Thursday, April 24, 2008

It All Started... part 2

Then, in July of 2007, the news came. That Laiken's cancer not only could return, but it would.

Over the next several months there were many appointments and preparations made for Laiken to receive a bone marrow transplant. It should have been easy to find a donor, but it wasn't. In January of 2008, Laiken was admitted to Children's Hospital of Los Angeles. Since they still couldn't find a bone marrow donor, they tried this experimental procedure using cord blood that didn't work.

Then, there was a donor match.

Once they got the donor marrow, they did the procedure and there was another "wait and see" time.

While everyone waited and hoped that Laiken's bone marrow would take up residence and free her of cancer, she ran into trouble breathing.

I had not gone out to pray for Laiken or to see her this time around. It seemed that the restrictions at CHLA were more stringent, and I didn't want to intrude or overstep my boundaries. It grieved me to learn that things were not looking good, that she could seem so healthy and still have so many "small" hurdles to get over.

Then she was moved to the ICU.

Then she was put on the ventilator.

Then it started to go downhill, fast.

On Saturday morning, while I was still feeling really sick from my bout on Friday, Stacey posted on Laiken's Caring Bridge site that if anyone wanted to see her, they should do so within the next few hours. I felt, at that point, that it was going to be over very soon.

But on Sunday, it wasn't over. And the doctors were all surprised that she was still hanging on. I stepped it up a notch with praying for Laiken in service at Flipside on Sunday night, and felt the gentle nudge that maybe I should go and try to pray for her again. I really wasn't sure if I should, but when I was doing my rounds on the internet on Monday morning, I saw that Stacey had posted an entry on Laiken's site expressing that she was looking for me. Taking that as my confirmation, and my inspiration to get to LA as quickly as possible, I went about my day. I knew I needed to get my work done at Scheu Plumbing quickly, so I did.

I was pretty much in conversation with God about Laiken through much of the day, and when I got home from work, I sat with my Bible and let Him lead me to a few key passages to read over her and pray about. One that really stood out to me was this:


Psalm 63:1-3
1 O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.

2 I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.

3 Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.

Once I felt as equipped as I knew I could be, I contacted Stacey's friend, Donna. She sounded so relieved that I was calling. Apparently, they had been googling me all day, trying to find some way to reach me. And when I arrived at the hospital, I was greeted very warmly. I was a little bit worried, because I knew that this was not "my call". If I had it my way, Laiken would have never been back in the hospital to begin with. I wasn't as confident that the answer was going to be what we wanted this time, but I hoped it would be.

It became clear to me while I was at CHLA that night, that the reason I was there was for Stacey to be encouraged, and to have a little bit of hope to get her through the night. For her and Jim to know that God was very much in control and powerful in this situation.

Stacey led me to Laiken's room in the ICU, and I was again confronted with the sadness of seeing such a beautiful and innocent young woman with the life draining out of her. I spoke with Stacey about what the issues were, and I was left to be alone with Laiken. I spoke to her, I prayed over her, I read scripture over her, and just did everything I knew how to do in that scenario, which isn't much. I decided that my measurable was her oxygen level. I wanted to see it go back up into the 80s, which I knew was possible because I saw it at one point in the room. But it hovered around 68, and occasionally went back up to the low 70s. I'm not exactly sure how long I was in there, at least an hour, maybe two.

And I never saw that 80 again. Finally, I felt that it was time to go find Stacey and pray for her. But she came into the ICU right then, so we stood there and talked and I was still hopeful that this was just God working slowly by our standards. I didn't get to pray for Stacey like I would have liked, but I did encourage her and just basically did the best I could.

Then I went home.

I ate, told Aaron about how everything went, and we went to bed.

At 3:30am, I woke up. As in wide awake, not able to go back to sleep. I prayed hard, and in that hour, when I felt afraid that she might die at that hour, the sinking feeling that Laiken wouldn't make it anchored it's way into my heart.

I still hoped for the best, texted Donna, refreshed the site in between tasks, hoping for an update with marvelous news. When I came back from lunch, there was bad news. Her oxygen levels were dropping quickly.

Around 2:30, the update that Jim and Stacey had decided that the best thing to do was to slow down the meds and let her go.

And at 4:36, she went.

It might sound funny to someone who doesn't believe to say "she went home to be with the Lord," but truly, to the believer, this earth is not "home." It's like the saying "home is where the heart is," and our hearts are in Heaven, with God. Waiting to be free from smog and injustice and famine and war. Free from cancer and sorrow and poverty and hate. And that's exactly where Laiken is tonight. As I sit here feeling sorry for myself for maybe not praying hard enough or having enough faith or whatever it is my mind is still wrestling with on this, she sits at the feet of Jesus. Perhaps singing him a song, maybe showing him a cheer routine, or maybe he's still guiding her on golden streets, giving her the tour. Showing her the home where someday her Mama and Dad will live with her. Whatever she is doing on that glorious other side, it's not crying. It's not struggling for every breath. It's not having tubes and monitors and sores. She is complete and healed, whole and restored. No more sorrow, no more pain, no more cancer.

To Stacey and Jim, thank you for loving Laiken so beautifully, so fully. Thank you for allowing so many others to be a part of Laiken's journey. She truly is a special person, and I am absolutely nothing short of blessed by how God used her to teach me how to listen and obey. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

It All Started With a Basket (sort of)

In order to fully process this, I feel the need to write out the complete story. It's an amazing journey that couldn't have happened if there weren't some larger force at work. I believe that to be a person, in Jesus Christ, but please, read on and understand that even if you don't believe, this can't be coincidence.

In 2002, I started working for Cramer Painting. I was working there while going to school full time, and it was a pretty cool gig because I didn't have to do nights and weekends and the other stereotypical college student job.

In 2005, a young woman named Beth started working at Cramer. She was engaged, and she got married the same month that Aaron and I got engaged. At some point, I can't remember exactly when, she decided to run the LA Marathon with some girlfriends of hers to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma society in the name of her friend's daughter, Laiken Kenwood. At the time, I think she was in remission, but still not 100% healthy. Sometimes Beth would forward emails from Stacey (Laiken's mom) asking for prayer. There was a point where something clicked on in me that I needed to pray for this girl specifically. And there are so many situations like this that as people, we just have to say no to or else we'll run ourselves into the ground trying to pray for every sick person and every need. But with Laiken, I actually felt called to pray for her. So I did.

Shortly before Beth ran the marathon, Laiken was admitted into the hospital and she was there for a couple weeks. I prayed, and was really dying to go to the hospital and pray for her, but that would have been pretty awkward considering I didn't know her or Stacey at all.

So Beth ran the marathon, Laiken went home from the hospital, life went on.

Until one night when I was on my way to my very last class at Cal Poly Pomona. Where I had actually managed to start building a friendship with my lovely friend Liz. I actually called or texted her to ask if she was coming to class that night because I knew she had been sick, and as it turned out, she actually had walking pneumonia. I was halfway to Cal Poly from Montclair, and class started in 20 minutes, but I decided a detour was in order. I went to Target to pick up some get-well supplies, the usual: soup, a movie, some decongestant. I couldn't quite settle on the perfect vessel for my little care package. I tried various bowls and bucket-type devices, none of which seemed suited for the fabulous friend. I wandered three times around Target. It was not my "usual" Target and I was getting very frustrated because I actually enjoyed this class. And I wanted our classmates to sign the get well card!

Then, right in front of my face, was the basket. I picked it up and actually wondered how I had passed it up. I even remembered looking at the exact aisle and everything else on it, but somehow I was blinded to this basket.

Satisfied with my find, I hurried to the register so I could pay and get to Cal Poly to park and book it to my class. At the point that I was actually paying for my purchase, it was 5:59pm. Class started at 6:00pm. "Thank God for a cool professor who would certainly find my cause worthy," was pretty much the only thought going through my head.

Until I looked at the register next to mine. Where there stood two ladies, one, on her cell phone, typical Mom looking flushed and ready to get home. Standing not too far away, a beautiful young girl with bloodshot eyes, a bandana, and a medical mask.

My stomach went into knots. It seemed like hours until this woman finally got off of her phone call and finished her transaction.

"Excuse me, but, is her name Laiken?" I gestured to the frail-looking girl.

Stacey's eyes went all quizzical on me, and she said, "yes..."

At that point, it was all I could do to hold back Niagra falls - here standing in front of me is a girl who I have prayed more fervently for than anyone else in my whole life and God has given me a divine appointment to meet her face to face. I explained to Stacey that I was supposed to be in class at that very moment, but that God had been putting her and Laiken both on my heart and he arranged a quick meeting to remind her that they are loved. Stacey welled-up a little bit and just hugged me tight and said thank you.

Upon delivery of the get well basket, it was revealed that Liz loves baskets more than just about anything else under the sun, so God was an expert in holding me hostage in Target for more reasons than one.

That story in and of itself would be something to be thankful for, an awesome time of God revealing that His plans are much more important and rewarding than our plans.

But it gets better.

I wanted the gift of healing so badly I could taste it. I wanted it so that, if I only ever laid hands on Laiken and prayed for her, she would be healed. I sought it. I went to a church that was a little more liberal with spiritual gifts and asked some friends of mine to pray for me. I shared with them that there was this girl and I wanted her to be healed and I just wanted to pray for her. They prayed for me, and I felt that something had happened.

I went to the Christian bookstore and bought myself some oil so that I could do just what the Bible says and anoint her with oil and ask for healing.

Then she went back into the hospital. And things went from bad to worse. By this point, I had gotten onto Stacey's mass email list, so I was aware of what was going on. I emailed her, asking if I could come pray for Laiken. But she didn't respond fast enough (as in, she didn't respond in 20 minutes). I was chomping at the bit to go pray for this girl, and she was just right there at Loma Linda hospital. I got her last name from Beth, and then I called the hospital on my way home from work.

Stacey answered.

I blurted out as much as I could trying not to sound like a crazy person, and made sure she remembered that fateful night at Target. She did. I asked if I could come pray for Laiken, letting her know that I didn't expect to come into the ICU, but she said that I could, that she would love for me to pray for her.

So I did. I went to the hospital several times over the next few weeks, sometimes praying over her, sometimes just sitting and quietly singing worship songs over her, and always trying to encourage Stacey and her then boyfriend, Jim.

Miraculously, Laiken got better. The last time I went to see her, I took a friend with me, and we sat and played Uno with her. It was seriously one of the best nights of my life. Laiken was conscious, with no tubes attached, happy, and more importantly, almost healthy. She continued to improve, and went home eventually. Her hair grew back, Jim and Stacey got married, if I'm not mistaken, I believe Jim got to believe in God more than he had before.

To be continued...

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Filling in the blanks

It's a long story, and I hardly knew her or her family at all, but God has definitely used her in my life.

And today, at 4:36 pm, Laiken Kenwood went home to be with the Lord.

I am very sad, but very thankful that I know one day this will just be yet another thread in the beautiful tapestry that is being woven together right before our eyes.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Learning to be Gentle from Laiken

Unfortunately, I've not had much time with Laiken where she has been alert and interactive. Most of the hours I've spent with her have been like the time today, when she's been unconscious, unable to speak due to breathing apparatus, hooked up to so many machines that you can't fathom how the nurses could possibly keep it all straight.

Yet I think I've learned more from her about what it means to be gentle than I have from any other person in my life. One night when she was doing better after a stint like this at Loma Linda Hospital, I got to hang out with her and play Uno with her. She has such a soft voice, a sweet smile, and a spirit that radiates joy. She is the epitome of the woman with a gentle and quiet spirit.

I'm thankful that she has somehow ended up in my Oikos. That God uses spur of the moment trips to Target and schedule mishaps and the internet to create a beautiful mish-mash of relationships.

Please pray for Laiken. That the infection in her lungs would heal and that she would be able to breathe on her own. I'll tell the rest of this story tomorrow, for now I'm wiped out.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Patience really IS a virtue

I'm so busted.

That's what my dog was thinking this afternoon when I came home for lunch. She had just had an "accident" upstairs.

And I am feeling equally busted since I haven't updated as often as I would like, so bear with me.

Well, my week spent focused on patience has come and gone and I find myself in the middle of "Gentle" trying to recall what stood out to me last week.

I think the most important thing I learned was that I truly do need to be a little bit more patient with myself. I have what we used to jokingly refer to as a "GATE" complex. As in, Gifted and Talented Education, as in, nerd school... in that, if I am not good at something the instant I pick it up, I want nothing to do with it.

Weight loss has not really been my forte. The one time I was somewhat successful at it was when I was extremely motivated by my upcoming wedding and actually had a personal trainer. I couldn't afford that luxury then, and I really can't afford it now. So I'm on my own.

As of yesterday, I was feeling sour and defeated. I have been eating a lot of junk food, not working out a lot, not even walking Scout a lot. So I was feeling that familiar tug to just give up and live my life without working so hard at losing weight and building disciplines.

But I did myself a favor and told the girls in my group. And they all offered suggestions and ideas, which were great and helpful, but what's more helpful is now they know. I'm not the only one who knows that I mean it when I say I want to do this this time. It's hard to know just what to say to someone who is trying to lose weight. I mean, do I want you slapping my hand when I reach for the ice cream or a french fry? Probably not. Do I want to know that you support me and that if I say I don't want to go to Fatburger or The Hat or whatever for lunch you'll be okay with that? YES. Can it please be okay if I opt to not go OUT to lunch with you at all if I'm perfectly willing to eat my lean cuisine or other healthy food? That would be amazing. Just that simple understanding that when I actually muster up the willpower to say no, that you can say no with me, would be awesome.

All that to say, I'm going to be patient in this process. I guess I'm down another pound or so. What's crazy is that even though I feel like I'm getting nowhere, that means I've lost 5 lbs in the last month. Hooray for that! I just have mixed feelings, like yeah, I've lost 5 but what about the other 30+?

It's a good thing I'm also learning to laugh at myself.

And I will write a more gentle entry before Monday. ;)

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Humble Thyself

coffeeLast week's focus was peaceful. Ah, calm serenity and freedom from the stress of life.

However, if I were to ask my resident teacher, Mr. Caloca, he would probably give me a D+ at best for last week.

So, I'm fast-forwarding to humble, and how I've got a long ways to go.

I'm going to start here by saying that I have almost completely fallen off track with my weight loss goals, as evidenced by the above picture of yesterday's breakfast. Yikes! This week, I have also consumed 2 orders of french fries (though I want to limit myself to 1 serving per month), an aptly named fatburger, a slice of wedding cake, an order of onion rings, a heaping serving of Mexican food, an ice cream sundae, a Black Forest from the Coffee Bean, a root beer float, some Dr. Pepper and some Coke.

This is why, my friends, Kim has gained weight over the last year instead of losing. And in an attempt to be humble, I'm laying it out here for what will hopefully be encouraging or otherwise edifying for you as a reader.

I have also learned that I am a bit of a snob when it comes to my coffee. Not that I "have" to have Starbucks, though I do enjoy it. However, where I found myself being a snob can be found in the pic. See that lid? It says "Solo" on it. Just like the lids at the donut shop, or that you might buy from Costco if you were running a coffee house out of your garage. I actually found it disturbing. A couple weeks ago I noticed it and thought the store must have run out of lids. But no, today, after ample time to get a supply order, I still see that Solo with all the other standard indentations glaring up at me as I sip my $1.85 cup of coffee.

And it offends me.

Yes, I admit, that's weird. Here's where that humility comes in. I catch myself obsessing over these markings on my coffee lid, deciding that Starbucks lids used to be more classy, absent of any marking and smooth to the touch. I realize that I'm, for lack of better words, an ass. For being indignant, and not even slightly at that, over the impression on my plastic disposable coffee lid.

I have a long road ahead of me, in more ways than one.

Another discovery this week was that of the generosity and ability of our parents to help us out. Thanks to them, we were able to sign documents to offer to purchase a home tonight. It's a waiting game from here, and it's a short sale, so it might not go... but I am truly humbled because I know if it weren't for them there would be no way this could happen.

Has anyone heard the Norah Jones song "Humble Me?" It's actually really pretty. There's a lot of stuff about a baby daddy and whatnot, but this is the part that gets me:

You humble me Lord
You humble me Lord
I'm on my knees empty
You humble me Lord
You humble me Lord