Friday, August 9, 2013

radiant: Katie

my heart is so heavy and sad right now, I hardly even have words to write. but I can't just go on with my life here without Katie and not allow her to impact as many people as possible, even in her death.  God is certainly being glorified in her death, just as he was in her life.

Here's the thing about Katie.  Every single person who knew her is grieving so intensely because Katie loved so much, and so well.  It's been said a million times in the last week, but it's true, that she really made every single person feel like they were the most important person in the world when they were with her.  so selfless, so good at listening, so good at asking questions, so happy to see you, no matter what.

She was 8 when I first moved to Omaha.  We started attending our church and there were a RIDICULOUS number of tall, long-blond-haired girls from a variety of different families, and it probably took me at least a year to place each one with the correct family.  the gronewolds, the pfeiffers, the nissens, the graszes.  probably more.  there were so many girls in the same age range, with such similar looks. it was crazy, or so I thought then, because now I can tell them all apart quite easily. :)

but the first one I learned was Katie.  She was one of the youngest, and was so STINKING CUTE that everybody noticed her.  and she was the first blondie that I placed with the correct parents, and from there I could figure out who else belonged with them.  And names were a completely different challenge.  at least the gronewolds were in alphabetical order.  that was helpful.  but the other families took me a while.  except for Katie.  Katie the Cutie.  so easy to remember.

Lots of people told me lots of stuff about being a mom when I was pregnant.  but no one EVER described the new kind of love that would develop specifically for people who love your kids really well.  it started with Tabi.  Tabi and Katie were best friends, but Tabi and I had worked out a sweet deal where I would tutor her in  her college level spanish classes and she would babysit for trade.  so Tabi very quickly became the favorite babysitter in the Hydeen house.  But whenever Tabi was unavailable, Katie was always the requested replacement, and came in at a very close second place to Tabi, which of course she didn't mind. :)  and oh my heavens, if there was ever a Hydeen-kid babysitter utopia, it would be the Tabi-Katie-combo, which was a dream come true for all three.  like, seriously, jumping and screaming and practically shedding tears they were so happy to hear the announcement.  what I wouldn't give for a video of that now.

So my love for Tabi and Katie has grown over the years in a way that probably not every mom has experienced.  But to know that my kids have been influenced by these sweet girls with a crazy love for Jesus has changed my heart forever.  and my kids' hearts too.

But something changed in my relationship with Katie while we were in Belize.  She was so excited that we were coming.  Every time we had a meeting or a fundraiser or anything, she'd walk up to me and say "I'm seriously SO GLAD you guys are coming!!!" in a soft, high pitched but not annoying voice.  (everyone who knows her can just hear it now, I'm sure.)  :)  and she'd put her super long arms around me in a hug, but more like a side hug, but with both arms, right above my belly button.  it was like the signature katie hug I think.  just sweet and sincere.  **ok, I just took a little break to look at her pictures on facebook to see if I could find a picture to explain the Kaite hug, and oh my.  it's everywhere.  not always with the front arm too, but you can see her little hand peeking out and around everybody's waist, because she didnt' ever just put her hand on your back, it was ALWAYS a hug.  search Katie Nissen in facebook if you want to see what I"m talking about.  love it!!!!**

so anyway, if you've ever been on a mission trip with anyone, you understand that bonds are created there that cannot be explained.  She slept right next to me every single night, right in Steve's spot, and told me she didn't care if I accidentally snuggled up to her in the night. :)  and I feel like I had more little "moments" with her on that trip than I did anyone else.  it's the little things, like your first greeting in the morning and your last conversation at night.  it's the big things like braiding girls' hair like maniacs every single day, and trying to figure out if they want the type of braids that Katie was braiding, or the type of braid that was in Katie's hair, and laughing as we work together in the "salon."  on the day I was so sick, she rubbed my back like a little mama when I went to lay down, and I'm quite certain she even kissed my head.  it didn't take very long for me to realize that I didn't just love Katie in a you-love-my-kids-and-my-kids-love-you way.  I loved her in a I-need-more-of-you-in-my-life-for-ME way!

My forever-image of Katie the Cutie is from our day of snorkeling.  I always knew she was good at swimming, like, one of the best in the state or something. but to see her in her element was breathtaking.  ok, so it might have something to do with the fact that I was very much NOT in my element, but still.  after our snorkeling "tour" we took a boat ride over to the shark area.  and that's where we just go to hang out in the water and touch the sharks and stingrays and do our own thing.  And there's me, choking on water in my snorkel and blowing salt water out my nose after screaming about the fish that almost crashed into me, and then there's Katie.  She must have had her mask and snorkel on, but that's not part of my memory, because she looked so beautiful.  she'd go down to the bottom, swimming like a mermaid, blond hair flowing behind her, and then she'd surface a little and blow the water out of her snorkel and head back down again.  I think I spent most of that chunk of time just watching Katie.  My favorite was when she swam down to the bottom, and started writing her name in the dust on the back of a gigantic sting ray.  I think she only got the "Ka" written, but still, it was so beautiful.  and forever etched in my mind.  Katie in her prime:  a week of serving Jesus and then a day off to swim in God's creation.

after she died I was having a really hard time sleeping.  I'd just lay there for hours and cry for her family, and for my kids, and for me.  and then I'd go to sleep and dream about her, and wake up again and start all over.  I only remember one dream really clearly, but it stems from the memories of snorkeling with Katie I'm sure.  In my dream, "we," whoever we all were,  were rollerblading around the streets of Orange City.  We all knew that Katie was going to die, we just didn't know when.  And Katie and I were in different groups of people taking different paths around the town.  But every time I skated past her I would just yell "KATIEEEEE!!!" and she'd turn and look at me, and blow me a kiss!  I'd wave at her and show the "i love you" sign, and she'd say, "it's okay!  really!  it's okay!!!  I love you!"  and blow more kisses as she spun around on her rollerblades while her blond hair spun above her, in a way that doesn't happen in real life, unless you're in the water. and it just happened over and over, where she'd blow me kisses and tell me she loves me but that everything was okay.

At her celebration service we found out that her favorite verse was Psalm 34:5.  "those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed."

for real?

if there was ever a word to describe our sweet Katie it would be radiant.  she was a walking beam of sunshine, with Jesus shining through always.  which is why it makes no sense that the rest of us are weeping, still.  I know it's a part of the grief, but it's so not Katie.  On her last night with us in this life, we had a prayer service at one of the local churches (bigger than ours!).  a storm rolled in, quite fitting for our moods, and the thunder joined us as we sang and worshiped our God, and the heavens wept with us as we mourned the coming loss of our friend.

and again on her celebration service day, we drove to the church in torrential rains, as if God was saying to us, "I get it.  I know.  I'm mourning your loss with you."  but then I saw, way in the distance, blue skies with white clouds.  and I thought, wow.  blue skies a-coming, even though it looks so far away.  and my heart just felt like it was overflowing with emotion about it all, and about my mom's death, and how sometimes I still wonder where the blue skies are, and how much we just need Jesus to come back and rescue us from this world of sin and pain and brokenness.  but blue skies are coming here in this life, eventually, and then streets of gold, and forever and ever and ever (which will make this life seem so short) with the ones we love.  so when we walked out of that church to a beautiful day, I was not surprised.  it was much more of a "katie" type of day.

the kids have all handled it very differently from each other, but very true to their personalities.  Josiah found out first and just exploded in tears, which sent Lillian running.  and she, too, allowed herself to just weep over her loss.  Brielle asked what happened, then turned around and continued on with whatever she was doing.  And after a while had passed, Lillian got a look on her face that she was going to do SOMETHING, and she took off to her room.  Josiah eventually began asking questions like "mama, why are you STILL crying???  Katie's in HEAVEN!!!"  and I thought, "oh God, please give me more of that.  help me to grieve, but then give me THAT."  And Brielle eventually vocalized a little, but only enough to say, "I just don't want to talk about it." When Lillian came back from her room, she had  an envelope with her money in it, and a note saying "I know this isn't much, but I just wanted to help however I could."  My sweet girl.  She's a giver, that's for sure.  Always buying things for others, with her own money.  so after a nice little talk about the fact that they didn't need our money, they needed our prayers, she was still set on giving them her money.  so I let her, because I sure don't want to be the one to squash her giving nature.  And Katie's mom let Lillian decide which memorial she wanted the money to go toward, and she chose the Crisis Pregnancy Center to receive a $6 donation in memory of Katie Nissen. :)

I'm still struggling.  way more than I expected.  I think this loss has been the most significant in my life since my mom's.  I've had other dear loved ones pass away, but not in a "robbed of life" sort of way.  So it's just all bringing up so much emotion.  such a hard loss.  When we were in Belize and I spent a significant amount of time with Pam (Katie's mom) and Theresa (another awesome mom of high school/college age kids), I was really feeling the loss of my mom.  Not that anyone could ever replace her in my life, but being with those ladies who had such similar qualities to my mom and my aunt, just made me really want those relationships to grow.  I was telling my friend Rachel, on Sunday, that my master plan had been to make a deal with Pam that if she would be my life mentor, I'd be that to Katie, and what a dream come true that would be to me.  of course it never happened, but then I found out from her sister at the visitation, that on the Saturday before she died, Averi (the sister, who also plays on my sand volleyball team) asked Katie who she would choose if she could pick anyone she wanted from church to be her mentor.  and Katie picked me.  (so many tears....)  I don't know if she listed 4 people and I was one of them, or if she only said me or what, and I don't care.  Because that one little comment made me realize that the I-need-more-of-you-in-my-life feeling was mutual, even though that sort of just makes it sting even worse.

so now here we are, with the pain of loss burning our eyes every single day.  burning in our hearts.  (is there some medical reason that I really truly feel it in my HEART???)  left with so many questions for God.

but also with the knowledge of truth.

Katie is with our Savior, because she believed in Him as her only way to salvation.

This loss is not from God.  The whole idea of God's "plan" has always been hard for me, but especially now.  I don't believe for a second that God wanted this to happen.  Death and sadness are not FROM God.  yes, he knew it would happen, and he had Katie's days numbered before she was even born, but this death is a result of the fall of man, of this sin-infested world, and not how he created us to be in His TRUE plan.

Faith is a gift.  Sometimes, especially times like this when there's so much I don't understand, I feel like I sound totally crazy for believing in God.  for believing that He's GOOD.  There are times when the miracles of God and the other stories in the Bible just sound ridiculous, and I wonder what I would think if other religions said the same about THEIR god.  but I believe.  I really do.  Because God has given me that gift of faith.  and I'm so very grateful for that.  so that even when things don't make sense, I still believe.

Katie's life will live on. There were probably over 1500 people at her service on Tuesday, and our awesome pastor did not shy away from the truth of the gospel.  and hopefully hearts were stirred that day and many will come to Christ because of the life of Katie.

I will never be the same. I will still live my life as Katie's mentor, doing my best to point out Christ at work in her life to my kids, and striving to be more Christ-like in all that I do.  I am forever reminded that this is not our home, and things of this life are fleeting.  and my job here on earth is to point others to Him and allow Him to work in me and through me, all for His glory, not mine.  and I have had the perfect example set for me.

so Katie, sweet Katie.  you are gone from our lives but never from our hearts.  thank you for being a 17 year old role model for every single person in your life, no matter their age.  Thank you for loving my children in such a special way.  thank you for serving me, and with me, in Belize, and for our special bond.  and I can't WAIT til the day when we all "sacatecas" out of this world and spend eternity forever, doing what you do best my dear, praising Jesus.

love you.  always.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

belize 2013

I started to write out some details about the trip last week but I just deleted it all (on purpose) because it's just too much stuff that's not important.  So I guess I'm starting over and I'll just write out some of the major stuff I learned (and that I'm still learning) from this trip.

1.  I am way more emotional than I thought, and I already thought I was very emotional.

It all started two days before I even left.  couldn't sleep.  cried all night.  lots of mixed emotions about leaving my kids, plus some major feelings of inadequacy as we got nearer to d-day. Then, I lost it again in the airport before leaving (probably normal) and found myself in tears all but ONE day on the trip for one reason or another.  feeling so sick I cried (possibly normal), riding on a boat (probably not normal), missing Brielle's bday (possibly normal), hearing about Steve's bad dream (probably not normal), and saying goodbye to my new friends (probably normal) are a few reasons for some of the tears. I knew I was emotional, but good grief.  that's too much crying. :)

2.  God can use even me.  (or not...)

Like I mentioned before, I was really struggling with inadequacy.  Here I was with an education degree and a spanish degree but still wondering why I was the one in charge of heading up the VBS (probably bc God made me volunteer to do it).  Long story short, we did it.  thanks to the awesome music team (and the fact that music is the universal language!!!) and the craft and activity teams, we actually pulled it off.  I'm still struggling with the fact that it wasn't as seamless in real life as it was in my head, and I'm not even sure if the kids were impacted by the stories we told or not.  But what I do know is that they felt loved by us, and if what sticks in their little minds about the love of Jesus is how they felt when they were with us, then it's a start.  a seed.  so anyway, all the prep work and prop finding and trying to keep it simple and everything I was stressed out about for the story time was maybe used by God.  or maybe not.  but he put me there for a reason.  and I survived!  and yes, I know he probably used it all to His glory, but I'm just saying, even if he didn't, it doesn't change the fact that I did what He asked me to do, no matter what comes of it.  I'm obviously still sorting out all those feelings.

3.  God at work isn't always something I can recognize.

I struggled the first few days with really SEEING God at work.  I kept thinking that my heart would just be bursting with all the wonderful things God was doing in us and through us.  But instead I found myself wondering on many occasions what the HECK I was doing on the trip.  The evening after we got there was great, but the next day I was SUPER sick, thinking surely I was going to throw up, and wanting it even.  It was the only way I could see relief in my future.  But thanks to the zofran (which I was really excited about at first, so that I WOULDN'T throw up) I was completely unable.  so instead I just sat there feeling like I was transitioning in labor, when your stomach is freaking out, you're sweating, shaking, and needing to puke, and just not sure how it's all going to play out.  so that day was really hard, and included my team locking me in the church while they drove to another village for church so I could hopefully sleep it off.  which worked.  thank goodness, bc I had VBS to lead the next day.  but the whole day I just kept thinking "I KNEW I shouldn't have done this! I'm such a travel whimp!!!  why did God think this was a good idea???"

and then those first few days of VBS were harder than I expected just because of the language barrier (we did everything in English, but had a translator for the story, all per their request) and everything that I already talked about before.  So, yeah, by the evening of day 3 I was sort of to the point of saying, "ok, God, WHAT THE HECK.  where are you and why don't I feel you???" (I was feeling very brave to say that to God.)  and the very next day was July 18, and if you have the Jesus Calling devotional, you should read July 18.  basically it says that sometimes you feel alone, because your union with God is invisible. and then it says  "ask me to open our eyes, so that you can find Me everywhere."  gulp.  I did it, and He showed me.  in so many different ways.  and I was totally humbled (and embarrassed?) that once again I put God in a box, and expected my own version of Him.  but once again (he's GOT to be sick of this!) he just gently showed me more about Him.  Man, he's awesome.

and, of course, after that moment not only did I see God working in many little ways, but I could also look BACK and see the ways he already was working, even though I'd missed them.  Thank goodness for his forgiving nature!

4.  I have a lot more anxiety than I thought.

I knew without a doubt that this trip would stretch me in ways that I haven't been stretched in many years.  What I didn't realize was how crazy my mind would go with the idea of the bazillion things that could happen to orphan my three dear kids.  leaving them was VERY hard and I don't normally feel that way.  I'm the first to promote mom-breaks.  but man, this was some "break."  Every situation had my mind reeling.  I'll only go into detail about one for you though. :)

so, I'm not a fan of water.  I think it mostly stems from the little girl drowning in our pool in California when I was a little girl.  I would just much rather be on land than in a boat, and if I'm feeling brave I'd rather be on the boat than in the water.  I've been like that for many years.  yes, I've tried skiing a few times.  it was sorta fun, until I fell and then went back IN the water.  I'll take the boat, thankyouverymuch.

oh, and also, I am not a huge animal lover.  I love them from a distance, but in general, I just don't trust them.  might be because my mom had dog bite scars on her face for her whole life.  might be because of the crocodile wrestler guy I saw at Busch Gardens on vacation as a kid who had to RUN for his life out of the pit thing because they turned on him, OR, it might be the fact that the real crocodile hunter guy DIED, and he knew everything there was to know.  so I'm just saying, I don't trust animals.  only puppies and kittens, and only for a short period of time.

so you can imagine my anxiety bubbled over when I boarded a boat (where I couldn't see out the windows!!!!) for a TWO HOUR boat ride to an island to go snorkeling (swimming WITH THE ANIMALS!!!).  I have told Steve many times before that he should never surprise me with a cruise.  not on my bucket list.  have no desire, whatsoever.  we did a dinner cruise on our honeymoon and that I could handle.  nice little boat.  but that's good enough for me.  so anyway, I don't know how serious Steve ever took me about that whole thing until Friday morning when everyone was filling the boat with excited chatter about the day ahead.  and suddenly he looks over to his left and finds his bride crying uncontrollably but hopefully not-so-noticably.

I was a total disaster.  I was trying really hard to stop crying and to not allow my mind to wander unnecessarily.  but man, it took like at least ten minutes for them to get this boat ready, and it felt like FOR.EV.ER.  It was not working to try to calm myself down.  it was not working to snuggle into Steve's arm.  It was not working to recognize the fact that this was from Satan himself, and I knew he'd attack me in this way (I just didn't know it would be that bad!!).  Eventually, I convinced myself that as soon as the boat started to go, I had to give it to God.  I did not want a miserable day of fear and anxiety.  I wanted to experience God's creation in a way I never had before.  I wanted to feel His peace.  and sure enough, the boat started to go, and I let out a big sigh, like I was blowing it all out of me and up to God.  and it worked.  God gifted me with his peace, and in that one moment I knew my anxiety was gone.

see?  I could even take a picture!  it doesn't look that scary now... :)

ok, well that was until I got in the water and had a school of those little trumpter looking fish RIGHT AT MY EYEBALLS!  It took a little more prayer for me to trust the snorkel equipment and convince myself that I could, in fact, breathe, even though I was under the water.  anyway, once I realized that the fish had a ridiculous ability to not crash into people, that helped, and I actually ended up enjoying my little journey on top of the sea.  I still had some major freak out moments, but thankfully Steve was there and I could make bug eyes at him or squeeze his hand when I was feeling particularly proud of myself for being in the water with certain creatures.

well, THEN...we got back in the boat and went over to the SHARKS.  I'm not kidding you. I'll have to see if I can upload video on this blog so you can see what I swam with.  I was swimming WITH sharks, and I touched one!  and Steve held it and I didn't totally spazz out!  and I touched these HUGE stingrays!  me.  I touched them.  on purpose.  it was crazy.  one of our guides, though, Rex, must have caught on to the fact that I was particularly jumpy, and decided on more than one occasion to throw chum at me so that this HUGE school of fish would race right toward my face!  I screamed every time and had to surface to get all the salt water out of my snorkel and my mouth and my nose because apparently I lose the proper hold on the mouthpiece when I scream.  He's lucky I didn't start crying again or he would have felt bad!  instead he just thought it was really funny that I did the same thing every time.

so there ya have it.  my most anxiety filled day turned out to be some of the memories that will last the longest I'm sure, and certainly be the most clear.  I'm so thankful to God for his peace during that day!

5.  I'm a very relational person.

I already knew this, but it had been a while since I felt the effects of it.  My favorite times of the whole trip were the ones where I was just hanging out with people.  I LOVED being with the girls after VBS and braid-braid-braiding all their hair.  they loved it.  I loved it.  and something really special happened because of that.  After one day of doing only girls' hair, on day 2 this cute little old lady Flora (aka mi favorita) asked me to braid her hair.  her long beautiful hair went down past her butt, and she wanted "two" on that day.  so I gave her two.  and then on day 3 a few more of the ladies asked me if I would do their hair, and by day 4 I was doing almost only the ladies' hair, and teaching some of them how to do it too!  I think they're crazy because I really like Katie's (my braiding partner) style of braiding better than mine, but they all seemed to love the clean tight braids that I can't seem to get away from even when I try. :)  so that turned out to be this little thing that only I got to experience-the women coming to VBS to get their hair braided afterward.  It also allowed me to talk with a few of them (sometimes in Spanish, although they also like to practice their English) about the church there and encourage them to come on Sundays.   it was so great.

another memorable moment for me was on Monday, day 1, when after lunch I sat down with the pastor's wife Elsa and sweet Veronica who made us lunch and asked if they'd be willing to talk with me in Spanish.  So there we sat for probably a half hour, talking about families and villages and Belizian customs in marriage, and all sorts of fun stuff.  I wish I had more confidence to speak Spanish here, because I know that I CAN do it, but it's just been so long since I felt fluent.  So anyway I felt like God gave me that little moment to remind me that I really can still do it. :)  oh, and I was also the translator for the kids.  whenever our team didn't understand, they'd bring the kid to me to figure out what they were saying.  fun!!!

and, of course, I can't forget about how much I loved our team bonding.  we played so many fun games.  most often it was UNO or Mafia.  The best part to me was that by the end of the week, our "team" bonding included a bunch of our new Belizian friends from the church where we stayed (which was different than where we did the work and the VBS).  We also ended up having a potluck turned worship time on Thursday night.  It was so great and felt like a little slice of heaven where we all worship together in different languages, and the whole evening ended up being a HUGE blessing to everyone involved.

**OK, gotta wrap this up.  I've been working off and on on this post for the last couple weeks, but it's been hard becasue (shocker) my body freaked out when I got back to the US and I've been fighting a huge cold or allergies or something that is totally SUCKING out all my energy.  Plus I had Maria and the kids here for a week which was so fun but hard to blog, and now this week I'm hosting the 5 Day Club at our house (like a mini VBS).  so my thoughts haven't been fully forming in this whole thing, but I have one more thing to say.

One of my favorite high schoolers EVER was on this trip with me.  Her name is Katie and she's just really freaking awesome and loves Jesus and people so much.  I slept right next to her all week and warned her that she was in Steve's spot so sorry if I snuggled up to her in the night. :)  she's just the sweetest girl I've ever known and after a trip like this you feel really close to your teammates.

anyway, this last week she's been having severe pain in her head.  She's been struggling with migraines for a while too.  So she was admitted to the hospital here for a series of tests and such that could give her and her parents some answers.  Things seem to keep getting worse, and yesterday she ended up in the PICU in a medically induced coma.  now there are more problems and they need to wake her up today.  This is all just so scary and I feel so sick about it.  We are giving our presentation tonight at church and it's just so sad that she won't be there, and all our minds will be with her and her family while we gather without them. :(

so, if you're the praying type, PLEASE storm the gates of heaven with us on the Nissen family's behalf, asking God to intervene and give the doctors insight and the family peace.  Pray that Katie will be pain free when she wakes up today.  and that there will be no long term effects of all these complications.  and pray that God will begin using this horrific time RIGHT NOW to begin drawing people closer to him.  I'm sure Katie has a bazillion friends who are struggling with this right now that God can work mightily in.

I feel like I'm not done talking about Belize.  if you ever talk to me in real life you'll get more bits and pieces.  but I can hardly even focus my mind off of Katie enough to finish up this post.  I'm sure that I've changed in a way that will come out in all my future posts, even if you don't notice. :)

God works in so many ways, and I'm just so honored that He chose ME to go on this trip, and to learn to know him more, and to be stretched and poked and prodded by Him in so many ways.  I'm already thinking about the next trip and when we can take each of our kids and go back and see our friends again.  I didn't expect to make FRIENDS, and after all the hard things for me during the week, I was shocked when it was still so hard to leave.  so I guess the only answer is to go back! RIGHT?!?!?!?

anyway, gotta run.  thanks for all the donations to make this trip possible.  I didn't even talk about the money part which is totally awesome.  another post I guess.  probably a budgeting post. :)  and thanks for all of you who prayed for me.  I can't imagine how I would have survived without your prayers, since there were times I felt like I was barely surviving with them!!!

Please pray for Katie!!!!

til next time, and after I am hopefully back to 100%....