Thursday, December 23, 2010

Ponderings of My Heart - Part 2-An Unexpected Parade of Light

What amazes me is how many times we head out to an ordinary event expecting nothing extraordinary, only to encounter God in the most profound ways. I should have known when we were invited to a parade of lights that God was up to something.

CJ was invited to an event which allows the families of pediatric cancer patients and other critical illnesses to watch the Winterfest Boat Parade. The Boat Parade is a literal parade of boats each covered in beautiful lights with music playing as it makes its way through the Ft. Lauderdale water front. Over a million people watch this parade from various locations throughout Ft. Lauderdale. We were invited by the Freedom Waters Foundation to watch the parade at the home of Paul Flanigan, owner of the Quarter Deck restaurants.

When I saw the invitation which read, 'Hosted at the home of Paul Flanigan,' I expected we would be welcome to use his lawn to watch the parade in the beautiful Ft. Lauderdale waterfront neighborhood he lives in. I thought that was extremely generous of Mr. Flanigan. Turns out that my expectations were way off! Let's just say that is not how Paul Flanigan defines 'hosted at the home of.'

We arrived to find his lawn and his home wide open! Come in. Help yourself. Look around. Take pictures by the life size Santa next to the Christmas tree. Admire the gorgeous nativity set on the mantle. Pet our dog. Check out the awesome wall unit that doubles as secret doors to the kids rooms. Play with the train set. Use our bathroom. Sit on our couches. Swim in our pool. Jump on our trampoline. Help yourself! THAT is how Paul Flanigan defines 'hosted at the home of.'

As I walked around pondering all of this in my heart, I was informed that Mr. Flanigan was the gentleman standing at the BBQ pit cooking up some delicious ribs and french fries for the kids. Apparently, Paul Flanigan describes hosted at the home of as cooking for over two hundred people, who are all complete strangers to him, while they wander in and out of his home. In the three or so hours I was there, Mr. Flanigan never left that BBQ pit!

After endless servings of great food, we were then invited to sit on the lawn across the street and watch boat parade. Not only that, but we were told, "Feel free to climb aboard Mr. Flanigan's yacht and watch it from there if you like". There were kids (and adults) continually climbing on and off Mr. Flanigan's boat for an even better view of the boats parading by all covered in lights. Present company not excluded!

I don't know about everyone else that was there, but this all began to hit me really hard. More like a punch in the gut than a pondering of the heart. How many times has someone I invited to my home for a party called and asked, "Can we bring a friend or two?" and I inwardly cringe? How many times have I opened my home to people for an event only to remind them nicely that the party is OUTSIDE? How many times have I gotten frustrated at the mess someones kid left when they were at our house? How many times have I overlooked the eternal for the temporal? How many times have I hurt someones feelings only to protect some lifeless object or save my precious time in cleaning, or worse save money! Ouch! What an example this man set for me! I will never forget it.

Oh yeah, the boat wonder how it was. Just as expected it was beautiful. Lights were dazzling from the boats and reflecting off the water. Music played continuously from the yachts as they paraded by. But the most beautiful light, the Light of Life, was shining across the street through a man standing at a grill flipping ribs. The most beautiful music of the night was being played as the fire sizzled at his fingertips. The boats were pretty alright, but that is real beauty. I am so glad I didn't miss it.

"In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."
(Matthew 5:17)

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
(John 8:12)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ponderings of My Heart: Part 1- The Toy Run

This holiday season, CJ was invited to attend three separate events. Each has had huge significance and a deep impact on our family. I wanted to share a little about each of them with you. I think you will be blessed as well. I will share them in three separate postings.

CJ was invited to the annual Fun in the Sun Toy Run that has been held here in South Florida for the past ten years or so. We had never been before, and my understanding of the Toy Run was that a bunch of bikers get together to raise money and donate toys to local charities. Let's just say that is simplifying it a lot.

Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital is one of the main foundations that benefits from the Toy Run so they invited CJ, along with some other patients, to ride on the Joe D Firetruck this year. Apparently, the other kids had to cancel at the last minute so they extended the invitation to our entire family. This is how I found out how simplified my definition was.

I will admit that we struggled at first with the decision to attend this event. First, because it was being held a Sunday morning. Second, because it is a biker event which tends to be a little ummmm, how should I say it? Well, let's just say the very cold weather was a blessing and helped us feel better about that decision!

Regardless, those are debates we can save for another day and I have changed my stance throughout the years as a Christian on the Sunday morning thing, but I am going to bite my tongue (restrain my fingers) from elaborating further here. Most of you know, I love a good spiritual and theological debate but that is not what this post is about. However, I will confess that some of the times I experience God most clearly and powerfully is when I step outside of my comfort zone and follow what I think is His leading in a strange direction, and this was no exception. How dare Jesus heal on the Sabbath! Sorry, couldn't resist.

We arrived bright and early at the park where the event is held, which was already bustling with people, cars, bikers, and vendors setting up. We were told to be there early to load up and drive to another location to ride in the parade back to this park for the main event. There was a huge line of convertible classic cars there and we were told to pick one and get in. We did not know these people and we quickly realized our entire family was not going to fit into one car together so we ended up breaking up into three different cars. This created a little anxiety right away but we were thankful we could all do this as a family so we started looking for cars to ride in. CJ was alone with a family that was there, Allie and Brett stuck together and found another car, with room for two, and Chris and I took Corey and looked for an available car to get in.

Once we got in, we realized these are truly Classic Cars which means most of them have no seat belts in the back seats. We quickly switched our little Corey to the front seat and Chris and climbed in the back. All we could think of was our other three children in convertible cars with strangers and no seat belts on the highway. We reasoned that the long line of classic cars would be going slow enough so what harm could be done. Wrong! These cars flew from Markham Park to the Pompano Beach meeting area. A 30 to 40 minute drive on all highways! I won't tell you how fast we were going but lets just say tires, hubcaps, gasoline, and a few other things went flying during this early morning stroll. I can guarantee you that Chris and I did more praying that early Sunday morning than we would have if we went to church instead. So you see God was already at work!

To ease our racing hearts and minds, Chris and I made conversation with our driver. He was an elder gentleman who was a Christian from Wisconsin. He obviously loved the Lord and classic cars. He lives in South Florida during the winter months and decided to donate his time, money, and classic car to the event. When he asked about our involvement we shared CJ's story which lead him. He in turn shared with us that his daughter, who is now an adult with her own family, also fought for her life as a child. His story was amazing and he shared how the Lord healed her.

As he spoke, I could just picture Chris and I as an older couple doing something similar. CJ would be off and married with children of his own and we would be driving a classic car with a family in the back that has experienced a child battling a terrible disease. Of course, I snapped back to reality and realized that was only if CJ survived the Toy Run! I remember commenting to Chris something to the effect of how it would stink to for CJ beat cancer and die in the parade that celebrates it.

When we arrived, by God's grace, safely at the starting point of the parade, we found THOUSANDS of bikers already there. This place was an event in and of itself. It was quite a sight.

Eventually, we loaded onto one the firetrucks towards the front of the Parade and headed out followed by MANY large trucks filled with THOUSANDS of donated toys. We were not as worried about the long ride back on top of a firetruck because we knew the roads would be closed for this portion of the event and we would be going at parade speed!

What we did not realize is that this firetruck we were on, is then followed by over 35,000 motorcycles all carrying a toy. Let me say that again....That is over thirty-five THOUSAND motorcycles (mostly Harley Davidsons). It is an amazing sight and sound! We were told the parade was so long it would take over two hours before the last bike got back to the park even though the parade route is only 30 minutes. There were hundreds of people standing on overpasses and along the roads and highways to watch the parade pass by. It was a very neat experience.

However, what was even more amazing was that once we got to the event site and got off the fire truck and were able to really see all these bikers. We were then able to read their jackets which often signify their clubs or gangs. The Pagans.......The Outlaws.....Hell's Angels.....The Mongols...and Bikers for Jesus. You know, stuff like that. Let's just say, I don't usually see that on a typical Sunday morning so I was taking it all in. I did find it ironic that I could either be sitting in church with my fellow Christians, or I could be with The Pagan's and Hell's Angels donating toys to sick kids. Hmmmm!

Now, consider that with the exception of the Bikers for Jesus and some of the others, the above mentioned Bikers are some of the most notorious biker gangs in the world. I am not exaggerating here. Many of them are bitter rivals and yet here they all were side by side and they all had a toy strapped to the back of their big bad motorcycles. I will tell you , there is nothing like seeing The Outlaws or Hell's Angels with a pink Barbie strapped in behind him!

Yet, for that one day something is bigger than any disputes, rivalries, differences, or macho image they may have. That day they are just bikers helping children in need.

Let's just say I pondered it my heart long and hard.

Our little Corey up front while we help on for dear life.

My baby girl and Lotsy

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Tree of Life and Death

I posted two blogs back to back here, so please take a minute and read the other one below as well which has a CJ update.

After years of frustration with my Christmas tree and its significance, I was determined to make our tree special this year. So, after much thought, I decided to do it in all gold for childhood cancer. We covered it in gold ornaments and made gold cancer shaped ribbons. Then we wrote the names of the children we have come to know and love on them.

Unfortunately, we ran out of ribbons rather quickly and had to purchase another batch. That should tell you something. There are well over 50 ribbons on my tree and we have only been in this small corner of the childhood cancer world for two years. Sad.

The tree is beautiful. Much more so in person than in pictures but I will share them anyway. Each ribbon represents a child battling cancer! Too many of the names on my tree are no longer with us. That was a shock to me as I started to write the names on the ribbons. They just flowed off my pen, one after the other. Many of them we have met. Some we pray for from afar. We feel a deep connection to them all. We love them. I love my tree because I love them.

These are only some of the ribbons but I wanted to share the overall feel of the tree. There is still Creed, Deana, Abigail, Amanda, Hailey, Zara, Seth, Bella, Ryan, Anthony, Marcus, Andrew, Maisa, Bo, Tyler, Kuke, MGabriel, Avona, Aref, Pharoah, Sammie, Myah, Addison, Angel, Rainy, Lena, Nayali, Nathalie, Victoria, on and on and on......see how easily they come!

As I sit in front of my special tree this year, I can't help but see the names of all the children and reflect on the meaning of Christmas....the gift of life and death. Oh yes! I said the gift of death. You see, on this side of heaven, in our human flesh, we see death from the eyes of the fallen, as a result of a curse, the loss of a loved one, the physical pain of grief, the end of a life. And death certainly is all of those things. But the gift of death is also viewed from the other side of heaven, with a perspective we don't truly have yet. Reunited with our Father in Heaven, death sets us free! It is merciful in that it allows and end to suffering and beginning to life eternal. When we get there, we will view death as a gift rather than a curse. That is the hope we have as Christians anyway, and why we "do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope". (1Thes 4:13)

And of course the ultimate gift of life and death is that of Jesus Christ which is why we celebrate at Christmas after all. Or you can celebrate Santa and Rudolph I suppose. Whatever you prefer.

God's Economy

It's been a long time since I have updated this blog. No news is good news, right? Typically, that does not apply to me. No news usually means I am probably a garbled emotional mess in my head and heart and afraid to write for the sake of what may come pouring out. I have been told I wear my heart on my sleeve. I have learned it also pours forth from my mouth and have discovered that it has managed to find its way out my fingers as they click away at the keyboard.

Sometimes it means I am just so busy I can not seem to find uninterrupted time to sit and organize my thoughts so that it comes across making some sort of sense.

In regards to CJ though, no news is good news! So let's see if I can guard my heart and maintain tight control over my fingers as I type and at least get you all updated on CJ.

CJ is doing really well physically. He has had some side effects since coming off the chemotherapy but nothing serious. I guess after two years on all that medicine, it is going to take some time for his body to level off. He has developed a blotchy and discolored face which has turned out to be eczema. The doctors have assured me this is a common side effect for kids coming off chemotherapy and it will go away. But every time I look at him it reminds me of the adjustment his little body is making once again and all that he has been through.

Then I came across this picture accidentally last week while looking for another one....

Needless to say, that was a shock I wasn't expecting as I clicked on the link and this opened really large on my screen. I just kept staring at it thinking, Wow, that was only a year ago. I am so thankful CJ got through this. I am so so thankful! Praise God!

Speaking of thankful, I tried to do a Thanksgiving blog update here on Thanksgiving night. I was planning to share how thankful I was and what our day was like and then I sat down at the computer only to read and discover that, while most of us were getting ready to stuff our faces with food on Thanksgiving, a little cancer warrior I followed, who looked much like this picture above....swollen, bald, sick....had passed away. His name was Max. He was only 7. I just sat there and cried at my computer. I felt like I got punched in the gut and could not bring myself to type an update. Although it made me even more thankful that I was able to spend Thanksgiving with CJ who is now healthy, it also made me ashamed of my inner complaining I did about the hustle and bustle of the day and all the work and effort it takes and how glutenous we are and how I feel trapped by tradition. Oh yes! You would hate the inner me if you knew her! She is such a complaining, miserable, brat sometimes. Thankfully, God and I are working diligently and patiently with her.

But, I mean, really? Is that what you would come up with if you had to think of way to spend a day to express your thanks to God? Would you cook a bunch of food that is in abundance anyway and sit around a eat to the point of discomfort? The pilgrims chose feasting because they were starving and saved from the brink of extinction. Believe me, we don't know hunger!

So what would you choose? What has He saved you from the brink of? Bankruptcy? Then maybe you should celebrate Thanksgiving by making a generous donation to a charity or even better...a family on the brink of bankruptcy. Maybe it was the brink of divorce. Well then maybe it would be significant for you to spend Thanksgiving sending a couple you know is struggling on a weekend getaway while you watch their kids. Or maybe it was homelessness. Then maybe you should spend Thanksgiving at a homeless shelter feeding and ministering to the homeless. Maybe it was even death like CJ.
So then maybe Thanksgiving should be spent at the hospital serving other families facing death or at a nursing home where people actually are at the brink of death. If you can't think of anything, I can think of one for you. If you are Christian, you were saved from death to life eternal. So maybe we should spend Thanksgiving sharing the gospel with the lost who are certainly headed there.

See that? See how quickly my heart tries to take over these updates. It is pounding at my fingertips just wanting to have its way on this key board.

Back to CJ! On top of finishing chemo, he just finished his baseball season and they won the championship. It was quite fitting. However, this winning season followed a season that his team lost every single game. This year, they won all but one. Funny thing is, that losing season did more to build his character and appreciate for the game than the winning one ever could have. Defeat sweetens the taste of victory!. But even more than that, I think you need to lose at something to truly win. It's God's economy. Everything is always backwards.

In the championship game, when it came down to very last play for the final out, the ball was hit directly to CJ. He fielded it and made the play for the final out of the game. Champions! Time to celebrate, right? Not for CJ! After making the play, he fell immediately to his knees, looked up and pointed to the Lord privately thanking Him. Then he jumped up and joined all his teammates who were already rushing to infield for the excitement of winning the championship. It was a powerful moment! Sounds simplistic enough right? Typical childhood experience....lots of kids point up after great plays. But that moment in CJ's life followed two years of chemotherapy and the final report of 'clear scans' to officially end his treatment. CJ knows Who he's pointing to. Nothing simplistic about that.

As CJ was on his knees, I immediately flashed back to a week before diagnosis when we were at a church retreat and CJ fell to his knees in desperate prayer asking God to help him with his anxiety and constant back and stomach pain. God answered that prayer in ways I never would have dreamed and yet here he was two years later on his knees again......but this time celebrating. I just watched and pondered it in my heart. Thankful!

We had the opportunity to share this story with our church the week after Thanksgiving. which was followed by CJ cutting off the blue "Pray for CJ" bracelets many wore for over two years to support CJ! It is weird to see wrists empty that wore that bracelet consistently for two full years. I am so thankful that although many of the blue bracelets are gone...CJ is still here.

Speaking of thankful again, we worked very hard on our Thanksgiving Drive for CBC and CJ was a huge help in collecting and delivering bags. We had 125 families fill and decorate over 135 bags full of Thanksgiving meals. Then we had the amazing privilege of delivering those bags to pediatric oncology clinics, hospitals, and homes. We had such fun dong this. I wish you could be in our shoes, which I have begun to refer to as 'The Middle Man'. We get to spur one another on towards love and good deeds getting to witness the reaction of those people who step up to the challenge. Then we get to deliver the love and good deeds of others to families in need and witness their reaction. It is really cool. I like being the Middle Man.

We got some great feedback this year. The nurses and social workers at the clinic shared with us that they were practically fighting over who got to hand the bags out because they loved seeing the reaction of the families when they received the beautifully decorated bags so full of love (and food). They said some would stand there and cry on the spot! The families are extremely grateful! But here is the secret to this whole thing......The people who fill the bags are even MORE thankful that the ones receiving them. We can not tell you how many people thank us for allowing them to make the bag and be a part of this. They share with us what it meant to their family. See! It's that God's economy stuff again. What is that saying? Hmmmm? It's better to give than to receive right? Amazing how He is always right!

In light of that, we had some people and churches who worked on the Thanksgiving Bags ask about Christmas and how they could help. Interesting how we spurred others on for Thanksgiving and then they spurred us on to step it up for Christmas. Last year we sponsored two children and their families and delivered miscellaneous toys and stockings to the clinic. for other kids. This year, in faith, we requested a list of families in need from the social workers and child life specialists at the hospital and thanks to you we were able to turn NONE away.

We matched these children (and their siblings) with families, churches, companies or clubs that are adopting them for the holidays. My house was covered in toys that others donated for the sake of someone else. We already made one trip to the hospital to deliver the gifts. So a HUGE thank you to everyone who sponsored a child and their siblings for Christmas. We are blessed beyond measure to witness this outpouring of love. We were so moved by what we were seeing we adopted our own special family as well and we have more fun buying their gifts than we do buying our own kids gifts. There goes that strange economy stuff again. I am sensing a theme here.

Well there is so much more to share but I will break it up into different posts for the sake of your sanity!

I hope you all had a meaningful Thanksgiving and are preparing for a meaningful Christmas as well. Oh, don't even let me get started on that one....