Jehovah was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake: Jehovah was not in the earthquake.
And after the earthquake, a fire: Jehovah was not in the fire. And after the fire, a soft gentle voice. (1Kings 19:11-12)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Sowing Tears ~ Reaping Joy

One year ago today I came home after three months in intensive care following once-in-lifetime open-heart surgery.
God has showered his mercy upon us and brought us all home. 
His praise is on our lips.

We dream,
laughter fills our mouths,
shouts of joy are on our tongues,
we proclaim the great things God has done. 

We can look back on times of lament and recall how God pours out His mercy, and know that His mercy and steadfast love will follow us all the days of our lives. 

Lament is a song in our soul—
played in the hauntingly beautiful minor key;
the part in which we weep. 
Followed by the shouts of joy;
the dance when we rise up with praise and thanksgiving to the Lord.
The music of mercy and grace, tears and joy never ends;
keeping the rhythm of life steady, bringing us home. 

This day we pause,
sing a lament,
and praise the Lord:
we have sown in tears,
we shall reap shouts of joy.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Light unto My Path

When you are not sure how to move forward, walk in the Light.

The Light leads to life.

Eighteen months ago, when trilliums carpeted forest floors, the heart doctor told me to stop taking hikes in the woods; my heart couldn't take the strenuous activity. It was hard news to digest. He really wasn't sure any surgeon could do what my heart needed.

By the time the trilliums had faded and children were jumping into lakes or running through splash pads, my cardiologist had put me in touch with Dr David. He was willing to take me onif tests proved my body may have a fighting chance. It was highly unlikely.

Weeks after we went through with the surgery, when the leaves had changed from green to gold and red, Dr David was making his daily rounds. He admitted, when he had me open on the operating table what he found proved that the tests did not reveal the true condition of my heart. If they had, he would not have been able to confidently proceed with surgery because of how grave my situation really was.

The Light was guiding my path all along.

For four months I was attached to oxygen and during those months I grieved that I was not able to hike in the woods.

When I arrived home after 80 days in ICU, I had strength enough to climb four stairs, one slow step after the other. The winter was so frigid, my oxygen line would freeze, but I had set a goal to get out into the great outdoors for I truly believed it would help my physical and emotional recovery. 

Putting one foot in front of the other is all you have to do to move forward. There are dips and set-back that feel like giants leap backward, but one step at a time is how you run in this race of life. 

Always looking unto Jesus; the Everlasting Light

Last week, the cardiologist said my heart should be able to handle small hikes once again. Slow and steady. One small step at a time. 

Who could have ever imagined all those many moons ago that I would take my first nature hike with my family on a first week of November—so warm that it may break records? The sun kissed our faces today and we breathed in the musty fallen leaves that now carpet the ground.

We looked high into the bare branches and low at the moss covering the rocks. We listened as the brook babbled. We slowed down and focused on the beauty all around us. We gratefully received the sheer grace of it all.

I came home weary and refreshed. Hushed. Exhilerated. Humbled.

God's mercy is ever new. His faithfulness never fails.

The Little One gives thanks at the dinner table today. She thanks God for the hike, for her family, all the things He has made—the flowers, the birds, all creation. And all these months have passed and she still mutters thanks for: "the Doctor who helped my beautiful Mom so she could take care of me. She loves me so much. Thank you for being with her in the hospital to save her life."

I whisper, Amen, humbled once again.

His Light leads me on. One step of faith at a time.

{Photography helps me stop and focus on the beauty surrounding me, to catch the light, pay attention. When I look at life through the lens, it stirs up the deeper, hidden parts of the bigger picture.
To be outdoors in a great wood, capturing my children running free under a canopy of trees, climbing old mills, and shaking trees to make leaves fall like rain was absolute grace that flows steady from the hand of God.}

Monday, November 2, 2015

Hope for Broken Hearts ~ Even When Faced with Death

My heart was broken last year and all we could do was hope and wait.

The best heart surgeon in the world broke my sternum, dug around hard cemented radiated-dead flesh to fix my heart that was ready to quit any day. He didn't know if my heart could heal from all that breaking. We could only hope and wait for the healing to come.

For weeks following surgery, I didn't have the strength to fight; I was merely existing as though buried deep already in all the dark. I would cry out: "to live is Christ and to die is gain." My desire was, "to be with Christ, for that is far better."

Then, I wanted to go back, if I could—like the Israelites had wanted to return to Egypt—and refuse the risky surgery; it was much easier to surrender to what had become familiar than to move forward. Quitting is the easy way out. In my complaining and muttering, I was giving in to easy.

Until I was pricked in my heart, convicted of how much I was grumbling about all this hard, dark life I was living in an intensive care unit, away from my children. When, all along, the Lord had provided this way through and would continue to lead me and would never leave me. I confessed, repented, and faced the dark, cold, lonely days of recovery with renewed hope, waiting on the Lord. Trusting and giving thanks in all circumstances, rejoicing that it would give others "ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again."

I was told it would all take time. But, the passing of time is slow when the days are hard and healing is long. Winter dragged on but hope never ran out. 

Spring did come as sure as new seasons always do, and I could have wept to stand helpless and watch the wild rabbits chew off all the young tulip shoots when the long winter finally gave up to warmer days. Only a few tulips had survived.

Flowers fade. Hearts break.

But, there in the darkness, through all the storms, hope is sure.

Even when life doesn't turn up the way we plan, our hope is secure in the One who died, was buried and rose again.

When the apples were red and ripe on the trees, I bought more bulbs to plant in the front garden. Time ticks on, steady. Some days now race by. I thought we were too late to put these bulbs into the ground—September marched past and October refused to stick around any longer than her set 31 days despite my longing for more.

My heart continues to heal the doctor says. The thing we waited for, hoped for, is happening.

Life is hard. Waiting, suffering, healing, yes they are all hard, but there is always hope.

So today, after we heard the results from my latest heart echo, we stirred up the soil in the front garden as the sun gently beat down on our backs like a warm embrace for early November, and we planted.

Her Daddy grabbed the tools and she took hold of the bag of tulip bulbs and buried them in the warm dirt. Fifty bright red blooms shall break through the cold dark earth when another winter melts into another spring.

My son tells me tonight during his second bedtime snack, between bites of apple, "Mom, you how I said last week that I didn't miss you that much last year when you were in the hospital? Well, I did, but I think I was able to go on because God calmed me. If every day I thought about how you could die, I don't think I could have handled it—I wouldn't have been able to eat, I would have been exhausted. But, God helped me."

There is no doubt that dark, uncertain days and hard, heart-breaking circumstances will come. Don't lose heart. Wait. Hope. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Importance of Building a Bench ~ Simply Tuesday

"When I want to climb the ladder, what if instead I tore the ladder apart and used the wood to build a bench." (Emily P Freeman, Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World)
I've had a lot of practice of small and lonely this past year. A lot of slowing down. I've had a lot of days that feel like Tuesdays. That day that you have to just keep on going, moving forward, when you are not even halfway through the week and you could race on toward the end of the week or actually slow down and appreciate or at least take notice of the small moments that are making up your life.

Cause you are actually alive, waking up each morning and breathing. Do you jump out of bed and head out into the hustle without even realizing you are still here? Living, breathing, moving?

Do you ever consider that every breath you get to take make up your moments? And the harsh reality is that those small moments may be small, but they may also be hard. They may be ordinary, but they may be frustrating and threaten to paralyze you with fear.

I've laboured to breath, and I've struggled to appreciate the small, hard moments.

We are to pour out our lives, and "by the mercies of God, to present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual worship." It's the surrender of our lives to our Lord, our adoration of Him with all of our heart, strength, mind, and soul that is our worship.

Some say the story I've been living is an amazing story. And really, because of God's grace, it is. But, I have to admit, when I get lost in the loneliness, and caught in the strongholds of this fast-moving world, well, to me, it's just my life. And I want to scream, "Hello, this is my life we're talking about." My small, ordinary non-flashy moments that are being strung together to make my life. Not some fictional character in a great story to keep you turning the pages to see what will happen to her in the end."  I confess, there are times, when I've thought an entirely different plot line would suit me much better.

"…people don't need fancy and flashy, they probably just want regular. They don't need a fixer, they need a journeyer. They just need to sit on a bench with someone else so they know they are not alone." (Emily P Freeman, Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World)
I've been learning to accept what God has called me to, for His glory.

I've been learning that there are worse things than dying—not really living or staying alive with no real impact and failing to live the abundant life Christ offers.

I'm a slow-learner when it comes to things pertaining to the soul—the things unseen. How often my pride and self-love get in the way and make me stumble. But God, in His mercy and grace, He reveals my sin and humbles me, brings me down and causes me to surrender to His holy love. He helps me to tear down the ladders and build benches so there is more compassion and less comparison even when I am tempted to build high, impenetrable walls.

One of the ways He has been teaching me is by allowing others to journey with me.

As an introvert, and a back-yard dweller—where there is privacy and protection, I've been learning how much I need to come to the front yard—where there is vulnerability and openness, and embrace community. To build a bench, to share our stories, our struggles, our simple moments that make up our lives.

And what I'm finding is a love for others like I have never had before.

When we take these small moments, share our simple and sit down on the inside and make room for our souls to breath our eyes are opened and we see the bigger picture.

May we never focus on the small. Our eyes need to be fixed on Jesus—the Author and Finisher of our faith. "In Him, we live and move and have our being." The One who came to dwell among us, took on flesh, humility, and became sin that we might become the righteousness of Christ that we might forever dwell with Him.
"When confronted with heartbreak, fear, questions, longing, frustrations, and grief, this new life means instead of running to build our cities of protection, we can set out on a different road. This road may include loneliness, obscurity, hiddenness, and silence. It may be narrow, lined with danger, and filled with darkness at times. But we have a light that will not go out and cannot be turned off. The light of Christ burns bright within us, and wherever we go we will not go alone." (Emily P Freeman, Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World)

{Emily P. Freeman's newest book, Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World releases today in the U.S. She has given me much to think about in the words she shares. I was taken with this idea early in the morning on the first Tuesday on this year while my life was like a string of Tuesdays and Emily introduced #itssimplytuesday on Instagram. It's a rather lovely place to sit and share snippets of our lives.}

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

12 Roses for 12 Months

A rose for every month to celebrate this anniversary — a year today since my open-heart surgery was booked.

God's mercy, grace, goodness and faithfulness can startle you with such breathtaking beauty. 

So much has happened in this year. I haven't been able to process it all. Maybe, I never will. But, slowly, pieces unfold again and I see a little less fuzzy when I open my eyes to God's mercies that are new every morning. In moments that are like when you flip through old snapshots that give you an idea of the big picture. I get another quick glance back when I am standing in my brown birks with my arms full of a white flower box and I open it up and it's filled with roses of many colours and I'm speechless.

Until these roses arrived in my driveway I had not even recognized the significance of this day. Then I remembered that a year ago today, I sat looking out on Crystal Lake not sure how to take the next step forward after the conversation I had just had with the heart surgeon's secretary. She made it so matter of fact, so simple; a square on the calendar at the end of the month. That square was the only hope I had for having any more than 365 of those squares.

And as my loving family who sent me these roses reminded me, it is: "a year since you started preparing to say good-bye to your family, a year of upheaval and change, a year of miracles and blessings, a year of suffering and pain, a year of prayers and petitions, a year full of physical and spiritual family buoying you mentally, emotionally, physically, a year of devastating lows and euphoric highs…a long year full of God's goodness and grace…"

Tonight, I look at these roses and I'm reminded how God makes all things beautiful in His time.

His mercy is new every morning.

Twelve roses for twelve months of God's abundant blessing poured out so full that my life is brimful of God's goodness. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

An Open Letter {On #NursesWeek} to The Nurses Who Cared Every Step of the Way

My Dear Nurses at Toronto General CVICU,

The word nurse, it comes from Latin and means a “person who nourishes”.

That is exactly who you all are. You are people who nourish.

The dictionary defines nourish as “supply with what is necessary for life, health, and growth; to strengthen, build up”. That is what you do!

You do it all with compassion. You feel the depth of the suffering right in your gut and you spring into action. You take care of the suffering. You attend to the needs of your patient. You give a piece of your heart, your self, to the sick. You humble yourself to the one that has been laid low.

In your giving . . . in your caring . . . in your nourishing . . . you have the opportunity to build up the weak to health and strength and life. No, you don’t create life, but you take the broken hearts, broken lives in your hands, and you have the privilege to help to bind up their wounds, heal the broken bodies, comfort the weary, encourage the frightened, relieve the worried, and cheer on the disheartened.

But, perhaps, no one reminds you of these things. It's possible that all you have sacrificed has not been properly recognized.

You give your energy, attention, intelligence and strength, for twelve hours straight, day after day, doing the most mundane and humbling of duties intermingled with the most extraordinary and life-saving feats and, maybe, you think all you do goes unnoticed and unappreciated?

Let me tell you: You are simply amazing!

Following my open-heart surgery at the tail end of summer in 2014, I had the privilege of experiencing firsthand for 80 days how you serve and nourish every step of the way. You cared for me and my family and you are not forgotten and ‘thank you’ doesn’t seem to cut it.

Remember, how you all nursed me back to health?

Oh, I’m not only talking about all the obvious medical care you so diligently accomplished like pulling out the drainage tubes, alleviating pain, changing bandages and bedsheets, repositioning me in my bed, and ordering a special gel mattress to prevent further sores, keeping PICC lines clear, checking stitches and ulcers and vitals and my INR and elevated CO2 levels, suctioning my tracheostomy tube, emptying the suction cup, and commode, and catheter bags, taking care of oxygen tanks and feeding tubes and IV poles laden down with feeds and bags and bags of saline water and antibiotics, documenting pages and pages of meticulous patient notes and numbers, administering meds, asking every. single. day. if I had had a bowel movement {Really? I mean . . . Seriously!!!}, and watching my weight and heart rate and blood pressure.

In CVICU, these tasks are assumed. And you performed them well.

But, you all went above and beyond and took care of ME and MY FAMILY.

The way you sprinted like an Olympic runner across the Atrium to call a Code Blue for me when my tracheostomy tube blocked and I started into respiratory failure and wasn't anywhere near my ICU room.

You faithfully came to my bedside when I called in panic and fear from ICU psychosis and drugs, held my hand, wiped my brow, and offered a shoulder to weep on when I desperately missed my children.

We shared stories about our families and life—weddings, anniversaries, childbirth, vacations, what we believed about God and His grace in our lives.

You brilliantly figured out a way to wash my hair with water when I couldn’t get my tracheostomy incision wet, then later whisked me in a wheel chair to the shower room so for the first time in weeks and weeks so I could feel hot water stream all over me like a fresh waterfall after a long arduous journey, and you ran to your locker to get me your own shampoo.

You worked wonders so I (along with and all my medical contraptions) could sit outside in the glorious sunshine after a month of being cooped up in my four walls and beeping machines and fluorescent lights.

You used warm water to add to crushed meds to prevent further discomfort from my feeding tube. 

You brought me books and movies and bundles of scrap paper for my clipboard and you responded to all my requests scrawled in my broken cursive. You wrapped me in warm blankets and helped me get dressed when I didn’t have the strength to dress myself.

The wonder of the times when you walked into my room, assessed the situation, and had me moved to a bigger and brighter room, wept with me, laughed with me, prayed with me, and had my room filled with praise music and asked me about my children whose photos were posted all over the walls.

Remember, how you curled my hair, and spilled into my room to sing “Happy Birthday” to me and you even called from home on your day off to wish me “Happy Birthday”.

A week later you congratulated Jon and I for our wedding anniversary—when I was too swollen to wear my wedding rings, couldn't even eat a fancy meal to celebrate 15 years, and I felt sorry for myself, but then reminded myself I was still here to do life with the man I love.

And then you planned for my family to have a Thanks-giving Swiss Chalet meal together in the staff room—all inclusive with the Wii, and you planned a birthday party for my son and you ordered in pizza and blew up balloons and gave treats to my children.

Ah, you cheered me on when I walked laps in the halls as though I was training for a marathon, and you coaxed me on for a month while I weaned off my tracheostomy mask, and you gave me a chocolate bar when I passed my swallowing test, and cried with me when I could speak again. You understood my relief when my bleeding finally stopped and my mind cleared up and I became more me again instead of the patient inflicted with strange hallucinations and vivid delusions.

I’m so thankful you extended your care to my husband who faithfully stayed by my side and lovingly sacrificed so much to do so—and you trained him in Nursing 101 and helped him with paperwork. 

You kept reminding me to keep on “moving forward”.

You thought of ways that would make going home a reality, all the while jesting with me that you were ‘keeping’ an eye on me’ that I wouldn’t devise an ‘exit plan’ of my own.

This list could potentially never end. However, my time with you did.

Staying in CVICU for 80 days is nothing I would ever want to endure again, but you, the people who nourish, my nurses, made my time bearable and you sent me off on my way with cheers and prayers, and words of encouragement.

I left behind new friends and came home to be with my family where I belong. My affection for you all is deep like an ocean and my appreciation for you all is as great as the heavens.

I thank God for you all and the way He has made you to nourish others. And, I think you are all simply amazing.

Rebekah Hughes

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