Sunday, December 5, 2010

Every Knee Shall Bow

There is one worship song that has been extremely difficult to sing since Ryan’s stroke, until recently that is. It is the line about how “every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” It just seemed to be a reminder of how cerebral palsy had robbed Ryan of that ability. I was so wrong.

After all, God uses what we do physically to remind us of what we should be doing spiritually. Early on, even our Pastor had tried to help me see that a physical inability to bow and worship God was far better than a spiritual inability to bow and worship. At the time though, thoughts of the diagnosis and our future were too overwhelming to really hear what he was saying. One day this past July, the picture became clear and I finally understood what he had been trying to show me.

We were at Miracle Mountain for hyperbarics and had just finished a long day of two hyperbaric treatments and two sessions of sound therapy. As we started the thirty minute trip into town, we were listening to “How Great Is Our God.” Thinking that Ryan had gone to sleep, I was singing along until his loud squeal startled me. I looked back and the face in this picture is what I saw. A child with his heart completely bowed and a tongue that was confessing how much he loved his Great God.

Though I hadn’t seen it earlier, Ryan had been confessing far longer than I realized. At church during praise and worship, he would squeal and I would try to quiet him. But either Mr. Freddie or Ms. Jean would correct me saying, “You leave him alone! He is trying to praise his God.” Mr. Freddie even told me one time, “If someone has a problem with it you tell them to come see me!” Ms. Jean told Ryan, “Ryan, I’m going to have to take your Mom out if she doesn’t leave you alone.”

Now I have no doubt that his heart is bowed and confesses Jesus Christ as Lord. I no longer think about physical disabilities when I hear that song but spiritual disabilities. I can’t help but wonder what our world would be like if everyone had the spiritual ability to bow and worship the way Ryan so loves to do.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ryan's Birthday Through Emily's Eyes....grab a tissue!!

My beautiful Emily with her prized vintage find.  Emily has been busy writing essays for college and scholarship applications.  I am more and more amazed with each new essay.  I'm working on her about sharing some of the others but she agreed to let me share this one.  For her college English course, she has a creative writing assignment where they were challenged to be very descriptive.  She chose to tell about Ryan's birthday from her perspective as a 10 year old.  Sometimes I forget just how young she was.

Because Ryan's heartrate would come to a complete stop with each contraction, I was rushed into an emergency surgery.  Unfortunately, Emily was left with the hospital staff until Wes could arrive.  Here is what she experienced.

I thought this was supposed to be a fun day. I thought the excitment alone from this moment was supposed to start a chain reaction ending in fuzzy home videos, tears of joy, and a sloppy wet kisses from my grandparents.

I sit alone in this desolate waiting room over powered by the smell of sterilized needles and lit up with flickering exit signs that seem to be screaming at me to take the hint, “exit!” I wipe my sweaty palms across the rough texture of my jeans and try to make sense of the 10,000 thoughts bouncing around my head like a pin-ball machine. Attempting to calm myself I tap my feet to the rapid beat of the heart monitors, but unfortunately I am not successful at ignoring the Brady Bunch that is so happily interrogating me and offering me sugery red peppermints. When I make a run for it I see him, my little brother.

He seems to be slipping through the nurses’ hands and my ears are pierced by the deafening silence. He isn’t moving. He isn’t crying. His life in this world has come to a stand still after just seconds. His chest is caving in deeper and deeper with each breath, like a marathon winner trying to stabalize his heart rate after running 20 miles by breathing through a straw. I look through the finger-print stained glass at this tiny body that is supposed to be my brother. Finally, I see his chest raise and he lets out the most beautiful cry.

They have been inseparable since that day.   She is his biggest fan and he is hers, next to Mom of course.  The year is off on the picture; they were taken in 2005, almost a year and a half after he rocked our world.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

James, Our Early Christmas Gift

We absolutely love the Christmas season. No matter how tough things seem to be, the season of hope stirs our faith. In fact, when I feel a sudden surge of faith, hope, and joy I tend to start humming Christmas songs, even if it happens to be July.  So, this year on election-day we elected to start the Christmas season early, after voting of course. While my husband was at work and the kids were home from school, we pulled all of the decorations down from the attic.  Just seeing our decorations reminds me of a wonderful angel of a guy we met one year while decorating. Here is his story.

James, Our Early Christmas Gift

With Christmas coming I decided (actually my husband decided for me) that today was the day I needed to weed through some toys. No big deal, or so I thought. As I began to sort out the ones that he had technically outgrown without ever using, it began to tug at my heart. I love my little guy and he is absolutely perfect in my eyes but it breaks my heart to think he is missing out on his childhood. I thought I was fine until Wesley asked me what I was doing. Then came the tears; I felt foolish and quickly snapped to.

Several hours later we met this wonderful, precious, angel of a guy. His name is James. He knocked on our door at about 7:40pm. I opened the door expecting to see my brother who is six feet tall. Instead, I found James - a little tiny man, maybe 17 years old, 4’ 5”, big blue eyes, slightly crooked posture, and the most sincere face I’d ever seen. He stood there in the cold wearing tennis shoes, jeans, a long sleeve shirt, and ball cap.

He hoped that he wasn’t bothering me; typically sales people absolutely bother me but for some reason he didn’t at all. He was working towards earning points for a contest for people with disabilities where they would be given the opportunity to obtain a $5,000.00 prize to start their own business. In a low voice he whispered, “Ask me how.” I did and he loudly proclaimed, “I’m glad you asked!” I know it sounds very much like a typical sales pitch but it just didn’t feel like it at all. I laughed and invited him in, which I never do.

Instantly he had the undivided attention of the whole Howell family. He had his little list of magazines. Unfortunately, you had to buy at least 36 issues and that was more than we could afford. But that was ok with James because he was just enjoying getting to know us. He pretended to be proud that he could instantly spot a biker, my husband, and then grinned and said the black and orange Harley Davidson jacket also helped, quickly adding that he was adoptable. He stayed about 15 minutes since it was cold outside and the company would be sending someone for him at 8:00.

He asked if there was anything fun to do in the area and we made a few suggestions. He asked about bowling alleys and my husband explained there was one about two miles from our house. I was even more impressed - you see his bones appeared to be slightly twisted and he walked with a limp. I wondered if I would have even tried to bowl.

Still feeling badly that I couldn’t buy a magazine, I asked if we could pay for a couple of games of bowling. He said, “Ow, thank you but I can’t. You see that’s called panhandling and you can go to jail for that. I’m way too cute to go to jail.” That he was!

He asked my husband if he had an extra toboggan and, as God would have it, he and our daughter had found one in the attic just that afternoon when pulling down the Christmas decorations. James put the toboggan on and said that if he ever won a million dollars that we would be the first ones he thought of. He said, “I’d probably just give it all away. Who needs it anyway as long as you have love? God bless you!” and out the door he went.

After he left we were all speechless and just smiled at each other, knowing we had been blessed by meeting this very special person….and I don’t mean special needs person - just Special. As I sit here and type, I wonder how often his mother must have prayed for her baby boy’s body to stand tall, straight, and strong. Often enough I suppose since his character is definitely standing tall, straight, and strong. But then I can just hear James saying, “Who needs straight bones as long as you have love? God bless you!”

Maybe God sent this angel to show me that if Ryan could he might tell me, “Who needs to play with these toys as long as you have love?” God made Hebrews 13:2 very personal in my life that night.


I wish James knew what an impact he had on me. His faith and hope were contagious and I hope ours is as well. Maybe so since one week after starting our early Christmas season my brother sent me a text saying, “Look what you started.” Love ya Little Brother!!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Do I Have Enough Faith?

Many times I’ve wondered if I just didn’t have enough faith for Ryan’s complete healing to arrive in a great suddenly. Others have wondered as well asking, “Are you fasting? Are you tithing?” But in our defense, His word does tell us that if we have faith as small as a mustard seed then nothing is impossible. It also tells us that He is no respecter of persons; He doesn’t play favorites. And He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So why is it that this mountain seemingly can’t be moved? Much like any other lesson, He answered it with another question – an enlightening, ahhhhh question.

What takes more faith, an immediate healing or a healing that comes in His perfect timing - even if that perfect timing is months or years down the road? His Word tells us that Jesus healed them all regularly, though they were of varying ages. Some, like the woman with the issue of blood, waited years and were healed as adults while others, like Jairus’ daughter, were healed as children.

As time has gone on, I think that it isn’t so much about having enough faith to make something move immediately. It is more about having enough faith to wait, enough faith to believe through the waiting period, enough faith to ask and keep asking, knock and keep knocking, seek and keep seeking.

I must confess that I dropped the ball many times on praying for healing. I felt like God was going to do what He was going to do. Maybe even worse, I stopped looking for that healing. It was too devastating to continue going up for prayer and feeling a sense of rejection on the way back to my seat. But as I was listening to a song last week one line has continued to ring out. “Could you not keep watch with me?”

I kept picturing my Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane in anguish about the debt He was about to pay for our salvation and healing, Ryan’s healing. I was ashamed that I had lacked the faith to continue watching.

Going forward, I will continue to watch, pray, ask, seek, knock, and thank Him for the healing that IS coming in His perfect timing.  I am confident that as I watch, and wait, I will see Ryan's little body continue to go from glory to glory just as I will continue to see my faith go from glory to glory.

Thank you, Lord, for paying the price for doubtful and sometimes bitter children!!  I love you!

Thank you all for continuing watch and pray with us. I pray that God will revive your heart’s desire and give you strength to watch with Him and walk it out........

Sunday, September 26, 2010

You Have a Destiny

Last weekend, we went to help with my grandmother. The doctors had found that she had a blocked artery but it is deep in her brain so they cannot operate. It is estimated that she may have had approximately 8 mini-strokes so there was concern about a full blown stroke.

At 6 am Sunday morning, Mamaw called me to help her find some preaching on television. I couldn’t find her normal favorites but came across TD Jakes and asked her if she wanted to watch him. She said, “That’s the one you like isn’t it. Yes, I’ll watch him.” As I was walking towards her door she said, “Turn it up so I can hear it better.” It was blaring as I walked out. I went back to lie down on the couch and I could clearly hear everything that was being said. As I was dosing back off I could hear him saying loudly:

“When Jesus had been tempted in the wilderness for 40 days and for 40 nights and was weak and afterwards He hungered. The Bible says God sent the angels down to minister to Him, said, ‘You can’t die in this wilderness. You can’t pass out, in this valley. You have a destiny waiting on you. And if I have to send my angels to revive you, I’ve got to get you up out of this because you cannot die right here.

My God, I wish I did have time to tell you that have been up under attack and oppression by the enemy, you can’t die right here. You might be out of breath. You might be weary like Jesus was. You may have been through a series of battles and temptations, won some, lost some, but you still can’t die right here because it is written, ‘You have a destiny over your life. You have a future and you are better than your circumstance.’”

Look at your neighbor and say, ‘You have not been relieved of your duties and you cannot die here.’ Yea, pick your lips up off the floor. Grab your pocketbook. Hold your head up and get your back straight. You cannot die right here! It is written, ‘After this you shall rise up in power and glory and anointing. You might be weak. You may be weary. You may be frustrated. You may be angry but you cannot die here. That’s why God sends you ministry, to resurrect your destiny.”

Mamaw had been in rough shape Saturday that I was afraid that she would not pull through the round of mini-strokes. But Sunday morning, she was up walking around on her own without her walker. She had literally gone from walking slumped over, barely shuffling her feet while clinging onto a walker to walking on her own.

After I got back home Sunday night, I watched the sermon again since I had recorded it. When I played that part for Emily and told her the story she was as shocked as I was. I truly believe that God Himself was speaking that into her spirit.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Unshakable Faith

So many times during our health struggles I’ve wondered how in the world there could be any plan, let alone a plan for good not for evil, a plan to bring hope and a future. I just couldn’t see it. After six years of health concerns with our children, I have to say that I think the confusion is clearing and I can finally say, “Thank you for this time. It truly was an answer to prayer.”

The prayer came during a women’s conference. While everyone I knew was heading off to hear the most comedic speaker, I felt overwhelmingly drawn to a different speaker. I couldn’t stop thinking about the group of little African American grandmothers that I had been watching. When the speaker started a verse, they finished it with her all the while nodding knowingly and saying, “Em, I know that’s right!” What did they know and how did they know with such conviction?

I opted to stay in the main auditorium with them. I even moved to a closer seat and prepared to take notes. I did learn a lot of head knowledge during that session but the biggest thing that I came away with was that there was far more to God and our relationship with Him than I realized. I casually told God that I wanted to know what they knew and wanted to finish the scripture the way they did, with the same unshakable conviction.

Now about 10 years after that prayer and 6 years into our health concerns, I’m realizing that I do sing the worship songs with more conviction. When we sing about how God can heal the broken hearted, I sing it with the conviction of one who has personally been healed of a broken heart. When we sing about his provisions, I sing it as one that came to the bottom of my own resources only to find Jehovah Jireh my Provider. When the doctors ran out of answers, I came to know Him as our Great Physician.

I believe that in order for me to know what those little grandmothers knew, I had to first know who I, and people in general, were not. Otherwise, I would have continued to live under the false pretense that I was in control.

During the growing pain, there was the concern that so much pain and disappointment would destroy our daughter’s faith. In fact, the opposite was true. At seventeen years old, she has also found that unshakable conviction. Ow, and her humor is still intact as well. When we were discussing how everyone must go through their times of pain in order to grow and learn to trust God, she quickly responded, “Well, I’m not marrying a guy that hasn’t been through junk then!” And that might be the wisest thing I’ve ever heard from a teenager.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

My Very Own Personal Godwink

Ah, one of my favorite faith building moments. During a time when my faith was wavering, I started reading a wonderful little book called When God Winks at You. At that time our little guy was four and his stroke was wreaking havoc on his little body. He was struggling with seizures, visual impairment, cerebral palsy, and significant developmental delays.

The lowest point came when his seizures stopped responding to the medicine. At the same time, he caught a stomach virus that led to dehydration and hospitalization. Since the seizure medicine had stopped working we agreed to take him off of it while in the hospital. Once he came off of the medicine the seizures went away. Just like Romans 8:28 promises, God worked the stomach virus out for Ryan’s good. The virus that landed him in the hospital ultimately led to his becoming seizure free. We were grateful to have the seizures gone; however, things would get worse before they got better.

During the months following the hospital stay, he struggled with withdrawals from the medicine. He had extreme anxiety, restlessness, and cried more often than not. It was such a huge change for him. Prior to coming off the medicine he was a very happy child. He would even wake up laughing hysterically in the middle of the night. If we asked him what he was laughing at he just laughed harder. Our child had gone from waking up laughing hysterically in the middle of the night to waking up crying hysterically throughout the day and night.

Eventually, the withdrawals subsided but he still wasn’t his happy, laughing self; he even seemed depressed at times. One night, after reading one of the Godwink stories, I started thinking about the nights when Ryan used to wake up in the middle of the night laughing. It was the cutest thing. We would wake up, sort of, giggle at him and drift back off to sleep fairly quickly.

Just before I fell asleep, I briefly mentioned to God, “Lord, it would be a cool Godwink to have him wake up laughing like that again tonight.” Sure enough, in the middle of the night, at 2:11 am to be exact, he woke up again laughing hysterically. Even though he hasn’t done that since then, the laughter that night still reassures me that God really does have our seemingly chaotic life under control.

I’m so thankful for the Godwink books, but I’m especially thankful for Godwink moments. Our family now looks more closely for those little reassuring winks from God, which we can all have if we just ask and expectantly watch for them.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Time Flies!!!!!!!!!!

Blinded to His Love

One of the most valuable lessons, albeit one of the most painful, has been in learning how much God wants me to see Him.

One evening when Ryan was about 6 months old, he and I were home alone. As I was holding him, I realized that he wasn't looking at me. He seemed to be looking through me. I stopped and put my hand up to see if he would notice. The more I watched and waited for eye contact the more panic and heartbreak began to set in. I tried to hold the tears back but eventually they got the best of me.

I started praying, "God, Please! No! Please let my baby boy see my face." I don't know why but the biggest heartbreak for me was in knowing he couldn't see me. I was afraid that he couldn't see how much I loved him if he couldn't see me. As soon as I began to tell God how much it hurt, I could almost hear Him saying, "Yes, I know."

The unnerving medical terms and conversations of the last six months had been terrifying. I had become so scared that I was completely blinded to Him and His hand in our lives. But that night, He painted a pretty clear picture of His feelings about my own visual impairment.

We've watched as Ryan's vision has gradually improved over the years. About a year ago, I finally asked the doctor if he was still considered legally blind. She said, "Ow, no. There is still a visual impairment but his vision has improved significantly. I'm not sure what is more amazing - that God wanted me to see Him or that Ryan is no longer legally blind. Regardless, when he looks at me I'm in awe at his vision and amazed that my God wanted me to see Him and His love for me.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

During the Quiet Times He is Still Working

The last month or so was a little rough. Ryan was sick and ended up in the hospital for a couple of days. And, maybe hardest of all, God was too quiet for me. Actually, it may be more that life has been too loud or that my hearing isn’t so great when I’m sleep deprived.
During this “quiet” time, out of sheer panic at the thought of going somewhere bitter again, I started to focus on the times that He has spoken. The time that God spoke the loudest to me was during our first year of marriage. Wes was in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and I had become fairly accustomed to his being called out in the middle of the night for training exercises. But this time was very different. They had been held on post for a couple of days and we were hearing rumors that our men were headed to Panama to fight the Panamanian Defense Force (PDF).

We were finally called to a meeting on post at one of the movie theatres. The theatre was packed with military wives looking to the officers, standing across the front, for answers. They told us that our husbands were on planes headed to Panama. They had jumped, or would be jumping within minutes, into Fort Cimmerón. The last thing I remember hearing, before the ringing in my ears and numbness completely blocked everything out, was that Fort Cimmerón was expected to be heavily armed and that we would definitely sustain heavy casualties.

Soldiers were standing at the end of each aisle with a rosters showing exactly who was on those planes. They told us that we could check with one of those soldiers to see if our husbands were listed. As we stood in line, it was eerily quiet. We stood there listening to a pattern of “Name? Yes, ma’am, your husband is one of the planes.” Then the quiet sobs as she walked past those of us still waiting in line. “Name? Yes, ma’am, your husband is on one of the planes.”

All I remember was the sick feeling I had when I heard that Wes was on the list. I drove back to our empty apartment and called my little praying grandmother; she prayed – I listened. After she prayed, I numbly drove back to work where I could be with other military wives and found them watching the news. We watched in disbelief as the reporter told us that our men had found Ft Cimmerón completely empty. It sounded so much like one of the Biblical stories where God confused the enemy and sent them fleeing. My husband later told me that the PDF ran off, leaving hot coffee and automatic weapons in the windows.

As if that weren’t amazing enough, when Wes was jumping in he had drifted away from the others and landed in the jungle. He broke tree branches on the way down and rolled down a large hill landing just a few yards from a trailer. When the porch light came on, he thought he was in serious trouble; but, even though he was alone, still connected to his parachute, and partially in the water God brought him out safely. 

So, during this “quiet” week, I keep trying to remind myself that if God can confuse an entire military unit, I’m sure He can handle all that we are, or will ever, face.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Basket Caper

There our daughter sat with tears streaming down her face. As my husband apologized, I didn’t know who I felt worse for. Poor thing, he had no idea what he was stepping into when he said, “Hey Em, I kept everything in your old playhouse but the baskets. I took all of the baskets to the dump this morning.” Instantly, we both said, “not the wedding basket?!?”

While a basket may seem like a silly thing to be upset about, it really was something that meant a lot to her. You see, Emily was a flower girl when she was around five. The bride was someone that Emily loves dearly so the basket reminded her of a time when she felt very special.

Even though the basket meant a lot to her, she did quickly forgive him but he felt horrible and couldn’t let it go. The next morning he got up at 6:30 am to get to the dump before it opened. Let me clarify, a Saturday morning at 6:30 am. When he arrived he found the dumpster that he had used but it was so full that he couldn’t see the basket. Surprisingly the men there could all relate and all gave him a sympathetic, “Ow, man! Sorry dude.” Then they began sharing their own “basket” moments – lost jewelry, stuffed animals, and so on.

For safety reasons, they couldn’t allow him in the dumpster to look around. But they rallied around their fellow Dad in crisis and, after a few phone calls, they completely changed the pick-up schedule of the dumptsers. Wes called to tell me he was in “phase two of the basket caper.” He was following the dumpster out to the landfill to see if he could find it when they unloaded. With the bulk bin being packed with heavy items, it didn’t look good for the fragile little basket on the bottom.

Once he got there one worker waived him into a restricted area and another said, “I’m going to slowly lift the dumpster so that it doesn’t get crushed by the large items. Yell if you see it and I’ll stop.” Sure enough, he lifted slowly and a large pile fell forward. There in the bottom sat the basket in perfect condition. The men all celebrated their victory together.

Now that little basket means so much more to Emily than it did before that day. It now reminds her of two times in her life when she felt special. The “basket caper”, I’m sure, is the most special time of all. After all, how many dads would go to that much trouble at 6:30 am on a Saturday morning?

I’ve heard that we erroneously look at God as having the same strengths and weaknesses as our earthly fathers. I think that is probably true and that day Emily not only witnessed how much her Dad loves her but also how much her Heavenly Father loves her. Her Dad gave up a Saturday of sleeping in to chase a dumpster to the landfill and her Heavenly Father protected a little basket in the bottom of the bulk bin.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

I Miss You Papaw!

When I first see Papaw’s picture on the background of my computer I can’t help but smile. It feels like an instant hug from someone who loves me unconditionally and believes I can do far more than I myself often believe.

The day I took the picture he was sitting in his truck under a shade tree reading the newspaper. He was so cute that I had to take a picture. Once I did he turned and said, “Youuuuuuuuuu” with a cute little grin and a sparkle in his eyes. I quickly snapped another one, clueless as to how much that picture would later mean to me. Now that he isn’t here physically, it is a much needed moment frozen in time, one that is a reminder of many other healing and encouraging moments with Papaw.

Time with Papaw was just good for the soul. His godly characteristics are still pointing me to a God that is more than good for the soul. He had a quiet confidence in God that carried over into his view of those around him.

In such a busy world where cell phones and computers provide constant access, it is rare that we can have a complete conversation without interruption. But with Papaw, you had his undivided attention, focus, and subtle nudging in the right direction. When telling him about how hard it was to manage a job and meet the needs of our five-year-old, he suggested opening my own accounting business. “Be your own boss” he said, with no hesitation as to my ability to make it work. Now when I look at the business decal on the van, or add a new customer, it is like having that little wink of confidence from Papaw telling me that I can do all things through Christ.

Even though I miss him terribly, somehow the confidence, hope, and faith that he passed on is still here making me feel like he is close by. And, more importantly, his life is still teaching me about the love our Heavenly Father has for us. I love you Papaw!!!!!