What a Rubber Ducky Taught Me About Salvation

rubber duckyRubber Ducky Memories

I walked into the guest bathroom this morning and saw my grandson’s rubber ducky sitting on the edge of tub. Memories of a smaller tub and a similar rubber ducky floated into my head.

January 3, 2003—Pedro had eaten his breakfast one painstaking bite at a time. I had braved the San Francisco fog and walked to the local Starbucks for something better than hospital food. Neither one of us ate much, though, because anticipation ran through our veins faster than the IV pump could deliver Pedro’s morning meds.

Transplant day had arrived! For two torturous weeks in November and December, Pedro had given himself Neupogen shots in the stomach each night. In the morning, he would check in to the cancer ward on Eleven Long of the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Parnassus campus. For four hours he would sit in a chair hooked up to an apheresis machine that would collect stem cells from his blood and pass the blood back into his body.

In the late afternoon, the lab would count the number of stem cells collected, and the doctor’s office would call to let us know how whether or not Pedro would need to return the following day. We couldn’t leave San Francisco until they had collected enough stem cells. The process dragged on, day after day. While he sat in the apheresis chair, I would scramble to find another cheap hotel or change our plane tickets one more time.

Most people spend 4-5 days in the apheresis chairs. But after all Pedro had gone through to get to remission, his body took longer to produce stem cells. After a month of rest, we had returned to the hospital right after Christmas for one last round of chemo.

First, We Kill You

The doctors had explained the transplant process in simple terms. “First, we give you enough chemo to kill you,” the intern explained. “Then, right before the drugs kill you off, we infuse you with stem cells. They act like smart bombs and repair everything that’s wrong with you.”

Despite the high doses of chemo, Pedro’s energy remained high. He played his theme song each time a doctor came in to visit, and we watched funny movies to pass the time the day before the transplant. We also had our first visit from a hospital chaplain (awkward, to say the least). But nothing could contain our underlying river of joy.

Finally, the nurse pushed through the doorway with a strange cart that held an open tank of water on top. “Transplant time!” she chirped. A rubber ducky floated serenely in the pool of water as it sloshed with the cart’s movement. “Your stem cells are frozen,” the nurse explained, “and we thaw them out and warm them up a bit in this bath before we pump them into you.”

We bobbled our heads, too excited to say much.

“And now you’ll have TWO birthdays,” the nurse exclaimed. “Don’t forget this one, Pedro,” she cautioned. “Imagine, you can have two cakes per year!”

Within twenty minutes the room smelled like slightly rotten grapefruit. “I see you prepared for the day,” the nurse said with approval when she saw me give Pedro his first stick of gum.

The chemical used to preserve the stem cells (DMSO) left a grapefruit-garlicky taste in his mouth. Because of his facial paralysis, gum chewing (any kind of chewing) didn’t come easily. But it didn’t matter. Soon, the nightmare of cancer would end and Pedro would experience rebirth.

Three Birthdays

Of course, after the transplant, healing took time. Lots of time. Pedro didn’t pass from circling the drain to riding his mountain bike again within weeks. Each sniffle and ache sent us running back to the doctor to make sure the stem-cell transplant had worked.

We held our breath at each checkup, and for an entire year he received chemo treatments straight to his brain. He had to get immunized all over again, on the same schedule that babies and toddlers experience.Can a rubber ducky teach you something about #salvation? #BGBG2 http://wp.me/p2UZoK-1Bp via @blestbutstrest

Pedro studied up on super foods and antioxidants in an attempt to resist relapse. Only to discover the scary way that too much chocolate can act as a vaso-restrictor and mimic his original symptoms.

We celebrated each milestone with caution. But deep down, we knew that those stem cells had done their job. Pedro had received healing the day that rubber ducky floated into his hospital room.

The whole process reminded me of another kind of rebirth. The one where we confess our sins and ask Jesus to take control of our lives. The transformation from circling the drain in sin to mature Christian takes time, too.

We make mistakes. We have to go through a relearning process similar to the immunization process. We doubt the efficacy of our salvation. We want to wrest control from our Savior and do things our own way. Others might look at us and question whether or not we are really saved. But deep down, we know we have experienced rebirth.

The rebirthing and regrowth processes take place at a different rate for every patient sinner. We find the key to happiness when we dare to internalize Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a purse heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

The Message that’s Better than any Rubber Ducky

We don’t have to act as doctor, nor nurse, nor stem cell. All we do is ask, and God will do the recreating within us. I read The Message translation this morning, and it stuns me with its beauty:
Psalm 51:7-15

Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the trash,
or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God;
I’ll let loose with your praise.

Transformation happens when we sign up for the process. The process might prove painful and have many dark nights of the soul. But transformation will take place.

Are Butterflies Needy?

butterfly

Are Butterflies Needy?

I don’t know, but I know that I felt pretty needy when I took this photo. My husband, daughter and I had gone to Greer, AZ for an afternoon of hiking. Our daughter hadn’t been acting like herself lately, and her inability to make decisions had me feeling uneasy and grumpy.

The butterflies posing perfectly on the purple flowers felt like a gift from my Creator.

Look around you. Has God given you any butterfly gifts lately?

You’ll be able to find the Inspire Me Monday link up at two locations now. You can hop on over to AnitaOjeda.com if you’d like to check out my new blog.  Don’t worry.  I’m still in both places :).

You can sign up to receive a daily Bible Promise poster over there on the right under the mountain goat poster.  This series will tell a little bit about the behind-the-scenes of each photo.

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week.

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer–just do it!

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Spicy Lentil Soup (Vegan and Gluten-free)

Hearty Coconut Lentil Soup with sweet potatoes and jalapeños. #Vegan and #glutenfree http://wp.me/p2UZoK-Dc via @blestbutstrest

Spicy Lentil Soup

©2016 Anita Strawn de Ojeda

You may have seen those bright orange lentils in the bulk section of your favorite health-food store or co-op grocery and wondered how in the world to prepare them.  Here’s a tasty answer that’s quick and easy (you can prepare it on the stove top or in a crock pot.
You’ll need:

1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 white onion, diced small
2 jalapeños, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1/2 tsp. ginger powder
1/2 tsp. turmeric
2 tsp. salt (or more to taste)
1/4 c. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2 cups orange lentils (picked over and rinsed)
2 1/2 lbs. sweet potatoes (I like the white-fleshed ones), peeled and cut into large chunks.
7 cups water
1 can of coconut milk (optional)

Crock Pot Method:
Turn the crock pot on high and add the oil and cumin seeds. Start chopping the the onions, garlic and jalapeños. Add each one to the crock pot in the order listed, and then add the spices. Cover with the lid and prepare the sweet potatoes (you can cut them into pretty big chunks (1″-2″). Add the lentil ands sweet potatoes and water (you may need slightly more water–make sure the lentil and sweet potatoes are covered). Cook on high for at least three hours.

 

 

 

Five Tasks You Can Complete in Under Five Minutes

Putting Tasks Off Wastes Time

I often feel overwhelmed by all the tasks I have to cram into a day. The house needs cleaning, the bills cry out from the desktop, and the refrigerator sits forlorn and empty. Make a meal? Ain’t got time for that! If you’re a caregiver, completing chores seems even more difficult.

tasks

I have the type of personality that gets easily distracted, but I started school before kids got diagnosed with ADHD. I can sit and read for hours, or quietly stalk birds with my camera waiting for the perfect shot. But buckle down and clean the house? Nope.

The Five-Minute Friday community has taught me that one can accomplish an awful lot in a mere five minutes. I now use my timer for more than just the Thursday night ritual of writing and hitting publish. Many simple household chores take five minutes or less to complete.

My Top Five Five-Minute Tasks

1. Empty (or load) the dishwasher (that’s right, on the advice of our dishwasher manual, we don’t rinse our dishes first).
2. Load the washing machine and fold a load from the dryer.
3. Sort the mail and pay the bills.
4. Scrub the shower, sinks and toilets in one bathroom (hey, not with a toothbrush!).
5. Iron an outfit.

I have learned to set my timer and focus for longer periods, too, knowing that I can reward myself by quitting the onerous task when the timer goes off. If I don’t dawdle over the tasks I dislike, I have more time to accomplish the things I really love.

What about you? Do you put off tasks because you think they’ll take too long rather than deciding on how long you’ll take to do the task?

The Caregiver’s 23rd Psalm (God Will Provide)

The other day as I studied Psalm 23, I found myself rewriting it in the margin of my Bible from a caregiver’s point of view.  Caregivers and sheep have a lot in common.  They feel clueless, helpless, and vulnerable (ok, I’ve never asked a sheep if this is how they feel, but they don’t run around marking their territory and acting invincible).

caregiver's psalm

The Caregiver’s Psalm

God provides for me, a caregiver—he offers to meet my every need.
He provides food, time for reflection and rest (but all too often I forget to take what he offers).

He knows my quirks and indulges me because he loves me. I feel refreshed when I spend time with him—a deep-down renewal from the toes up.

I might not always want to go where he leads, because I often think that I know best. But I have to remember that his ways are better than my way—they lead to right actions and right living. His ways lead to a closer, more intimate relationship with him.

Sometimes the path he leads me down scares me to the point of rebellion and refusal because it looks too frightening; filled with worst-case scenarios and things I don’t think I can handle. So I take a deep breath and remember that he walks with me, ready to guide me each step of the way through what terrifies me.

Not only does he walk with me, he has gone before me and conquered evil. God has a plan that will use me and my experiences to help others understand his character and perfect love.

The hard times simply prepare me to love—even my enemies and the people who annoy me.

Your love acts as a balm to my ruffled feathers, Oh, God, and fills me with peace so that I can function. Your goodness and love infuse my life—making me fit for living as part of your kingdom and caring for the person you have entrusted to me.

I am the caregiver, you are the curegiver. No matter where this journey leads me, I know that you walk beside me.

Inspire Me Monday Instructions

What’s your inspirational story? Link up below, and don’t forget the 1-2-3s of building community:

1. Link up your most inspirational post from the previous week.

2. Vist TWO other contributors (especially the person who linked up right before you) and leave an encouraging comment.

3. Spread the cheer THREE ways! Tweet something from a post you read, share a post on your Facebook page, stumble upon it, pin it or whatever social media outlet you prefer–just do it!

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Listen to Your Heritage (It Has the Power to Transform You)

Listen to Longfellow

listen

Whenever I hear the word ‘Listen’ I immediately think of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem about Paul Revere:

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere… (http://poetry.eserver.org/paul-revere.html)

Of course, I especially love the poem because of the family connection. Paul Revere happens to be my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. I have loved history ever since my grandma told me of my connection to Paul Revere.

As an awkward, introverted kid, I always felt rather proud and full of worth when I could share with my classmates that Paul and I had a family connection. Sometimes kids would scoff, but I had a Daughters of the American Revolution pedigree paper that my grandma had given to me prove my claim.

As a child, my pedigree defined me and gave me self-worth.

A Different Kind of Family

When I turned fourteen, I found a different basis for self-esteem. I spent the summer working in the kitchen at a summer camp, and I discovered that I had a different pedigree and an even more impressive lineage than a chance connection to a historical figure.

John 1:12 laid it all out for me, “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” I realized for the first time that I have a place in God’s family.

Since God is the king, that makes me a princess, right? And what little girl (or gawky teenager, or hurting young adult, or worn out homemaker, or middle-aged granny) doesn’t want to be a princess?

So listen to me, friend. You can join the family. God wants you to step up and accept your lineage. We don’t have to put on our princess costume, and clean ourselves up before we join the family. We only have to accept the invitation and then let God do the cleaning up and transforming.

As an adult, my heavenly heritage defines me. Listen to your Father.  He wants to reveal your heritage to you and dress you like a princess.

Four Tips for Encouraging Others When It’s Not Your Love Language

Encouraging Others is a Learned Skill

Encouraging others does not come naturally for me. Maybe my intorvertedness or laziness keeps me from encouraging others, but I know that encouragement plays an important role in others achieving success.

encouraging others

Everyone Moves at a Different Pace

My husband and I took ten kids mountain biking on Sunday. One young man had never been on an Ojeda bike trip before, and didn’t realize what he had signed up for. I usually stay at the end of the group, waiting for the stragglers and making sure no one gets hurt.

When we hit a difficult part of the trail, I hang back and think up new blog posts or solve world problems whilst the kids grunt and groan and push their bikes up the trail. Eventually they get far enough ahead so that I can clean the trail without fear of having to stop in a tight spot and end up having to push my bike.

Two miles into our 9.5-mile trip, he ran out of water. I had a small bottle of frozen water that I moved to a side pocket where it would melt more quickly. Each time he asked for water, I would stop and share the melted water with him.

Four miles into the trip, he hopped off his bike and sat on the ground. “Did you eat your granola bar already?” I asked him. He had. I grabbed another one from my pack and tossed it to him. “Eat some of this,” I told him, “it will build your energy up.”

Six miles into the trip, he alternated between pushing his bike fifteen feet, sitting on the ground and riding fifty feet before he took another break. “Have you ever gone on a mountain bike ride before?” I asked him. He shook his head no. “Well, in that case, you’re doing an awesome job!” I assured him. “The first time out can be rough!” His sad face stared at me with unblinking eyes.

Experiment with Encouragement

In situations like this, I never know what to do. Does he want an audience for his agony, or does he need encouragement to just keep on slogging along the trail? I felt frustrated by his lack of progress, so I decided to experiment by staying out of sight behind him. He continued to hop off his bike every 50 feet or so, and his resting periods got longer and longer. The sum total of his conversation included two words: “I’m thirsty!”

I tried riding in front of him, but he quickly fell out of sight and I had to stop over and over again to wait for him. In addition, I didn’t feel comfortable having him out of sight behind me.

Pedro called to check on us and I let him know how far behind we had fallen. I offered to take the shortcut back to the vehicles, so that he and the bigger group could just keep on riding. This time, when my buddy and I started up, I tried something different. I kept about 30 feet behind him, and each time it looked like he was preparing to stop, I would praise him. “Great job on riding over that rough spot!” I would call out. “Keep up the good work!”

It seemed to work, because our pace picked up slightly. I heard water sloshing in my bottle, so I said, “Hey! Some more water has melted. Would you like some?” When we stopped, I explained the trail numbering system and told him how to figure out the remaining distance.

Each time we passed a numbered marker, I would give him the remaining distance. At our next break, he said, “So we have seven quarters left to go, right?” He even smiled when he said it.

Affirmations Afterward

Once we hit the logging road, I sprinted ahead to see how far we had to go to reach the parking area. When I crested a small rise, I could see the vehicles and the rest of the group milling around. I circled back to my friend, who had once again started pushing his bicycle, and said, “We’re almost there! You can make it!”

He hopped on his bike and raced off whilst I leisurely turned my bicycle and headed back. I briefly thought about sprinting to the finish, but decided to let him show up first.

The other kids cheered for him when he reached the parking lot, and my chest filled with pride and gratitude that everyone else had joined in affirming him. I have such good students!

Later on whilst grabbing a bite to eat at Taco Bell, I overhead a group of kids talking. “Mr. Ojeda beat me by this much!” one of them said, as he demonstrated the gap of an arm’s length.

“Well, I beat Mrs. Ojeda!” my little buddy exclaimed. The kids gave him a high-five and patted him on the back.

A few minutes later, one of the group turned to me and quietly stated, “That’s because you chose to stay behind, isn’t it, Mrs. Ojeda?”

I smiled mysteriously in reply. My heart melted that the young man would be perceptive enough to ask his question quietly and to affirm me in the process.

What I Learned

1. People need different kinds of encouragement.
2. Take the time to experiment and find out what works best.
3. Remember to praise the product and encourage the person.
4. Others take cues from you. We have a culture of encouragement on our mountain bike rides. I often hear Pedro leading out in the cheers and encouragement as kids make it up difficult spots. Our students don’t come from homes where encouragement and affirmations play a part in their lives, but how quickly they catch on and share their skills with others!

What about you? Do you have any tips for the rest of us on how to encourage others?

Words Have the Power to Heal or to Break

Sticks and Stones Can Break Your Bones (but So Can Words)

I may have broken some bones today. Not mine, and not real bones. But I used ungracious words in a phone conversation.

I don’t know about you, but when frustrating situations simmer and stew and don’t get resolved in a reasonable amount of time, I usually end up on the phone trying to have a civil conversation that heads south in a hurry. Today’s volley of unkindness started months ago when the boarding school where I work tried to set up postal service at our homes (as opposed to us having to rent mailboxes in town or have the school secretary sort our mail).

heal

It seems simple enough, so we cancelled our PO box, installed a mailbox in front of our house, put our new address on it and waited for the change of address request to work its magic. For two weeks, we got mail.

Then the Post Office and the county got into a territorial fight over the house numbers and the addresses. One thing led to another. Our mail has arrived intermittently (depending on who currently holds the upper hand in the argument) since June. Two times now, we have not received important mail that we knew should arrive.

And so I called the postmaster. I thought I could keep calm, cool and collected, but when the postmaster started placing blame on other people and saying that they “Always delivered the mail,” I got a little testy. And then I got emotional. I may have had angry tears and a snot-filled nose cloud my voice (and my reason).

I may have started using big words, like ‘unconscionable’ and ‘malfeasance.’ I may have put the phone down before our conversation had actually ended.

Losing My Cool

And then I cried for ten minutes because I knew I had handled the situation badly. I have this thing about my mail and privacy. It stems from control issues related to my husband’s cancer journey when my sister-in-law opened the letters I sent him when he had to stay with them between hospitalizations.

My word for the year, constrain, will send me to the post office tomorrow to have a gracious conversation with the postmaster. I owe an apology for my mean attitude and frustrated tone. Above all else, I want my words to heal—we have enough angry words breaking bones all over our nation right now.

I’ll do my part, one gracious word at a time, to promote healing. What about you?

Team Prayer in Action

I’ve discovered something stronger than any Olympic team.

Team prayer

Team Prayer in Action

She walked toward me, concentrating on a point over my left shoulder. “Did you find a book in the library?” I asked her.

She stared straight ahead.

“Did you find the book you wanted?” I asked again.

Still no response.

I increased the volume of my question when I noticed that she had ear buds in both ears—a big no-no at our school.

She slipped one ear bud out and answered me, “No. I didn’t find it.”

“I can take you inside and help you now,” I told her.

She walked right on past me and I noticed that her hands shook. She seemed distraught.

“Are you ok?” I asked.

She leaned over and grabbed her stomach, then dug her fingernails into her arms. “I’m going through withdrawal, I think,” she said. “It’s never happened to me before.”

“Can I get the counselor for you?” I offered.

“No, I don’t want to make a big scene.” She collapsed onto her knees and pulled at her hair and moaned. “I think I’m going to barf.”

They Don’t Teach This Stuff in College

I quickly texted the counselor and asked for advice and then noticed a faucet on the side of the building behind us. I rushed over and turned the water on. “Here, splash some cool water on your face, that might help.”

She did as I suggested. I felt helpless—on duty on the playground whilst the rest of the staff members attended a meeting. I scanned the commons area to make sure no one else needed my attention.

The counselor texted back. “Deep breaths.”

I wasn’t sure if he meant for me, or the student.

“You could try taking deep breaths,” I told her as I demonstrated how. We both felt calmer. I helped her to her feet, and tried to engage her in conversation. She couldn’t concentrate, but seemed to appreciate the effort I made to keep her mind off her physical symptoms.

I texted the other duty teacher and let him know about the situation, and glanced at my watch. Only a few more minutes until the meeting ended. I tried to help without hovering or intruding too much on her personal struggle. I shot prayers heavenward, wishing I could do more, offer more, be more.

The counselor arrived, and we quietly discussed the event and watched her as she shakily made her way to class.

I have so much more to learn, but one thing I do know. My team closed their meeting with prayer, and because of my text to the counselor, I knew they all prayed for us.

What about you? Do you work at a place where you can count on Team Prayer? Or do you have another Team Prayer community that supports you in times of need?

Intercessory Prayers Provide Invisible Lift

Christians often say they will ‘lift someone up in prayer,’ but what does it really mean? I can’t give you a theological answer, but I can offer you my experiences with the powerful lift of prayer.

lift

Startled Awake

“Pray for British envoy Terry Waite,” the voice startled me awake from a deep sleep around two in the morning my senior year of college. I’d heard about Terry Waite’s situation and about how he’d been taken hostage in Beirut a few months earlier. (more…)