Ever Be

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Nanny had some hard days ahead of her after her surgery. While the surgery had been extremely serious, the real work was only beginning. She spent several days in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit. I would visit her and squeeze her hand because she was still hooked to the machines and couldn’t talk to us. We were all so thankful that she was still alive and she kept making progress in her recovery. Eventually, she got to move to a room that was a step down from the ICU. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for people with loved ones in the ICU, as well as the nurses who work in that area.

During this time, our dear friends Logan and Megan were dealing with their own storm. They were about to welcome their baby girl into the world and we were all so excited for them. I got the call from Matthew on a November evening as he was finishing up football practice. “Pray for Megan and Logan,” he said. Megan had gone into labor just two weeks shy of her due date and delivered beautiful Edie Kate. Edie Kate didn’t have a heartbeat. We were absolutely devastated by the news.

I first met Megan and Logan at an FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) Camp in the summer of 2015. We had a lot in common. Matthew and Logan coach football together and are both from South Georgia. Megan and I didn’t realize it until we started talking, but we are also both from the same area in North Georgia. I enjoyed getting to know them as new friends and also as our FCA Huddle Leaders. They really seemed to have a huge heart for FCA, especially the student athletes. The thing I came to love most about Logan and Megan was their realness. They were so open and so genuine. No pretentiousness in them. They were (and are) the real deal. I instantly felt like I had known them for a long time.

When Matthew told me the tragic news that November night, I felt so sad inside. Not only did I feel sad, I felt very helpless. I felt angry. I felt confused. Why God? Why this precious couple? Why, why, why did it have to happen this way?

Some people don’t think we should ask “why.” Just accept it and move on.  But, what about the questions? I have questions. Even with the questions I have, I realize God doesn’t owe me an explanation. Still, I think it’s okay to ask.

Jesus says in Matthew 18:3 that we must become like children to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. You know, I think it’s very interesting that He said that. Do you know what children do? Have you ever been around a little kid for any amount of time? They ask questions and lots of them. Why? How come? Why does this work this way?

God in His infinite wisdom and mercy can handle our questions. It’s just that sometimes we may not be able to handle the answers to those questions this side of eternity.

On the day of Edie Kate’s memorial service, it rained. It’s like the sky was crying along with the rest of us. I went inside the church with several others. I saw my friends from a distance. Their strength was beautiful in the most broken time of their lives. I know it had to be God carrying them. Edie Kate’s memorial service was a worship service. Logan and Megan may not know this, but that day they taught me something. They taught me that a relationship with God is not based on what we can get from God. God isn’t our “genie.” Even when hard times come, and they will come to us all, God is faithful.

Around this time, the song “Ever Be” was on my playlist. The chorus says, Your praise will ever be on my lips, ever be on my lips….” How can I praise God when all of this horrible stuff is happening around me? Logan and Megan taught me that in those times that is exactly when you need to praise God the most. God is good when we are in the best days of our lives and He is equally good when we are facing tough times.

They requested donations be made to FCA in memory of Edie Kate. Several students will now be able to attend an FCA camp because of Logan, Megan, and Edie Kate. They chose and choose to see the bigger picture in the middle of their deep pain. Their example would especially minister to me just a couple of months after their sweet baby went to be with Jesus.

Thank you for your example, Megan and Logan.

If you’d like to read more of Logan and Megan’s story or make a donation in memory of Edie Kate, please click here.

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You shoulder our weakness
And your strength becomes our own.

Ever Be, Bethel Music

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The Verge of a Miracle

I want to be sensitive to any reader who has had a loved one with a serious medical condition and/or has spent time in the hospital with a family member. I mention the details of a cardiac medical emergency in this post and want to be up front if those things are hard for you to relive.

Usually, I am not calm in emergencies. I tend to get very anxious. I don’t know what came over me when we got the phone call to go back to the hospital that night. I was extremely worried about my grandmother, but I was calm. My dad was trying to find his shoes and mom was hysterical and understandably so. I put my baby in her car seat as mom was heading out the door crying and I told my dad to “come on.” “I’m trying but I can’t find my shoes!” he said. I went to my car and told mom to get inside. Dad came out shortly after and I drove us to the hospital.

The ride to the hospital was nerve-racking. It’s about a 25 minute drive and it seemed we were hitting every red light. My mom was still very upset and I remember her saying out loud, “Oh God, I’m not ready to lose my mother!” What my dad replied with is something I won’t quickly forget. He said, “We are never ready, never. No matter how old we get. We’re never ready to lose our parents.” Those words have played over and over again in my head in the last few weeks.

Once we arrived at the hospital, we met my other family members and quickly made our way to the CCU. It seemed like no one from the hospital was telling us anything when we arrived. We looked for doctors and nurses and nothing….

Finally, the doors opened to the CCU and we made our way back. I saw her hospital room. The bed wasn’t there. The room looked like a warzone. I wish I was exaggerating. Medical equipment, blood, her personal belongings. Based on the way the room looked, I just knew they were going to have bad news for us. The nurses escorted us back to the lobby and told us the doctor would be with us shortly.

There is a feeling of absolute dread that a person gets when something bad is looming. Maybe you know that feeling. It’s a sick feeling. As a human, I was totally out of any kind of control of the situation. I had that feeling because I was dreading the news we were going to receive from the doctor.

Matthew had a football game that night but at the time of the emergency, it had ended. He was headed straight for the hospital. Shortly after he arrived, the doctor came to talk to us. “She’s still alive, but it’s very serious. I’m not going to lie to you….she is a sick woman and I can make no guarantees. She’s on her way now for emergency open heart surgery.”

We were escorted downstairs to the Cardiovascular ICU waiting room. They were doing emergency open heart surgery on my grandmother immediately. Hours passed. No word on her condition. I kept praying. “God, please. Please just let her make it through this surgery and live.” I would like to tell you that I believed my prayers. I was trying my best to have faith. I knew God COULD do it. I had no doubt of his ability. But, the human side of me knew how bleak the situation was. I spent those hours torn between faith, doubt and tried to pray through it all.

The doctor came in at about 3 a.m. Saturday morning. “She made it through the surgery. She’s having the machine breathe for her right now, but she is alive. We’ll monitor her progress the next few hours. It’s still very critical.”

Exhausted, worn, and emotionally spent, my family and I left the hospital early Saturday morning to return to my parent’s home and rest. We went back to the hospital late Saturday morning where we learned more details of the night before.

My nanny had coded twice. Essentially, she died. The surgeon had to open her chest and massage her heart on the way to the operating room just to perform the surgery. Because they had to perform CPR so many times (and oxygen not being able to travel to the brain), the doctors were concerned about her cognitive function. If she didn’t improve, what would happen? Tough, tough questions.

Looking at someone who is usually so full of life when they are in such a helpless state is heartbreaking. She had come through a very serious procedure, but would her body be strong enough to make it through recovery?

The next couple of days were touch and go. Anytime the phone would ring I would jump because when you are living in such uncertainty, the smallest thing can make you nervous.

Sunday afternoon rolled around and visiting hours were once again open to families. Taking turns in pairs of two as was required by the hospital, mom and I went back together to see her. Still on the ventilator and still looking very lifeless, nanny began to motion to us like she wanted to write. We tracked down some paper, a pen, and a clip board and she writes clear as day, “where is she?”

“Where is she? Nanny, who are you talking about?” I asked. She pointed to me the best she could with the pen. “The baby?” I asked.  She nodded her head. She was referring to Lydia Grace.

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Tears. Nothing but tears of thanks, awe, and pure joy rolled down my face. “Thank you, God. Thank you,” I whispered. My uncles, my dad, and Matthew were in the waiting room. When we told them the great news, everyone was overjoyed. I specifically remember my dad’s reaction. He started to cry and was thanking God.

The recovery process had only just begun. But, at least we had some hope.

Oceans, Part III

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now.

I returned to work from being on maternity leave on November 16. I had a new boss and I was trying really hard to make a good first impression, get back in the office with a productive attitude, and keep my emotions at bay because I was really missing my baby. Things didn’t go according to plan. To give you a little bit of context, RSV was running rampant pretty much everywhere and I was supposed to leave my three-month-old baby girl for the first time in a child care center. As a first time mom, and a working one at that, my heart was torn into. My mom came to the rescue as she has done for me so many times before. She offered to watch Lydia Grace that week while I went back to work. Plus, it would make the transition of me “leaving” her for the day a little easier since she was going to be with my mom. The only caveat would be that I would have a longer commute to work that week.

Everything was going alright considering I was leaving my baby for the first time and my new mother hormones were through the roof. I managed to back out of my parents’ driveway without crying. Big sigh. “I can do this!” I told myself in my mind.

Highway 27 in our part of the state is pretty rural. I took Highway 27 through small towns like Chickamauga and LaFayette to work that day and then I saw something I won’t soon forget. A deer ran out in front of a mid-size SUV and I will omit the rest of the details because it was gruesome. The driver of the vehicle was stable but blood was pouring from his head. I saw the whole thing happen. I grabbed a pack of baby wipes from my car (it was all I had) and pulled over to help him until paramedics arrived. That should have been the first sign as to how things were going to go that particular week: not good.

I was late to work on my first day back, but I had a pretty good reason. I was met with banners welcoming me back and a wonderful display of refreshments from my students and coworkers. It was so incredibly thoughtful. I finished up day one back at work and I was feeling a little more confident about everything. Until, early Tuesday morning, November 17.

Anytime a phone call comes at 2 a.m., it’s probably not going to be a call to chat about the weather. More than likely, a phone call that early in the morning is bad news. So was the case on that particular Tuesday morning. My grandmother was calling me. “Nanny, are you okay?” She had been having a horrible time with regulating her blood pressure and it had been through the roof for the last few days. She had visited the emergency room and the doctor’s office, but it just wasn’t coming down. “I tried to call your mom, but she isn’t answering her phone and I’m having bad chest pains.”

Here is where I tell you that I believe it is divine providence that I was at my parents’ house that night. Mom’s phone was set to “airplane” mode by accident. She wasn’t getting any calls or texts, but we didn’t realize that until this happened. My dad got up super early for his job, and it just so happened that my mom was also up seeing him off as she so often did before he left for work. They were sitting at the kitchen table talking when I went downstairs at 2 a.m.  “Nanny’s having chest pains and she said she can’t get a hold of you on your phone.”

Mom was out the door and dad was right behind her. Matthew and Lydia Grace were asleep upstairs so I decided to stay up and pray. I didn’t hear anything from my mom about my grandmother’s condition for several hours. The emergency room doctors had determined she needed a heart cath at the end of the week. She would stay in the hospital until then.

Friday came and the heart cath procedure showed what we feared the most. Two blockages. One lesion in a very dangerous place. A stint would not be possible without extreme risks. The best option would be open heart surgery. Our biggest obstacle was going to be convincing her she needed it. If she didn’t have the surgery, the odds were really against her. It seemed like a no-win situation at the time. Do we encourage her to have the surgery and a long recovery with no real guarantee of how the surgery could go? Or, do we just take the chance of not having it and hope for the best? One thing was clear: she had to be the one to decide. After the doctor talked to us, I was so discouraged. I was trying to keep my faith up, but the human side of me was grieving over the news.

After her heart cath procedure, we were able to visit her in the critical care unit. She was in a lot of pain and very groggy from the medication. Because there are only certain hours you can visit your loved ones in any critical unit, we left when visiting hours were over and came back that evening. Mom and I talked to nanny that evening while my dad sat outside with Lydia Grace in the waiting area. Nanny was in such great spirits. She was laughing, reaching out to touch us, and she had even told us she was going to go through with the surgery. We were baffled because my grandmother had specifically said before that she never wanted open heart surgery. Now, she was saying, “I have to do this if I’m going to get better.” Visiting hours were coming to a close so mom, dad, Lydia Grace and I left. On our drive home, we were relieved. We said, “it’s so great that she’s going to go through with this! We’ll just have to be there to help her with recovery.”

Shortly after we got to my parents’ house, my mom got a phone call from the hospital. “Mrs. Fitzsimmons, we need you to get back up here immediately. Your mother has taken a turn for the worse and it doesn’t look good.”

Oceans, Part II

I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine.
-Oceans

It was a rainy Friday in early October. I was still on maternity leave and had already made the short trek to my mom and dad’s house. I went to their house on this particular Friday because Matthew wouldn’t be home until late that night due to a game out of town. Plus, my mom had told me that if I came up early, I could take a nap and she would watch my baby. To a new mom, this is music to the ears. So, I made the short journey an hour north late Friday morning.

I pulled up in my parent’s driveway and started to unload the many bags I had for a short overnight stay. You know what they say… when you have a baby, you pack the house. I am certainly no exception to that rule.

I hadn’t been at my parents for long when I got a call from Matthew. Sometimes, Matthew will call me during the day on his break, but it’s pretty rare. It’s even more rare on “game day.” I could hear the urgency in his voice. “Are you at your mom’s?” “Yes,” I replied. “Are you okay?” “Yes, but mom, dad, and Papa have been in a car accident.”

Matthew’s parents live in South Georgia, about 5 hours away from us, and were on their way to a town about 2 hours away when they had a car accident. My immediate reaction was to ask if everyone was okay. Matthew had limited details due to the fact that the accident had just happened and we were not close by. I asked him if we need to leave right away but he told me no. He had wanted to wait until there were more details. We did know that his grandfather was in serious condition, but we didn’t know to what extent. About an hour later I got a call from Matthew’s mom. Papa had passed away due to a medical event that happened at the time of the accident.

I had just seen Papa the week before. He had come to my house, along with Matthew’s mom and dad, for a visit. He adored Lydia Grace. In fact, he credited himself for the day she made her big arrival to the world. He would often wear a Navy hat that Matthew had bought for him since he was a veteran. The day before Lydia Grace was born, Papa said, “I’m going to wave my hat toward this baby (pointing to my large belly) and she will hear me and make an appearance.” Needless to say, it must have worked because she came about 8 hours later. I treasure the picture I have of Papa and Lydia Grace in the hospital room after she was born. He was wearing that same Navy hat.

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It is an incredibly odd feeling to know you saw someone the week before sitting in your living room and the next thing you know they are no longer living on the earth. Life can certainly change unexpectedly and without warning.

I called Matthew back and asked him if we needed to leave right away to head down to South Georgia. Matthew’s dad was in the hospital, and while he did have injuries, he was stable. Matthew told me he wanted to go to the game because in his heart he knew it was the right thing to do.

We were new to the Dalton coaching staff, but in no way did Matthew feel like he had to choose the game over an urgent situation. It was more of a “I’m going to honor my Papa” moment. I have to say something about our coaching staff. I have never been part of a family like the one at Dalton. They showed us nothing but love and support during a difficult time. Dalton won the game that night and we felt like it was a victory to honor Papa. He loved watching his grandsons play football and then coach. That moment was a bright spot to a very sad day.

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We made the journey south the next morning. We reminisced about Papa’s life and the dramatic change he had made in his faith two years before his move to Heaven. Papa didn’t really want anything to do with God a few years prior to his passing. I don’t think that he necessarily had anything against God or Christianity, but he just didn’t make it his own. That is, until his precious wife, Matthew’s grandmother “nanny” and Lydia Grace’s namesake, passed away. Papa loved his wife. He adored the ground she walked on. She was not just his wife but his best friend. When she died, part of him died, too. Jesus became a huge part of Papa’s life after nanny’s passing. He became alive again. He was rejuvenated. There was literally a bounce in his step. He missed his companion, but he had hope that he would see her again. He was just different in the most beautiful way possible. He glowed. That zeal never left him from that moment until the time he met Jesus face to face.

A few weeks after his passing, Lydia Grace was to be dedicated (our church’s version of a christening). We could definitely feel Papa’s absence that day, but there was also the most beautiful peace. I can’t explain it. The whole day was full of so much joy at a time when we had experienced a great loss. After our church service, Matthew’s parents and mine came back to our house and we had a wonderful time of fellowship over lunch and it almost felt like Papa himself was there with us. Maybe he was.

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Our lives would once again change in just two short weeks. November 17 to be exact.

Part III coming soon.

 

Oceans, part I

I first heard Hillsong’s Oceans in the fall of 2013 when their album Zion released. I was newly married and had moved to a new town away from my family, friends, and my comfort zone. My newly married self was trying to adjust to my husband’s coaching schedule while keeping my same job in my former town. It made for an incredibly long commute and an even more awkward transition to my “new” life. I didn’t have a lot of time to meet new friends in a town where many have known each other for years. It was very hard to break in to social circles and I was in a very lonely place. I had loved my job, but the drive was killing me. I started praying for God to open a door for me. Because any commuter will tell you that music is a must for the long stretches, I purchased Zion and Oceans began playing on my radio. I was hooked. The melody, the lyrics, everything about that song was speaking to me. After crying out to God for weeks along the stretch of I-75 that became my “prayer closet,” the answer didn’t seem to come. I was growing more discouraged by the day. That song gave me hope and suddenly my prayer went to, “please hear me God and give me a job closer to home” to, “Okay, what do you want, God? I will do whatever you want me to do.”

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Eventually, I did get another job, but as I listened to those same lyrics, I realized just how dangerous they are. I sing those lyrics in church. I mean them. But, it doesn’t change the fact that they are dangerous. Let me explain.

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the waters, wherever You will lead me; Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, and my faith will be made stronger, in the presence of my Savior.”

How many times have I sat in church and sang those lyrics without realizing the weight of them? The answer to that question is many, many times. Those lyrics became a heart cry in the late fall/early winter part of 2015 and ushered in 2016–perhaps the most difficult and excruciating time of my life. My comfortable little world pretty much turned completely upside down and left me feeling like a category 5 hurricane had just blown through leaving all sorts of destruction in its wake. I was left to pick up the pieces.

And it began in October, the “peak” of hurricane season. And hurricanes happen near oceans.

Part II coming soon. 

 

Time Waits on Nobody

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Tonight I watched my wedding video for the first time in almost three years. I was surprised at my reaction to it. I bawled like a baby. As I was watching it, I looked at the children who attended and who were part of the wedding party. Now those same children are approaching pre-teen years. I looked at the precious family members who were present at our wedding and who are no longer with us. I saw babies who were crawling around who are now little kids. Mamas who were pregnant then now have toddlers. So much has changed in three short years.

When I was growing up, my dad would “holler” (that’s a good southern word for you, by the way), up the stairs to me on Sunday mornings and let me know that my time was running short to get ready for church. It has always taken me a long time to get ready. What can I say? He would always say to me, “time waits on nobody!” as I would reply, “okay, okay…but give me five more minutes.”

Time waits on nobody. It’s not just a cliché encouraging me to hurry it up. It applies to life. The moments I am blessed with daily are precious and they will never be again. Since my dad’s unexpected death, I am so much more aware of life. He would have retired in just a few short months. He was so looking forward to that. Unfortunately, he never got the chance. Time waits on nobody. He didn’t get five more minutes.

For the longest time I tried to put this blog off. I really hesitate even now to commit to it. But, I feel there is purpose behind it. I need to write about my feelings on life and death. No, I don’t want it to be morbid or sad, but I do have things I feel that I need to say. Mainly, I hope I can encourage you, the reader, to enjoy your life while you have the chance and to find purpose in those precious, little moments that otherwise seem insignificant. I chose the title, “quill and pen” because our life is a story that we write each day. My question to you: what will you write?

Carrie