Thursday, April 9, 2015

The times I felt closest to God

This is going to be a long post, but I'm excited to share these stories with you!

When have you felt closest to God? Most people say it was at church camp, on a mission trip, out in nature, standing by the ocean or on top of a mountain, or when something really good happens. I want to tell you about some of the times I've felt closest to God. I'll start by telling you about 2 of the first times that stand out in my mind that I felt closest to God. These are 2 of the best times of my life, and then I'll share how I felt close to God during the hardest times in my life.

My dad is the missions director at church, which means that we get to go visit our missionaries all over the world! I was 3 when I went on my first mission trip to Europe. My family has been blessed to have been to Europe, South America, Central America, and Africa. The moments on those trips when I felt closest to God were during worship with the churches in each of those countries. It is incredible to hear the same songs that we sing here in America, sung all over the world in different languages. It gives me chills! There we were, in Europe or Brazil, and these people were praising the same God that we worship! I love hearing the same songs that we sing here sung in their native languages. It's incredible!

Another time I felt closest to God was on Sunday, August 21st, 2005. This was the biggest day of my life. It was the day I chose to be baptized. I had been thinking about it for a while, and the night before, Saturday night, I was laying in bed and there was a big thunderstorm. I got this overwhelming feeling that I needed to be baptized the next day. I didn't want to wait any longer! My best friend had also been thinking about being baptized, and she decided to be baptized that Sunday too! We didn't even plan it together, but it just worked out that way. So that Sunday, in front of our church family, my best friend and I were baptized. We responded to the invitation after the sermon which is a time that invites anyone who wants to be baptized or needs prayer to come forward. The invitation song that night was "Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling". Later in this post I'll tell you a connection between that song and something having to do with my grandpa. So my dad took my confession in front of our church, and my best friend's dad took her confession. They ask us 2 questions when we are baptized. The first is "do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God"? And the 2nd is "Are you willing to make Jesus the Lord of your life for the rest of your life"? We both answered yes to those questions and then we went back to get changed to be baptized. The church kept singing songs which we could hear as we got changed into the white robe type clothes. After we changed, we walked into the baptistry. I went first and my dad baptized me. He said, "I now baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit so that you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of your sins". He then led me under water where it symbolized me dying with Christ, and then he raised me up which symbolized me being raised with Christ. I then received the Holy Spirit and was born again! I felt such a peace come over me! The angels were rejoicing in Heaven for me! (Luke 15:10). Then it was my best friend's turn and the Angels rejoiced for her too! All our sins were forgiven! It was a such an incredible feeling. I'll never forget it. It still brings tears to my eyes hearing that the day I was baptized was the day my parents and grandparents had been praying for for me since I was born. I received the promise of Heaven one day. The next day, Monday, was the first day of our 7th grade year, so we started out the year right! That day was when I said, I'm not just following my parents and grandparent's faith, I'm choosing for myself to follow Jesus. It was a great day!

Since I've gotten sick, I've found that I feel closest to God not when I'm on the mountains, but in the valleys. Not literally of course. It's on the worst days, when I take time to be still, that I can feel God's presence the most. Here are a few examples.

I remember after one particular late night trip to the hospital many years ago, I was so broken. The trip went horribly. I was taken to the hospital because I was so weak I could barely walk and I was in tears from the extreme pain. These ER trips were occurring almost every other day at this time and that went on for months. We got to the hospital and I was taken back to a room and got changed into a gown. The doctor was very nice and ordered what he thought I needed. It took many sticks to get an IV in as usual, but they finally got it in. They got IV fluids started, and then gave me IV nausea medicine and morphine. I finally got relief. My heart rate and blood pressured lowered after being so high from pain and dehydration. But soon, the extreme pain came back and my vitals went back up. We talked to my Lyme doctor who said that I needed to be admitted for pain control and continued IV fluids since I was in the ER almost every day. The ER doctor agreed and said he would get me admitted to the hospital. To be admitted, the hospitalist has to see you and he is the one who actually admits you. Well he didn't like me. He came in the room, yelling at me, telling me I was killing myself by living like this, and that nothing was wrong with me except what I was doing to myself (which made no sense because I wasn't doing anything to myself). We had to physically remove him from the room because he wouldn't stop talking to me like that. I was left hysterically crying, from the physical pain, but mostly the emotional pain he put me through. The nurses tried to comfort me by holding my hand and putting cold washcloths on my head while my parents went to talk to someone higher up in the hospital about how this doctor treated me. The nurses said they had never seen anyone treated so badly. I was in extreme pain. Physically and emotionally. The hospitalist wouldn't help me, despite many others, including the ER doctor and nurses, begging him to help me after seeing how much pain I was in and after hearing what he did to me. Someone higher up in the hospital even came down once they heard how horribly I was being treated, and he tried to talk to the hospitalist, and he still wouldn't do anything. He refused. I then said that I was leaving because I couldn't stand to be there one more minute. He came and "apologized" but only because he was pressured to by everyone else that worked at the hospital, and I didn't want to talk to him for one more minute, so we left. I was still hysterical when we got home. After we got home, a couple of people came over to help comfort us and they prayed with me. After they left I went to bed, in shock of what just happened. That was one of the first times a doctor treated me so badly just because of the name of the disease I have. I had never experienced that before. Little did I know that that would become the standard of which I would be treated all the time, just because of the name of the disease. Once home, I couldn't sleep so I decided to turn on the Christian radio station. The song "I Will Rise" came on immediately. As I've mentioned before, this has become my favorite song since I got sick. The words hit me so hard, in a good way. "There's a peace I've come to know, though my heart and flesh may fail. There's an anchor for my soul, I can say 'It Is Well'. Jesus has overcome, and the grave is overwhelmed. The victory is won, He is risen from the dead, and I will rise when He calls my name, no more sorrow, no more pain"  For the first time that night, I felt peace. Jesus died and then He rose from the grave! He beat death so that I didn't have to live like this. I didn't have to lay in bed that night and grieve the loss of my healthy life without hope. Jesus died to give me peace, hope, joy, and love, especially in the darkest time. When we think we are going through the darkest time we have to remember: THE darkest time has been overcome. When Jesus was on the cross, the earth went dark (Matt. 27:45). It was the darkest time in history. Jesus had to die and suffer, but then He overcame DEATH and DARKNESS. If God can turn death and darkness into light, He can get us through the darkest times in our lives! All because HE LIVES! So that night, I just laid there peacefully because I could feel God's presence. He gave me so much comfort that night, on a night that I wouldn't have been able to get through if I didn't have Him. I don't think I slept much that night, but I didn't care. I just listened to music and felt God's peace.

The next 3 times I felt closest to God are some of the hardest moments of my life. All are similar but different in their own way.

The first one has to do with one of my best friends, Rebecca. She was told that after 3 years of battling cancer, the cancer had spread throughout her whole body. She was put on hospice and would be going to be with Jesus soon unless God performed a miracle. Because I wasn't able to be in school because of my health, I was able to sit with her almost every day until God called her home. Most times when I would sit with her, she would be sleeping, so I would sit and pray. I felt so close to God because I knew He was preparing for her to come HOME to Heaven. I told God that I was trying to take care of her until He was ready for her. The day that she died was when I felt God's presence the most. I was called up to the hospital when they knew it wouldn't be much longer, and I was given time to talk to her alone. At this point, she wasn't responsive anymore. God was giving me the opportunity to say goodbye, or see you later, to Rebecca. I'm so grateful to her family for allowing me that time alone with Rebecca. I didn't think I would have the strength to say what I needed to say, and that's when God's presence came over me. I walked over to her bed and held her hand. I was able to tell her that it was okay to go. That when God called her HOME, she needed to RUN to Him. I talked to her about Heaven, just like the many times we had talked about it together and how we couldn't wait for Heaven where there would be no more pain, IVs, injections, chemo, wheelchairs, medicine, nausea, and doctors. God gave me the words to say and I know He was there. Through out that day we sat by her, talking to her and cherishing every minute. God was there. We were able to laugh at what we loved about her, which we couldn't have done if God wasn't there. This was the first time I had been with someone who was dying, and I spend most of the day thinking about what was going on in Heaven. How were they preparing for her arrival? Around 5:30pm on March 10th, 2012, Rebecca took her last breath on this earth with her family and closest friends surrounding her. God came to take her HOME, and to give us peace. He was there. He promises His Holy Spirit to be with us. I felt so close to God. I had such a peace, which only came from Him. One minute she was with us on earth, and the next she was in the arms of Jesus. How incredible?! We were there when she met Jesus face to face. I had never felt such grief and sadness, but also peace and hope at the same time. It started raining just before she died, and she loved the rain, but it was like Heaven was crying with us. That night as we left the hospital, we wouldn't have been able to make it without God. Rebecca's favorite color was purple. She loved it! The day of her visitation and day before her funeral, my friend and I drove out in the country and found fields upon fields of purple flowers. We couldn't believe it. We had never seen that before here. For miles, purple flowers. Only God. He was there. That peace that only God could give continued as we had to say goodbye during her visitation and funeral. I was an honorary pallbearer at her funeral, which was such an honor. It was the hardest thing to see her one last time and say "see you later" to my best friend. I cried as I said goodbye, but I also smiled because I knew I would see her again. I couldn't have done that without God. Only God. He was there.

 Here are the purple fields that we had never seen before. 

 The three of us were best friends with Rebecca and we each got a purple rose from her casket to be able to take home and keep. We will keep them forever. 

Not even a year later after Rebecca died, my grandma, whom I was very close to, got very sick. Over several months she continued to decline and was placed on hospice on my brother's birthday, Feb. 2nd, 2013 (the SAME day Rebecca told us that she would be going to Heaven soon, just a year earlier). I was taking a class during this time, but that still gave me time to sit with my grandma almost every day. It was such a privilege to be with her, to help her when she was too weak to help herself. We sat and talked about memories and what was going on in my life. I showed her pictures of the recent snow and our dogs playing in it. It made her smile. That was 2 days before she died. That same day, 2 days before she died, my grandpa was diagnosed with cancer. We couldn't believe it. But he stayed strong for my grandma, not telling her about his cancer because he didn't want her to worry as she left this earth. He wanted her to have peace about leaving. Thursday, February 14th, Valentines Day, was when we knew it would be soon. We all gathered at the great skilled nursing center she was at and sat around her, talking to her. I was so thankful that I was able to be with her the last time she was really responsive, just a day before. My grandpa didn't leave her side. He spent that Valentine's Day night on a blow up mattress right next to her while we went home to rest. The nurses said they were pretty sure she would make it through the night, and she did. The next day, Feb. 15th, 2013, when we walked in we just knew. God was getting ready for her. She was close to Heaven, close to seeing our King. All day we sat by her, holding her hands, talking to her, and people came to say goodbye. We each got time alone with her to talk to her. I told her to run to God when He called her. That we would miss her so much but that we would take care of my grandpa. Again, I spent time thinking of what was going on in Heaven. How were they preparing for her? Who would she see first? Were there Angels surrounding us to take her HOME? I again told God that I was doing my best to take care of my grandma until He needed her. I thanked Him for the time with her. Our favorite nurse was on duty that day, and she made sure my grandma was not in pain. It was such a blessing to have our (and my grandma's) favorite nurse there the day that my grandma died. Later that evening, her breathing changed and we gathered closer, holding each other. I felt so close to God because the person's hand I was holding, my grandma's hand, was who God was preparing for in Heaven. She took her last breath and at that moment she was with Jesus. Watching my grandpa broke my heart. He gave her one last kiss on the forehead. Our hearts were broken, but because of God, we all were able to have peace. She wasn't suffering anymore. She could breathe again and wasn't hurting. My grandparents lost their middle daughter when she was just 6 years old to a severe acute illness, so my grandma would be reunited with her. We felt God's presence and I felt so close to Him because once again, He was there to take my grandma HOME and to leave His peace and comfort for us. On the day of my grandma's funeral, it snowed the prettiest snow you've ever seen. It didn't really affect the roads, it was just really pretty. Just 2 days before my grandma died, and the last day she was really responsive, I had shown her pictures of the snow and videos of our dogs playing in the beautiful snow that happened earlier that week. She loved the snow. So for her funeral, everything looked beautiful because of the snow. And, our favorite nurse that was there when my grandma died, came to her funeral. How amazing? Only God. He was there.

This is our last picture together. I got to lay in the bed with her. 

One of the last times I got to hold her hands.

 The beautiful snow on the day of her funeral. She would have loved it!

After my grandma died, my grandpa's health declined immediately and he was diagnosed with dementia, as well as the cancer that he had been diagnosed with 2 days before my grandma died. He was moved to many care facilities, trying to give him the best care, where he would be the happiest. It was a struggle. We didn't know what to do, where to lead him, but I believe God had it all planned out. He continued to decline, and in May 2014, he was admitted to the hospital where we found out that he had kidney and heart failure. We didn't know how sick he was, but once we realized that, we knew it wouldn't be long before he joined the Heavenly Chorus and meet our Savior face to face. He kept getting worse, and on May 12th, my brother, dad, mom, aunt, and I gathered at the hospital and spent all day with my grandpa. We put on worship songs and just made sure he wasn't hurting and that he knew we were there. That night, my mom and aunt and I stayed the night at the hospital with my grandpa. They brought in an extra couch for us and we all tried to rest that night. I think I slept about 2 hours, but I didn't care. I spent the night listening to worship music, watching my grandpa breathe. Several times he would stir, with his hands tensed and he would moan. I would run and get the nurse when he would do that so that she could get him medicine. While waiting for the nurse to bring the medicine, I would hold his hands, change the washcloth on his head, and tell him it was okay and that we were there. Once he got the medicine, he would settle down and I would go back to "resting". I was so honored to be able to make sure he was comfortable. I talked to God a lot that night as I watched my grandpa slip away. I told God that I didn't understand. Why did I have to lose my best friend, my grandma who I either talked to or saw everyday, and now my grandpa, so close together? I told Him that even though I didn't know the reason, that I trusted His plan, and once again, would take care of my grandpa until He decided it was time for my grandpa to go HOME. I felt so close to God because the person's hand I was holding, my grandpa's hand, was who God was preparing for in Heaven. How incredible is that? It was now May 13th, which is my mom's birthday. My aunt went home to shower around 5am. Around 6am, while my mom was still asleep and my grandpa was resting well, I snuck down to the gift shop to get my mom a card and some flowers so that they would be there when she woke up. I didn't have much to choose from in the small gift shop, but I found some beautiful flowers for her. She was surprised when she woke up and it made her smile. My aunt got back to the hospital midmorning and my dad and brother arrived around lunch time. Many people came to say goodbye to my grandpa. Seeing his friends see him in that condition and say goodbye was heartbreaking, but we all talked about the peace we could have because of Christ and they all said they would see him again one day. As the day went on, we knew he would be in Heaven soon. Later that afternoon, his breathing changed and it wouldn't be much longer. Within 2 years I had been with Rebecca and my grandma when they died, so I knew what to look for. We each got time alone with him and once again, just like I had with Rebecca and my grandma, I told him to run to God when He called him HOME. I told him that we would be okay but would miss him so much. I told him to say hi to Rebecca and my grandma. After we each had time alone with him, his breathing got even more shallow, and then he took his last breath. I felt so close to God because once again, He was there. He was there to take my grandpa HOME, and to give us peace. We felt His presence. How could we smile and laugh at what we loved about him without God's presence? That night as we left the hospital, there was one of the prettiest sunsets I've ever seen. Only God. He was there. 

This was the day before he died. I sat like this all day. 

I was holding his hand like this when he died. I was holding his hand, and then God was holding him when he died. It's incredible to think about. 

On the left I'm holding my grandma's hand and on the right I'm holding my grandpa's hand. 

Remember how I said when I got baptized the invitation song was "Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling"? We played that song at my grandpa's funeral. That song, Softly and Tenderly, preceded my spiritual birth, and then that song was the song playing at my grandpa's funeral when his casket was taken out of the church building as we (the family) followed it. That song started my spiritual life, and ended his physical. It was beautiful. Again, I felt God's presence.

 I have 3 roses in my room-the one on the left is from Rebecca's funeral, the middle one is from my grandpa's funeral, and the one on the right is from my grandma's funeral. I also have 3 little angel figures and the middle one is holding my grandma's favorite flowers. My mom got me that for Christmas. Every time I see these in my room, I'm reminded of God's presence. The hope He gives. The peace He promises. The promise of Heaven. I'm reminded how blessed I am to have been given the privilege of holding these 3 incredible people's hands as they went home to Heaven. God is so good. His promises never fail. 

I could write many books on when I've felt God's presence. But these stuck out the most to me. I think it's because they show that you can feel close to God on the mountains, but I think, even more so in the valleys.

I would love to hear about when you felt God's presence the most!