Freedom

This week, we celebrated Independence Day. Like everyone else, I spent the day with my family and watched fireworks and thanked God for this beautiful country and what it represents. Even in our nation’s horribly divided state, I am still thankful to live in the United States, where I am FREE. I can be what I want to be.  I can worship freely in our little church whenever I want with no worries of persecution. If I want to stand in the streets and proclaim my faith, no one will take me to jail or beat me for it – which is much more than my Christian brothers and sisters from many other countries can say. I am thankful for the men and women who have given their lives to give me that freedom.

I am working my way back through the Old Testament, reading stories I’ve heard since I was a kid – stories of Biblical heroes. Stories of men chosen by God to do His great work. But one thing I’ve noticed that means a lot more to me as an adult is that those “heroes” were anything but heroic at times.

Jacob, who is considered a man of God for his great trust in Him, was a deceiver. He tricked his brother, Esau, out of the inheritance he deserved and tricked his blind father into giving him Esau’s blessing. Yet God used him anyway. He didn’t wait for him to be a “good guy,” didn’t wait until he had it all together before he spoke to him and worked through him. And Jacob repented of those mistakes. He humbly sought his brother’s forgiveness and depended on God to restore their relationship.

Moses is one of my favorite stories. He had somewhat of a rough start, as he was born in a time when newborn male Israelites were to be put to death by order of the Pharaoh. I can’t imagine being in his mother’s shoes as she tried her best to hide him and ultimately decided to leave him in a basket in the tall grass by the water to let the Pharaoh’s daughter find him and raise him. She took him in as her own son, which could have changed his fate forever – he could have been royalty. But Moses knew the truth about who he was, and after he grew, he couldn’t stand to sit back and live in luxury while he watched his own people beaten at the Egyptian’s hands. One day, it became too much for him. His anger overtook him as he watched an Egyptian beat an Israelite, and he attacked and killed the Egyptian. Moses went into exile, terrified he would be killed for what he did and ashamed of his own confusing past. But that’s when God spoke to him and told him he would use him to deliver the Israelites from the Egyptians. Moses used excuse after excuse not to go. He told God he was unfit to be a leader – who was he? Who would listen to him? How would he even talk to the Israelites with his speech impediment? But God didn’t care about any of that. He would use Moses just as he was – flaws and troubled past and all. And when Moses finally gave in and let go of his fears and baggage, God used him to do amazing things. He delivered the Israelites from slavery, just as God promised he would.

I am not even trying to compare myself to one of the Biblical giants we read about in the Old Testament. I am not a Jacob or a Moses. But like them, I have flaws. And I have a past. I remember a time in my life when I would think about talking to God again, after a very long absence from Him. But then I would think about the sin I lived in and say to myself, “When I get it together, I’ll come back to Him. Some day.”

I had it all wrong! God doesn’t want us to wait until we’re “good enough” to come to him. He’s ready to use us, just as we are, flaws and all. And He wants to give us freedom from that past that haunts us. So many people think that life with God is about rules – do this, don’t do that. But when we reduce it to that, we’re missing the point. It’s about FREEDOM. Freedom from those chains of past sins and mistakes. He can and will forgive anything you’ve ever done, and you’re never too far gone to come to Him. When He looks at you, He sees love. He sees the person He created and the person He made you to be. People will remember your mistakes. They will remember your past. But the Bible tells us that God doesn’t see us the way people see us. “The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

So while I’m thankful for the freedom we have in this country, I’m even more thankful for the freedom that comes from life in Christ. He’s ready to give you that freedom, no matter who you are, where you come from, and what you’ve done. You don’t have to fix your life before you come to Him. He is waiting with open arms to take you in, just as you are. Don’t do what I did, wasting your time living in the chains of sin, thinking you will “fix yourself” before you come before God. Let Him work in you today, messy past and sin and all.

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The Thief Next to Jesus

Good Friday. The day we remember our Savior and His cruel death on the cross. The day He TOOK MY PLACE in the death that I deserve, because He loved me. He knew when He came here the fate that awaited Him. Betrayal. Mockery. Torture. A slow, excruciating death. But He came anyway. Just to give us forgiveness that we don’t deserve. I can never thank Him enough. I can never repay Him for what He did for me.

But tonight, the one who is on my mind is the criminal who hung beside Him. A man who, unlike Jesus, had lived a life of sin. A man who society had deemed worthy of death on the cross, because of the crimes he committed. And as he hung there, nearing death, he confessed Jesus as Lord. “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom,” he said. And what did Jesus say? Did he tell him he was unworthy? Did he tell him his sins were too great, that he was condemned to die and go to hell because that was the punishment he deserved? No. “Assuredly, I say to you,” He told the criminal beside Him, “today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

I feel like sometimes, Christians, we’re missing the point. And when I say Christians, I’m including myself, too. It didn’t matter what sins that man had committed. It didn’t matter if he spent his entire life on the earth going against everything God ever said. The minute he confessed Jesus as His Lord and Savior – and that minute just happened to be one of the final moments of his life – He was forgiven. Heaven-bound. Did he deserve it? Of course not! But do I? Do you? Does anyone?

I have a past – one that does NOT include Jesus. I try to forget about it, because I know God has, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still have nightmares about some of the things I’ve said and done. And guess what? I’m still far from perfect, despite all the work He’s already done in me. It doesn’t matter how “good” I try to be now. It doesn’t matter how many hours I spend in church, how much I give to those in need, or how many times a day I pray or read my Bible. That’s all good stuff, of course, but it’s not what saved me. Jesus saved me when He died and rose again, and the only thing I did to receive that gift is BELIEVE in Him and ACCEPT Him into my heart. That’s it.

We’ve never been more divided than we are today. And with that division comes such powerful hatred and cruelty. But Christians, are we helping the problem? Or are we stirring it up even more? It’s not wrong to stand up for what we believe in – in fact, we’re commanded to do so. But look at the way we’re doing it! Sharing hateful Facebook posts and memes, shaming the other side because they sin differently than we do. We’re no better than the Pharisees who were so blinded by their religious rules that they didn’t see Jesus for who He was – the Messiah! They put Him to death because He didn’t fit their idea of what a “religious” person should be. You guys, the Pharisees were some of the most “holy” people out there. They MEMORIZED the first five books of the Bible BEFORE THE AGE OF 12. They took the laws of Moses very seriously and when they condemned Jesus to death, they truly believed they were doing it in God’s name. They let their own religious rules blind them to Jesus’s message. They judged everyone around them.

Are we becoming modern-day Pharisees? Are we so high and mighty because of all the “good” things we do that we think we’re good enough to judge the world, when we’re missing Jesus right in front of our faces? The reality is, God loves EVERY SINGLE PERSON on this earth. He wants everyone to receive the gift of His Son and will give us to the very last moment of our lives to do so, if that’s what it takes. As Christians, we’re called to share His message with the world, so they will receive Jesus and eternal salvation. Are we doing that? Are we really sharing His message when we share hatred and judgmental social media posts? Or are we turning people away from the Truth with our religious rules and hateful speech? Life with Jesus is about freedom. It’s about relationship with Him. It’s about love. It’s not about rules and being “better” than anyone else. It doesn’t matter how “wrong” or lost someone may be – Jesus died for him, too. And we’re called to love, not sit on our throne in judgment and bully someone into thinking like we do. It doesn’t work like that. It’s not how Jesus reached people, and we sure won’t reach anyone that way, either.

I’m thankful tonight for His sacrifice and His forgiveness. I pray that I will never be a hindrance to His love and His message. I want everyone to know that there’s nothing you can do to make Him not love you. He will forgive any sin, any mistake you’ve ever made. Don’t wait until you think you’re “worthy” to come to Him. You’ll never get there. Accept Him today, and let Him come into your life just as you are right now – flaws and all. He loves you despite your past or even your present. All you have to do is choose to believe, to accept Him. He wants to do big things in your life. All you have to do is let Him in.

His Perfect Plan

I started praying to God about a week ago, asking Him what message He wanted me to share this Christmas. It’s been about three months since I last posted on my blog – I’ve been working on the first draft of a new novel and I’ve let it consume most of my writing time. But a week ago, with the first draft under my belt, I prayed. God, give me the words You want me to say.

But the words wouldn’t come.

I sat down at my computer more than once throughout this past week, sure that once my fingers touched the keys, the words would flow through them. But they didn’t. I was blank. Come on, God, there must be something You want me to say.

The more I thought about this mental block, I realized it wasn’t only affecting my writing. It was affecting my daily life as well. And that especially included my prayer life. This thing, this burden in my mind, consumed my thoughts daily.

I believe in transparency, and I try to be as open as I can when it comes to sharing my life – including those parts that are far from perfect. But this issue isn’t one I can share so freely, as it involves another person, and I also believe in protecting the privacy of those I love. And so, I will leave it at this: there’s an issue that impacts my life in a big way, and I can’t do much to control it. It’s something I’ve been praying about for over a year, but for whatever reason, I haven’t received the answer I seek. I go to God about it often – daily – and ask Him to fix it. That’s what the Bible says to do, right? “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that what I’m asking for is in line with God’s will. I know it’s what He wants for the person I’m praying for and for everyone else involved. Yet…it still hasn’t changed.

I’m not angry with God for not answering my prayer yet. But I can’t help but become frustrated. Why hasn’t anything changed yet? Why can’t I hear Him this time?

This morning at church, our youth group put on a fantastic Christmas play. I laughed out loud over and over again, along with the rest of our little church, which was packed with people. But at one point, the play took a serious turn and one of the kids read from Luke chapter 2, the story of Jesus’s birth. And as I listened to that story, I couldn’t help but picture Mary and Joseph, who must have been so overwhelmed by what was happening. I imagined what Mary must have been thinking the night Jesus was born. God, I trust You. I’m willing to give birth to Your Son. But the inn is full, and I’m in pain. Your Son can’t be born out here in this manger, in the midst of animals. She was so young, so innocent. This isn’t the way this is supposed to happen, she must have told Him. Maybe I’m not cut out for this after all.

But Jesus was born that silent night, exactly how He was supposed to come into this world – a humble birth, unfit for a King, yet absolutely perfect. Exactly the way God said it would happen over and over again in the Old Testament. I’m sure Mary couldn’t see that at the time, but when the shepherds came and shared their amazing story of the angels who had appeared and led them to Jesus, the Bible tells us that she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). She saw that His plan had been perfect all along, and all her worries had been for nothing.

Jesus came here to be with us. God loves us so much that He couldn’t stand the idea of our separation from Him, so He became one of us to be the sacrifice for our sins. He didn’t have to come down that night, didn’t have to enter this world in that little stable. He chose to. Because He loves us. No matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done, He loves us. At my very worst, most unlovable moments, He still loved me. And because I accept Him as my savior, He doesn’t even remember those moments. When I mess up – and I do, every single day – He still loves me. And He forgives me.

And one of the most beautiful parts of having Him living inside my heart is this: this burden that has plagued me for so long can be given to Him. I believe in the power that comes from dropping to my knees and laying it all at His feet. I’ve done that, over and over again. But I realized this morning that I’ve been praying about it, laying it at His feet, and then as soon as I say “Amen,” I pick that burden right back up and carry it around with me. I think about it, obsess about it, wonder what I can do to fix it. And the truth is, only He can fix it. I had to lay it down once and for all today, to truly let go and just trust that He has it under control. And when He finally answers this prayer, it will be in His perfect timing, and I will be in awe of his plan and realize that my worries have been useless.

I’m so thankful for a savior who loves me and wants to carry my burdens for me. All I have to do is seek Him and turn it over to Him. “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). That doesn’t mean He’s going to fix my problems right away; it means He will give me peace in spite of those problems. And for that, I am overwhelmingly grateful.

He chose to come here, to be with us. Even if He never does another single thing for me, that will be more than enough. But His gift goes even further than eternal life. No matter our histories, no matter our darkest secrets, He still looks at us with love. He sees us not for who we are, but for who He created us to be. And all we have to do is invite Him into our hearts! I didn’t do anything to deserve His love or His forgiveness, but because I choose to accept Him, He gives it to me freely.

If you don’t know Him and the peace and love that only He can give, please, accept the gift of Jesus this Christmas. Give Him a chance to work in your heart, to make your life better than you ever imagined it could be. Experience His perfect love and all that comes with it. Let Him carry your burdens.

He’s waiting with love.

Is This The Last Week???

There’s been a lot of talk this month about the apocalypse. I’ve seen multiple articles in my Facebook newsfeed about this Saturday, September 23, being the day of the Rapture. If you haven’t read about this, I encourage you to do so. I’ll admit, the case being built for that day is interesting, based on Revelation 12 and an alignment of Jupiter, the sun, and the moon and the fact that it falls during the time of the Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashana and the Fast of Gedaliah. Research it and decide what you think about it for yourself.

But I’m not here today to tell you the world is going to end this week, especially not specifically on September 23. The Bible tells us clearly that “about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36). I don’t believe we can pinpoint a specific moment this will occur.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Jesus promised us in John 14:2-3 that He would return. “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” And he also told us to look for signs. “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:29-31). So maybe we can’t predict the exact day or time, but that doesn’t mean He wants us to be blindsided by the end.

Will the rapture happen on September 23? I don’t know. But here’s what I do know: the Bible promises that He will return and it gives us signs to look for so that we are not surprised by it. Sure, a lot of people are laughing at Christians who are looking for those signs. Guess what? The Bible promised that would happen. “First, I want to remind you that in the last days there will come scoffers who will do every wrong they can think of, and laugh at the truth. This will be their line of argument: ‘So Jesus promised to come back, did He? Then where is He? He’ll never come! Why, as far as back as anyone can remember everything has remained exactly as it was since the first day of creation” (II Peter 3:3-4). This, like many other prophecies in the Bible, is coming true right before our eyes.

So what does the Bible tell us to look for?

“There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for heavenly bodies will be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26).

“For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places” (Matthew 24:7-8).

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come” (Matthew 24:6).

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness but denying its power” (II Timothy 3:1-5).

 

You guys, this stuff is unfolding right under our noses. Pretending it’s not happening or that it’s ridiculous or crazy is FOOLISH. You can deny the predictions for specific days, but you can’t deny the condition of our world and the things that have happened this past month alone.

I know that like so many others, my words will be dismissed by many. But I can’t live with myself if I don’t share this with everyone I can – especially the people I love. I’m NOT telling you to prepare for September 23…I’m telling you to prepare for TODAY. Because the reality is, if we don’t know the day or the hour, it could be today. If you were to find yourself, mere minutes from now, facing God and the Final Judgment, would you go to Heaven? If you hesitated, if you weren’t sure about your answer, I’m begging you to fix that right now.

Here’s the truth: I spent way too many years of my life claiming to know God and that Jesus was my Savior, but the reality was, I lived a life that did not include Him. The Bible speaks specifically to people like I was: “Whoever says, ‘I know Him,’ but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person” (1 John 2:4). Believing in Jesus is the first step, an IMPORTANT step, but even Satan believes in Him. If you believe in Him but don’t do anything about it, do you really believe that He is who He says He is?

I tried for so long to do things my own way. I knew who Jesus was, but I didn’t surrender to Him. I’d let him in on Sundays and occasionally through the week (usually if I was struggling with something and needed some help), but when it came time to live my life, I didn’t want Him getting in the way of my “fun.” I found myself constantly dissatisfied. “If only I had ______, I would be happy.” (You can fill in the blank with whatever you want. A new job? A different house? A marriage? A divorce?) I would set goals and get what I wanted, but still find myself unhappy.

Then someone said something to me that stuck in my mind: We are designed to desire a relationship with our Creator. We long for Him, even though so many of us don’t realize it. We look for things in this world to fill that gap, but until we allow Him to come in – to TRULY come in, not just when it’s convenient – we will never feel true contentment.

I finally reached the point that I knew I couldn’t continue to do things my way. I had to surrender, even the parts I didn’t want to surrender. I was scared. Why would He want me? By that time, I was one of the worst sinners. I’d done things that kept me awake at night. I was selfish. Hateful. Spiteful. So undeserving of Him. Why would He even listen to me? Why would He care? Why would He let me come back?

But the Bible tell us that God is willing to forgive all that stuff from our past. God promises that He will be “merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12). He will forgive and forget! And all we have to do is ask and surrender. “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

When I finally surrendered, a weight I’d been carrying for years was lifted from me. For the first time in my entire life, I found true contentment. Does that mean everything is perfect? Of course not. I still experience heartache and stress. My classroom doesn’t always run the way I want it to. My kids mess up. My marriage has its struggles. But the difference is, now I’m not doing it all alone. I’m studying my Bible and talking to God and asking Him for His guidance, and He provides it. He gives me exactly what I need in each trial I face. When I don’t know what to do, I can give my anxiety to Him, and He takes the burden from me. And in the face of it all, I STILL FEEL CONTENTMENT. I have a peace that doesn’t make sense most of the time.

I WANT THIS FOR ALL OF YOU. I want you to experience His love in a real way and see how He can transform you and your life. And when the end comes, I want Him to take you into His arms and welcome you to Heaven. And you can have it! All you have to do is ask. Surrender.

Someone recently told me, “I can’t go to that church. The walls would fall in.” I’m here to tell you, those walls are strong. And they’re built for people just like you and me. If God could work in my life and forgive me, He can do so for anyone. So give Him the chance to do what He promised He would do. Let Him work in your heart so that you can have the life and plan He created especially for you. I promise it will be better than anything you could have imagined for yourself.

He’s waiting with open arms.

Casting My Net

prayer

I wasn’t in the mood for church this morning.
I lay wide awake at five-thirty this morning, contemplating “calling in sick” to church to let my Sunday school kids know I wouldn’t make it. After a sleepless night spent worrying about something beyond my control, my head spun.
I yawned. I need some sleep. Both my boys slept soundly on either side of me. One phone call, and you can sleep, too. It’s only one week. What will it hurt?
But something kept me from making that call. I lay there debating, but kept remembering things I needed to do there. Bible School is next week. I need to meet with the workers and find some materials. Plus, my boys look forward to “playing” their guitars with the kids’ praise and worship.
When I couldn’t lie there any longer, I got up. Fine, I’ll go. I got myself and my kids ready, grumbling in my head the whole time, still stressing about the same burden that kept me up all night.
I got to Sunday school and found I had extra students because another teacher was on vacation. The big, lively group of kids and the lesson we had on Jesus’ prayer to His Father just before going to the cross was enough to pull me from my slump a little. I left Sunday school feeling happier, more alive.
But it was the preacher’s message that wrecked me. He read from Luke chapter five, when Jesus got in the boat with Simon and told him to drop his net into the water. Simon told Him they’d been fishing all night with no luck, but that he’d try again. When he did, his net filled with fish until it broke.
How many times have I told God I’ve done all I can do? How many times have I given up when things didn’t go my way the first time? Jesus never promised an easy ride. Even when He blessed Simon with an abundance of fish, the net broke, making them work to get the fish into the boat.
God loves to bless us, but we can’t expect Him to just rain those blessings down upon us. We have to trust – we have to keep going when we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel – we have to work. When we listen to Him and take that leap of faith, no matter how difficult that leap may be, that’s when we’ll see true blessings.
I was able to lay my burden at the altar of prayer. Instead of spending the whole night in my head, worrying and what-if-ing and replaying conversations, I should have given it to Him in the first place. I should have laid it at His feet and immersed myself in the rest and peace that only He provides.
But I’m grateful that He pulled me to church, even if my heart was in the wrong place when I got there. I leave there every single Sunday feeling blessed by His presence…today was no different in that respect.  But today, I also left feeling lighter. At peace. Rested. I’m grateful that He’s still working in me, that He doesn’t give up on me. I’m grateful that He not only listens to me when I’m hurt or confused, but that He cares. That he guides me and speaks to me in so many ways – often through others, like He did this morning.
And I’m grateful for the chance to cast my net in one more time. And if it still doesn’t work, one more time after that. I will keep working, keep trusting, and know that He is in control.

A Mother’s Nightmare

It started out like any normal Saturday.

After feeding the boys some toast with jelly for breakfast, we went into the living room to play. My husband still slept in our bedroom next door, so we chose quiet activities to do. My oldest son, five years old, and I sat down on the couch with his new twist-up crayons and a coloring page. My youngest – only nine months old – sat on the floor at my feet with his teething ring and his toy remote control, banging them against each other.

When my oldest asked what our plans were for the day, I told him that we were going to go grocery shopping and then we would spend the rest of the day at home. He was telling me that he had a “dunk competition” out on our driveway when my youngest looked up at me with a big smile on his face.

That’s when I saw the object in his mouth. It was brown, thin, and flimsy, and I was sure that it was a little twig off of the bush in front of our house – probably carried in on one of our dogs. I quickly shoved my finger in his mouth and swiped along his cheek, where I had seen the object, but he jerked his head away from me.

I have to stop the story here to say that my youngest already has a daredevil personality. The day he started crawling, he went straight for the stairs. He regularly tries to climb tables and entertainment centers. And while all babies put things in their mouths, he probably holds a record for finding things he shouldn’t and trying to eat them. My husband has joked that there could be fifty toys on the floor with one hand grenade, and he would skip over all the toys to find the grenade and put it straight in his mouth. He finds lint or carpet fibers daily, pinching them so carefully between his thumb and pointer finger and putting them in his mouth. He once found a ladybug and cried his little eyes out when I took it away from him just before it went in his mouth. He gave us a scare once with a tiny piece of plastic wrapper off of some cleaning supplies I had opened that he had found in the bathtub; my husband had to reach his finger down his throat and pull it out with his finger. He definitely keeps us on our toes, and we can’t turn our backs on him for a second. I push the Swiffer dry mop over our hardwood floors almost daily to pick up dog hair and small objects that he may try to eat; I had just done so on Friday evening, in fact.

So when he managed to evade my attempt to get the twig from his mouth, I pulled him up onto my lap to try again. He cried as I pushed my finger in toward his cheek again, and that’s when he started coughing. I reached in his mouth a third time, but felt nothing, and he continued to cough harder until his face began to turn red and then a scary shade of purple. I flipped him over and hit his back a few times until he stopped coughing and started to cry. Sitting him in my lap, I watched him carefully as his color returned to normal and the tears continued to stream down his face. After just a moment, he began to cough again. This cough wasn’t the scary, purple-faced cough from before, but I still felt like something was not quite right.

I flew into the bedroom and woke my husband. “I think Brayson swallowed something off the floor and he started choking,” I told him, and he was out of the bed immediately. He had stopped coughing, crying loudly instead. We both watched him closely; he seemed to be breathing just fine, but he continued to cough off and on. However, my husband and both of the boys had been fighting a cold for the last three days, so his coughing had become fairly normal during that time.

Was it just his crying that triggered his cough? We debated on what we should do. Because he was still inconsolable, I decided to try to nurse him, as that’s usually the best way to calm him. He ate for less than a minute before he began to cough again. I knew something was wrong.

We discussed our options. Should we call an ambulance? Take him to the ER? Wait a bit and see how he acts? I decided to call my sister-in-law, a nurse, for advice, and she recommended we go to the ER.

By the time we got there, his crying and coughing had both calmed. The doctor who saw him said that his oxygen levels were good and when he shined a flashlight down his throat, he didn’t see anything obstructing his breathing. I described the twig that I believed he swallowed, expressed my concern with the way he turned purple and coughed when he tried to nurse, so we decided to have him X-rayed just to be sure there was nothing serious going on.

The X-ray tech unsnapped the front of his sleeper and left the back of it up over his shoulders. After taking the X-ray, he came out and said, “Does he have a safety pin in the back of his sleeper by chance?” I examined it even though I already knew the answer before I said, “No.” The X-ray tech walked away and I thought, what a strange question. We didn’t even have any safety pins in our house; it never occurred to me that my son could have swallowed one.

But a few minutes later, when we were back in our original room, the same doctor from before breezed into the room and said, “We’re sending him straight to St. Louis. He swallowed a safety pin and it’s in his lung.” And then he turned around and walked back out.

The only response I could manage was, “What?” Tears rolled down my cheeks while I sat in shock, clutching my son and absorbing his words.

A nurse in the hallway saw my bewildered expression and came in. “The pin is closed. That’s a good thing,” he offered.

His attempt to comfort me didn’t help. My hands shook uncontrollably. “I forgot my phone. My husband and oldest son are in the waiting room. I can’t even text him and tell him what’s going on,” I said.

“I’ll go get him,” he said, rushing from the room. A few minutes later, he returned with Chad and my oldest son. Then he and another nurse came in to start an IV in his chubby, sweet little arm. After tying off the top of his arm, they still couldn’t find a vein. He warned me that hitting a vein in a baby was difficult and that it may take more than one attempt, and then he, I’m pretty certain, just guessed as to where to place the needle. It was a good guess; he got it in on the first attempt.

By this time, arrangements were being made. Air Evac would come to get us, they told me. My son and I would both be strapped to the gurney and fly together. I used my husband’s phone and called my mom to come pick up my oldest son so that he wouldn’t have to go with my husband when he drove to St. Louis to meet us there; I didn’t want him to have to face the insanity that the day was sure to bring. She arrived within twenty minutes, and as soon as she came in, I asked her to call my preacher and start our church prayer chain. Chad’s parents and one of his sisters were already on their way to meet us in St. Louis, and his other sister stayed behind to ride with Chad so that he didn’t have to drive alone in the emotional state that he was in. Things seemed to be moving along.

But then Air Evac arrived. When they started to place my son on the gurney, I stopped them. “I thought I was going to be hooked to this with him.”

“Oh, no, ma’am,” the Air Evac RN said. “Company policy states that we don’t take anyone on the helicopter other than the patient. It’s a liability issue.”

I burst into tears. “What? You can’t take a nine-month-old by himself on a helicopter!” I said. “He’s not going without me! They told me that I was going with him!”

“They were mistaken,” he said calmly. “We never take a parent along with the patient.”

I can’t even describe the feeling in my stomach that I had at that moment. “You can’t take him alone!” I blubbered over and over.

Another nurse was by my side at this point. “He won’t remember this,” she said.

“That’s not the point,” I said. “I can’t put him on a helicopter up in the air all by himself, without a single familiar face! And then he’ll be in a strange hospital, with nurses and doctors doing things to him and no one around him that he knows! He’s not getting on that helicopter without me!” I started to feel dizzy at this point and had to bend over and rest my hands on my knees.

When they saw how adamant I was, they started looking into other options. As it turned out, Life Flight would allow me to travel with them, at the pilot’s discretion. “They said if the mother was calm, she could fly,” one RN told me. My tears stopped instantly and I stood up, calmer than I’d ever been in my whole life. “They’ll be here in twenty minutes.”

At that point, my husband left so that he could stop at our house and get our things and start the two and half hour drive to the hospital. My mom and oldest son remained so that they could see us off. My youngest seemed to be doing well, considering the situation; his oxygen levels remained good and he napped peacefully.

That’s when the original doctor entered the room once again. His face was stern as he looked at me and said, “If for some reason they don’t let you on that flight, you are still putting that baby on that helicopter.”

“Okay,” I agreed.

“No, I don’t think you understand the situation,” he said, pointing one finger at me. “If he cries or coughs or does something to move that safety pin even a fraction, it’ll block his airway and there won’t be a damn thing that we can do about it. Do you hear me? Not a damn thing.”

“I hear you, sir,” I said through gritted teeth, fighting the urge to cry once again and telling myself over and over to remain calm so that I could still get on that flight. I couldn’t believe how inappropriately the doctor was talking to me, but I couldn’t let it upset me; my job was to remain calm.

“This is about that baby,” he continued. “Not you or anyone else; just that baby.”

My mom interrupted him on my behalf. “It’s always been about that baby,” she said. “That’s why she wanted to be with him on that flight in the first place.”

The male RN saw the exchange taking place and rushed into the room. “Life Flight will be landing in minutes,” he said, and the doctor hurried out of the room.

I just nodded, unable to even speak as the doctor’s words swirled around in my head. What had I done, refusing to let my child on the first flight? Holding up the whole process? What if something happened; what if that safety pin moved and blocked his airway and…

The Life Flight crew came into the room. Two RNs, Michelle and Steve, and the pilot, Jim, helped him onto the little stretcher and let me help them buckle him in. Michelle calmly explained where I would be sitting and what I would be doing during the flight. Steve warned me that the flight would be a little rocky (not what someone who suffers from motion sickness wants to hear) and Jim joked that I shouldn’t worry; it would be like a fifty-minute roller coaster ride (definitely not what someone who suffers from motion sickness wants to hear). But my fear of flying and getting sick were the least of my worries at that point; I just wanted my baby taken care of. I felt so helpless.

I laid my hands on my son and began to pray, asking God to be with him and keep that safety pin from moving until the surgeon could operate. I asked Him to be with the pilot on our flight and with the nurses, that they would know what to do if anything went wrong. I asked Him to be with my son and keep him calm during the flight so that he wouldn’t cry and risk moving the safety pin.

Just before we made our way up to the roof, my mom said, “We will watch you take off. Please be sure to keep me updated.”

“I will,” I promised. “Although it might be a little while before I can call you. I don’t have my phone, my wallet, anything.” With such limited space in the helicopter, we weren’t even allowed to take the diaper bag with us.

A nurse was standing nearby and she overheard what I said. “Do you have any cash on you at all?” When I shook my head, she slipped a ten-dollar bill into my hand. I looked at it in confusion, but she closed my hand around it and said, “You may need something from the vending machine or something. Just take it. Just in case.” I tried to refuse it and give it back to her, but she insisted that I keep it.

In mere minutes, we were taking off from the roof of the hospital. The nurses weren’t kidding about the jerkiness of the flight, but not once did I feel sick or nervous; I just held my baby’s hand and kept my eyes on him. Michelle sat across from me, offering smiles and a thumbs-up whenever I looked in her direction, and Steve sat behind my son, gently stroking his hair until he lulled him to sleep. He didn’t cry one time on that flight.

When he was asleep, I closed my eyes and attempted to pray again, the words of the doctor still playing on repeat in my mind. But in my emotional state, my prayers felt broken and chaotic. They went something like this: “God, please be with this little boy. Be with the surgeon who removes this safety pin from his lung, and forgive me for not putting him on that first flight so that he could get there as soon as possible. We haven’t even celebrated his first birthday yet. There’s so much he hasn’t gotten to see or do; please don’t take him from us, God.” I tried to make my pleas focused, positive and direct, but my mind was moving in a million different directions.

Suddenly, as I sat there holding his sweet little hands with my eyes squeezed shut, I was overwhelmed by a new presence in the helicopter and I knew before I even opened my eyes that it was God. My eyes popped open immediately and the first thing I noticed was that the sun’s rays were shining in on my son, illuminating his face. And in that moment, though he didn’t move and nothing around him changed – he was still strapped on the same little stretcher, his little chest still covered in pads and wires that monitored his breathing – I had a vision of big, almost transparent hands holding him, cradling him while he slept on that gurney. A calm like I’d never experienced swept over me, and I knew without a doubt that God was holding my son and that he was going to be just fine. Tears poured down my face once again, but this time, they were tears of relief and gratitude.

I was still a little shaky when we landed at the Children’s Hospital, still emotional and anxious about the surgery, even though I knew it was going to turn out okay. But from the moment I got off that helicopter, everything fell into place. The doctor was waiting for us there and we were led straight to a room, where I found Chad’s mom, dad, and sister already inside. After a nurse came inside and got some information from us, the doctor told me that they would be starting the surgery immediately, following another X-ray. When a couple minutes went by and no one came to get him, the doctor went down to the radiology lab himself to get someone, telling us, “They’re not moving as fast as I would like them to be.” Immediately, we were taken back for another X-ray, and when the doctor came in to discuss the results, he said, “The safety pin is in his trachea. We will put him to sleep and then go down his throat with a camera and a hook and simply pull it out.” The fact that the safety pin was in his trachea and not his lung made things less complicated.

In minutes, we were being wheeled to anesthesia, where they explained the upcoming process in simple terms. I met the ENT specialist who would perform the procedure, and she greeted me with a handshake and a calming smile. She was soft-spoken but had a confident air about her, and I felt at ease from the moment I met her. I put my hands on my son and prayed protection over him one last time before I gave him a kiss and left him in their competent hands. He went left, and I went right.

My family and I were escorted to the waiting room. Before we even sat down, my husband and his sister entered from the other side of the room. He had made it just in time; we could wait together as they worked inside his tiny body.

Around ten minutes after the surgery began, the ENT specialist came out and handed me a little container that held the safety pin. She showed us the rust that was already beginning to form on it and said that they were able to get it out without any problems. She promised us that we would be able to see him soon, and after a few more minutes went by, they called Chad and me back to where he was.

His little cry was raspy and he was hungry. They allowed me to nurse him right there, warning me that he may have difficulty swallowing. But he didn’t; he nursed twice as long as he usually does, putting himself to sleep but waking up to grab me every time I tried to pull away from him.

They moved us into another room, where they told us that they would be monitoring his eating patterns and diapers. He was awake by that point, and other than the fact that he was a little fussy and clingy to me, he was his normal self. I was under the impression that we would have to be there a little while longer, but after they came in to check on him, they decided he was well enough to release us. Soon, we were on our way home. When we stopped to eat something, he sat on my lap and ate tiny bites of green beans, chicken and dumplings, macaroni and cheese, and fried apples without any problem.

When I stood up the next morning and thanked my church family for their prayers, telling them a little bit about our experience, he sat on my mom’s lap and flapped his little arms, making noise and grinning with no idea that he had given us the biggest scare any of us had ever experienced. He was still a little fussy and clingy that day, but by Monday, he was back to his normal, happy, playful self.

When I mopped my living room floor on Monday morning, in the exact spot where he had been sitting that horrifying day, I found a little twig. I know without a shadow of a doubt that it was the same twig I saw in his mouth. Luckily, he didn’t swallow it along with the safety pin. But if I hadn’t seen that twig in his mouth, I may have decided his coughing was merely from his cold, the phlegm being the choking agent. We may not have taken him to the ER, and even if the safety pin didn’t move to cut off his airway, it would have rusted further in there until it caused an infection. So many IFs, so many things that could have gone wrong. But they didn’t.

I have to share my experience that day, because without my faith in God, I don’t know where my son would be right now. My son had so many people united in prayer for him that day, and God heard all of those prayers – our family, our church, churches of family members, people on Facebook who responded to my sister-in-law’s request for prayers for him. People who don’t even know my son but who know God and know what He can do. People who know that when believers come together in prayer, THINGS HAPPEN.

He was with my son that day, and He was with me, too. He allowed me to feel His presence in that helicopter, allowed me to see that vision so that I knew that His hands were protecting my son the whole time. I saw Him in so many places that day – He was in the nurses who tried to calm me and help me however they could, in the nurse who put that IV in my screaming son on the first try even when he couldn’t find a vein, in the nurse who insisted I take money in case I needed something, in the Life Flight nurses who were so gentle and loving with my son, in the doctor who dropped everything to go down to radiology and make things move quickly, in the ENT specialist whose smile and confidence put us all at ease. He was even in the doctor whose bedside manner I didn’t approve of, who cared enough about getting my son the quickest possible help to intervene in my fears of sending him alone. He was in each person who took a moment out of their day to say a prayer for our son and send us a text or message of encouragement.

I’ve been a Christian since I was eight years old. My walk with God hasn’t been perfect through the years, but even when I wavered, He never did. He never left me or gave up on me. And because of what happened on Saturday, my faith in Him has reached a whole new level.

Miracles still happen today, and He is behind them. My son is living proof of that.