A generation waits in heaven

Tonight I cooked meals for a brother in need in memory of my Grandma Fern. I pumped gas in my car and thought of my Grandpa Frank, who I never met. I told a story to my kids and thought of my Grandpa Al, who died in May. And then heard that my Grandma Irma is gone to heaven today. I will miss her hands, her nightgowns, her kind heart and her easy smile, watching TV game shows (she always knew the answer first), and reading her hand-me-down murder mysteries. There was no warning or illness, just a kind neighbor who checked on Grandma daily and found her today beside her bed.  As a nurse, my heart breaks that she may have suffered alone.  But my brother Daniel had wise words - "she may have been in pain, but she didn't suffer because she knew she was going home to be with Grandpa".  Since my Grandpa Al's passing in May, she has cried many hours daily in bitter loneliness that no other loved one could bridge.  When I was a child, and asked her about her salvation, she said she had loved Jesus her whole life, and never remembered a moment when she didn't believe...you who believe in the name of the Son of God may know that you have eternal life (I John 5:13, exc.).

A big hole is left in your heart when a generation is gone from your life. My own parents are the grandparents now.

The feeling of my heart is echoed in John 11, when Jesus comes to visit the family of Lazarus, who had died a few days before: When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to him, "Sir, come and see." And Jesus also wept.

As I cry my tears over my own new loneliness, I picture her whirling around heaven on 20-something legs in the arms of her one true love, as "their song" is played by the best band they've ever heard...

There's just one place for me, near you...
It's like heaven to be, near you...
Times when we're apart,
I can't face my heart,
Say you'll never stray
More than just two lips away.

~ Near You, Francis Craig and Kermit Goell, 1947 ~

Joy comes

Lamentations 3 - God poured on the trouble and hard times. BUT, there's one other thing I am remembering that gives me a grip on hope: God's loyal love couldn't have run out, His merciful love couldn't have dried up. They're created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I'm sticking with God (I say it over and over). He's all I've got left.  God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. It's a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God. It's a good thing when you're young to stick it out through the hard times. When life is heavy and hard to take, go off by yourself. Enter the silence. Bow in prayer. Don't ask questions: Wait for hope to appear. Don't run from trouble. Take it full-face. The "worst" is never the worst. Why? Because the Master won't ever walk out and fail to return. God's got my back.  ~ from A String of Pearls, a group of women reading through the Bible from cover to cover this year and discussing it online
When things look black, I still know God is with me (hasn't He promised never to leave me or forsake me?).  But it is easy to give in to the hopelessness of life on a cursed earth.  It is easy to believe that nothing will ever come out right here on this whirling piece of granite.  Yet, He is so often merciful, greasing the wheels of these messy relationships we humans face here on earth.  Tonight was more proof - proof that looking away from the person you are experiencing conflict with and toward the Throne, where all can be redeemed, forgiven...that relieves the pressure and reminds everyone that you are on a common mission.  I am thankful tonight to report that my heart is at peace.  God is good.  He is so good to us.  And I am praising God to serve side by side with people who are willing to cloak themselves in humility and look toward the Throne for counsel when the road gets rough.

Lord I have a heavy burden of all I've seen and know
It's more than I can handle
But your word is burning like a fire shut up in my bones
and I cannot let it go

And when I'm weary and overwrought
with so many battles left unfought
I think of Paul and Silas in the prison yard
I hear their song of freedom rising to the stars
And when the Saints go marching in
I want to be one of them

Lord it's all that I can't carry and cannot leave behind
it often overwhelms me
but when I think of all who've gone before and lived the faithful life
their courage compels me
when I'm weary and overwrought
with so many battles left unfought

I see the shepherd Moses in the Pharoah's court
I hear his call for freedom for the people of the Lord
And when the Saints go marching in
I want to be one of them

I see the long quiet walk along the Underground Railroad
I see the slave awakening to the value of her soul

I see the young missionary and the angry spear
I see his family returning with no trace of fear

I see the long hard shadows of Calcutta nights
I see the sister standing by the dying man's side

I see the young girl huddled on the brothel floor
I see the man with a passion come and kicking down the door

I see the man of sorrows and his long troubled road
I see the world on his shoulders and my easy load

And when the Saints go marching in
I want to be one of them

~When the Saints, Sara Groves~
(to download the album, click here)


For what words carry any weight into eternity except the ones quietly lived? The ones spoken with hands and the silent scars of sacrifice.  There is a time to be silent and a time to speak and we must pray to know the order of things; I can lose track of seasons.  I beg forgiveness for the many words with the many sins... And pray for knees that will bow lower and a face that will touch the ground in hiddenness --- for a heart that will forget itself and all its stream of words --- so it can simply drink of His. ~Ann Voskamp at Holy Experience

The worn edge of Grandma's tablecloth flits in the breeze among the pines on our last day camping last weekend.  The week that followed is like this sunshine strained through cloth, a glimpse of glory clouded by the weight of a world full of sin and sinners.  There are some things in life best left unsaid, and this week is one of them.  This much I know - and will share: Satan loves to attack us.  His most fervent, frequent, and fierce attacks come when we are already at our weakest.  The attacks that hurt the worst come from those we love the most.  A verse - put to song by my mama - keeps flowing through my heart this week: let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my Strength and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:14).  That is the cry of my heart this week.  And so I, silently, prayerfully fix my eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (II Corinthians 4:18).

A collection on work

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom
 (Ecclesiastes 9:10)

...in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.
Romans 12

God has combined the members of the church and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it.
I Corinthians 12

The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.
I Corinthians 3

...walk in the light, as he is in the light...have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
I John 1

Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king.
I Peter 2:17

We shape our self to fit this world
and by the world are shaped again.
The visible and the invisible working
together in common cause,
to produce the miraculous.
I am thinking of the way the intangible
air passed at speed round a shaped wing
easily holds our weight.
So may we, in this life trust
to those elements we have yet to see or imagine,
and look for the true shape of our own self,
by forming it well to the great
Intangible about us.
~David Whyte~


Yesterday was a hard day.  I am bereft of words.

Today: Mayo and the home of old friends.

God knows best

Summer has been quiet at the Thul household.  At least the majority of it - if you start counting after July 4th.  The past month has been pretty good, a welcome reprieve from suffering.  A vacation from days spent mulling over big questions with no obvious answers.  It's been good to step back from intellectual debate and just experience summer with kids in hand and God shining through brightly from above.  This past week has been a bit of a step backward.  It's always a decision whether to blog about the bad.  But that's what this blog is about.  It's a journal of pain and how we survive it.  A journal of brokenness and what heals us.  So, while it is a delight to celebrate when things are going well, it is also a duty to speak when struck dumb by sorrow.

Amelia has had many more seizure free days since we started her on Depakote in July.  She averages 20 seizure free days per month, with a long stretch of 30 days with only 1 seizure in July and August.  However, she seems to cluster seizures for about 1 week out of every month.  This past week was her cluster week.  She was seizing once or twice a day (tonic-clonic or grand mal) and spending large amounts of time either recovering from seizures or experiencing partial seizure activity (it is hard even for us trained nurses to tell the difference).  The doctor decided to increase her Depakote once more, and then we will be talking about an admission to the epilepsy monitoring unit at Mayo if things do not improve further.  This is hard for Aaron and I on a couple of levels:

  1. Increasing the Depakote increases Amelia's drowsiness, a side effect of the drug.  It is hard to see her zoned out at times when she would normally be vibrant and engaged.  It is hard to lose even more of what we thank God we haven't lost of her spirit.
  2. She will be admitted around the beginning of October if things go poorly.  That will be the one year mark since she came down with encephalitis, and her 4th birthday.  To be a year away from the initial illness...and still ill, still needing to be in the hospital, household and family still in uproar...it is hard to contemplate.
  3. We are nearing the end of the line where drugs are concerned.  We are starting to talk about options like surgery.  We earnestly beg God that medications work and we can avoid any more invasive treatment.  (and, just for the record, we won't consent to surgery until Amelia is old enough to decide for herself or her seizures become more life-threatening)

For the moment, we can only try life-style changes and natural treatments to augment the moderate control the medications offer.  And that brings me to the awkward moment in all of this.  We have found a few things that drastically affect Amelia's seizures and all the other side effects the seizing has on her life and ability to function.  The biggest issue we've faced in this battle is that of appetite, vomiting, and the lack of growth that has stemmed from the poor nutrition.  If you've seen Amelia in person since her illness last October, you might have noticed that she's much more pale and thin than she used to be, and hasn't grown much in height since (she has grown maybe 1 centimeter in height since last October, and has continued to lose weight...about a quarter kilo a month).  In the last few months, we've found a few surprising at-home strategies to combat this problem.

The first is perhaps the most obvious...yet we missed it for so long.  During post-seizure recovery and partial seizure activity, Amy has a hard time chewing and swallowing, and frequently vomits because of her lack of coordination that affects her swallowing ability.  About a month ago, we started using our baby food grinder...the Happy Baby Food Grinder, vintage 1979, passed down through my family and finally to me.  Grinding her food...especially at supper time, when the stress of the day builds up and she is more prone to seizure activity...has about doubled her food intake, and cut down on the vomiting episodes during mealtimes. I would highly recommend grinding, pureeing, or purchasing ready-made baby food to other parents facing the same problem.  Amelia is one of those rare cases where she appears high functioning, but in reality experiences drastic deficits in her motor skills, coordination, and reflexes that are transient.  The transient nature of her deficits in turn makes it difficult to determine how to treat her at any given moment...like the average almost-4-year-old she is chronologically, or the infant she can sometimes morph into due to seizure activity.

Infancy.  I remember Amy's chubby infant days so frequently and with such longing.  Fecund with possibility.  She weaned herself at just before 12 months, a few months before Caleb was born, and long before I expected her to.  I have always regretted her weaning so early - years before my other two girls weaned themselves shortly before age 4.  I felt it was my fault, because I know I pushed her away and put her off many times because of pregnancy-related tenderness, and my own busyness with school and planning for a new baby.  When I got pregnant unexpectedly post-tubal last fall, I immediately longed to nurse that baby because I felt like it might help me heal the wounds from Amelia's early weaning and the cancer-induced weaning of Caleb at 7 months of age.  Then the baby died, and I wondered what God could possibly be doing.

In April, my milk started coming in for that baby.  I had a breast biopsy because the milk leaking seems so odd.  Most women...even those who've nursed multiple babies...don't apparently get milk for a baby they've miscarried, at least according to Western medicine.  A few months later, the reason for that milk suddenly became obvious as Amelia started asking (always during or just after a seizure) about nursing.  Wondering how old was too old to nurse.  Wondering if children her age ever started again.  I knew immediately that it was just a matter of time before she asked to nurse.  I talked it over with Aaron, my mom, a friend, and prayed about it.  And decided there was absolutely no reason not to do it.  Sure enough, she asked.  And I said yes.

To tell the truth, I thought she would have forgotten how.  I also thought she might bite me.  But she didn't.  She latched on as if she had been doing it all along, and from that day, in the end of July, she has nursed several times a day, always either during or just after a seizure.  Most people today are aware of the nutritional benefits of breast milk, and it's unique properties that aid in motor development, brain formation, immune function, and protection later in life from allergies, cancer, diabetes and other diseases.  In Amelia's case, breastfeeding seems to have re-stimulated her appetite, restored her ability to "come out" of long seizures, and improved her mood and ability to interact with others.  She has grown 1 inch since July 30, after growing 1 centimeter for the preceding year.  My milk has come in abundantly, which leaves me with the conundrum of potentially having to dry up a milk supply again in November for my next cancer scan (luckily, with the help of a great lactation consultant at Luther and La Leche League friends, I found this can be easily and painlessly done by drinking copious amounts of sage tea for 1 week).

This has become somewhat of a "secret", because I did not want to go through the social awkwardness of re-lactating for a toddler if Amelia wasn't going to take to it.  As it turns out, nursing is the perfect thing for her and I at this point, and now I am ready to tell others about it.  I am fairly confident she will continue to nurse for as long as I can do it.  Amy is pretty sensitive to the opinions of others, so I would ask that, if you have questions about this process or want to talk with me about it, please do so when she is not listening.  I don't want to discourage this perfectly natural nursing relationship in any way.  Her neurologist is on board and thrilled, calling breast milk "the perfect food for the brain-injured child" and encouraging me to consider pumping breast milk or accepting donated breast milk for Amy to drink from a cup if I should decide I no longer want to physically nurse her.  He was very concerned that he might have to put Amy on an appetite stimulant, which could be dangerous for her brain healing.  He is thrilled that she is gaining weight and inches, and seems to be making some neurological gains as well.

Lastly, this new nursing relationship has been incredibly healing for my spirit.  Mostly because there is something tangible I can do to help Amy through her toughest moments.  And that "something" is the love literally pouring out as we snuggle and nurse.  She is so content during these times, it is as though I have regained something I feared I may have lost forever.

Carpe diem

I suppose something titled "Carpe diem" is an inevitability on a cancer blog.  But the reality of this age-old truth hit me in a new way yesterday.  "Carpe diem" is a theme in Scripture, which can be found in II Chronicles 15:7, II Corinthians 5, and, more laconically, in Ecclesiastes 9:10.  Yesterday, I traveled back to the hustle and bustle of the only city I've ever called home, Minneapolis.  It's no big secret that I am a country girl, although I was born near the heart of downtown Minneapolis.  My earliest memories are from my parents hobby farm in rural central Minnesota, and I remember the confines of Grand Forks seemed stifling during my childhood.

After graduating from college, I found a great job at a great university hospital in Minneapolis, moved and promptly bought a house 9 months later.  It was a whirlwind, just like the rest of my life.  Going back still feels like going home, although I only lived there for 4 years total.  My aunt and uncle still live across the street from my little 1930's Cape Cod blocks from the Mississippi river.

What struck me yesterday is God provides opportunities to serve those He loves.  Maybe it's because I've lived the bulk of my life in a rural, isolated climate.  There are very few opportunities to serve anyone outside your family when you live on a quiet country road with acres between neighbors.  You just don't see homeless people on the street corner...even in the towns that surround.  Winter is too harsh.  Yesterday, I had the opportunity to serve my church via the internet.  That was a welcome opportunity, since I don't often get the chance to serve my church because of a busy schedule, long miles that separate our home from church, and a plethora of those more willing or able than I.  Lack of routine opportunities to serve my church make it seem like a momentous event...something I shouldn't take for granted.

Finally, in the late evening, I passed a homeless man on a street corner in northern Minneapolis while out shopping for groceries.  My brothers and I have a hilarious storehouse of memories pertaining to homeless people and our mother.  She has a history of snatching whatever food we were about to insert into our hungry mouths, stuffing it all back in the sack it came from, and hurling the whole package out of a moving vehicle in even the sketchiest of inner-city neighborhoods.  We ended one trip to Louisville eating cheddar cheese and grape jelly with no bread...because she had hurled our PB&J sandwiches at a mother and child begging on a street corner earlier in the day.  She once handed another homeless man her half-eaten orange and $20...he was probably without proper sources for Vitamin C in the Minnesota mid-winter, God forbid!  I had a measly $8 in my pocket yesterday, so I ran through the drive-thru and picked up an artery and liver-clogging double Whopper with cheese, large fries and a Coke.  I began to have second thoughts when handing off the meal to the obviously alcoholic and therefore anorexic Native American gentleman panhandling at the corner (if you see an obituary for a 60 something homeless man in Minneapolis who died following a gall bladder attack, let me know and I'll go 'fess up...).  True to my mom's cautious but generous form (and my police officer brother's warnings), I locked the doors, cracked the window, and watched his eyes for cues in case he should try to jump me in my 1984 Honda Accord.

It's just not every day that you get to feed someone you don't know.  It's not every day I get the chance to say "God bless you" to a man on a street corner.  Now, if I lived in a more temperate climate or busier metropolitan area, I'd probably have to develop a budget plan for my random acts of philanthropy.  But that isn't my situation.  What struck me yesterday is that God provided that opportunity.  My first reaction is always the cautious one: avoid eye contact and hurry on past, maybe offer up a prayer for the poor soul but avoid doing something tangible, something monetary.  Something that takes my day out of it's normal routine.  But when I do recognize it as opportunity instead of awkwardunity, I am inevitably blessed.

There's no way to seek out random.  But every time random opportunity comes knocking, this country girl plans to seize it.  I'm still thanking God this morning for the soul-lift as I handed food out to a poor man who humbly asked for help.  My soul is still high on it.  And I can't wait to do it again.

Good advice

Being alone with the two littlest of my brood has made for a somewhat nerve-wracking, noisy week with lots of incidents of hilarity and more cuddling than usual.  I re-learned a few difficult lessons from my early mothering years when suddenly stripped of my eldest two...who "help" me more than I might think!  Here are a few tips (or bits of hilarity) from our week - little morsels of knowledge that you should always heed if similar alarm bells ever sound at your home...

If you ever add menthol bath salts to the bathwater, and then you smell something just slightly reminiscent of minty poop...

(you might want to check on the child you thought was totally potty-trained who is currently in the bath, maybe sooner rather than later)

If your toddler son ever tells you that he pooped down a furnace vent...

(DO NOT, I repeat: DO NOT reach down the vent with your bare hand, even if it appears to be completely empty and there is no sign of poop on the vent grill)

If your daughter ever comes up with a crazy story about how she dressed her kitten in a motorcycle helmet and took it on a drive through the countryside with her...

(DO NOT wait until you hear plaintive meowing emanating from the garage area to go untangle said kitten from a bicycle helmet on a hot and humid day)

If your youngest children ask you if they can play with rocks...

(don't ever say yes if there are no older kids involved, or you will be picking rocks out of ears and noses where they stuck them, and you will be bandaging bleeding fingers and heads when they decide to start a rock  - not "mock" - war with each other)

If your youngest children ask you if they can finger paint...

(please, please just say yes, for heavens sake!  Otherwise they are bound to improvise!)

So, to recap, the following rules do not come standard in the Default Child Program loaded into their little brains at birth.  These rules will have to be programmed in after-market by a knowledgeable childcare provider, such as a harried mother or father.  Installation of these rules must take precedence over all other household tasks, particularly cleaning up prior poo messes or preparing meals.

1. When someone poops in the bath, call mom.
2. Never poop in holes other than the toilet.
3. Do not tie live animals up in any way.
4. Do not throw rocks.
5. Do not stuff anything in any body orifice.
6. Do not paint with bodily fluids.

A song of safety

Today was another day in a string of days carrying professional disappointment.  As I sat in my quiet house while the littlest two slept...the elder two spending a week with Grandma up north...I resized some photos from a fun-filled weekend and sat reflecting.  Because I am blessed with a wonderful father here on earth, the use of "Father" as allegory in Scripture is so comforting to me.  In this disappointment, in all disappointments, I can rest content that my Father knows best.  These photos of Rosy and Caleb interacting with their grandfather shows that trust...the trust I am supposed to emulate now, as an adult. (Jesus said, "Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Matthew 19:14)

Suspended ten feet off the ground by ropes Grandpa himself strung in the tree, they fly on the tire swing completely unaware of danger or risk or fear.  It isn't on their radar.  Why?  Because Grandpa so obviously shows them that it is safe to be flying through the air on his DIY swing.

After all, it is his trustworthy hands that built the swing...this world in which they whirl.  And his capable hands lift them up and let them go on this pendulum of rubber and rope.  Why would fear enter into this safe world where Grandpa watches their every move and sends them on each giddy flight?

Sunlight glints like glitter through the cedars at dusk, and lights smiles as laughter floats through the yellow air.  As I look back through the camera lens and the space of a few days time, my own life events are the pendulum set in motion by the Father-figure, my career is being let fly from the capable hands, and instead of giddy flight, I feel trepidation and anxiety??  That isn't the right response.  So this evening, I retune my heartstrings to sing a song of safety in the swing of my Savior.

Nothing about the tens of thousands of dollars of debt changes the fact that I can trust Him totally.  So I walk away from the screen tonight, to housecleaning and cooking and an alphabet lesson for Amelia, and leave career, at this juncture, scurrying down whatever path He has chosen.  I stand at a crossroads and feel the tug, dizzying, of choice impending...yet I do not need to fear this as a precipice.  It is just another swing on the pendulum of life, just like the millions of flights He's directed before, and the millions more He may send me on before calling me home. Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God (I John 3:1a).

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

He Giveth More Grace, Annie Flint, 1866-1932

Unfading beauty

Your adornment must not be merely external--braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.  For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves... (I Peter 3:3-5a)

It's been months now since the rock garden was resplendent with the cobalt blue of the hyancinth standing tall in the back corner.  I took these photos in the early days of summer, in Amelia's worst month of seizures, as I tried to keep house maintained and children safe and my own brain sane.  Every day Rosy brought me a nosegay of wildflowers: daisies and butter-and-eggs, bachelor's buttons, asters, thistles, clover, cinquefoil, columbine, devil's paintbrush, wild roses and spiderwort.  Wildflowers, picked from stems dripping with milky sap, don't last long in the vase.  My countertop was littered with these visible reminders that beauty - and life - is fleeting. The grass withers, the flower fades: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.  (Isaiah 40:8) As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. (Psalm 103:13-16)

Little white hairs poke like wire up from the dark brown waves, more of them every time I brush.  Not enough for others to notice, but visible harbingers of how I will change with age.  I am soft instead of firm and muscular.  I had to permanently retire from softball this summer because of a pacemaker that was so necessary.  Cancer lurks in the background.  My children are growing up.  I look at the generation ahead of me, learning from them as they walk into grandparenthood and take in their parents and tend their adult children.  I wonder how things have changed since the social revolution of the 1960's and '70's.  How has a culture that worships youth, uses air-brushed Photoshopped images as propaganda, and idolizes virility, vigor, and physical beauty changed our idea of what "aging gracefully" means?  My grandparents generation went to work at 16 or 18, didn't dye their gray hairs or have plastic surgery or work out.  My parents generation is a shade different...there are less people who consider gray hair a badge of honor, they keep fit, many went to college and didn't begin their careers until sometime in their 20s.  My own generation has taken it a step further: I would hazard a wager that most of us know at least one friend who has had plastic surgery; many don't begin careers until their late 20s or even 30s, and often change college majors or even career paths even once they hit their mid-30's; many of my friends have been dying their hair, wearing make-up and working out to alter their body shape since their early teens.

As I read Dobson's Bringing Up Girls (well worth the read although perhaps a bit stressful as a reality check for parents of young children?) all this is rattling around in my head.  Culture, beauty, aging, keeping my kids safe on a spiritual, emotional, psychological level as well as on a physical level.  The petals fall, and my white hairs spring up, and my girls grow up.  I stand confused in the whirlwind of culture, clutching my Bible in one hand and desperately believing that the answers there will sweep away the confusion in the end.

Weekends are for heritage

The ribbon lips drawn up in excitement, the little mini roller pin grasped and floured, the timbre of joy in the voice as she waits for her ball of dough to roll out...

The finesse of chubby little fingers and concentration in her eyes...

Finally, sneaking a nibble and getting caught.  The sweet grain of flour and butter and lard and salt and sugar all blended up according to Julia Child's French pastry recipe melting on the tongue.

She gives the pin to her big sister, and that sister hands it on to the biggest, and a very rustic pie crust is the result.  Fumbled edges and over-floured, it still crumbles like butter cookie dough as I teach the eldest how to shape it to the plate.

(I love how these hands are still dimpled 7 years later.  I dread the
day I look down, and the dimples are gone.)
(I look down at my own rough housewife hands, and wonder at past decades.
Who manicured these nails after the pie crust embedded there deep?)

We sprinkle the little bits with cinnamon and sugar and put them in with the first crust to bake.  The warm aroma of the baking butter and spice floats on the heavy, humid late summer afternoon air as I listen to the kids playing some hilarious game out on the porch, a mix of going-to-the-eye-doctor and Almanzo-courting-Laura Ingalls.  Only in a house of girls would you ever hear that mix!

The crusts come out all golden and flaky and I...as usual...bemoan the little errors and my own "rustic" edging style that never is as perfect as my mother's, or my aunts...

The girls' crust is ready to go in, weighted with parchment and beans and the crust rolled over in silly little girl fashion.  We mix blueberries and sugar and make a fruit pie while we wait for it to bake.  A storm rolls over the horizon, and Aaron takes the kids out on the porch in the monsoon rain and the yellow light and takes pictures.  He bends over me as I bake, and we look at photos.  There's flour on the camera.  Kids disobey, and there is a ruckus, and the headache pounds, and I bend exhausted over the last of the baking and the dinner preparation and wonder that this is what we are called to.  The constant bend and repeat, make, eat, repeat of womanhood.  That worship and sacrifice are bound up in the litany of everyday chores that are never completed by day's end and must be repeated tomorrow, anyway.

The kids watch me make the lattice for the top with mathematical precision, and I remember the words of my sister-in-law, that "this part is the hardest".  Her sentence sounds ironic, because it's the easiest for me, the precision part, the part I can control and plan out and do according to formula.  I am good at lattice tops.  I am not good at edging or rolling out...too many ways for things to go wrong.  No plan can possibly make that go right.

And so it is with life.  The precision parts - school, study, jobs, even routines and plans for the day - those I handle with aplomb.  But the messy bits of life, the pie edging parts, where the plan goes awry and things get askew, that's the difficult part.  I lose it when the kids are unkempt when it is time to leave for town, or I don't get the alloted amount of housework done in a day and I am faced with a mountain of laundry or three loads of dishes or stinky food remnants in the bottom of the sink at the very end of the day, when things should be winding down and sleep should be coming.

In my life at least, this is the saved by childbearing truth.  Because this life surrounded by kids, it is a noisy, flour on the countertop and berries smeared on the floor sort of life.  It isn't precise, mathematical, predictable, or controllable.  And so, in losing those parts of self that demand precision, predictability, controllability, there is a little less of me left to fight for the space in my soul.  And the part emptied out by the daily grind is the space left for Savior to fill.  As His half grows slowly bigger, I feel the shift there, deep inside.  I feel softened and quieted.

At the end of the day, as we eat the pie dripping with berry goodness and melting ice cream, the mussed up edge is so much less important than I thought.  Somehow we have a happy evening, with mountains of clothes...folded now...consuming the couch and dishes still crowding the sink.

As we slowly savor the pie in the last moments of the day before the kids are tucked into bed, my husband says it and I blink and think about all this in a few seconds time and wonder at the way life really is: "This crust is the best part."

Broken china is still china

"In the darkness of despair and the prison of pain, we often say things that we later regret, but God understands all about it and lovingly turns a deaf ear to our words but a tender eye to our wounds." ~ Pause for Power, Warren W. Wiersbe
My mother brought me a china plate for my collection of mismatched china (we eat off beauty every day) and I promptly broke it.  The very next day.  My first reaction, unfortunately, is still to throw a tantrum.  I remember her warning me, as a teenager, that I if I chose that agitated state of heart in the quiet of my room and privacy of my brain, it would settle in and become a habit that was nearly impossible to break.  And, I regret to say, I went on heedlessly...nay, obstinately...and let it settle in.  Now I struggle with those flailings about of the soul that are so tenacious and capture me at my weakest moments, spiritually and emotionally, and derail the train of my servitude and joy and prayer life and duty to husband and children.  And so it was with this china plate, and with the job offer withdrawn, and the comprehensive exam failed.

I don't understand a God who rescinds gifts as quickly as He doles them out.  I believe in an extravagant God, and I've had glimpses of proof that He is that type of God.  Lately, though, my spirit response to His brief shows of glory and extravagance is the impression instead of a miserly God to whom justice is far more important than blessing, joy, or relationship.

I am thankful that He turns a deaf ear to my rantings.  However, I don't want to be someone who rants any longer!  I went through the day yesterday, first with tears, then with anger, and finally with resignation...the let-down as the job offer was withdrawn, the frustrating phone calls to the Board of Nursing and the professor in charge of hiring at the university, and finally the quiet of the day as I realized there was nothing more to be done.  Why would God hang a carrot in front of my nose, have me celebrating with my father over the possibility of teaching together, and then so painfully jerk it away, leaving me staring, once again, down a black hole of debt and poor job prospects?

At the end of the day, I went outdoors to take some photos of the amazing storm clouds boiling up in Michelangelo proportions just past our house, the light of the sun glinting in the middle of the thunderhead, so high off the ground that it caught the light long after the sun had dipped below the horizon.  Under the blanket of this awesome sky, I was humbled.  The tantrums grew weak in the visible presence of the power of God.  Who am I to question today's events and worry about how we will provide for our family?  The very God who formed this storm and swept it past our roof before it let loose is the God who sees my future and has blessings and pain planned out for all my days, to shape me and change me until I am indeed - like it or not - renewed by the regenerating spirit He planted in my soul at age 5.

In the weird yellow light of the gathering storm, the china plate I thrust into my garden caught a glimmer and I noticed.  Noticed that broken china is still beautiful. That plate is still a beloved gift my mother gave me out of love.  I could have thrown it in the trash, never to be seen again.  In a moment of genius, I stuck the two halves in the soil of my favorite rock garden, and there they sit, like the half-moon of a serene smile, catching light and glinting beauty even though they were split and broken and cried over.  So, too, the job offer: a harbinger of future joy, perhaps?  Just because it was taken away, and I don't have the job - does that reduce those two days of happiness to nothing?  Are they negated by the consequent suffering?  As a nurse for dying children, I know the answer, deep, deep within: of course not!  Does the pain at the end destroy the joy of the thousands of days of being that preceded it?  Do you throw the whole bag of memories into your mental trash file, because the pain is too great?  Some do, I know.  But the wise don't.  The wise know that broken china is still china.  The wise know that a gift is a gift, whether permanent or temporary.

I don't know about tomorrow;
It may bring me poverty.
But the one who feeds the sparrow,
Is the one who stands by me.
And the path that is my portion
May be through the flame or flood;
But His presence goes before me
And I'm covered with His blood.
~ I Know Who Holds Tomorrow, sung here by Alison Krauss ~

Storm clouds

This time lapse of the storm clouds above our house at sunset is my first. It was amazing to watch the clouds boil up and over us!

The inevitable let-down

Apparently, there still exists a very disturbing paragraph in the legislative code of the great State of Wisconsin, chapter N1 in the Board of Nursing code for accreditation of "professional programs of study":

(c) A nurse faculty member who teaches nursing courses in a professional nursing program shall hold a current license to practice as a registered nurse in Wisconsin, have at least 2 years of full−time or equivalent direct care experience as a practicing nurse, be employed in nursing within the last 5 years and hold a master’s degree with a major in nursing.
Somehow, I am apparently supposed to:

  1. Study for a doctorate degree
  2. Keep working as a nurse
  3. AND obtain a master's degree
...regardless of the fact that I've already shown that I've mastered doctoral content and everything that precedes it, including many credits of master's level study.  Apparently, BSN-to-PhD track degrees are not yet en vogue in the State of Wisconsin, and I may never be hired here because of it.  That would really put a damper on things!

The "dream job" offer was withdrawn this morning because of the master's degree problem, which they knew about prior to interviewing me (??).  They could seek an exception with the Board of Nursing but apparently aren't interested.  Weird.  And very frustrating.  I guess I will continue on those other lines...RN-to-BSN programs online that have no problem with my over-achieving path to a PhD.