Why not?

Elisabeth Elliot wrote this as a reflection on suffering after speaking to a young mother with terminal cancer:
When we cry "Why, Lord?" we should ask instead, "Why not, Lord? Shall I not follow my Master in suffering as in everything else?"

Does our faith depend on having every prayer answered as we think it should be answered, or does it rest rather on the character of a sovereign Lord? We can't really tell, can we, until we're in real trouble.

I never heard more from the young woman. I neglected to ask her address. But I prayed for her, asking God to enable her to show the world what genuine faith is--the kind of faith that overcomes the world because it trusts and obeys, no matter what the circumstances. The world does not want to be told. The world must be shown. Isn't that part of the answer to the great question of why Christians suffer?

As I plead daily for a solution to my current crisis, I also embrace the fact that I may be called to suffer this ab hinc. Cognitively speaking, I grasp the principle Elisabeth Elliot refers to above, that the question really is, "Why NOT suffer?" Spiritually, emotionally, though, I struggle with that. I struggle to justify the host of verses that state I will be blessed if I follow Christ with the host of verses that state I will be persecuted with suffering if I follow Christ! There are so many issues like that in the Bible. I tire of the academic attempts for deeper understanding that I frequently endeavor to make. I remember thinking, as a child studying the Word, that heaven will bring the answers and it is silly to ask them while here on earth. I think I am going to return to that philosophy, at least for the moment. Lay the questions aside for the simple act of faith. I don't know (does anyone?). I trust instead.

A corner is where two walls meet

"Don't eat soap."

"No washing rocks in the bathroom sink because it wastes soap and makes a mess."

"Smearing your dirty hands on the wall is not a net gain in cleanliness."

"Paint does not make good lipstick."

"Papa's CD is not a mirror."

"You may not wash anything in the toilet."

"Hiding something doesn't make it go away."

"No, you cannot taste the kitten's milk."

"Sitting on someone does not make them any less angry."

"Toads can't swim. That's why they die when you put them in the pool. Now pick them out, please."

"You are wet because water goes down. It's called gravity. Everything goes down."

These are just a few of the lessons I've had to teach my children this week. Prior to having children, I assumed that, like any good machine, they would come pre-programmed with at least some basic information. Like what to eat and what not to eat; what is clean and what is dirty; perhaps a basic vocabulary of English. It sounds silly when I type it out, even to me. But that's really what I thought! Come to find out, children have to be taught everything. And the parents reading this know that I really mean that - completely, totally mean that.

I wonder sometimes if God throws His hands up in exasperation at my stupidity. After all, I've been through this very same thing before. As I say to my children, "Why can't you remember??" God would certainly be excused if He were sitting up in heaven right now, saying to us all, "If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times!" Trust me, He says; find peace in me. Don't buck this burden alone! I am here to help! Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). Part of the difficulty of this recurrent trial, this heart condition, is that I feel like I am still missing part of the lesson. I don't think I've absorbed it in it's entirety. That frustrates me. My humanity frustrates me. I see...perceive...what I should be, yet my reflection in the mirror every morning is something quite different. I am still a work in progress. And let me tell you, this masterpiece God is painting is in a very awkward stage at the moment! It is at that stage where the observer tilts their head, scratches their scalp, completely baffled as to what the final product will look like.

I feel very like my toddler, Amelia. Yesterday, I sent her to sit in a corner when she disobeyed, our family version of "time out". She stood, in a corner, staring directly at it. I said, in a measured tone, "A corner is where two walls meet. Find a corner, and sit down." (If I've told her once, I've told her a thousand times!) Here I am, staring at my own corner with no sense of recognition. This familiar trial I am facing seems like an alien experience. Something entirely new. Hopefully God has yet to tire of describing it for me! Because I still haven't got it.

Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it...that no one is unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. (Hebrews 12:12-17)

For a good laugh on the topic of hilarious things we moms utter, listen to this song.

In search of pure joy

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth...(excerpted from James 1)

I am simply not there yet. I can't say that my joy is complete - that I experience the unbridled joy of kids with kittens when I myself meet with trials. I don't have that kind of tested faith yet. Is that why God is testing me right now? To purify...solidify...forge that type of faith? The faith that giggles in the face of danger and rests completely in Christ no matter what the consequences of mortality bring? That is not my faith yet. It is the faith I am still seeking.

Under His wings

It is safe here, I've found. What lies ahead is something I have little control over: my faith is still a conscious choice I make, in the middle of circumstances that confound. I fainted yesterday, and rolled to the edge of a very real precipice. I couldn't get down to the floor, and I stood, paralyzed as darkness swept over me like dust before wind in the desert. I was holding a glass baby bottle and a glass quart jar full of raw milk. In the midst of preparing a bottle, most ordinary of tasks. Yet suddenly life was on "pause", and I was sliding under the surface once again.

I woke up in a sea of milk and shards of broken glass. I held the stem of the baby bottle in one hand. My hair was wet with milk, and I looked desperately for my children and for what seemed like an inevitable pool of blood from my wounds. There was a little blood - but just a little. Oddly, I cut myself on the elbow and the tip of my middle toe. That's it! Somehow I managed to escape serious injury, even as I lifted myself up precariously and tip-toed out of the wreckage.

A young woman of some wisdom recently posited, to the anonymous masses of the internet audience, "Why do we fear submitting an unknown future to a known God?" This became very real to me, as I lay in the puddle of milk, blood and glass. I had no control over that fall, or the way my body landed amongst the shards. But God was watching the whole thing, and moved to protect me.

And so, today I simply write praise in thanks for protection. However long this trial lasts, I know He cares for me.

I don't know about tomorrow I just live from day to day
I don't borrow from the sunshine for the skies may turn to grey
And I don't worry o'er the future for I know what Jesus said
And today I'll walk beside Him for He knows what is ahead

Many things about tomorrow I don't seem to understand
But I know Who holds tomorrow and I know He holds my hand

I don't know about tomorrow, it may bring me poverty;
But the One Who feeds the sparrow, is the One Who stands by me.
And the path that be my portion, may be through the flame or flood,
But His presence goes before me, and I'm covered with His blood.
~ I Know Who Holds Tomorrow, Ira Stanphill


We have a litter of orphaned kittens at our house. Allie Cat, beloved mama, was hit by a car earlier this week, and we are faithfully tending her babies. It is quite a time-consuming proposition: they eat every 3 hours, day and night, and haven't taken to the bottle, so we use a baby teaspoon to ladle the milk into their tiny mouths. The children love helping, although Rosy won't even pet them, and Katy is a little nervous holding them. Amelia loves rocking them like babies, wrapped up in a towel so they can't scratch. This little gray beauty she named "Scarlet", and she is the feisty runt of the bunch.

Caring for these "orphans" has reminded me to turn prayer to our human orphan - the one we hope to adopt someday. We received word about a month ago that our adoption plans are on hold for the moment. The state special needs adoption program had their budget slashed for 2010, and can no longer afford to pay for home studies for families who haven't identified a child already existing in the system that they wish to adopt. Since we would wish to wait for an infant or very young child with Down syndrome, we are not eligible to receive a state-sponsored home study. Until we can afford the $2000 or so it would cost to buy one privately, we will have to wait. We trust this is God's direction for our lives, as my health would currently disqualify us regardless. Hopefully by the time the funding issues are cleared up, my health will also be improved! I continue to be drawn to a certain little boy in an Eastern European country, but have no idea if he will still need a family by the time we are ready.

I saw a very cool t-shirt design from Reece's Rainbow, the international Down syndrome adoption group that finds both needy children and willing families and matches them up. These verses are listed on the back of the t-shirt, with the front logo, "Why adopt? Because God said so!":

Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish. (Matthew 18:14)

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)

Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:3)

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. (I John 3:16-18)

"He pled the cause of the afflicted and needy; Then it was well. Is not that what it means to know Me?" declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 22:16)

Hedged in

Remember those verses I was gaining strength in: though I am hedged in, it is He who sets the limits. Today my appointment with the cardiologist went well. He is thorough, doggedly seeking an answer to these plaguing symptoms of mine. He decided to start me on a medication to raise my blood pressure. I will have to monitor my blood pressure while on it, to be sure it isn't too high. However, he hopes this might lessen the frequency of my episodes. He also started me on a 2-week external monitor, as he felt the internal monitor is not warranted because of how frequently I am having symptoms. The only reason the internal monitor would be preferable is if I were going to require monitoring for a long time. This "event recorder" should provide the necessary information regarding whether or not I require a pacemaker. For now, at least we have something to try: midodrine, the drug to raise blood pressure. I am hopeful it might help.

Please keep praying that a permanent solution might be found through the use of this new event monitor. And that the solution will become apparent before my South Carolina trip, which starts July 10.

You are the first
You go before
You are the last
Lord, You're the encore
Your name's in lights for all to see
The starry host declare Your glory

Glory in the highest

Apart from You there is no God
Light of the world
The Bright and Morning Star
Your name will shine for all to see
You are the one
You are my glory
~Glory in the Highest, Chris Tomlin

Permission granted: struggle away!

I decided to read Job. Seems like a good decision. Nothing like a book that talks about losing all you have, family, material belongings, health...paints the portrait of a man sitting in ashes and scraping his boils with a broken pot while wondering why he was ever born...to put your own trials in perspective! I found great encouragement there this morning, as I contemplate this new twist my life has taken. Let me just be brutally frank, and admit that fainting several times a day makes it incredibly hard to keep on keepin' on. I am afraid of falling while carrying one of my kids, I am afraid of cracking my head open on something sharp, I am afraid that someday I won't come to quickly and Katy will have to call 911. That's a heavy burden to carry. Yet, at times like these, it is my instinct to circle the troops, so to speak: I can't bear the thought of having a house full of friends or family to help me. I need routine, I need silence and the quietness of country days at home with the kids. And so, here I am, in the familiar spot between a rock and a hard place. And now it seems I will remain here for a while. So how to cope? How to deal with this in a way that will reflect glory back to God and submerge my obvious suffering in the waters of Truth, Grace and Mercy?

Why is light given to a man whose way is hidden, whom God has hedged in? For the thing I fear comes upon me and what I dread befalls me. (Job 3:23, 25) As I read these words this morning, I felt the sigh of all the fears, dread, confusion, consternation that had pent up inside me yesterday releasing. Here is Job, who God called blameless and upright, feeling the same way I did yesterday. So it's o.k. to feel that way. I felt like this verse was God's silent way of giving permission for my questioning. It is permissable to ask the questions. But what do to after that? Number one, where am I turning for answers? I found the clue further on in Psalm 146, verse 2 of which I felt echoing in my heart yesterday and posted here as a mantra to my soul: I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. (was I really ready yesterday to trust my cardiologist to find the magic bullet for my suffering??) When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very days his plans perish. (now, here is the clue - here's where to turn:) Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.

Wildflower is an explosion of light in dark foliage.

I wrote to a friend recently, noting the various poor characters God chose to do His great work. Eve, head turned easily by knowledge, became the mother for the entire race. Sarah, who sent another woman to conceive with Abraham, so great was her doubt in God's plan. Jacob, who wrestled with God, became the father a nation. David, who lusted and killed, was a man "after God's own heart". Esther, who protested when her uncle urged her to join the King's court, and tried three times before she gained enough courage to ask for the life of her people, saved a nation from extinction. Jonah, who ran in the opposite direction and didn't even desire to save the lives of the people to which he was sent, turned an entire population to praising God. Peter, who denied Christ three times in one horrific night, was the rock on which Christ built the church. I take comfort in that list of late greats of the faith: I may stumble, I may fall, I may cry my eyes out before the Throne, but it is, after all, a Mercy Seat, and there I will be forgiven and used for the glory of God.

If I am willing.

More questions than answers

My tests were a mixed bag this morning. That part, at least, went as predicted. The test I was having done is called a tilt table test. It involves being strapped to a table and tilted up to a near-standing position, all while being monitored closely. A little over a minute after I was tilted up the first time, I fainted. However, my heart and blood pressure did the exact opposite than expected. In the ER and on previous monitors, both have dropped very low. This time, both shot up extremely high (my blood pressure is usually 110/60 and was recorded at 190/100 while I was unconscious). The team alerted my cardiologist, who made a rare personal appearance in the testing lab. He insisted on tilting me two more times, for 40 minutes each time. I didn't faint either time. I suspect it is because he tilted me completely upright, and because I had an adrenaline response after the first time I fainted. The cardiologist also gave me quite a bit of medication to try to precipitate another loss of consciousness, to no avail. He was frustrated, I was frustrated, the entire team was frustrated. At the end of the test, the cardiologist told me he needs an extra day to consider my case, and gave me a Thursday morning appointment. After I recovered, I was discharged to home to think it over.

Basically, it boils down to one great big, giant "no" answer from God - or at least a great big, giant "wait on the Lord" answer. This test confounds the situation so much that I now have no idea what treatment they might propose (if any). The deepest fears of my heart are: a) they won't find a cure, and I'll faint my days away forever, or b) whatever is wrong is, indeed, life threatening and they won't figure out what it is until it's too late. I guess I'll just keep praying those fears aren't realized. Pray for an answer on Thursday. Keep clinging, when I feel like throwing in the towel.

I will praise the LORD while I live; I will sing praises unto my God while I have my being.
~ Psalm 146:2

Why I collapse

From "Why We Collapse", by Elisabeth Elliot (the title obviously caught my eye):
One reason is lack of humility. In our anxiety to compete, to prove ourselves, to be a success as the world defines it, we are wearied and overburdened. If we sought instead only the greatness of the kingdom, we would become childlike. The truly important things are hidden from the clever and intelligent and are shown to those who are willing to come and be shown, to put on the yoke Christ bears, which is the will of the Father.

We need to learn to walk side by side with Him, bearing humbly and gently the yoke He places on us, not the unbearable burdens of competition and recognition and something called fulfillment. If we do this, any burden He allows--of loss or pain or insult or responsibility or heartbreak--will be both bearable and light, for the weight is shared with Him. No yoke laid on us in this way will cause us to burn out or collapse. This yoke itself will in fact be the very means of our finding rest. There is no form of recreation or relaxation or therapy to compare with the rest, the gentle ease, of Christ's yoke. "Come," He says to us, "and learn of Me."

I woke up today praying to faint (oddly enough!). During my test, that is. I am hoping they get the results they need to make a good, evidence-based decision so that I can start medication or get a pacemaker and stop all this fainting business for the time being.

Peaches blanched and bathing in ice water. Perfect for Father's Day pie!

On days when there is little going on, my soul...and words...overflow. On days like today, I feel stymied. Nothing flows easily. I will post later today or tomorrow if possible. I am anticipating they will keep me for the day today, then discharge me to home overnight, and I will go back tomorrow for either pacemaker or implanted loop recorder placement in the cath lab (yes, my husband's work...just imagine!).

God, can you record this for me?

I've prayed, since Katrina was two months old, that God would take a movie of all these moments for me, so I can watch it over and over again in heaven. Or somehow make time disappear so we can hold all the versions of our children at once: baby peach skin, toddler chubby legs, gangly childhood, and whatever comes next. Cancer, and heart problems, make a young mother cling ever more tightly to the beauty of these childhood days. I couldn't have written out what's in my heart any better, so please read this beautiful post by Ann Voskamp:

Heart Beats Past Goes Nowhere

A camel out on a limb

She dwells with Beauty--Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil'd Melancholy has her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
His soul shalt taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.
~ John Keats, 628. Ode on Melancholy

I had the rather hilarious thought today that I, in motherhood, am remarkably like a camel. Probably one with two humps (bactrian). How am I like a camel, you ask, and what does this have to do with a lovely poem by John Keats? It's simply, really: motherhood involves long stretches of time without a drink. (And no, I am not referring to alcohol!) For it is in solitude that the soul drinks...mine, at least. And solitude is lacking in busy days when even the separation of a bathroom door is insurmountable to the psyche of the young ones I tend. All this is made even more noticeable in times when my freedom is so limited. I cannot drive, and, therefore, must be in the company of another even when I am not with my children.

I remember feeling downright tortured by the lack of freedom - and solitude - as a teenager and college student, the last time I went without driving for any extended period of time. I chalked that up to youthful immaturity, but apparently I was mistaken. The velvet night, full of frog song and cricket trills, descends like Keats' melancholy at the close of each busy. The countryside is no less isolating than it was fifteen years ago. I am thankful for the foresight to commence summer school in the woods, where the dappled sunlight and the rush of breeze through tear drop tree leaves at least coats my soul with the dew of solitude. It may not be the flood of rain I'm longing for, but it suffices. After all, a camel doesn't need much to survive!

The poet speaks of the unhappy coexistence of Joy and Melancholy. I am struck often by this, never more so than in times of health crisis in the midst of the effervescent happiness of my little brood. I am balancing tenuously on the limb of health, with solid footing, at the moment, on Joy. Yet I am just a breath away from disaster. Today I realize with new perspective that out on a limb is, indeed, "where the fruit is". That with melancholy dwells joy. In busy places, in ceaselessly busy days, we realize afresh the inherent solitude of the heart.

O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.
You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
~ from Psalm 139

Circles of truth

I am reminded that everything is here by design.
The concentric funnels of these hosta leaves aren't an accident.
Is the heart within this chest that skips beats and forgets to feed even itself?

What makes it beat in the first place is a mystery.
I watched doctors with thirty years of hard experience try to unravel the mystery.
Try to will a heart back into beating normally, try every trick of the trade.
I know...because I saw it!...that hearts beat to the drum of the Creator,
not man.
And it is this knowledge -
the knowledge that God controls my healing, not my cardiologist -
that sends me staggering back to the Mercy Seat in prayer.

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.

'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'" Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man's design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. ~ Acts 17

Filling my [empty] cup

I guess it's fair to say I'm looking for inspiration.

When the world...life...squeezes the sponge of your existence bone dry, you will collapse in any puddle of hope you find, praying to absorb some strength and resource there. Something that whispers "keep going" when you don't feel like it. I find myself searching, late at night, in the books of the minor prophets...in enclaves of music and art on the internet...in little snippets of life captured in photographs...in memories of funny things the children said or a deep thought Aaron shared with me...

...in passing on my heritage, the tree-climbing, bark-caressing, wild plant eating, comfort in the woods part of me that I feel a compelling need to send on like rootstock into the future generations.

...in plucking tree leaves, like waiting tear drops, from the aspens in the clearing. Rubbing with them with crayon and pinning their etched images on the yellow wall of the kitchen. Gluing them in the scrapbooks, like frozen moments of time plucked from the fecund summer of sorrows.

...in marveling at the way light plays in dear faces in afternoon sun at naptime. Clutching and hugging close the strength of community in which I am planted.

...in the gasping, unbridled joy of toddlerhood. The glisten of sun on brunette gloss. The shadow of mouth and eyes, the arms drawn up in anticipation of the tickle of long grass. Remembering, deep within, the sensation when I saw my grandpa as a child.

...the lines that echo heart strains, mother bending to child to water and feed. Dipping to the hungry, wilt-weary shoots that are our children, replenishing them with touch and song at night.

...in abandon, in relationship, in shared bliss of hot summer sun sparkling on water drops descending to white, cool skin.

I clutch all this to my soul, and let it satiate, in part, the ache to stay, to be healthy, the bursting longing for freedom and companionship, and normalcy. Let it carry away, on it's river rush of expression of Grace, the fear of wires in hearts and shocks jolting life into continuation. I put aside modesty, and anxiety, and heart-ache, and tremulous shrinking back. Step forward. Pray. Step forward again. Pray. Father, carry us through this, as You have time and time again. Father, speak Grace into the lives of these children. Speak comfort into the souls of my husband and I. Please...

Oh, and thank you, God, for music! For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. ~ Colossians 1:16-17

Joy in all circumstances

...in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.
~ II Corinthians 7:4b ~

Cancer is the latest of the lessons God has walked me through, teaching me always that my joy is not dependent on my circumstances. That peace transcends those things in life that trip my spirit up. That love - His, at least! - is unconditional and freely offered. This video about Africa is a wonderful exemplar of the lessons I've been learning, and touched me deeply this morning.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith,
who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame
and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

~ Hebrews 12:2 ~

What being married really means

They had lots of photos taken on their wedding day, I'm sure. But in a disposable culture, where permanence is rarely valued and we rush instead to the newest fads, trends, sensations...how often do we pause and notice the beauty of long-married love? I was blessed by the chance today to take photos of dear friends. This couple, with their two children, are in the final stages of preparation to adopt. If I had been looking through the lens years ago at their wedding, I would have seen excitement, anticipation, uncertainty, maybe even a hint of shyness or reserve. What I saw tonight is love that has blossomed to full bloom: humor, understanding, oneness, desire, sacrifice, respect, treasure, all rolled into a beautiful example of what God meant married love to be.

I think we should celebrate the great married couples we know more often! And not just on anniversaries. Just pause and notice the beauty of that wonderful, blessed, God-ordained relationship next time you see it displayed in full bloom.

Eat your food with joy, and drink your wine
with a happy heart, for God approves of this!
Live happily with the woman you love
through all the meaningless days of life
that God has given you under the sun.
The wife God gives you is your reward for all your earthly toil.
Whatever you do, do well.
For when you go to the grave, there will be no
work or planning or knowledge or wisdom.
~ Ecclesiastes 9:7, 9-10 ~

The chick box

I used to watch them, too,
balls of fluff with feet...
just like you,
I stood on tiptoe to warm my nose by the heat lamp.
Now I watch you instead,
childhood enchantment,
I share your wonder: simple beauty in little chicks.

Using equals bruising

I never noticed before how trees "bleed" when they send out little ones - branches or volunteers - from their trunks. As I photographed the sap blood sparkling down the vein in this old oak's bark, I thought about the blood my children are drawing from me - the energy expended on them, the resources poured into them, the lessening of my own wants and needs for their benefit. Fruit of our loins draws from us blood, sweat, tears. I hear a constant cultural refrain to be careful how many of my own resources I allocate to them - to conserve my energy and emotion so that I survive - neigh, thrive - through these difficult years of early motherhood. I say that's probably a bad investment of my self. After all, this self won't last forever, and it is investment in our offspring, as well as our communities, that has fueled exponential growth and success throughout human history.

...and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,

then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.

You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
Isaiah 58:10-11

I was reminded of the lesson, a deeper strain of it, while dusting my piano. I use the term "dusting" loosely, as I actually scrubbed two rags full of dirt off the piano using an all-purpose cleaner. I laughed to myself as I did this task (which I do every two weeks or so, incidentally). Most pianists I know would cringe to think of dirty - actually dirty, not just dusty! - piano keys. Yet to me it is a sign of the growing love of music I hope to foster in all my children. Experimentation with music at an early age is so key to eventual joy in music. It embeds music in the very fiber of their being, tying the sounds to experiences and memories throughout their lifetime.

Using equals bruising. Touching equals dirtying. Playing with equals eventual wearing out or using up.

This applies to my understanding of God as well. God could have set us on a shelf as objects of perfection, devoid of free will. Instead, He lets us "use" it. That involves consequences, bruises, tears, dirt. A lot of the "dirt" that we see - suffering, inane consequences that seem unrelated to individual actions - that's just a whole lot of free will banging around in this world. And personally, I think it's more fun that way. I know God has a plan for free will, for consequences, for pain and suffering, for the tree that bleeds when she sends out her branches. For the mother who tires as she grows the branches, her children.

God His own doth tend and nourish,
In His holy courts they flourish;
Like a Father kind He spares them,
In His loving arms He bears them.

What He takes or what He gives us
shows the Father's love, so precious.
We may trust His purpose wholly,
'Tis His children's welfare solely.
~ More Secure Is No One Ever, Lina Sandell Berg, 1868

A pair of lupines

The crisp, yellow seed is warmed by the spring soil, drinks the April rain. Cracking, bursting, to the final explosion. The husk is rent and torn by increments over the days as it ripens and germinates. The sprig of new life reaches up toward the sun, slowly parting the molecules of dirt until it breaches the hard crust of topsoil. Feeding on nutrients from the dead leaves of last autumn, it sends out buds, and finally flowers. Beauty surrounds. And is brought humble again by small hands picking lupines and laying them like offerings of nature in the chick box at Grandpa's.

Future "me": flower in full bloom. Present "me": seed in warm soil. There is a lot of tearing, rending, ripping, cracking, bursting and exploding going on in the deepest compartments of the soul. I weather the pain by focusing on the parts of the cycle still to come.

He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him. ~ Psalm 126:6

I am a flower quickly fading,
Here today and gone tomorrow,
A wave tossed in the ocean,
A vapor in the wind.
Still you hear me when I'm calling,
Lord, you catch me when I'm falling,
And you've told me who I am.
I am yours.
~ Who Am I, Casting Crowns

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!

The lesson of the seed had not been fully learned. There must be relinquishment. There is no way around it. The seed does not "know" what will happen. It only knows what is happening - the falling, the darkness, the dying. "The first step into the realm of giving is not manward but Godward: an utter yielding of our best. So long as our idea of surrender is limited to the renouncing of unlawful things, we have never grasped its true meaning..." We who have been given an intelligence and a will and a whole range of wants that can be set against the divine Pattern for Good are asked to believe Him. We are given the chance to trust Him when He says to us, "...If any man will let himself be lost for my sake, he will find his true self."

When we will find it?
we ask. The answer is, Trust Me.
How will we find it? The answer again is, Trust Me.
Why must I let myself be lost? we persist. The answer is, Look at the acorn and trust Me.
~ Elisabeth Elliot, quoting Lillias Trotter in Passion & Purity

I was sitting in front of my washer and dryer thinking about this. The whole concept of losing self is one I've fought tooth and nail, in many ways and for many years. The manifestations of my struggle range from silent disobedience of spirit as a child to absenteeism at work to avoid control from my employer, to anger with my children for their constant needs and discouragement regarding the flaws in my housekeeping. Fainting two to four times a day is the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. Here I was, sitting on the floor to transfer the clothes from the washer to the dryer because bending over at the waist would drop my blood pressure enough that I would probably go over like a tree. Once again, I was confronted with my usual conundrum: sorrows and losses are all wrapped up in a whole bunch of blessings, which makes it hard to rail against my circumstances. If I go deep enough to ponder any of the losses that fill my days of late, I find them wrapped like Christmas presents in love and tenderness. The washer and dryer, for instance: without them, I'd be washing by hand, bent over a scrub board with a brush for one entire day of each week. I'd be on tiptoe hanging them to dry, repeatedly bending over to reach into the basket. Load after tedious load. Think I could do it? I sure don't! My kids would look like little piglets by now! How can I, therefore, curse God for letting me sit on the floor to transfer my clothes from my bells-and-whistles front loading washing machine into the $50 miracle dryer He provided in December??

William Wilberforce, the lawyer chiefly responsible for the abolition of the slave trade in Brittain, writes in Real Christianity:
Measure your progress by your experience of the love of God and its exercise before men...
In contrast, servile, base, and mercenary is the notion of Christian practice among the bulk of nominal Christians. They give no more than they dare not withhold. They abstain from nothing but what they dare not practice. In short, they know Christianity only as a system of restraints. It is robbed of every liberal and generous principle. It is rendered almost unfit for social relationships of life, and only suited to the gloomy walls of a cloister, where they would confine it. But true Christians consider themselves as not satisfying some rigorous creditor, but as discharging a debt of gratitude. Accordingly, theirs is not the stinted return of a constrained obedience, but the large and liberal measure of voluntary service.

I fear that I have just begun to leap from my view of serving Christ as abstinence and nominal self denial. I pray that by giving over my conscious mind, and the tasks of the day that depend on it's function, I die just a bit to self so that He may live ever more fully in me.

Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promis’d good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall possess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,
The sun forbear to shine;
But God, who call’d me here below,
Will be forever mine.
~ John Newton, Amazing Grace*, stanzas 3-6

*Take a moment to watch the video linked above. Al Green is one of my favorite performers of all time!


Still unrepaid by aught of mine on earth:
But overpaid, please God, when recompense
Beyond the mystic Jordan and new birth
Is dealt to virtue as to innocence;
When Angels singing praises in their mirth
Have borne you in their arms and fetched you hence.
~ By Way of Remembrance, Christina Rossetti

We in the Thul household are still missing our very own "Fiddlehead Fern" every day. Today is the one year anniversary of her death. I recently put together a small book of photos with a dozen or so verses. The cover page says "Hope" in pink letters. The book is for Rosy, who misses Grandma most intensely of the brood. We memorized together the ancient words about hope: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1). We hope for those days when tears are wiped away, we can ask all our big questions to the Savior Himself, and we walk streets of gold singing a new song, dancing for all eternity.

I can just see Grandma, with her arms finally lifted in praise, singing some great anthem in the harmony of all the host of angels.

Unburying love's song

Down in the human heart,
Crushed by the tempter,
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;
Touched by a loving heart, Wakened by kindness,
Chords that are broken will vibrate once more.
~ Rescue the Perishing, Fanny Crosby, 1869

There was a song in my heart I never once heard an echo of until I met him. I was trying to explain this phenomenon to a single girl: the incredulity, longing, hunger you feel when you begin to know the person God intended you for all along. All the failed dances between you and every other man you tried to love are swept away like seeds in the whistle of the hot summer wind that heralds the storm of true passion. Loving Aaron has never been labor yet. Not work the way other relationships were. True, it takes effort and pain and debate at times. But he draws from me that "chord that was broken" into miraculous, tender, overwhelming vibration once more.

Trust me, I have not earned your dear rebuke -
I love, as you would have me, God the most;
Would lose not Him, but you, must one be lost,
Nor with Lot's wife cast back a faithless look,
Unready to forego what I forsook;
This say I, having counted up the cost,
This, though I be the feeblest of God's host,
The sorriest sheep Christ shepherds with His crook,
Yet while I love my God the most, I deem
That I can never love you over-much;
I love Him more, so let me love you too;
Yea, as I apprehend it, love is such
I cannot love you if I love not Him,
I cannot love Him, if I love not you.
~ Christina Rossetti

I am not hidden

An iris in the morning sunlight. Look at the sparkle of gold on this petal!

I am screening a book for a friend, and of course it has ended up blessing me immensely. I found in it a section of Scripture that has held me up many times before when I am fainting. For some reason, the power of the words in the particular version quoted really struck me last night and again this morning as I re-read them. So indulge me, this morning, as I quote a long segment of Isaiah 40 (NEB):

Who has gauged the waters in the palm of his hand,
or with its span set limits to the heavens?
Who has held all the soil of the earth in a bushel,
or weighed the mountains on a balance
and the hills on a pair of scales?
Do you not know, have you not heard,
were you not told long ago,
have you not perceived ever since the world began,
that God sits enthroned on the vaulted roof of the earth,
whose inhabitants are like grasshoppers?
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
consider Who created it all,
led out their host one by one and called them all by their names;
through His great might, His might and power, not one is missing.

Why do you complain, O Genevieve, why do you say,
"My plight is hidden from the Lord,
and my cause has passed out of God's notice"?
Do you not know, have you not heard?
The Lord, the everlasting God, creator of the wide world,
grows neither weary nor faint;
no man can fathom His understanding.
He gives vigour to the weary, new strength to the exhausted,
Young men may grow weary and faint,
even in their prime they may stumble and fall;
but those who look to the Lord will win new strength,
they will grow wings like eagles,
they will run and not be weary,
they will march on and never grow faint.

I don't run this race alone. I don't accomplish my daily goals in child training, homemaking, and serving my husband alone and with my own reserve of power, energy, patience, or peace. I have unlimited access to the mercy seat of my most high God and to Him I go to beg for help in these difficult days of stops and starts, literal physical falling and getting back up. Who am I to accuse God of not caring, or not noticing, or not intervening? Who am I to attempt to decipher His reasons for these troubles of mine? Might He not be growing children who are more compassionate and equipped to serve others, physically, emotionally, spiritually? Might He not be testing my marriage and proving it for the years to come, when Aaron and I hope to serve on the mission field together? Might He not be strengthening my husband, establishing him further as the head of this household, with the normal vigor of me, his wife, lessened and subdued? Might He not be allowing me to prove Satan wrong, as Job did? Might He not be removing my reserve of human strength and motivation so that I can learn, once again, to lean solely on Him for grace, strength, endurance?

I want to share this great blog with some real, concrete tips for being gracious when you're not feeling like it! I'm sure I'm going to read this more than once myself...
Walking with Grace When You Have No Grace

If at first you don't succeed...

A week ago, I purposed in my heart to wake up before my children and read my Bible in peace. Lofty, right? I thought so! Years of being hauled from the depths of peaceful slumber by crying, hungry children have confirmed my suspicion that I am NOT a morning person. Despite trying to go to bed earlier, I am still crabby and my brain full of fog when I wake up every morning. So I decided to get up for devotions. Suffice it to say that I woke up early 7 days in a row, and only managed to read 2 chapters of Joshua in those 7 days. My kids internal "mom is gone" radar is apparently still functioning at full capacity, and I am joined by at least one child within 10 minutes of waking up. However, Satan apparently felt the need to haul in the big guns to thwart my morning devotions. I'll bet you never guess what I mean by "big guns"...

It wasn't the smell of roses I woke up to this morning. It was poop. The unmistakable eau de poop every mother is so very familiar with. I heard Amelia calling me from the bathroom. (this all took place around 6:30 a.m., by the way) I rouse myself to fully awake, and shuffle to the bathroom. There stands my beautiful daughter, with her beautiful golden hair streaming down. Legs are covered in poop. She is standing in a puddle of poop. And she is touching the poop with a look of horror. My vision of beautiful daughter was quickly transformed. What stood before me was not Amy, but Cousin Itt with her Poopylocks! She had pooped in a Pull-Up, a contraption invented to enthrall toddlers by impersonating underwear, and eternally frustrate mothers in it's very-underwear-like capacity to spill it's contents or fail to catch the intended contents all together. In this case, it appeared to be the latter: a mere smear was in the Pull-Up, and from the amount of poop smeared in Amy's hair and up and down her legs, I knew immediately there was missing poop somewhere in my house. Nevertheless, I hastened to plunk Amy in the tub and begin the poop elimination process - all while trying not to wake the rest of the sleeping brood or breathe in through my nostrils.

I left Amelia soaking in the tub, and went to tend to Rosalie, who had since woken up and asked for breakfast. I found her, literally trembling in horror, by the kitchen island. She had discovered a pile of poop on the chair on which she intended to sit. I sent her, still trembling and gagging, into the bathroom to watch over Amy, while I hauled said chair out to the tall grass to use a pressure sprayer on the...[gasp!]...wicker seat. This task accomplished, I returned to the house just in time to change Caleb's leaky poopy diaper, plunk him in the bath with his poopy sister, and wipe Rosalie, who had also pooped.

I dared not breathe a sigh of relief, for fear of sucking in some of the noxious fumes!

Sorrow makes joy so sweet

It was a long hard day. I had so many moments of comfort, though...two visits from friends, two from family, a long, newsy e-mail from a busy friend far away. The earth is all aflutter with birds returning home and plants just beginning to bloom. Spring is an impossible time to be sad! Add to all these blessings the fact that I had a riotous good time with my husband last night, drinking wine, watching the sunset, and listening to blues and the sounds of evening folding us in like a welcome hug. How can a girl complain?

Surely his salvation is near those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.
Love and faithfulness meet together;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
and righteousness looks down from heaven.
Psalm 85:9-11

My heart slows

This is (regrettably) from a mass e-mail to my family members:

I had an appointment with a new cardiologist today, the leading local expert on my old heart condition, neurocardiogenic syncope. In case you are unaware, I began experiencing heart palpitations, dizziness, and fainting episodes again starting shortly before Memorial Day. Convinced it was my thyroid cancer medication, I hastened to the ER in search of answers. I fainted in the ER on Memorial Day, and again on a Holter monitor (24 hour heart monitor) on Wednesday. The good news is, they gathered lots of great information because I was on a heart monitor both times.

After reviewing my old chart and all the new information, the cardiologist feels my fainting episodes are related to a very low heart rate, which fell to 32 beats per minute just before I fainted both times. He feels that the time has come when the benefits of a pacemaker outweigh the risks. He does not feel that I require a defibrillator at this time. He plans to do a tilt table test and implant a loop recorder, which is about the size of 50 cent piece. The loop recorder will remain in place for one month (possibly up to 14 months if I have no symptoms - pray for that!), and is inserted just under the skin on my chest over my heart. (By increments we are lessened) It will capture my EKG and give the cardiologist more information with which to make the final treatment decision.

The tilt table test and recorder implantation are scheduled for June 23. I may get a pacemaker the same day if the results of the tilt table test end up a certain way. I would really appreciate your prayers, both for strength to get through the 23rd as a student and mother while fainting, and also for safety during the procedures on the 23rd and wisdom for the doctors treating me.

Musings in a clearing

But while we are confined to books, though the most select and classic, and read only particular written languages, which are themselves but dialects and provincial, we are in danger of forgetting the language which all things and events speak without metaphor, which alone is copious and standard.Will you be a reader, a student merely, or a seer? Read your fate, see what is before you, and walk on into futurity. ~ Henry David Thoreau, Walden, Chapter 4: Sounds

The sign points to Echo Woods. There a rock cairn covers the grave of our beloved mutt dog, Echo. As we say in this family, we are monster women, with many generations of monster blood flowing through our veins! The girls and I put our inner "monsters" to work on Sunday, clearing a path up to the cairn, clearing away brush and dead trees and sticks. We built two benches using scrap lumber and aged cherry logs. Thus, our summer "classroom" was born.

The children are as eager to start as I am. The first day, we studied aspen leaves and listened to them whisper as they quaked in the clearing, which is surrounded by them. We discussed the differences between saplings and mature trees. We read "The Sound of the Trees", by Robert Frost. The second day, we began talking of construction of a lean-to, one of the many survival skills I want to begin teaching them this summer. We noted the differences between white, red and pin oak leaves, and compared them to the aspen leaves we collected the day before. I am using this wonderful online field guide to leaf identification to double-check my own knowledge, which is rusty from being shelved in my brain for about two decades.

As my children danced around me, gathering leaves and running their hands down the rough bark of the trees surrounding us, my thoughts are quaking like the aspen leaves above us. This morning, I read the words of Joshua, the spy who had faith in God's greatness and ability to overcome any earthly foe, "I am about to go the way of all the earth, and you know in your hearts and souls, all of you, that not one word has failed of all the good things that the Lord your God promised concerning you." (Joshua 23:14) The way of all the earth. We are all on a journey that ends in the grave. Because my heart is skipping a bit, and a few of my cells have mutated to form cancer deep in my frame, it is more obvious to me than most. As I walked around this clearing the past few days, I was reminded that someday the "monster women" who carry my genes and dreams forward into the horizon of time, will be tending a clearing around my own grave.

Having faith like a child is simple, really. Dance a jig of joy in the clearing, revel in the sights and sounds. Just enjoy what is before you. None of these dark thoughts flicker through the sunshine in these emerging minds.

What I keep ever before me is the responsibilities of the moment, for sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof (Matthew 6:34). My learning objectives for these children this summer include survival skills, identification skills, respect for the natural beauty of the woods. But all that falls under the overarching goal: teach them reverence for their Creator by showing them the glory of His creation. So I push aside the weight of my thoughts, the specter of my own grave that looms large in this clearing, to grasp with both hands the tasks for today.

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who enclosed the sea with doors when, bursting forth, it went out from the womb; when I made a cloud its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and I placed boundaries on it and set a bolt and doors, and I said, 'Thus far you shall come, but no farther; and here shall your proud waves stop'? Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail? Where is the way that the light is divided, or the east wind scattered on the earth? Who has cleft a channel for the flood, or a way for the thunderbolt, to bring rain on a land without people, on a desert without a man in it, to satisfy the waste and desolate land and to make the seeds of grass to sprout? (from Job 38, NASB)

From the highest of heights to the depths of the sea,
Creation's revealing Your majesty.
From the colors of fall to the fragrance of spring,
Every creature unique in the song that it sings. All exclaiming...

Indescribable, Uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name.
You are amazing, God.
All powerful, Untameable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees and we humbly proclaim,
You are amazing, God.

Who has told every lightning bolt where it should go,
Or seen heavenly storehouses laden with snow?
Who imagined the sun and gives source to its light,
Yet conceals it to give us the coolness of night?
None can fathom...
You see the depths of my heart,
and you love me the same.
You are amazing, God.

~ Indescribable, Chris Tomlin