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Who Do You Think You Are?

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Last night I was talking with my daughter about the names she is considering for her baby. She had a few picked out, but nothing definite. I encouraged her to look up the meaning of each name before making her decision.

I couldn’t help but think of my own name, how I had never liked it. My middle name was my grandmother’s, a woman I never knew. I am sure I will never understand the meaning it held for my father. But I am grateful that my first name, unlike my sister’s, is at least one that people can pronounce.

Most of us are not given a choice about our name. Our parents choose it for us. But the name we are given is not an accident.

In the Bible, names established relationships, gave insight and understanding or foretold new beginnings. Names not only implied character, they were used to affirm one’s identity and purpose in the world.

A compelling example is the naming of Jesus:

“You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” *

In this one sentence we are told that Jesus is not only the Savior, but that His name was chosen specifically by God.

Names are significant. Words are powerful. The words we use and that others place on us may define us.

A name can be a declaration, a prophecy of who we are, or who we will be.

One early morning not long ago, I was awakened from a sound sleep by jumbled words that would not let me rest:

For you were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord… Live as children of light…have nothing to do with… darkness… everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible…**

I knew the words, but not why they pursued me.

Longing for sleep, I asked God to show me.  In the quiet I heard,

Tell me what your name is….

I already knew my name and I knew its meaning. My name means Blind. End of story.

Still, I did say my name out loud and then something strange happened. I started telling God all my other names. Stupid… Idiot… Fat… Lazy… Cow… Ugly… Retard… Dog… Crazy

I remembered how when my father was only slightly angry, but not angry enough to hit me he would say, “Who do you think you are, the Queen of Sheba?” But his many names for me sounded much more venomous in Farsi.

I thought they didn’t hurt me anymore. And yet these are the names and words that break our hearts and shape our lives if we believe them.

As dawn broke, I heard God softly say,

Look again. Go deeper. Find the meaning in your real name… the one I chose for you.

 

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So I researched the origin of my name and found it was actually Latin. I went further.  I looked up the meaning of my entire name – first, middle and last name and what they meant as a whole.

I laughed out loud when I discovered the truth. It had been right in front of me all this time. It was the same name my parents had given me, but the meaning was profoundly different.

Suddenly I realized how God sees me, how He intended and imagined me before I ever was.

When God spoke my name, He declared me His daughter and announced His purpose for me in the world. And by revealing His name for me, God gave me a new vision for my life.

You see, God showed me that in Latin, my full name literally means, “Of the heavens or heavenly….a queen or empress… light or of the light.” Heavenly Queen of the Light. Now that’s a name only God can give.

Yes. That’s a very big name, a lot to live up to and a complete contradiction to who I grew up believing I was. My parents, I am sure, did not know the weight and the significance of the name they gave me. They did not plan this. But God did.

No, I am not the Queen of Sheba, but God sees me as royalty. And though I have spent most of my life believing the lies spoken over me, I am no longer blinded by darkness, for God has declared His brilliance over my life.

For you were once in darkness, but now you are light in the Lord…

Our hearts may be scarred by the words of others, but we can ask God what His name is for us and who He says we are.  For it is the name God has given us that matters. It is His name that will define who we are and who we will become.

Know this: There is incredible power in the name of the One who has called you.

Look again. Dig deep. Hidden in your heart He has placed a key that has been lying dormant, one that has always been there but you have forgotten. This key is the Truth of Christ, the power in His name and in what He has already done for you. Take hold of it, and you will remember who He has called you to be. For as Christ lives in your heart, so you carry the Truth.

Unlock the door, and step into the life He has waiting for you.

…lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God… Ephesians 4:1

*Matthew 1:21, NIV

**Ephesians 5:8-13

A Life That Matters

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Last Sunday my Pastor spoke about Love and how it matters more than anything else. It reminded me of something that happened a year ago, an experience that made me look at what I had made a priority in my life – and it wasn’t love. So I looked back through my blog posts to find what I had written at the end of 2012, because I wanted to share it again.

On my final flight home from Uganda, the small plane I was on encountered a sudden storm of epic proportions. Snow and ice flew sideways and as I looked out my window it was like viewing the whiteout of a TV screen. The pilot tried changing altitude, but rising higher made no difference. The plane tossed violently as if Godzilla had grabbed us in the air and was shaking vigorously.

Some passengers screamed, others prayed aloud, but most were silent, with the exception of the drunken man in the back of the plane who whooped and hollered with each dip.

I sat alone at the front of the plane, frozen with fear. I heard the pilots on the radio, and watched the strapped in stewards sitting white-faced and white knuckled.

Eyes wide open, I prayed silently to God. “Didn’t I do everything you asked..?” As if that somehow made me exempt from harm.

As I waited, I heard Him quietly say, “Will you trust me even with this?”

A silent “Yes” came from a place so deep inside, I didn’t know it existed, and as I accepted that this would be how I would die, a peace washed over me.

I was calm, but I felt such sadness that I would never see my family again.  I had put too many things that really didn’t matter ahead of my love for them. Instead, I focused too much on the doing, yet hadn’t cherished time spent doing little more than loving them.

I felt regret that I had spent my life looking for success through accomplishment and letters behind my name, not recognizing how pointless that was. Instead of small, every day acts of kindness, I had based my worth on what I could achieve; on experiences that would build a resume, not a life.

When I think back now, I wonder if the flight home was more important than the all time I spent in Uganda doing “good works.” Because I did make it home – but I was not the same woman who had boarded that plane.

That experience taught me where my priorities needed to be. It made me ask – What will my legacy be? How will the people I love remember me? Will the world be any different because I lived?

I realised that if we want to make a difference in this world,  we must start at home, loving the people who love us in spite of how well they know us. I learned that love is a promise, a commitment. Love is a behavior, not a feeling.  As my brother told me years ago, “Love isn’t something you feel, it’s something you do, even when you don’t feel like it.”

The passion to make great changes in our world is commendable, but it is our small, often unnoticed actions that truly make a difference.

My excuses about being too tired, or too old or not qualified, will not work under this measure of achievement –

Achievement measured by how I live and love each day;

Accomplishment defined as how well I love others with no promise of getting anything in return;

Success based on how I face tomorrow after the heartbreak of today. For if we are willing to live from a heart that has been reborn, to love the way God has commanded us to, chances are there will be wounds.

We must ask ourselves – Have I spoken the words today that matter most…? I love you.  Thank You. I’m Sorry.  Forgive me… in the end, that’s all that’s really left to say.

There is no formal training or credentialing in how to live a life well-loved. But there are also no age limits, no size requirement, and no special qualifications required.  All that is needed is a heart willing to love as Jesus did.

Don’t let the fear of possible heartbreak keep you from loving completely. Don’t hold back, don’t keep silent. For there are no guarantees that we have tomorrow.

So love big. Love recklessly. In the end, it is the only kind of life that will matter.

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Live a Life That Matters  

By Michael Josephson

Ready or not, someday it will all come to an end.
There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours or days.
All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten, will pass to someone else.
Your wealth, fame and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance.
It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed.
Your grudges, resentments, frustrations, and jealousies will finally disappear.
So, too, your hopes, ambitions, plans, and to-do lists will expire.
The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away.
It won’t matter where you came from, or on what side of the tracks you lived, at the end.
It won’t matter whether you were beautiful or brilliant –
Even your gender and skin color will be irrelevant.
So what will matter?
How will the value of your days be measured?
What will matter is not what you bought, but what you built; not what you got, but what you gave.
What will matter is not your success, but your significance.
What will matter is not what you learned, but what you taught.
What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that enriched, empowered or encouraged others to emulate your example.
What will matter is not your competence, but your character.
What will matter is not how many people you knew, but how many will feel a lasting loss when you’re gone.
What will matter is not your memories, but the memories that live in those who loved you.
What will matter is how long you will be remembered, by whom and for what.
Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident.
It’s not a matter of circumstance, but of choice.
Choose to live a life that matters.

 

 

Last Minute Love Letter

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I have a letter to my family that I keep in a gray, fireproof box.

The state calls it an Advanced Directive. I call it a Love Letter.

I have watched enough dying to know how I want to live….and how I want to die.

I have known patients whose love was brave enough to face the hard questions so their family didn’t have to; and I have been with family members who agonized over whether they had made the right decision in those last, desperate moments of panic.

My grandmother didn’t need an Advanced Directive. She was 92 years old and living in a nursing home. She told my mom she was tired and wanted to take a nap. Thirty minutes later she passed peacefully in her sleep.

My mother was always healthy and always practical. She had filled out an Advanced Directive decades before she ever needed one. She wanted us to know her wishes so she told us where she kept the original and gave copies to her doctor and to each of her children. She was healthy until she was 82 years old and had her first stroke. When her second stroke came less than a year later, the neurologist told me she would not recover this time, that her brain would continue to bleed and her bodily functions  shut down. He gave us the option of putting in a feeding tube to prolong her life.

My mother was awake and alert when I told her what the doctor had said. Unable to speak or move, she was still able to understand, and even though we had talked often about her wishes, now was when it really mattered. Even though I knew what her answer would be, I asked her if she wanted the doctor to put in a feeding tube. She mouthed the word “No” and shaking her head said, “Take me home.”

My mother fell into a deep sleep and peacefully died at home 4 days later, just as she had requested. She was surrounded by her family in a room filled with prayer, music and candlelight.

My sister died 2 years ago today, and she is the reason I am writing this.

How my sister died is the reason we all need to have an Advanced Directive.

You see, my sister had been on life support for two weeks before I even knew she was in the hospital. She did not have an Advanced Directive, even though she had been very, very ill for over 3 years, bedridden with chronic, degenerative disease from which she would not recover. She spent the last years of her life in and out of nursing homes, the last having a locked psychiatric unit – because that’s just how sick she was.

In previous years, I had brought up the subject of putting her last wishes in writing when she could still understand what an Advanced Directive meant. But she never wanted to talk about it.

A few weeks before she died, she came down with pneumonia and landed in a hospital emergency room.

Pneumonia has been described as one of the more peaceful and least painful ways for the body to die. Dr. Ira Byock, Director of Palliative Care at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center says,

“The human body is hardwired with a variety of ways to shut itself down naturally, and pneumonia is one of its least painful exit strategies. It’s also one of the most treatable, so doctors rush in to intervene, and each regimen–antibiotics, ventilators, surgery – forces the body of a critically ill patient to find a more painful way to die.”

As is typical with pneumonia, my sister’s oxygen levels were dropping. She was having trouble breathing so the doctors cut a hole in her neck to insert a tube into her airway and hooked her up to a ventilator that would breathe for her. They did this (her nurse told me later) even as she screamed at them to stop. She was not out of her mind, she was just tired of fighting her illness and did not want any more medical intervention.

But there were no documents supporting her decision. And sadly, practicing medicine has become more about protecting ourselves from lawsuits than asking if we are doing what is ethically right for this patient at this point in her disease. So, numerous other lines and monitors and tubes followed, to breathe for her, feed her, keep her hydrated, give her medications, monitor her heart, and record her brain activity. She was technically alive, but only with the help of the machines she was attached to.

An Advanced Directive could have prevented this– not her death – but how she died.

She still would have died, just not the way she did.

The way she died wasn’t just awful for her, it was awful for me and it was horrific for her husband.

It was excruciatingly painful for those of us who had to make the decision to take her off life-support – to make decisions that could have and should have been discussed and decided before they were ever needed and even if they were never needed.

You may not know this, but it’s a lot easier to put someone on life support than to take  them off. Not just emotionally or ethically – but legally.

People don’t like to think about it or talk about it, but the reality is, every one of us is dying. At some point we are called home. We may fall asleep peacefully, or we may have a chronic disease that gives us some time to plan, or much more likely, we won’t have any time to plan.

Either way, if there are people who love us and who would be shattered by having to make those hard choices for us, then the most loving thing is to decide for ourselves. Today. Ahead of time. In advance. Hoping that we never need to use it…

Because to put our love in writing is to save others from having to live with doubt or guilt that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t the right choice. And it’s those unanswered questions that keep us awake at night.

You don’t need a lawyer or a notary to write an Advanced Directive.
It’s not hard to find and it’s not hard to fill out.

But it becomes very hard for the people you leave behind if you don’t fill one out.
So, if you can’t do this for yourself, do this for them.
They will want to know they honored your wishes.
They will want to know they made the right decision.
Don’t let them down.

 

 

 

Just Google “Advanced Directive” or “Living Will” or pick up a hard copy at your local hospital or doctor’s office.

The Jar of Rest

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I have a lovely, blue jar with a silver flower on its’ top to remind me of Who holds my worry.

Call it anxiety, call me high-strung, but no matter what you call it, I am “a worrier.”

I tend to be anxious. Words and worries run through me like cheesecloth, staying my mind on what I cannot control instead of resting on God’s promises for me.

With utmost care, I write each of my concerns on tiny, colored slips of paper, fold them and place them in the jar.

Now, what is in the Jar of Rest belongs to God and is held in His strong and capable hands, and not in my shaking ones.

Once a worry is in there, that worry is no longer mine to hold.

It belongs to the Jar of Rest.

So often I think I am at rest. I am very good at convincing myself that I’m not stressing about tomorrow, that I am patiently and quietly listening for answers to my prayers and watching for doors to open.

But here’s what I’ve learned:

If I am truly at rest, I am not wringing my hands about what might happen.

If I am at rest I trust that whatever the answer or outcome, it will be the right one.

If I am at rest, I am not wearing myself out madly racing to prepare, making lists of lists and carrying a weight that is not mine to shoulder.

If I am truly at rest, then peace like a warm, flannel wrap holds my soul.

Rest does not rush or worry or collapse under a wall of “What If’s.”

Rest intimately knows a loving God as Protector, Provider and Defender.

Rest waits with hope for the future, refusing to look back at yesterday for guidance.

Rest knows the reality of a tangible stillness that is only available in this moment.

Rest relies on faith, not works, and gives God’s desires for my life the top shelf, far above anything I may think I want or need.

To be at rest, is to know that waiting is not simply pausing the present while counting down time as something to endure – it is preparation for what comes next.

As I prayed today, God showed me that beside my Jar of Rest sits a golden chest the size of a brick. It looks just like the little treasure chest filled with goodies that I earned as a child for behaving at the dentist.

But this treasure chest is full of God’s blessings and gifts. It may look small, but when I reach inside I can feel there is no bottom – there is no end to what the chest can hold! And as I reach into the chest He says to me:

“My precious child, these gifts are all for you. They include My love when you feel alone, My strength when you feel you can’t go on, My joy in all things, and My constant, healing presence – all for your good. My supply is endless and you can take as much as you need or want. Now that you have emptied your hands of worries by putting them in the Jar of Rest, fill your arms instead with Me and my promises.”

Thank you Heavenly Father for your perfect rest.

Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.
(Matthew 11:28. NIV)

Healing in Uganda Part 2

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Today I’m on the ward with the children who have been discharged from the ICU. During rounds I watch Dr. John, one of the neurosurgeons, discuss each child with the medical officers. He greets each mother and says “Are you happy today mama?”  He explains in very simple terms what is happening and what they can expect. He tells one mother she can take her baby home now, but she will need to come back in a week for further treatment. The mother cries and tells him she cannot afford the 8,000 Shillings (about $5) to ride the bus to go home and then back. Sometimes this happens and CURE will let them stay over. Sometimes the women have no home to return to.

A baby was brought in last night with sepsis. His mother was putting cow dung on his umbilical cord because she thought it would dry and fall off more quickly. The antibiotics that were started here could do nothing for the massive infection and the baby died. Four more die by the end of my first week.

On Thursday I observed a craniotomy on a 2 month old. I asked the surgeon if the baby was dropped? How did he get this head injury? In the US we would probably assume child abuse for this sort of head injury. He told me the child’s house fell on him. Many of these people live in mud and straw huts, and when the rains come the roof caves in  and the houses fall apart. So sad.

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The OR had a full schedule of surgeries yesterday so the PICU is full.  Today there is no water. I am told the tanks have run dry. The surgeries scheduled for today will have to be pushed back until tomorrow. The mothers have traveled so far to be here and then they must wait. We are never sure if the water or power will be off, or what child will develop a fever and be too sick for surgery.

I meet a woman from Sudan. Her daughter is 17 and has a brain tumor. Once a healthy teenager, she is now deaf and blind. Her words are unintelligible. The family did not know to take her to a doctor when she lost focus in one eye, but when she went blind and her behavior changed, they had to. Even then they could not come right away because they did not have the money to travel. Today the surgeons will try to remove the tumor, but are not sure if it will restore her sight.

Another young mother tells me her back is hurting. I know it must be painful because she never talks about herself, only her daughter “Mercy.” I can’t help but wonder if her back hurts from her cramped bed, from lifting her 4 year old daughter heavy with hydrocephalus or because she is so worried about Mercy’s surgery tomorrow. The mothers come with their babies and rarely does anyone accompany them. Such a heavy emotional load for a young mother to bear alone.

In the next bed is a 1 month old baby who looks chubby and has a healthy cry. He has myelomeningocele, a condition where the neural tube in the spine fails to close. He is having surgery tomorrow also. I see his Mom struggle to keep him dry, but there are no diapers, cloth or disposable. The mothers use thin rags from torn up sheets that they wash when they are soiled and then use again. Not the best for preventing infection when your spine has a hole in it. Children with this condition are incontinent of urine and stool and have a constant stream of both. The mothers simply keep wiping it away. It’s almost impossible to keep their incision clean.

I spend the afternoon cutting my brand new, lightweight flannel robe from Land’s End into large squares. The material is absolutely perfect for soft diapers – even if it is magenta. I can’t help but giggle as I think how silly it was to bring a flannel robe to such a hot and humid country. Now it makes perfect sense.

Healing in Uganda

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It is 5am and I know this because I hear the Adhan, the morning call to prayer coming from the mosque a block away. Here in Mbale, it doesn’t matter that my phone has died and I have no alarm clock. The Adhan or local rooster will wake me every morning. I am in Uganda, at CURE Children’s hospital in Uganda. Today I will meet the two neurosurgeons who perform life-changing surgery every day. The doctors round at 7:30am, then meet in the chapel at 8:00 for morning prayers. There are bibles on every other chair, tattered and worn, some missing covers. They have been well loved.

I meet the nurses and other staff. They are so kind and humble. One says, ”She is here to teach us how to do better.” The truth is, I have much to learn from them. I meet Miriam, the hospital’s Spiritual Director. I ask her what she does on an average day. She tells me, “I sit with every mother and child and just listen. The mama she has so much sorrow to share. I pray with them, with every one of them“. Miriam expresses her dismay when I tell her we have hospital chaplains, but they only come at the patient or family’s request. “Who attends to the spiritual healing?” She asks, “How can the patient heal if the spiritual is not addressed?” I agree with her and I ask her what is most needed, what is the most important thing for me to do while I’m here?  “Hold their babies, love them” she says, “No one in their village will touch them because they think they are bewitched. They need your heart and your hands much more than your head. Your presence is enough.”

The neurosurgeons are John and Peter. They have me stand behind them as they operate, explaining each anatomical structure and procedure. They do the most intricate part of the surgery in the dark. There is a light over the incision point, but they are looking straight ahead at a monitor, their hands like a typist whose fingers tap the keyboard while her eyes stare at the page. I believe they could do this in their sleep.

These doctors have every reason not to be humble, but they are. They are kind to patients and staff. There is compassion in their eyes. I am moved at how they give God all the credit for a patient’s healing. I hear Dr. John singing “How Great Thou Art” in an off-key but sincere falsetto as he works. Dr. Peter has gospel music playing full-blast in the OR and he and the staff sing while they work.

But what makes me cry is when the lights are dimmed, and before any incision is made, the entire surgical team bows their heads in prayer: A heartfelt, out-loud, specifically for this child prayer. They ask God for his help. And this is what they do before every surgery – ask God for His mercy, to heal this child. They acknowledge God as the only true source of healing, remembering that their skillful hands are simply God’s instrument. And in that moment of quiet with the lights dim, the surgical suite becomes a sanctuary, a holy place. There is a calm, a peace and an undeniable healing presence.

Each of these tiny patients has a name, a family, a story. And although state of the art neurosurgery is being done here, even more evident is the spiritual transformation taking place. These children can return home, go to school and live a productive life. No longer will they be looked upon by their community as cursed. Instead, they are a miracle.

Grace

The walking wounded. I see them every day, emotionally spent, tired of trying, and ready to give up. Physically, stress has taken its toll on their bodies and they are overwhelmed by  the demands of others. Because of their kind and giving nature, they are the ones that others rely on and constantly turn to.  And it never ends until one day it’s just too much – they  break.

This is how good people go bad. They walk out on their relationships, their  jobs, they make poor choices….sometimes they close their hearts….all because they thought that God expected all this “doing” of them.

A crucial part of our healing is to recognize that God does not expect this of us. He asks only that we put  Him first in our lives and love each another. It’s really just that simple. When we love and honor God with our lives, then the “doing” comes from an overflow, not an empty, broken  vessel.

God wants only the best for his children. He does not want us to exhaust ourselves to the point of mental and physical breakdown in order to gain his approval. We make it difficult. We forget the price for our imperfection  has already been paid. We need only accept this gift and rest in His grace.

Jan Johnson reminds us of this:

” Life is a journey of coming to know God, not achieving or gaining others approval. Letting go is both too simple and too difficult. It looks like weakness instead of strength, like losing instead of winning,..yet it is in responding to God’s call to surrender that forces me to value my brokeness as well as my strength.”

As children of God, we can be assured that we are cherished and loved. We don’t have to earn God’s love, nor do we need to punish ourselves by rushing and working and worrying ourselves to the point of collapse to prove that we are enough. God has already said that we are.

Here is a statement that changed my life. Repeat this out loud until you believe it: Who I am in Christ is more important than anything I could ever do for him.