Yellow farmhouse pleasures on a winter day

  • Being "forced" to make a sledding track for the oldest in 8" of new-fallen snow
  • A pine tree, pendulous, bows toward the house
  • Bending a thousand times to shovel the driveway
  • The sizzle of freshly diced potatoes sliding into hot, brown butter in the skillet
  • The way a meal feels in your belly after hard physical labor
  • Staying up late to fold all the laundry
  • The abstract art of shadows on snow: a line drawing in the night
  • Discovering a child amongst the nativity: love and awe and reverence in 5-year-old form

Soliloquy on ceding the self

An hour of faith and fractured prayer as the grooves in the floor ground into my knees through the velveteen of my pajamas. I knelt before the familiar curve of the cranberry couch, the tattered green cover of my 5-year-Bible for Katrina rough against my outstretched hand. My ear glowing like a hot coal against the arm in which my face was buried, wet with tears.

What brought me to such prostration? Nothing out of the ordinary. Living with cancer at a young age carries with it the consequent awareness that time may be of the essence. Whatever areas of my life are closed off to God, wherever I am retaining that old, desperate grip on self...they show painfully, like a tattered square of aged fabric on a new scrap quilt. Whatever notes I keep in the margins of a Bible, whatever struggles are transparent in my writing here, there is always another level God is trying to nudge me towards.

My life is a long string of chapters with one central theme: resistance. Various personality tests and peer reviews through the years have marked me with words like "rebel", "visionary", "leader", "counter-cultural". They herald strength of character inexorably mixed with the deep veins of ore that God is currently mining and carting out of my mountain - stubborn, immobile, conviction, opinion, anger. What begins as a trait of character is substantiated in a thousand tiny sins with which I, the clay pot whirling on the wheel, laugh up at my Potter, "Trust me, I've got it under control. It's not a problem for me. I'm o.k. with this. You don't need to supervise."

That evening bowed in front of my couch in prayer was weeks ago. For the first time, from the pit of my soul, I cried out for help in a few key areas I've been holding back from God for years. What I couldn't do by willpower alone I prayed fell under that almost unbelievable umbrella of God's power...with Him all things are possible. (Matthew 19:26) I asked God to "root it out of me", an expression I heard first from my mother, who learned it from her mother, Fern. If Fern could give up a 2 pack cigarette habit in the 1970s, before the patches and pills, and psychotherapy and support groups, what are my little sin areas to God now?

I've been walking around in a haze ever since. You know how it feels when you wake up from a deep, vivid dream, and it takes full minutes to absorb the reality of the mysterious mounds and shapes that surround you in your dark bedroom? I feel that way...for days. Afraid I might wake up and God will have abandoned me to my own devices, and I will fail. Of course I expect to fail...perhaps almost too much so! It has been difficult to believe that I could just be done with these areas I've tried so hard to ignore, forget, or destroy in myself. Almost like it is a figment of my imagination. Almost like maybe I could have done it myself if I would have just tried harder.

(Ah, there's the old familiar rub...)

And then I ran smack into the face of Satan this morning, jolting me out of my daze. I felt like a warrior in an unknown land, the familiar heft of the Sword of the Spirit in my right hand (Heb. 4:12); white fog surrounds me, and I am awash in oblivion, walking forward in faith. For just a moment, the fog lifts as I walk up a particularly steep and challenging hill, and I see the face of the Enemy suddenly before me. When I walk back into that peaceful, silent fog, it is with new awareness, yet requires the same confident steps of faith.

So on I fight in my fog. Praying for special protection today as I face renewed temptations. Let me not be lulled to sleep by the age-old tune, "It Doesn't Really Matter". Because it does, deeply, awesomely matter. To God, to me, to my legacy. Let me be faithful today in small things.


Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
Hebrews 10:19-23

A little sprinkle is all it takes to transform something familiar into something fabulous. I took these photos a week ago, at Rosy's 4th birthday party. Sprinkles in pink abounded on her much-longed-for "ballerina" cake (we still haven't said the other "B" word so many know this cake by). This section from Hebrews came to mind...just a little sprinkle of the blood of the Lamb and all is changed. What was familiar (sin) has become fabulous (glorified purity).

Tonight another example crept up on me. Just a sprinkle of the familiar (sin: anger over lost competition) embittered the whole fabulous night (a date with my husband). Yet one "sprinkle" of prayer and Christ turned the night on it's head once more - reconciled, nay, reveling in my husband once again, our wounds healed and anger erased.

These intervening days of trust and tranquility are winding to a close. March is coming 30th birthday, my next cancer treatment. How my heart swells and overflows at those precious words, Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. A little sprinkle of unswerving is exactly what I need tonight. Hope, for He is faithful. Sprinkle me with sleep now, Father...carry my burdens again while I rest.

Freedoms & fears

The longest...and most dangerous...leash this 5-year-old country girl has ever been on: 10 yards across our quiet country road to the mailbox. We walk her down to the end, the three younger ones and I, and stand at the end of the driveway, looking right and left, "helping" her spot any oncoming cars. Truthfully, a trained ear hears the rumble down the uneven blacktop for 1/2 a mile or more. After a more than thorough view of both ends of our short stretch of street, she runs pell-mell across to the opposite ditch, and slowly and carefully picks her way through the snow the 10 feet up to the mailbox. Opens carefully, standing to the side so she isn't sticking out into "traffic". Glances over her shoulder at least 100 times before all the mail is pried, piece by piece, out of the box and into mittened hands. Calls us to help her "check" again, and then yells, "Mama, is it safe to come now?" No confidence in her own rudimentary skills. (After all, haven't I warned them that the big grain and gravel trucks would kill them in an instant?) She runs head-long, legs stretched to eat up as much ground in one leap as possible. Crashes into our ditch and slowly picks her way through the deep drift up to the culvert, the driveway, the four of us Her audible sigh of relief. And then the smile. "Look, mama! I did it! I crossed all by myself!"

This little elf of mine isn't constrained by her short leash. She doesn't pull at the tether. She doesn't even feel it, except to absorb the certainty and bliss of protection and trust that flows between us, mother and daughter. I am not so with Christ. I am the toddler with the "I do it myself" attitude, hands on hips, begging to be loosed to self. I wish it were possible to do as Amy often tells me I should: "you just grow yittew (little) again, Mama, so I's can take care of you." Oh, to grow little again...most especially in faith! To know, with certainty, that I can't do it myself. To feel the tug of Father-God, and revel in protection. To glance a 100 times backwards when given freedom. To run pell-mell across the distance that separates us for those times of sin in my days. To smile proudly up at Him in accomplishment.

In the spirit of growing little again, I am putting myself on a self-discipline "diet". I am required to be on a strict food diet in preparation for my upcoming tests and possible cancer treatment March 23-28. I am putting myself on a water-only diet by joining forces with many others to provide clean water to Africans...

I am going to learn about using food sensibly by finishing this...

And to follow up my recent study of Elisabeth Elliot's Discipline: The Glad Surrender, I will study this...

My journey begins on my 30th birthday, March 1st. I won't be done until April 10th. Join me if you wish! Let's shed some fears - and freedoms - together this spring.

Simple joy

Glimpses of God's glitter circa Rosy's 4th birthday party a week ago in Chetek. Neglected as I tended to sweet Amelia. God is good!

One man considers himself rich, yet has nothing [to keep permanently]; another man considers himself poor, yet has great [and indestructible] riches. Proverbs 13:7 (Amp)

Gleam of ice, and glint of steel,
Jolly, snappy weather;
Glide on ice and joy of zeal,
All, alone, together.
Fickle Spring! Who can imprint her?
Faithless while she's captivating;
Here's to trusty Madame Winter!
~ Skating, e.e. cummings


For whatever reason, Aaron and I had a long, random discussion of torture methods and which would be most effective at squeezing information from us, should we ever have sensitive information that was of interest to someone and be then captured by said someone. (?? Yes, I know - very random - and, incidentally, exactly how we knew we were right for each other. We are random on the same wavelength.) Aaron decided that, for him, it is a toss-up between two methods (which shall remain unnamed, just in case he is someday captured by someone!). My own mind returned to this conversation as I listened to constant wails of discontent, ill children this morning. For any mother, the ultimate torture is listening to children - or worse, babies! - crying, especially if they are her own.

Amelia's days of illness are now followed by the long days of recuperation and re-training that come hand and hand. "No, Amelia, you may not sleep alone upstairs with Mama every night from now on!" "No, Amelia, you may not sob for what you desire - please ask in a nice voice!" "No, Amelia, you may not poop and pee in your pants!" "No, Amelia, you may not wear your pajamas all day long." On the heels of such instruction comes the tender yearning of my mother heart, strings of which are played upon by the wan cheeks and hollow, dark eyes brought on by a week of sickness. Here is that difficulty, to find the sweet spot between tender love and stern love, that love that desires to bring this beautiful child to her full potential, not only physically, but also emotionally and spiritually.

This verse has always been a difficult one for me to absorb, although I've heard it since early in my childhood: chasten thy son while there is yet hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying. (Proverbs 19:18) Today I am praying for patience as I reflect tender love, mercy, and grace from the face of my Father onto the upturned, tear-streaked cheeks of my children. The day to chasten will come. Today is a day for comfort.

And like a boat out on the ocean
I'm rocking you to sleep
The water's dark and deep
Inside this ancient heart
You'll always be a part of me
~ Lullaby (Goodnight, My Angel), Billy Joel


Katrina in 2004 in Silver Bay, MN.

Katrina learned to read today, the official, real deal! She read two books cover to cover with just a little help sounding out one or two words. She was so lit up, I doubt a nap will be happening anytime soon. Thank you, Mr. Webster - and Mama, for believing in old-fashioned methods and the natural processes of assimilating information into a childish brain! Katrina and I reflected together that we will never forget this date - the oldest sister learning to read on the youngest child's 1st birthday. Momentous.

Caleb, February 21, 2008: 8 hours old.

My blond-haired baby boy is one year old today. Festivities planned were canceled because of Amelia's illness. Today is a quiet Saturday at home, a quiet and happy boy playing, crawling, sharpening his rudimentary walking skills. A year ago, a finger of purple sunrise glowed just above the trees in the eastern sky as we whirled through new snow pack on country roads to reach the hospital in time. Fifteen of the most intense minutes of my life, and Caleb was born in a rush of water and utter amazement. His first year has included so many changes in my life: I became mother to a son; I was diagnosed with cancer; I weaned him and bottle-fed for the first time; I left a baby for more than 12 hours, something I never did with my other babies. I pray this second year of life is a joy-filled one. Full of more gentle, steady breezes and fewer gusts of change.

She was like a traveler still on the road on one of those evenings when sun and moon, one rising as the other sets, face each other across the world. ~ Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose


The children and I scooted outside to "blow the stink off of us" (a Grandma Fern expression) after fresh snowfall lit up the world in winter brilliance once again. After days of muck, ice slicks, and gray skies, the sun gleaming off a foot of heavy, white snow was refreshing. The girls went sledding on the back hill while I danced around with Caleb, snapping photos, and giving instructions on constructing a sledding track in spring snow. An hour later, Rosy collapsed in a pile to watch the heavy cloud puffs float by swiftly on the wings of a robins-egg blue sky. Her repose reminded me how peaceful it is to trust: to believe the world is whole, and good, and beautiful. As an adult, naïveté burned off like mist before the morning sun, the entirety of that trust escapes me. A world of black and white is one of the freedoms of childhood. Adulthood is fraught with shades of gray.

Every time we reach a new breaking point, there are His hands - and His wisdom - underneath it all. Assuring us that we can suffer more, and experience a deeper well of peace and joy than we even knew existed. Experience as nurses taught both Aaron and I, through observation of others, that there is always a deeper well of both surrender and sustenance. That propels us through the difficult days and seasons, those memories of wiser, stronger, sorrowful folk we have loved in days past. A simple fever is not leukemia; low potassium isn't a death knell. How "light and momentary", indeed, our own troubles appear in the face of the martyrs of old, and those suffering every day in gray, cold, hopeless hospital units everywhere.

Amelia's fever continues. It spiked up to 104.9 - a scary number to see, even for seasoned nurses - last night, despite medication. We recruited wisdom from next door in the form of my mother, successful raiser of four children prone to fevers, and resorted to more old-fashioned measures: sponge baths, lots of icy cold liquids to drink, and setting a timer to give a syringe full of electrolyte replacement every 5 minutes. It worked, and Amelia and I cuddled up in the guestroom upstairs for a few hours of slumber after 3 a.m. last night. My eyes are heavy this morning. But more fresh snow and a warm February sun dawned on Caleb's first birthday, lifting my spirits. That eternal reminder. The rising and setting of the sun, put in motion thousands of years ago by His great hand, and faithful to this day. A reminder, visual, sensational. He is here, always, unwavering, all-knowing, a Keeper of promises. Fevers and birthdays and cancer are not to be faced alone, in the dark.

This hand is bitterness.
We want to taste it, let the hatred numb our sorrow.
The wise hands open slowly to lilies of the valley - and tomorrow.
If hope is born of suffering.
If this is only the beginning.
Can we not wait for one hour watching for our Savior?
~ Held, Natalie Grant

Sugar & bitterness

In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. And she made a vow, saying, "O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head." I Samuel 1:10-11

I reread what I wrote yesterday about God's provision before writing this. As you look back over your life, do you see times that stick out as times of special grace or preparation? Were you ever wrong about what it was that God was preparing you for?

Yesterday was not about preparing my soul to separate from my family during my upcoming scan/treatment. It was about getting ready for the evening hours, and what they brought. Amelia, my youngest daughter, had been vomiting since Tuesday evening and both Aaron and I were surprised that she was still throwing up when Thursday morning arrived. I watched over her and kept pushing small drinks of fluid despite the continuing vomiting all day on Thursday. By afternoon, her hands and feet were cold and gray, her eyes heavy and swollen from retching, and her heartrate and breathing much too fast because of her high - and uncontrollable - fever. I left two kids with Auntie Melissa, and ran in to urgent care, where they directed me straight to the ER. We spent the evening there, where Amelia received IV fluid rehydration and a dose of potassium.

Aaron and I both fared well through the ordeal, emotionally. Two bright flares of panic: standing in the elevator listing off the tests being run, awareness flooded down on me like ice water. Every parent I ever knew on bone marrow transplant had this story: a routine visit to an ER for a kid just a bit "too sick", and suddenly the news that it is leukemia, or a genetic anemia, or other anomaly so much bigger than the sickness that brought them there. Working in such an intense pediatric environment has left a few scars. I whispered a silent prayer - please, don't let that be my story. Spare us. Another moment of panic: Amelia's potassium came back low. Mine has always been low, thanks to a genetic disorder called Bartter's Syndrome that causes excessive loss of potassium through the kidneys. My father and grandfather suffer from this as well, but have remained fairly healthy despite the chronic low potassium. However, my symptoms exacerbated a heart problem in high school, causing me to faint many times a day for years. This was a heart-wrenching time of life for my parents, and the possibility that I might walk that same road with my daughter is painful.

Amelia doesn't have leukemia - her blood counts all came back normal, as any sane parent would have predicted. Just that old nurse's phobia rearing it's ugly head. But the potassium issue continues to be a concern, and we won't know more until a few weeks from now.

So I was being prepared to don my mother/nurse cap in full last night. To use knowledge to protect my daughter, and push away knowledge that merely brings fear into my heart. That takes a lot of discernment and a lot of self-control. It was a testing time, for certain. Now for the next few protect this rare and precious treasure, this 2-year-old soul and body that breathe vigor and happiness and fire into our days in the Thul house. Caleb's first birthday party cancelled and rescheduled for another time. It will be a peaceful day tomorrow - barring any more fast drives to the ER with Amy - cake, presents, and just we six Thuls honoring the 1-year anniversary of our first and only little boy's birth.

Strands of gold

The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. ~ Psalm 19:7-11 KJV

God has completely provided for me this week. I remember my mother using that phrase when I was a teenager: I was always embarrassed when she said it, because it seemed so...well, unknowable. Years of experience walking beside and occasionally walking away from God's presence have finally taught me otherwise. Sometimes God moves like a whisper of a summer breeze through the rhythms of my day. Sometimes He is as obvious in His love and provision as a brilliant red and gold summer sunset, as thunderous as the rush of summer storms flying in on the wind from the west, the tide of the wind met with the deafening hum of cicadas and katydids mounting their collective voice in protest of the interruption.

This week has been a week when God thundered through my days. School work easily accomplished, housework coming along slowly, pleasure woven through my work, even calm enjoyment during a day of sickness with Amelia. Awareness is dawning in my conscience: the special season of prayer that precedes hormone withdrawal, scans and treatments brings with a swell in the tide of God's love and grace. I pray all the more, and He provides all the more. When the world says I should be lying in bed, wasted and sick from lack of a necessary hormone, He fills in my gaps and lifts me up with sheer strength that gives me a glimpse into an unbelievably deep reserve of power.

Today I am floating along on the crest of that sunlit way of God's provision. Basking in the glow. Enjoying every minute, every unexpected strand of gold woven through this life.

Light and momentary troubles

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory...II Corinthians 4:17 KJV

Hearts strung on a wire, dancing from the built-in buffet to the trim over the Fern room door. The children waltz in with skip in step. At Grandma's for a Valentine's party! What could be more exquisite?

Two mothers present, heavy in that slogging work of young motherhood, the quicksand of myriad tasks pulling at our feet as we try our best to dance. Clothes to wash, fold, put away; meals to cook; studying to do; parties to plan; home to make homey. It whispers at the edge of consciousness, the ante is automatically raised. The fragile tightrope of living in this heartbeat, this blink of the eye. Putting tasks out of mind for the reality of joy in this moment.

My patience was thin, and my stress transparent. I paced in the hallway while children hid presents for at a time. The minutes dragged. Beauty surrounds, yet the heart can be so discontent. I know, consciously, that time wasted worrying about the work of the next hour is futile and ridiculous. Still that undertow...the emotional and spiritual quagmire of duty and privilege fill my heart like lead in moments like these.

Framed like a painting, my youngest girl played with wrapped gifts. A game delightfully handmade in vintage style by my mother set gracefully on the sill. Time again to breathe. To relearn for the thousandth time that deep and peaceful truth: though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. (Psalm 71:20)

My "cancer day" can wait.

Pictures posted to Rockpicker

Pictures were added to post "Rockpickers lessons on a beach".

We will work with each other, we will work side by side

...he views the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. Job 28:24

Serving dinner for 100 in a church sanctuary in midwestern Wisconsin is a small challenge. Creating a Moroccan eatery using pastel pink church chairs and a large room with a stage and cross at one end is a big one! My sister-in-law Melissa is the one with the flair for aesthetic beauty, and hit upon using scarves as a curtain of sorts. Walking through that streaming silk transported our diners into another world.

My mom is well-known for her dramatic flair and had fun becoming a sort of "prop" in her spur-of-the-moment Moroccan costume.

I orchestrated the cooking & baking, and organized the "back of house" duties - preparing, plating, and sending out food in the appropriate order. An apron from a dear friend made me feel like I fit the theme perfectly.

Over forty people helped our Bible study group serve this dinner. The college students eagerly - and aptly - rose to the task of serving 5 courses impeccably.

The crowning finish to the evening, the desserts with which I was so happy. The whole evening a success, and a tired Thul clan headed for home at a remarkably reasonable hour this year. I felt as though my love for my church and all the dear saints in it flavored every dish and glowed - by the grace of God - for hours after we washed the last dish.

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that our unity will one day be restored
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yeah they'll know we are Christians by our love

We will work with each other, we will work side by side
We will work with each other, we will work side by side
And we'll guard each man's dignity and save each man's pride
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
Yeah, they'll know we are Christians by our love.

Love is patient,
love is kind
Never boasts, not full of pride
Always hopes, always trusts
The evidence of Christ in us

~ They Will Know We are Christians By Our Love, Peter Scholtes/Carolyn Arends

Photos were taken by my mom, Debra Holmen, & some anonymous church-goers!

Rockpicker's lessons on a beach

This post was written in November while I was away for my last treatment. I never finished it, and will post it "as is". As a homeschooling mom, attentive to the four little brains wandering around my feet today, I think often about how object lessons or real life experience can convey deeper, more lasting messages than we might imagine. Rocks were one of those lessons in my life. I am working on a post with photos from the Moroccan dinner on Saturday, but haven't got it finished here is my rock-picking post from November while you wait!

I have loved rocks since I was a very small child. I remember picking up pieces of gravel and bringing them indoors for my busy father's appraisal (usually interrupting his work to get a quick opinion). I learned many lessons about rocks from both parents, without a spoken word on the subject.

Yesterday, I walked down a deserted, mist-covered beach near the outlet of one of my favorite rivers. The great Gitchee-Gamee thundered on one side of me, and crashed against the obsidian cliff at one of the beach and gently rolled over the stanchions at the river's outlet at the other end. I walked along in the mist, standing upright, looking for the peculiar glitter of agates in the November chill. The yellow grass swept along in the wind next to me. Icy drops from the crashing waves coated my shoulders.

1.We eventually learn to recognize beauty and truth from a distance. As a child, I stooped down and crawled along in the rocks, my face inches away before an agate popped out at me. But my father walked along, with his hands in his pockets, and occasionally bent down to pick up a pea-sized rock of particular beauty. Today I did the same. And I saw the agates. What stage of life are you in - are you kneeling in the pile, digging desperately? Or do you have a trained eye already?

2. We have a choice. You can narrow your search to the truly magnificent, or you can collect the pea-sized rocks and have a line of jars on your window sill filled with more ordinary finds. Either can give you joy. What are your resources? What type suits you best? Ordinary? Extraordinary? God will use both.

3. Test things. If you wonder if it is really remarkable, toss the rock back down into the pile. If it is as beautiful as you think it might be, your eye will quickly pick it out again. If you aren't sure of God's will, toss the idea down. Delay putting it in your pocket. It will pop back out at you if it is the right one.

4. There are agates on every beach. There are more on some, less on some. Some beaches have bigger agates, some produce more quantity and less quality. What kind of beach are you on, metaphorically speaking? Who surrounds you? What type of choices do you need to make?


We are knee-deep in cooking and baking in the Thul house. Every year, our small group hosts a fundraiser dinner on Valentine's Day, and this year I am once again the head chef. Katy and her friend Grace laughed all the way through mixing up a double batch of blonde brownies yesterday. They will be served in heart shaped pieces to the children in the nursery while the parents feast on Moroccan delicacies.

Her smile delights me. I know God looks down at me and thinks the same thing when I smile. Gut-wrenched by my tears and soul-lit by my smiles! Have you smiled for your Father today? I have - and plan to many more times before the day is over!

Jesus loves me, Him who died,
Heaven's gate to open wide;
He has washed away my sin,
let His little child come in.

We love Jesus, does He know?
Have you ever told Him so?
Jesus loves to hear us say
that we love Him every day.
~ Jesus Loves Me, Anna Bartlett Warner

How should we then live?

Use your good dishes...
make lots of messes...
want what you have...
Turn up the music...
Turn it up loud...
take a few chances...
Go to the ballgames...
kiss all your children...
dance with your wife...
tell your husband you love him, every night!
Don't run from the truth...
make peace with God...
in the end, there's nobody else...
~Point of Grace, How You Live

We turn it up, once a day: dance hour in the morning, the loudest and craziest music the kids crave, turned way up and break-dancing and hip hop moves all around. We take chances, rainwater rushing through culverts as we feel the pull of the current on our tall boots. We go to the uncles' ballgames, we kiss so many times a day, we dance, and we tell each other we love, we look the truth of cancer treatments and consequent separations in the eye. Our peace is in God, we know He is the beginning and end, the Alpha and Omega. Still, I find myself ransacking my memory, mulling over this day. Was it enough? What if it is the last season together? What if cancer shreds this reality, children running through mud puddles and splashing in February thaws with Mama? What if next February finds a sickbed, or a coffin? What purpose does that serve, God? What is your agenda, God? I ask this not in bitterness, or consternation. I struggle to align myself to the Truth laid before me. What shall I now do? How should I then live? What next, God? Where is the map?

Put your money where your mouth is

"A friend once confessed: Anger can be addictive. It masquerades as power. And as I've experienced, every time we think anger will get us what we want, we’re supporting Satan’s philosophy. We're believing in the power of the roar, not the compassion of the Cross. Frustration immigrates us to Satan's domain, when we're called to claim our rightfuly citizenship in Christ's Kingdom, aligning with Jesus’ revolutionary way: the way of love." Ann Voskamp, A Holy Experience

My brother used this phrase often: "put your money where your mouth is". He is the second child, the justice-oriented one, first the minder of all details of fairness in our family jurisdiction, now a police officer in our old hometown. He meant it, too: ever sensitive to hypocrisy, he demanded a higher level of faith from all of us. The actual practice, "walking our talk". Childhood with him to keep me in check was a good trial run for adulthood as a person of faith. Is there ever a harsher critic than the child born next in line after us?

Cancer is where the rubber meets the road. (I am full of proverbs today.) Here, in this place of vulnerability, will I curse or praise that God who allowed this trial? If I confess that He is God of all, Ruler and Creator, than I consequently confess that He has the power to allow or bar this trial from my life. Logic states that He allowed it. What is my response? Anger, a last feeble grasp at an illusion of power over my own circumstance, the sands in my proverbial hourglass? Acceptance, a feeble shrug of my shoulders at the inexorable suffering that plagues the universe? Or a balanced give-and-take, the constant yearning to understand deeper, to grasp the why and how of God's reasoning and His love? I choose that tug-of-war, that soul-broadening reflection that brings me to my knees in worship one moment, and shaking my fists and crying out in frustration for understanding the next.

As always, this dichotomy of soul plagues me even in the most mundane circumstances. Throwing that familiar 12-pound bowling ball this evening was no exception. One moment, I praised God for victory. In the next, I felt my mouth growing dry as my anger rose like venom from my throat: what is the "why" in all this, God? Why I am here, using precious time with these people, on this trivial, even frustrating, entertainment? For what purpose, God, would you allow me to squirm under this personal tragedy as I swallow the bitter tang of fear to exist in this jostling crowd in apparent ignorance-is-bliss? Why force me through the motions if I am to die in the end? Why allow the turn of the screw as I writhe under the weight of the curse of creation?

The answer is: know Me. In all circumstances, in all surroundings, know I am with you. In your pain and your sorrow, walk in My footsteps. Believe in Me, do you? Well, show the world what your God is made of: put your money where your mouth is, then! Walk the talk. Shine in dire circumstances. Show the world that I can conquer physical ailments (hypothyroidism & cancer), character traits (anger), circumstances (4 children under 5), the failing economy (while living on one income), and all of this world's myriad obstacles. What is cancer to He who made the immaculate conceive, the infertile bring forth the apostle, the seas parted, the land submerged, and His victory reign over all?

What is my faith, if it is not my daily walk? Today I meditate on that truth, that faith is as faith does. That my faith in the Cross is what propels me to praise, and to love, and to bring glory, even in this time of torture, trial and tragedy.

When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died;
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
save in the death of Christ, my God;
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.
~ Isaac Waats, 1674-1748, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

Amelia recites

From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise...Psalm 8:2a

Amelia is memorizing Bible verses along with her sisters for a memorization challenge at church. She has a different approach than the older children, but we are continually astonished by her ability to remember, and her sweet spirit as she quotes the verses.

Several months after this video was taken, Amelia prayed to accept Jesus.  Too young, I thought.  The skeptic in me slowly quieted as the months ticked on and she really was changed.  In October of 2009, I heard through a horrible buzzing in my ears as a doctor told us we had a 50/50 chance of keeping our Amelia here on earth.  She had encephalitis, nearly died, and now has global delays and difficulties related to a life-threatening and constant seizure disorder.  We beg your prayers, if you see this.  For more information, click on the "Amelia's Illness" link on the top menu above the header image.


Remember, our message is not about ourselves; we're proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you. It started when God said, "Light up the darkness!" and our lives filled up with light as we saw and understood God in the face of Christ, all bright and beautiful. If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That's to prevent anyone from confusing God's incomparable power with us. As it is, there's not much chance of that. You know for yourselves that we're not much to look at. We've been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we're not demoralized; we're not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we've been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn't left our side; we've been thrown down, but we haven't broken. ~ II Corinthians 4:5-12 (Message)

We woke up to a slow, cold February rain. In Wisconsin, rain in February is invariably accompanied by sleet-driving winds and icy driveways. I woke up expecting sun, or snow, or at worst, a gray wind. Rain wasn't in my plans. Nor my childrens...magically, they awake to every day as if it were a surprise to be discovered. No plans to be lived up to, or destroyed.

Raindrops on the windows, freezing before they ran the length of the pane. A new experience for the youngest of the three girls. She was in a state of awe, tracing their tracks down the windowpanes and gleefully waking her sisters at first light to share the bliss of a rainstorm in February.

Cancer is my rain in February. Unexpected, it raises the stakes. I feel as though I am thoroughly entrenched in my adult mindset, looking out on a dreary day with fatigue and hopelessness and disappointment. Cancer is a ride down a path I didn't see coming, a fork in the road that I would rather not take. To my children, it is an endless myriad of discovery as we explore the depths of God's grace and plumb the well of His eternal kindness. I looked at the rain today with fresh eyes, and cancer with it. An allegory is so much easier to grasp than real life.


"The biblical call to repentance and faith is nothing if not a call to rediscover who we really are, made in God's image, designed to glorify him. But the Bible doesn't just focus on this underlying intrinsic (and quite slippery) sense of self, many of the biblical writers also engage in identity construction; for example Peter in his first epistle takes time to lay out the identity of those he writes to before giving moral instruction hinging on 2:11 'Dear friends, I urge you as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.'

For Peter identity is a conscious and deliberate basis for behaviour, and perhaps our Christian faith enables precisely that; open eyes to percieve our real nature and freedom from sin to shape ourselves and our world accordingly." Anna blogs at Something

These irregular ovals with worn corners have sat on my windowsill since my honeymoon, collected in $1 glass containers found in a shop on Orcas Island. Of what value were those hours spent combing beaches for golds, and grays, and blues, and yellows? Green and white seaglass is easy to come by anywhere waves crash and tides flow. But those unique colors...the rare ones, tossed up reluctantly from the sea where they were so seldom cast. Aaron and I, bent at the waist, walking away from each other and silent. Those hours were as golden as the rounded shards we stooped to cherish. Hours of graceful silence, unfettered peace, acquaintance between souls.

Conscious and deliberate. Constructing an identity for a lifetime of oneness. For us, what is important was old, of little monetary value, even of questionable beauty to many. Pieces of glass cast from the sea, worn by the passage of time and the pounding of surf, without even a glisten left to call it's own. These three jars are the similitude of what we envisioned for life.

And here is cancer, and treatments, and separation. I yearn for those early days of hunting seaglass out of Puget Sound, finding agates on the lonely beaches of Lake Superior, or stooping to scoop rocks out of rivers in Vermont. The passage of time is still a source of heartache for me. Yet how much comfort I take from that early identity we wrought in our marriage: for now I am that seaglass, a sharp piece dulled by the tossing of life's waves, and cloudy after the tumult. I don't have the same sparkle I had then, but I am at peace knowing that glimmer was never what caught my beloved's eye. I won't be thrown back into the sea because of my wear.

Grasping grace humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you...Deuteronomy 8:16 (exc.)

I heard this verse quoted on the children's Bible hour we listen to on the radio on the way home from our small group meeting. It really struck me that being humbled and tested by cancer is an opportunity for obedience and submission that will result in good things for my family and I. As I read verses to the kids, and talk with them about our upcoming separation for my next scan/treatment, it shocks me how clearly they see the love of God in this difficult situation. God has provided doctors, and treatments; He watches over me so I can come home to them again. I admire their attitude and grasp on His grace. I want to absorb it, emulate it.

On a lighter note, a couple of gratuitous pics for the day...of the Moroccan dark chocolate bon-bons and traditional honey and almond pastries I made from scratch today. These will be served at the Valentine's Dinner & a Movie event I am cooking & baking for on Saturday. Trust me, you want these recipes! Click on the links to go to them!

It's official...

I am having another scan in the end of March. Prayers answered: the dates will dodge Caleb's 1st birthday, my 30th, and Rosalie's 4th. SOOO happy to celebrate with them instead of being in isolation! Prayers still to be answered with a yes or a no: how I will tolerate the hypothyroid period - will I have energy to keep up with the kids, school, and the charity dinner I am helping sponsor next week? How will the scan go - please, God, no metastatic disease. Will I need another treatment? Will the next scan be a 5 day separation from my children, or a 17-18 day separation?

Here's the schedule...
  • Immediately - stop thyroid hormone replacement
  • March 5 (4 days after my 30th) - stop Cytomel, other replacement hormone
  • March 19 - labs (this will shed a lot of light on metastasis; also pray insurance will approve the shipment of my thyroglobulin test back to the University of Chicago)
  • March 23 - take I-131 radioactive iodine 7 millicuries for whole body scan
  • March 25 - whole body scan
  • March 26 - appointment with Dr. Bingham - determine whether ablation is necessary
  • March 27 - either go home or get treatment dose
  • April 10 - home if I need an ablation (treatment)
Please lift us up in prayer. We are sinking under the latest news.

This is only a test...

"He plays games — but not in order to entertain Himself. You can while away time in order to ward off boredom, but you cannot while away eternity. When I speak of God playing games, I do not mean it in the sense that Prof. Albert Einstein did, when he made his famous statement (In opposition to the Indeterminists) that, "I do not believe that God plays dice with the universe," in other words, that God is arbitrary. Of course he is right; God is not whimsical. I agree with Dr. Einstein that God does not play dice — but He does play games. Not games of chance, but games where effort and decency are rewarded, and where offenses against righteousness are punished.

David said (Psalm 2), though the kings of the nations plot and conspire, "He who dwells in the heavens shall laugh (or 'play'); the Lord will mock them." The laughter of God is no laughing matter. It entails the most serious theological issues and demands spiritual insight.

The game element enters as an emerging realization, when a pattern of justice begins to crystallize into a coherent structure from within the chaos of practical events. This awareness of a divine-moral pattern that over-lays our daily, petty, devious strategies, means that history is not completely caught up in causality; that economics and politics do not mean everything; that there is freedom and novelty and surprise and openness in life; that Marx was wrong, and Moses was right." ~ Rabbi Norman Lamm, from When God Plays Games

It is one of the double-edged swords of life that one must ask questions to find answers. Yesterday I was caught in a torrent of questions; they'd been collecting for months in the rain barrel of my brain, and the doctor tipped the barrel with his sudden proclamation that cancer is not over and it is going to continue to interrupt and pierce my life and my heart. Questions like, "Why would God do this?", flowing into "Why would He allow it, then?", and finally, "Does He really ask me to accept this?" Sometimes it seems ridiculous to me that questions that have been answered a thousand times before rear their ugly heads again in the face of a new tragedy. (A thousand times I've failed, still Your mercy remains; and should I stumble again, still I'm caught in Your grace. Everlasting, Your light will shine when all else fades... Hillsong, From the Inside Out)

Cancer is a spiral staircase downward: on the outset it looks pretty dark down there, but the stairway seems short. With each turn in the staircase, you begin to realize that the stairs may stretch to infinity, and that you are going to be descending for a long time. But you still only see the stairs immediately in front of you. The grand scope of the climb is not visible or quantifiable. Yesterday I rounded another turn and discovered more stairs beneath me. With each new low, I hope and pray that I am at the bottom of this dungeon, with nowhere to go but up. Apparently not yet!

The answers came, deep in the night, surrounded by the sleeping breath of husband and children. Answers: you are not alone, murmurings that I need to go beyond survival, whispers of love and provision amongst the scatter and ruin of a few treasured - now shattered - dreams. I feel convicted to choose my words wisely as I share my weaknesses with my friends and family. To be transparent but mindful. After all, this is my trial, not yours. I pray I am faithful to learn and grow through it, rather than wallow in it's sorrow. That you see me changing and maturing through this, rather than disintegrating into pain and self-pity.


The wonders of technology brought them to me, solid and strong, through words of a "friend" I've never met. Questions, swirling around in my mind all day, washed in tears and floating in pain, grew still for a few moments as I read these thoughts. I want to know Who God is.

The unexpected

God is our Refuge and Strength [mighty and impenetrable to temptation], a very present and well-proved help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains be shaken into the midst of the seas. ~ Psalm 146:1-2 (Amp)

Never a good idea to go to an oncologist expecting nothing. Usually the perennial pessimist, I lean toward the 'expect the worst, hope for the best' end of the spectrum. Today, feeling so uplifted and informed by our recent visit with the Chicago specialist, I went to my doctor expecting to hear that I would have an ultrasound and lab tests in April, and my next radioactive iodine uptake scan next November. I borrowed a breast pump yesterday from a friend, and this blissful image kept playing through my mind, despite my best attempts to push it away and ignore even the possibility:

And so I walked in, unaware. And God had to lift me up once again from a crumpled heap. I feel a little deadened today, numb to life, unable to process this level of pain over and over. There is an edge of anger to my thoughts, thoughts that feel like the burned edges of photos salvaged from a fire, singed and scarred. I wonder why God allows us to experience a false height of joy when He see the valley ahead? I trust He has a reason. But today it hurts.

For the sake of illucidating the details of my sad day at the doctor:
1) my lab test shows that the iodine has worked somewhat - it either killed cancer or functioning thyroid, because my hormone replacement is no longer adequate. (This is good news)

2) my cancer is not a slow-growing type, as all the other specialists have reassured me. It grew 1.5 cm in 1 month this spring, prior to being removed. Therefore, we need to be aggressive in treating and monitoring my cancer, at least for the moment.

3) I need my next scan ASAP. I was given two options: a Thyrogen-induced scan, which avoids the physical hardships of withdrawal from my hormone replacement, but costs about $25,000 (a cost of $2,300 for us); or the traditional approach, going off my medications for 6 weeks, followed by a scan and possible treatment (at a cost of about $40 to us). I chose frugally, on the hardship side of things. It is a hard day to be frugal.

4) My scan will be in late March. I will not be able to resume breastfeeding, because I would just have to stop again for 58 days following the scan dose. It isn't worth the trouble. I will have to be away from home for 5 days total surrounding the I-131 dose for the uptake scan.

5) My endocrine oncologist here in Eau Claire continues to think there is a high likelihood that I will require a second ablation, which means another 17 day separation from my kids and husband and just - life. Ugh.

Doctor's visit

I return to my endocrine oncologist here in Eau Claire tomorrow morning. I had labs drawn today, to check my return to suppressed thyroid levels to ensure that my cancer isn't allowed to grow. I won't have tumor markers or thyroglobulin levels drawn until April, which was news to me when I reached the lab today. Hence, I am not expecting any earth-shattering news at my appointment tomorrow: just a plan for the next few months. The biggest news will be whether or not I will have my next scan in April - and whether or not I can resume breastfeeding. Prayers, please!

In search of my inner child

Babies have a gift: what happens in one moment is quickly forgotten in the next. Baby Susie comes to our house every Thursday for some playtime with her cousins and a nap with her aunt under a thick down comforter. For weeks, she has battled a chest cold, several rounds of the stomach flu, and a rash that she just can't kick. Itchy and aching one moment, the next moment she flashes us with her characteristic toothy grin, her olive eyes dancing and limpid with laughter.

"Truly I say to you, whoever does not
receive the kingdom of God like a child

shall not enter it at all."
Mark 10:15

Today, I want to bottle that "little child" essence that has eluded more often than it has captivated me. Even as a little child, I had very little of that essence. So what is it that makes the faith of a little child unique?

Children are without guile. They are straightforward, above-board, and usually completely unable to couch their intent or motivation or meaning. They hit you with the truth, right off the bat. Who among us hasn't heard a child say, at some time or another, "Mama, look at that fat lady!" or, "Why is that man so hairy?", or "But I think Aunt Maybelle's cookies taste like stinky toes!" For better or worse, they say what they mean! Let me be honest with myself, throw out the skewed grown-up glasses, and see the world for what it is for a change. Let me see my goodness or my badness clearly today.

Children trust. Without asking questions, without suspecting hidden meaning, my kids take my word as truth. They never expect me to let them down, they never worry about being too happy because they might be disappointed in the future. Sure, it makes their peaks higher and their valleys lower, but who wants to live on a plateau anyway? I don't. Today let me trust.

Children look at everything with wonder. Nothing is ordinary, nothing is boring, and nothing is old news. There is an element of discovery and awe in each and every task of a child's day: making confetti out of Play-doh, reading a book for the 100th time, seeing how many of the kitchen tiles one can hop over without touching, how many snowflakes fit on a finger, or how many blankets and pillows fit on one bed. Children don't worry about how to make everything work for the rest of the day, they just focus on the discovery at hand. Knowing they have to pick up their toys later doesn't seem to limit how many toys they are willing to take out, does it? And look at me now: how many times a day do I leave something on the shelf because I won't get it finished, or it will be more work than it is worth? I want to look at the world with wonder today.

She's got a smile that it seems to me
Reminds me of childhood memories
Where everything
Was as fresh as the bright blue sky
Now and then when I see her face
She takes me away to that
special place...

~ Sweet Child O' Mine, Mikey Wiseman

I can see clearly now (the rain is gone)

...I can see all obstacles in my way.
I think I can make it now, the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is the rainbow I’ve been prayin' for
It’s gonna be a bright, bright
Sun-Shiny day.
~ Jimmy Cliff

The sun dawned mildly today, as the iciness of January's deep freeze gave way to the balm of warm winds and snow melting soft underfoot. A picture in seasonal clarity of the week I've had. As the news sunk in, and I allowed optimism to absorb deep into my soul, something inside rises dark and desolate and full of fear. The edge is taken off of cancer, death runs quickly into the shadows as my new doctor speaks healing and remission and freedom. With that new-found hope, the fears step out of the shadows, finally, to be processed and identified. To be named and no longer ignored. Those fears have been the white elephant in my room for months. Now they are safe to acknowledge.

So what is a 29-year-old Christian woman with cancer afraid of? Just like the rest of humanity, I am afraid of death. I am afraid I will be afraid. I am afraid of being in an unfamiliar place. I am afraid of falling through a black hole of the universe without a guide to tell me what to expect. I am afraid of the seconds that intervene between my last breath here and my first breath there. I am afraid that it can't be heaven without my husband and children, and parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends. How can I love a place where there is hardly a face I recognize? How can I navigate a crossing that I know nothing about?

Really, it all boils down to faith. Here is that great question of the ages rearing it's ugly head again: do I trust God, the maker and ruler of all, or not? He didn't give me all the answers - not even whether this good news will hold or dissipate like the snow on my front lawn, melted before the strength of a weak January thaw. He doesn't tell me how it will feel to die, much less how it will feel to live eternally in heaven.

The fears persist. They have been there, in the corners of my mind, since I was a small child. And today, like so many days gone before, I put them aside on my shelf of faith, issues for God to take care of. I put aside my inability to understand the intricate details. I close my eyes. I wrestle my shoulders out of their hunch, shake loose the bands of tension. I sigh, I breathe in deep, and face the warm January sun, and leave the details to Christ.

"I shall not be afraid of evil tidings; my heart is firmly fixed, trusting (leaning on and being confident) in the Lord. My heart is established and steady, I will not be afraid while I wait to see my desire established upon my adversary." (Psalm 112:7-8 Amplified - paraphrased)