Tuesday, December 15, 2009

His Mercies are new every morning....

Well, guess what? We have a new Mercie. Our landlord responded to Lessons I learned from Mercy by offering us a free kitten. John and I hemmed and hawed for about 12 seconds. We really, truly do NOT want to be cat people! Our love for our children warred with our dislike of cats, and.... well... some of you are parents! I'm sure you know what won.

We have a new Mercie (we debated a new name but just really loved that one so instead we changed the spelling).... Here's a picture of Mercie Mae Kastner. She was delivered by our landlord's son this morning. The children are in HEAVEN! They are just tickled, and they ADORE this kitty.

I'm ambivalent... waiting to see if I'll love this Mercie like the last, but I am very glad to see the frowns on my children's faces turned upside down.

When our chidren were born, we chose verses for each one. I'm picking one for Mercie Mae too.

Mercie Mae Kastner

It is because of the Lord's mercy and loving-kindness that we are not consumed, because His [tender] compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great and abundant is Your stability and faithfulness. The Lord is my portion or share, says my living being (inner self); therefore, I will hope in Him and wait expectantly for Him.
Lamentations 3:22 - 24

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Lessons I learned from Mercy

I need to begin this blog with a HUGE disclaimer. I am NOT a cat person. I really am not. I can hardly stand cats. In fact (as MANY would tell you), I might have even been heard saying, "The only good cat is a dead cat." I really do not like cats. Okay, finished with the disclaimer. Here's the story:

About two weeks ago, a stray cat followed the kids home from a bike ride. What I didn't know then was that it was just the "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie" storyline being played out in front of my eyes. As John and I decorated the Christmas tree (something the kids were supposed to be helping with), they sat out on the driveway petting the cat and playing with the cat.

"She's hungry Momma." was the first step in my slippery slide down the hill. I gave in out of love for my babies, not out of any affinity for this cat. We gave her a can of tuna and a saucer of milk. She set up an abode underneath our front porch, and the kids started calling her Lucky. After about two days, it was time for Elijah's tonsil surgery so Riri came out to the country to watch the other kids. She brought along with her a water dish, food dish and a bunch of cat food. I guess that was step two...

I can't remember the exact timeline, it is all so foggy and seems like it was forever, not just a few weeks. Eventually (we theorize because we were leaving her food outside) she got into a scuffle with another animal. One morning we found her face all gashed up and her nose bleeding. We let her move into the garage to keep her safe and let her heal from whatever predator had attacked her. John and I rationalized, we can have an outside cat and not be cat people. At that point, I announced that Lucky was a lame name, and we needed a real name. We decided upon Mercy because in our dreams the dog we'll have is named Gracie, and Grace and Mercy go so well together. We moved her food and water into the garage, gave her a camp chair and a few blankets to sleep on, and opened the door during the day for her to "do her business."

Our setup became problematic when the weather started turning colder. The day that I found her water bowl frozen solid was the day we knew we were in over our heads. We moved Mercy inside and set her up in the mudroom. In breezed Riri, with a litter box, toys, canned cat food, a brush... all the goodies the spoiling Aunt has right at her fingertips (at least after a quick trip to Target). The kids were in heaven. They would sit and pet Mercy forever.

Mercy was a GREAT cat. She was not like other cats. She wasn't snobby or persnickety. She was friendly and patient. She was great with the kids. She would let Hannah manhandle her and love on her, and she never got mean. She must have been someones cat who had been abandoned or something, because she immediately knew what the liter box was and used it consistently from the beginning. She was a dream cat (if there is such a thing).

We always kinda knew that Mercy was sick. When she first showed up, I told John, this cat just came here looking for somewhere to die. So when we decided to let her come live inside, we determined she would have to take a trip to the vet in order to make sure she wasn't a danger to the children. The vet did not have good news. Likely Mercy had a terminal condition that wasn't treatable, but nothing that could be transmitted to the children. We could try to clear up her infections with antibiotics and keep her for awhile. So we tried. That was Monday.

So there I was (NOT the cat person) squirting antibiotics down this cat's throat twice a day and wiping away her bloody buggers. I mean SERIOUSLY?!?!?! John was humoring me, but I know he was thinking, "Who is this crazy cat lady who has taken over my wife's body?" The medicine seemed to be working. We could hear Mercy sneezing a lot, and she seemed to be clearing some of the mucus from her lungs and nose.

Then yesterday, she climbed in her litter box and wouldn't get out. She sat in there much of the day. It was awful. I explained to the children that she was likely going to die soon, and she knew it. She would let us pet her, but if we tried to pick her up she'd bare her teeth and make a little pitiful sound like, "Please don't. It hurts too much." I was a wreck. The triple assault of watching this creature suffer, realizing I had fallen for this dumb cat and was now going to lose her, and knowing that this would break my babies' hearts was too much for me. I cried all day.

I struggled to find something to do for her. We could not afford to put her down (the vet said it would be nearly $100). No Humane Society would help me because we live in a "non-contracted" area. Part of how we ended up in this jam was because we had called the contracted "dog catcher" guy for Hubbard earlier in this saga, and he never called us back. We prayed for Mercy and that God would help us find a way to help her, and I tried one more time to reach the Hubbard animal guy. Miraculously, I reached his wife. I think my tears helped plead my case for once. She assured me he would call as soon as he returned from work. Mercy left with the animal man at 4:10 p.m. last night. We were devastated but not left without many lessons learned.

1. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (James 1:15) I am not saying Mercy was sin; however, I am saying, if you don't want to have a cat.... if you don't want to be a "cat person".... do NOT (I repeat) do NOT feed a stray cat. Don't even pet it. Don't even look at it. The parallels here are too clear not to be applied! If you don't want to have sex before your married, don't take your clothes off. If you don't want to become addicted to drugs, don't smoke even your first joint. If you don't want to cheat on your husband, don't spend any time with a man you are not married to. If you want to avoid sin, do NOT entertain it! Don't give it even one second of your time. Because if you let it get just one tiny little paw into your front yard, before you know it that thing will be sleeping on your couch, and you'll be wiping the bloody mucus from it's nose. Trust me! I know some of you are saying, "Not me! I hate cats!" or "Not me! I love my spouse!" or "Not me! I don't drink, smoke or chew or go with boys who do!" But let me tell you: If it can happen to the greatest cat hater of all, it can happen to you.

2. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9) God sure works in mysterious ways I tell you. Me falling for this cat reminded me of this unexpected friendship that came my way. I had determined in my heart to hate this girl. She had taken my place. She was the new (and MUCH better) cheer coach at HCS, and I was still bitter about having my job, my calling, my ministry ripped from my grip. But in breezed Shannon Michelle and it was all over. She and I "clicked" like peanut butter and jelly. Still now... ten years later she is one of my BFFs. God works in mysterious ways. I never thought I'd love a cat. But I did, and because I kept my heart open to the unexpected I gleaned a lot of good things.

3. Why you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (James 4:14) Mercy really seemed to be on the upswing this week. Then all of a sudden she veered suddenly and started declining rapidly. Life is like that too you know. All is going well and then without much warning, it is lying shattered at your feet. We had such a short time with Mercy before she was gone, but we enjoyed every moment with her and we loved her and gave her a little taste of Heaven before she succumbed to her illness. So the lesson I take from that??? Suck up every second like it is your last. Savor every moment you have with the ones you love because before you know it your time may be up. I have had two relationships like this. Two very intense friendships that came seemingly out of nowhere and overtook my life. Two "BFFs" who became indispensable within a matter of minutes and then after not very long left my life with a heart-shattering "BAM!" I have really learned to just be grateful for every second I have... with Mercy, with my friends, and with my family. Because I know that sickness, death, or betrayal can rip those things from your grip in an instant, and I never want to be left regretting the fact that I didn't cherish what I had when it was there.

4. The King will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." (Matthew 25:40) Being kind can never be wrong. It just can't. It might hurt in the end. You might end up with your heart torn to shreds and bleeding profusely, but it can NEVER be wrong to be kind. Recently, I made a kind gesture that was rebuked and thrown right back in my face. At first, I was so angry. The sting of the rejection really hurt. But then I realized, I wouldn't change one thing I had done because I had been kind and that was a good thing. Right now as I sit here a little bruised and battered from having known and loved Mercy, I realize that I wouldn't change one thing. It hurt like heck to let her go, and it hurts like heck still as just a few moments ago I had to console Elijah through a storm of tears after he asked, "Mom, why did Mercy have to go to sleep?" But I am glad we were kind to this tiny little creature. I am glad we gave her love and warmth and food for her last days on this earth.

Okay so I'm finally to the end of this long-winded blog. Please do not mistake me, I am still NOT a cat person. However, I think I may amend my famous saying, "The only good cat is Mercy."

Monday, December 7, 2009

The dark side to love...

When I was 13, I broke three bones across the top of my foot at gymnastics. Apparently I had a slight tendency towards tears, therefore because I didn't cry, no one believed I was really hurt. I didn't cry because I was trying to tough it out. I didn't cry when it happened. I didn't cry when my coach examined it. I didn't cry when my friend's mom picked me up to drive her turn in the carpool and get me home. Oh but when I arrived home, the floodgates opened up! The second I saw my Momma, I couldn't put up a front any longer. All the tears I had been holding back, rushed forth in a torrent. See it is hard to keep our defenses up around those we know love us unconditionally.

I observe this phenomenon quite frequently in my own children. You've seen it too. You know you have! The same child who walks in the front door of your house and immediately drops his coat on the ground goes to a friends house, and the mother tells you, "He is such a wonderful child! He offered to help me with the dishes after dinner!" And you think, "I wish he would just 'offer' to pick up his coat once in awhile!"

As with all things we cannot accept the good without the bad. It is wonderful to know that I am someone that my children, my husband, my family can be real with. I love knowing that they do not feel they have to put up their defenses with me. However, it can also sting too. See the dark side to this principle is that we often "let it all hang out" for the ones we love the most. Like when I am crabby and grumpy with my husband, and the phone rings, some random person calling, and I pick it up with a smile and in a sweet voice say, "Hello!"

I also see this in the fact that it seems the closer someone is to us, the less often we engage the filter between our brain and our mouths. Now I guess we could, therefore, consider it a compliment when we get the unadultered (and sometimes painful) truth out of the mouths of those we love; however, I personally find it a bit of a shame. That the ones who matter most to us often don't get the courtesy we give to even strangers. That we are able to bite our tongue and hold back our negative or snarky comments with our friends, but are able to quickly spout off, "Mom this roast tastes like a tire tread."
With the holidays comes more and more "quality" time with our families. So I think it is a good time to consider a few things. Let's just call these Jami's rules for family gatherings.

1. It is okay not to say every single thing you think, and just because people are related to you, they are not entitled to your EVERY opinion. Do you REALLY think your sister-in-law needs to hear that you noticed she's put on a few pounds this year? Nopes. Chances are her scale is working JUST fine, and she does not need a reminder from you that there is more of her to love this year.

2. Gratefulness is not for the tangible gift given or the act committed; gratefulness is mostly for the sentiment behind the gift. If your grandmother gives you a pair of hot pink, shiny, spandex pants, just like those Olivia Newton John wore in the Let's Get Physical video. Even though with all your might you feel like screaming, "The 70s called. They want their hot pants back!" It would be much better to simply say, "Thank you." When mom slaves away all day over the turkey dinner, and it is so dry the turkey needs to be swimming in gravy in order to make the trip down your throat, it is okay to just be appreciative of the effort she put forth in making the meal.

3. Above all else put on kindness. You know kindness is about the most beautiful garment you could don this Christmas season. It will make those extra ten pounds seem like they just melt away. It can turn that dried out turkey into succulent fare. It can bind up old wounds. It can say, "I love you." like no other gesture can. It can be the best gift you give this year.

Good luck! Like any good thing in this world, families in excess can be a little hard to take. During this holiday time with tons of forced family fun, I urge you to tuck away the dark side of love and let the brightness, goodness, and kindness of your love for your family shine.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Jolly Old St. Nicholas

Fill the stockings... Hang candy canes on the tree... Restock the kisses in the centerpiece... Affix the easy-to-remove (ya right... we'll see about that) stocking hooks to their rightful spots.... Phew! St. Nick was busy in Iron Ridge tonight!

As I scurried around playing St. Nicholas in the wee hours of the night (and throwing in a load of dishes for good measure), I was amazed by how much I can quickly get done when no one else is awake. With no stopping to pour glasses of juice, referee fights, clean up new messes or cut peanut butter and jelly into exactly FOUR (or six or even eight) pieces, a mom can really get a few things done! A little peace and quiet shifts me into overdrive, and the results are heavenly.

That got me thinking. My heart's like that too. Sure God can speak to me in the busyness, through the chaos, when life is out of control, but oh how much MORE work he can get done in a quiet heart. When I set aside my craziness and still my heart, He shifts into overdrive and the results are heavenly.

During this busy holiday season, don't forget this. Cherish those quiet moments with your Savior. Protect your alone time with Him. Don't "pencil Him in" to your holiday mayhem. Write his name in bright red Sharpie across EVERY single day. Make a point to seek Him. Make sure to schedule a little one-on-one time with your God. Sneak away whenever you can. For in the"wee hours" of your heart, He can get a WHOLE lot done.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The bag lady

She shuffled down the street pushing a cart filled with all her worldly possessions, clutching a tattered bath robe closer to her in a futile attempt to fight off the cold. As she passed me, I caught a whiff of the street clinging to her. It was a mixture of body odor, garbage, and that smell kids have when they play out in the cold. Jesus in me whispered, "Reach out to her. Be my hands. Be my feet." But all my five senses recoiled at the thought of it. I started to rationalize my inaction, fighting the voice of God in my head. "Those who do not work should not eat. People should work an honest day for an honest wage. Surely there were others who would help her out." And I passed on by without lifting a finger to help.

As I passed by her walking down the street, head held high, designer coat warming her, I caught a whiff of her scent, fruity shampoo mixed with expensive perfume. I felt the disdain in her look, and I hung my head lower. The sound of her Jimmy Choo's clicking on the pavement brought back a flood of nostalgia. It wasn't too long ago I was like her: well kept, beautiful, successful. Then tragedy struck, and I lost the will to live. It wasn't too long before I had slid down the slippery slope of despair and landed face first in the muck of homelessness. Now that I was there all covered in mud and stuck knee deep in the slime, I wasn't sure how to get myself out. I was nearly positive if I could ever extract myself from the pit I was in, I would NEVER get all the filth and stench of my transgressions cleaned off of me.

Something made me stop in my tracks. I turned to look at her disheveled silhouette. She had stopped walking now, and she seemed transfixed, lost in thought. Fear screamed at me, "She's drunk or high! It would be dangerous to approach her." But a quiet voice whispered, "She's seen things you'll never, ever know. She's remembering those things now." I approached her quietly and laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. As she turned to look at me, I softly said, "I am sorry I let your suffering offend me. Please is there someway I can help."

I know this blog is quite different from my normal writing. I am not sure if it will be a hit or a flop, but it has been rattling around in my soul lately. This propensity we as humans have to assume we know the whole story after getting just a glimpse of the punchline. I have felt convicted and humbled by the realization that 90% of the time, I only know 10% of the facts and I make a 100% judgement based upon my faulty understanding. How often I fail to give the benefit of the doubt! How often I fail to be Jesus with skin on! No judgement. No condemnation. No lecture. Just love.

There's a song by Sawyer Brown that frequently comes to my mind when I'm mulling over this dark propensity of my heart. The very first verse catches me in the gut each and EVERY time I hear it. It tells the story of a woman riding on the city bus with her children. The children are out of control and someone says, "Do you let them do that everywhere?" The woman responds by asking her fellow bus riders to forgive her children as they were up all night for their daddy "went to Heaven in the middle of the night." I try to remind myself that I NEVER know exactly what another person's shoes feel like, and I most likely do NOT want to walk a mile in them. Yet I am just an imperfect person. I let my frustration get ahead of my brain. I make judgments and raise eyebrows and propose what "I would have done."

Tonight I'm just wondering what this world would be like if I just took myself off the bench, folded up my robe, and packed away my gavel. If I just NO MATTER what refused to even think, "Well I wouldn't have done it that way." or "There's NO way I would find MYSELF in that situation." I know it is a tall and lofty order, but I am going to aspire to it. Starting today, I will not lift my eyebrows in judgment; I will extend my hand in assistance. Right now, I will not roll my eyes and think exasperated thoughts; I will intercede for others whose struggles I don't know the half of. Right now it is I, softly saying, "I am sorry I let your suffering offend me. Please is there someway I can help."

Safe in my Father's arms....

As I walked through the door to the recovery room, I heard his pitiful, scratchy voice wailing, "I want my Momma. I want my Momma." My heart leapt into action as I raced across the distance separating us to pull my baby into my arms. He was clawing at the tape holding his IV in and crying, "It hurts. Get it out!" My heart was breaking over his pain. I pulled him into my arms and held him. I just tried to get his attention off his pain with the soothing sound of my voice. Within mere seconds he was sound asleep with his head resting on my shoulder..... safe in his mother's arms. As I sat there cradling my tonsil-less baby, I pondered this phenomenon. The second he was in my arms, he quieted and fell into a deep restful sleep. Hmmmmm.....

Maybe that's why whenever trouble hits, I long for Heaven. I always used to focus on the leaving the troubles behind part, but that is not the root of why when my husband is about to undergo brain surgery, I long for Heaven... why when I don't have the money to pay the rent, I long for Heaven... when my life is falling apart, when my marriage is in ruins, when my fear is at an all time high, I long for Heaven.... It is NOT just to escape the pain of this world. It is to be safe in my Father's arms.

See in my arms, Elijah's pain didn't disappear. In my arms, Elijah was simply comforted knowing his Momma was there. In my arms, Elijah knew I cared enough to come as soon as I could. In the Father's arms, our pain doesn't disappear. In His arms, I am comforted knowing my Father is there. In His arms, I know He cares enough to be there for me. In my arms, Elijah was able to calm down enough to fall into a restful sleep and let his body do the healing it needed to do. Maybe that's all I need from my Father's arms... the restful "sleep" which will allow my spirit to heal. Lately, I have suffered through a lot of pain, disappointment, fear.... I go to Jesus for help and I bring my needs continually before Him, but maybe all my soul needs is to put my head on His shoulder and REST... so that His healing can take place.

Today I encourage you to do this. Don't just take your needs to God. Don't just tell Him everything. Don't just wait on Him to work. But take a few minutes just to REST. Bask in the warmth, the comfort, the support of His arms. For rest is GOOD for the soul and it will bring about the healing that you need.

Today I am resting.... Safe in my Father's arms.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


1. Elijah -

Elijah's tonsillectomy/adenoidectomy went well. He was a champ entertaining everyone in the joint right up until they took him away for surgery. The procedure took a little longer than anticipated, but we were soon reunited with him. Coming out of anesthesia he was NOT happy. As I came into the recovery room I heard his hoarse little voice crying, "I want my Momma.". It was a relief, and it broke my heart all at once. Day one wasn't too bad. The night wasn't very good though. He threw up a bunch and fought and cried over having to take drinks or take pain meds. He rested comfortably from about midnight on and I am praying when he wakes he is feeling better. During surgery they found puss in his throat which indicates he has an infection. It doesn't make much difference though because they were going to put him on antibiotics anyways.

Please pray for healing, for him to be able to keep meds (and soft food) down today, and for his pain to be manageable.

2. John

John is progressing quite nicely. He still has quite a bit of pain, but is able to manage it and work through it. He is still FAR from full strength but is healing steadily. He is finding that the cold weather really bothers his incision area and he still suffers sharp pain when moving too quickly or knocking his incision area. His biggest physical struggle right now seems to be insomnia. I'm not sure if the insomnia is from a switch in meds or from stress, but I worry that without enough sleep his body won't be able to heal properly.

Please pray for his continued healing. Please pray for no more bumps or knocks to the back of his head. Please pray for him to SLEEP.

3. Finances -

Good news first: We are SO close to the end of this tunnel I can almost feel the sunlight on my face. Also God continues to provide for our needs. We have PLENTY of food in our house. Two very generous food donations, leftovers, etc... have us WELL stocked for a while. Also someone has offered to get some presents for our kids for Christmas... When John and I heard that we both cried... We have such bigger worries right now then Christmas presents, but even that detail God took care of. This is why I REFUSE to stress about the fact that today is the first and we don't have enough to pay the rent. As the day has been looming nearer, the lyrics from a song we used to sing a lot at Happy Church keep running through my head, "He did not bring us out this far to take us back again. He brought us out to take us into the promised land. Though there be giants in the land we will not be afraid...". I just keep on praying for a 4th quarter, hail mary pass to save the day.

Please pray for a MIRACLE regarding the rent. Please pray we get caught up with health insurance premiums quickly. Please pray John is able to work his full hours soon.

Just a quick bloggish kind of ending: I know my troubles are looming large right now. I am not Pollyanna-ish enough to miss that fact. But I also know AND BELIEVE: "He brought us out to bring us into the promised land!" God bless you today!
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