And so it goes


My friend Melanie - who babysat me from age 4 and whose family story is so deeply intertwined with my own it is inseparable now - was diagnosed with thyroid cancer last Friday. The initial biopsy report says papillary carcinoma (the most curable kind), possible spread to one lymph node; the primary tumor is around 1 cm (for reference, mine was almost 5 cm).  The only comfort the fact that her outlook is - if the biopsy is right - much better than mine, much easier than mine.  Today I am sitting in a hospital waiting room at Mayo in Rochester, waiting for the surgeon to come tell us what they found during the excision of her cancer.

To say I am horrified to have a friend this close join me on my most difficult path of suffering is an understatement. This morning, after a last hug, as she walked off down the hall in ceil blue hospital garb with her escort, the bile rose as I remember myself in her shoes 2 1/2 years ago. And now knowing all that has transpired since...errors in diagnosis, delays in treatment, everything that conspired to mean I am still a cancer patient in the active treatment phase, with no end in sight.

.....................................................................................

I remember what came after the walk down the hallway, away from family and friends.  I was in the oldest part of the hospital, the historic part with the marble walls and the 12 foot ceilings, and the hushed nuns who went from room to room meting out comfort to the suffering.  Everything took a more hilarious turn when I wheeled away down the hall toward "pre-op holding".  (I'll forgive you if stockyards immediately come to mind.)  I was instructed to stick my arm in a slot in the wall, which, by some computer magic, unlocked the double steel doors to this catecomb of the hospital deep in the bowels of the buildings.  My name and a number flashed above the doors, and lighted arrows lit the path to my bay in a large, open room that held about 150 other sufferers.  My bed was locked pneumatically into the wall, feet facing the room, foot to foot with a woman with a disfiguring tumor on the top of her head, marked in Sharpie for removal.  Questions immediately swirled as I was abandoned wordlessly by my escort.  "Should I make conversation with these people, literally within arms' reach of me?  Where am I going next?  Do I have a nurse here?"

I didn't speak.  Just tried not to stare.  Shortly, a nurse came, wheeling a little cart.  She wordlessly stopped at the end of each bed, placed the sensor on her cart below the laser apparently glowing from the end of each bed bay.  The computerized cart clicked, and out popped the medications for that patient.  It took her a moment of confusion to answer when I asked what exactly I was taking.  (Sedatives, thank God!)

As a dose of humanity, the surgeon I had met the day before popped in to speak to me before surgery.  As a nurse, I always find it a bit grotesque when a doctor or nurse stands smiling at my bedside dressed in impervious, fluid-resistant garb meant to repel my blood, my guts.  She spoke quietly about what they intended to do (probably a lame attempt at maintaining confidentiality), then asked my permission to sign her name on the body part she intended to remove (my thyroid gland, just below the skin on my neck, above the notch of my collarbone.  Disturbingly close in proximity to my carotid arteries and windpipe, I thought).  She signs my neck in Sharpie and smiles, pats my shoulder, walks out of the room.  I watch her go, and realize, slowly, that everyone in the room is marked with Sharpie.  Body parts slated for removal.  A hack shop.  Great!  Not only a hack shop, but a high-tech one at that.  The realization that I have apparently descended into some weird fulfillment of a sci-fi writer's dreams is slowly dawning.

A large screen in front of me shows last names and numbers paired with locations.  They change color from time to time, from yellow, to orange, to purple and green.  Finally, I watch my name begin to flash red and anticipate that something is probably going to happen.  Two persons, only their eyes showing, come, ask me for my arm, scan my band, and my bed releases from the wall with an asthmatic gasp.  They quickly wheel past the disfigured woman, past the man losing his leg and the girl losing her festering arm and the elderly man pregnant with tumor.  Into a cold, stainless steel hall, past 20 operating suites, the arrows on the ceiling soundlessly guiding them down the hall and finally into a room.

To open the door, the same routine: insert arm in slot, doors sloosh open, cold green tiled walls greet the eyes under the nauseating flourescent light.  The anesthesiologist nods, confirms my name and birthdate, asks me if I want some drugs right away.  I say no, I'm okay.  Pray with them.  Then he busies himself at the end of the bed, cheerfully announces that they will shift me to the surgical table.  They pad my limbs with warm blankets and pad me with many more to chase away the chills...a little from the cold, mostly from fear.  Here is the moment of truth.  The rending open of flesh to reveal the curse, the tumor that sprung from healthy pink tissue, the tumor that threatens to choke the breath from me.  The man, still cheery, announces that they will undress me now, scrub me with the odiferous brown Betadine.  I look up, and it is not a  human I see above me, but a robot, pincers for hands, red LED lights almost like eyes glinting malevolently.  I ask what the robot is for, and he calmly states, "Oh, don't worry, he just opens and closes."  And in the next sharp intake of breath, he shoots the white milk of the sedative into the snaking IV line and into my arm.  And my eyes, gratefully, drift closed.
...................................................................................

And so, my friend Melanie today, goes through it, too.  I pray, the guttaral, Holy-Spirit-in-the-holes begging kind of prayer.  Asking please, no vomiting after surgery; please, let the pathology come back the "good kind" of thyroid cancer; please, no metastasis; please, no radiation, no chemo, no years of waiting to beat this thing.

Pray with me?

And this is why my eyes are closed
It's just as well for all I've seen
And so it goes, and so it goes
And you're the only one who knows
~ And So It Goes, Billy Joel ~

Progress towards goals...

Since posting my desire to go to the Relevant conference in late October, I've received two donations (thanks, guys!).  Another reader suggested I put a ticker of some kind on the sidebar.  So, to check progress, refer to the good old-fashioned fundraising thermometer on the left!  And to read about my goal, click here to read the original post.

A cloud breaks free


Creation is what brought me back into the fold of those children of God working hard every day for His glory.  I was a nominal Christian for my college years - although I wonder if some of the acquaintances I shared the Gospel with during that time might object to my loose use of the term "nominal"? - and continued to struggle, as a young, single career woman with how God was supposed to fit into my daily life and my internal monologue.  During those same years of confusion and incremental creep away from church and openly professing Christians, I learned to snowboard and kayak.  I have a penchant still, as a somewhat past-her-prime mother of four, for extreme sports.  There is nothing like the thrilling drop in the pit of your stomach when you go over the top of a mountain peak at 20 miles per hour, the snow crystals giving an impromptu exfoliating treatment and your breath stolen by the 40 mile an hour straight wind up above the tree line.  Nothing like the way all other sounds disappear when you are fighting to stay upright in the foam and swirl of an angry class IV whitewater stretch in springtime on the Kettle River.  Nothing to make you realize your insignificance on this round ball of dirt like the coming of a winter squall up along the North Shore of Lake Superior toward the flimsy fiberglass hull of your 17' kayak when you are about a mile out in 5 foot rollers with only 5 mm of neoprene to save you from hypothermia in the glacial blue water if you capsize.

All of that, I did.  In my past life.  What God taught me through it is that creation is his way of eroding disbelief.  I saw the incomprehensible God who caused the mountains to rise out of the plains and opened storehouses of snow to give me a 'powder day' and sent the spring rains every spring and flooded the Kettle River. Did I really want to say to Him, "You don't matter that much to me.  You're not important enough to spend much time thinking about.  I'm not even going to bother going to your temple.  I'll pray when I need you.  You just stay over there.  I'll come to you if I want you.  You'll hear from me if I feel like it, alright?"  Casual acquaintance?  Is that what I wanted to reduce the Creator of the universe to, when He asked for my love and commitment?  Creation demanded my respect for a Creator.  My life - the fact that I was still alive after my death sentence at 19 - demanded my love and passionate response to a loving, benevolent and merciful Savior.

These cold days of fall, surrounded by some new troubles and some old ones, I shrink inside of myself like a withering leaf.  The days are cold, the error in my Synthroid dose is rocketing me toward hibernation, my very soul shrinks back from people in confusion and uncertainty.  I hurt...body, soul and spirit.  Yet I woke up today after blissfully sleeping in now that my eldest is home to get breakfast, woke up to the ache in my lungs that makes me wonder about pneumonia, to a fever of 103 for a 7th day...in short, I woke up feeling old and tired and sick, and more like cursing someone - anyone - for my lack of lymph nodes and a thyroid gland than praising God for anything.  Yet the first thing I saw, from my pillow: a swirling cloud caught in a wind eddy below the ceiling of gray.  Just a finger of cloud, pulled away from the mass above it.  This cloud wasn't gray. It was sparkling, glittering, funneling, dancing and completely lit by the finger of sun that leaked through the hole above it, where the blanket of gray was torn and the light of heaven shone through.

If you're a skeptic, all you see in a yellow fingerling cloud is chance.  You might even turn away from the window in disgust, with contempt for a world that mocks you with these happenstance displays of color and beauty.  But I chose a different path.  Somewhere around 21, I chose to worship the Creator who puts His works on display for me every single day of my life.  I chose to thank the God who chose my particular combination of Deoxyribonucleic acid out of the infinite possibilities when my parents conceived me.  I choose to believe that He has something in particular to accomplish through my life...something that will not be thwarted by evil, or cut short by cancer, or disabled by disability, or drowned in housework, or humbled by my humble humanness.

So next time a little tree frog leaps onto your window, and your children crowd around to see the little creature, an alien in the dry Wisconsin woods of September...

Next time you wake up and lie in your bed to listen to the thunder and incessant beating of the rain on your roof...

Next time a bean field is lit with 24 karat gold by the afternoon sun...

Or the path you always take for your morning run is drowned in feet of swirling brown riverwater exploded beyond it's banks...

Remember: this is a display, perhaps just for you, of the awe-inspiring power of God.  Do you want to place that God in a little box you only open on Sundays...or perhaps not at all?  The heart-breaking tenderness of His mercy - the mercy that keeps the rivers from drowning you or the winter from freezing you or the wind from sweeping you off the face of the earth - may just bring you back to your knees.

"He chose us before the creation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love, He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will -- to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. In Him, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding." ~Ephesians 1:4-8 (NIV)

"I am the Lord, who has made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth for myself. I summon you by name and bestow upon you honor, though you do not acknowledge me. I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness. Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker...turn to me, and be saved." ~Isaiah 44:24, 45:4,9,22


"All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fade away, but the word of our God stands forever." ~Isaiah 40:6,8 (NIV)


“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

“Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,
when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors,
and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
It is changed like clay under the seal,
and its features stand out like a garment.
From the wicked their light is withheld,
and their uplifted arm is broken.

“Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
or walked in the recesses of the deep?
Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?
Declare, if you know all this.

Where is the way to the dwelling of light,
and where is the place of darkness,
that you may take it to its territory
and that you may discern the paths to its home?
You know, for you were born then,
and the number of your days is great!

Have you entered the storehouses of the snow,
or have you seen the storehouses of the hail,
which I have reserved for the time of trouble,
for the day of battle and war?
What is the way to the place where the light is distributed,
or where the east wind is scattered upon the earth?

“Who has cleft a channel for the torrents of rain 
and a way for the thunderbolt,
to bring rain on a land where no man is,
on the desert in which there is no man, 
to satisfy the waste and desolate land,
and to make the ground sprout with grass?

“Has the rain a father,
or who has begotten the drops of dew?
From whose womb did the ice come forth,
and who has given birth to the frost of heaven?
The waters become hard like stone,
and the face of the deep is frozen.

“Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades
or loose the cords of Orion?
Can you lead forth the Mazzaroth in their season,
or can you guide the Bear with its children?
Do you know the ordinances of the heavens?
Can you establish their rule on the earth?

“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds,
that a flood of waters may cover you?
Can you send forth lightnings, that they may go
and say to you, ‘Here we are’?
Who has put wisdom in the inward parts
or given understanding to the mind?
Who can number the clouds by wisdom?
Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens,
when the dust runs into a mass
and the clods stick fast together?

“Can you hunt the prey for the lion,
or satisfy the appetite of the young lions,
when they crouch in their dens
or lie in wait in their thicket?
Who provides for the raven its prey,
when its young ones cry to God for help,
and wander about for lack of food?"
(Job 38)

If you do not know for certain you are saved, please read my post on salvation here, and feel free to e-mail me at gmthul@yahoo.com if you have questions.

What suffering says about prosperity

These days are filled with trouble
And the nights feel like they’re all getting longer
These days are dark and grey
Like that storm rolling in across the water

There’s a strong wind blowing
I push on it pushes back
It’s a hard time
But I know I’ll get through it
Just gotta lean into it

This ain’t where I thought I’d be
If I could I’d stop it now and I’d rewind it
But this ain’t where I’m gonna fall
If there’s a way to fight
I know I’m gonna find it
~ Lean Into It, Little Big Town

Moments with my nephew - the "cousin-twin" to the baby I lost - in the morning sun.

Today, in church, I listened with questions swirling: am I experiencing the blessings and benefits of being a child of God?  To outward appearances, perhaps not.  I'm tired.  The dark circles around my eyes, the pallor in my cheeks, grows more apparent every day.  Common viruses have a more significant effect on me than they should.  I should be young and healthy.  Right?


My mood a little gray around the edges from the low thyroid function, I am grieving my baby again.  Missing that warm, slightly sweet baby smell, the arms touching your neck through the night hours, the newness of smiles and giggles that take over your baby's whole frame and put him into a tremor of delight.  I am mourning the losses of Amelia...the new needs she has, the needs I fear will always be there.  I watch her frozen in time as her friends grow and advance.  Watch her intellect stumble backward as the days pass.  Celebrate the tiny victories...the one letter remembered, the twisted smile when she can trace her bean circle with her index finger in a non-seizing moment.


What are the blessings and benefits of being a child of God?  What are the reasonable expectations I can have, as His child?  Health?  Is that a bare minimum?  I've struggled with this question ever since I was 14 years old and I fainted dead away during devotions in our living room, surrounded by my family.  I screamed it in my mind when I heard "heart failure" for the first time at 17.  As my fingers curled tight around an invalid driver's license, and my mind searched for ways to continue to grow up when you can't even drive yourself to class, I sighed the question for the millionth time.

I never really got a clear answer.  I am still asking the question.

It's just one of those things; Scripture gives you conflicting glimpses of the answer.  I've never been rich (but again...by whose standards?  In the U.S., we are barely middle class.  In the rest of the world, rich beyond imagination, with a beautiful home, three vehicles - however old, food and clothing in abundance).  Yet in Proverbs I read honor the LORD with your possessions, and with the firstfruits of all your increase; So your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine. (Proverbs 3:9-10) And III John 1:2 states the prayer, that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul...which indicates, by inference, that one might not experience good health as it goes well with the soul.

In John 10:10, a verse often quoted by the Prosperity Gospel's adherents, says I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.  What does abundance really mean?  Is it wealth, or health?  Success, relationship bliss, a good marriage, good friends, laughter around a campfire, children who never disobey, a family that goes on to accomplish great things and bring honor to your name?


At times, even the ever-comforting 23rd Psalm mocks me. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul.

But read on, and you see David walking through the valley of death and dying.  What if the table prepared before me in the presence of my enemies, the annointing of my head with oil, the goodness and mercy that will follow me all my life...what if they aren't tangible?  What if the feasting table of peace God prepares for me when all the world howls about me, when my stomach is hungry, my clothes worn out, my body beaten, the battle with cancer raging and my duties as a mother overwhelming....what if it is that feast of the mind when I shut my eyes and a Scripture surrounds my thoughts and takes them captive and quiets them?  What if it is a spiritual feast, not one of money or possessions or health or beauty or success?

What if I conquer my enemies by being so defeated by them that the only thing shining out of my broken body is the Grace of God, the peace that passeth understanding?

What if the annointing of my head with oil is the annointing of cancer, the vote of confidence from my Savior that I am up to this task...this task of trusting Him when everything goes wrong and I find myself alone in the battle, cut off from friends and family, with only an Invisible One on my side?

What if the goodness and mercy is simply the strength to withstand the awful torments this world will hold until the day He quietly grants me the freedom to cross that golden strand to the place where at last, forever, my suffering will be done?

And what if they are tangible, but they aren't the tangible prosperity that the world expects?  What if the table and the annointing and the blessing and the benefits are the simple things like my nephew's sweet breath and dimpled fingers holding the thick cotton of my shirt during an impromptu nap?  What if it's the late night moments reading a story to Amelia as she recovers from the seizure?  What if it is just moments, and glimpses, and random pleasures that dot this landscape of weeping and weaning and weariness and woe?

It is so important to remember that really, this is not the end of the story.  The story is not done until you take into account the everlasting peace of Heaven or the never-ending torment of Hell.  Whatever I may suffer here on earth, there is always Heaven to forever compensate the imbalance in the scales.  This is not where I'm going to fall.  I'm going to lean into it.  I'm going to believe that the suffering is the blessing and benefit of being part of this family of God.  I'm going to keep coming to grips with the fact that abundance might mean living my life in relief: the blacks and grays in the snapshot of my life - the suffering and torment and mourning and loss - forever only a contrast that lends richer beauty to the pure white of Christ's grace, sacrifice, redemption, and the eventual, eternal healing of all the wounds I sustain and wars I lose here in this bittersweet, beautiful, brief life.

I live abundantly because He has shown me exactly what I might lose, and has forever made it more dear to me because I know that it is only a gift and never to be taken for granted.







holy experience

If I die young

If I die young bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in the river at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song

Lord make me a rainbow, I’ll shine down on my mother
She'll know I’m safe with You when she stands under my colors
I've had just enough time.
And I’ll be wearing white when I come into Your kingdom
What I never did is done

~ If I Die Young, The Band Perry


Dance when you can.  Whirl today in the moments you are given.  Let your eyes fill with tears as you sit by the fireplace in the rain.  Let life hurt.  Let life be simple.  Let it be complicated.  Let it be beautiful.  See that it is beautiful.

The past is over.  Today is a gift.  Tomorrow...you never know.

What are you doing with the gift you've been given?  This moment?

..............................................................

Another scan on the horizon.  A dear, dear friend just embarking on the road I've trod for 2 1/2 years now.  I read today that 60% of bone metastases occurs in thyroid cancer patients.  My kids are unbelievable, my husband is the dearest man on earth, my house is a haven in the fields of gold in autumn.  I don't ever want to leave.  When I do leave, I don't want to have a single regret.  I want to live each day in exactly the manner that brings glory to the Savior who blessed me with all of this.

In the morning, when I rise


Morning by morning he wakens me and opens my understanding to his will.
(Isaiah 50:4b)

I love cottonwood trees...the graceful drape of them, their enormous trunks mocking the slender maples, birches and oaks that normally inhabit these Wisconsin woods.  My husband has heard me laud the cottonwood and pine that grow poetically out my kitchen window, especially in the harsh white light of winter, the cottonwood's branches bare and her sister pine still thick with green.  So, as a love gift one spring, he planted a stand of cottonwoods on the little hill outside my kitchen.  A few survived, and they are growing taller every year - the tallest now almost shoulder high on me, the tiniest still just up to my knee.

One morning, as the dawn's pink tinge was burning out of the sky in the wake of the yellow light as the sun rose above the trees to our southeast, these little cottonwoods stood like an allegory outside as I fixed the morning coffee.  Nine months ago, Aaron and I attended a marriage conference that rocked our world.  The changes we instituted after that conference were sweeping and have propelled us to a level of intimacy we didn't even imagine possible at the beginning of 2010.  The changes were (and may I humbly recommend them if you do not already practice these?):

  • Go to bed together.  Every night.  No matter what.
  • Once you are in bed, never, ever, ever say no to your spouse. (and that includes sandbagging any ideas your spouse *might* have with sabotaging statements about how tired you are, how busy your day was, etc.  In fact, for a while I didn't open my mouth to say anything except how handsome my husband was, how attractive I found him, what a great husband he was, etc.  Encouragement only!)
  • Get up at the same time.  Every morning.  No matter what.  (this is the hardest one for me)
  • Have devotions/quiet time/Bible & prayer (whatever you call it).  Together.  Period.
  • Pray for each other.  Every single morning.
  • When you see each other for the first time at the end of the workday, repeat the steps from bullet #2 above.  No complaining.  Ever.  Encouragement only!
Sounds simple, right?  Well, it has been!  For the most part.  The getting up together thing is difficult.  Especially with a 10 out of 10 headache in the mornings.  (But remember, I'm not allowed to mention headaches anymore, wink, wink!!)

So in the first rays of sun that morning, the cottonwoods whispered reproach to me over the many mornings I've let this morning thing slide.  Their green leaves waving at the top of the tree to meet the sun.  The leaves that get the first rays of the morning and the last rays of the evening are still beautiful.  The leaves at the bottom, the leaves that wait longer to bathe themselves in the sunlight, the leaves that miss out on the evening glory...those leaves are already parchment, yellowed, spent, pock-marked with brown, the finger-paint of death.


Okay, little cottonwood.  I hear your fable.  I pray for strength to follow through.  Because I long for those green leaves adorning the tree of marriage we've planted between us, this cord of three strands...Aaron, God and I.  Beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. (Jude 1:20-21)

In the still of the night


In the last few weeks, Amelia has begun having a very scary type of seizure with increasing frequency.  Back in July, she had one nocturnal seizure (a seizure that takes place during the night while the child is asleep).  Now, in the past three weeks, she has had a seizure about 50% of the nights, usually when she is just falling asleep, but sometimes in the middle of the night.  These seizures are generalized, and involve the whole icky seizure spectrum, from vomiting and incontinence, to post-seizure echolalia (saying the same thing over and over and over and over...ad nauseam), anxiety and sometimes even a period of intense wakefulness before she crashes into a very long sleep.  The morning after these seizure nights, she sleeps very late in the morning, sometimes until noon.  Obviously, this has consequences for our whole family, beyond the worry and insomnia for parents, destroying our daily routine, wreaking havoc on our new school schedule, and deterring us from family activities that increase stress during the day and inevitably lead to nocturnal seizure activity.

Today we canceled our much-awaited trip to church camp this weekend.  How can you rationalize going somewhere so your healthy kids can have fun, knowing the whole time that your ill child will seize the entire weekend because of it, potentially having a life-threatening night seizure literally 50 or 60 miles from the nearest hospital and a helicopter ride from a neurologist?  The older kids are disappointed, but so compassionate.  They immediately hugged and comforted Amy when I told them the news this morning, and we planned something else fun...a trip to Grandma Nel's for the "Bigs" (as they call themselves), and an orchard excursion for Aaron and I and the "Littles".  This will allow us to walk the tightrope between enjoying family life without putting Amelia at increased risk for a major health event.


As the fields ripen for the last harvest of this nebulous Indian summer season, we look forward to a fall packed with hospitals and clinics and doctors and procedures yet again.  Facing up to a third fall of this is like walking into the torture chamber knowing exactly how you're going to be tortured.  Yet the stream of thankfulness also runs ever deeper, and the spiritual muscles are just flexing now to take on an old familiar task, drawing on a wellspring of faith that has filled, through God's grace, many times before, a reservoir of such abundance now that you can count on it's being there.  I live, therefore I praise (Psalm 146:2).  She lives still, even though so often in broken ways; therefore I praise.

As October fills with visits to Mayo and November fills with cancer tests and epilepsy monitoring in the hospital, we feel once again that we have totally lost control over our schedule.  Through other circumstances, we are no longer leading small group, which will offer respite and more flexibility in our weekly commitments.  We've pulled back from other ministries and activities, until our schedule looks mostly blank, peppered only with clinic visits and a few enjoyable homeschool activities.  Finally, we give in to this life.  Admit it is our life.  Admit we must pare down and pull back and focus inward.  Yet, I write, and sing the Gospel on the wings of the internet.  I pray that God opens doors while others are slamming shut.  That He heals us...if not our bodies, that the healing and building and breaking and loving of our souls keeps watering us deep so that we can face the trials of another weary tomorrow.

Please lift us up in prayer:

  • Amelia's safety, especially protection of her breathing, during nocturnal seizures
  • Successful treatment of her epilepsy, elimination of the seizures
  • Wisdom for Gen's oncologist as he decides about scans/treatments for this fall (next appointment is October 5th)
  • Comfort for our healthy kids as they face limitations that continue due to Amelia and Gen's illnesses
  • Comfort for us as we go through some trials at our church

Preparation

"...there is but one preparation for Christian dying, and that is Christian living." ~ Elizabeth Prentiss, Stepping Heavenward



The Bema seat.  A term borrowed from the ancient Olympians.  A judge sitting at the finish line of a race.  I grew up hearing about the Judgment Seat of Christ, which is what our old-school commentators called it in the study notes of my King James Bible.  That time when you walk up to your Father, Christ, the one who paid for your sin with the shedding of His own blood in a torturous, horrific crucifixion.  You walk up to Him, and you go over your life with Him, and you talk together about what rewards are fair for the life you lived.  I remember a Gospel tract I read as a child that showed the Christian standing before a gigantic big-screen TV as the events of his life were played for everyone to see.  And since then I have to admit I have lived in abject horror of my inexorable approach to the Bema seat.

Kind of like this guy.  I guess I picture this awesome, fear-inspiring God holding a gun to my head and dragging me toward that screen, where everyone will finally know for sure the errors and character flaws I've downplayed for my entire life.  Can you imagine anything much more humiliating?

I've been thinking about the Judgment Seat of Christ as I grieve my grandparents.  Three of them, all three of them now done with this last glimpse of the old world before entering the glories of God's house forever.  Yet, I also have recently come to realize that a lot of my preconceptions about heaven may have more to do with the new heaven that is created after this world is destroyed by God (Revelation 21).  This passage is the famous one we quote about heaven: "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  I wonder what heaven is like, now?  Before the new heaven and the new earth?  I wonder, in Luke 16, if Lazarus could see the rich man who begged him to dip a finger and come cool his burning tongue? I wonder if John, who wept in Revelation, only did so because he was still mortal, and not glorified? Would he have wept if he had his new body, his new mind, his new understanding of all the ways of God?


The fear of hell has been forever lifted from me, because I have believed, and therefore I know I am saved that destiny.  Yet I still...at 31 and living sold-out for Christ...fear the day that I face my Savior.  What could I possibly do, in the intervening time, that would allow me to lift my face to the One who did so much?  And how much I will do that will cause me shame on that day!  I keep pondering...and yes, it motivates me to try harder.  To live in preparation for my death as a Christian.  To keep the specter of the Bema seat before my eyes when things of this world surround and crowd out the great Truths I hold so dear.  I imagine I will look much like the man on this painting, although I guess I think I will probably be on my knees.  Hard to imagine a day when Jesus puts His holy hand on my shoulder.

Right now there is difficulty in my walk alongside other Christians.  It is so important to remember that this is what we are all walking toward...we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.  (Titus 2:13-14)  Someday, we will all come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.  (a word on fellowship in heaven from Hebrews 12:22-24)

Tongues

My Bible fell open to Acts 2 yesterday morning, the scene in which the Holy Spirit descends on the early church  on the Day of Pentecost.  So many times of late, I feel like I am speaking the wrong language...or at least a different one.  I remember a mission trip to Honduras, when I, by some magical interjection of the Holy Spirit into my stubborn brain, demonstrated fluency enough in Spanish to see patients without an interpreter for several whole days at a time.  I remember coming home to the States the next week and trying to speak to a Hispanic patient, and fumbling over a basic word I'd learned many years prior.  That experience taught me that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us, at times, with that gift of tongues...that New Testament kind of "tongues" where you actually speak a foreign language and are understood by the person you're speaking to.  If He can do that with my tongue, why now this season of misunderstanding when I'm speaking my very own native language?  He certainly could bridge this gap.  Yet He chooses not to.


The phrase from Isaiah 30 I quoted the other day comes to mind: though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction...not allow, not step out of Satan's way for a moment, but GIVE you.  Is it possible that this, too, is my spanking from the Divine?  Don't I GIVE my children the water of affliction (i.e. punishment) when they are drifting away, or demonstrating foolishness, or thoughtlessness, or stubbornness?  I must humbly accept that this situation may be God's way of drawing me gently back, showing me my error.  It may not be a "simple" misunderstanding.

Yet the Holy Spirit that remains silent in this moment, the Holy Spirit who does not loose my tongue to speak the wisdom I so long for...that same Holy Spirit bathes my soul in comfort through the words I am sent from the pages of my Bible.  That, from Isaiah 30, too: your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.
For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken. Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.  For you will render to a man according to his work. (from Psalm 62, emphasis mine)

Tasting the water of affliction


The clouds chase each other across the cadet blue of the afternoon sky, and kids bend to pick up rocks and toss them back into Superior's frigid waves.


I hold Amy's hand as she tries, unsteadily, to place a rock on the tower her siblings are building.


I set her down and she sits stiffly between her two little guardians, the older sisters who flank her always and tenderly watch out for the myriad dangers and hurts that linger in the wings of every ordinary day.


Her kalamata olive eyes dance tawny in the gold of the afternoon sun.  I am thinking of orphans, and sick babies in hospitals...all the mission fields abandoned for the one of hearth and home.  She teaches me, in new ways daily, whatever I do for this little one, I do for Christ. (Matthew 25:40) There is no abandoning of mission when I am solidly on the path He has laid before me.  More and more, we are faced with the gut-wrenching decisions, what to hold her back from, what to let her try (and so often fail, fall, and hurt for).  Where to let her stretch her wings and when to hold her close.  So many times, too, when there is no decision even to be made, as she lays like a plank in our arms, spilling over the bounds of our laps and stretching the muscles in our back taut with her 33 pounds of seizing body.  So many times that she is choking, gagging, stumbling, stuck saying one word over and over, cannot play, laugh, run, walk, smile, soothe.  This path, like the other mission paths He's called me to, is the kind that breaks your heart open and spills it out...spills out all the love you've hedged in there, and all the pain, too.
And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide Himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, "This is the way, walk in it," when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. You shall have a song as in the night when a holy feast is kept, and gladness of heart, as when one sets out to the sound of the flute to go to the mountain of the LORD, to the Rock of Israel. (from Isaiah 30)

What's ordinary about extraordinary

there is prognosis and data.
there is following all the recommendations.
there is following none of the recommendations.
there is prayer and attitude and hope.
then there is luck.

the unpredictable nature of one person's cells to one specific compound at one moment in time.
for better or worse.
some surprises are celebrated, others mourned.
oh wait...sort of like the rest of life.
i knew i'd seen it somewhere before.

~ "surprise", by kindred spirit, oncRN


I've heard it a thousand times if I've heard it once: "I don't know how you do it."

(Fill in the blank: raise four kids born in a 4 year span of time; go to graduate school; survive cancer; keep smiling; don't become murderous when you clean up the 10th poop mess of the day; live with a husband on call...etc., etc....)

The reality is, God selects the trials that fit us.  He shapes our lives to change us.  My life ceased to be ordinary the day I surrendered my soul to Christ, NOT on the day I was diagnosed with cancer.  And still, my life doesn't feel the least bit out of the ordinary.  I have come to expect nothing less than the cancer/kids/school/work/financial woes life that God has called me to lead.  How about you?  What is "out of the box" about your life?  How is God stretching you?  All of us are works in progress...and the master Craftsman selects just the right medium and just the right chisel to shape us best to draw others to eternal life.  The chisels He's using on me are cancer, school, a busy schedule, a heart condition, a crisis in relationships.  The chisels chipping away at your granite doubtless look different.  But, if you're a believer, they're accomplishing the same end.  In the end, you are supposed to look - not like yourself - but like Christ...as close as possible to that unattainable Perfection we call Abba, Father.
Christ presses the shape of his own face into the clay of our soul when we cease to be hard and resistant, and when we take our own amateur hands off and admit that we are not such good artists as he is. Here we can see clearly what faith is. Faith is the assurance that what God will make of you, as Christ is formed in your life, is vastly to be preferred over what you can make of yourself. Faith is the confidence that the demonstration of Christ's work in your life is more wonderful than all the praise you could get for yourself by being a self-made man—or woman. Faith is a happy resting in the all-sufficiency of what Christ did on the cross, what he is doing now in our heart, and what he promises to do for us for ever. ~John Piper, May 15, 1983




Callouses


cal·lous [kal-uhs]
1. made hard; hardened.
2. insensitive; indifferent; unsympathetic: "They have a callous attitude toward the sufferings of others."
3. having a callus; indurated, as parts of the skin exposed to friction.


The hardening of the skin is inevitable: handle the tool long enough, work enough hours with it, and your hand will shape to it, the dense patches of yellow skin forming a glove for that tool, that work.  First, the pain as skin pulls, fluid collects in the little blister there where the rub is, it bursts open and bathes your hand in the white fire of exposed flesh.  You keep swinging, and the burn becomes an ache, and then fades to nothing, and in a few days you pick up the tool and find that your hand likes this shape.  Remembers this shape.  Is made for this shape.


You can stall a good thing, pretty early in the game.  Toss the tool aside when the blister pops.  If you leave the work, walk away in a huff, it is your soul that grows a callous instead, a selfish callous, a callous on the heart that shirks pain for an easier path.  And every time you pick up the tool and set to work again, days later, the pain returns, the fire-brand pain of a tender layer of skin that has never grown into this work.

There are parts of my soul that have done this work before, the work of suffering physically and spiritually at the same time.  I go back to this work and find that there is a callous, that I am prepared, ready, and able for this task.  I am reminded that I carry not only the life of Christ in my soul, but also the death. (II Corinthians 4 again...we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.)

Let me die quickly to self in this matter, as in all others.  Let me shoulder the work at hand without frustration, lethargy, paralysis of the spirit or the hands as I am called into battle.  Give me strength for this round, God.  I am in the part of the match where I'm almost praying someone knocks me out.  Help me to stay present in this day, this week, this situation, this life.  Help me accept it as a gift from you, God...despite the pain of today and the pain looming large tomorrow.

I am reminded, by the words of an old hymn echoing in my synapses, that you have not forsaken me, and that your grace is shown for it's glorious perfection when I am weak and tired.

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided;
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

~ Great is Thy Faithfulness, Thomas Chisholm, 1923 ~

Dandelion days

The pavement is soaking wet, the snow hasn’t fallen yet
I whisper your name and I can see my breath
And I’m tired of singing sad songs
.....................................................................................
I’m an oak tree in midwinter, 
I’m struggling to breathe and stay alive. 
I am mighty in the summer, 
but to live it means in seasons I must die…
~ from two songs by Sara Beth Geoghegan ~


The field is gold in sun, the beans dry and rattling loud 100 yards away, my windows open to the last of summer's heat billowing off the dried-flower fields.  The seed pods let loose in great storms of cottony glitter that catch the afternoon rays as they sparkle downward toward the dry, loose earth just tinged with the fertile odor of fallen leaves, corn cob remnants and the last cut of the year's hay crop.  Everything on earth slows this time of year: bodies, minds, earth's internal clocks, the hours of the sunshine shorter, the darkness longer every day.  We huddle in chill houses, trying to decide when to turn on the heat for winter...the inexorable grip of the thermostat on our wallets urging us to pull out wool blankets and sheepskin slippers instead of turning on furnace and fireplace.


My thyroid cancer management hits fever pitch in spring, when my body wakes up along with the frozen ground and my Synthroid dose is suddenly too high.  Then again in fall, as I begin to hibernate for winter, the dose is suddenly too low and I creep slowly toward true hibernation, struggling to find energy to haul myself off the mattress each morning and afternoon.  My afternoon nap is no longer a luxury, a necessity now in the autumn of my body's year.  I get labs drawn, and find that, indeed, it's all out of balance again.  Yet when I speak to my oncologist's nurse, I find that I must wait until October to adjust my meds.  I don't know what it is about endocrinology doctors - perhaps their lifelong work in a feedback loop that takes 6 weeks to adjust to anything - but they don't jump when you say "jump!"

So I wait, falling deeper into this sleepy lethargy with each passing day, my TSH (hormone level) climbs sharply from well below normal (suppressed) to the high end of normal (approaching true hypothyroidism). By October, it will be well above the normal range, and I will be an aching, freezing, sleepy, mind-in-a-fog mess.  It is difficult not to be angry with the slow pace this doctor takes.  Yet if I get ahold of some other doctor to get the dose adjusted...or adjust it myself, which I am very tempted to do!...the repeat labs at the beginnings of October will not help him determine my fall and winter testing schedule.  And that's too important to sacrifice.  We need clarity on that point.


As my body falls further into this pit of depression and quiet, I feel like my very soul itself is walking through darkness.  Aaron and I are experiencing a period of difficulty in some very important relationships, and our emotions are confused, baffled, bereaved.  Mostly we feel adrift on an unknown sea without a compass.  Our desire is for healing and restoration, but how to get there without a compass?  My mom gave us this passage to stand on in a stormy time, for we know there is truth, permanent, objective truth.  And that must be our compass: Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (II Corinthians 4:1-2, 5-6)

So, in a season of difficulty - physical, emotional, spiritual - I humbly ask again for prayer.  Prayer for endurance and courage, a spirit of love and submissiveness in this fallen world.  I have thoughts for tomorrow...thoughts about callouses and how God develops them and uses them in our life.  For now, I rest, a half-blown dandelion ball, scattered and spent, and pray for God's healing to flow down in these broken places, make me whole again.

You are an angry storm on the ocean
and I am a little boat
The waves are thrashing 'round all around me
I've just about lost hope

My little lights
Can't see the land
Through your crashing hurricane

I just wanted peace in the water
the night was still and calm
You've torn apart my stern and rudder
Now everything's gone wrong

And I know that the sun is gonna come out soon
The storm will cease and the sky will be blue
the nails and the boards are gonna get me through
So I hold on,
I hold on...

You are an angry storm
on the ocean
And I am a little boat
You've tried your very best to destroy me
You cannot take my hope.

~ My Little Lights, a new song for today by Sara Beth Geoghegan
& her 14-year-old cousin, Phoebe Guice ~

Times two


My brother Scott is a father...times two!  He and his wife, Jamie, welcomed twin girls born Saturday, 5 1/2 weeks early.


Jess was almost 5 pounds.



Kaitlyn over six.
Praise God,
from Whom all blessings flow.

Times two


My brother Scott is father...times two!  His twins were born Saturday, 5 1/2 weeks early.


Jess was almost 5 pounds.



Kaitlyn over six.
Praise God,
from Whom all blessings flow.

Gray

The day glints raw and gray through the kitchen pane.  We read the last two Psalms for devotions this morning, the kids in slippers and me under wool against the cold filtering through the crack in the bedroom window.

There is a lot of singing in Psalms 149 and 150, a call of the peasant saints to battle.  


This morning, I am tethered in flight, my mouth full of rust instead of song.

As Katy pulls on pair after pair of jeans in the kitchen behind me...this pair too tight, and this one, too...my thumb rests idly on the keypad of the phone, the doctor's number so long memorized scrolling past my mind's eye marquee endlessly.  The checkbook is empty and much needed relief has been delayed...again.  Our favorite cat lies dead in a ditch, waiting for us to pull on clothes to go pick her up in a blanket and carry her to the woods to be buried.  The rattling of the Lake Superior rocks in the pails on the porch tell me Rosy already knows - too well for five - how to build a cairn over a grave.

Instead of the usual thrashing of soul, the grinding of teeth and squeezing hard of eyelids and the salty bitterness of tears on my upper lip, all today is raw and gray, like the pre-sunrise dawn air outside.  It isn't fall yet, it isn't summer either.  I sigh and turn back to the task behind me.


I lie awake;
I have become like a bird alone on a roof.
For I eat ashes with my food,
and mingle my drink with tears.
(Psalm 102)

Gifts along the way to the grave



A week ago, they danced across the rock ledges on the shore of The Big Lake in the hours after the exhausting funeral.


Propped against each other, even tired as children, watching the waves foam up laying tireless, endless siege on the black basalt shore.


I looked over at my brother and his beautiful wife, second baby on the way, and it struck me that his hands are a man's hands.


I turned my face to the sun to soothe the ache that welled up inside, babe in partial seizure cuddled on my lap, exhausted from her rock climbing.  Let it soak in that it is a blessing that she can jump those rock ledges...even part of the time.


A fellow mom and blogger has just returned from Guatemala and writes that she will forever fight the middle ground.  (that middle ground that I so long for when I am on the edges of this battleground of life, offering up daughter and self on a tin platter of belief, trying hard not to feel the flesh tear when another piece is taken) She is the same woman who started thousands of others counting their blessings in her campaign challenging others to count 1,000 gifts.  My list is silent.  It includes the breathless gape of mouths open in joy, hair whipping in wind, skin bathed in the cool lemon of a September sun as the spray of water lashes the icy cheeks.



The boundless-joy grins - a matched set - of a grandpa and a granddaughter driving the boat.  (When did our parents become the grandparents?  Isn't there some way to stop time marching on?)


Her neck tight in little girl squeal as she starts the descent downward out of the trees in the lake air, thick with the last breath of summer heat.


The flap of flannel and blowing blond locks as he runs down the hill for the hundredth time, fists still chubby with babyhood beating a tempo of delight in the hot morning air.

This weekend, too, a mixture of joys and sorrows.  Meeting my brothers twins, their curly black heads smaller than my palm.  Seeing the look of fatherhood on my brother's face...the last of us to experience this speechless, love-at-first-sight thing called parenthood.  Traveling up, again, to my grandparent's house.  Emptiness.  Loneliness.  Fear as my mother's white hand reaches out to the window where my grandmother's used to, waves in just the same way.  We have all taken our place in a new generation now that the last of the grandparents is gone.  I am firmly in the middle, and my parents are next in line for the grave.  My whole life I have been battling back the worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34).  So I let the tears drop on my hands as I type, and find a host of photos that remind me of the gifts that go along with our consequent decay.  Thanks be to God, we are all alive today.

The narrow pathway
Through the needle's eye
I'm stepping forward
To the place I die

For I know that You are faithful
As we walk these fields of white
To the waiting and the humble
Your Kingdom comes


The way of mercy
Takes me to the least
Down the road of suffering
To the wedding feast
~ Faithful, David Ruis ~
available for download here




holy experience

Plumping up



I never thought I'd have to encourage my kids to eat.  I certainly have no problem loving food myself...although I do have vague memories of battles over sauerkraut, mustard, rye bread and polish sausage when I was a small child.  Anything that awakened the palate was too spicy for me.  But since becoming a mother myself, I've become more aware of feeding issues.  And I assume my kids are probably easy to feed compared to many...breastfed until 5-6 months and started directly on hand-ground table food, they never had flavor or texture aversions suffered by many children today.

We started getting the evil eye from our pediatrician back when Rosy wouldn't gain weight or grow taller.  She wore 3-6 month clothes until 18 months, and 6-9 month clothes until after age 2.  Finally, once we figured out that she was lactose intolerant...and really more borderline allergic...and became religious about avoiding milk products in her diet, she started to gain inches and pounds.  We had our share of feeding problems with Katy and Amy due to their chicken allergy, too.

But by far the most drastic issue to date is Amelia's aversions and low appetite ever since encephalitis last October.  At a time when fat is critical in her diet, she wants nothing to do with food, especially high fat, high calorie foods that most kids love.  In the hospital, she almost entirely existed on cheese pizza and green beans (greeeaaat diet, right?!!).  Since then, we've slowly come to terms with her need to eat ground food instead of  chewy food, liquids over solids, and have come up with myriad ways to add fat to foods without her knowing.


My wise friend Melanie recently suggested coconut milk smoothies as a way of adding both calories and lots of good-for-the-brain fats.  For more on the benefits of coconut products (and I'm not referring to the powdered sugar coated shaved coconut used for baking!), read here.  This smoothie is easy to make and a big hit with my kids!  With the benefit of no added sugar, this is a stick-to-your-ribs snack that is sure to keep the kids out of the kitchen between nap and dinnertime.

Easy Coconut Milk Smoothie
1 can canned coconut milk
1 can (use your coconut can) of whole milk
1 banana
Handful of berries or other unsweetened fruit

Mix in blender and serve immediately.  The coconut milk should not be low-fat or reduced calorie; should be about 180-200 calories per serving, with no added sugar, for the best health benefits.  I slice bananas when firm and freeze the cubes in a large ziplock bag (my mom's trick), and use unsweetened frozen fruit from the freezer section of Aldi or a grocery store.

Katy's 7th



Katy waited long for a birthday party with friends at the York's horse ranch in Pepin.







A big dream finally come to fruition...an embarrassed smile of joy.



I learned today that my fatigue is probably NOT due to a pacemaker infection, which would require surgery.  Instead, my cancer suppression med (Synthroid) has gotten out of balance again and I am hypothyroid, which is why I am constantly tired.  I still need an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) to insure that there is no "vegetation" growing on my pacemaker wires, which could also cause my symptoms without an elevated blood count.  I will speak to my oncologist on Monday as well, to have my meds adjusted.  The only bad news: it takes weeks to take affect.  Please pray for strength for me for these next few weeks.