Sunday, September 23, 2012

Week 14: Jackie Villejoin

Pastor David Villejoin and wife Jackie Villejoin
I grew up with my Dad saying he was NEVER going to a nursing home as long as he lived. I have learned many times in my life to NEVER say NEVER.

I could see my Mom's mind deteriorating. Then others were seeing the same. But not my Dad. He was in denial.

The day after Christmas 2007 one of my parents neighbor called me to tell me that my Dad was in the hospital. My Mom couldn't be alone all the time anymore. So my brother and I took turns taking care of our mom while my Dad was in the hospital for 7 weeks. He was suffering from congestive heart failure. The doctors put in a pacemaker. The pacemaker was defective. It had to be removed. It was hospital then physical rehab. When my dad finally came home, he couldn't do anything for himself neither could my mom.

Families have an obligation to provide for their aged members. My brother and I had a decision to make. It was not an easy one. When our parents start to lose their physical and mental capacity's with age, one of the hardest things we may have to do is to take the role of the leader in these situations over our parents. 1 Timothy 5:8 says "Now if anyone does not provide for his own relatives, and especially for his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever". With prayer and God's guidance as children of aging parents, we have a responsibility for their well being at times. 1 Timothy 5:4 says "these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family". The decision was made to put them into a nursing home where they could get the care they both needed. There are decisions in life that are difficult. The first time I left the nursing home I cried. I felt like I was leaving my "kids" behind. It's been four and a half years. Lots of emotions have been shown over the years of living in a nursing home from my Dad. My mother hasn't spoken in 2 years. This is one of the signs of Alzheimer's.

When we obediently seek the will of God, we can be sure that He’ll hear us and give us the wisdom we need to make the right choices.

James 1:5 says
"If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you". And once we know His will, we have a responsibility to embrace His direction and obey Him completely.

I found great peace and confidence in knowing that the choices my brother and I made were based on God’s guidance. Perhaps no one else will understand or agree with our decision—but we have heard from the One who matters the most.

It's so hard to watch my parents age. These are the people who taught me my moral foundation and was obedient in raising me. Yanking your parents freedom is hard, but necessary for the safety of everyone.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Week 13: Jeni Bateman

Pastor Adam Bateman's wife
Jeni Bateman
I've been reading “A Pilgrim’s Progress” with my kids. I home school, and the longer I do so, the more I realize just how many amazing stories I missed out on growing up. Stories captivate you…they have a way of drawing you into the lives of the characters. The Bible is like that...full of stories about imperfect people and their attempts to follow God.  These stories can be sad or hard, frustrating or even shocking….but always beautiful because God is always God, He always comes through even “If we are unfaithful, He remains faithful for he cannot deny who he is.” (2 Timothy 2:13) It's the same with us. Each of our lives tells a story.

My name is Jeni Bateman, and this is part of my story….

I was always a daddy’s girl. I adored my dad. When I was seven, I remember driving out to Longview with my Mom and sister. We met up with my dad and I jumped at the chance to ride with him to the restaurant. He had a truck, and I guess seat belt laws weren’t as strict back then because I remember laying in his lap studying his face as we drove. He had just gotten a haircut, and I was drinking in the differences it made in his appearance. When we got there, we were seated at a booth, and I sat next to him. During the meal, I saw my dad’s hand reach for a chip from the basket and then pause. He began to shake…violently. He banged his head against the big wooden post separating the booths. Then he fell to the floor, his body still shaking.
I’m not really sure how we got to the hospital because I don’t remember leaving the restaurant. I remember being in the waiting room. My grandma, aunt, and uncle were there too. I remember the doctor coming out and talking with my mom. My dad had suffered a major heart attack, and just like that, he was gone.

I’m not sure my seven year old brain was able to fully comprehend what happened. I don’t remember all the details that followed, but I do remember what all the well-meaning church people told me. They told me that it was okay because God needed my daddy in Heaven more than I needed him. Or they would tell me that God needed more angels in heaven. As I grew up and developed my own faith, I realized there was no truth in these statements. In the Psalms, David cries out, “What good am I to you dead; how can I praise you from the grave?” We don’t become angels when we die, and family was God’s design…with a mother AND a father. Little girls need their daddies...period.  I wanted to believe that God was good, but to me, losing my dad did not seem “good” or “okay”.

Most of my 20s I spent on a quest for truth. I spent some time in Bible College. I studied theology... original sin, Calvinism, and free will. I studied creationism and debated with evolutionists. It was fun and I enjoyed flexing my intellectual muscles. I’ve spent time in churches of different denominations and differing theologies.  I had a sense of pride in all I knew about God, the Bible and I was developing my own strong opinions on theology. However, when I started experiencing the hard things of life, all this knowledge left me empty.

About 15 years ago, my mom was diagnosed with early onset, atypical Parkinsons Disease. Nobody really has an instruction manual on how to live with a terminal illness. The doc passes the diagnosis and gives a brief description of what will most likely happen as the disease progresses. The patient goes home and reads all they can find on the details. Then they attempt to figure out how to make the most of life while they can still walk, drive, and go to the bathroom unassisted. This was apparently too much for my step dad to cope with because he ended up having an affair...with a church member.

But this wasn't just any church member. My step dad played drums in the worship band, and she sang in the choir. Her parents, who were elders, had been in a Life Group with my parents for over ten years.  We were all friends.  They were the ones I had gone to when I was having a faith crisis at 18. I remember sitting in their living room and crying as they walked me through the “sinner’s prayer.” They told me to remember that date so Satan could never steal that away from me. This time it was different. “Go home, Jeni.” They told me.  “Mind your own business. Go take care of your own little family.”

In the divorce my mom lost her husband, her life group, and her church. Not one person from that church was there to help my mom walk through the divorce or the progression of her disease. A few years later, this same church was in the news. They had taken pictures of cars parked in front of a nearby “adult toy store.” Then they used the public DMV records to access the addresses of each car owner so they could mail the incriminating photo to each address. People were outraged at the violation of privacy. I was dumfounded by the hypocrisy. Thus continued my search for what was real…

I was doing okay. God was speaking to me. The Bible was alive when I read it. I’d spend the kids' 2 hour nap time journaling, reading and praying. I was slowly healing. This went on for years. But life continued to happen. I couldn’t quite keep up with the hurts I was experiencing. I was overwhelmed and afraid to trust because a broken trust just hurts. I remember looking out the back door while I was supposed to be starting a load of laundry. My mind started playing tricks on me and I remember thinking that I could just leave...start walking and not look back…leave everything that pained my heart. But that would also be walking away from everything I held most dear in my life. I recognized the whisper of God in that moment, “These thoughts are an attack on the way I designed you. Do not listen to them.” I snapped out of it. I finished the laundry. My heart swelled with gratitude for the four beautiful, healthy children in the next room.

Over time, I began feeling like the Bible was not opening up to me. I kept journaling and reading, and going over things that had spoken to me so clearly in the past. It became frustrating honestly, so for a while, I gave up. I started reading C.S. Lewis, Andrew Murray, Brother Lawrence, Brennan Manning etc., but despite my searching, I felt God’s voice and presence fade. I kept reading and praying and crying out. At one point I was convinced that everything I did was sin and thought that was why I could no longer hear His voice. I called my husband, Adam, at work and cried. At first, he laughed at me and told me I was being ridiculous, but then he came home and just held me. He told me I had the night off to go spend time with Jesus and to come back when I was ready.

I drove around aimlessly. I cried. I tried processing what was going on in my head. I've always been a quiet person, but I felt the need to just yell at the dark, black sky in front of me. I wanted to know what sin was keeping me from hearing him. When I became still and quiet again, I heard so clearly my answer. “The world’s sin is unbelief in me.” I knew what He meant. My trust in church and people had been broken and it was affecting how I viewed God. I pulled into the nearest parking lot and took out my Bible and journal. I turned to a passage that had walked me through so much of the last few years.

   Joshua 1 “…I will not fail you or abandon you….Be strong and very courageous….Study this Book of instruction continually…Do not be afraid or discouraged for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Peace swept over me and my soul sighed in relief. I returned home. Adam took one look at my eyes and he knew.

Months later, I was still painfully aware of God’s silence.  The Bible had not yet reopened to me. My mom was in the hospital with her fourth back surgery. I had been driving back and forth between Tyler, where we lived, and Ft. Worth, where my mom was. She had contracted a staph infection and we thought we were to losing her. As a family we were beginning to talk about what would have to happen if we did. It was scary.

I had just finished reading The Great Divorce and The Problem of Pain, both by C. S. Lewis.  I came across a book by Dr. Wayne Dyer called, “Being in Balance.” It appealed to me because I felt so unbalanced. I devoured the book. My spirit recognized truths and my parched soul was drinking them in. I wondered why this guy, who was not a professed Christian, could have so much peace. I grew frustrated that no matter how hard I tried to press in to God...and at a time when I felt so desperately in need of Him...that I was left with very little peace in my soul. I stopped reading. I was too tired and too busy driving back in forth, trying to still educate my kids and maintain some level of sanity.

All of this was happening while Adam, my husband, was attending Youth With A Mission’s (YWAM) “School of the Bible.” While he was learning and growing in his faith, I grew more and more weary and exhausted. I told God one day, “I’m done. I’m tired of trying. I’m tired of believing. I’ll keep teaching my kids about you because I want them to have the chance to know you if you're real. But as for me, I’m just done. I’m too tired to believe any more.”  I kept this all to myself. I didn’t journal it. I didn’t tell Adam. I had grown up in church and this felt like blasphemy, but I was too empty to do anything else.

About a week later, a couple made a surprise visit to Adam's school. They were big believers in the prophetic, something Adam and I were leery of because we had seen it so misused and abused in the past. The school set aside a morning of class and allowed this couple to minister prophetically to each student. They prayed for Adam, and it was so encouraging and in line with what was going on in his life. Adam knew I was struggling and asked if they would pray for me too. I had never met these people but this was a part of their prayer for me:

   “He knows where you're at, your situation. There is hope. There is courage. What the enemy wants to do is steal your courage to follow God but the Lord says ‘be encouraged because I delight in you. I’m doing a good work in you and so trust Me. And know that I’m doing a good work in you because you are mine. You belong to me. You’re not a stranger or a step child, but you are Mine. You belong to me.’”

The entire prayer was written down and Adam brought it home to me. I cried. I still cry when I read it. It didn’t fix everything in that instant, but those words never drifted far from my heart.

My search for God...the real God, continued. I picked up a few books by Buddhist and Taoist monks. Their writings seemed to offer so much peace, and I recognized truths in them. I knew that was why they were such popular religions. After all, people, created by God, are not going to be attracted to an obvious lie. We were designed to be in a relationship with our Creator, that is cry of humanity’s soul…that connection, that relationship. We just miss it…a lot...even as Christians.

I knew I was connecting with God, as the lover and creator of my soul, but my quest for truth went on. I began doubting the very fundamentals of the faith…all the theology stuff that had left me empty, even things like the infallibility of the Bible and the deity of Jesus. Christians and the church had so often failed me, and I wanted to know why. I knew that God was real, and I believed that He was good. But I also knew that people messed things up. My thoughts grew dangerous… “So what if there were mistakes in the bible? Aren't the truths of God indisputable, even amongst historical discrepancies or what appear to be contradictions? What if Jesus was just a man, like Gandhi or Buddha? And what if Christians were his followers because his life was truly amazing and he seriously revolutionized the way we view God?”

I decided I would still call myself a Christian, despite the hurt and pain I’d experienced from the church because I liked who Jesus was. Even if he wasn’t truly the Son of God, I could follow his example as one of the best I’d ever seen on being in a relationship with God.  I kept this all to myself because I didn’t want to freak people out. The last thing I wanted was a theological lecture trying to prove something I felt like didn’t hold any real answers...or people fearing and praying for the salvation of my soul.  I didn’t want to mess up anyone else’s faith. I wasn’t out to start a new religion or anything. I just wanted Truth.

During this time, my mom was preparing for yet another surgery. Because of the previous staph infection, her spine healed crooked. She was extremely hunched over, and no level of medication could touch the pain. The surgery was extremely risky with her compromised health. We tried to make the most of the day, but as night came, my brother and sister and I were all too aware that this could be the last time we would ever kiss her goodnight. Part of me wanted to pray that this would give her a new lease on life and part of me wanted to beg God to just take her home already. We had tried so many things…we'd prayed for her healing, gone to healing conferences,  tried alternative therapies and natural “cures”. I'd read passages like this one:

 “He saw a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit. She had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight.  When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Dear woman, you are healed of your sickness! Then he touched her, and instantly she could stand straight. How she praised God!” (Luke 13:11-13)

My questions about the deity of Jesus were amplified during this time and I was left wondering, “Why did she have to go through all of this? Wasn’t this enough suffering for one person.”  I knew that while Jesus walked this earth, he was known for encounters like the one in Luke.  I didn't understand and my heart just hurt.  I wanted to cry out to him but if Jesus wasn’t the Son of God, I wasn’t sure how to pray.

My mom survived the surgery.  She is no longer on pain meds except for the occasional Advil. That was over a year ago. However, her level of care has far exceeded what my sister can handle. It is no longer safe for my mom to be in her own home and we had to make the decision to move her to an accessible living facility. It makes me sad because I know this is not how she wanted to spend her years as a grandmother. She could hardly wait for my sister, brother, and I to get married and give her grandbabies. This is not what any of us planned on.

So where am I in my faith journey now? Well, not too long ago, I decided to read through the gospels with my kids. I was still trying to figure out this Jesus guy. When we got to the story of the Mount of Transfiguration and I read these words, ““This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” It was like I heard the audible voice of God myself. I knew, in that moment, who Jesus was. He was the Jesus I fell in love with in YWAM. He was the lover of my soul that could bring a smile to my face and cause my lips to spontaneously announce, “I love Jesus!”  to whoever happened to be standing around me. This journey of mine is far from over, I’m sure. I don’t have it all figured out, but I'm okay with that. Yes, there are things that have affected my trust in the church, but God has never once let go of my heart. I have come to Him and blamed Him, accused Him, questioned Him, cursed Him, beat His chest with my fists, and screamed in His face...all the while, tears streaming from a heart that has been broken. And when I was too tired to fight anymore, it was at His feet I fell. He’s still not saying much, but I feel him. I feel Him scoop me up and hold me close. I feel His breath on my face and His heart beating so close to mine...and I get it. Years ago, I asked for Him to cause my heart to beat with His and what I’ve found is that He knows. He knows the brokenness and the pain of this world....oh my God, how He knows. He took my blame, my anger, my questions, my frustrations, and my doubts because He can. He can take my broken heart. He can because He knows....He knows on a level I  could never understand because I would die under the weight of that knowing. But I feel like I’ve gotten a peak into the heart of God.

Something feels special about beginning to know God in this way. I have found my favorite place to be is still in the arms of my Abba and I am content to be still and wait for a while…to just know that He is lay my head in His lap and drink in the differences in His appearance now that much of the rules, misconceptions and religion have been cut away. This is the face I have been searching for.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Week 12: Debbie Aylor

Debbie and Robby Aylor

How many times have you jumped when the phone rang or even dreaded a phone call?  Like you, it’s probably those middle of the night calls that are the most frightening, but then there are those that thanks to Caller ID, we dread because we know what’s on the other end of the line.  A solicitor, a politician (click!), our child’s teacher, one of our friends that is known as chatty-Cathy (of course she doesn’t know it) and you are on your way out the door, or, it could be your spouse, your parents, your children. 

                On this particular day, I had sort of “a disagreement” with my husband, Robby.  He had been spending a lot of time in Somerville, helping his newly widowed Mom.  On this particular day, Friday, May 27, 2011, he had called me around 2pm to tell me he would have to stay again that night, but would come home on Saturday. Me, being the gracious and soft spoken person that I am, explained in the nicest of ways that I really, really wasn’t happy with that choice.  Funny thing, he seemed to take it pretty well.  Wow!  I’ve made such head-way with my persuasive communication.

                That afternoon, one of our daughters, Amanda, and her two girls, came to our house to eat supper and spend the night (since helpful Dad would still be out of town).  She had gone to get them something to eat, I was standing in the kitchen putting dishes away, cleaning off stainless steel appliances, and just really “enjoying” my Friday night at home.

                At 7:30pm, our son Greg called.  He was working a second job at a mall in Sugar Land and didn’t usually hear from him while he was there.  So I was glad for the phone call.  He said, MOM, WHAT ARE YOU DOING???? I started to tell him about the wonderful evening I was having, when he said, Dad’s called (?) and he’s having a heart attack.  Paramedics are on their way.  Grandma (who has dementia) is there with him, Debbie’s flight has just landed and she’s on her way to your house, who’s there with you, get your bag packed and I’ll be there in a minute.  We have to hurry and get to the hospital in Bryan.  At that very moment, Debbie (Greg’s wife) walked in the door, with a totally frightened expression on her face.  I called Susan and Tom and explained to them what I knew.  She and Tom were at dinner on the other side of town.  She said she would see me in a little while.  It was then, that I am certain, God’s sweet Holy Spirit took over every fiber of my being, and my Heavenly Father’s plan began unfolding. 

                I packed (Greg said to pack for the night and I told him it probably needed to be for a week or so), Greg came home, Debbie went and packed them a bag, Amanda had someone come and pick up her girls, Angela and her fiancĂ© (now husband!) and their five kids were out to dinner and had to be contacted and then Angela and Amanda hooked up and came to our house.  We were trying to reach our other daughter, Allison, who lives in Marble Falls.  They were at a High School graduation for one of her husband’s nieces.  They finally answered the phone, left the graduation, went home and packed as quickly as they could.  So we were all headed to Bryan.

                I was riding with Greg and Debbie and as we got to the overpass at Dixie Farm Road I received a call from Robby’s phone.  I said, “It’s dad, it’s dad!”  But it wasn’t.  It was a nurse at the hospital.  She then told me to please get there as soon as we could because Robby was in critical condition.  Not wanting to believe her, I handed the phone to Greg.  He listened, asked a couple of questions, and when she told him to be careful and not get hurt on the way there but to get there as soon as possible, Greg momentarily lost it.  Debbie called the others and the “forever trip” began.  We were headed to Bryan not knowing if Robby was still alive (and Mr. Policeman, please forgive us, but we were going faster than a speeding bullet and not being especially spiritual to those who got in our way). 

                We arrived at the hospital around 10:45pm.  Robby’s Mom, two of her close friends, Robby’s sister and Tom and Susan were waiting for us.  Then I saw the nurse with a clipboard.  She was waiting for me.  She asked if I would please follow her into a side room.  I told her no, because I knew what going into a side room meant.  But as a family, we all went. 

                “Your husband has had a massive heart attack, we lost him two times, we do not know how long he was down before the paramedics got to him, he was not responsive, we put a stent in, have called a neurosurgeon in because we do not know what has happened with his brain, and that he is in very critical condition.  Do you understand?  Please sign these forms.”

                They then took us to the ICU area and allowed me, Greg, Debbie, Angela, Amanda, and Allison to go in and see him.    As much as they tried to prepare us for what we would see and what to expect in the coming hours, we were all in disbelief.  There was a man lying there with tubes, drains, arm cuffs, and IV’s everywhere.  He was so swollen, blood in several spots, bruises had already begun from where they shocked him and man-handled him and, he was in a coma.  The nurse began to explain what he was doing and what we could expect through the night.  Bottom line for that night, keep him alive.  They allowed the others that were there to stop in quickly and see him.  We prayed for him and then went to wait.

                Because we were not going to be allowed to be in his room for quite awhile, they gave us numbers for the area motels.  Greg called several and found one close to the hospital.  We all left around 3am.  When we arrived at the motel, Greg talked to the clerk and arranged a deal for us because we were there for a medical emergency.  We slept a couple of hours and then went back to the hospital.

                The doctor came that day and filled us in, and then told me the attack was in his ascending aorta, or commonly known as the widow maker.  Because of the severity of the attack, he should not have survived.  Overnight they had attached Rob to a hypothermic machine that took his core body temp way down.  This was to preserve all organs and energy.  It was to keep him from doing anything on his own.  After 24 hours + on this machine, on Sunday, they began waking him up.  This was a wonderful process, mixed with much humor!  Rob couldn’t open his eyes and was still not realizing what happened.  This is when our wonderfully humorous (?) family began asking questions only they would ask.  At one point they asked him to squeeze their hand if they knew who they were; then squeeze their hand if it was ok to put pink flamingo tile in our pool (oh, did I forget to mention the day Rob had gone back to Somerville (Wednesday) they began digging a pool in our backyard!!!).  Then they asked him to squeeze my hand if he loved me and he squeezed it over and over and over … I told them then, “He adores me!”.

                Monday we were moved to a room on the heart floor in order for him to be monitored and rehabbed.  So began the week of many procedures, many walks (short), and much talk about “we don’t know how to eat like this pamphlet is saying we will have to”.  And then on Friday, one week after this traumatic event, we were headed home.  As I write this, I am still in awe of this.

                No doubt you are asking, so where’s the spiritual aspect of this story, the hundreds of scriptures I should be reciting throughout, where are the big prayer meetings … they are in mine and my families hearts and private moments.  They were in the waiting room and hospital room during those long days, when the people in our lives came to visit us, visit Rob, called us, facebooked us, sent goodie baskets, cards, flowers, and gifts to me.  They were in that hotel room at night when it was me, the bed and Rob’s shirt.  Never have I felt closer and, yet at times farther, from my Jesus.  He was not an intruder, He was a comforter; He was not making me feel guilty for being mad at Rob on the day this happened, He was a forgiver; He was not a big-booming-voice that shouted to all of us that Rob would be OK, He was a still small voice that told us moment by moment to rely on Him, no matter what the outcome. 

                Today, He is STILL the voice that reminds me, moment by moment, to not be afraid.  But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.”  (Psalm 56:3)  Sometimes I am listening, many times I am arguing that point, and then when I remember that week, I realize that because of Him, I could hold on to that scripture and see how God orchestrated every moment.

                If I could go on and on, I would!  I would tell you: God put just the right front desk clerk at the motel, provided motels rooms for us that I could afford, provided free breakfast for us, food was brought by those that visited us, had people send busy items and food for the little ones that were with us, had Robby in Somerville and taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bryan where he was met by the leading heart doctor in the area and a hospital that does the hypothermic procedure, that Rob was aware enough at the beginning to call Greg AND the EMT’s in Somerville and give them directions to the house before he collapsed, that I was never left alone while in Bryan, that family was able to leave their vacation and come back to be with us, that there was a pool company across the street from the hospital where Greg, Deb, and I went and found the tile for our pool that was being built, that on Memorial Day weekend we had such amazing hospital staff, that on Memorial Day weekend we had people from Crosspoint who drove two hours to pray and visit with us, that when we arrived home we had meals brought to us for a couple of weeks in order that I could get my head together and concentrate on Rob, that some of the “other” things they were worried about in the hospital and we were to check up on when we go home turned out to be nothing, that Rob’s recovery has been more than amazing, and that I have a husband that whom the Houston heart doctor told him the first time he met him that he was a lucky man, my Rob said, “No, I’m not lucky, I’m blessed.”