In a few short weeks my son Andrew, my first born, will graduate from High School. To assist us in creating an invitation list for his graduation party, we sat down with Andrew to craft a list of people who he felt had made a difference in his life. The results of this were astounding.
The list of people who have impacted my son’s life over the years is a beautiful blend of talents and treasures, personalities and patience, kindness and generosity, joy and love. Names of family, extended family, friends, co-workers, students, adults, teachers, coaches, and neighbors were recorded in representation of the fingerprints they have left on the life of my son.
All of which we decided to honor with an invitation, even those whose paths have now taken them hundreds of miles from our own. As we dropped the last bunch of envelopes in the mail yesterday, it had me wondering if those on our list realize the difference they have made. Do they know the blessings they have given which my son continues to carry with him?
Do the people in my life know the blessings they have been to me, the difference they have made in my life?
Even if I could find the time to share with individuals how much they mean to me, matched with the perfect words, expressions, explanations, and tones I probably would not be able to fully encapsulate the contributions that they have made to my life.
There have been some absolutely incredible individuals, who perhaps do not even know they have made a difference in my life. I have been thinking about them, pondering their gifts, generosity, and love in my heart.
As we have walked through Andrew’s senior year, there have been many reflections of what my senior year was like. When I watch the people who are a part of his story, I can’t help but be flooded with memories of those who are a part of my own.
Not What You Think
Revisiting my senior year has been a very bittersweet process. When people look at my family in its current state, a husband and wife, a son and daughter, a family farm, health, faith, love, and hope on the horizon, it looks like a pretty picture. Our life is not without its problems, tensions, troubles, strains, and stresses now…but looks can lead to assumptions.
Most days, I keep quiet and let people assume what they would about our family and our backstory. Yet, I keep reading this verse:
“Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story –
those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
those he gather from the lands,
from east and west, from north and south.”
Each year I pick a theme word to carry with me, to learn, to explore, and to grow in. My word this year is Redemption. Let the redeemed tell their story.
As one who has been redeemed by the Lord, this is a bit of my story.
When I found out I was pregnant with my son, Andrew, I was 17 years old. It was late spring in my junior year of high school. News of that nature brought immediate and all encompassing impact to my life; actually it was three lives on the line – the child I carried, Eric (the father), and myself. Not to mention the tidal wave that would roll outward from us reaching everyone we were connected to at the time.
The path of my senior year was not that of homecoming parades, sparkly prom dresses, and carefree adventures. My senior story is about living out hard consequences, balancing brokenness, and a whole lot of work to give a glimmer of hope to what seemed to be a dismally dark future.
I continued on in my schooling, determined that education was a golden key to redeeming my situation. It is not easy to move forward in making amends when you literally display the consequences of your actions by the growing stomach you carry through school hallways.
There was a constant strain of guilt and shame upon my shoulders that was added to by every glare, every comment, every remark, to go along with all of my own thoughts and feelings on the matter.
Eric and I were married the fall of my senior year. For me it was absolute beauty from the ashes. I wish everyone could see Eric’s strength, integrity, character, and maturity the way I saw him on the day we got married.
Eric chose to stay. Eric chose to protect and provide. Eric chose to participate in everything, the good, the bad, and the ugly, making an unspeakable difference in my life and the lives of our children.
Most assumed, and openly shared their opinion, that this marriage was doomed to burst in fiery flames of destruction. I heard more than a few times that I was the teenage tramp who had entrapped Eric. There were so many comments, accusations, assumptions, labels; all iron chains constricting around my heart.
Right about the same time we were married, it was discovered in an ultrasound that our baby had a birth defect; gastroschisis. Gastroschisis is a birth defect in the baby’s abdominal wall. Our son Andrew had a hole in his belly and part of his intestines were outside of his body.
This introduced a new level of complications to our lives and to my senior year. It multiplied the doctors visits, introduced us to perinatologists, and gave me a blue card which allowed me to by-pass the registration desk at the hospital each week to go right back to the maternity ward to be hooked up to a fetal monitor as part of monitoring baby’s health. Doing AP English homework while attached to a fetal monitor is anything but normal.
Andrew’s defect lead to him being born at 35 weeks. It meant an elongated stay at Children’s Hospital, surgeries, respirators, feeding tubes, morphine drips, stitches, scars, x-rays, acid reflux complications, and parents leaving the hospital long before a baby was carried out hospital doors.
Trying to do school work with the beeps and bleeps of hospital monitors was not easy. It’s hard to breathe with that kind of weight on one’s shoulders, let alone to think clearly enough to compose papers.
My head was a mess of fears, anxieties, worries, and the replaying of comments – both my own and of others. One of the worst was, “You deserve to have this happen to you and your baby. You need to be punished for your sins.”
The saddest thing was that in part, I agreed with what that person said. In my mind Andrew has never deserved what he went through at all. He was purely innocent. But, I completely agreed that I deserved the harshest punishment for my actions and for the waves of pain that I had caused everyone.
At this point in my life, I had no relationship with Christ. I knew of Him, but I did not really know him. At best, my faith was parked in a pew at the church I had last attended, which I picked up at the beginning of the service and set down at the end right along side of the hymnal.
In the blackened brokenness of that pain, there were carriers of great blessings who do not know at all the difference that they made in my life. God was working good, long before it even occurred to me to give Him glory.
I am thoroughly convinced that the nurses at Children’s Hospital are saints in scrubs. The doctors have such immense intelligence and skills, but the strength of heart and steadiness of hands of are found in the nurses. Looking back I don’t remember anyone sharing the words of the gospel with me, but there were a couple of them that I am positive wore gloves of grace.
They ministered not only physically to my son, but to me physically, mentally, and emotionally. I have no words to explain the encouragement that it takes to leave the hospital bed of your child, to walk through the hallways where the “in memory of” plaques of little lives lost hang, to watch the elevator doors close, to choose to get in your car & drive away, to eat, to sleep, and to care for yourself all the while knowing the little heart of your child beats in the trusted care of the on duty nurses.
Those nurses made a difference they do not even realize and I am to the depths of my soul grateful for each of them.
Then there are the rich and lavish blessings of family and the few friends who sacrificed time, talent, and treasure to walk beside us through this time of trial even though they did not agree with out choices. Those who set aside opinions, who held in their suggestions, and who just supported us however they could.
Looking back I know that we were held together by God’s grace, by God’s goodness, and by the power of the prayers of those who loved us. We were literally living on borrowed faith because we had none of our own.
I know with deepest conviction in my heart that there were many people who prayed me through my senior year. Those people made a difference in my life that they do not even know about fully, that I know I do not fully realize either.
I do not know what the specific prayers were, but I do know the evidence is seen in my memories. When Eric and I carried Andrew out of the hospital, when the last set of stitches were removed from his stomach, as I put the golden tassel of summa cum laude honors on my cap for graduation, it was prayer that gave purpose and power to it all, but I still carried my chains around my heart.
I figured my chains were a new normal for me, part of the punishment I needed to carry for the rest of my life. I carried them through high school graduation, right on into balancing a college classes, part time work, family, and a home of our own. I did my best to conceal the chains and carry them quietly. Which is actually fairly easy to do in large towns, big colleges, and huge companies.
The difference comes with the very few that we share our chains with. Those who see the past mistakes through eyes of grace and love. The ones who stick around because they willingly choose to accept the whole person and not just selective parts.
The biggest difference in my life, the one that I had no idea about came late in 2003 right before my son Andrew turned 4 years old.
I was blessed with redemption, through the love of Jesus Christ, through committing my life to Him, I was given freedom. What God did for me, His glorious goodness in my life, come best through these verses:
“Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness,
prisoners suffering in iron chains,
because they rebelled against God’s commands
and despised the plans of the Most High.
So he subjected them to bitter labor;
they stumbled and there was no one to help.
They cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
He brought them out of darkness,
the utter darkness, and he broke away their chains.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his
unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he breaks down gates of bronze
and cuts through bars of iron.”
The Lord, in His unfailing love, brought me out of darkness and broke away the chains. It was a difference that I did not know about, a difference that I could not even imagine on my own. A difference of relationship with Christ that my son Andrew will carry through his graduation ceremony.
It is an eternal difference made by Christ and by a body of believers. That beautiful body of believers, they are well represented on Andrew’s list of difference makers who are receiving invitations to celebrate his graduation with him.
Live it Out
Today, I wanted to share this part of my story with you because in this moment for me, the pain of the past collided with the purpose of the present and made a message that I thought just might make a difference to a reader out there. For me to reveal the redemption, I had to give the broken backstory.
Redemption in Christ has not taken me from painful problems to problemless perfection. I’m still quite a mess. I still have times where I try to re-wrap my heart in chains when I have thoughts in my head that I deserve those chains. But, God’s grace has broken the power of the chains, and the Lord is quick to help me let go of them again.
Instead of fueling fear, my faith helps me to grow in the freedom that Christ offers. The Holy Spirit helps guide me and God the Father provides in ways that make a difference that I may never realize.
God’s love is for you, the fullness of the freedom of Christ is available to you. A difference you don’t even know about could be waiting just up ahead for you. We may not know what the difference is, but we can know the One who does.
I encourage you to read through Psalm 107. Are there any parts to this passage of scripture that strike close to a situation in your life?
“Let the one who is wise heed these things and
ponder the loving deeds of the Lord.”
Take some time today to consider the loving deeds of the Lord that have made a difference in your in your life.
Are there any circumstances where you can find purpose presently that can benefit from sharing the story of the pain in your past?
If you have not opened your heart to Christ’s love, freedom, and redemption, I would encourage you to consider it. You don’t know the difference it could make in your life.
Pray Through It
Thank You for being good. Thank You for Your love that endures forever. Thank You for the difference You have made in my life, in the lives of my family, and in the lives of my readers. Thank You for loving all of us in our mess and in the pain of our problems.
Lord, thank You for the good push to help me tell my story. Lord, I pray that You would use what looks unusable to make a difference in someone’s life. Lord, You are the ONE who lovingly sacrifices for ONE, not hesitating to leave the 99.
So Lord, if just ONE is who I am able to make a difference to today, a difference that I may never know about, may I obediently trust and follow out of love for You. If any glory comes, may it be a sweet offering of worship to You.
In the name of Jesus, who makes the eternal difference. Amen.