Jesus, Have Mercy on Me: a sinner

Ashley (Leonard) Owens is a very close friend of mine and has been since college, almost 10 years ago! Ashley is someone I have always respected- and God has used her in so many ways to bless the lives of those around her. Ashley and Jerry have added to their family recently, and little Bethany’s story is God-inspired! I wanted Ashley to share her heart, as a mom and Christian, because I know many of my readers will connect personally with her testimony. 

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As I sit here on my couch with jam in my hair, tired feet, and a weary heart I think a lot about what I am about to write. Today was a hard day. I was impatient and selfish to my family and cold to my God. I was invited to write on this blog to give a perspective on what it is like to have a child with special needs, but quite honestly, I feel empty. I’m tired. My mind is thinking about the laundry I need to do and kitchen I need to clean. But here I sit. I sit, and I breathe in and out. As I breathe in I pray, “Jesus Christ, Son of God”. And as I breathe out I pray, “Have mercy on me, a sinner”. It’s something that I have learned to do to calm myself down and focus on the Lord and what He is trying to tell me.

My life, for the most part, has been pretty easy. I graduated high school, went to college, got a job as a nurse, and married the man of my dreams. I worked hard in school, worked hard at work, and saw results. It was easy; with the effort I put in I saw an equal return of benefits. Having faith in the Lord was easy. Yes, I struggled in having a shallow relationship with Him. I struggled with seeking Him out every day and relying on Him to give me strength. But at the end of the day, I found it hard to call Him the Bread of Life; my ever-present help.

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Then came a tornado that displaced my husband and me. Then came a cross country move with no job lined up. Then came moving back in with my parents as a young married couple (Sorry Mom and Dad! I am very grateful for your help, but it was a hard time for me). In all these changes, I felt God drawing me closer to Him, but my faith was shallow. I was very much taking in milk, not seeking meat.

In April 2016 my husband and I found out that we were pregnant. That excited feeling of knowing that there is a little person growing inside of you, it simply can’t be replaced! We lived in a nervous excitement for the next few weeks. I remember us speculating about the gender of the baby and me excitedly filling up my Pinterest board with nursery ideas. It was bliss. Okay, I was vomiting almost every day and couldn’t get enough sleep for the life of me, but it was a sweet time!

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Around 14 weeks pregnant I decided to do blood testing to look for the possibility of birth defects.  In the back of my mind I just wanted to know that it was negative, which I was so certain that it was! In Mid July 2016 I got a call at work that I never expected. My OBGYN called me to tell me that my blood work came back positive for a possibility of a neural tube defect. Basically, somewhere in the spine, something did not form correctly.

At this point in the story I need to back it up a little bit. I am a pediatric nurse: I understand medical things. I understand what those words mean and how carefully you speak to your patients when you must deliver bad news. I knew this was bad. I could hear it in the doctor’s voice and I felt it in my heart. Also, one week prior to this news I found out that my sister- in- law’s baby would not survive the first few hours of life- if he even survived to delivery. So, to be sitting at the break room table (at work of all places!) and to hear these words, I could feel my stomach fall out. I remember trying to remain calm as they were putting me through to ultrasound to schedule an emergent anatomy scan. I tried to choke back my tears and remain brave on the phone, because who really wants to be talking to someone when they are losing it?!

Needless to say, I lost it. I was beyond calming down. I’m taking about crying so hard that you drench your shirt in tears and can barely talk. Luckily, a very kind coworker let my supervisor know what was going on and I was able to go home for the rest of the day.

The car has always been my place to talk to God. It’s a place where I can tune out all my other thoughts and get close and personal with my Lord. As I drove home I remember screaming and crying. Yelling at God, telling Him that this is not fair. I can’t do this.  I can’t be losing my baby or- the best-case scenario- have a kid with special needs! For goodness sake, I see those parents every day at work! I see the pain they go through. I see the stress they endure and the patience they need to get through every day.

 

“God, I CAN’T do this!”

 

It was at that moment that I heard a still small voice say, “No you can’t do it, but I can.”

 

Those words have been a life-changer for me. They brought me through the remainder of my pregnancy, through repeated testing, bed rest, and delivering Bethany. The truth of the matter is, at that moment, I let go and let God carry me. During my c-section. During Bethany’s surgery. Through both of our recoveries, God carried us. I was at peace. I knew that Bethany would be alright. I knew that she would not only survive but thrive!

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Now this sounds like I am some super Christian and have this outstanding faith. Let me be honest, I struggle every day. Motherhood is hard, with and without a kid with special needs. One of my biggest struggles is anger and grief. Bethany- while she is immensely loved and spoiled- has a tough go about it. One of her therapists told me for every movement she does, it takes about 50-80% more energy than a kid without spina bifida. So, her learning to hold her head up, sit up, and crawl, there have been a lot of tears (on both of our parts). There has been a lot of anger, on my part, towards God for seeing my child struggle, and a lot of grief seeing other kids her age meet all their milestones.

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All this anger and grief eats away at my spirit. It makes me feel empty and leads me down the road of “perpetual pity party.” It robs me of my joy. It robs me of rejoicing in the goodness of the Lord.

When I have these moments, I remember that I need to breathe in and pray, “Jesus Christ Son of God” and breathe out “have mercy on me, a sinner”. I need to rebuke Satan and the lies he feeds me. I need to rest in the unwavering love and presence of the Lord.

Yes, the days are monotonous. But, I am reminded of the visual of laying tile or weaving a cloth.  As you are doing the back-breaking work of laying each tile in the correct spot, or weaving the thread in and out repeatedly, do you see the big picture or just the small repetitive task in front of you? As, you are driving your child to the third doctor’s appointment that week, cleaning up vomit out of your hair, changing that diaper, giving those meds: do you see the big picture? Do you see the Lord sustaining you in your work? Do you see that, day in and day out, God has your back? God is supplying you with the strength to sit through another appointment, another long day of testing. God is loving you through your anger and grief. God is letting you see the little bits of His glory through the small advances your child makes.

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I guess I have to say that, through having Bethany, I have learned that I am human. I have limitations. I am not infinitely patient, loving, or good. But- God is. God knows the past, present, and future. He knows what He is doing and has great plans for you. He knows your daily struggles and needs. He can take your screaming and tears because He has conquered the grave. The work that the Lord will do through you moves mountains. It is a life changer; a breath of fresh air.

I can boast in my Lord and say that my sweet Bethany is thriving! She is resilient and brave. She is determined and fearless. Already, at a young age, God is equipping her with the strength that she needs to grow and live the difficult life ahead of her. I see God sustaining her. I see God sustaining me, because honestly, I would be a hopeless mess without Him!

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Shortly after I found out about Bethany’s spina bifida, this hymn flooded my thoughts. Did you know that the author of this hymn lost three of his children? One in a fire and two in a shipwreck, only to have three more children and have another die of scarlet fever. Talk about grief! Talk about guilt!  So, I leave you with the words of this hymn. May these words give you the strength to hopelessly abandon all your cares to the Lord:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

It is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul

It is well, it is well
With my soul, with my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul

It is well, it is well
With my soul, with my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul
It is well, it is well
With my soul, with my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul

-Horatio Spafford

2 thoughts on “Jesus, Have Mercy on Me: a sinner

  1. Thank you Ashley for this honest and beautiful testimony of the absolute wonder of God’s work in and through you, Bethany, and Jerry. Your words ring so true–we are completely hopeless and helpless without Him and His sovereign plan is truly what’s best for us. Thank you for sharing your walk with us. This is truly encouraging and uplifting on multiple levels.

    Like

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