Even today my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning.
If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling!
I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments.

I would find out what he would answer me,
and consider what he would say.
But if I go to the east, he is not there;
if I go to the west, I do not find him.

When he is at work in the north, I do not see him;
when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.

But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.

I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread.

God has made my heart faint;
Yet I am not silenced by the darkness,
by the thick darkness that covers my face.

~ Job 23 (excerpted from the KJV)

C.S. Lewis founded a literary discussion group called the Inklings in London..."inklings" or glimpses of greatness as manifested by unfinished works of fiction and fantasy by the great writers of that time, most notably J.R.R. and Christopher Tolkien.

"A slight suggestion or indication; hint; intimation..." My inklings are my children. How can one question a good, righteous, beautiful, compassionate God in the face of that dimpled, peaches-and-cream cheek softly brushing one's own? In this time of questioning, wondering, crying out for understanding, there they are: my anchor to the reality of God's wonderful, saving grace. As a parent, you learn in new ways what it means to love someone indescribably, incomprehensibly, unconditionally, unchangeably, intensely, immeasurably. My children sin, and I must teach them, let them suffer consequences, and yet I love them! My children aggravate me, and yet I love them. My children hurt each other or others, and yet I love them. I know that I will love them, deeply, expansively so, whatever befalls them, whatever they choose. I may not agree, I may not be able to support their decisions, but I will love them. This is my "inkling" of how God feels about me, "Must you, my child? Yet I love you! Yet I forgive you...nay, I sacrificed my Son for this very sin, however small!" How can I hope to understand this vast world of life and death He created? I am a speck in an infinite sand of eternal blessings and sufferings. Without Him, I am "a transitory and senseless contortion upon the idiotic face of infinite matter" (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain).

How interesting that Job, crushed, bruised and battered, all that he loved torn from him inexplicably, reflects my own dichotomous thoughts in chapter 23 (above). He is searching for God, yet admits he will never find Him; he says he is terrified of God, yet he trusts Him; he knows his words are meaningless, yet he says he will not be silent! This cancer "covers my face with darkness" at times, yet I am not silent. I am meditating today on Proverbs 4: what wisdom do I seek? Wisdom about how to live this day? Wisdom about what it means to face death and live? Wisdom about finding joy in the face of suffering? What wisdom do I seek this moment?

"Sell everything and buy Wisdom! Forage for Understanding! Don't forget one word! Don't deviate an inch! Above all and before all, do this: Get Wisdom! Write this at the top of your list: Get Understanding! Throw your arms around her—believe me, you won't regret it; never let her go—she'll make your life glorious. She'll garland your life with grace, she'll festoon your days with beauty." ~ Proverbs 4:3-9 (The Message)

"Tröstet, tröstet", spricht der Herr,
"mein Volk, daß es nicht zage mehr."
Der Sünde Last, des Todes Fron
nimmt von euch Christus, Gottes Sohn.

"Comfort, comfort," says my God,
"my people, I hesitate not."
Your load of sin to lighten;
Through the death of Christ you are God's son!

Hebe deine Stimme, sprich mit Macht,
daß niemand fürchte sich.
Es kommt der Herr, eur Gott ist da
und herrscht gewaltig fern und nah.

Lift your voice, speak with power,
so that no one is afraid.
The God Who comes is He Who rules
powerfully both near and far!
~words by Waldemar, music by Hans Friedrich Micheelsen, Heilandskirchenlied, 1937/8


"We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses...As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing..." ~II Corinthians 6:1, 4, 9, 10 KJV

What is it, exactly, that I fear in the darkest hour of the night? What about dying is so scary? It's not just that I want to stay on this green earth for my children, my husband, my parents, my siblings, my nieces and nephews, my grandparents, my friends. I am afraid of the physical and spiritual process of dying. It is such a vast unknown. Even the Bible has little to say that lets me know what to expect.

I am afraid of death for the same reason I don't like swimming in most lakes. I dip below the surface, not knowing what swims with me in the murky darkness. I am touched by things floating in the water with me that I cannot see, my feet sink into soggy muck that I cannot recognize with my toes, pieces of weeds and grass cling to my ankles and pull at my feet. I can't see it, understand it, grasp it, name it...the water is full of things that are beyond my ability to know or comprehend. Death is the is sinking below the water for the first time, not knowing how long I will be under, when I will draw breath again, whether or not my lungs will burn while I am waiting to be rescued.
'Under it my genius is rebuked' (Shakespeare, MacBeth III:i). What will my eyes behold, what will I smell, hear, feel, breathe while I am dying? Am I entering another universe, or just another dimension of the one I currently occupy? Will someone be with me or will I be alone? Do I have to 'cross' something to get there? How will I do it - physically? Spiritually? Will I still have a sense of my body? Will it matter??

I have watched children die and adults as well. I beg for the childlike faith that surrenders to death like everything else, walking forward without contemplating these vast questions, without realizing that there is that great unknown void of knowledge into which to step. How to surrender these questions and die by faith as I have lived? How to give up that ultimate last thread of control (or misplaced sense of control) over my own life and steps and give way to God with dignity, belief, and peace? That I do not know...yet. The regrettable truth that we so often sidestep is that we are all dying. "As dying, yet we live"! Our day is coming, now, later. "In the most complex of all creatures, Man, yet another quality appears, which we call reason, whereby he is enabled to foresee his own pain which henceforth is preceded with acute mental suffering, and to foresee his own death while keenly desiring permanence." (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain) I could pretend that I don't know I'm going to die; I could push the questions about death out of my mind. But for me, logical, reasoning person that I was created to be, I must name them, bring them out into the light and inspect them, and lay them before the feet of my Savior and beg for understanding! I cannot just put them away in some dark closet, never to be pondered again. It is not my nature. The key is what I do with these questions. Do they become a root of bitterness and anxiety that I water and weed and tend, so that the plant of those emotions grows up to dwarf my faith in an infinitely loving Savior? Or do I truly believe, absorb the truth that Christ "suffered unto death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His" (George MacDonald, Unspoken Sermons)? Do I trust that there are things I am not meant to, nor designed to, know - yet He knows them, loves me, will teach me slowly, kindly, as I am on that "narrow pathway through the needle's eye, I'm stepping forward to the place I die. For I know that You are faithful" (David Ruis, Faithful)

Indescribable, uncontainable,

You placed the stars in the sky and
You know them by name.
You are amazing God

All powerful,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim

You are amazing God

~ Chris Tomlin,

Love of a Lifetime

July 24, 2002

Dear Genevieve,
I don't know quite where to begin with this letter. I just finished watching "A Beautiful Mind". It has made me miss you more than I ever have before, more than I have ever missed someone in my life. It is the best love story I have ever seen told. I want to find some way to tell you how much I love you. You have said that you can't imagine why I would fall in love with you. My only answer is that I have and I can think of nothing better in this world. I have never had one uninterrupted day with you. I have quit trying to guess what it would be like. Every time I see you it outstrips my imaginations ability. I would never dream of asking for more than to be near you. I love you with all my heart. I love you every minute. I am 'the luckiest man in the world'.


Six years later, and I sat reading this while Aaron was out working on the car. We have yet to have very many "uninterrupted days" together, as God chose to bless us with a plethora of children right out of the gates, so to speak. What a wonderful man God gave me! I am praying for many, many more years together to realize the full potential of that love in its earthly iteration. I am the luckiest woman in the world!

The LORD favors those who fear Him,
Those who wait for His lovingkindness.
Psalm 147:11

Silver & Gold

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! ~ Psalm 133:1

It is an interesting conundrum of my life: the people I get along with best are too far away to see often. We spent the day yesterday with old friends of Aaron's, and these people would be very good friends if we lived closer. We have several groups of friends like that...those rare people that really understand you, those people you can see after years have gone by and it is as if you just left them yesterday. I wonder why the physical distance? Is that common - does God place people around us that are a different fit to stretch us and help us grow? Or is it just that seeing someone infrequently allows me to focus on our similarities, and the differences go unnoticed?

I am thankful for these golden gems of friends, a special, treasured glint of reflection off God's face and the true communion He designed us for. Imagine one day in heaven, when all dear saints have this kind of easy friendship! Sometimes I picture life like a strand of gold, each of these moments of beauty and friendship and good strung out on my piece of time like a yellow pearl...Cancer makes you think these things, and hold these moments close to your heart, a priceless treasure that you are newly and acutely thankful for.

The sun and stars that float in the open air,
The apple-shaped earth and we upon it,
surely the drift of them is something grand,
I do not know what it is except that it is grand,
and that it is happiness,
And that it is not something which by luck may turn out well for us,
and without luck must be a failure for us,
And not something which may yet be retracted in a certain contingency.
The light and shade, the curious sense of body and identity,
unspeakable joys and sorrows,
The wonder every one sees in every one else he sees,
and the wonders that fill each minute of time forever...
~ Walt Whitman, 1855, A Song of Occupations, Leaves of Grass

Beauty in Odd Places

"One aspect of the battlefields of World War II was the profusion of .50-caliber empties. In any place where the going was heavy, the terrain was asparkle with brightly gleaming cartridge cases. You could also see this extravagance from the air. I was particularly impressed by it at Guam when, just as the landing craft started in, the F6s went for the beach, and up there against that beautiful blue sky each airplane was suddenly accompanied by a shower of gold as it commenced strafing. This is one of those rare things in war that is not sufficiently enjoyed." ~ Jeff Cooper, Thoughts From the Gunner's Guru, Guns & Ammo, v. 49 no. 2

Imagine this soldier, coming to land under heavy fire on some foreign beach where hundreds of thousands of his comrades had already perished, looking up to admire the sky and notice the gleam of sunlight on the gold shell casings falling from far above! Whenever life seems difficult, I am always reminded, in some little way, that my situation is pleasant in comparison to so many others. I have not been at war. I have not lost a child, or even a parent yet. I eat well every day. I admire beautiful landscapes all around my home, cool my home in summer and heat it in winter without batting an eye. I never wonder what I will feed my children, or how I will dress them, or if I will be able to educate them. I don't even have to worry about going back to work outside the home myself. This vignette from one of our veterans amazed me. I cannot imagine finding beauty in the wasteland of war, ever thinking anything I observed there was "not sufficiently enjoyed". How insightful of this man, young at the time he observed this beauty, to notice the dichotomy of death and life, beauty and ugliness, good and evil, and especially to see how closely the two co-exist. The shell casings were harbingers of death for one group of men, and a shower of safety to another.

My cancer is a harbinger of my eventual death, but it is also a reminder of my eternal destiny. I am thankful to find beauty in odd places; I am thankful to be reminded that my "days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more." (Psalm 103:15-16) Yet...

“I know Whom I have believed,

And am persuaded that He is able

To keep that which I’ve committed

Unto Him against that day.”

I know not what of good or ill

May be reserved for me,

Of weary ways or golden days,
Before His face I see.
~Daniel W. Whittle

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Philippians 4:8 KJV

Such times as these

"You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts. Therefore the prudent man keeps quiet in such times, for the times are evil." Amos 5:12-13

The girls and I read Amos for devotions today. I don't think disobedience will be much of an issue today after reading about the judgment of Israel! Katy said, "I better not sin more than three times, I guess!" with all seriousness. (One of the hallmarks of Amos is the phrase, "for three sins of [insert name of sinful country], even four, I will not turn back my wrath") I was struck by this verse in Amos 5, having just finished a very interesting book on conservative politics, Crunchy Cons by Rod Dreher. Dreher advocates a quiet conservativism that is characterized by lifestyle choices and surrounding yourself with a community of like-minded people, rather than hoping for a true reflection of your beliefs in a political party. His grassroots theory of change has worked for centuries, if you take the Biblical account literally. Scripture calls us to individual accountability, yet God judges cultural depravity, too.

The "freedom of speech" mentality of our culture would encourage us to speak up and be heard on political issues. I found it interesting that, in the middle of judgment for rampant national sin, a quiet man is called prudent.


"Do not debunk feelings as such. Remember they are given to us as part of our humanity. Do not try to fortify yourself against emotions. Recognize them; name them, if that helps; and then lay them open before the Lord for His training of your responses. The discipline of emotions is the training of responses. Saint Francis de Sales put it this way: "We are not masters of our own feelings but we are by God's grace masters of our consent."
~ Elisabeth Elliot, Discipline: The Glad Surrender

As I spend time in the Word and devotionals each day, I am continually amazed by the timeliness of the topic - what I read so often speaks directly to the events of the day. Years ago, I started doing my reading in the evening instead of the morning, as I find it much more compatible with the schedule my children are on. I also am the sort that needs to process things at the end of the day, and reading Scripture helps me do this through the appropriate lens.

Last night I was missing my grandma intensely. It probably sounds odd to some, as she was 80 years old, and had lived a very full life. Yet she was so much a part of our daily life - even those who didn't live close as we did - that it has left a void now that she is gone. She was a great encourager, and had kind words to lift your spirits whenever you were struggling. She encouraged me in my faith, reassured me that I was much stronger than I thought I was, and always had compliments for my mothering.

Fern Therese Brisbois...even her name was unique and vigorous, don't you think? She was born on the White Earth Indian Reservation and grew up in abject poverty and rampant abuse. She married a witty suitor in high school and had her first daughter. Her husband fled and she moved to Milwaukee to be a lounge singer and waitress and send money home to her mother, who was caring for Shera in her absence. She met my grandfather in a lounge there, and he pursued her until she finally agreed to a date. They had a tumultuous and passionate relationship that included the birth of five children and numerous separations and reunions. Grandpa Frank died in his 50's of a massive heart attack, and his estate was not given to Grandma Fern or the children because they were separated at the time of his death. Grandma raised her six (soon seven by a short, difficult marriage) children on government aid and lived in poverty once again. However, her children fondly remember homemade meals of chili and fresh bread and other delicacies that would bring them running to the table with tag-along friends begging to stay for supper! My mother also sings a delightful little song she wrote to keep her hungry baby sister happy on long car trips home from Duluth, when the whole family had eaten one meager meal of "Henry Burgers" and were left with growling tummies.

Grandma was raised Catholic and was a faithful Catholic for most of her life. She prayed the rosary and went to church and confession regularly, and encouraged her children in the faith. In 1979, the year I was born, she was reading her Bible and came across I Timothy 2:5: "For there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." She was dumbfounded, threw her rosary beads across the room, re-read the verse, and cried out to God for salvation by faith alone. She felt betrayed by the many priests who she had confessed to and by the Catholic church, for encouraging her to bring her prayer requests to Mary instead of straight to the Throne of God. She spoke to everyone, newborns to 80-year-olds, strangers and family, about the saving grace of Jesus and her vibrant relationship with him.

Grandma Fern worked as an Alcohol/Drug Addiction counselor once her children were grown, a job that she was still proud of in her old age. She also worked many menial jobs and was always inventing something to better life, although she never succeeded in "making it rich" on any of her inventions. She did hold a patent for the now-ubiquitous "baby shade" you see hanging in car windows. She suffered for the last twenty years of her life from an auto-immune disorder that destroyed her joints, her eyesight, and her general health and left her in debilitating pain and nearly immobile. Her children were awe struck, at her deathbed, thinking of her raising her arms above her head to praise Jesus for the first time in over 20 years.

Grandma's life is a litany of survival stories that isn't matched by any other life I've heard of:
  • Survived abuse as a child; hospitalized for STD's at age 7;
  • Left the reservation and took her children with her;
  • Persisted in a difficult marriage to the love of her life, Frank;
  • Remarried a man she did not love to provide for her children;
  • Continued inventing until she died;Hit by an egg truck and lost all her hair;
  • Survived hepatitis and hemorrhage during her 7 live childbirths;
  • Quite smoking overnight after smoking 2-3 packs a day for 30 years;
  • Continued working for years after she could hardly dress herself due to pain;
  • Went blind from steroid treatments and continued to praise & trust God even though she could no longer read His Book;
  • Helped raise several of her grandchildren and was a witness of God's grace to us all;
  • Continued to work on rehab, dreaming of independent living, until the day she went home to Jesus;
  • Trusted God even on her deathbed, choosing to put aside anxiety as she meditated on her favorite verses just an hour before she breathed her last (labored) breath.
Last night I was crying, deep racking sobs of regret, as I thought of those last few missed visits to Grandma in the nursing home. I could choose to rejoice, instead, at her arrival in heaven - and indeed, most days I am! But to ignore this feeling of regret, of grief, of loss, of searing, wrenching emptiness that Grandma left in my life, would be false and inhuman. I am human, I have lost. God has taken away what He gave. I am naming that feeling and laying it before God so that He can train my response. I miss my Grandma!

It will be worth it all when we see Jesus,
Life's trials will seem so small when we see Christ;
One glimpse of His dear face all sorrow will erase,
So bravely run the race till we see Christ.
~ When We See Christ, Esther Kerr Rusthoi, 1941

  • If we suffer with Christ, we will reign with Him;
  • If a grain of wheat dies, it produces fruit.
  • If we relinquish our mourning, God gives us a garment of praise;
  • If we bring our sins, He replaces them with a robe of righteousness.
  • Joy comes not in spite of, but because of, sorrow.
~II Timothy 2:12; John 12:24; Isaiah 61:3, 10; II Corinthians 6:10


Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom. I have seen something else under the sun:

The race is not to the swift
or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
or wealth to the brilliant
or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.

Ecclesiastes 9:10-11

Does something ever happen in your day, so unexpected and interesting, that it makes you wonder what circumstances must have led up to that chance occurrence? I had this happen in a laundromat in Beaver Bay, Minnesota, on Monday. We spent a long weekend with Grandma and Grandpa, soaking up the cool air and crisp sunshine of the North Shore. On Monday, I took the laundry to the laundromat so the many towels and sheets we used wouldn't be a burden to my sweet grandmother, who still looks after us like she did when I was a child. At the laundromat, I had to nurse Caleb - the dear boy is very ready for solids, as evidenced by his sudden increase in nursing frequency to every hour or so! One cannot sustain his mass on milk alone for long! I sat down on a very small bench with a small woman, feeling like I was a little in her space and might be even more so once I started breastfeeding! Besides, if you've ever been to Beaver Bay, you know there are a few questionable characters in town, and you just never know who you might sit down next to at the laundromat...

We started chatting as she admired the baby. She was about my mother's age and had four children herself - three girls and then a little boy, just like me. She shared many things about parenting that particular gender group that I stored in my brain for future reference. Then my grandparents came in to help pick up the laundry, and I said goodbye. I went back to ask her name later, as my grandparents thought they knew her. She told me, and then said she was from Canada, and here on vacation, so it was quite unlikely that they knew her. We both remarked on the obviously fortuitous and unlikely nature of our meeting, and one of her comments was a little "nudge" that I should share more of my story and my faith with her. I did, and found that she was a fellow believer.

I don't know if God had us meet for her to encourage and teach me, for me to encourage her, or for some other purpose. It was one of those events that was a "God wink", as my mother says - a moment when you know He had something bigger planned and put that plan in motion long ago. To think of the many choices that could have affected the Plan for that meeting - from my end, not doing Grandma's laundry, leaving a day earlier, or choosing not to sit down next to a perfect stranger to nurse my baby. In the end, the Plan did happen, leaving both her and I wondering, I think, what it's purpose might be?

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’, but ‘That’s funny …’
~ Isaac Asimov

Blessed are they that mourn...

...for they shall be comforted. Matthew 5:4

I was in the midst of some mundane research for a grad school paper yesterday when I went 'down a rabbit hole' on the internet. I ended up on the websites of some patients of mine, now long dead. Reading the words of pain and suffering on those sites, many still maintained daily by grieving parents, was heart-wrenching. Aaron and I were just sorrowing together over these lost babes and their families, still wounded, perhaps forever so.

I will never forget the first time I saw a child die. This little 5-year-old, Katy's age now, was playing dress-up with her daddy the night before she died. They came running down the carpeted hallway together to show off their crowns and dresses to the nurses. We giggled with them at the nurses station and took Poloroids for the little girl's mother, who was home tending the other children. About six hours later, I was helping with resuscitation attempts as her daddy cried in the hallway, all alone. His little girl had "stone heart syndrome" - her transplanted heart had literally gone from pliable and beating to hard and unresponsive in a few minutes due to a massive immune reaction. I remember going out with the doctor to tell her father there was nothing that could be done after several hours of resuscitation. That poor father kept pulling his shirt off his chest as if it were crushing him, and I remember thinking of the stories in the Old Testament when the Jews tore their clothes in anguish. I have seen a similar reaction in many, many people who've just suffered the loss of a loved one, my mother most recently.

Reading those web pages was a reminder of several truths I've always treasured:
  1. Perspective is everything. When you are faced with adversity, one way to cope is to keep it in perspective. In my case, I am kept on track by contemplating the tasks of the moment, my relative good health, and my eternal destiny. I am still alive, and my children are alive and well. How blessed we are, beyond words!
  2. You always have a choice. You may not have choices about your disease, or your loss, or your pain. But you do have a choice in how to respond to it. As an example, here are two verses from the Old Testament stories I referred to earlier. Notice how differently the two men respond to their losses. I pray I will be with Job in his reaction as I face whatever storms this life brings! May I fall on the ground and worship!
Job, following the news that all his children were killed in a storm:
"Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, "Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong." ~ Job 1:20-22 ESV

Jacob, when he discovered Joseph's torn and bloodied robe:
"Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. "No," he said, "in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son." So his father wept for him." ~ Genesis 37:34-35 NIV

I am spending time today in prayer for the parents of all those dear children who have gone on before them to their eternal home. What a trial to continue to live without the touch, scent, little beloved habits and voice and expressions of your own baby.

This is my Father's world -
O let me ne'er forget!
That tho the wrong seems oft so strong
God is the Ruler yet.
This is my Father's world!
The battle is not done;
Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and heav'n be one.
~ Maltbie D. Babcock, 1901, This Is My Father's World


"His voice shook the earth, but now He has given a promise: Yet once more I will shake and make tremble not only the earth but also the starry heavens. Now this expression, Yet once more, indicates the final removal and transformation of all that can be shaken--that is, of that which has been created--in order that what cannot be shaken may remain and continue. Let us therefore, receiving a kingdom that is firm and stable and cannot be shaken, offer to God pleasing service and acceptable worship, with modesty and pious care and godly fear and awe." ~ Hebrews 12:26-28 Amplified

I have just two pills left of my new prescription for the hormone that replaces what my thyroid used to make. I was looking in the bottle at those two tiny purple orbs this morning in wonder at what has transpired over the past two months of my life. We live in a world where most transitions are expected, most changes are under our control. It seems we choose whether or not to get married, have children, look back at our detailed familial health histories and can even predict, to some extent, what will cause our decline and death in our old age. Just fifty years ago, most of those large transitions came as surprises to the vast majority of people. Our current level of disseminated knowledge makes unexpected changes, like cancer at 29, even more jarring. We are rattled out of that little cocoon of supposed safety we have wrapped our bodies and our minds in.

I have my first of many doctors appointments tomorrow to check the progress of those cancer cells still in my body and to recalibrate my replacement hormone level. I will be having about 20 different blood levels checked, a physical, review of my post-surgical healing, and a new prescription. Mundane and common-place, just a check-up with my regular doctor, not even a Mayo specialist. How unimaginable, though, this mundane check-up would have seemed just two months ago. A day spent in surgery and a bottle of purple pills later and I am transformed into someone surviving cancer instead of just plain old me.

This transformation is visible to everyone - a scar on my neck. There are many more subtle signs of the physical transformation noticeable only to my husband, my mother, my closest friends. What about the internal transformations that have happened in the same time? I hope I can make them as visible - a change of heart is so much harder to see, yet so much more important.

As each of you has received a gift (a particular spiritual talent, a gracious divine endowment), employ it for one another as befits good trustees of God's many-sided grace - faithful stewards of the extremely diverse powers and gifts granted to Christians by unmerited favor. Whoever speaks, let him do it as one who utters oracles of God; whoever renders service, let him do it as with the strength which God furnishes abundantly, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ (the Messiah). To Him be the glory and dominion forever and ever, through endless ages. Amen (so be it). ~ I Peter 4:10-11

Clay pots

"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. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body." II Corinthians 4:6-12

I have always interpreted this verse to mean that I am a weak, lowly vessel bearing the matchless treasure of the resurrection inside. Yesterday was a day of falling down and getting up, only to fall again. I didn't really realize I had been under attack all day until I was preparing for bed, and realized that I had indulged in a little sin with a dear friend. I was horrified that I hadn't even thought twice about it! It is difficult for me to understand how, while being trusted to handle big, huge trials, I still fall in such a little thing! I woke up this morning with the reality of my little spiritual misstep and weakness bearing fruit throughout my day with my children. It abhors me and I am having a day of desperately crying out to God for more strength in the future. I pray that each day finds me stronger (through His undeserved favor) and more able to thwart the darts of the devil.

"I was helped toward this understanding by realizing that I was a clay pot. I saw a good many clay pots in Indian houses. They are very common; they were made out of stuff to be found in almost any stream and easily replaceable. What was in them was of much more interest than the pots themselves. This was what I was -- common stuff, replaceable, but holding a "priceless treasure", the life of Jesus. Only as I lived that life would I be able to give pride of place to others in esteem."
~ Elisabeth Elliot, Discipline: The Glad Surrender

Who am I, that the bright and morning star
Would choose to light the way for my ever-wandering heart...
Who am I, that the eyes that see my sin
Would look on me with love, and watch me rise again?
Casting Crowns, Who Am I

Blessed are the meek...

  1. humbly patient or docile, as under provocation from others.
  2. overly submissive or compliant; spiritless; tame.
  3. gentle, kind.
Synonyms: forbearing; yielding; unassuming; pacific, calm, soft.

No one has ever accused me of being meek. It is interesting to me that, just when I am sure I have surrendered all to Christ's control and wise oversight in a particular trial, my lack of meekness rears it's ugly head. Last week was a perfect example of this. I felt overwhelmed by my life - just the normal stuff, not even cancer. Four kids, hard-working husband who was absent most of the week, viruses, difficulty with naps, trying to fit in schoolwork and also be a good housewife...just the usual, everyday life sort of thing had me pretty upset. I threw the adult version of a tantrum for most of the week - for me this means giving people the silent treatment (because I am too close to breaking to speak kindly to them), crying more than usual, ranting at God, and generally doing a poor job emotionally. I think part of the problem is that I am dealing with my illness in layers (like an onion, as they say in Shrek, things aren't as they seem on the surface). Having cancer is the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back". It puts me so close to the edge of my ability to cope, any little added stress puts me over the edge.

How do I deal with this knowledge? Does God use the meek very much, anyway? I am thinking of "meek" in terms of the 2nd definition above: "overly submissive, compliant, spiritless, tame". I can't think of a character in the Bible (or very many living humans I know, for that matter) who fits this definition. No, I don't think many of the late Bible greats are meek by this definition. I am certainly not! I was just not wired that way. I think it is a falsehood of today's Christianity that 'growing as a Christian' means becoming more like this definition. I disagree - I don't think spiritless, tame people get much accomplished! Yet, what about Matthew 5:5: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." Matthew Henry, the great commentator and theologian, has this to say about this passage:
  • "The meek are happy. The meek are those who quietly submit to God; who can bear insult; are silent, or return a soft answer; who, in their patience, keep possession of their own souls, when they can scarcely keep possession of anything else. These meek ones are happy, even in this world. Meekness promotes wealth, comfort, and safety, even in this world...Blessed Jesus! how different are thy maxims from those of men of this world! They call the proud happy, and admire the gay, the rich, the powerful, and the victorious. May we find mercy from the Lord; may we be owned as his children, and inherit his kingdom. With these enjoyments and hopes, we may cheerfully welcome low or painful circumstances."
By his definition, meekness is the choice to obey and place myself under God; tolerate the little offenses and injuries I experience; patiently awaiting my "blessed Hope" with the understanding that there is little in my life that is truly under my control. I would be happy to bear this mantle of meekness, indeed! If I could strive toward the goal of achieving this sort of meekness, how much better my life would be, and the lives of those I touch - especially my children and husband.

John Wesley, in his Notes on the Bible, characterizes the meek of Matthew 5:5 as "
they that hold all their passions and affections evenly balanced". The Greek word translated "meek" is πραεῖς, "praus", translated "humble, mild, or meek". In all it's forms, this Greek word occurs four times in the New Testament, in Matthew 5:5 and three other verses. Here they are:
  • "...learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart" (Jesus, describing Himself in Mt. 11:29)
  • "...behold, your King comes to you, humble, and riding on a donkey" (Jesus, again describing Himself in Mt. 21:5)
  • "...the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God." (description of true beauty in I Peter 3:4)
If I choose meekness, pursue meekness, I am attempting to emulate one of the many characteristics of my God, Christ, who humbled Himself innumerable times on my behalf. The Hebrew word, עַל־רֹב, "anav", means "depressed in mind (gentle) or circumstances (needy, saintly) - humble, lowly, meek, poor". I am certainly depressed in circumstances at this moment of my life, and need to strive to align my mind (choices) with my circumstances (situation). I need to surrender my spirit, my fight, my vigor, and place those traits UNDER Christ in submission so that He may use them for His glory through my response to this trial.

So take me as You find me
All my fears and failures
Fill my life again
I give my life to follow
Everything I believe in
Now I surrender

Hillsong, Mighty to Save

For further study on meekness, see these references:
a calm temper of mind, not easily provoked (James 3:13). Peculiar promises are made to the meek (Matt. 5:5; Isa. 66:2). The cultivation of this spirit is enjoined (Col. 3:12; 1 Tim. 6:11; Zeph. 2:3), and is exemplified in Christ (Matt. 11:29), Abraham (Gen. 13; 16:5, 6) Moses (Num. 12:3), David (Zech. 12:8; 2 Sam. 16:10, 12), and Paul (1 Cor. 9:19).

The Preceder

"The promises Jesus made must have seemed especially empty to the people who lived in His day. At the end, He was standing before Pilate, a perplexed Roman governor. Outside, the masses were yelling, "Kill him! Kill him!" He who had healed so many others would not save Himself. This man King? A mock king if ever there was one. Someone had thrown a fine, purple robe over Him, but blood from Pilate's beatings streaked down His back and legs, clotting on the cloth.

More unlikely - this man God? Even to His disciples, who had loved Him and followed Him for three years, the prospects were dim. They hung back in the crowd, afraid to be identified with the mock king. Their dreams of a powerful ruler who could banish pain and suffering in the world turned to nightmares. The scene, with the sharp spikes and bleeding death and wrenching thud as the cross was dropped in the ground, has been told so often, that we, who shrink from a news story on the death of a race horse or of baby seals, flinch not at all at its retelling.

Jesus' humanity and the weight that He bore crashed to the surface when at the peak of His agony He, the teacher of prayer, suddenly realized His own prayers were going unanswered. Deserted by men, He found Himself deserted by God and cried out, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" It was as if the earth convulsed. The ground shook, rocks shattered, graves spilled out bodies long dead, and the sun was hidden from earth for three hours. Incredibly, the Creator of the universe demonstrated one last human quality, the quality of courage, which no omnipotent Sovereign would normally be called on to experience. His soul passed a breaking point, but it did not break. His life seemed prematurely wasted. His triumphant words from the night before surely must have cruelly haunted His followers as they watched Him groan and twitch on the cross.

What possible contribution to the problem of pain and suffering could come from a religion based on an event like the Crucifixion? There, God Himself succumbed to pain. We are not abandoned - none has to suffer alone. Because God came, He fully understands. The image Jesus left with the world, the cross, the most common image in the Christian religion, is proof that God cares about our suffering and pain. He died of it. Only one religion has a God who cared enough to become a man and to die. To some, the image of a pale body glimmering on a dark night whispers of defeat. What good is a God who does not control His Son's suffering? What possible good could such a God do for us? But a louder sound can be heard: the shout of a God crying out to man, "I LOVE YOU." Love was compressed for all history in that lonely, bleeding figure. Jesus, who had said He could call down angels at any moment and recue Himself from the horror, chose not to - because of us. For God so loved us, He sent His only Son to die for us."

~ Chapter 13: The Preceder, Philip Yancey, Where is God When it Hurts?

This is courage

Every now and then you see something that reminds you how little you know about God, this world, suffering, and joy:

Sotto voce la parte due

Moses said to the LORD, "O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue." The LORD said to him, "Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD ? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say." ~ Exodus 4:10-12 NIV

The lingering effects of the vocal cord paralysis continue to be a problem. I have been struggling with depression this week, as everything seems to be "settling in" - my new level of fatigue and quiet voice, meds to take every morning and trouble swallowing. Everything needs to be integrated into my regular, everyday life now, which is when the hard reality strikes that this is not going away and I need to accept it and live with it now. I was reading last night in Where is God When it Hurts? about the two potential choices for the Christian faced with physical difficulties - integrate it and adjust your life around it with persistent joy, as Joni Eareckson Tada did, or choose to doggedly believe that healing will still come, as track star Brian Sternberg did. I'm not sure if it is optimism or pessimism that motivates me to be part of the first group - integrate, adjust, move on. I would ask for continued prayers, however, that my voice would get stronger and stronger. I will be entering voice rehab next week if things do not improve (maybe it will have the side benefit of making me a better singer??). It is a great inconvenience as a young mother to have such a muted voice, as I can't get the children's attention if there is any ambient noise (outdoors, busy places, even when the washer or dryer are running inside). So please join me in praying for healing in that one respect.

On a side note, my father has noted how the prayer requests in the right column have turned to PRAISE as this trial has developed! Once again, "praise God from whom all blessings flow!" for what He has accomplished already through this ordeal.

I will bless the Lord at all times
And His grace shall content me
My soul shall boast in Thee
The humble shall hear thereof
and be glad

Oh give thanks for the Lord is good
And His mercies and kindnesses always endure
I'll find my refuge in Your shelter
Under Your gentle wings I abide

O magnify the Lord with me
And let us exalt His name together
O magnify the Lord with me
And let us exalt His name together

I sought the Lord and He heard me
and delivered me from all my fears
~ Nicole C. Mullen, Magnify

Pictures of Summer

This is what summer means to me...

Fishing weights, chimes & maple sap pot.
"Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun." Ecc. 11:7

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellow'd to that tender light

Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.

And on that cheek and o'er that brow

So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,

The smiles that win, the tints that glow,

But tell of days in goodness spent,—

A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent.
~ She Walks in Beauty, Lord Byron, 1788-1824 ~

He will never, never leave me, nor yet forsake me here,
While I live by faith and do His blessed will...
Then sweeping up to glory I'll see His blessed face,
Where rivers of delight shall ever flow;
He's the Lily of the Valley, the Bright and Morning Star,
He's the fairest of of thousand ten to my my soul.
~ Charles Fry ~

" As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby." I Peter 2:2

On sleep (or lack thereof)

He says come unto me
All who are weary

And I will give you rest

Bring what hurts

Bring your scars

Bring the load that you carry
And I will give you rest
~ Nicole Mullen,
Come Unto Me

Sleep is one of the ways that you give yourself up as a mother. When you are childless, you sleep until you wish to wake up - or until your alarm rings, but even then you have the freedom to hit the snooze button and actually fall back to sleep! With children in the picture, this is no longer true. Almost every morning, I wake up at someone else's beckoning - the slap of toddler feet on the floor beside the bed, the squeals of the baby beside me, my four-year-old tapping my shoulder, asking for breakfast. Not only am I dragged from the depths of slumber, I must tend to whatever needs these little bodies have when I wake up! Instead of a long, 20-minute shower like I used to enjoy first thing in the morning, I now cook oatmeal, change poopy diapers, or pour milk. Fitting in a five minute shower and a few minutes of reading every morning stretches the limits of possibility!
Which begs the question - why must I give up myself to be a good mother? Why must I give up myself to be a good Christian, for that matter?

Jesus said, "
whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." (Matthew 10:38-39 ESV) This, then, is my cross - to wake up cheerfully and serve the little bodies God has blessed me with! Today was a particular test of my resolve in this matter. I am ill, and when you are sick, there is nothing you want to do more than lie around and do nothing. This is just not an option when you are at your job 24 hours a day, 7 days a week! My kids are on the upswing from our little virus, and were ready for action at 6 a.m., as usual. Even a nap was out of the question, as I couldn't get all four coordinated to sleep at the same time this afternoon. Again, I am going to that Great Throne and begging, "Please, Lord! I have cancer, my thyroid isn't working anymore, I simply physically cannot do this!" And the answer today was, "Yes, you can! Even without a nap!" That's what brought this topic to mind. When I am at my weakest, He is ready to carry me. I am reminded once again that faithfulness in the little things is what counts:

'Well done, my good servant!' his master replied. '
Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities.' (Parable of the Ten Minas, Luke 19:17 NIV)

Giving up self for children. This is one of the many ways I Timothy 2:15 is made real to me every day. "She shall be saved through childbearing, if she continues in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety."

Passion poesy, glories infinite...

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never

Pass into nothingness; but still will keep

A bower quiet for us, and a sleep

Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.

Some shape of beauty moves away the pall...

All lovely tales that we have heard or read:

An endless fountain of immortal drink,

Pouring unto us from the heaven's brink.

Nor do we merely feel these essences

For one short hour;
The passion poesy, glories infinite,
Haunt us till they become a cheering light

Unto our souls, and bound to us so fast

That, whether there be shine or gloom o'ercast,

They always must be with us, or we die.

Many and many a verse I hope to write,

Before the daisies, vermeil rimmed and white,

Hide in deep herbage;

O may no wintry season, bare and hoary,

See it half finished: but let Autumn bold,

With universal tinge of sober gold,

Be all about me when I make an end!

And now at once, adventuresome, I send

My herald thought into a wilderness:

There let its trumpet blow, and quickly dress

My uncertain path with green, that
I may speed
Easily onward, thorough flowers and weed.

~ John Keats, from Endymion, 1818

Amidst the trials of the weekend glimmered the beauty of Sara & Caleb's wedding. The beauty of my girls, twirling at the dance in their red-white-and-blue cotton dresses; Cab's bright eyes as he watched the lights and the blurred shapes of the dancers; the love of the bride and groom, secret and beautiful but shared with us for an afternoon; conversation with a dear Pastor who has been gone for years to Germany, touching to see so clearly that he cares for us deeply still; my parents and brothers, Aaron's surrounding us. Even in the heat, and ill to boot, everyone was smiling! I wrote parts of this poem in calligraphic text for Sara and Caleb. Keats captures the haunting, fleeting, yet ever surrounding nature of beauty in this world in these lines from Endymion, his epic poem based on the Greek myth of the same name. I am so thankful for beauty. What a wretched life this would be without it!

"The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters. Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in." ~ Psalm 24:1-2, 7 KJV

Sweetly broken, wholly surrendered...

To the cross I look, to the cross I cling
Of its suffering I do drink
Of its work I do sing
For on it my Savior both bruised and crushed
Showed that God is love
And God is just

At the cross You beckon me
You draw me gently to my knees, and I am
Lost for words, so lost in love,
I’m sweetly broken, wholly surrendered

What a priceless gift, undeserved life
Have I been given
Through Christ crucified
You’ve called me out of death
You’ve called me into life
And I was under Your wrath
Now through the cross I’m reconciled

In awe of the cross I must confess
How wondrous Your redeeming love and
How great is Your faithfulness

~ Sweetly Broken, Jeremy Riddle

I have always marveled at the grace God extends me. This is being illustrated to me in a very precious way through this trial. He never takes me from the peak of a mountain to the depths of a valley in one is a gradual process, walking down the mountain together. I am so thankful for that. I think it would be much easier to grow bitter if I fell off the mountain, tumbling all the way to the bottom in just a few minutes. I can see His hand preparing the path before me as I walk down this mountain, into the valley and up the other side, because we are walking slowly. Over the past few days, we have walked a little further into the valley together as a family, continuing to be tested. Amelia came down with Coxsackie virus (the pretty, scientific way of saying "Hand, Foot & Mouth Disease"), which involves a painful, itchy rash, high fevers, sores in the mouth, throat, soles of her feet and palms of her hands. The other children have slowly come down with it as well. So, as I was preparing for my dear friend Sara's wedding to her Caleb, Aaron and I were also busy "nursing" our puking, itching, feverish, cranky, dehydrated children! Throw four sick kids into the mix when you are already contending with a rehearsal dinner, wedding performance, dance, fireworks, and company (luckily, grandparents Thul who helped immensely!), you've got a big trial on your hands as parents! The song I quoted above was sung at Sara & Caleb's wedding, and it resonated with me. He has me "sweetly broken, wholly surrendered". I've said before that one of the curses of being a strong person under your own power means it takes bigger trials to bring you to your knees. But how tender of Him to give them slowly, to break me slowly, to let me surrender instead of just beating me down to submission. I am so grateful for that! My voice is completely gone again today, just a hushed whisper coming out when I try to speak. I'm sure it is a product of the sores in my throat and overuse this weekend. But I am feeling "hushed", too. Praising God for His mercy in taking me down slowly...

"Thou, which hast shewed me great and sore troubles, shalt quicken me again, and shalt bring me up again from the depths of the earth. Thou shalt increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side." ~ Psalm 71:20-21 KJV

Feeling tired
By the fire
The long day is over

The wind is gone
Asleep at dawn
The embers burn on

With no reprise
The sun will rise
The long day is over
~ Norah Jones