I Couldn't Make This Stuff Up (How He Continues To Use Ann Voskamp To Bless Us)

Meeting Ann Voskamp at the women's retreat
I have been keeping an extensive journal during our walk through the valley of childhood cancer. I made careful note of everything, since details fade so dramatically with time. I don't want to forget the "little" miracles, God-stories and blessings He has given us along the way. The gentle reminders that He is there. However, in recent months we have had some experiences that are so unlikely, so completely crazy, that I am creating a new category entitled, "I Couldn't Make This Stuff Up," and last weekend I added another unbelievable story to that file.

I had plans to attend the women's retreat for our church. I'm an introvert with the busy job of raising four kids, so my idea of retreating is a weekend by myself, or maybe with the hubby...but the thought of 600 women can be a bit draining for us quiet types. This time though, there were a few compelling factors that made the decision less murky than in years past. Ann Voskamp was the main speaker, Paula Rinehart would also be teaching, Laura Story was leading music, I would be attending with my wonderful discipleship group and we would be staying at a girlfriend's lake house. 

They had me at Ann Voskamp.

It was an incredible few days. Ann speaks as she writes, so beautifully poetic. The worship time was wonderful. Hanging out with my d-group ladies was hilarious and good for the soul. We laughed so hard. But I came away with something else this weekend, something utterly unexpected. I was completely humbled by what God is doing with our family's journey. It is greater than I ever imagined.

I had been asked by our church to be one of several ladies who would give a video testimony regarding our experience with Ann's book, One Thousand Gifts...about how it affected us in our time of trial, what we learned, the impact it made. I began reading One Thousand Gifts less than a month after our 11-year old daughter, Bailey, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. I was still numb, barely breathing...but God had made it clear in various ways that thankfulness was a topic He wanted me to pursue. Just short of one year later, a year that included a grueling chemo regimen, an unthinkable amputation decision and watching our daughter suffer in unimaginable ways, I found myself shooting this retreat video. I spoke of how God used the book during this time to show me His Truth in a kind and gentle way. To remind me to give thanks in ALL things. It had a dramatic affect on my journey. Even though it was a deep valley, I would search for a few things every day for which I could be thankful...even in the darkest times. 

After each session of the retreat, a video would play of a different woman's story. I did not know which night mine would air and I had not yet seen the video. But on Saturday evening, after dinner, it flashed on the screen. It was not a cheery, feel good story. I tried to be open and honest, as I have been throughout our battle, and the focal point was being thankful in the middle of the suffering. What I did not realize was that this video would set off a chain of events that would leave me feeling overwhelmingly blessed and incredibly unworthy. As it faded out, Laura Story began playing her hit, "Blessings." What composure I had left was completely gone.  Bailey and I had clung to "Blessings" while she was ill...it captured our feelings perfectly and Laura's song gave us words when we were too weak to find our own. There was one day last summer when Bailey was practicing the song on the piano...with her bald head and half a leg. I could have collapsed in a puddle in the kitchen as I heard her sing and play, "What if your blessings come through raindrops, what if your healing comes through tears...

A mom's heart...rejoicing and breaking simultaneously. So to cap off the video with this song, though hard, felt completely perfect. 

If you missed the video, it can be found here:

A Holy Experience 

Following Ann's session that evening, I was given the special opportunity to meet her. She hugged me and wept. Truly wept. So tender. Such compassion. She listened as I retold our story. She seemed genuinely interested. We talked for a bit and she wrote a precious note in my tattered and underlined copy of One Thousand Gifts. The entire evening felt God-kissed...special...to treasure for always. 

I returned home after the weekend and quickly jumped back into life, but I did feel relaxed and refreshed after my blessed few days away. I had felt God's arms around me and I was grateful.

But there was more. 

Late Sunday evening, I learned that Ann wanted to post my portion of the video on her blog, "A Holy Experience." 


I know that God was working for something bigger than simply making me smile, but this book-loving, always-reading mama almost fell out of my chair. Ann Voskamp? Really God? Are you kind enough to be in the details?

He is. 

One Thousand Gifts was the first book I read after we had begun our hospital stays last spring. In the dark and lonely room, late at night, machines beeping, my girl heavily medicated, my heart aching...I read Ann's beautiful words. I firmly believe that God used this book to set my attitude for our journey...to encourage me to wrestle for thankfulness and joy, so that I could use them to beat back fear and doubt.

The video was posted on Ann's blog and shortly after, the messages began to come. As I have learned throughout this journey, if you are authentic, people respond. The irony is that although I have spent recent days bombarded by encouragement and by people telling me what a blessing we are...I know that we are truly the ones being blessed. To watch a child in agony is unimaginable and many times, on this side of Heaven, we don't get to see what God is doing.  But this was another one of those times, when He pulls back the curtain for just a glimpse. To be given even a small peek at how our story is encouraging others is unexpected. A reminder that He is working. There is a bigger plan. That He's got this.

What a gift the last few days have been. I am overwhelmed by what God has done. I am embarrassed that I didn't pray bigger. I am amazed by how He is using Bailey's story in spite of my very small faith. 

I am completely humbled. 

Thank you Ann for letting Him use you once again, to bless and encourage my soul. 


Jacque Watkins said...

Followed you over from Ann's and am so very moved by your story. I also have a daughter Bailey's age, and while we've not faced cancer, we are giving much thanks for how God is working and moving even through it in your lives. I love how you said..."A reminder that He is working. There is a bigger plan. That He's got this." Thank you for modeling to us how to look to Him amidst horrific suffering, how to allow Him to change us in good ways even through it, and how to count our blessings in spite of it. I will be praying for you and your beautiful family and the journey that continues to lie ahead. What a gift you are!

jodymcnatt said...

one of the crazy things about this story was sitting with ann and watching her react to your video. then the retreat team and holly and i quietly discussing would ann want to meet with you after the session. YES, of course she would. and then the: but how can we find tiffany??? then YOU texting Me less than one minute later in the middle of that session. oh, to be just a minute, minute part of watching that piece unfold. standing and watching you and ann together upstairs in that meeting...it made me want to weep. makes me want to weep. God just gives these little glimpses of connection as He shouts, yes, shouts: I HAVE THIS. I AM IN THIS. ALL OF THIS. bailey's story continues to make those around her praise and weep and run TO HIM.