A positive and active acceptance

"If ever a woman accepted the demands of her own life with simplicity and grace, it was she. It was a positive and active acceptance of the given." ~ Elisabeth Elliot

As the initial blush wears off the Chicago news, the impact of the message is seeping into the cracks of my soul and filling in the grooves of uncertainty between every tile of information stored there. Five years is a long time. I continue to pray for acceptance with simplicity and grace, the fortitude to choose a positive and active acceptance of my new given. It will be a long hard task to do so consistently over time.

Sometimes the sky looks dark with not a ray of light,
We're tossed and driven on , no human help in sight;
But there is one in heav'n who knows our deepest care,
Let Jesus solve your problem - just go to Him in pray'r.

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

Sunrise in Chicago

We woke at three a.m. and packed the car as the chimes on the porch danced in a frigid mid-winter wind. The stars glinted in the frosty night air as the wheels of the van buzzed over miles of glistening black tar, through the lavendar dawn in Madison and the blustery mid-morning across the tundra of northern Illinois. Chicago loomed beyond the toll booths and sluggish, exhaust-spewing crush of traffic. The skyline stretches for a mile along the southern horizon, cloaked in a white smog as the cold atmosphere pushes the city's fumes back in on her. The skyscrapers were coated in Jack Frost fingers of salt and ice, and signs everywhere along the Miracle Mile warned of ice falling from 30 stories above.

Hearty Chicagoans marched by to a rapid beat, smothered in furs of every color, wool caps, scarves, hands jammed deep in pockets and shoulders hunched. A few inches of flesh was all we saw of the natives as we approached the University of Chicago on the south end of the downtown stretch. Nestled in a quaint old neighborhood, it's hewn block buildings rising warmly to snow-capped rooftops a few stories off the ground, the campus bustling with metropolitan androgeny. A stoic, long-strided professor dressed in 1980's teal coat and too-short cordorouy pants stuck out as a comic splash against the backdrop of beige, black and gray modernity.

It is hard to imagine traveling to this place for healing. Purposefully leaving field and fauna and crystal star-lit night behind to enter swirling, fuming metropolis in search of hope and health.

Our little entourage: Aaron, Caleb, my mom, Alison York and I. Concerned companions, me jittery, clinging desperately to whatever semblance of peace I could muster. We traveled to the Windy City to seek a 2nd opinion from Dr. Roy Weiss, the inventor of Synthroid (the replacement hormone I take to treat my cancer) and a leading national expert on my particular type of cancer, follicular variant papillary thyroid carcinoma (FV-PTC for short!). This was the first time I met with a doctor who had treated multiple people with my rare variant form of thyroid cancer, so I was very excited to hear his opinion on my treatment plan. The visit was wonderful - he was an excellent, knowledgeable and warm doctor who instantly gained the confidence of all of us as he talked in detail about my type of cancer, speaking from both a medical research perspective as well as a personal experience perspective. Here is a synopsis of what we learned:
  • Our treatment of the cancer has been excellent so far: I had the surgery at Mayo, which was the right choice, but chose to leave Mayo to seek alternative treatment at Luther in Eau Claire, receiving radioactive iodine quickly, within 6 months of my surgery. Both of these choices were good ones. Dr. Weiss listed off at least 5 reasons why I definitely needed the iodine treatment, which was reassuring to me as I went against the advice of Mayo doctors to get the treatment.
  • My positive tumor markers and thyroglobulin tests are not as dire as I have previously been told. Because these levels were from BEFORE the iodine treatment, there is a very high likelihood that the iodine killed whatever cancer or remaining thyroid tissue was producing the tumor markers and thyroglobulin found in my bloodstream in October.
  • It is unlikely that I will need more iodine in the future, as the dose I received was appropriate. It is also even more unlikely that I will need chemo or other treatment, as it is highly unlikely that the cancer spread outside of my neck region. Dr. Weiss was the first doctor who was able to reassure us that my cancer is slow-growing, even though it is a variant, so since I received prompt treatment (surgery, then iodine within 6 months) it is unlikely that the cancer cells had "time" to spread outside of my neck. This is good news because cancer in the neck is much easier to treat with the traditional iodine approach, and rarely requires systemic treatment of any kind (chemo or external beam radiation).
  • My outlook is very good. Dr. Weiss reassured us, to quote him, "you will be here to celebrate your children's wedding days, and the wedding days of their children's children!" He fully expects that I will be in full remission within 3 years, although recurrence is still a possibility because of how young I was when I got the cancer.
  • The one sobering note: I won't be considered "cancer free" for 5 years, and won't be considered "in remission" until I have had three whole body scans accompanied by ultrasound and lab tests that indicate NO CANCER CELLS (or thyroglobulin or tumor markers) present. The scans will take place every 6-12 months depending on the discretion of my doctor here in Eau Claire, so that means I won't be able to consider myself in remission until 18 months-3 years from now. Since waiting is so difficult, it promises to be a more difficult three years than any of us had anticipated just a few months ago. In addition, Dr. Weiss, as well as all the doctors I've spoken to before him, warned me that it is not uncommon to find "something" on either ultrasound or lab tests that may indicate cancer. Therefore, it can often take longer than the 3 years to reach "remission" status. These "false alarms" usually turn out to be nothing other than a few worrisome months as the next round of tests 6 months later usually indicate no change.
We danced into the lobby, bursting with the first reliable good news in months. Cell phones chattered alive under our briskly tapping fingers as we giddily called family and friends to give a good report! We sallied into the swirl of evening leave-takings in downtown Chicago, disappointed that the Institute of Art was locked and shuttered, and warmly welcomed into suffering retail art storefronts hurting for a fresh infusion of cash. We smiled together in the graffiti-littered booths of a traditional Chicago pizzeria, celebrating tiredly with melted fresh mozarella and cornmeal crunchy crust.

We returned home, to dust off shelved dreams of old age, and planning weddings, and welcoming luscious grandbabies and traveling with our canes across distant continents on an anniversary far off in a much brighter future. Falling asleep at four a.m., 24 hours later, my last thought was "thank You, Father". A simple praise, unfettered with other worries or requests. A long, collective sigh of relief as we all closed our eyes to the vista of crystalline star-lit sky, home again, warm in our beds, safe, content.

Off into the sunset


Measure thy life by loss and not by gain,
Not by the wine drunk, but by the wine poured forth,

For love's strength standeth in love's sacrifice,
And he who suffers most has most to give.
~ Lillias Trotter

Thank you for the encouragement, Karla. Today we are in Chicago. Pray for us - Aaron, myself, my mom, our babysitter Ali and little babe Caleb along for the ride. Dignity and grace to deal with whatever is found, whatever is suggested. Strength and courage as we process the news on the long drive back home. And joy in CHEESE - the highlight of this trip may be an authentic Chicago deep dish pizza pie!

Effervescence

It hangs iridescent, fragile, tenuous. Like a bubble on the end of a child's wand. A sphere of hope and dreams and hard work threatened by the air, the fingers, too strong a breath. Yet it holds there, swirling, shimmering, limpid with frisson.

It's very beauty is in it's fragility, this day. The colors brighter, sounds sweeter, events more memorable. We've had a string of "last days" in this family in the past year. Days when myths threaten to fall, curtains close on an era. Always that question echoing through every moment of the day: do I just savor this, or do I attempt to prepare myself? Is that worrying, borrowing trouble from tomorrow? Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matt. 6:24) Is the choice to simply savor denial in disguise? Let it not be said of me, her "heart has become calloused; she hardly hears with her ears, and she has closed her eyes." (Matthew 13:15 paraphrased) I would that cancer not be my parable, God's veiled version of Truth clouded for my unseeing eyes. That in the pursuit of joy, I refused to experience suffering. That I laughed unaware while bearing the cross that was to bring me closer to the tears of my Savior as He bore the cross laid on His back by my sin!

I am in seek of balance today, an explorer in a land of myriad dragons and few flowery fields. Chicago is there, lingering in the back of my mind, with potential to collapse hopes for remission and crush trust in a more benign diagnosis. Yet it also holds the potential to offer a lifeline, a plan, an idea of what is to come, reassurance of what's already occurred. And today is just today: packing bags for girls to go to Grandma's; going to the farm for more fresh milk for the baby; cleaning a house wracked by weeks of sick kids and a mom busy "nursing" them many hours of the day. May I walk the fine line today, between pleasure and pensiveness.

Inside/outside

For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. I Samual 16:7b

I write from my heart, the thoughts that niggle at me for days at a time, the subjects that seem to come up randomly too many times, vying for priority and attention in my brain's sieve. Little flashes of light glinting off the hard stones of truth sitting among the many ordinary rocks I gather in that sieve throughout the day. The effect my writing has on my readers is intriguing...for some, the pictures, the visual tapestry of my life, is unfamiliar and foreign, yet the words I write resonate, long-known truths about me trotted out in black and white. For others, the crystal glint of winter sun on snow and the trappings of my life offer no new visual information, but the words I write are alien and surprising. I look around me, casting my gaze across the yellow walls of my kitchen, out the bank of windows in this sunny nook where I type, to the high hill of snow that separates my house from a field full of soybean stubs standing stiff as posts in the frozen ground. I see a spectrum of visual truth that reflects what I hold to be true on the 'inside', on that soul level of the world that matters so eternally more than the fading beauty of a January vista. Home as haven, blessing from God and wrought with hard work from our hands; field as food and man's curse, all rolled into one; frigid snow a reminder of vulnerability and also the hard core desire to survive at the heart of each of us; sunlight, coming and going according to the clock, never wavering, completely beyond human control. And that is what I write: truth in trivial, diary of details.

It is interesting what we see in others, isn't it? Do you see me as a lover of beauty, squeezing the sensual from the ordinary? A deep thinker, always reading more into the little things than may even exist there? Do you see me as a busy mom, tossed with frustration and desperately clinging to God, driven there by distraction and discontent? I see myself as a quite ordinary servant of God, called to a deeper reflection by the details of life. Pulled closer to Him and solidly planted in faith by watching children die, holding sobbing parents, marrying quickly, having a full serving of children poured on my plate during the first course, hearing a doctor say "cancer" while in my late 20's. I stand at the doorstep of thirty, on my tiptoes, craning my neck to see what the next decade holds. I see season upon season of blessing, and pain, and reflection, and servanthood. I hope that is what you see reflected here, in words and pictures. Me, unplugged. Me, laid bare. Me, holding my life out, palms up, for you to see and understand and praise God because of.

Your will above all else
My purpose remains
The art of losing myself
In bringing You praise
Everlasting
Your light will shine when all else fades
Never ending
Your glory goes beyond all fame

~From the Inside Out, Hillsong

Worship

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." Mark 10:13-15

This scene...my children walking down steps in awe of the sunlight streaming in a 100-year-old window on the top of a high hill...has had my thoughts swirling for days.

Raising hands when surrendering = vulnerability, lack of power
Raising hands when dancing = joy, abandon

Why is raising my hands during worship so difficult? Why is it not a sign of vulnerability or abandon in joy before God? Instead it feels false, gaudy, paltry. It is not something I am good at. I can worship Him by offering my talents - my piano fingers, or my harmony voice, or my writing ability - a million times easier than raising my hands to Him in worship, the ultimate sign of surrendering my dignity and appearance for His glory. I wonder if it will be difficult to bow once I see His face, or if, in His majestic presence, my hesitation will evaporate.

I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. (I Timothy 2:8)

Decades of gilt*

The star on top of the Christmas trees of my childhood was an object lesson in living with your choices. My parents purchased it early in their marriage, and it sat atop their trees in all it's gilded glory, with a red satin ball ornament at it's center, for over thirty years. My mother hated the star and frequently threatened to replace it with something more aesthetically pleasing, even...gasp!...perhaps a porcelain angel. But, as every mother knows, once something as important as a tree topper becomes part of the family legend in the children's eyes, there is simply no replacing it without a veil of tears! So she bided her time - waiting until the star was decrepit enough and we children were infrequent visitors to replace it's dear points. (I must interject here and state that I have no idea what currently tops my parents tree...I am much too scarred by the removal of the sacred star to have noticed!) The gilded plastic star was handed down to me, and topped our tree for one meager season before shooting off the top of the 7 1/2'
pine in our living room and shattering on the wood floor, thanks to an overzealous 10-month-old who enjoyed a brief moment of tree-rattling before being thoroughly reprimanded.

That was two weeks ago, and I took this photo that sunny afternoon, gathering up the shards of worn gold and lovingly setting them in the sun for a few more moments of memories before they were put in the trash. I thought of seasons...how important they are while we dwell in them, how we cling to them, how we lament them when they are over. How all of life, all humanity, suffers seasons...relationships, personal growth, even our physical health waxes and wanes through periods of fertile robustness and times of bleak, gray brittleness. We all have symbols that are tied inexorably to seasons in our past. This star was tied to a host of childhood memories, good and bad: the smell of my dad's clothes as he bent over my little body to take the star from place among the tree ornaments every Christmas; years when I sullenly walked through the motions of decorating the tree, pent up in the internal struggles and passions of adolescence. I never once thought of the star as beautiful, yet it was far from ugly. Representation not only of the sacred Christmas season, but of loyalty and honor and frugality.

Cancer is a season. There is that chance that it might be my last season...a period of exponential growth and heartbreak and intensity of love and joy that culminates in a goodbye. A season that ushers in the next world instead of the next season here on this mortal ground. And it might be a middle season. The year I turn thirty, the year I grow my first white hairs, the year I learn how precious life is to me, the year I learn a new layer of appreciation for what I've been given. The year I battled cancer. I might look back at this stage someday with longing as I drive myself by my will to learn more about God, as I propel myself consciously to grow and change and yearn and desire. This is a season when God has done all of that motivation for me, built it into the situation. Like the shattered star, it is a time when symbols and reprentations are being shed and abolished, and I am learning with new depth to be with God. I am learning what it feels like to be present with Him, penitent and rejoicing, failing yet looking up at His face rather than hanging my head in disgrace. I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:33-34 ESV)

Oh Great and Mighty One, with one desire we come
That you would reign, that you would reign in us
We're offering up our lives, a living sacrifice
That you would reign, that you would reign in us

Spirit of the Living God fall fresh again
Come search our hearts and purify our lives
We need your perfect love
We need your discipline
We're lost unless you guide us with your light

Lord Jesus come lead us
We're desperate for your touch
~ Reign in Us, Starfield



*yes, Mama, I am your daughter and delight in a good play on words!

Drowning - or delighting - in details

Details either make me or break me. Each day, there are an infinite number of small frustrations and potential disappointments as a mother of young children. They are just little things - a 5-year-old who suddenly, catatonic, can't remember right from left; a toddler suffering from days in Pull-up diapers has five accidents before lunch; a 3-year-old thinks "making her bed" is piling all her blankets and pillows on the floor in a delightful nest; a baby trying to learn to cruise standing up who falls and bloodies his lip over and over. They add up to big things: a dryer that shrinks some important fabric; an extra load of laundry reeking of urine; bedding full of dirt and dog hair; a splatter of blood all over a shirt and the tile floor. The work exponentially increases, and the furrow in my brow becomes a trench, finally exploding in a few hurtful words that shatter the peace and beauty of a sunny morning at home.

I hold my day cupped in my hands, a piece of unfinished needlework God has handed me, the threads all there, the pattern visible. He tended that day while I slept, brought us breath after breath, heartbeat after heartbeat while we lay unaware in our cozy beds. He hands it over, keeping His hand cupped under mine, whispering, "Here, child. For you! Sun glistening on a sparkling blanket of snow! Coffee - those green beans that grow from my dirt and sunshine - brown and pulverized and scenting your home with fragrance! A husband, strong, handsome, glorious, to warm your bed and feed your little ones breakfast. These children, precious fragments of you and he, wound together and threaded strong by My hand. All for you. Look at it laying before you. Now - careful! - take it and add to it and glorify Me with it, this day!"

I grab it with one fist while I throw back the covers, already sighing over the work of the day. I look blindly out the window as I gulp down the coffee. I absent-mindedly kiss my husband, thoughts on schoolwork, or the little one's dirty pj's covered in breakfast. I hustle the children along to their tasks - bed-making, starting the dryer, getting dressed, brushing teeth. Check my e-mail. I rush pell-mell into this gift, this day, and drown in the details. Instead of stepping out of my bed into a blanket of blessings, I sink quickly in a flood of dirty washwater. Here is where faithfulness matters. Here is where I need to attend to details, notice the details, not just take care of them as quickly as possible!

He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. Luke 16:10

Something inside says pause. Breath in. Start fresh. Gaze down at that piece of needlework in my hand. What stitches have I added so far? Did I even notice the blanket of snow, the smell of the coffee, the glorious pink cheeks of the baby, the delightful bustling about of my husband as he prepared to go to work? How about now: the sun streaming in the kitchen windows, lighting a pair of Dorothy ruby slippers left on the tiles, casting pink glitter all over the room. Notice it. Soak it up. Take your gift from God, this moment. This breath. This hour. You can detract from the glory God handed you, or you can be a true reflection of His glory (and grace). Be faithful. For God is here in the details - whether in the work or the waiting or the resting. He is here! Delight in Him.

Dangerous contrast

Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. I Peter 2:23-25 KJV

We emerged from music class today to a rugby striped, royal blue sky. The bare branches of the trees against the vivid colors of the backdrop were breathtaking. The awesome, frigid beauty of winter is everywhere around us, and echoes the dichotomy that sighs in and out from my soul. Praying to be healed on the one hand; stepping out to make choices with my rational, logical brain on the other. A tightrope between trusting God and trusting the people God has provided to care for me medically. This balancing act has been on my mind often over the past weeks as I wait yet again for answers and plans. God has me in this place of uncertainty, prostrate before the throne of grace, with little recourse in the "real world" to arm myself with more knowledge or power. The cold air stung and tears sprang to my eyes as I looked up on this vision of His awesome, awful power: an entire segment of our country frozen for six months, where humans can only live by means of intelligent and careful intervention, machines galore. Yet, in this frozen tundra in January, we stand gaping at the majesty only visible in the frigid atmosphere above our little corner of the world, the blues of the sky crisp and vibrant in the crystalline air of the deep winter. My battle is like that, too - only surmountable by means of intelligent and careful intervention, at every turn threatening to swallow and destroy me. The very danger of it is also what lends the entire situation beauty - making the colors of life more vivid and the living of it all the more precious.

Praise God...

...from whom all blessings flow! Mountains can be conquered by a mere mortal!

Works in the wasteland

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but by His mercy He saved us! Titus 3:5a

It is January 17. And the stockings are still hung by the chimney with care. The Christmas tree, brittle and limp, sheds it's needles by the hundreds each day. I groan as I bend to sweep them before the baby puts them in his mouth...again.


The millionth tea party of the day for the three would-be princesses. The cups, fake food, saucers, napkins are stacked on my bedside table. Next to my unmade bed. "As if I need FAKE food to clean up!", I mutter to myself as I gather up the toys yet again, too worn out to prod them to do it themselves this time.

The laundry is no longer a pile and has long since been categorized as a mountain. It has overtaken both the washer and the dryer and heaves itself onto the shelves that hold the detergent bottles. All clean, mind you, but still...another task unfinished. An endless chore that is never quite complete.

Our house is shaking the dregs of the inevitable mid-winter stomach bug, and sinking knee deep into January doldrums. Whoever said "a mother's work is never done" knew a few mothers in her time! Today's thoughts stream from my frustration, my exhaustion, that age-old question that exploded from me today as I faced the endless work of motherhood, my husband facing his own mountain of infinite chores outdoors...do others face these same battles? Is this just the curse rearing it's ugly head -

To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."

To Adam he said, "Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, 'You must not eat of it,' "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground..." (Genesis 3:16-19)

- does every mother have these days? I long for a more honest culture, one in which moms are less "super" and sometimes forget to shower and yes, get behind in their duties at home. For who among us really fits the caricature of ├╝ber-organization, working, playing, and housewife-ing without blinking a well-curled and mascara'ed eyelash? Please tell me I am not alone under my mountain of laundry, picking up plastic tea-cups at 10 p.m., and sighing as I walk past the Christmas tree for yet another day!

At the end of the day, legs pitched forward as I collapse on the couch, ignoring the rest of the day's unfinished work, I praise God for grace. For honesty, realism, love, patience. That I can show Him my uncleaned closets and the piles of papers mounting on the end of my island and close my eyes and rest in His presence, authentic, open, and loved completely and unimaginably despite my shortcomings. I praise Him that He drowns me in work that completely sweeps cancer out of the furthest corner of my thoughts for days at a time. I praise Him that I can write, and laugh, and escape occasionally from the drudgery that sometimes surrounds me.

I thank God for forcing humbleness upon me - perfectionist and would-be super-mom as I am by nature. I see Him using the things that I despise in life to confound me, to remind me that all of my works are wood, hay, and stubble, and will burn before His glory if not done for His glory alone. (I Corinthians 1:26-28; I Corinthians 3:10-15)

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

Our hearts unfold before Your throne
The only place for those who know
It's not for us, It's all for You

Send Your holy fire on this offering
Let our worship burn for the world to see
It's not for us, It's all for You

~ Not to Us, Chris Tomlin

An evening in Casablanca...

The latest endeavor of our small group. This is the slide show presented at church each Sunday. It looks prettier in person - this free presentation server doesn't have the greatest fonts! Join us if you can!

Uploaded on authorSTREAM by gmthul

Baby boy


Curious
Aware
Lepid
Eager
Babe


Little sister

Affectionate
Malleable
Elfin
Lioness
Independent
Affable

Middle sister

Rare
Opalescent
Sensitive
Ally
Laconic
Imaginative
Ethereal

Big sister

Kind
Artistic
Tentative
Realistic
Introspective
Nostalgic
Able

Snowflakes


These homemade versions of God's miraculous ice crystals have been giving our family joy for over a year now. They remind me of the rock candy we used to buy at national parks when I was a kid. Making them is a great way to speak "chemistry" with little kids.

Illusions illuminate

It lights me up how you can use something concrete to teach something amorphous. God does that with me all the time - cancer is teaching me patience and self-control, of all things. Cancer is a concrete way to show me how precious what I have is. For 48 hours, the whole family has been in various stages of the stomach flu. This would normally have me cursing the day I was born as I wash mountains of laundry, scrub floors, stairs, and upholstery, and comfort an endless line of moaning, weeping children in the bathroom! These past two days have been a joy to me...the chance to participate in life, the nitty-gritty little details that I've often taken for granted standing out with incredible vibrancy.


Somehow, in the midst of the puke-party yesterday, the girls and I got on the subject of being big/being small, and talked about the power that comes with each position. We talked about choosing to abdicate power out of compassion, pity or simply moral compunction. I had fun taking these photos of them, showing them with a literal physical example how they hold each other in a unique way as siblings...making daily choices to either build up or tear down their sisters physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Rosy thought the photos were great, especially with the special effects I added, because it looks like she is holding a fairy instead of her quite ordinary sister Katy!

The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands. (Pr. 14:1)

*Note: this optical illusion works much better outdoors where there is good light and a uniform backdrop, as you can set your aperture high and produce uniform depth-of-field. That wasn't an option at 35 below zero, though!

Realism

"We have done and left undone. We are foolish and weak and blind and self-willed and men of little faith. But all the time [the Church] stands there, holding the cross, telling us that there is forgiveness, that we have not been left to ourselves, that no matter how shocking the image that we finally see of ourselves in the light of God's truth, God himself has done something about it all."
~ Elisabeth Elliot, All That Was Ever Ours

Cancer is reaching into every corner of my life and changing me forever. Oddly enough, it seems to be a positive experience so far. Self-reflection is a two-edged sword: to some it is a lost art; to others a pit in which to wallow continuously. Like everything else, I have to add a healthy dose of moderation when I find myself in a reflective mood. I tend toward the pessimistic end of the spectrum, and the bad and evil and discontent and horrible is what jumps out when I look too closely in the mirror. Others, I know, tend toward the optimistic end, ignoring ugliness and evil and reflecting only on what is positive and good. If you are going to look carefully at yourself, remember you are called to action, not just repentance. Ah, there is the sting! Life would be so much easier, wouldn't it, if the fullness of our calling is to simply say "sorry"?!!

I had a long talk about this subject with the girls yesterday, after I was angry and ugly during a difficult departure from home. It took nearly an hour to get everyone in mittens, hats, coats, and boots, and I found myself at my wit's end by the time we got out the door! After talking to my Father God about it, going in tears before His throne to beg forgiveness and aid, I apologized to my kids and we talked at length about perfection, imperfection, redemption, forgiveness. They wanted to know, can you be a mean person and go to heaven? Can you be a nice person and go to hell? What does it mean to repent?

Repentance can't come without a good, long look in the mirror first. If I persist in a false idea about how good I am, I may not realize my need for God's redemptive love. If I choose, instead, to wallow in guilt over my ugliness and badness, I won't recognize the overwhelming power of the work done on the Cross. As always, I am trying to walk the tightrope in the middle, the narrow pathway under my faltering feet as I look upward, to my Savior.

Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." Luke 5:31-32

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:7

Baking a fresh batch





Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing;
knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.
For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil,
and his lips that they speak no guile.
Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it.

For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous,
and his ears are open unto their prayers:
but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.
And who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?
But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye:
and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled;
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts:
and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you
a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear...
I Peter 3:9-15

My answer, my reason of the hope that is in me, is fresh baked bread and a visit from my baby brother and his wife on a sunny Saturday morning in January. It is working with my hands, kneading bread, forming the long loaves, watching them rise golden brown and fill my home with fragrance. It is steam rising off my bread pans, a pot of squaw corn to eat, and salty butter melting on the hot slices just cut from the loaf. It is conversation, and laughter, and joy, and seriousness. I praise God for the gift of life He already gave me, and bow humbly before Him to ask for more.

Dying (chickens)

My father is the proud owner of an entire flock of pet chickens. Yes, I said "pet" chickens - they have averaged less than a dozen eggs a week for years. (Note: he will pop in with a comment if I misquote their average, never fear!) After a year or so of little or no egg production, my father sighed. We all cringed as we waited for the announcement that he was going to start butchering. He said, "I guess it's time to take them off the organic feed." And so, these now non-organic but all-natural chickens live in a beautiful coop with cedar siding and a green roof and are tended daily by my tenderhearted dad.

When he leaves for any length of time, the neighbors - i.e. his kids - tend the chickens. Melissa and I both have a mortal dread of being pecked by a chicken, and now that there are also occasional rats in the coop...suffice it to say there have been some harrowing moments for both of us. The chicken duty fell to Melissa while my parents were gone on their annual January vacation. One chicken was sick, which made the job a bit more dreadful than usual.

Melissa noticed the chicken hadn't moved in a day or two, although it was "distinctly still breathing". Gathering all her inner gumption, she walked into the coop, trying to avoid the little mountains of chicken...er, dust...to pick up said unmoving chicken and move it closer to the water dish. The next morning, she found the chicken, deflated. She was surprised at how flat it had become after it died. Flat. Still. Quiet. And still surrounded by the cackling mob, the intimidating and very much alive flock. She rushed back into the coop, avoiding the mountains of...er, dust...once again, picked up the flattened creature and rushed back out. The deflated and exceedingly frozen chicken had to be carried above her head to avoid sacrificing it to the drooling jowls of the excited golden retriever, who very much desired frozen, deflated chicken for his next meal.

The gritty details of death are usually hidden in our cremation/embalming nation. We know death is coming, but we have little working knowledge of how it happens or when, and what to expect afterward. We have scrubbed death out of our daily lives sufficiently to allow us to persist in denial at some level that such a thing even occurs. But is it really beneficial to us, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually? A more organic way of life - close to the land, close to the animals, close to people around you - living as a tender, a keeper, a caregiver...doesn't that afford more realism and a healthy dose of perspective about what dying - and consequently living - really means?

The chicken: created to be food and provider of food for us. Me: created to be mother, wife, caregiver, tender, nurturer. We are both on a trajectory toward death. The amazing thing is that I, through the ever-beneficient Grace of my Father, am also on a trajectory toward heaven. I have always been the sort to be conscious of the grander, eternal vista. I have been keenly aware of my living...and dying...state since I was a small child, who accepted the Savior at 4 and spent the next 20 years sorting out the details of a faith that was much too large to comprehend at such a young age. Standing here, in my shoes at 29, I look back and wonder if God was preparing my heart then for cancer now. I don't know that. And the connection to the dead, deflated chicken is loose at best. Yet I see the incomprehendable beauty, the frank hilarity, and the awesome soberness of the situation so clearly condensed in the story of a frozen pet chicken.

I don't know yet if I am walking in the footsteps of David, who faced death a thousand times, emerging to rejoice in the mercy and healing of God...I have suffered much; preserve my life, O LORD, according to your word. Accept, O LORD, the willing praise of my mouth, and teach me your laws. (Psalm 119:107-108)

Or am I embarking along the somber path Job trod? Will chemo and sickness and despair bring me to a place where I say sighing comes to me instead of food; my groans pour out like water. What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil. (Job 3:24-26) I pray for a spirit of rejoicing if God allows me to suffer more! I pray that I can endure the race He has set before me. Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my Redeemer! (Ps. 19:14)

Warmth


This is what the Lord Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways.
You have planted much, but have harvested little.
You eat, but never have enough.
You drink, but never have your fill.
You put on clothes, but are not warm.
You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it."

This is what the Lord Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways.
Haggai 1:5-7


I never thought much about heat before I was diagnosed with cancer. It was one of those necessities I took for granted. Pregnant or breastfeeding for over five years straight, my furnace was functioning quite well! Now I am a lover of wool socks, slippers of any kind, color or shape, turtleneck sweaters, no matter how scratchy. Warmth takes priority. After my treatment in November, I read the minor prophets, and suddenly identified with these verses from Haggai. In many ways, it is a reflection of so many small failures in my life to date: gardens planted and then overrun with weeds; meals made and barely enjoyed in the rush of everyday evenings; money loosely budgeted that slips through my fingers like sand. I resolved to give careful thought to my ways, our ways as a family. Months before the New Years flurry. I need to revisit those thoughts, implement them, wield the insights He provided during my days of solitude and spiritual neediness.

Winter jewels

I will bless the LORD at all times;
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul will make its boast in the LORD;
the humble will hear it and rejoice.
O magnify the LORD with me,
and let us exalt His name together.

Psalm 34

Did you ever stand in a Cavern's Mouth -
Widths out of the Sun --
Loneliness looks so.
Emily Dickinson


The snow surrounds the house like a million glittering stars. The weeds bejeweled. It is a little girl's wonderland...an entire earth of sparkles. Rosy walks outside and breaths in deep, filling her little soul with the beauty of it. I watched her walk through the side yard yesterday, one step...bend, scoop, stare, smile. Repeat. The panes of the kitchen window seemed suddenly stifling and thick, too great a separation between her world and mine. In these quiet moments, watching life unfold like a fairytale before me, I feel my heart expand, and then suddenly contract. Like squeezing back tears, or stamping out pain so you can ignore it a little longer. The very beauty of my life is what makes it bittersweet - brings out the longing to be here for so much longer. I wish I could set a giant glass dome over moments like these, freeze them like the plaster figures in snowglobes, forever atwirl in a flurry of snow.

Hollowness

In a slushy crush of afternoon traffic on a dirty city street, it struck me: this is the longest I have gone without being pregnant since my wedding day. Caleb is a chubby, jabbering baby-toddler, crawling about, into everything, eating everything, content in new freedom. Some mornings I still feel dry and abandoned as he "nurses" on his bottle. I am blessed by little things - I can still feel the flutter of his suck "calling down the milk" as the cool glass of the bottle warms in my palm; his eyes still roll back in baby bliss with the first gulps of his afternoon bottle of breastmilk, guarded like liquid gold and rationed out once per day. The babyishness of his cowlicks, the chubby chin where it meets his neck, the folds behind his ears. I am surrounded by babies, toddlers, small children. But something inside feels empty.

I remember peering into the empty shell of a cottonwood tree deep in the woods when I was about eight. I tipped my head back to peer around into the top of the cavern in the center of the tree trunk. Shafts of light caught the rising dust of leaves that had crushed under my feet. I could see through the cracks in the bark, watch the trees arms, covered in leaves, dancing toward the sun at the top of the forest canopy. She was a happy woman, this tree...a hole in her middle, yet the tough sinews of her wood bit wetly into my palm as I leaned against her inside the hole, craning my neck to see better the view from this unexpected hiding place. What was once full of life was empty and hollowed out. But she wasn't finished living.

Babies won't grow inside me anymore. My poor health during pregnancy and a general sense of fulfillment with our four children meant we made that decision before cancer. I am thankful now that it happened that way - that God didn't allow me to blame cancer with yet another loss during my young motherhood. Another small blessing. My middle is empty, there is a dark tumor growing in my throat...but my sinews are tough and fecund, my arms are covered in leaves and dancing toward the sunlight.

She who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had many sons pines away. The Lord brings death and makes alive; he brings down to the grave and raises up. ~ Hannah's Song, I Samuel 2:5-6

Seeking spice in Wisconsin

I live in the official Land of White Bread. Sadly, I lost my usually sensitive palate due to the radioactive iodine treatment and no one is quite sure when (or if) it will return. I constantly crave spicy food, as it is all I can taste. Our weekend vacation in Wisconsin Dells revealed that spice can be difficult to come by in the Land of White Bread. Aaron went on a quest to the local Walmart, and came back with one measly bottle of Texas Pete Hot Sauce - the only spicy item he could find! I had to laugh this morning when I unpacked some food from our trip. On the back of a package of corn tortillas...where a spicy recipe of some sort should be located...I found this recipe for Tortilla Casserole. Note: the tortillas were manufactured in Madison.

Tortilla Casserole Ingredients
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 can french cut green beans
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic (thank goodness!)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can condensed cream of chicken soup
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
2 1/2 cups mild cheddar cheese
1 package corn tortillas, torn into pieces

I refuse to post the instructions, lest any of you be tempted to try such a bland concoction! If you want to try it, you'll have to buy a package of El Buen Gusto corn tortillas and read it yourself!

Confusion

I am in a confusing place this morning. Doctors say my cancer may have metastasized. With bad news, I hear other Christians exhorting me to pray and I will be healed. God says that in the end, it won't matter anyway. What do I do, as a praying woman, a studying woman, a woman with faith, a woman with doubt? On one hand, I hear the words of Jesus...
"Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." (Mark 11)

Yet Paul's experience echoes larger than life from the other hand...
There was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (II Corinthians 12)

Have faith, it can happen.
Have faith, it may not happen.
Have faith, it will be wiped away in eternity.

I, this praying woman, this studying woman, this faith-filled woman, this doubting woman...I focus tenaciously on my tasks at hand. Teach Amelia about grace, about omnipresence, about sacrificial love. Teach Rosalie about unconditional love, duty, blessing. Teach Katrina about kindness, compassion, teach her to read. Teach Caleb about self-motivation, temper control, show him the face of the Divine through motherly love. Make a home, keep a home. Persevere in school. For if I abandon the tasks at hand for prayer for my future, what use to Christ am I?

Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. (II Corinthians 1)

When I think about the Lord,
How he saved me, how he raised me,
How he filled me with the Holy Ghost,
How he healed me to the uttermost;

When I think about the Lord,
How he picked me up and turned me around,
How he placed my feet on solid ground,

It makes me wanna shout,
“Hallelujah, thank you, Jesus!”
Lord, you’re worthy of all the glory,
And all the honor, and all the praise.

When I Think About the Lord

Cancer day finds

Today is Cancer Day for this week. In between feeding my own children and my little niece, Susie, putting kids down for naps, changing diapers and catching up on household chores, I fit in some research and caught up on my cancer survivor message boards on the internet. Opening myself up to cancer for a day also opens my heart for God to speak in new ways...whispers, usually from an unexpected source.

Today my God whisper came in the form of world-renowned freestyle horse reiner, Stacy Westfall. In 2006, her father died unexpectedly 24 days before she was to compete in the National Quarter Horse Congress. This video of her performance, which was dedicated to her father and his inspiration, somehow captures the pensiveness and coexistence of sorrow and triumph that I have been feeling this holiday season. Her ride - without saddle, bridle, or reins - embodies trust, perseverance, and love. It struck me how the announcer began speaking monotonously, business-like, and paused to choke back tears as he read Stacy's dedication to her father. Life - and death - makes you catch your breath like that sometimes.