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Friday, December 20, 2013

Joy Beyond Circumstances

Circumstances are not always ideal, and they don't often leave you feeling joyful. It's what we do in those times that defines us and refines us. It's how we react that makes us who we really are.

I want to share with you the miracle of how God came through for my son, Gabriel, and the difference it has made. I've said it a hundred times before. God knows exactly what He's doing, and He definitely has a plan for our lives.

Gabriel gets bullied at school. In a perfect world this would never happen. However, we do not live in a perfect world. Kids are mean and cruel. They say things that are hurtful and leave scars. They do damage that no amount of love from us as parents can change. Supernatural healing is the only possible solution.

On Christmas Eve of last year, I kissed and hugged my son goodbye as I took off for Mexico. When I came home a week later in the wee hours of the morning, I again kissed and hugged my son hello. This was a normal occurrence. I took it for granted. He wanted my affection.

In April I realized that things had slowly changed. Something was happening to my little boy, and I didn't like it. He started complaining about the other kids at school. He was very angry. He wouldn't let me touch him without flinching. His toys were the only ones who could provide him comfort.

No matter what I would say to him, it was always the wrong thing. I was being mean. I was being hurtful. I couldn't correct any behavior without him jumping all over me. My son was unhappy, and there wasn't a thing I could do about it.

Over the summer I had a conversation with him that scared me. He confided in me about these toy friends. He shared with me the reason they were there and I was heartbroken. He had been hurt too badly by other children. He couldn't trust them anymore. He decided he couldn't trust anyone. The only comfort he had was in some plastic toys that couldn't talk back or harm him.

School started out pretty good this year. He reported to me that it would be a good year. Kids were nice to him, and nobody was going to bully him. He was happy.

Things gradually started to change. It seemed like things were going to go well, and then all it takes is one kid to find a weakness. The rest of the kids pick up on it and capitalize on it. Bullying began again. It was heartbreaking to hear the things that would get said, and to see the tears in my son's eyes. There is nothing harder as a mother to see.

The difference this time, he was talking to me about it, not some toy friends. I was really listening to him. I took him seriously. One day in October he came home from school crying. I remember driving to the post office and hearing him say to me that he had to tell me something, but I wouldn't like it. He was hesitant to say it because he knew I would be upset.

One of the boys in his class was picked to hand out practice companions. Gabriel made the mistake of saying out loud, "I wonder why no one ever picks me." This kid responded to him, "It's because nobody likes you, Gabe."

When I saw the tears in the corners of his eyes, I started crying. It hurt me to hear such cruel words said about my son. It was a lie! I knew it; he didn't. How do you convince a young boy of that, when a peer just told him something different?

The next day, Gabriel's seat partner reinforced the lie, "Remember why nobody picks you, Gabe? It's because nobody likes you!" He laughed.

That is not a joke. It's nothing to be laughing about. My son was crushed, and the love I had to offer wasn't enough to wipe away his pain. It cut him deeply. I wasn't going to sit around anymore. I was tired of seeing my son suffer. Parent-teacher conferences were days away. I was prepared to do something about it. My husband took off early from work, and joined me for the conference. We met with the teacher and told her the circumstances that were happening. She was very sweet and helpful. We all left feeling much better, but I knew my son still had the scar on his heart. His tears during the conference were evidence. He was hurting.

The morning of the conference Gabriel lay around not doing much. I could tell he wasn't feeling very good. By that night a fever had developed. The fever stayed consistently around 102.5°. Thursday, Friday, Saturday all came and went. Gabriel didn't seem to be improving. A fever of this range for a small child is very natural and not much cause for alarm. But Gabe is almost ten and that number is fairly high. By Sunday the fever was still with him. He didn't have other symptoms, just a headache, stiff neck, and a slight rash on his chest.

Sunday morning his dad took him to ExpressCare. This is a walk in clinic and typically doesn't take as long as the hospital. They were running very slowly. At lunchtime, I switched places with his dad. Titus went home to make dinner, and I sat in the waiting room. By one in the afternoon a doctor finally had time to see us. They did a routine exam, and checked his mouth, ears, and heart. The doctor had Gabe move his neck around, but he had considerable pain. She called for a second opinion. This doctor checked Gabe out and began to question us some more about the neck pain.

Gabe remembered on Wednesday night he had been playing at church and accidentally ran into another child in the dark. They were playing a game with a flashlight, so all lights were off. He said his head hurt. It was that night that I noticed him lying around. The doctor seemed especially concerned about this. With the neck pain he had been experiencing, the high temperature, and the lack of other symptoms she was worried about a head injury. She went to confer with the first doctor we had seen.

I had just been praying with Gabriel before the doctor came into the room. I told him about the lesson I had taught at church that morning. The Israelites were trusting God to take care of their needs. He sent them manna and quail. In the same way that God took care of them, I was convinced He would take care of Gabriel. I explained to him that we would not be diagnosing him (as he often tries to do). We were going to trust God to use the doctor's knowledge to care for Gabe.

As I as finished up my talk, the second doctor came back in the room. She wanted us to go immediately to the hospital. The other doctor was with a patient and she felt that this was an emergency. Her exact words were, "I want you to go straight to the hospital. You don't stop for a drink, a snack, or anything. Do you feel comfortable driving him there yourself?" Nothing like putting the fear into the mom. Can I drive him? I about lost it, but with God's help remained calm for Gabe.

When we arrived at the hospital they immediately showed us to a room. I've never had such fast service. They began tests at once. They did a chest x-ray, drew blood for various infections, and took urine samples; he was tested for everything you could think of. Within an hour, an IV was stuck in his arm, and fluids and medications were being given.

After we had been there for a few hours, and all the test results were back, nothing could be found wrong with Gabriel. A new doctor was brought in. This doctor was a specialist. He looked Gabe over, checked his neck movement and found that it wasn't acceptable. His concern was meningitis. If Gabe had other symptoms he would have demanded we do a spinal tap, but under our current circumstances he could only suggest it to us. The doctor left us alone in the room.

I reminded Gabriel about our earlier conversation. We were trusting God to speak through the doctors. We couldn't stop now, after we had come this far. If this doctor said meningitis was a possibility we needed to see it through.

If you know my son at all, you are probably familiar with his irrational fears. He constantly tries to diagnosis himself. If he hears about some sickness or disease, within a few weeks he will come down with it, or so he thinks. He also has a pretty low pain tolerance. We have been extremely fortunate that this was our first trip to the ER since Gabriel was born. He freaks out when he sees needles, blood pressure cuffs, scales, and other medical items. His fears overtake him very easily.

When Gabriel heard that meningitis was a possibility, and they would have to stick a needle in his back and extract some fluid from around his spine, HE FREAKED OUT! He thought he was dying and was rather inconsolable. His father and I prayed over him, and we decided a spinal tap was necessary. When a doctor suggests you do something, I would rather error on the side of caution. I also knew my son. If they didn't test him for meningitis, for the next few months I would be hearing of all his symptoms.

The doctor informed us that a spinal tap done on a child would probably require sedation. If Gabriel moved during the procedure it could be very dangerous. He explained to us that if he had the slightest apprehension about doing the procedure on Gabe, he would put him to sleep. We signed a waiver.

The room filled with nurses from all over the hospital. We had two in there for medications. We had one to watch his IV drip. We had another nurse at the computer logging all the times that things were done. We had a nurse to hold him steady, and a nurse to watch his vitals. Just before the doctor was all set to go, he administered some meds in Gabriel's IV. He explained that Gabe would taste bitterness at the back of his throat. Immediately Gabe gagged a little. One of the nurses laid him back down onto the bed and the wait began.

I had no idea this would work so quickly. Almost as soon as Gabriel laid his head down, the doctor started to take Gabriel's shoes off. He set them aside. I watched my sons face. He didn't flinch. I couldn't imagine that he would be so relaxed while the doctor was messing with him. Gabriel is a very private guy. He struggles with taking his shirt off to go swimming. If he sensed what was about to come, he would have protested. My son had a blank expression on his face.

The nurses in charge of medicine had informed me before starting that I might be a little anxious when I saw how Gabe reacted to the drugs. He would appear to be awake. His eyes would stay open through the procedure. To say this might be disturbing was an understatement. I was not prepared for seeing my son in this state of mind. The doctor continued to take Gabriel's clothes off of his body. He unbuttoned the pants first, then the shirt. The entire time my son stared straight forward as if in a daze. He did not appear asleep, and he was most definitely not conscious of what was going on. I was terrified. He was laying there in his underwear, and appeared to not have a care in the world. He didn't protest, in fact he didn't move a muscle. He stared straight forward, unable to lock eyes with me.

My husband had already been asked to leave the room by this point. Only one parent was allowed to stay in the room while they worked on Gabriel. The doctor assumed it would be me, the mother. If I had known what was ahead of me, I probably would have declined. I trust the doctors with my son's life. However, it was very difficult to see my son in such a state of mind.

Gabriel's eyes didn't change. He wasn't blinking, and he wasn't moving. While a nurse was holding him on his side, I was seated in a chair behind her. The only thing I could see was my son's face. As soon as the doctor began, I texted my mother to pray. Another friend texted me, offering to come to the hospital. I was in a state of shock. I had to continually remind myself that Gabriel was alive. These were the most frightening moments of my existence. Nothing could have prepared me for seeing my son unconscious in that way. It was as if he were dead.

The nurse who was in charge of his vitals asked me for his coat, or shirt; anything to place over his face. I guess even as part of the medical world, this type of anesthesia can be unnerving. Once his face was covered, I relaxed a little. I knew my mother would be praying.

Across town my mother was watching my other children. Some neighbors came to play. When they heard the news that Gabe was put to sleep, they all gathered together for a prayer meeting. The kids took turns asking God to protect Gabriel. Jamari, a little boy down the street, prayed for the very first time. This was to be a historic occasion.

The twenty minutes spent on the procedure appeared to last for hours. It felt as if all eyes in the room were on me to see how I would respond. I kept my composure, while on the inside I was slowly dying. I wanted to hold my son. I wanted to go back a few days in time and forget this had ever happened. My fear was crippling me. I wished for the end. And I was hungry. By the time they started the spinal tap it was four in the afternoon. I had eaten breakfast just after 7am. When I was given food at eight o'clock that evening, I could only manage bites. My body was wracked with anxiety. It took hours for me to calm down.

The doctor finally finished his job. Gabriel did very well through the entire thing. When the needle went it, he flinched but didn't move. The anesthesia did its job. Once most of the nurses had left the room, I was able to pull my chair up close to Gabe's side. I had been informed that children often wake up from this anesthesia with nightmares. They wanted me to be close for the moment he woke up.

I struggled with knowing when he was awake. Remember, his eyes are wide open and they appear to be looking directly at me. I rubbed his head gently with my fingertips, and talked in a soft voice. "Gabriel. You're all done. You did great." He would turn his head side to side as if trying to answer me.

After a couple minutes he mumbled that he was awake after I questioned him. I looked to the nurse in the room. She chuckled a little, "He's not really awake yet."

He started to cry and moan. I reassured him he was done. They brought a robe to cover him. I knew when he was fully conscious he would be embarrassed to be undressed in front of them. He continued to cry for a few minutes, "Ohhh.. It hurts."

I knew he couldn't be in pain, but I was worried about his dreams. Every five minutes his blood pressure cuff would go off to check his vitals. He would cry softly about how it was squeezing his arm.

After the second or third time the cuff went off, it started to get a little comical. Gabe hit his arm that had the blood pressure cuff and cried, "Oh no! There's a cat biting me." He said this while still dazed. Every word was sighed and moaned. Five minutes later the cat started to bite him again... and again... and again. This went on for several minutes. On Gabe's other hand was a steady red light which measured his pulse in his finger. At one point he held it up in the air and started to cry after the cat had just bit his other arm. He moaned, "Oh no. The cat doesn't want to eat me because I'm turning red."

The more he began to wake up, the more he spoke, and the less we could understand. At a different time, Gabe held up his red pulse finger and started to cry. He held it up high for all of us in the room to see and asked, "Is that a gobstopper?" Gabriel also had moments where he thought he was at the dentist. He couldn't figure out how many cavities he had and began to cry.

The last thing I remember happening when I was stroking his head, and calmly reassuring him that he was okay, he turned his head to the side, looking directly in my eyes and said, "Mom? Are you here? Where are you?" I was inches from his face. "I'm right here, Gabriel." He rolled his eyes a little and then finally seemed to focus on me. "Oh. There you are."

The worst was over. After an hour of slowly coming out of his sleep, we had the test results back from the spinal tap. It was negative for meningitis. With fourteen tests behind us, they were able to figure out that Gabriel had a virus. It was hanging on and didn't want to let go. They said if the fever didn't break after two more days, we needed to be seen again. We were sent home.

For two days Gabriel had to make sure to lie still on the couch. After testing for meningitis, it's common to get a spinal headache that feels like someone is hitting your head with a baseball bat. We made sure to prevent this from happening. He slept on the couch for two days. We watched movies, read books, and typed his latest story on the computer.

By Wednesday, six days after the fever began, it finally broke. Gabriel was able to go back to school. He went back a new person. The sadness was lifted, and God spoke truth into his life.

You might wonder how this came about from all that I shared with you. God used this sickness for His good. Gabriel is convinced that it was the best thing that ever happened to him. God helped him to triumph over his enemies. The bully's words no longer had power in his life.

You know why? He felt loved.

The second day that Gabriel had a fever, our neighbor brought over a card and paper swing set she had made. She wished him to get well, and said she was praying for him.

My friend came to the hospital to visit him.

The first day of his rest on the couch, another friend of mine, brought cookies and cards from her and her son.

Those two days following the trip to the hospital, I received numerous calls and texts asking how he was doing. Some friends also had messages for me to tell him, words of encouragement.
While he was in the hospital, a neighbor prayed his first prayer asking for healing for Gabriel.

With each kind deed, the truth was solidified. The first girl brought a glimpse of truth into his life. He verbalized with sincerity as he read her card, "I didn't know she cared about me." As each person's actions were shared with him, or seen with his own eyes, the truth would be lived out again. "I had no idea that all these people loved me."

Sometimes that's how God works. It's through our pain and our circumstances that we see a need for God. Gabriel explained this very thing to me the first day he brought those hurtful words home. It was through his tears that he was able to voice his need for God. His exact words were, "If I didn't have kids who bullied me, I wouldn't have a need for God." He has clung to the love of Jesus.

It's in our weaknesses that God works best. "Each time he said, 'My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.' So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me." 2 Corinthians 12:9. We often shy away from weakness instead of embracing it. I am so proud to see my son figure out this spiritual truth.

I cannot stress this to you enough. We never know how a kind word or action can change a person's life. Gabriel is proof of this. Look for people to encourage and build up. Find someone who needs your care and love. And then do whatever God tells you to do. You can be the difference between life and death. This also pertains to the negative. A careless word or deed can crush someone's spirit. We must be sensitive to the feelings of others.

I don't think my words can express the depth of this healing in Gabriel. This sickness took place in late October. It's been over eight weeks since this all came about. My son is a new person. It's as if he has had a spiritual rebirth. The old him has disappeared into the wind. And the new him has emerged.

The kids at school still say mean things. They still tease him. They are still using their words to try to get to him. The difference is what happened deep inside my son. Those words aren't sticking anymore. He knows the truth! No matter what they say to him, he has been given a gift. He saw the love of those people close to him, and God showed him how His power works best in weaknesses.

My son had been feeling very weak and crippled. When you start to doubt your worth and acceptance, it's debilitating. You're entire world begins to revolve around what others think. You start to see things through those glasses. You read into what other people say and do. You figure if one person thinks you're worth nothing, then all people must believe that about you. It must be true.

I am here to tell you, that is a lie! Hurting people hurt people. We are all trying to make it through. When our feelings are questioned and we start to feel as if our heart is breaking, we build walls around ourselves. We shoot arrows to ward off the bad guys. We share the darkness that is inside of us. We lash out at the world, because the world has hurt us. We must stop the cycle.

We need joy beyond our circumstances. At the end of every dark tunnel there is light. God has promised us, "everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them." Romans 8:28

One of the things that has also made a huge difference in my son is the power of positive thinking. For a while, I would get the daily report after school as if it were the weather. "Today was a bad day. Storm clouds came and ruined everything." I never would hear about the sun coming out and shining, and I knew that it had.

Years ago I took a challenge of finding three good things each day, and it literally changed my life. My circumstances weren't any different, but my outlook was as different as night and day. There is something miraculous about finding the good in the midst of the bad. This has also done wonders for my son.

I gave Gabriel a pocket sized notebook. He must write down five good things that happened at school that day. If he does find five, he has earned his thirty minutes of computer time. If he can go above and beyond, it means more time on the computer for him. Each extra thing after five is worth one minute of time. He can earn up to forty minutes each day, that's fifteen good things.

Gabriel has been shocked to see that so many good things were happening to him. He had no idea. He was so hurt and worn down by the unkind words, that the kind words and actions were being ignored. It was as if they were placed in the shadows. They happened; you just couldn't see them very well.

God has accomplished the impossible. Gabriel is happy and feels loved. I tried for months of my own accord to do this in Gabe. It wasn't happening. He needed a divine meeting of truth.

I am so overjoyed to have witnessed this miracle in my son. God is doing something great in him, and I am so pleased to be a part of it. As the days go by I have had more and more opportunities to see the change in Gabe. He doesn't get as angry anymore. He accepts my correction. He apologizes when he explodes. The biggest thing I have seen is the laughter. He seems to enjoy life. The teasing words of his siblings don't injure him. He sees it for what it is; a chance to smile and laugh together. While he doesn't accept hugs freely yet, he has softened to the idea of them. He used to shudder and flinch when anyone had physical contact with him; that is not the case anymore. I believe the day is coming when he will hug us back. Trust is being built, but the walls are still a little shaky. We are building that foundation now.

Gabriel is being refined by the circumstances around him. He is emerging a beautiful creation. Joy is not out of reach anymore. The circumstances are still there, but Gabe is grasping at the good and hanging on for life.

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