Search This Blog

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Colors of Hope with Rising Star Outreach

 

When I started the project of drawing 100 girls from India for the coloring book My 100 Daughters with Rising Star Outreach, I was overcome with the beauty and presence of the girls of India. Studying photographs of their faces, clothing, hair styles, jewelry and customs, I felt such love for those I’ve never met. The first time I painted one of my illustrations, I felt like their skin should be the color gold. I searched out metallic paint, and after painting their skin a lovely brown, I tinted it in gold as a symbol of their great worth and value. I was later told what the color gold meant in India – it was a sign to them of their worth as well.

When I first spoke to Becky Douglas about the idea of a coloring book, she said, “Laura, India is a coloring book!” 




She told me about the bright colors, how the landscapes and people are vibrant and eclectic. 



With this in mind, I started to envision the magic of India. If my little girl Eden loved to color princesses, angels, fairies and mermaids, the girls of India would love that too.





 Beautiful landscapes, friendly animals and playful insects started to present themselves as well. Who wouldn’t want to be friends with a peacock, a tiger, elephant and more.


When I present this work to children at school events, they want to learn more about the 
girls of India and help any way they can.

Because of poverty and dire conditions difficult for us to understand, it is imperative to help the children of India. I asked myself, “What if this was my daughter?” 

These little girls are eating the pieces of a broken coconut that fell off a truck and was run over.

The truth is these are all our daughters. It is our duty to help provide food, health care, education, shelter and even more, love, hope and a bright future. Rising Star Outreach is an absolute miracle. 

Because of persistence and vision, they have made the necessary relationships to be in these leprosy colonies to minister to those in need. How I thank and appreciate all those who work with Rising Star Outreach to make this possible.

Me with Becky Douglas and Amy Humphrey, presenting Becky the painting of the girls in gold, also her daughter Amber as an angel who loves the children of India.

It was especially touching when I started an illustration of a woman who had lost much of her hands and feet because of leprosy. At first, I had the idea to draw her perfect, with 10 fingers and 10 toes, but as I was finishing the illustration, I felt impressed to erase her hands and feet and draw them as they really were. I had spent much time drawing her hands and feet perfect, so the act of erasing them was very emotional for me. As I started to cry, I could only image the pain and loss she had experienced. 

Her toes and fingers were taken by such a horrible disease, it didn’t seem fair. I stared at the picture of her and reverently started to draw the unique and disformed shape of each hand, the curves where her fingers used to be, the heals of her feet, how humbling the process was. I drew the praying mantis next to here so she could always have someone praying for her, the firewood within reach so she didn't have to crawl to start a fire and the chipmunk for so she could have cheerful friendship. The lotus flower above her head is a blessing for her beauty and purpose.

My 100 Daughters coloring book was published in 2017 and is available on Amazon. 50% of the proceeds go to Rising Star Outreach Sponsorship. Since then I have taken it into schools, shared it at birthday parties, church events and even an open house where I spoke about the process of creating such a special book. (You can read about that here.) This spring 2021, Rising Star asked if I could illustrate several coloring pages for the boys. We could present them in Colors of Hope, a virtual online coloring event. I am the mother of five amazing sons and as before, the same question entered my mind, “What if these were your boys?” 




Oh, how I love and pray for them. I asked for photographs of the little boys and to my delight, I saw them playing sports, climbing monkey bars, jumping, hanging out with friends and I couldn’t take my eyes off them. 




They are just like my boys who can’t wait to do their best, be silly, study, run fast and light up the world. I hope you enjoy coloring my interpretation of who these boys are and how through sponsorship, we can all play a vital and necessary role in their bright future.


Go to Rising Star Outreach to download your coloring pages. Please consider sponsoring a child today.

Love you all.


Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Into the Canyon - The Miracle of Fasting and Prayer

 

It was Sunday morning, January 13, 2019 and I was lying in bed between that beautiful moment of dreaming and awakening when my 3½ year-old little boy Canyon spoke to me.

            “Mommy,” he said.

I opened my eyes and looked into Canyon’s face.

 If love was electric, my love for him could light up the entire world. He was my 5th son, my biggest surprise and most difficult pregnancy. 

I had paid an immense price for him, but over the last year, the light in him had dimmed. Canyon was experiencing seizures and after several hospital stays, all tests pointed to an absolutely horrible, terminal diagnosis. If we were lucky, my little boy might live to his 5th birthday. 


Perhaps this sounds like the start of a tragic story and there were days where it was the saddest story I could ever have experienced, but if you stick with me and keep reading, you’ll see this is a story about God’s miracles, His perfect timing and how the power of pray and fasting blessed our family in the most glorious way.

 

---------------------------------------------------------------

 

Six months earlier, it was a blistering hot August day in Phoenix Arizona. I was pregnant with our 7th child and Canyon was scheduled to have eye surgery to correct two wandering eyes. His eye doctor reassured us it was a common procedure and had nothing to do with the terrible seizure Canyon barely lived through just a month earlier, which included 5 days in the pediatric ICU. The life-threatening seizure had been a truly grueling experience and after sleeping night after night on a hospital bench, I was certain if I was ever to get into heaven, sleeping on a hospital bench while 6-months pregnant would most likely do it. 

After Canyon’s eyes surgery, he was brought to me blindfolded and I carried my 35-pound little boy, draped him over my pregnant belly, waddled out of the building with the sun glaring down on us like a heat lamp,  and buckled him in the car. Once home, we both fell into bed and slept most the afternoon. I was so happy that would be Canyon’s last doctor’s visit for a while.

My beautiful baby Ruby was born emergency c-section on September 25, 2018. 

Her birth was a miracle all its own, and I was finally home recovering. Most nights were sleepless and I was having intense pain from a reoccurring staph infection. Ruby wouldn’t nurse, so I was left pumping breast milk and feeding her from a bottle. My hard-working husband Derek was self-employed, so taking a day off to help was not an option.

(Canyon and Ruby)

Our oldest son Chandler had recently moved to the Philippines to serve a full-time mission and I looked forward to his emails. Because of the time difference, we communicated back and forth in the middle of the night. My younger children started school early in the morning, so the newborn wasn’t the only reason I had bags under my eyes.

Sunday November 11, 2018 was a typical night with my 6 week-old baby, up and down with feedings and when I finally fell asleep, I had a dream. In the dream, I was walking in a creek with Canyon. The water was cold and I looked up at the magnificent cliffs all around us. I took my eyes off Canyon for just a second when he stumbled and feel deep into the dark, murky water. Frantic, I swam down, found him right away (which was such a relief) and pulled him up to safety. After I held him in my arms and patted his back, he looked at me with this huge smile, the biggest, most reassuring smile confirming he was perfectly fine. Although I was sleep deprived, the dream was so real, it woke me up. Instinctively, I had to check on Canyon. Because of his previous seizures, I felt like I needed to know he was alright. I laid there for another minute. Ruby wasn’t awake and it would be so easy to drift right back to sleep, but the impulse to check on Canyon pushed through me again, so I forced myself to sit up. I walked down the hallway, into his sister Eden’s room where he liked to sleep and could see Eden, but where was Canyon? That’s when I saw him, he’d slipped between the wall and the bed, pinched in the corner. His eyes wide open, staring up at the ceiling. He was pale and twitching, barely breathing!!

(the night before his seizure, you can see the droop in his smile)

I grabbed him in my arms, pain pulsed through the incision of my c-section and screamed to my husband Canyon was having a seizure. The other kids woke up and were crying, scared and I wondered how could I leave Ruby? Would Canyon be alright? We sped to the hospital and once in the emergency room, were rushed down a hall way to a room full of doctors and nurses. Canyon was unresponsive, so they started the treatments I’d seen done to him month’s earlier including incubation, medication to increase his heart rate, IV fluids, anti-seizure medication, but his time they did something different. They wrapped him in a blanket that looked like tinfoil. Quickly, it started to inflate.

“This is how we treat drowning victims,” the doctor said, “to quickly bring their body temperature up.” I suddenly remembered the dream of Canyon drowning. I realized somehow, with the help of God, my little boy had found a way to communicate with me he needed help. In the dream I had found Canyon quickly and he had assured me he was perfectly fine with that huge, undeniable smile. I leaned into the comfort of that image, knowing there was hope he would smile like that again very soon.

It was the third day of our hospital stay and Canyon still had tubes and monitors connected to him. After evaluating the brain MRI, the doctor said “We think your son has a condition called adrenoleukodystropy, or what is sometimes called white matter disease.”

I was so naive, so unaware of the monster lurking around the corner, I immediately suspected this odd-sounding, difficult to pronounce condition was something that could be fixed with medication or another surgery. In a conversation with Derek later that night, I’d barely remembered to mention it, but he had looked it up on the internet. Derek spent the next 20 minutes filling me in on the horror of adrenoleukodystropy, how it takes a child from thriving and developing to blind, deaf, lifeless and eventually death. Derek must have had it wrong.

After Canyon fell asleep in my arms, I lay with him in that small pediatric bed, numb, pumping milk for my newborn baby who was staying with a friend, and I scrolled through my phone looking at the symptoms of adrenoleukodystropy.

 

Wandering eyes

Limp or difficulty walking

Unexplainable seizures

            White matter dissolving

            Most common in boys

            Average age of onset age four

            Speech impairment

           

Canyon had every single symptom. I felt like I was going to throw up. I stared at my little boy, begging the God of the universe, “This can not be true!”

Canyon had developed a droop in his smile, slurred speech and a noticeable limp. And what about the horrible seizures? I was becoming too familiar with speeding down the freeway and running into the ER with him in my arms begging the doctors to save him. I hated that Canyon now had a pediatric neurologist who knew him by name.

There was no way. The doctor had mentioned is so casually, he couldn’t really mean it. He just meant there was a chance, if everything else was ruled out. Canyon would be discharged and they were starting him on a daily seizure medication. He would be alright.

“Honey,” Derek had said to me, “adrenoleukodystropy is terminal, there’s no cure. Canyon would have maybe two years.” My husband, the strong one, so logical and consistent, so reliable, so capable, why was he crying?

When Canyon finally came home, our family was not the same. I didn’t recognize the sounds coming out of my teenage son’s mouth when we told our kids the news. It was like we were all grasping for air. It had caught us all by surprise. What about our perfect lives? Our happily ever after? What was it all about now?

Canyon had a follow up appointment the next week. Although it was November, he insisted on wearing his Halloween custom to the visit. During the exam, Canyon followed the instructions to his best ability in his little brown monkey suit. While I held my newborn close to my chest, my mom and I spoke with the doctor.  I was nervous, but optimistic the he would rule out adrenoleukodystropy. He hadn’t mentioned it yet.

“We tested Canyon’s blood work in the hospital to see if he had fatty acids in his blood.”

I had no idea what fatty acids were and mentioned to the doctor the night before Canyon’s last seizure, he’d had salmon and avocado, high fat foods?

“No,” the doctor said, “foods don’t cause fatty acids. Fatty acids can take years to break down into the blood stream and we can detect what part of the body is releasing them.”

This was the first I’d heard about such a thing. “Well, he doesn’t have them, does he?”

“He does, and according to the numbers, they are the break down of his white matter.”

I literally felt like a black hole in the ground opened up and I was falling into it. How could everything keep lining up in the wrong lane? I sobbed into my hands, sinking, barely able to hold onto my baby.

The doctor pulled up Canyon’s MRI and showed me the pattern in the back of the brain, where his white matter was falling apart, dissolving like melted snow. Without the white matter, eventually, my son’s brain would stop functioning all together.

(you can really his facial problems here, heartbreaking)

This was the day life stopped for me. My little boy was dying. It was December, a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, but Derek and I lived in a state of mourning. Every time Canyon spoke, when we couldn’t understand what he was saying, it was like the disease was mocking us. Canyon loved the park, but one day, as he was running he fell. I picked him up in my arms and cried a thousand tears. Every experience was now evidence of our little boy’s decline. A friend at the park brought a blanket and wrapped us in it while I shock and sobbed. My eyes remained swollen and my days were blurred like murky water. I would try to hide or quiet my cries, but Canyon would always find me and hold onto me while I released the pain.

Six weeks later, we were still waiting on one final test, blood work that had been taken during our November hospital stay. Adrenoleukodystropy was so rare, the genetic test that would confirm our son’s death sentence was packed in ice and sent back east to a lab at a medical university. We were told the test would take a month to conduct. I called our doctor’s office and spoke with the nurse, reminding her the results should be in. She called the lab and the week of Christmas informed us the blood work had been lost. No one knew where it had been sent and we would need to reschedule to have Canyon’s blood drawn again. I remember staring at the Christmas tree, the lights blurred together because my vision was altered. Every Christmas carol carried a sentimental feeling, a sense of loneliness and pain that I knew only Jesus could heal someday.

In the Philippines, Chandler had been given permission to call to let us know he’d been experiencing horrible stomach pain. He was going to be taking a train to the hospital in Cabanatuan to have testing done. Chandler confessed he didn’t want us to worry, but after months of debilitating pain and weight loss, he finally told us in detail what he was going through. Until we had a definitive diagnosis, we didn’t want Chandler to know the extent of what was happening over here with Canyon. I couldn’t believe we were both keeping secrets because we didn’t want the other to worry.

I met with our stake president to discuss what we could do for Chandler and what was happening to Canyon. After our meeting and a beautiful prayer, I’ll never forget what he said to me, “Sister Lofgreen, you’ll never know the blessings your family will receive from your son’s missionary service.”

(the train ride to Cabanatuan)

I wanted Chandler to be healed so he could stay out on his mission. I wanted Canyon to be healed from this horrible hell-on-earth disease. Our family and ward were fasting and praying, but the waiting game was impossible to win. One night, completely lost in a sea of heartache, I woke up. Derek was awake and like a pathetic choir of two, we both started sobbing these unrecognizable cries, holding onto each other in our pitch dark room. We would never function normally again. Derek was actually taking breaks at work to cry between appointments. We couldn’t live like this, but I didn’t know how to pull back from our downward spiral of grief.

 

-----------------------------------------

 

I promised this would be a story of healing and the powerful reality that God hears and answers prayers. God is the beautiful orchestrator, the perfect story teller, the immaculate artist and I would have never believed what he was about to paint into our lives.

 

Back to that Sunday morning, January 13, 2019 when I was lying in bed between that magical moment of dreaming and awakening, my eyes not yet swollen with tears, that moment when I’d forget I had a child who was being taken from me, Canyon said my name.

            “Mommy.”

I opened my eyes and looked at my precious boy. Blonde hair, golden skin, chocolate chip brown eyes, pink lips, blushed cheeks! What was this I saw? At that moment, I noticed his skin was so bright, so healthy, the pink back in his cheeks and his eyes seemed to sparkle. Before I was even fully awake, I knew.

“Canyon, you’re better,” I said, practically tripping over my words. “Honey, you’re better.” I grabbed him in my arms and held him close to my heart, staring back at his face, examining how different he looked.

I don’t know how I knew, but I knew the disease the doctors were certain he had battling inside him was gone, healed, restored. I dared say the name, even though I’d finally learned how to say it without having to reference it on my phone.

That’s when I remembered my dream. I’d had a dream.

I ran into the kitchen, my husband was getting breakfast ready so we could leave for church on time.

“Canyon’s better, look at him, he’s been healed!!”

Derek had no idea what I was talking about, so I told him about the dream.

“I was in our bedroom with Canyon and several of the walls had large glass windows. Outside, I noticed a picnic basket with helium balloons attached to it. The picnic basket was full of light and it started floating up into the air. I told Canyon to look at it, but as he turned around the picnic basket floated behind the house. I looked up and noticed our ceiling was glass, so Canyon and I lay down and stared up.  It was floating up towards the sky, it would just be a moment before it appeared again. Suddenly, there it was. It seemed to be on a path, intentionally going somewhere. That’s when I realized it was floating to the sun. The sun was so bright, but still, I looked at it. That’s when I saw him. It was Jesus. Jesus was in the sun. It was really Him, the almighty, powerful Savior of the world. If I didn’t wake up, I felt my spirit would go to Him.”

I was very aware I sounded completely crazy, but Derek was always supportive of my spiritual impressions. “What do you think it meant,” he asked.

I wasn’t sure, all I knew was when Canyon woke me up he looked noticeably different and I knew he was healed. I felt lighter and a peaceful feeling resided in my heart. It all sounded impossible, but I couldn’t deny what I knew was true.

I walked back into my bedroom and sat on the edge of my bed, amazed. Canyon had been playing in the other room, but as he ran down the hallway and back into my arms, I decided to tell him about the dream as well. Again, I remembered the picnic basket, full of light floating to Jesus and as I described this to Canyon, the spirit of the Holy Ghost ran through my body, helping me understand what it all meant.

“Honey, Jesus took your illness. It was in that picnic basket of light. Jesus took it from the earth. You’re all better. You’re going to be ok.”

From that day forward, I stopped crying. Derek had faith from the dream and he stopped crying. Our children knew Canyon was healed. Our days were completely different. I stopped looking for signs of Canyon’s illness, instead the miracles of his healing became obvious. When people asked how Canyon was doing, we said we were still praying and fasting, but we knew he was going to be alright. At times, I stopped to see if the emotional pain in my heart was still there. Could I back step into it if I tried? I literally couldn’t find the heartache.  Since there was no medical proof Canyon was going to be alright, I knew I should be skeptical, but at the end of the day, I felt this overwhelming presence of peace and hope.

On February 13, 2019 we went back to the hospital to have Canyon’s blood work done again. It would be 4 weeks until we heard any news. The odds were against him, but my heart wouldn’t allow me to sink into despair. I knew he was healed. As the nurse prepared the needle, I had the thought to play a peek-a-boo game and cover Canyon’s eyes. When she poked him, he was so preoccupied, he didn’t react to the procedure.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, Chandler’s health continued to deteriorate. He was diagnosed with h-pylori, a bacteria infection in the gut most commonly caused by contaminated drinking water or poor sanitation. If left untreated, the inflammation could result in Chromes disease, stomach ulcers or worse, cancer. The doctors tried antibiotics, but Chandler’s protruding stomach, severe pain and a suspected hernia meant he needed to come back to the United States for medical treatment. I received an email from his mission president that Chandler’s departure visa, which should have been processed, had been lost by customs in a pile of paperwork. It would take a miracle to get him home.


Our family and ward continued praying and fasting for both our boys. To feel the love, support and faith from so many around us meant everything. We came home to cookies on the porch, had help with housework and read notes of encouragement. I shared updates on social media, but more than that, I was testifying of God’s love, the power of prayer and fasting and how thankful I was for my family and Savior.

On the morning of March 4, 2019 while taking care of the baby, I missed a call from the pediatric neurologist’s office. The nurse left the most heart-warming, life-giving message. The test came back negative. Canyon did not have adrenoleukodystropy. Because of the lost blood work, we had waited 4 months for the results. The doctor was shocked and relieved. My heart burst open, my eyes filled with tears and I ran to share the news with my husband. It’s amazing when you have a young child unaware of an impending medical condition, how much that child lives in the present, uninfluenced by his or her potential life expectancy. All along, Canyon had played, skipped, sang, loved, laughed, even comforted us as we cried. It was incredible to think he had lived perfectly content.

The next day, I received an email from the mission department. Customs had found Chandler’s travel visa and approved his departure papers. Our missionary was coming home from the Philippines, not exactly how he had left, but in time, we would get him back to health. At that moment, I heard the words from my stake president, “You’ll never know the blessings your family will receive from your son’s missionary service.” I marveled that Chandler was released from his mission after we received the confirmation Canyon would be alright. I thought “What an interesting coincidence?” The spirit whispered to my heart, “The timing is not a coincidence.”


(Chandler meeting Ruby for the first time)

About a year later, as we continued watching Canyon heal, his speech improve, his smile slowly correcting, his energy come back, I was talking to my sister Becky about our miraculous experience. “You know why that first blood work was lost don’t you?” she said.

I hadn’t thought about it that for months, but at the time, I resented the lost blood work, confused why such an unfortunate thing would happen at such a crucial point in Canyon’s journey, but Becky had another idea.

“God was going to heal Canyon, so you were never meant to have the results from the first test.”

Such an idea gave me chills. Could it be true? We would never know the specifics of Canyon’s healing, but I did have a testimony that in God’s universe, there are no coincidences.

Canyon is now 6 years old. He has been tested for a variety of other health conditions, one panel had 80 different possible medical outcomes, but the tests continued coming back negative. He remains on a very small dose of anti-seizure medication and continues to grow in strength and healing. Every day is a miracle to celebrate the power of prayer and fasting, to dance in the light of Jesus Christ and praise the God Almighty for each precious moment.



Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Intermittent Fasting - The Last 90 Days



The last 90-days has been absolutely life-changing. I'm so thankful, so very blessed to have found intermittent fasting. The simplicity, the flexibility, the blessing of being hand in hand with God while I improve my physical, spiritual, mental and emotional health - it's truly a gift. I no longer am at war with my body - a reality I've lived with since I was 10 years old.


In January, 2016 when I first felt impressed to fast for 30-days (only eating after 4:00pm ), I was concerned it might be too difficult. Could I even do such a thing? I'd never heard about intermittent fasting, but as I skipped breakfast and lunch every day, I felt a peace I'd never had before. I came outside of my own pitiful self thoughts, victim mentality and body shaming. No longer was I consumed with my own negative, self-destructive energy. This is because I developed compassion for the poor and hungry, gratitude for my food and love for my body.  

I’m learning losing weight is more about my relationship with myself and God then food. I’m not interested in counting calories and restricting food. Do you know how many times I’ve started a diet and focused on what I can’t have? I have felt left out and isolated. Diets of the past have been an all-consuming negative experience. Intermittent fasting provides true freedom, the opportunity to develop trust in self, break bad habits, eat when truly hungry, eat what I want and appreciate my body for the gift that it is.

I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I am studying the law of the fast in the Bible and a book of scripture my faith holds dear, the Book of Mormon. In the Book of Mormon, another testimony of Jesus Christ, a prophet named Alma said “I have fasted and prayed many days that I might know these things of myself. And now I know of myself that they are true; for the Lord God hath made them manifest unto me by His Holy Spirit.” Alma also says they had given themselves to much “fasting and prayer” for the spirit of revelation and that they might be blessed to fulfill their purpose.

Before intermittent fasting, I had not considered that fasting could be an experience to participate in many days in a row. Through intermittent fasting, I don’t have to wait once a month for the blessings of the fast. Fasting has helped me to know the truth about myself and my relationship with God and Jesus Christ. This healing means everything to me. In our church, fasting and prayer has been called “rejoicing and prayer.” I now understand why.


When I participate in my church’s once-a-month Sunday fast (which is supposed to be a full 24 hours, but that is still very difficult for me), I give money as a fast offering donation to my bishop to help those in need in my church congregation and through the world. As I fast for 30-days, I donate to Rising Star Outreach to support sponsoring 100 daughters. I truly believe when we are generous with God, He is generous with us. The word “temporal” means in our worldly needs like in our home, family and other financial needs. God promises to bless us temporally when we give to the poor and hungry by opening up the heavens and pouring out blessings (Malachi 3: 8-12)


Fasting has helped me change and grow in ways I could have never done. Honoring God’s commandments can be an opportunity to become more like Him and His son Jesus Christ.