my mother took the news, again, as if Bonnie had just been visiting the neighbors. Bonnie made arrangements to meet OUR mother and the rest of the family arrived right afterwards for the reunion. This is the photo from that day and mom’s smile (far right) says it all! Bonnie is third from the left in back.

I smile as I write this because I realize healing can eventually come out of a broken home. These are Bonnie’s closing words: “God understood that I was grateful for a safe and loving home, and then He gave me another gift. He gave me back those 6-1/2 years that I was missing: A new family and a sense of belonging.”

Hope for a Young Mother — part 8

That 11 year-old girl who prayed for a Christian home in part 2 was now 27 years old with three-year-old twins and a new baby.

Although my husband’s income was limited, I am glad I was forced to stay home during the girls’ early years. To make ends meet, I was able to earn extra money by typing resumes, selling jewelry at home parties, and later, working nights at Subway. Then, when the girls were a little older, I did day care in our home for almost 10 years.

Even though I had to count every penny, join the WIC program, and buy most things second hand, God always provided what we needed. And, He used my journaling to help me through the stress and confusion.

Since doing day care kept me in the house all day and my evenings were filled with work, I didn’t get to socialize much. That made it pretty lonely. As I recorded in my journal March 1992, “I have been working 3-4 evenings a week at Subway and taking care of Jake, Zach and Megan for daycare. I obviously have too little time to spend on friendships. How, Dear Lord, do I find the balance? If I quit Subway, I would not be too tired to have friends over. However, we need the money. I just have to invest what time I can into relationships and patiently wait for experiences to bond us together.” In my journal the next day I asked “how does God fill that feeling of loneliness?” and my answer was “diving into God’s word allows Him to talk to me and I get to talk to Him in prayer. We are sharing and He is strengthening me with His presence through His word. I can feel the void being filled.”

Coming out of a background of unhealthy relationships, not only was I learning how to develop healthy relationships, I was also trying to figure out healthy parenting. I don’t know what I would have done without the free development classes and studies at the church.

By the summer of 1992, the isolation at home and lack of accomplishment drove me to look for a creative outlet and I started to sell Tupperware. My journal at that time reads: “I have come to know myself now. Even though I’ve played the house wife for the past 7 years, I am not a barefoot, dowdy, quiet woman. I can serve my husband’s and family’s needs while yet being who I truly am.”

God blessed my business. Within one and one-half years, I recruited 20 members into my unit and earned a van. However, before I knew it, the job demanded more and more time away from my family. I had vowed that if Tupperware ever fought for priority in my life over God and family, I would quit. That is why, one year later, when I was told that I had to work even harder and put in more hours to keep my managerial position, I gave the van back and quit (Matthew 6:19-24).

I was still moving forward, however, and I adopted Philippians 3:13-14 as my life verse: “forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling (me).” In order to be the healthy and positive mom, wife, daughter and friend that I wanted to be, I started caring for my health. Then, when the girls were all finally in school, I decided to go back to school to get my Bachelors degree.

Before going any further, however, there was still another piece missing in my life. Not only did I have a half-brother on my father’s side (see additional “comment” on part 1 of my story), but I always knew I had a half-sister on my mother’s side. However, we had never met her. She was taken away from my young unwed mother when her schizophrenia began. In my next post, I will tell how our sister found us.

2nd Miracle for Premature Twins — part 6

Through it all, my husband and I were proud parents of our little babies. We had so much trust in God to heal them that we didn’t see how sick they were. Instead, we saw a future with two beautiful little girls. Therefore, we were bewildered when people wanted to “wait and see how it went” before having baby showers, and that they reacted with shock and pity when they saw pictures of the girls. Especially after our second miracle, our hope and trust in God to deliver them was stronger than ever.

As I mentioned in my last post, the doctor told us on their tenth day that Rachael’s kidneys were failing and they had done all they could do for her. In addition to that, her heart ductus had reopened and she was too small for an operation to close it again. This caused her kidneys to stop functioning so they could no longer feed her protein to heal her lungs. The doctor said that if the air leaking from her lungs reached her heart, we would have to give them permission to pull the plug. He gave us so little hope that I came close to stopping my journal entries. We could not imagine ever being able to give the doctors permission to pull the plug. All I could do was go to Rachael, who was now in an open warming bed because of all the tubes and work being done on her, and hold her tiny hand. This was just about the only part of her body free from medical equipment. I spent the time telling our two pound baby how much I loved her, I prayed out loud so she could hear, and talked to her about our God who heals. Needless to say, everyone else we knew continued to pray as well.

Two days later, on Oct 30th, Rachael’s heart ductus closed, her kidneys started functioning, and they started feeding her the protein she needed so her lungs could begin the slow healing process. Although the doctors had no explanation for it, we knew it was God’s answer to prayers. On the day things turned around, Rachael’s nurse hung a sign above her warming bed that said: “For little Rachael there’s a particular reason that this is a special Halloween season. She’s been haunting and spooking and fooling us all, giving no night of sleep to that doctor on call! But little girl we’re failing to mention, you certainly deserve all that attention. Cause speaking of ghouls, goblins, tricks and treats, you’re an especially sweet treat that can’t be beat!”

It was an exciting day when the doctors took the girls off the muscle relaxant, Pavulon, and the girls were able to open their beautiful brown eyes to take a peek at mommy and daddy. Then it was a couple weeks before the big moment when we could hold Jessica in our arms and one month before we could hold Rachael. They had to be bundled up so much that the only thing we could see were their faces. And then, those had to be covered with an oxygen mask.

Jessica was also a fighter but she was in a position to express it more vocally than Rachael. I will never forget walking into the NICU nursery one morning for my daily visit and they had tiny Jessica wrapped up like a mummy in blankets and she was beat red in protest wailing at the top of her lungs. Even as a three pound baby, they could not keep her arms down and hold her still in order to draw blood from one of the veins in her head. It had gotten to a point where they had poked her foot for blood so many times that they were trying to find new places to draw blood.

After one and one-half months, the girls were transferred to the second level care nursery at Fairview Hospital. Their three month stay in the hospital consisted of constant ups and downs in oxygen pressures, as well as various drugs for blood pressure control and fluid on the lungs.

At three months of age and almost five pounds, Jessica was able to come home and we were greeted with a banner across the front of the house that said “Welcome Home Jessica.” Although it wasn’t necessary, we were so nervous that the doctors allowed us to bring Jessica home with a CPAP machine. After one night of listening to the sounds of the machine and getting up to make sure she was still breathing, we realized the machine was too nerve-wracking and the only way we could find peace was by giving our worries to God and trusting Him to take care of her. Besides, he brought us this far! The next day, we returned the noisy CPAP machine and prayed hard before going to sleep. Everything went well. Rachael came home the following week but had to return a week later for a double hernia surgery. Thankfully, she had to stay only one night for that.

Until this day, we thank God that the girls came home breathing on their own and with no shunts. Rachael was weak on the left side but with a lot of love, continued prayer and physical therapy, she learned to adapt with very few problems.

That first year was a lot of work and I felt like a nurse with all the measuring and monitoring I had to do. Even though it was full of sleeping and feeding struggles, that first year was also filled with precious baby memories and I have a great photo to share with you next time of our “cabbage patch” babies.

1st Miracle for Premature Twins — part 5

When I finally got pregnant, I was 24 years old and thought I had control of my life. I expected to have a healthy baby, take a six week leave of absence, and return on schedule to my career.

Everything looked good those first several months of pregnancy. My eight week ultrasound looked normal and the morning sickness was controllable. Then, at the 20th week, the doctor told me I was measuring too big. He thought it was either diabetes or “multiple gestation.” I just assumed it was diabetes and went in right away for the diabetes test. Then I followed-up on the appointment that the nurse scheduled for me to get an ultrasound. Since everything looked normal during the eight week ultrasound, I didn’t expect to find anything different this time. However, the minute the nurse put the scanner on my belly, we couldn’t believe it. There were two heads and two bodies. It was twins! Even the nurse hadn’t expected this new revelation. I decided to not tell my husband over the phone so I carried the big news with me all day during work until he picked me up from the bus stop that evening. When he asked how it went, I handed him the first ultrasound photo and said “this is baby A” and then the second photo and said “this is baby B.” He said, “Oh, so what did they say?” He thought I was handing him two ultrasound photos of the same baby. So I repeated myself and emphasized the baby A and baby B. We pretty much spent the rest of the evening standing around looking at each other in shock.

Not long after this discovery, the doctor instructed me to take maternity leave and lay on my back as much as possible. It wasn’t easy to stay on the couch while watching my husband cook and clean.

By the 27th week, I had a lot of back and low abdominal pains and found out on the 29th week that I was dilated to three. The doctor scolded me for not realizing that I was in labor and sent me to the hospital so he could put me on medication to stop the contractions. At the time, there was a new drug to speed up fetal lung development but it was not approved yet by the FDA so we could not use it.

After a week in the hospital and on medication that kept me awake all night, the contractions began again. Then the drama began and they transferred me to Abbott Northwestern Hospital. Abbott has an underground tunnel to Children’s Hospital where they were better equipped to care for premature infants. That is when one of the doctors told me that the twins had a twin-to-twin transfusion and were therefore creating too much amniotic fluid. This caused me to be too large and, thus, sent me into premature labor. That explained why at 30 weeks I was already outgrowing maternity clothes.

The doctors knew what they were doing when they took me into the operating room in case natural delivery did not work. After just a couple pushes, Jessica’s heart rate plummeted so the doctor ordered the anesthesiologist to put me under and the girls were born by cesarean with 20 doctors and nurses in the room.

Born 10 weeks premature, Jessica was 2 pds, 12 oz. and pale because she didn’t receive enough blood during the twin-to-twin transfusion and Rachael was 2 pds, 15 oz. and red because she received too much blood that did not circulate, which overloaded her organs. Therefore, Jessica needed a transfusion for additional blood and Rachael needed a transfusion to replace her “sludgy” blood.

The first couple days were very difficult and the girls were on 100% oxygen with maximum pressures. On the second day, Rachael hit a critical level and the doctor told us that they were giving her all the oxygen they could but the oxygen levels in her blood were still not high enough to survive. He asked if we wanted to baptize her. There were now people from all religions praying and lighting candles for the girls and we embraced the promise of James 5:16.

Then our first miracle happened. Rachael’s lungs collapsed from the pressure of the respirator. This was good because now the doctors could insert a chest tube to release the air, reinflate her lungs, and give her the oxygen levels she needed. Over the next week, she needed seven chest tubes and they had to keep repositioning her little body in ways that would allow the air to rise and escape from the tubes.

In the meantime, Jessica also reached critical oxygen and pressure levels but her lungs were stronger and did not collapse. Because she had to sustain pressures for a longer period of time, her head bleeds were a little more advanced. However, by the grace of God, it didn’t manifest itself in any way.

It was a sad and empty feeling leaving the hospital without my babies that week. My husband and I filled our days over those next three months driving 30 miles to and from the hospital to touch the girls and talk to them so that they would know they were loved and someone was waiting for them to come home. We hated to leave after visiting with them because their progress was so much better when we were there. Whenever we returned home from our visits, we would call the hospital to check in one more time before going to bed for the evening and, invariably, the nurse would always tell us that the girls’ readings dropped after we left.

Once we were past the first critical week, it didn’t occur to me that the girls’ lives were still in danger until the doctor told us on their tenth day that Rachael’s kidneys were failing and they had done all they could do for her. Then he went on to say that we should be prepared to give them permission to pull the plug. There was so much air leaking from her lungs that there was a good chance it would get to her heart, which would lead to death. God gave us extra strength and hope during those days that can only be described as “a peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). I came to know the God of miracles and will continue with His next miracle in my next post.

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