Friday, December 28, 2012

Keeping the Sabbath Holy in the Backseat of a Cop Car

It was not by accident or mistake that I got to take a trip in the backseat of a patrol car a couple weeks tears, as we usually are when we are in the hands of the law. God is so purposeful and faithful as our teacher, but it isn't always without pain or fear. I was on my way to work when...

Well, let me back up to the night before. I was on my way to JoAnn's, and at the last minute I realized I needed to be in the right lane to turn. Something told me to just get over, but I was only a few feet from the light, and it would have been a little difficult, so I decided to just go in the back way from Steve Reynolds. As I sat at the light, a few cars back in the left lane, I saw a young girl walking on the sidewalk to the right, turning right on Pleasant Hill. It was dark outside, maybe 8pm or so, with a purse and a backpack on. She appeared to be High School age. I immediately thought I should stop to make sure she is okay, that she doesn't need any help. After learning that many girls are trafficked after running away from home, and are usually picked up within 48 hours by their predators, I realized that this could be unfolding right before my eyes, or moments after. And if I don't stop, who would be the next person that stops for her? Someone to help her or someone to hurt her?

I couldn't turn right at this point without making a huge scene and causing people to blare their horns at me, so I just went straight and pulled into JoAnns from the back. I started to feel guilty, so I went straight through to the front and looked on Pleasant Hill the way the girl was headed. I didn't see her for some way, and realized she either made it to her destination or someone picked her up. So, I just pulled on Pleasant Hill and u-turned back to JoAnns. I couldn't stop thinking about this all night. I prayed for her, and just promised that I'd do whatever I could to stop next time if I saw a situation that looked suspect. I can't remember when it was, but it was either that day or the day before that I had seen a young female with an older man. By the differences in their appearance, I had no reason to believe they were related, and the age difference was stark. She didn't seem to be afraid or uncomfortable, but I just didn't feel right about it. I didn't have time to do anything. They were leaving the gas station as I was coming in. So, all I could do is just pray for this girl. As I do think prayer is important in the fight against human trafficking both locally and abroad, I believe we need to be true advocates in all sense of the word. If we see these situations, we need to act. Stop and inquire, call in a license plate, etc. It sounds crazy, but if over *200 girls are being commercially sexually exploited each month in Georgia, and if what they say is true that much of this is going on in the is happening right under our nose. You may be pumping gas, minding your own business, and one of these pimps stops with one of his girls on the way to a hotel to get a soda or to fill up. It happens every day. (*Figure from A Future. Not a Past.)

God has opened my eyes to this issue in a way I almost wish he hadn't. One way to prevent sex trafficking in the future is to mentor a child, who is at-risk to be a pimp or a victim of CSEC (Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children) one day. A common thread among pimps and victims is that they did not have a positive role model growing up. They also might have experienced sexual abuse, not reported and dealt with properly, and maybe just general neglect and a lack of love in their lives. We can also help by just keeping our eyes open, not going to and from in this world, ignoring everyone around us, pretending we have no power to help, make a change, or prevent crime and abuse. That's what you do by the way, maybe not you specifically, but the majority of the population just minds their own business, selfishly handling their own personal errands and tasks for the day...not open to helping a stranger or someone in need. It is a disgrace. And I am absolutely guilty of this at times as well. 

Well, you say, sometimes there are setups where young women lure people to their broke down car and then out pops her boyfriend from the trunk who forces you in the car to mug you, rape you, or kill you. Oh geez, really? I mean be careful out there, sure, especially if you are a woman alone, but do not use that as an excuse to never help strangers. I pray before I help someone, and I know that the protection of God is with me. And if I die, trying to be Christ to a stranger to possibly share the good news with them, then so be it! Christ was mocked, rejected, tortured, whipped, stoned, and hung on a cross, baring our sins. But we should "rejoice that (we) participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that (we) may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed." Peter 4:13. I cannot afford to sit on the judgment seat of Christ and say, well, God, I didn't help your people...I didn't help Jesus...because it was a little too risky...I could have been hurt. “He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’(Matthew 25:45). I will not look into his eyes and tell him NO...hopefully ever again. My story is coming, I promise.

"Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life." Revelation 2:10

"I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who can kill the body and that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after killing the body, has the power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him." Luke 12:4-5

So, the day after I saw the girl on my way to JoAnns, I was on my way to work and ran out of gas in Johns Creek. By the way, this is my second day to work at a seasonal job, so you can imagine my state of mind. It is a Sunday, and I'm already feeling guilty about missing church, ignoring the Sabbath, and working instead. I ran out of gas simply because my gas gage doesn't work, I know, winner :) And, yes, I calculated my mileage with gallons, etc., but thought I had a little extra from the previous fill up...and obviously I didn't. I managed to pull over on the side of the road, and did what I'd always mom and dad. Dad is volunteering at church with his phone on silent, and mom is watching my nieces. She goes to load them in the car to find out my bro and sister-in-law didn't leave a car seat. UGHH. Ok, so I asked her if I should just wait for dad to get done serving. Maybe another hour. No, I will be too late to work by then. Then I asked her if I should just walk to the gas station as I see many people doing, and she said, "yeah, that's probably your best bet at this point." It was only maybe a mile away. The whole time I'm praying I don't get hit and die, unless it's his will, and that God will send someone to help me. I had been praying for him to send someone to help me as I sat in my car for about 5 minutes after deciding to walk. I thought maybe someone would stop, as I had once done for other people. 

No one stops, so I get out to walk, trusting God has this figured out somewhere along the way. First of all, it is so awkward walking down the street by yourself, where there is no sidewalk. I am scared I will get hit by someone texting, so I try to walk far from the street in the grass. Then I have to make it over a bridge with a VERY small shoulder...if you can even call it that. I wait until all the cars have passed and I jump up on...practically the railing of the bridge where there is some concrete. All these cars pass me, and not one of them stops. I wonder if I got up on the railing like I was going to jump, if anyone would stop for that. I mean, you would think SOMEONE might wonder why a young women is walking on the side of a street, not to mention, they have just passed a car pulled over with the emergency lights on. The whole time I'm walking, I'm thinking about this girl last night and many girls that are really in need...she is scared, alone in this cold world, wondering if anyone notices her...if anyone will stop to help her. On my way, one lady stops, I think to ask me if I'm okay. She just sits in this empty parking lot with a homeless shelter pick-up truck in it for a few seconds as I walk towards her, she looks at me, and then just pulls back onto the road. I imagine she is thinking what I was the night before...should I stop to check on this girl? She seems like she is okay. I don't want to seem strange and offer to help her...she's probably fine. Oh well, I will just keep driving. 

Then I pass a Catholic Mission Church who is conveniently having an outdoor picnic or something. I figure I am almost to the gas station so I won't bother them. They are so engrossed in what they are doing I don't even think they saw me. I mean, I'm sure they don't want to be inconvenienced during their planned festival to help someone in need. I get to the gas station...thank GOD I have money. So I buy the little gas can, go to fill it up, and think, surely I can find someone here that will drive me back so I won't be even later than I already am. I have called work by now, of course, to tell them what is going on. I see a lady, maybe in her 60's and ask her very politely if she could drive me to my car about a mile up the street. "No," she says, "I can't" and won't even look at me. I had said to myself that I would just ask women, but as I look around, all I see are men. I am baffled to say the least that this woman says no, that now it is like this point I feel I need to, WILL NO ONE help me?? I just can't believe it. I walk up to a guy in a BMW SUV. "Sir, would you mind driving me to my car a mile up the road, I ran out of gas." He just says, "No." Okeedokey, next person. A couple in a van, "No, I'm sorry." Now, the first lady starts yelling at me as she sees these people say no to me, and says, "Go talk to the attendant, that's what they're here for!!" in a mean and agitated tone. Nope, I'm on a mission to see just how cold and cruel our world really is. I mean, am I not allowed to ask a stranger for help? What is the gas station attendant going to do? Call me a cab? The next guy I ask says, "Well that road is down that way and much further than a mile, are you sure? Me: "No, sir, it is the other way and only about a mile up. I just came from there." (duh). Anyway, so he says in a mean tone, "Well, if you hurry up, I have to go pick up my daughter from Sunday School." Fabulous, a real nice "Christian" man. So, I am like panicking at this point, thinking he is my only option, trying to "hurry up" and get my debit card swiped, entering my pin as fast as I can to then fill up. 

Then a cop car pulls behind me, "Are you Christine?" Me: "Yes, sir???" Guy from across the way yells, "Hurry UP! I gotta go!" The cop says to me, "Do you know this man??" Me to the cop: "Can you take me back to my car?" Not sure if even he will say yes. He says sure. I yell back at the man that the cop is going to take me. Cop asks me again, "Do you know that man??" "No, but I asked like 5 other people if they could help me and they said no." (OK, it was 3, but it felt like 5.) Tears of relief are welling up in my eyes that my helper has come. Policeman: "oh, well that's nice...did you know you left your lights on and your purse in your car?" Me: "No, I didn't realize I left my lights on, but yes, I left my purse because I didn't want to carry it." I had my debit and license on me. I thought I might be a target walking down the street with my purse on me. Of course, I guess I could have put it in the trunk, but wasn't really thinking someone in John's Creek is going to pull over, steel my wheels and try to break in my car in broad daylight. Policeman: "Well I came looking for you because something just didn't look right." Thank God! He answers prayer! And, this cop might have saved me from more than we know. See, God's hand was in me leaving a strange scene behind with my lights on and purse in the passenger seat...oh and my wallet hanging out as well he said. He then proceeds to tell me how there are all kinds of crazy people out there and I could have just called them. They handle much bigger problems for people then just taking someone to get gas. 

I finish filling up and he opens his back door for me to get in. First ride in the backseat of a cop car! Honestly, it made me want to cry even though I didn't do anything wrong...partly out of just knowing I was safe, that I could let my guard back down...the whole experience was just very emotional for me. Doesn't everyone cry the first time they ride in the back of a cop car? Did you know that the seats are this really hard plastic? I sat down as my cell phone crunched in my back pocket. When we got to my car we laughed as we both tried to figure out this gas can for like 5 min. It was really complicated, maybe a 5 year old could have figured it out quicker than us. Finally we figured it out, got the gas in the car, and went our separate ways. He was a very nice man and gave me his card to call him if I was ever in this situation again. I tried to hold it together, but I basically had a meltdown on the way to work, just thinking about how bad it felt to feel like I needed help from a stranger and no one was willing. Rejected one by one. I thought about all the people out there that really need help. I mean, the reality is I could have just walked back to my car with my gas, and would have been fine. 

But what I think is that God really wanted me to experience this, to feel the pain of those that are in need in the world, and can't get anyone to turn and help them. I don't think it was an accident that neither of my parents could help me that day. I could have called a friend, but I didn't want to bother them on a Sunday for something this stupid. I grew up fairly sheltered and always "taken care of." I've always had someone to call when in need. I thought about a young women who didn't have any family around, and maybe no money to get gas...what does she do? I guess she calls the cops or ends up getting picked up by a pimp. Isn't it sad though, that we can only count on a paid public officer to help someone in need? Where are the Christians, Oh Ye Christian nation?! Oh yeah, they are on their way to church and don't want to be even later than they already are, or they are in rush to pick up their child from Sunday School, clearly not attempting to be part of the body themselves. It made me realize how it wasn't as important that I missed church that Sunday, as it is for me to BE a Christian every I needed someone to be for me that day. The reality is, many Christians passed me that day on their way to church, but they didn't want to be late for Rudy Vaughn's, "Emmanuel." 

Matthew 25:31-46
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
41“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” 

1 Peter 4:12-16
“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” 

Monday, December 3, 2012

Spared by Her Goodness

The Christmas season is a very sentimental and emotional time for many...and more this year for me than every before. As I grow closer to Jesus, and behold just what God has done for us in sending himself in the a little baby, I am just overwhelmed with gratitude and filled with awe. Losing my baby has brought me into a deeper heart knowledge of God and His love in allowing his only son to be sacrificed for all that would believe in him. Celebrating Jesus as a "baby" at Christmas makes it all the more emotional, naturally. Many times I felt that Evelyn was sacrificed for my life. Symbolically, I see her as a little Jesus to me. The reality is I led a very sinful life prior to Evie's entry into my life...which began long before I gave birth to her. See, God knows us before we are ever born, and in a sense, I believe our children are known to us in a deep place before they are ever conceived. Maybe it's the love that grows between a man and a woman prior to having children, or for instance, the discussion of baby names before a child is on the way. Evie was named a few short months before her life essentially began here on earth.

As I have read stories in the Bible about child loss, and in some instances as a result of sin, I have naturally concluded at times that this is why she died...because of my sin. Only yesterday I had this discussion with a group of friends after church. One man in the conversation assured me that her death was not result of anything I did wrong. I have been told this many times, but how can I not think that when I read the exact opposite in the Bible? I do know that God disciplines those he considers sons and daughters, and it is out of his love for us, to make us more like his son, Jesus. There are also very real consequences to sin here on  earth. Sometimes I think that Evie was taken home to be with her heavenly father to spare me of a tough life as a single mother, but mostly I think it was for her to be spared of the complicated and possibly dysfunctional life that she would have had, given the dynamics between her father and I. Maybe she was not sacrificed at all, but was spared and blessed...with my life being the sacrifice...of having to carry the weight of her absence for the rest of my life.

I prayed a lot about this that afternoon, because bringing this up again stirs up a lot of emotion and anxiety for me. I was kinda dozing in and out of sleep as I do often during prayer, and many of you are probably thinking oh yeah, that happens to me too! And having narcolepsy makes this a very often occurrence for me. Sometimes I hear songs or words during this dozing time, in an very real, audible way. Auditory hallucinations are a symptom of narcolepsy...upon sleeping or waking..."half-asleep" states as I call them. No, I don't just "hear things" walking around in broad day light! I feel God has only used this disorder in a way that allows me to hear him and grow closer to him through it. God can speak to all of us, to our hearts, our minds, in dreams, through scripture, through people, and even audibly sometimes. What I hear from God during these times of waking or dozing are not random. Moreover, there are only a handful of times I have heard from God in this way and I can back it up with what cannot be considered coincidence.

Yesterday as I was dozing off in my prayer time, I heard "kings," which caused me to wake up fully. I immediately thought to read in Kings. When I got to the chapter, I just started reading where I landed...and began reading the story of Jeroboam and his son, Abijah. Basically Abijah gets sick, so Jeroboam sends his wife and the child to the prophet, Ahijah, to find out what will become of the child. This is the same prophet that told Jeroboam he would be king. When she arrived, Ahijah(prophet) told her that because Jeroboam had not been like God's servant David who kept all the commandments, and who followed God with all his heart, but instead did more evil than all who came before him, he would bring disaster on his house. Abijah then said to her, "When your feet enter the city, the child shall die. And all Israel shall mourn for him and bury him, for he is the only one of Jeroboam who shall come to the grave, because in him there is found something good toward the Lord God of Israel in the house of Jeroboam." 1 Kings 14:12,13. The way it is stated makes it seem as if this child is the ONLY one who gets the honor of death, because of his favor with the Lord. The footnotes in my Bible say, "Sometimes God takes the life of the righteous to spare them from evil." It references Isaiah 57:1: "The righteous perishes, And no man takes it to heart; Merciful men are taken away, While no one considers that the righteous is taken away from evil. He shall enter into peace..." The footnotes here say: "We will never know until heaven how many godly men and women have died early in life as a result of God's grace. He takes some home so that evil things might not touch them."

I know that by God's grace he led me to this scripture, and I now feel I have the answer for my daughter's that is good enough for me, as I will most likely never fully understand her early death, because God's ways and his thoughts are so much higher than ours. I feel after this I will no longer focus on her death as a punishment for my sins, but as a sign of her goodness, that by God's grace he would spare her from the evil that could have hurt her in this world. And for that, all I can say is "Hallelujah!"

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

An Unlikely Rainbow

As the months and now years have past since Evie began a new life in heaven, many of mom's that I grieved with have started new chapters with their "Rainbow Babies." The rainbow is the baby that comes after the storm or the loss. 

" 'Rainbow Babies' is the understanding that the beauty of a rainbow does not negate the ravages of the storm. When a rainbow appears, it doesn’t mean the storm never happened or that the family is not still dealing with its aftermath. What it means is that something beautiful and full of light has appeared in the midst of the darkness and clouds. Storm clouds may still hover but the rainbow provides a counterbalance of color, energy and hope."

Without the immediate hope of starting a new chapter with my own rainbow baby, God somehow gave me strength and peace in spite of that reality, and allowed me to share in their healing. I felt lifted out of the storm with them in seeing the joy and the life in their eyes, watching them through their pregnancies, and then seeing their healthy babies when they arrived. Inspired by rainbow's Judah Courage(brother to Bella Grace in heaven) and Scarlet Noelle(sister to Lainey Grace and Evelyn Juliet in heaven) I created a new product for my Etsy store, Rainbow Signs. In making this bright and colorful gift for these babies and their parents, I felt God speaking to me that I was also entering a new chapter, the "rainbow chapter" in my own life. Because a baby is probably the closest comfort a mother can get after losing her child, however not a replacement of the child that is is natural to think that rainbow "baby" is the buzz word in the baby loss community. For me, God has many rainbows in store for me, but just not a rainbow baby in the near future, unless you hear me tell of the miracle child conceived by the Holy Spirit! ha! I am hopeful of the rainbows in store for me, and I will be patient for my "rainbow baby," because God's timing is perfect.

Saturday I spent some time with sweet rainbow, Judah Courage and his parents at his baby shower, where I was so blessed to be able to give away my first Rainbow Sign. I left the shower and got a little turned around, so I stopped in a turn lane going into a neighborhood and pulled up the GPS on my phone. As I was looking to see where I was by the street names, I saw that I was directly in front of Rainbow Circle. I was shocked, but not too much, because God is able to do anything! I took out my phone to take a picture of it, and then proceeded to turn around. I began looking at my GPS again to notice that there was also a Rainbow Dr. in that neighborhood as well. I thought that was interesting to I looked back at the entrance and  noticed the neighborhood was named Rainbow Estates. I'm not sure how I missed this when I was first taking a picture of the street name right in front of it, but I think this is how we are with many things in life. We are so focused on what we want to see or what we are looking for, that we miss what is right in front of us...what has been there all along. I began processsing this thought, and felt God speak to my spirit, that he was giving me a rainbow, but just not the one I was looking for...

That night I got a call from a friend of seven years that lives in India. He had been trying to reach me for a day or so, and we finally caught each other. This is someone who I have always found easy to talk to and no matter how much time had passed between talking we could always pick right back up. We have been saying for years now how I was coming to India to visit, or he was coming here to work. I also joked with him that when I came I wasn't going to tell him beforehand, and was just going to show up at his work one day. He said, no I couldn't do that because he would need to plan some places to take me. SOOO...when we talked Saturday, he asked me how far I lived from Duluth, and I just said casually, I dunno, maybe 5 minutes. He said, Oh good, because I am here in Duluth....WHAT?? Well, actually I didn't say anything...speechless...and paralyzed, literally. Thank goodness I was on the couch! He kept saying, hello?, hello?....then he finally just hung up and called back. LOL. So I immediately went to see him and he made me sit on the couch right away, because I warned him I may have an episode and not to worry if I collapsed. I have cataplexy which causes me to become paralyzed with any heightened emotion (laughter, sadness, excitement), and if I'm standing when this happens, it basically looks like crumbling to the ground...I don't just fall straight over.

The first evening we hung out and talked about life, his wife and new baby, etc. He made the comment that while his son is learning all new things in India, he is here learning all new things here. He has never lived outside of his home with his parents and siblings, never cooked, nor left India. I was just so excited to take him anywhere. So, we went to Suwanee days and sat at a coffee shop for a while. He came back to the house to meet my parents and Max, and witnessed a little bit of a game of Taboo between my parents and their friends. I can't explain the joy at the thought of getting out again and doing things, the simple things, as we discussed all he had hoped of doing while he was here. It was so funny because the other day my good friend and I were just talking about how I needed to try to get out and "live" again...and how I felt I was really just not there yet, but admitted I felt God pushing me out of a life mostly in isolation. I even prayed for someone to help me, because I just didn't feel like I could do it on my own. All the while during my first evening with Om, I was not really connecting the dots on the timing of his move...this blessing that was before me.

I was so excited at the thought of being able to experience some of these "firsts" with him during his stay in the U.S.! I woke up the next morning and thought about what a blessing it was that God sent him at this exact time in my life, but also what a sacrifice for him to be missing out on time with his wife and new baby to gain new work experience in the U.S. I am immensely excited to be his aid around this side of the world for a short time, and I also can't wait to spend time with both his wife and son when they arrive. We talked about how old the baby would be about the time they planned on traveling here, and he talked about getting to be a child again when his son is moving around and playing....he said, you get to be a child three times in life...your childhood, through your children, and then through your grandchildren. This guy has so many amazing insights! This reminded me of my grandmother talking about how amazing it was to see through my eyes during my first trip to Disney World. She says I just marveled at tinker bell coming out of the castle, and the look in my eye was something she will never forget. She was living through me on that trip...and feeling that same joy with me in those moment.

To have a rainbow baby, means to move from the storm of loss towards hope in new life, experiencing all the happiness and joy of a new baby with all of the child's "firsts" in life...while still remembering the storm, and at times being painfully reminded of those firsts that you didn't get to experience with the child that has passed on into a new life in heaven. I know that God has many rainbows in store for my life...but today, I am thankful for the rainbow that came all the way from India, my friend Om.  He has given me a chance to be a child again, and through his eyes, I will also marvel at all the "new."

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Miracle-Exodus 31

I title this miracle, because it truly is a miracle. I have received a handful of "miracles" from God after I gave my life to him, and I cannot wait to share them all soon!
I will not die but live,
and will proclaim what the Lord has done.
The Lord has chastened me severely,
but he has not given me over to death. Psalm 118:17-18

But as for me, it is good to be near God. 
    I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; 
    I will tell of all your deeds. Psalm 73:28

My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge. Psalm 71:15

I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart; I will tell of all Your wonders. Psalm 9:1

After losing Evie, I struggled to find purpose in my life. I was in this weird place, because I had prepared for so long to be her mother and to take care of her, and when I lost her...I knew I was still her mother, but she was not here on earth for me to care for anymore. I knew I was called to go deeper into God's Word, and I knew that I enjoyed using my creativity. I had started my business with Premier Designs Jewelry, and I had also begun making what I now call "Jewel Boards." These are framed jewelry organizers. 

It was really on my heart to start making something in wood. I wasn't sure why, but it had become a strong desire of mine. I also knew that I wanted to make something for parents that had lost children. I was feeling very confused for a time about what God really wanted me to do with my life. There were times when I felt He wanted me to give up everything and go to India to work with women and children...and although I do still feel this is in the future for me, I didn't have peace that "now" was the right time. I know that it will be in my future in some way or another, whether it is full-time mission work, a ministry of my own, or short-term missions. I am leaving that up to how God continues to shape it into my life. For now, I am fundraising once a year at Evie's birthday through the "Jewels from Heaven" benefit to benefit ministries in India. This will be our second year. 

But what about the rest of my time? What am I supposed to do? I asked God...I begged Him, actually, to tell me why he created me. I said, "God why did you put me here, what is your purpose for me?" I was crying out from my woundedness, feeling like my purpose in caring for my daughter was stripped from I was desperate for God to respond. I had felt "Exodus" jump out at me for some reason prior to this prayer. It was on something I had near me at that time. After the prayer, I began reading my Jesus Calling devotional, and one of the references was in Exodus. I, now, really felt God was telling me to read in Exodus. So, I opened up to Exodus and just started reading wherever I landed. This is what I read...

Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills  to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze,to cut and set jewels, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of crafts. Exodus 31:1-5

AHHH!!!! Really??? This is why I keep talking about this amazing God that has found me! Because He speaks to us in such a personal way, and only by His grace, direction, and favor can we live our lives for His glory...which is the best life available to us. Out of every single verse in the entire Bible...this is like winning the Mega Millions. There is not one verse that is more fitting and perfect for God to speak to me on my purpose...what He created me to do. For those of you that have read, "My Jewel" post, you would also understand how it is even more crazy that the word 'jewel' is used in this verse...of course it would be...

I, then. felt peace about moving forward with my idea for making something in wood. Soon after, God gave me the exact vision for what I now call "Angel Signs." These are wooden wall hangings with a child's name, and a quote on another board, connected by ribbon and hung by ribbon. I had a strong desire for Evelyn's name to still hang on my wall, but in a way that memorialized her and was respectful of the loss. It was painful for me to see the bright, polka-dotted letters that once hung above her crib. So, I make the Angel Signs in a soft gray, with either light pink, blue, or cream lettering and ribbon. I am selling these on Etsy as well as on an online memorial boutique. So far, God has blessed me to touch the homes of 18 families. I hope that one day it will be thousands! God will continue to shape and mold me all for His Glory...and they will know that it is the Lord that has done this.

Check them out here! Angel Name Signs

I will make rivers flow on barren that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the LORD has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it. Isaiah 40:16,20.

The Lord is righteous in all his ways
    and faithful in all he does. 
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him, 
    to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him
    he hears their cry and saves them. 
Psalm 145:17-19

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Storing Up Treasure in Heaven

The more I am in tune with eternity and heaven, naturally the more I understand how short life is. There are many scripture passages that speak to this, but why is it so hard for us to let this truth sink deep into our spirits? We rarely think about our death, and that it is imminent...given how short our lives are. He says our life is but a breath...and that we should simply enjoy his presence each moment and rest in the knowledge and joy of our salvation...that we will spend eternity with the Father, and the angels, and our loved ones who are a real, physical place called heaven. God says we should not boast about tomorrow, and that we are just to live and focus on one day at at time...because it has enough trouble of it's own. We are not to worry about tomorrow.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:34

Man is like a breath; his days are like a fleeting shadow. Psalm 144:4

You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man's life is but a breath. Psalm 39:5

I am beyond blessed to have the experience of the sweet girl that changed my life and my eternity, my daughter, Evelyn. What a jewel she is. God took the only thing I ever truly loved, and he brought it to himself...pulling my heart and my attention to Him along with her. He has blessed me with eyes that see and ears that hear...spiritual wisdom through the Holy Spirit and the Word. Eternal pleasures at his right hand, he has bestowed upon me.

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. Matthew 13:16

Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." John 20:29

You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11

By his grace, I get it. I know why I'm here...for the most part...and I know in my soul what matters and what doesn't in this world. I know I'm going to heaven...and God has given me such a real experience of what heaven is like through dreams and other's experiences in that I could grasp it...and live in a way to yearn for it, seeking to glorify the Lord with my life, and to want the best there is to have when I get to heaven. We will all give an account of our lives before God...

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will confess to God.’”
So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad" 2 Corin 5:10. 

God's word says, "Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys." (Luke 12:33). And in Matthew, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal." (Matthew 6:19). After I lost Evelyn, and by God's grace, He gave me the desire to live this way. And I'm not there yet, but He continues to mold and shape me to align my life with this calling. Possessions became meaningless to me after I lost the precious life of my daughter...all the baby stuff...everything was meaningless, everything was there...but she wasn't. I started giving things away, and I knew in my heart that he had taught me a lesson in his Truth that few are ever blessed to learn. He is preparing me for the most glorious plan He has for glorify living not for myself...and it is the only way. For now, I have been called to create the opportunity for others to build treasure in heaven along with me, through a benefit near my daughter's birthday, "Jewels from Heaven." Last year, God's presence showed up in a big way, and we will continue to pray for him to be glorified this year. Please pray with me over this night, Friday, October 26th, 2012, and I hope some of you will come out to support the cause...TBA. It will be a fun night with good food, live music, silent auction, and raffle in honor of Evelyn and other children in heaven! Thank you to all that supported last year!

God has done so much to grow my faith in Him in the last two years since I lost my the Living God....that speaks and works in a real way, and He has not stopped revealing things to me since I fully gave my life to him. God is faithful! I hope to be writing all these stories soon, since I am a little behind with all the moves and changes God has been making in my life. Thank you all for your prayers over my life as I seek God's will and heal from the greatest loss of my life. Bless you!

Monday, May 7, 2012

White Butterflies

White Butterfly meaning: the soul of a child, transformation, purity, truth, growth, change, symbol of the soul, sign of angels watching over you, good luck, sign of a good life.

After I lost Evelyn, God tuned me in to his creation and his touch more than ever. A few months after my loss, I went for a walk and a big, beautiful white butterfly flew in front of me and landed on the green grass. It was one of those happenings that were covered in God's glory. The more I have experienced these moments, the more I have come to know the Holy Spirit, prompts from God, etc. God has revealed to me how much he is in control of his creation. My eyes shoot down at a word in the Bible and the word or passage feels like it is jumping out at me, I spot a white butterfly in the distance as I'm driving. All these things are not "me looking for something" is God. He directs my eyes, he puts his creation into motion at the exact moment...and then they meet.

I knew that the white butterfly on my walk was from God, and so I went home to look up the meaning of a white butterfly. And I read....some believe it is the soul of a child, etc., etc. I sat in awe of how God was speaking to me about my hurt and about my daughter's presence in heaven and the gift of divine encounters with him. I do not believe, however, that the white butterfly is Evie's soul. What I do believe is that God is in total control of all his creation, giving angels some control, and possibly giving people in heaven a little control. To me, this white butterfly was a little gift from God, Evie, and the angels that are with me...when the pain is just too much to handle, they are saying "I am with you, we are with you...see?"

After this first white butterfly incident, many more followed...too many to count. A few I remember distinctly. On Mother's Day 2011, the first Mother's Day after I lost Evie, my mom on and I were on the back porch talking before the Rock Goodbye Angel Balloon Release, and this white butterfly fluttered around us for about 30 minutes. It went away for a few minutes, and I went inside to get my camera. I knew it would be back. And sure enough, I came back outside and a few minutes later and it showed up....fluttering around us, and then landing on my big toe. I'll never forget the feeling of those tiny, delicate feet walking all around my toe. It stayed for a good minute and I got a picture of it. My mom and I were both speechless. We knew this butterfly was special the whole time it was with us...and then for it to land on my was confirmation.

I was having a pretty hard time the week or so leading up to my birthday, and I prayed for God to show me something to help me know he was there. I was outside letting Max go the bathroom and this white butterfly flew right in front of my face...within inches. I immediately felt the overwhelming presence of God, and was so thankful for this little sign that he was with me.

A week or so later at the Rock Goodbye Angel Angel Babies 5K, held yesterday on May 6th....I was getting close to the finish line at the end of mile 1 and a white butterfly flew across the path in front of me. I wasn't sure if I'd run at all, but upon starting, I was determined I would. I made it about a mile and half without stopping to walk, praying the whole time for God to give me strength. I really had not trained and had not even jogged more than a few yards at a time since before I was pregnant with Evelyn. To see this white butterfly during this special run, was an amazing gift from God. God's overwhelming presence was with me the whole time, and I heard him whispering to me...I am your strength, I am proud of you, you are a survivor, my glory is on you. I was holding back tears the entire time...feeling God's heavy grace on me, knowing how far I had come since my loss a year and a half ago, remembering my little angel who is so dear to my heart.

We had signs made with our child's name on them that were placed throughout the course, and we took them home at the end of the day. I wasn't sure what I would do with mine, but my mom suggested putting it in the garden off the back patio near Evie's rock. I went out there this morning to put it in the ground and a white butterfly showed up...fluttering all around me. It landed on the ledge of the rock wall, I bent down and slowly put my finger right up to it, thinking it would definitely fly away. It stuck out it's very long tongue and felt around on my finger...then it slowly crawled onto it. I slowly stood up and just held the butterfly inches from my face marveling at it's beauty. What an amazing creature. To see this delicate creation so close up...I was in heaven for a moment. It walked all around from finger to finger, using it's tongue the whole time to feel around first.

I can only think that it was God that allowed this butterfly to have such trust for me...that it would crawl right onto my finger instead of flying away. Allowing me to bring it so close to my face, staying for a couple minutes...enough to bless me tremendously with our encounter. I believe there are opportunities daily, for everyone, who have prayed for new eyes to see and new ears to witness God in action, to feel and know his presence. If you ask, you will receive. What He has in store for's unimaginable! Please, be reconciled to God through Christ.

"No eye has seen,
No ear has heard,
No mind has conceived
what God has prepared for those who love him"
-1 Corinthians 2:8

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
Matthew 7:7

For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
2 Corinthians 4:6

2 Corinthians 5:11-21: The Ministry of Reconciliation
Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors,as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin[b] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Second Year: Your Child Is Still Not Here, Your Pain Is Still So Real

The dreaded second year...however necessary and unavoidable, still dreadful. I don't mean to sound without hope, because I have experienced a great amount of healing in the year and a half since the loss of my daughter, Evelyn, but never did I grasp what I was going to have to endure in the "years" after...for me, now in the second year after my loss. In the first year, hindsight looking back you are actually still in a broad state of shock. You have a lot of coping mechanisms working for you, hormones, adrenaline, numbness, all of the above. I am not a grief expert, and I haven't even really researched into this...I am just speaking on what I felt, and what I can generally attest to knowing the little that I do. You are trying to figure out how to "survive" again. Get up...get out of bed...take a shower(at some, be around people, eat, drink...just survive. It is a serious task to do all of these. You forget to eat, you forget to run a simple errand...every day is a marathon and a great success if you make it through just one more day. The second year, the shock has worn off considerably...and you are cycling through all those dreaded milestones, holidays, etc...AGAIN. They say all your "firsts" are really hard....and they are...but you have shock on your side. Not in the second year. You are thinking...I gotta go through this again?? New Years, my birthday, Mother's Day, and of course your child's second birthday. And now, you are feeling things a lot more, you feel more in touch with reality. You don't have that out of body feeling anymore...your spirit is back in your body...feeling, experiencing everything. The reality hits. Your child is still not here, and your pain is still so real. And you somehow feel expected to be OK by expect this from yourself a little more, and you certainly feel it from others. Whether you project that on yourself about others...or if others really feel that way, it doesn't matter. You feel a sense that you should be "moved on" or "better" by now. So, you act all normal around close friends, family, co-workers, etc., but inside you are practically dying a second death in the second year. You put a smile on...and behind closed doors you have breakdowns, meltdowns, cry fests...regularly. You try to become a productive member of society again. You force yourself to do things, or at least I do...that you absolutely DO NOT want to do...or feel right or good about doing. I love my family...but those are the most painful times for me. The entire family gathering together, eating dinner all at the same table...talking, looking at each other...all eyes are focused, when all you want is for people to barely notice you, so you don't have to think what they are thinking that you feel, to remind you of how you feel...and it is always there, in the back of your head...pain, grief, loss, agony. Every bite of food you swallow, it feels like you are feasting on a handful of thorns, painfully forcing each bite down, so you appear normal. Sitting, eating, talking, laughing, when all you are doing on the inside is crying. My daughter is supposed to be sitting there with us...and I feel her loss the most during those times. If it was up to me, there would be no family gathering, no laughing, no feasting...only mourning...because that is all that feels real to me right now. Every time you make a decision or think about making a decision that goes against the grain or is out of the norm for you or your feel like you are rocking the boat, when your boat has already been capsized, and "mayday, mayday" has been echoing in your head for 18 months now. Oh, the life of a grieving mother...God is good, but the day to day realities just suck sometimes. I look forward to the day that I can honestly say, I'm OK. I think it's important to be honest about how you are feeling in order to heal, and instead of just being a complainer in writing this, I hope to help another grieving mother know she is not alone in these feelings that are not always so pretty...and that it is healthy to express them. His grace showers over it all...the good and the ugly. Still thankful for another day in His presence and the gift I've been given in my salvation...if nothing else, today.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

We Can Plan, But Only God's Will Stands

If you have lost a baby, the discussion of people's future plans raise a certain amount of unrestand I have found this to be more common among us who have experienced full-term losses...when it is least expected to lose a baby. It is especially bothersome when it comes to the plans of pregnant moms and dads. They say, "we are going to do this when the baby is here, when the baby is born, when we get home with the baby, when the baby is six months old...etc." The most ambiguous of all is the "birth plan." I absolutely do not fault these this is what we all did, myself included; however, it doesn't make it any less strange, especially when you hear it from those that know about your recent loss or who were very close to you during your loss. It almost feels disrespectful when they speak with such certainty about their plans around you, and you almost want to say, "were you not there when I was doing and talking about all these things...did you already forget what happened to me? And did you forget that YOU aren't the one that will decide this or that, or if any of us will even be alive tomorrow?" It's not that we want to rob these people of the joy of daydreaming about their baby and their future wishes for the's just something about that absolute certainty with which they speak of these plans around you, that make it seem almost offensive.

Like I stated earlier, it really is no fault to these parents, and I am not faulting them at all. I'm just being honest in expressing this after-loss commonality that I share with most moms who have had a similar loss as mine...the kind of loss when the very time you are supposed to hear the first cry from your child...there is no sound at all. You ask, "well, should they not speak about these things at all? Or make any plans? And are you not happy for them?" And my answer is no, no, no to all of those! It would be really nice however to hear someone say, "you know, if it's God's will and everyone is "healthy," we would love to _____ or _____with baby Sally." Or to go further..."We know, especially after witnessing what _____ went through that we are not guaranteed this baby's life. We have so much respect for what he/she lost and pray everyday that we have the chance to care for this little life on the outside." I know, that I will CERTAINLY speak on this level if I am blessed to carry a baby again. We should really have this mindset about all things in life...any future plans...because everything is in God's hands and up to His will...not ours. I am focusing on the pregnancy topic because this is the category that hits closest to home for me right now as I lost my daughter, Evelyn, a year and a half ago, two days before her due date due to a cord accident.

I guess no matter how much empathy you think you have for someone and their loss, you can NEVER quite fully grasp what has happened to them or put yourself in their shoes, or know what to say...and especially not be able to fathom that it could EVER happen to you. And to these people's defense...they may speak this way because it terrifies them to ever let their mind go there for that place where they saw you experience the greatest loss of your life, and to think it could happen to them just as easily. And because they have never been through it, it is unknown territory, and in their mind, they can't imagine going through it and making it out they don't think about it. It is just not an option for them and their baby. And so, they continue to make their plans with the assumed outcome of a healthy and living baby...but not for me, never again.

I came across this scripture not too long ago and find it very relevant to this topic about our future plans:

James 4:13-16
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

I take this scripture very seriously...and how could I not? My daughter's life, and the experience of losing her days before her due date has taught me not to take one day for granted or to boast about any future plans that I have. Even I still do this out of habit, but I certainly have a greater respect than ever before for God's power to give and to take away, and ultimately for knowing that it's His will that will prevail and not mine, nor my plans. I don't know if there is any greater "planning" or "preparation" than that that goes along with expecting a baby. And I don't think you can ever quite respect what I am talking about here unless you were like me, sitting in a room FULL of baby stuff...from two showers and nine months of preparing...stuff coming out of your ears...processing that the little one inside of you...who you have been waiting nine months to see and hold...has taken a detour to heaven instead...and that you won't have the opportunity to take care of this baby after all, nor will you hear her first cry or see her smile. And if you hadn't been so certain the baby would eventually be living and breathing in your arms, you might not have prepared quite to the extent that you did for something so uncertain, something that is completely out of your control, that rests in God's hands alone. He will have His will regardless of your plans...only God's will stands. Instead, you would just live each and every day, not boasting about tomorrow, but praying and trusting in His provision, believing in His goodness and sovereignty, never fooling yourself that you are in control, hoping for, but never expecting tomorrow. Simply resting in the knowledge of your salvation.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

O' Wounded One, I Was There to Brace Your Fall

God has an amazing way of keeping my attention, imparting wisdom, and keeping me intrigued with His word, even when I am not spending quite the time I should engrossed in it. He uses his divine touch in the seen world to keep me enamored with the unseen. Since my daughter Evelyn passed, and my walk with the Lord has deepened, the truth about how God's sovereignty/his will over what happens to us works along with the decisions we make/our "free will" has left me intrigued and somewhat confused. Some things I believe are just left to faith, and because his thoughts are not our thoughts, and his ways are not our ways, we are not always supposed to understand everything fully. How could we? We are just humans, and God is God.

I have found myself a little annoyed at women in my situation that curse God, and go on and on about how they didn't deserve for their baby to die, and there are so many bad mothers that abuse their kids, leave them in hot cars, etc. and why did "this" happen to me and not them. To me, this is their lack of understanding, or lack of wisdom to accept that God has his ways, and sometimes we won't ever understand why he allows bad things to happen to us.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord, as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9

Ok, so if God is sovereign and he knows everything that will happen to us and all the choices we are going to make, then how is it that we have free will? Because if God already knows I am going to sin, and it has already been forseen/determined that I will make that choice, then how is that free will?

God has revealed some insight to me on this subject, first using a dream. I woke up one morning from a dream in which my soul was moving along with two iron rods, one to the right and one to the left...functioning similar to reins. These rods were connected to an iron gate that was out in front of me. I was moving along in between the iron rods, and the gates would open or shut, but only by God. I was free to move back and forth between the iron rods, and I interpreted this as walking in God's will, while still exercising my free will. I was free to live between the constraints of the iron reins, but I could not venture beyond them. The opening and shutting of the iron gate ahead of me was not in my control. They would open and shut as I was moving along, but only by God's command. I believe God showed me through this dream that only he is in control of opening and closing doors in our life, and until He does so, we are to just trust him and obey him, living in the protection of his will...between the iron rods.

A few days ago, I walked out the back door to the porch to drill a couple holes in one of my Jewel Boards. I'm squatting down in front of the glass door, holding the frame on the ground, and a bird flies into the door, falls, bounces off the back of my neck, falls over my shoulder, and lands right between my feet. I look down in shock and then jump up. The bird just lays there a second and then hops up to its feet. I proceed to ask the bird if he's O.K. (I know!) and I'm thinking about where some gloves are so I can pick him up if he's injured too badly, but then he hops a little, pauses, and flies away. If I had only walked out a second later or was squatting just inches away from where I was?!...I mean, was I supposed to be there to brace his fall? This whole scene was so bizarre that I knew it was from God, so I went inside and started praying and asked God what he wanted me to know about it. I felt that God told me I was him and the bird was me in this situation. If I represented God...I did not cause the bird to crash into the door, but I was there immediately to brace his fall, in the exact place I needed to be to help him, so that his landing did not take him out completely.

Isaiah 48:9-11
“For My name’s sake I will defer My anger,
And for My praise I will restrain it from you,
So that I do not cut you off.
10 Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver;
I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.
11 For My own sake, for My own sake, I will do it;
For how should My name be profaned?
And I will not give My glory to another.

Maybe God doesn't cause us to get in a head-on collision in our life, but because bad things do happen in this fallen world, and he knows the things that will happen to us, He is there and not a second too late and in the exact place to brace our fall. This is true whether it is out of our control or due to our own sin. God uses these events in our life to refine us. And, even in our sin...because He "has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all." (Romans 11:32). So after these tragedies or refining events in our life, he just reassures us and watches us as we get to our feet, until we eventually fly again...watching and waiting to pick us up into his arms if we need Him. Ok, so you may think this is a little deep for a bird falling on me, lol, but God also reminded me of the scripture below in realizing how He went to extreme measures to protect this bird by making sure I was there in that spot at that moment...and How much more He is their for us, but we just can't see the extreme measures He takes to protect and provide for us, in our joy and in our pain...

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? Mathew 6:25-27