A special gift...

I've received some pretty awesome gifts in my lifetime!  In fact, if you've read the archives of this blog, you know that my Ellie was one of them!  That sweet surprise from my hubby would be hard to beat, but this year's gift from my son Ryan would be a close second!  Watch and I think you'll understand why!

Celebrating Hope...

Celebrating the birth of Christ was a beautiful way to end this year so filled with hope!  This Christmas season was a special one for so many reasons!  Most special was the sweet reminder through the adoption of our Rachel Hope this year, that without Christ' coming, we would all be lost... forever orphaned and alone... without hope!  But in Him, we are loved, fully accepted, adopted into His forever family, and filled to overflowing with immeasurable HOPE!  That is worth celebrating!... Come, let us adore Him with our lives!

This girl is crazy about her Daddy!

Our family, together Christmas Eve...

On December 17th, the entire Dance Ministry of Ms. Felicia Roden (including our Kate and Ellie) performed The Nutcracker at the University of North Florida to benefit orphans around the world and some critically ill children from the Jacksonville area.  This year, Rachel was chosen as one of the beneficiaries of their beautiful performance!  Since the moment Rachel arrived home from China in September, Ms Felicia, her team, and the dancers, have overwhelmed us with their love, support, and prayers...  Now, thousands of dollars have been raised in order to help our family with the medical expenses for the healing of Rachel's heart.  We are overwhelmed by God's goodness to us through these wonderful people and look forward to next year's performance, when our Rachel will be among the dancers to help another child who needs hope too!

Rachel LOVES Gran!
She drove all the way from North Carolina to be here in time for tonight!

There's our beautiful Ellie in pink on the far left and sweet Kate in the middle in blue!
What an incredible job they did performing!  We were so proud!

There was even a "surprise visitor" to present gifts to the honored guests of the evening!

Another blessing this year was our arrival home from an unexpected visit to the ICU at Shands Hospital in Gainesville just in time to attend The Nutcracker and celebrate Rachel's first Christmas at HOME!  We had a few scary nights with Rachel's oxygen levels dipping into the 50s, and a single ventricle that seems to be weakening, but thanks be to God, the new meds are working wonders and she was back to her happy, peppy self just in time to celebrate Jesus!  Many people enjoy Christmas most when seen through the eyes of a child.  But when seen through the eyes of a 7 year old who before now, knew nothing of Christ, or the hope His birth brought to her broken, orphaned heart...  there just aren't words to describe it!  Never before have I enjoyed a "front row seat" to such miracles as I have in the past several months and it gave Christmas new meaning to all of us so blessed to witness it!  I will treasure these memories for many years to come, as will all of those that have come to know and love our precious Rachel!
A Nintendo DS for Rachel!

...and one for Kate! 
...and sweet Ellie too!

I think she likes it!!!

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
in hopes that three special princesses would find them there!


May the joy of "God with us" fill your hearts with hope this Christmas season and through out the next year!

Good News!...

     ...Not too much of that floating around here lately!  Quite the contrary!  I've spent the last three days with Rachel in the pediatric ICU at Shands, two hours from home.  And though I am more prepared for Christmas than I ever remember being before,  I didn't plan on spending these days inside the four walls of a hospital room.  I should have seen it coming!  You didn't need a medical degree to know that Rachel's heart condition was worsening...  Her lips were a permanent shade of purple-blue and her energy levels seemed to decrease on a daily basis.  Her appetite was almost non-existant (a problem I could afford to have!) and the swelling around her eyes every morning made the truth painfully obvious.     
     Rachel's cardiologist started talking about completing her second open heart surgery many months before we had originally planned.  After much discussion as a family, I returned to her regular appointment with Dr Fricker last Friday and told him that we were ready to put it on the schedule for right after the holidays.  It's hard to watch Rachel struggle so much to live a life with some measure of 7 year old "normalcy".  At first glance, Dr Fricker agreed.  He believed that her set backs were issues related to the Glenn Procedure completed just 8 weeks ago and the only solution was to finish the process they had begun with a Fontan.  Sadly, her echo-cardiagram revealed a sudden weakness in her single left ventricle.  7 years of carrying the heart's work load alone has obviously taken it's toll on it.   But this was a huge surprise since that ventricle had proven to be the strongest, most "reliable" part of her very broken heart.  No one can explain why it suddenly chose to start sleeping on the job!  The Bad News???  Surgery #2 can not be completed without full cooperation from that ventricle and for the first time since beginning this process, we are facing the reality that the only solution for Rachel may be a heart transplant.  

     So here we are... trying new drugs, adjusting the levels of those drugs and trying to determine if the sudden weakness in the left ventricle can be reversed to usefulness again.  Gratefully, amidst the bad news of the week, is a glimmer of good...  Those drugs have done absolute wonders for Rachel's oxygen levels!  That means that sweet energy and a zest for life have returned to our precious angel...  This thrills me for her, but it has served as a massive test of my ability to entertain a very happy, suddenly active, 7 year old girl in the PICU for 4 days!  Whatever you need to teach me through this, Lord, please do it now, because this is an exercise I'd most like to avoid re-doing!  :-)

It appears we have a Dr. in the making!!

     But, lest I feel sorry for myself over our sudden, unexpected "bad news",  I need not look too far within the ICU to find others choking down far worse news than I've had to stomach this week!  Two families have been here with infants barely hanging onto life for over 4 months, waiting for hearts to become available for life-saving transplants.  It struck me, in thinking about it, that what would be such wonderful, life-giving news for these families in the gift of a donated heart, would be the worst of "bad news" for another.  One family would lose the life of a beloved son or daughter so that another parent's child could live.  I am suddenly, keenly aware that Doug and I may well find ourselves in that very position in the months ahead...  Bad news for one... very good news for another!  
The color of those lips makes me smile too!

     My 24 year old son has been teaching his youth group this Christmas season on the subject of "good news".  In light of all that is going on in our lives these days, his teaching led me to think longer and harder on the subject than I ever have before.  
     When the angels appeared to the shepherds in the wee hours of that first Christmas morning, they proclaimed that they were bearers of "Good News" for all people.  Nothing new to me... I've heard that story so many times, I stopped really "hearing" many, many years ago!  Why would you begin such a proclamation with the four words... "Do not be afraid"?  If this is really such "good news", why would we be afraid??   It's the bad news I'm scared of!!  I welcome the "good" kind!  But Russ helped me understand... the people of that time (namely the Jews) had an incredible fear of God.  They knew the law too well to think that they could ever measure up to the standards God had set for His people.  The Law was explicit in detailing the perfection God required to please Him.  Any sign of God suddenly showing up on the scene would likely have sent most of them into a tail spin...  They were failures at law-keeping and knew that if they got what they deserved, the only kind of news heavenly angels might bring would likely be "bad news" indeed!  Instead the angels had arrived with the best news their broken hearts had ever heard.  "Don't be afraid... we bring Good News of great joy!  Tonight your Savior has been born!"  And suddenly, in that moment, the worst of the worst bad news had been transformed into something wonderfully good instead...  A savior had been born who would trump all bad with ultimate "good"!  
     In effect, the news of that glorious first Christmas was this....  You've blown it folks!  You will never measure up to God's holy standard!  Without a savior, there is nothing but bad news for each and every one of you!  BUT... this is different... the angels delivered "good tidings of great joy"!  Most obviously, the only proper response to such great news is an equally great JOY!... duh...  
     Where have I been all these years?  I guess I got sucked up into the Santa movement that is sadly alive and well in the American church...  I remember growing up in my Baptist church attending the Christmas Eve service every single year.  At the end, some sweet old gentleman would announce that the local radio station was tracking an unusual flying object in the skies over our city.  The kids would all squeal with glee and hurry home to bed before Santa arrived.  I'm certain that kind old man did not mean harm, nor did my parents who would attribute the nicest gift from the next morning's "take" to the kindness of Santa Claus.  Sadly, it seems that the church and well-meaning christian parents have somehow lost their way over the years...  While on one hand they claim that Jesus- the Savior of the world- is the "reason for the season", on the other, they participate in the moralistic religious world view as seen through the eyes of every religion since the beginning of time, which teaches man that he must be good enough, or perform enough good deeds, to inherit blessings, favor, and eternal life.  The popular notion of Santa does the same... IF we are "good" boys and girls, we can expect the favor of the jolly old man from the North Pole.  Who doesn't want his favor, if it means packages and goodies on Christmas morning?  Many a child has agreed to keep their new founded "non" belief in Santa under wraps because they fear that if they no longer believe, the gifts might stop coming...  Oh my!  I'm suddenly wondering what in the world the Santa of our day and age has to do with the Christ child sent to save the world from such "bad news".  I'm suddenly not so worried that when they discover that I've been lying about Santa, maybe I'd been lying about Jesus' too!  Instead, I'm worried that I might convince them that they can somehow be good enough this year to obtain favor of any kind.  The message from the manger to the cross was that we could NOT be good enough to obtain anything close to the favor of God... Jesus was born to do that on our behalf!!!  This is GREAT NEWS and in hearing it afresh, I am naturally overcome with GREAT JOY!  

     Doug and I have more-or-less "ignored" Santa in our home for most of our parenting years.  We refuse to allow him to "steal the show" from Jesus!  And I want my children to know that even though I am fully aware of their short comings and many wrongs of the past year, I love them anyway, and want to shower them with special gifts to display our favor for them, in spite of those failures...  THAT is the story of Christmas in the giving of gifts, isn't it?  That is the story of Christmas in the giving of Christ over 2000 years ago.   I've enjoyed teaching my young children where the story of St Nicholas originated.  The godly man who annonymously dropped money into the stockings of the poor on Christmas eve did so out of his great love for the Christ child whose heart beats for the same!  

     This Christmas season, I am especially grateful that the wonderful GOOD NEWS,  the tidings of GREAT JOY were sent for ME!  Praise God that the GOOD NEWS of Christ trumps any bad news I might encounter this week in the halls of an intensive care unit or inside the walls of our home, or on the ledgers of our bank accounts...  All praise belongs to a God who could take even my worst mistakes and misdeeds, and somehow cover them with Good News instead of the wrath they merit.  Such a revelation causes me to want to drop onto my knees and worship such a great SAVIOR!  Welcome to the world, Lord Jesus!  

It appears that we are going home with a lot more than we came with... gifts for Rachel seem to be flooding into the room every day!  Some from kind children who wanted to share Christmas joy with children in the hospital this season, and yes, even one from a guy named Santa, dressed in a funny red suit.  We can't seem to get away from this fellow!... but he did bring a smile!