Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Credit Where Credit is Due

Cecely at Mission Children's
Hospital Lab
I am sitting at our dining room table completely overwhelmed by how good God is.  I will quickly admit that I have had many moments of questioning "why" or "how long" or "for what purpose" through the seasons of my life.  While I have never doubted God's love, I have struggled with understanding the circumstances in this life from time to time.  Recently, I have been focused on the health of our sweet daughter, Cecely.

Cecely was born prematurely and diagnosed with a mild form of Cerebral Palsy when she was 4 years old.  Her symptoms were slurred speech (due to lack of muscle tone in the jaw), tremors in her arms and legs, the drawing in of her left leg and arm (especially when fatigued), and extreme rigidity in her muscles.  As Cecely went through elementary school, we discovered she had academic developmental delay due to the CP.  We went through many ups and downs in getting her the help she needed to be successful in the classroom.

Two of the siblings with Cecely.
These symptoms caused social problems for her in elementary school as well.  I am an advocate of teaching children the difference between bullying and having a conflict with another student.  Cecely was bullied.  She was targeted by one girl in particular who reveled in calling Cecely names, refusing to sit near her, and making fun of her.  She also would hold the stall door on Cecely in the bathroom, pin her down in the bathroom, and other mean things.  I spent A LOT of time at the school that year.  THANKFULLY, Cecely has been in a wonderful school for 2 years that is accepting and protective of her.  The academic support team is superb.  Finally, Cecely feels confident at school and LOVES it.

Over the past year, Cecely began complaining of new symptoms, mainly severe leg pain.  She would be in pain to the extent that walking was becoming difficult and tearful.  We scheduled a check-up with her neurologist who originally diagnosed her.  At that visit, the doctor said he was "baffled" by what we were telling him.  CP is a stagnant disease, meaning the symptoms Cecely was born with would be the same symptoms forever.  She should not pick up new symptoms.  He ordered a CT scan and MRI where he and another neurologist discovered that Cecely has an atypical form of CP.  They also discovered a pattern of mineral deposits in her brain that raised questions.  The neurologist recommended that we visit a genetic doctor to get more information.
Daddy Brian and Cecely

We visited Dr. Allen at Fullerton Genetics in Asheville.  The facility is wonderful.  The staff is the greatest.  Our check in nurse was like a grandma--very sweet and cheerful.  She actually encouraged our entire family to go into the exam room with Cecely.  I loved this, because all of the kids could hear and see what the doctors and Brian and I were discussing; and, the kids were able to ask questions and even answer some.  The lady who came in to do the genetic interview before the doctor was amazing.  She had a million questions (I don't think I am exaggerating on this one) about my family, Cecely's dad's family, and Cecely's birth story.  The entire time I was talking, she was making a map and furiously taking notes...all with the loveliest disposition.  Dr.  Allen came in next, and he was fantastic!  He was comical while being extremely informative.  He ordered a series of tests for Cecely.  We were off to the lab, then off to wait.

A few weeks later, we heard back from the genetics doctor office about Cecely's lab work.  The results for the first panel of testing were all normal.  This was good and bad...good to know what she didn't have, and bad to not know what she did have.  The appointments to the neurologist, the MRI, the CT scan, the genetics doctor and the lab had brought in a pretty heavy medical bill.  The genetics office told us that there was another wave of testing, but that it had to be approved by insurance before proceeding because it is a $5,000 expense.  Brian, Mark (Cecely's dad), and I agreed to wait and see what insurance would do before going further.  We knew we would do whatever it takes for answers for our girl.  The bottom line is, we want to know why she is in pain and what we can do to help her.

My not-so-little girl.
And, here is why I am sitting at our dining room table in awe of our God.  We have been praying for Cecely and all of the medical odds and ends for a year.  We have had our family, friends, and church family joining us in specific prayers for our baby girl.  To God be the glory--I just got off of the phone with the genetics office who told me our out-of-pocket-exspense for this $5,000 testing would be $0!!!  God is good!  He answers prayers!  Knowing this will not be another financial toll on our family is a huge relief.  And, knowing that we are steps closer to getting help for Cecely is another blessing!  SO--THANK YOU to our wonderful family and friends for lifting up our family in prayer. Keep those prayers coming, because HE answers them.  Please let us know how we can pray for you!

On a side note from a bragging Mom, please check out Cecely's Corner on Instagram, Facebook, and You Tube.  Cecely started a social media campaign to tell her stories, to learn the stories of other people, to encourage people with disabilities, and to educate and encourage people who have someone they love who has a disability.  Please go to these sites and like and share her page.  Watching her videos will give you an instant lift in your spirit!

Click here to view Cecely's Corner on You Tube

Monday, May 29, 2017

Family Friendly Summer Activities 2017

We are to the final countdown of school being out for summer!  I have put together a list of a few inexpensive or free activities for you to do with the kiddos in your life.  If you have things to add, please comment and share!

Buncombe County Public Libraries--TONS of free events.  Check out their website for the library near you: Buncombe County Summer Program

Barnes and Noble Summer Reading Program—read 8 books and fill in the journal.  Take the completed journal to Barnes and Noble to get a FREE book!!! Download journal here!

Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge

Pizza Hut Book It Program--online activities and games; enroll your child in their reading program

Kids in Parks Program  

Blue Ridge Parkway Information --visitor's center has free admission, walking trails, exhibits

Folk Art Center—free admission, walking trails, picnic areas and daily craft demonstrations from 10am-4pm

Carl Sandburg Home—free walking trails, picnic area, farm; house tour $5 for adults/ free for 15 and under

NC Arboretum—walking trails, picnic area, exhibits; $14/car load.  $7/ car load on Tuesdays.

Vacation Bible School/Backyard Bible Clubs--check with local churches in your area

Biltmore Grande Summer Movie Express--$1 movies on Tuesday and Wednesday, 10am

Movie 1
Movie 2
6/13, 6/14
Kung Fu Panda 3
Ice Age: Collision Course
6/20, 6/21
Alvin & Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
6/27, 6/28
Monster Trucks
Penguins of Madagascar
7/4, 7/5
Rio 2
7/11, 7/12
The Secret Life of Pets
7/18, 7/19
Ratchet and Clank
7/25, 7/26
Adventures of Tin Tin
8/1, 8/2
Happy Feet 2
Cats & Dogs 2
8/8, 8/9
Lego Batman Movie

Cinemark Movie Clubhouse—$5/10 movies or $1 per show, 10am
Shrek the Third
The Iron Giant
Hotel Transylvania 2
Angry Birds
The Secret Life of Pets
The LEGO Batman Movie

Kids Eat Free (or Cheap) Deals

Moe’s Original BBQ
Monday, 4pm-close
free kids meal with purchase of adult meal
Neo Burrito
free kids meal with purchase of adult meal
Moe’s Southwest Grill
Tuesday, 5pm-close
$.99 kids meal with purchase of adult meal
Texas Roadhouse
Tuesday, 4pm-8pm
free kids meal with purchase of adult meal
Urban Burrito
Tuesday, 4pm-close
free kids meal with purchase of adult meal
Monday-Wednesday, 4pm-close
free kids meal with purchase of adult meal
Every night, 4pm-10pm
free kids meal with purchase of adult meal
Buffalo Wild Wings
$1.99 kids meal with purchase of adult meal
All day, every day
free kids meal with purchase of adult meal

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Stepford Faith

I have made it no secret that I have been walking through a tunnel in my spiritual journey.  I am wading through murky waters clinging to my beliefs but being bogged down by hurt and pain.  I have found that God still speaks to me even when my faith is faded.  And, He often gets my attention through my beloved medium of film.  I will hear a character state something profound.  I will read articles on filmmakers “why” for making a film.  I read reviews.  I watch movies as a hiding place, a safe place.  I always take something away…and sometimes, I believe the things circling in my mind are directives from my Maker.

One such instance was through a cult classic movie that I enjoy immensely.  The Stepford Wives was released in 1975 and a remake in 2004.  I have seen both, and I do love seeing Nicole Kidman as the perfect, submissive, well-groomed wife.  The film is twisted, but filled with a dark humor that I have always been drawn to.  The premise of these films is a family relocating to a beautiful, perfect community where every marriage is ideal and everyone looks as if they have stepped out of the pages of a Ralph Lauren catalog.  There are no tears, no arguments, no bad days.  The men fit every archaic stereotype from golf-playing to pipe-smoking to whiskey-drinking.  The women shop, cook, clean and keep their husbands happy, all while wearing heels, having amazingly coiffed hair, and showing a permanent smile.  Throughout the course of the movie, Kidman’s character discovers the women are actually robots (or fembots if you are a little nerdy).  I won’t go into all the science-fiction vernacular, but it’s apparent the women have been wired by men for men.  There is no freedom, no choices to be made, and truly no variety.  The community is one of control and assumed perfection.

There is a myth in Christianity that once you profess Jesus as your Savior, once you are saved you change instantly to a perfect person.  Now, I can tell you that the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  This is telling when someone accepts Jesus and His forgiveness of sins shown by His death on the cross and His resurrection three days later, the sins of the old life have been forgiven and a new life, free of sin has begun.  However, we never are rid of the sin problem.  Everyone sins.  Everyday.  But, with Jesus at the helm, the gifts of forgiveness and grace are given.  The opportunity to repent from wrongdoings and to follow God and His Word come with the acceptance of Christ.  The Holy Spirit also becomes a part of the one who has given his life to Jesus.  All that to say, the truth is a new creation is born at the point of acknowledging sin, confessing to God, and accepting His Son, Jesus as the Sovereign One over life. 

What this does not mean is that when a person chooses to become a Christian, a flip is switched and they are morphed into a perfect person.  There are many perceptions that Christians are all “this” or “that”.  The most prevalent misrepresentation is perfection.  While I would have loved to know that when I chose the path to follow Jesus and the Bible, I would never mess up, I would always appear to be put together, and I would do life perfectly.  The freedom to choose does not go away.  The Holy Spirit and His discernment appear, often as a “still small voice” as referenced in the Bible.  BUT, the power to make good or poor choices still remain.  While Christian are often guilty of putting on their “church face”…you know, the “how are you”, “oh, I am great, how are you” routine…they don’t have it together.  I am speaking from experience.  I feel the greatest tool I have in my faith, whether it is bright and sparkling or whether it is faded and torn, is transparency.  I want people to know my faith shapes me.  I love God, Jesus, the Bible…but I am not a robot mindlessly following a church or a man.  And right now, if you asked me “how are you”, I would say “crazy, sad, mad, lonely.”  Not really a perfect Christian answer, right?  And, that’s my point.  Christians aren’t perfect.  I am DEFINITELY not perfect.  I have hurt people.  I battle demons of depression.  I doubt.  I question.  I worry.  I sin.  BUT, I have the gift of salvation.  When I realize I have sinned or am sinning (and I pray that the Holy Spirit pesters me until I do realize), I confess it in prayer to Jesus, I ask for forgiveness, and I am redeemed and restored.

I love the idea of a Stepford wife.  I would love to walk around every day with perfect hair and make-up.  I would always say the right thing.  My husband would always be proud.  My children would always be happy.  My programming would make their world ideal.  However, I am a broken mess.  Through the experiences I have had, the consequences of choices I have made, the battles I have faced, the joys I have felt, I am able to teach my children.  I am a model to them that life is not perfect.  I show that in spite of my imperfections, I have value and am being used to lift up others.  My imperfections make my life interesting.  God is not a God of control; He is a God of love.  He wants us to choose Him…to worship Him, to love Him.  He has the power to have a world of Stepford people, but He has given us the gift of freedom to choose for ourselves. 

You don’t have to be perfect to become a Christian.  You won’t be perfect after you become one.  You will remain a beautiful mess, but you will no longer belong to yourself.  You will belong to the God who made you, designed you, and has a great purpose for you.  So many gifts are free to you…forgiveness, grace, redemption, joy, peace.  You will never be alone.  I know that does sound cheesy, but it’s true.  Even in my darkest, loneliest times, I feel a comfort and peace that make no sense.  And, I know those are benefits of the Holy Spirit being an active part of my being. 

If ever you question Christianity, know this…we aren’t perfect.  Those who portray that they are, well, they are lying.  If you have questions or want more information on this topic, please let me know, and I will direct you to some awesome and intelligent resources.  I’m no scholar…I am a big sinner who is struggling with my faith, but who knows my faith is what is holding me together.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Trust, Peace, Faith...You Know, the Hard Words

I love this picture of my husband and our nephew.  I did not love the moments before this picture was taken.  Our nephew, J, is fearless.  My husband loves to exploit the fact that he’s taller than everyone in my family…not really, he just loves J and wants to make him smile.  When J approached Brian to “throw him”, he didn’t realize what that initial toss would feel like.  Brian is 6’4”, so for a preschooler, that’s already a major jump in elevation.  J trusts Brian, so he had no problem asking him to help him touch the clouds.  When Brian picked up J, pulled in his elbows, then launched him into the air, J had a look of complete shock and fear.  His eyes were wide, his laugh was caught in his throat, his arms were extended back to his uncle.  In this event that felt like hours to this slightly protective aunt, J’s eyes never left Brian’s.  He had his gaze fixed on the man he trusted, the uncle who he knew loved him.  Once J was back on earth, he laughed from down deep in his belly.  His color returned to his face, and his smile took up his entire adorable face.  The panic had passed; the fear had flown.  And, he was ready to reach the treetops again.  Over and over, J flew into the air under the strength and care of his Uncle Brian.  Each time, he laughed harder and the face of fear disappeared.  He was in complete trust mode.  He knew his uncle would catch him no matter how high he went.  He knew he was safe.  He knew he was loved.  He began to really enjoy the ride.

Recently during a church service, one of our pastor’s shared this passage, “You (God) will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You”—Isaiah 26:3.  I had been scrolling through pictures on my phone, and this photo meshed perfectly in my mind with this verse.  There have been many times in my life where I have felt that incredible, indescribable “peace that passes all understanding” that Paul speaks of in Philippians 4:7.  I remember feeling it after coming to terms with my Daddy’s death.  I remember that peace when I battled with myself about ending my life.  I remember the rush of peace after the realization that my first husband was not coming back.  There have been dark times where peace seemed to be a distant dream, yet the Lord wrapped me up in it. 

Seasons come where that peace is harder to find, harder to feel.  In all of the instances I mentioned above, the peace wasn’t instant.  When the hardships hit, my gaze was fixed on the circumstance…not being able to resolve things with my Daddy on this side of heaven, overwhelmed by pain that the only option seemed to be to take my life, not understanding how a 13-year marriage could be over in a heartbeat.  The eyes of my heart were set on the pain of the world.  My gaze should have rested on my Heavenly Father who loves me unconditionally.  He has proven his love and goodness to me over and over again, yet in my flesh, I look to myself or to the world when heartache abounds.

It is my resolve to no longer let the situations of life to dictate my heart’s gaze.  A few nights ago, I hit a low point where I could not turn off my brain.  I was pouring out questions to God.  I was searching for solutions in His Word.  I was crying out to Him to speak to me.  When the passage in Isaiah was shared at church, I felt as if God was speaking directly to me through our pastor.  Have you ever felt that?  That words that you had been longing to hear were given to you through someone else?  Isn’t it simply amazing?  Therefore, I am trying to rewire my heart and to reset my gaze.  I have trust God at His Word.  I have to have faith that He is going to hold me as I fall and restore me when I get back up.  I have to believe that His peace will flood my soul again when I put this into action:  God will keep Amber in perfect peace as she trusts in Him, as she fixes her thoughts on Him.  I need to be more like my sweet nephew, J, and fearlessly step into the unknown counting on my God to catch me close.  And sweet friends, He is wanting and waiting to do the same for you…fix your eyes and thoughts on Him!

*Photo credit to Brooke Parker Photography