Plunged

Quando sono solo
Sogno allorizzonte
E mancan le parole
~ Contepartirò, Sartori

When words fail, there is nothing like a little Italian to express what English cannot. I had a routine doctor's visit today, at which I learned that I will be having some more biopsies, ultrasounds and perhaps other diagnostic tests to explore some abnormal swelling. That probably sounds like nothing to make a fuss about. But the news was delivered by the same midwife, in the same way, and nearly exactly one year later as the news of the abnormal swelling on my thyroid gland. I am afraid. Shaken. Tonight I will lean on this:

Let us therefore, receiving a kingdom that is firm and stable
and cannot be shaken,
offer to God pleasing service and acceptable worship,
with modesty and pious care and godly fear and awe;
For our God is indeed a consuming fire.
~ Hebrews 12:28 (Amp)

View from a dark room


For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face:
now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
(I Cor. 13:12)

Just a sliver of light makes everything so much more beautiful. This old white chair, sitting alone against a wall in our dark house, was lit by the shaft of light slipping through the bathroom door. What struck me is that an object half lit is sometimes so much more beautiful than one fully lit. So it is with knowledge: Eve wanted full knowledge, and she got it, painfully so. The object that looked so beautiful and alluring in dim light, half obscured, was frightening and ugly in reality. Waiting is difficult...living with cancer is stressful at times, to say the least. But I trust that the wise and loving God I serve is showing me as much as I can bear at this given moment. In full light, the truth that I will survive might release me in such a way that this metamorphosis, this daily sanctification I experience as I walk by faith and not by sight, might never occur. In full light, the truth that I won't survive might steal the joy of these precious moments of today, this year of believing that cancer is gone. So I crouch, in the half light, admiring the view. I am so glad that I am justified by faith, that I see through a glass darkly now, when once I was blind to this beauty entirely. (Romans 5)

I caught a glimpse of Your splendor
In the corner of my eye
The most beautiful thing I've ever seen
And it was like a flash of lightning
Reflected off the sky
And I know I'll never be the same
~ Show Me Your Glory, Third Day

Spinning in the circle

I'm still searching for answers. What purpose do suffering and death serve? It is the deep moan of a cello reverberating through my heart, sighing out a rumbling question as this new experience, this living with cancer business, draws it's bow across the strings of my soul. I see the circle of life all around me, in the Wisconsin spring. Out of last summer's leaves and grasses, now dead and rotten, burst a new vista of johnny jump-ups and lily shoots and iris stalks. The manure from the winter milkings spread on the field across the road is still rich with life, and the crows pick happily in the fecund new soil from dawn till dusk. Where slippery black mold formed on the chilled forest floor in November now lies light, dusty soil, formed out of the death of last autumn's flaming maple glory. From death comes life, and from life comes death. It circles and hums all around me and from it resounds those aching questions: why cancer at 29? Why would any baby, anywhere, have Down syndrome? Why do children die in Eastern European orphan institutions while they grow fat on fast food and video games here? Why all this unevenness, and unfairness, and unhappiness?

I found an answer, for the moment, half way through Romans, one of my pet books of the Bible. Romans and Hebrews read like a great debate: all the big questions get asked, and there is a logical response in almost lawyer-like exposition.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:20-21)

...subjected to futility...
Useless. Frivolous. Helpless. That's what we see all around us...things that don't work right; things that are broken; things that are malfunctioning. Things that seem to be completely without purpose or plan.

...not willingly...
This assures me that God does not hand down suffering and brokenness like a cruel father bent on teaching His children painful, necessary lessons.

...but because of Him who subjected it, in hope...
There is a reason behind all of this. Cancer isn't a cruel punishment and it's not a turn of bad luck that struck randomly, either. It was designed with hope by a tender, merciful God who bends to this earth and calls softly to each of our hearts.

...will be set free from its bondage to corruption...
The purpose of it all is so stunningly clear. We suffer to be set free. Just as Jesus suffered to set us free. Suffering is what brings me to a place of need. Suffering is what teaches my heart humility and opens my eyes to the real purpose behind it all. Only in infinite grace and wisdom would the Creator set this world spinning in such a way that even the bad things, evil things, despicable things, and painful things can be turned into beauty and treasure and glory. When I take the smudged, smoking embers of the physical beauty of the body He gave me and turn the very fire of my pain into glory for His name, what is ugly becomes beautiful. Dust becomes diamonds, agony becomes emeralds, rags become rubies. For I have obtained the freedom of the glory of the children of God!

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:22-28)

My hands hold safely to my dreams
Clutching tightly not one has fallen.
So many years I’ve shaped each one
Reflecting my heart, showing who I am.
Now you’re asking me to show
What I’m holding Oh so tightly.
Can’t open my hand; can’t let go
Does it matter?
Should I show you?
Can’t you let me go?

Surrender, surrender
You whisper gently
You say I will be free
I know but can’t you see
My dreams are me, My dreams are me

Say you have a plan for me
And that you want the best for my life.
Told me the world has yet to see
What you can do with one
That’s committed to your call.
I know of course what I should do
That I can’t hold these dreams forever.
But if I give them now to you
Will you take them
Away forever?
Or can I dream again?

~Surrender, Barlowgirl

Puzzle pieces

Have you ever had a day where it feels as though the situations you walk into were laid out for you, planned ahead, that all that was left waiting to happen was your arrival? Yesterday was a day like that in my life. I could almost hear the puzzle pieces locking together as the events of the day unfolded. It feels surreal, almost as if what I do matters little, because it was all going to happen that way anyway.

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. (Jeremiah 29:11)

It's an age-old question, this question that's rattling around my brain: if God is just waiting for me to act, and He knows how I am going to act long before I ever do, what is free will? I didn't grasp this concept until I became a mother of toddlers. Predictable little beings they are! Long before they hit their sister, or take a toy from someone, or tear the page from my new book, I see the signs. I go on the mother version of "high alert", ears perked up, eyes watchful. Just as God sometimes allows us to experience the consequences of our actions, I sometimes let the situation go...not so I can reign down punishment sadistically on the disobedient child. Rather that they might learn from a small mistake in the safety of our own home, saving them from big pain in the future, when the mistakes are bigger and the consequences more grave! Even with my tiny human brain, I can predict which misbehavior is coming about 9 times out of 10. But that doesn't change the fact that it is the child who acts. So it is with God and predestination, and my free will. He knows what will happen, but that doesn't change the fact that it is I who must step forward and act to carry out His will, to be faithful to be the final puzzle piece clicking into place after a whole cascade of other events have prepared the situation for me.

A conversation with a woman at church, someone I met at La Leche League. A repair on our van that didn't go as planned, necessitating the purchase of a new vehicle we really can't afford right now. A cuddle with Katy that turned to Down syndrome, and cancer, and death, and grief. The book that I am reading (Shepherding a Child's Heart, by Tedd Tripp) prepares my heart for a new phase of conflict between the two middle girls and shows me new ways to guide them through it. God has a whole jigsaw puzzle laid out for me, and yesterday was a day when the last piece was clicked in many small corners. Bits of the picture became clear. A day of rejoicing and putting hands to plow. That when I return home, I might hear, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant!" (Matthew 25:21)

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. (I Corinthians 9:24-26)


I will never be the same again,
I can never return, I've closed the door.
I will walk apart, I'll run the race
And I will never be the same again.

Fall like fire, soak like rain,
Flow like mighty waters, again and again.
Sweep away the darkness, burn away the chaff,
And let a flame burn to glorify Your name.

There are higher heights, there are deeper seas,
Whatever you need to do, Lord do in me.
The Glory of God fills my life,
And I will never be the same again.
~ I Will Never Be the Same Again, Hillsong

Undercurrents

We are apt to say-"It is not in the least likely that having been through the supreme crisis, I shall turn now to the things of the world." Do not forecast where the temptation will come, it is the least likely thing that is the peril. In the aftermath of a great spiritual transaction the "retired sphere of the leasts" begins to tell; it is not dominant, but remember it is there, and if you are not warned, it will trip you up. You have remained true to God under great and intense trials, now beware of the undercurrent. Do not be morbidly introspective, looking forwared with dread, but keep alert; keep your memory bright before God. Unguarded strength is double weakness because that is where the "retired sphere of the leasts" saps. The Bible characters fell on their strong points, never on their weak ones.

"Kept by the power of God"-that is the only safety.
~ Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest


That is my current peril: to come through the fire, the heat of the crisis of the cancer diagnosis, and get swallowed by all the smoke in the aftermath, as I live with cancer. Likely it will be the everyday things...the stresses of motherhood, the difficulties of marriage, school deadlines, writing deadlines, housework, serving at church...that bog me down. I have a heightened sense that I need to define my purpose, to delineate what I am supposed to be doing, in a big sense. Not just what is next on my calendar. What is next for my soul? Obviously, this trial is meant to yield certain results, otherwise what sense can be made of such things? I may never ferret out God's supreme purpose, but I feel as though I must be on the lookout for the little things that threaten to pull the whole thing apart. I need to be faithful in the details, as always. Yet more so in this aftermath of a stressful year. As I near the one year mark, I am still unsure where I am headed. Although it looks as though I'll survive this current crisis, I still don't know why I was asked to walk through it. I don't want to defeat a giant only to be done in by an innocent, beautiful distraction (David's story, Psalm 51).

Using broken things

We sometimes imagine that God must eventually "sit us down" and "explain" his mysterious ways to our satisfaction. Let us suppose we have never seen a skyscraper. We discover a whole city block surrounded by a board fence. Finding a knothole, we peer inside. Huge earth movers are at work; hundreds of men in hard hats are busy at mysterious tasks; cranes are being moved into place; truckloads of pipes and cement are being unloaded. What on earth is happening? There is nobody around to answer our questions. If we wait long enough, nobody will need to. When we see the finished building, all the incomprehensible activity becomes comprehensible. "Oh! So this is what that was for." (Elisabeth Elliot, A Lamp for My Feet)

...when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness. Psalm 17:15



The requisite after-Easter ham and bean soup. An ordinary day. An extraordinary object lesson sprang to life for me from the ashes of the day. Cleaning up the remains of supper, scrubbing beans off the table and packing up left-overs for lunches on the morrow. I looked down at this cracked bean pot. It is gray and blue and tan, not really my style. It is hand-potted, and has a rough finish that makes a grating sound when you scoop with the ladle from the bottom of the pot. The ladle is made of the same material, by the same hand. So why use a cracked pot with a rough finish that I don't really like? Because I love it. I don't like it, but I love it. You see, my mother made it. Back in her potting days in college. I suppose I could set it gingerly on a shelf for display somewhere. But putting a cracked bean pot on display seems a little...well, cracked to me! So I use it, and hope it will withstand many more years of steaming hot soup at our busy supper table.

I am the cracked pot with the rough finish. Why does God choose me? Why put me through more tests, when He knows exactly how fragile I am? Why, to use me of course! Because even if He sometimes doesn't like what I'm doing, He loves me. Because His father made me.

Living {not dying, not healed from} cancer

"Cancer is often a disease that lasts a long time, and people may be treated for it for many years. Sometimes, people close to the patient who were very involved at first grow distant as the treatment continues over the course of months or years. It is understandable that you can become "burned out" when supporting a person with cancer. Still, people with cancer need emotional support throughout the entire course of their illness. Remember that the encouragement and support of those around them can help people with cancer get a new perspective and even have more hope when they feel beaten down by cancer or its treatment. Also, the support of family and friends helps people with cancer try to get on with their old activities and return to as normal a life as their illness will allow. So if you are going to be a support for a person with cancer, try to hang in there for the long term. Being there and then leaving can be very painful for your loved one, and can feel even worse than not ever being there at all.

It is often hard to know if you are crossing boundaries or treating the person with cancer too much like a "cancer patient" and not like your friend or family member. Encourage the person with cancer to let you know if you cross this line. Every person with cancer appreciates the friend or family member who remembers that they used to be a person without cancer -- that they had, and still have, strengths and weaknesses, interests, and parts of life that have nothing to do with cancer. Sometimes being the person in the "cancer patient's" life who remembers the whole person is a special gift." ~ American Cancer Society, Living With Cancer

Twenty years ago, you either died from cancer or you were healed. Today, that is no longer true. Some people I've rubbed shoulders with in the last year have had an active cancer diagnosis - never going into full remission - for nearly 20 years! There are stories of healing followed by a return of cancer...stories of mothers living for years with a poor diagnosis...stories of moms who can't quite figure out what's wrong in the first place. I have a whole folder under my "Blogs" bookmark tab labeled "Cancer". I did it that way so I don't have to see them every time I open up my bookmarks. To tell the truth, when I hear all those discouraging stories, I shrug them off like so many drops of unwelcome rain. I am a lover of conclusions: either kill me now, or heal me now! I don't want to be living with cancer, I want to be a survivor. And I can't say that I am yet! The unwelcome truth of the matter is that it still lurks. An unknown, an unquantifiable presence under the surface of the deep, occasionally causing a few ripples in my consciousness.

Please stick with me, friends. I need support now - not necessarily the emergency kind of support that shows up on your doorstep with a fully cooked meal and arms ready to scrub my bathrooms. That type of help is for when I'm really sick after a treatment. What I need now is soul care. People who understand that I'm a deep thinker and that there are really disturbing thoughts still rumbling around in my brain looking for a place to hide. I "file" things, mentally. My cancer file is so full right now, there are papers scattered all over the place, bogging up the works. I've got papers marked "Why do we suffer?" with nothing written yet below the title. I haven't figured things out. I still need to process. I need to understand what it means to have a cancer diagnosis...that I am going to live with for a while...that makes me feel old and tired and washed out. What does it mean to be immunosuppressed and susceptible to every little illness that blows by? Will cancer still require that I change my lifestyle, despite clean scans and good bloodwork?

As much as I don't want this to be the new norm, it is. Cancer is my cognitive hopscotch: I'm standing on a tile on one leg, trying to figure out how to make my way to the next tile without tipping over. And that's why I'm still writing. Because this game isn't over yet. I still have to hop for a while.

The pathway is broken
And the signs are unclear
And I don’t know the reason why You brought me here
But just because You love me the way that You do
I’m gonna walk through the valley
If You want me to

I’m not who I was
When I took my first step
And I’m clinging to the promise You’re not through with me yet
so if all of these trials bring me closer to you
Then I will walk through the fire
If You want me to

It may not be the way I would have chosen
When you lead me through a world that’s not my home
But You never said it would be easy
You only said I’d never go alone

So when the whole world turns against me
And I’m all by myself
And I can’t hear You answer my cries for help
I’ll remember the suffering Your love put You through

And I will go through the darkness if You want me to

when I cross over Jordan
Gonna sing, gonna shout,
Gonna look into Your eyes and see You never let me down
So take me on the pathway that leads me home to You
And I will walk though the valley
If You want me to
~ If You Want Me To, Ginny Owens

Dirt under the nails

Being a mom isn't all cuddling with a freshly bathed little cutie pie, or sweet little baby clothes, or perfect pigtails and braids. There are a lot of moments...for me, at least...when mothering is dirt under the nails, and stinky diapers, and cereal crumbs on the kitchen floor. That's part of what my writing reflects: real, true life servitude, life where the rubber meets the road. I don't want to pretend to have everything under control, and I don't want to gloss over the hard and messy details of living, because I think there is where God speaks. In my weakness, He speaks strength; when I sink, He walks on water; when I am groaning, He is silently carrying me. If I pretend to be stronger than I really am, what purpose does that serve?

Yet one can go too far the opposite direction, too. I am not spinning out of control, or hanging on by a thread, or fighting tooth and nail to survive. My story is mediocrity, it is ordinary. There are days when you would think I had lost control entirely if you stepped through my front door: laundry in various stages of folding and washing; crumbs still on the floor from breakfast; dirty dishes piled up and toys strewn everywhere. There are moments when I do literally throw my hands in the air and holler! But they are just moments. There are also gales of laughter, and rolling on the floor playing with the kids, and quiet half hours spent reading or writing, or simply contemplating the view out my front window.

God gives us each what we can handle. I am a person who thrives on chaos, on ups and downs. I learn in moments when I'm taken far beyond myself. I excel when I am driven to it, pushed beyond my normal limits and my brain explodes out of the little box it's been painted into by the hum and lull of everyday living. God has me, therefore, perpetually on the edge: four kids in four years, graduate school, a large house with many bathrooms to clean, a whole circle of friends I dearly love and desire to spend time with, a heart for adoption, and church ministry, and music, and hosting. Big parties and bonfires, sewing slings and calligraphing wedding invitation envelopes, cloth diapering and drying clothes on the line, photography and maple syruping, a million hobbies and desires and dreams and callings. It all adds up to too little time and too much to do!

Yet on the edge, accomplishing more than I dreamed possible, God teaches me so much. He teaches me to balance. To say no. To say yes. To have impossible conversations at the most difficult moments. To put something down so I can pick something else up. To trust Him for strength and wisdom when I am scatter-brained and overextended. To pray. To revel. To worship when there is cacophany surrounding me. To worship in the dead of night when there is only silence and darkness in reply. To run to Him when I am afraid. To run to Him when I am tired. To run to Him when I celebrate. To run to Him when I sorrow.

And that's what you'll keep reading here. Dirt under the nails, songs from the heart, laments from the edge, desperate cries when there is too little time and too much to do. A life in fast forward sounds a little screechy sometimes!

I'm falling even more in love with you
Letting go of all I've held onto
I'm standing here until you make me move
I'm hanging by a moment here with you
I'm living for the only thing I know
I'm running and not quite sure where to go

~ Hanging By a Moment, Lifehouse

Loculation

I came across this word while writing a set of procedure guidelines for nurses today. It means "the formation of numerous small spaces or cavities within a larger cavity". It reflects something that has happened in my heart as the years go by. Around age 20, I started to notice that there were some pretty big abscesses in my character: infected, hard lumps that were getting more and more visible to the casual observer as time went on. Around age 25, I started the painful process of opening these flawed areas up for exploration, drainage, healing. It's not an enjoyable thing, to watch that smelly, icky stuff drain out for all the world to see, and to watch it heal, all scarred over. Now I'm finding that, if I don't let God probe deep enough in those tender spots deep within the wound, I am allowing loculation to occur. And years later, I have to open the whole thing back up again, because there were small areas within the large one that didn't get cleaned out well enough the first time around.

I was laying in bed a few moments ago, putting my sweet smelling baby to sleep. Thinking back over my morning. I am so tired, deep in my bones. I wake up tired, I go through my day tired, and I go back to bed just as tired. There is none of the usual ebb and flow of energy these days. And I am tired of being tired! As I audit my last few weeks, from a soul perspective, I really can give myself pretty good marks...for the most part, I've had a good attitude about this whole ordeal. But the last few days, I've been struggling to accept my situation and keep moving forward. Inertia is one of those physical laws of the universe that really applies to this situation: as the mud gets thicker on the tires, eventually they're going to stop spinning. Everything is going to freeze up. And that's where I finally am at. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, I am getting to the end of my [human] rope. At this crossroads, I have to decide if I'm going to let God step in? Or if I'm going to struggle, and moan, and throw myself another good old pity-party? What did I learn last time, when I let God probe into this painful old wound called selfishness? For really, what I'm asking - begging! - God for, is for life to easy again, for life to go the way I expected. To somehow revert to pre-cancer. To just get my normal problems back.


Deep inside, I know that isn't the solution. Life wasn't that much easier before cancer. I would quickly forget how much worse it could be. Right now, I'm going to go lay down, say a little prayer that God's grace will cover my unfolded laundry and unplanned supper, and rest these tired bones awhile with that sweet smelling baby.

My reflection

Forget harmony a third apart

I've never met someone who echoes
my notes so closely.
Not an echo...a precedent...
together, one, we sing the same melody
amidst the cacophony of a hundred
other voices
two rise
you and I
a sonnet of sameness
relief in relinquishing
I bend to you
You to me
and we
sing together



I love you, dear husband, dear man. And thank you, Papa and Mama, for a night to remember why!

Why suffer?

Who is like the LORD our God, the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes, with the princes of their people.
He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children.
Praise the Lord.
~ Psalm 113:5-9

Pleasure without pain is meaningless. Life before cancer was a life that was still developing. Cancer brought everything abruptly into focus for both me and my husband. We are on a newly intensified mission together. We are grabbing life with both arms and squeezing tight. We are laughing instead of bustling about, oblivious. We are sitting together in a messy house instead of obsessing about neatness and order. We are watching sunsets from our porch (which is unfinished) and taking bike rides when we should be doing the supper dishes, and inviting people over when we could be planting a lawn or any other of a myriad of unfinished tasks. Children helped us in that process, too, as did marriage. Without ever being single, would we appreciate the warmth of the midnight cuddles? Without being told we were infertile, would the children be celebrated the same? I am grateful for the "negatives" in my life that so sharply delineate the "positives" - times of suffering that heighten my sensation and enjoyment of times of reveling.

White without black isn't as remarkable. Imagine a black and white print with no shades of gray, no darkness. You would be holding a simple sheet of white paper. There is no special beauty in that, is there?

Imagine "love" without passion or glints of anger and the resolution and reunion that follow. Is that even love - or just coexistence, or convenience...

Imagine feeling full all the time, and never having the satisfaction of filling that gnawing hunger in your belly...

Imagine a world without sunrises or sunsets, where the sun never goes down. Never knowing the deep solitude and peace of a dark winter night, when the moon and stars are hid by a heavy bank of clouds and the world is black...

Imagine never seeing the majesty of a thunderhead growing in the west, or feeling the pelt of a rainstorm on your back, raindrops flying so fast they sting your scalp through your hair...

Good without bad. Peace without fighting. Life without suffering. Feasting without famine. Labor without pain. What in that world would make you want? What would strike the chord of longing that lies buried in your stubborn heart? Do you want to live a life without desire, without wanting?

My choice is for desire. I choose passion over pacifism. The darkest parts of my heart (the pride, materialism, temper, and laziness I hide deep inside) show me I need God...a God that is merciful and loving, but also a God that is just and passionate, a God that will not be deterred. A God that demands worship. I have truly loved...and it is a jealous love. Am I willing to share my husband with another? Absolutely not! God feels the same about you. You cannot serve two masters: if you think you know who God is, and still refuse Him your worship, you are sorely mistaken. Yet while you live, there is hope: God is merciful, just as my true love for my husband is - only beg forgiveness, and it is yours. If these two qualities - jealousy and mercy - can coexist in me, in my marriage, a simple human marriage...how much more they must dwell together in the character of the awesome God I serve!

For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.
After you have had children and grandchildren and have lived in the land a long time—if you then become corrupt and make any kind of idol, doing evil in the eyes of the LORD your God and provoking him to anger, I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you this day that you will quickly perish from the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess. You will not live there long but will certainly be destroyed. But if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the LORD your God and obey him. For the LORD your God is a merciful God; he will not abandon or destroy you or forget the covenant with your forefathers, which he confirmed to them by oath. (Deuteronomy 4:24-31 exc.)

Deep loss, no words

When trouble is piled upon trouble, I am at a loss for words. Some pain is just too great for simple platitudes. My heart goes out to my sister-in-law, Jamie, and my brother, Scott, in the tragic and sudden loss of their aunt today. This is the same dear brother I mentioned in my post from Sunday. Please keep them lifted up in prayer.



Come to the water, you who thirst
And you'll thirst no more
And to the bruised and fallen, captive, bound & broken hearted,
By His stripes he's paid all ransom, From His wounds we'll drink salvation

Love is here, love is now.
Love is pouring from His hands and from His brow.
Love is near, it satisfies.
Streams of mercy flowing from His side.
Love is here.
~ Tenth Avenue North

Bloody diaper

Seeing likeness...mourning differences


Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?
If I have denied the desires of the poor, if I have kept my bread to myself,
not sharing it with the fatherless-
if I have seen anyone perishing for lack of clothing,
or a needy man without a garment,
and his heart did not bless me for warming him with the fleece from my sheep,
then let my arm fall from the shoulder,
let it be broken off at the joint.
~ Job 31 ~

For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, 'You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.'
~ Deuteronomy 15:11 ~

Why will they never cease to be in the land? Why will we always have poor? Part of me has always wanted to believe socialism: that if we could just improve distribution enough, force people to be fair and just, we could eradicate hunger, sickness, and crime. You know, make a heaven here on earth! I cry out in anger and despair that children like this beautiful little boy, Dennis, waste away in orphanages without proper nutrition or physical care. This little boy will die because of the heart defect he was born with. He is Rosy's age, and he weighs 12 pounds. He is so beautiful! Why is his life so different than my children, chubby cheeked and laughing as we jaunt through life running from joy to joy, overfull and blessed all of our days? I have a heart to adopt children, yet there is no way that I can take all the children, even all those on this one website, and care for them well. What am I to do? Is it even "Christian" to cry out in anger and despair? Yes! Resoundingly, YES, I believe it is. What I rail against is sin and death...the consequences of sin and death. That they seem to be unfairly meted out is not my business. My business is that I am a sinner, I am surrounded by sinners, a world full of them. What else can I do but cry out that we do, indeed, have a blessed hope, even in the face of such poverty and wretchedness as this? He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming quickly." Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men...live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking forward to that blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us, to redeem us from every lawless deed... (Titus 2 excerpted)

There’ll be no more sorrow when Jesus comes;
But a glorious morrow when Jesus comes
To gather His loved ones home.

There’ll be no more weeping when Jesus comes;
But a blessed reaping when Jesus comes
To gather His loved ones home.

~ There'll Be No Dark Valley, William Cushing, 1896

Hands, again...

It is something to face the sun and know you are free.
To hold your head in the shafts of daylight slanting the earth
And know your heart has kept a promise and the blood runs clean:
It is something.
God, it is something,
One day of life so
And a memory fastened till the stars sputter out
And a love washed as white linen in the noon drying.
...see the life, the memory, the love they have, to stay longer than the
plunging sea wets the shores or the fires heave under the crust of the earth.
O yes, clean hands is the chant and only one man knows its sob
and its undersong and he dies clenching the secret more to
him than any woman or chum.
~ Clean Hands, Carl Sandburg, 1922


Precious baby hands, plump, flexible, dexterous, exploring, probing, learning texture and twist and tenderness. My hands hurt so badly. A constant source of pain these days. I am praying that this little trial be lifted soon.

Sweet brother o' mine


Please pray for my brother Scott. Specifically, that he would find a job in law enforcement in the area. At this point, it basically has to drop out of the blue into his lap. Hiring is way down, and he has been searching for over a year. Pray for his faith, that he wouldn't lose it because of this job struggle, but that it would grow deeper instead. My heart is so heavy for him tonight. I love him so much and wish there was something I could do to make his life easier today.

Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.

You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?

If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,"

even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,

for darkness is as light with you.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written,
every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,

when as yet there was none of them.
~ Psalm 139

Standing in the moment

Let not our longing slay the appetite of our living. We accept and thank God for what is given, not allowing the not-given to spoil it. This is the call. This is the order of our lives. We can commit them to God, and accept them from Him...we believe in a God who is in charge. We are not for one moment of our lives at the mercy of chance. We see the pattern of duty that lies before us and take it to be the will of God, so that the power of our own emotion to weaken our resolve is not a threat. We know, as the psalmist knew, "My flesh and my heart faileth, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."
~ Elisabeth Elliot, paraphrased from Let Me Be a Woman


This is the day which the Lord has made; I will rejoice, and be glad in it! (Psalm 118:24)

I am tired. Worn out. Wishing that this stage, this being tired all the time life of mine, could be over soon. Yet in this moment, He's shaping my heart. He's molding me to withstand...who knows what? More sleepless nights with a hard-to-console baby in the future? More months of hypothyroidism with even more children next year, or two years from now?

When you're this tired, it's easy to let the doubts creep in. Plenty of people would support me if I said I'm maxed out. That I don't have the physical, emotional or spiritual reserves to handle any more on my plate right now. Of course, I'm being flooded with suggestions of that nature since spreading the news of our planned adoption. Yet deep within me resonates that "voice of truth" - the quiet breath of the Holy Spirit that tells me of grace that covers a multitude of ills. Ills like lack of energy, human incompetence, mothering a houseful of toddlers and preschoolers. God is great - He is certainly big enough for the paltry demands of my life!

But the waves are calling out my name and they laugh at me
Reminding me of all the times I've tried before and failed...
But the voice of truth tells me a different story
And the voice of truth says "Do not be afraid!"
And the voice of truth says "This is for My glory"
Out of all the voices calling out to me
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth
~ The Voice of Truth, Casting Crowns

What's next?

come to the waters, you who thirst...
and you’ll thirst no more.
come to the Father, you who work
and you’ll work no more.
and all who labor in vain
and to the broken and shamed:

love is here.
love is now.
love is pouring from
His hands, from His brow.
love is near, it satisfies.
streams of mercy flowing from His side.
because love is here.

come to the treasure, you who search
and you’ll search no more.
come to the Lover you who want
and you’ll want no more...
~ Love is Here, Tenth Avenue North

Cancer is big stuff. It fills your life for a while. Eventually, it starts to fade into the background, a chronic source of loss and pain. Strangely, infusing your life with meaning and watering your life with new strength, even as the meaning and strength threaten to disappear in the dark pit of death's abyss. I have meaning and strength that transcend the grave, because Jesus did so...for me. Bought me. Filled me and made me whole, long before cancer. Now He proves it daily as I survive - and even thrive - all the ways that cancer has robbed me on this mortal coil.

The scan came in clean, and the question was: what's next, God? For what were you preparing me...us...this family? Aaron decided it for me, when He heard the whisper of God's still small voice during a random meeting at work, watching this video. We decided to start knocking on doors, and stepping through them, if they opened. And opened they have, at least all those we've knocked on so far. We are in the process of adoption. We hope to adopt through the state system for special needs children, and hope to become proud parents of an infant in the next year or so. Our fifth child. This one, we've picked, in some ways: we know we want to parent a child with Down syndrome...save a child like that from abortion, if we can. We don't know if our next baby will be a boy or a girl, what color skin he or she will have, where in the United States the baby will be born, or how old it will be when we bring it into our home. Nor do we know God's timing: we are praying to welcome a baby in late December 2009 or January 2010, which would allow the maximum amount of time between cancer scans.

I know you probably think I'm crazy. In my most human moments, I think we're crazy, too. But what you might not understand is that Aaron and I aren't doing this because we're strong, because we're amazing, because we're stupid, or naive, or unrealistic...or [fill in the blank]. We're doing this because we understand that we are the conduits of higher power, channels of an inexhaustible source of strength that can work through us, providing the courage, grace, wisdom and stamina necessary to undertake such a mission. God wants to save the lives of these precious children, and His glory will be evident through us as we submit to His plan for us. We pray that our lives, in the small details and big decisions like this one, fulfill the prayer of Paul in some small way...I pray that you, Thul family, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you, Thul family, may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! (Ephesians 3:17-21, names inserted)

Please take time to watch this video, made by my friend Kelly, whose courageous choices have helped open me to the possibility of this adoption, even before I knew I was being prepared for it.

Frugality at it's worst

Caleb is in a new stage of discovery. The object of his most recent inquiry: the toilet. Ahhh, dreaded moment of every mother's existence! He learned to flush it a few days ago, and is entranced. Various objects have already been put to the test. We lost a small wool sock yesterday, and one of the girl's headbands. Luckily, the hair products he tried to flush this morning wouldn't go down. Unluckily, each one would be replaced to the tune of $8 or more, so back in the drawer they went after their brief foray in the toilet and long foray being scrubbed and sanitized. Don't sniff my hair too closely next time you give me a hug! Aaron may argue this is yet another reason products shouldn't be put in hair. He is an "au naturale" sort when it comes to hair and make-up.

Today is Good Friday. The day He hung on the cross for me. An aura of awe and the pall of grateful - yet sickened - loss hangs about this day. He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5) The girls and I had a wonderful time talking about the meaning of Easter in the car today. Singing this beautiful new hymn. Learning afresh that He conquered the grave. Rosy piped up and said, "He conquered the grave for you, Mama. He sent you back to us from cancer." I wept. We wept together - thinking of Grandma Fern again. Rosy misses her often, little tender hearted one. She was weeping because Grandma's body is in the grave, and I was able to help her understand, for the first time, that what makes Grandma Grandma is up in heaven, not in the grave. That through His death on the cross, Christ conquered the grave for us all, purchasing us a ticket, with His blood, that our souls might ascend to heaven.

Oh Lord You've searched me
You know my way
Even when I fail You
I know You love me

At the cross I bow my knee
Where Your blood was shed for me
There's no greater love than this
You have overcome the grave
Your glory fills the highest place
What can separate me now

You go before me
You shield my way
Your hand upholds me
I know You love me

You tore the veil
You made a way
When You said that it is done
~At the Cross, Hillsong

Love multiplies

Every mother with more than one child - and, I suspect, every father - knows that having more than one child does not divide your love...it multiplies it. Although one-on-one time changes as you add more children, there are myriad benefits as children form bonds with not only their parents but also each other. I was reading today how children from large families score higher in the areas of self-esteem, maturity, self-regulation, and empathy than their smaller family counterparts.

I am continually blessed...even on those days when I am ground down and oft-aggravated...by these little hands and feet that waltz through my days. Tonight I watched my son fall asleep, for the 414th night. He falls asleep like I do. First, he has a hyper period, followed by a long period of staring off into space, sometimes for twenty minutes or more. He occasionally checks that I'm still there by pushing on me with the palms of his hands, and glances over with that sweet, slow smile of near-sleep. Finally, he drifts off, and his deepest sleep is during the first 20 minutes after his lids close. That's the only time it's safe to sneak away to my work, as I did just now.

How like our children we are, in this, too. I think of myself as so independent...yet the very air I breathe and the ability to draw it into my lungs is literally a gift from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning (James 1:17). My children would love to think they can put themselves to sleep, but they can't (although they will occasionally drift off on their own without prompting somewhere around 11 p.m. or later, only to be unbearably crabby the following day). We aren't very different, are we? Thank God that I am not the one who determines how to number my days...or when it should be light or dark...or how many children this family should contain! On all counts, whatever He decides is just right.

this is the air I breathe
Your holy presence living in me

this is my daily bread
Your very word spoken to me

And I, I'm desperate for you
And I, I'm I'm lost without you
~ Breathe, Michael W. Smith

Growing slowly old

I will not be made useless
I won't be idled with despair
I will gather myself around my faith
My hands are small, I know,
but they're not yours they are my own
cause where there's a man who has no voice
there ours shall go singing
In the end only kindness matters
I will get down on my knees and I will pray
We are God's eyes
God's hands
God's heart
~ Hands, Jewel

I've mentioned my hands before this. They are the most ravaged by the radiation and hypothyroidism. Sounds silly, I suppose, but it's been difficult for me. It has also given me more empathy for my husband, who suffers chronic joint inflammation, probably due to osteoarthritis, and a dear friend of mine who suffers rheumatoid arthritis. My hands look old. They are covered in wrinkles, they are dry, callouses have formed over each knuckle, and the fingertips are covered in cracks and stains that I can't seem to scrub out. They are constantly sore, and I can't write by hand much at all during my weeks of recovery after being off my medication for six weeks in preparation for the latest round of tests. They ache so badly that it wakes me up at night. I can describe all this pain to little avail...hence the photo of my newly ugly hand. All this aching and falling apart of such a small, inconsequential body part reminds me of the verses that compare Christians to parts of a body: The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (I Corinthians 12)

Under the heading, "Joy of the Redeemed", I found these words of encouragement in Isaiah 35:
Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, "Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you." Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

As I process the latest news about my cancer this week, I come constantly back to the foundational truth that there is no knowing in this life. That tomorrow is an unknown, today is a gift. I am grateful to know that I will be home with my children again until December. I pray fervently that cancer stays far from me. Yet little harbingers of the long wait and battle ahead keep coming in like waves into a peaceful shore, turning the rocks over to reveal new beauty and undiscovered ugliness all at once. Other cancer survivors warn me that years of clean scans and undetectable labs are often followed up by recurrences of cancer, metastasis and more surgery and treatment. This particular type of cancer is the "long haul" type - something I am likely to have on my radar for the rest of my life now. Just like my hands. A constant reminder that the fleeting days are passing swiftly. So I abandon this writing now, to go redeem the time.

(Romantic as that may sound, I plan to "redeem" it by folding my laundry!)

Vanquishing vanishing

Today I had to write a card to a dear friend. The same card I've been writing every year for seven years now. In which I try to express my gratitude and heartbreak to those parents, who suffer a million times more heartbreak and a thousand times more gratitude. Impossible words. There are certain affairs of the heart that will never pour out in writing.

And this year it falls on Easter. The day sweet Caleb died, April 12. What a juxtaposition: the day Christ conquered the grave...conquered the grave...the day Caleb entered it, and through it, the doorway to the Savior's arms. Caleb was the last person, among many, who drew my husband to Christ. It was through the tiny example of 5-year-old faith, unwavering belief as he walked toward Jesus and away from his parents, that my husband finally understood the depth and breadth of grace. How am I to thank a grieving mother and father, arms still empty, for forever filling mine? For eternally giving me Aaron? Through their willing sacrifice, he was brought finally to salvation. When they laid their baby down on that altar, that funeral pyre, he looked on and saw the cross, beautifully and lovingly displayed.

I watched a hundred Marys as they walked their sons and daughters to that familiar doorstep. I stood by deathbeds and saw this passion played out, over and over again. What was a final knell for these mothers...a last touch...one more kiss...a precious child's body cooling under their caresses...that is what Christ conquered. Because of His sacrifice two thousand years ago, Caleb's mama and papa can look forward to a reunion someday in heaven.

Once again this year, I praise...through tears. I weep and worship. Remembering his hands, that gripped our hearts without thumbs, blue eyes that pierced us with their surprising joy, a tiny child who submitted so completely to parents and God that he laid still...stock still...under the most impossible physical conditions.

And I am once again led to deeper faith, taken by that tiny little hand and brought closer to the cross. Thank you, Caleb, for turning my eyes to Jesus in new ways each year as I remember your miraculously mature example of faith.


Fear: reverential awe

1. Snow streaks by the porch light during our April 4th blizzard.

"You are resplendent with light...You alone are to be feared. Who can stand before you when you are angry? Surely your wrath against men brings you praise, and the survivors of your wrath are restrained. Make vows to the Lord your God and fulfill them; He breaks the spirit of rulers; He is feared by the kings of earth." (Psalm 76)

I don't think much about "fearing" God. Obeying, honoring, following, loving, praising, worshiping, becoming like, drawing near, knowing, studying, understanding, choosing...all verbs that describe actions I see in my relationship with God. Fearing, trembling, bowing before...those are the verbs I still need to work on! I make vows to the Lord my God, but I do so out of reverence or love. I wonder if that is why I often fail in keeping my vows? If I were motivated out of fear - out of the sheer realization of the awesomeness and limitlessness of His power - would I be more determined to follow through?

I serve the God of hosts, the Creator of light and darkness, the One who flooded the earth, Whose voice is like the roar of rushing waters. I need to learn more about this fearing God business. I need to be bowed low by His might and glory. Yes, I have a relationship - a wonderful, vibrant, consuming and joyous friendship - with a personal God and Savior who moves in amazing ways in my life. But He is God, no less, and demands and deserves my awe.

2. Long afternoon light through the front room window on April 5th, when it was near 60 degrees.

Immortal, invisible,
God only wise,
In light inaccessible
hid from our eyes,
Most blessèd, most glorious,
the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious,
Thy great Name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting,
and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting,
Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains,
high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains
of goodness and love.

~ Immortal, Invisible, Walter Chalmers Smith, 1876

Echo from 1979

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America. The confidence that we have always had as a people is not simply some romantic dream or a proverb in a dusty book that we read just on the Fourth of July. It is the idea which founded our nation and has guided our development as a people. Confidence in the future has supported everything else. We've always believed in something called "progress." We've always had a faith that the days of our children will be better than our own. Our people are losing that faith. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years. We were taught that our armies were always invincible, and our causes were always just, only to suffer the agony of Vietnam. We respected the presidency as a place of honor until the shock of Watergate. We've got to stop crying and start sweating. Stop talking and start walking. Stop cursing and start praying. The strength we need will not come from the White House, but from every house in America.

We know the strength of America. We are strong. We can regain our unity. We can regain our confidence. We are the heirs of generations who survived threats much more powerful and awesome than those that challenge us now. Our fathers and mothers were strong men and women who shaped a new society during the Great Depression, who fought world wars, and who carved out a new charter of peace for the world.

Working together with our common faith, we cannot fail.
~ Jimmy Carter, July 15, 1979

I came across this speech while doing some research for school. I can't say Jimmy Carter is someone who has ever really entered my conscious thought before. After all, this speech was given when I was about 4 months old. How it resonates, though, with the current crisis we face as a nation. I found myself hopeful as I listened to his rather monotonous, yet convicted, delivery of this speech.

Most of all, this speech compels me as mother, leader of these little children. Around my feet and tugging at my pant legs at any given moment of every day...four little ones who will grow up and perhaps change the course of history. I am one person. I can't do much to change the world. But I can direct the development of four more minds, and that, perhaps, will change the world we live in. With that in mind, I found these six rules in Nightlight for Parents, a book I never really like while I am reading it, but return to again and again. These six guidelines capture the spirit of how I hope to mother, and have aided me many times as I muddle through what to expect of my children and how to teach them so:

1. Define the boundaries clearly and in advance. If you haven't spelled them out, don't try to enforce them!
2. Once a child understands what is expected, hold him accountable. This may lead to a contest of wills - be sure to win those confrontations when they occur.
3. Distinguish between willful defiance and childish irresponsibility. Forgetting, losing, and spilling things are not challenges to adult leadership.
4. Reassure and teach as soon as a time of confrontation is over. By all means, hold your child close and explain lovingly what has just occurred.
5. Avoid impossible demands. Be sure that your child is capable of delivering what you require.
6. Let love be your guide! You will make mistakes with your child, but a relationship characterized by affection and grounded in God's love is certain to be healthy and successful.

Kind of like thinking about earth rather than thinking about heaven, isn't it? If I focus only on myself, I've limited my resources to one life span. But if I direct my energy outward, to others - my children included - I have exponentially increased the impact my life has. Think global. Think eternal. I want to do something that matters each and every day - and that probably doesn't mean "looking out for number 1"!

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)

The boiling point

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
~ The Solid Rock, Edward Mote, 1797

1. Vapor & heat roll off the sap pot in profile in the afternoon sun.

March is maple syrup time in Wisconsin, as the snow recedes from the dappled ravine behind the house. The sun seeps through the bare branches and flits over the deep roots of the sugar maples that stand forgotten in the forest during the long winter. In a flurry of activity, we drill, and pound taps, and collect the clear, slightly sweet life blood of the trees. Sap. Then the boiling, evaporating off the excess and concentrating the sugar. The rich, deep brown syrup that results lasts us all year long, usually until the following January.

I feel as though I've been in the giant vat, at the boiling point, for the past year. My dross is being brought to the surface. I am being purified, condensed, refined. Cancer is the fire under the vat, raising the stakes of life - and death - and forcing me to confront the hidden corners of the soul that I've left linger for so long. Crisis is what takes us out of the ordinary and makes us face the deepest parts of ourselves that we hide from sight. Even our sight. It seems so silly to me, in retrospect, that I've ever tried to hide self from self. Yet I know, deep down, there are still many ways that I am hiding. Though I strive for truthfulness and authenticity as I walk each day as wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, I won't really be laid truly bare until that moment in heaven, when I stand before Christ and hear my name read from the Book of Life. I've often wondered about that moment: will I cry tears of shame when He asks about this sin, or that one? Will I cry tears of thankfulness and utter, complete humility as I realize the fullness of His sacrifice for me at the cross?

I am always thankful, after the fact, when I look back at these times of refining fire in my life. I feel more prepared to face my Savior in heaven because I have faced Him in new ways here on earth. There is a verse that always comes to mind as I ponder salvation and what it means to come to a more complete realization of Christ's gift. My salvation is a "done deal" - completed when He hung on the cross, and realized when I first believed in that fact at age 5. Yet I won't understand it fully until I stand in His presence. So what does this verse (Philippians 2:12-13) mean? ...continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Continue to work it out? It's already accomplished - and "not by works of righteousness which I have done, but by His glory He saved us"! (Titus 3:5) Yet, when I receive a gift, that isn't supposed to be the end of the story, is it? I'm sure the Giver hopes that I will use the gift, understand it's import, be thankful for it and be changed by it. And that is where the "boiling point" takes me...a new level of understanding and thankfulness.

That's where I am today. A new level. Coming down from the boil. Still at a simmer. Still evaporating. Still refining. Still praising God for cancer and - even more merciful - good news.

Abiding

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)


Greek looks so cool that sometimes I just have to include it: μείνατε (abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand, tarry). I absolutely love the simplicity of my children's example as it relates to my relationship to God as His child. I spent one week apart from my one-year-old son. One week. Not a very long time, to most people. Many of my acquaintances travel away from their little ones frequently, and wouldn't think much of a separation like this. For our particular family, we have chosen a closer walk through these early days of infancy and childhood: co-sleeping, few babysitters, and homeschooling for the early years. Part of the reason is this concept of abiding, that through contact with us - and their older siblings - our children will grow more easily in the direction we desire them to grow. I want to be the pruner of these little minds and hearts. That is not something I am willing to abdicate to someone else.

And so, where the rubber meets the road, the sling comes in handy. With baby on my back, the dishes might actually get done. With baby on my back, the laundry can be folded or the floor scrubbed - happy tasks, when completed in unison. So I am to be with Christ: learning as I watch Him move in relationships; learning as I see how He dealt with sorrow through the great trials of His short life (he lived to be barely older than I am now).

Today is Palm Sunday. That great story, of how Jesus road into Jerusalem triumphant, being hailed a King, people laying their coats on the ground to create a humble carpet on which He rode. He would be crucified just five days later. In my humanness, I would ride into town indignant, unable to absorb or accept honor bestowed on me. If I knew that I would be betrayed and put to death less than a week later, many of the same faces now upturned in joy shortly contorted with hatred? No chance that I would ride triumphant, able to be in that moment entirely! I think back to how long I prepared my children for this recent separation we experienced: I spent weeks talking about it and preparing them for what was to come. Yet here rides Jesus, accompanied by His disciples, who bask with Him in the glow of this adoration from the crowd. And on Palm Sunday eve, as Jesus speaks to His disciples, He is still speaking in parables. Gently moving them toward truth, realization of His impending sacrifice.

How much I have yet to learn at His feet. So I am sticking close, abiding, tarrying, remaining. Watching, through His great book, how He goes about daily tasks. That I might emulate Him more closely tomorrow than I do today.

Emerging

These two photos, from September 2008 and April 2009, capture my feelings exactly. A metamorphosis of our family from plump days of exuberance and fertile happiness to a thinner-cheeked, wiser and more settled, peaceful joy. Six months of suffering and waiting on the Lord. We emerge the same, yet different. Guarded and introspective in new ways. Learners of hard lessons. Treasurers of random moments of bliss, like an unexpected Friday evening visit to a cold park in spring. Listening to new strains of an age-old tune, more sensitive to the quiet strains of beautiful music that surround us in our ordinary days.


I must decrease...

...He must increase. No one can receive a single thing unless it's given to him from heaven." (John 3:27 & 30)

Statistics are something most cancer patients avoid like the plague. I remember back to last September, when I met with the oncologist at Mayo for the first time post-surgery. At that time, I was quoted a MACIS score of 3.97 and 5-year survival odds of 97%. In October, when I met with the local oncologist I am now seeing, with new pathology results in hand, my MACIS score was re-calculated to be 4.97, and my 5-year survival odds plummeted to 89%, with 10-year survival odds of 77%. No one likes to hear that, by age 39, there is a 33% chance that one might be dead from a supposedly "good" cancer. It's not something I've talked a whole lot about. Mostly because I lost all faith in statistics after observing how physicians sometimes twisted them to coerce patients into treatment plans that they otherwise might never have chosen.

The good news in all this talk of surviving or dying is that my survival "odds" have just taken a giant leap for the better. As humans, we constantly strive to force God's hand...or, at the very least, get Him to tip His cosmic knowledge our direction so we can get a sneak peek at what is to come for us and those we love. My odds have jumped from 89% at 5 years to 97%, and remain high through the 30 year mark. It is difficult for me to know how to react. My first reaction is praise and rejoicing, which God says should be my first response to everything (in everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. ~ I Thessalonians 5:18). And then my mind says, well, there was a 3% chance that it would be cancer when they first found the lump. Then there was a 3% chance that it would be malignant. Then there was less than 1% chance that it would have exploded from it's capsule and invaded my blood stream. The only positive light: there was less than 3% chance that the I-131 would work so quickly and completely when my thyroglobulin levels came back positive last November. So now there's a 3% chance it will kill me. Yep, I still have no idea what to make of this statistic.

So I am just reporting it to you, dear reader. As it was reported to me. I don't know how to respond to it. I think I will just leave it be, a neutral fact without much meaning. But at least a more positive fact than the one I was given in November.

Peace defeats rage

"He fixed thee mid this dance
Of plastic circumstance,
This Present, thou, forsooth, wouldst fain arrest:
Machinery just meant
To give thy soul its bent,
Try thee and turn thee forth, sufficiently impressed."
(Robert Browning, from Rabbi Ben Ezra)

Before I left for my latest scan, I was upstairs, sorting through old hat boxes from high school. The old, scented dust rose from crackled remains of dried rose petals, photos with edges curled, a few award plaques, a hat or two from my extensive and eccentric collection amassed at yard sales and flea markets in the early 1990's. I found some treasure, as one always does in old boxes: long-lost baby photos of my sweet brother Benjamin; a packet of letters from a friend recently reunited with; a list of goals I wrote as a senior, mostly fulfilled by this (young) age of 30. I found this poem among the scraps of paper saved. I penned it in the awkward script of fourteen. Posted it on my bedroom door for years, a talisman against self doubt and the inherent rage-against-the-machine of figuring out your purpose in life as a teen in a self-absorbed culture.

How fitting, still...these lines. "This Present," I "forsooth, wouldst fain arrest". For still I am not sufficiently impressed. Still being broken, remolded, reshaped in an image far greater than that which I would naturally grow into. I want to die in 60 years or so, much more than the sum of my wrinkles and white hairs.

I am pleased as punch to be in a place where I can finally say, "I have learned to wait. I have learned to rest. I have learned the discipline of being a soul at peace amid turmoil." I don't think I've perfected it - don't get me wrong. But how much better I am at these quiet arts than I was a year ago! Another scrap of paper is pasted to my window sill near my kitchen sink, a talisman against self doubt and the regrettable rage-against-the-machine of figuring out that your purpose in life is still subject to an invisible, unknowable God - not to mention a world of other humans struggling along with free will.

"Do not fret or have anxiety about anything,
but in every circumstance & in everything,
by prayer & petition (DEFINITE REQUESTS), with thanksgiving,
continue to make your wants known to God.
And God's peace shall be yours,
that tranquil state of a soul assured of it's salvation
through Christ, & so fearing nothing from God &

BEING CONTENT WITH IT'S EARTHLY LOT OF WHATEVER SORT THAT IS,
that peace which transcends all understanding
shall garrison & mount guard over your hearts & minds in Christ Jesus...

I am READY FOR ANYTHING & equal to anything through Christ
WHO INFUSES INNER STRENGTH INTO ME."
(Phil. 4:6,7,14, emphasis mine)


He gave my voice back, USE IT WISELY! 6.29.2008