I am here & wonderfully alive

My appointment with my cardiologist yesterday was unfortunately uneventful. Meaning he cannot fix me - beyond waiting for the Cardiazem to kick in and keep my heartrate under control. I was instructed to stay in bed for the next three days while I wait. So I am trying to do that as much as possible.

The nightlight is back in the bathroom (so I can tell if my vision is darkening during the night - the sign that I am about to faint). I sit at the edge of the bed for 5 minutes before getting up to the bathroom. All so I do not break another toilet with my head

A few pictures of joy (making pies with my children a few short days ago) - because that is what is in me as I lie in bed. Fear swells as my heart races, and Christ calms the fear with a whisper...for every heart beat, however fast, means I have been given the gift of another hour here. I am so grateful. When my heart slows again, the fear returns, for your heart feels silent and still when it beats normally after so many quivering, flipping beats so much more thunderous to your sensation. So I close my eyes, and breathe in and out, a kind of "pinch me so I know this is real" motion that I do for myself. Yes, I am still breathing. The world is still spinning. And I am still conscious, on it, aware, wonderfully, blissfully alive another day.

To the ones with wild hearts

I am off to the pacer clinic at 11 a.m. and then to see a nurse practitioner and finally, my cardiologist. All are confused as to why my heart is acting up. Please pray they will be able to figure it out, and that if I need to have the pacemaker altered or replaced, that would be very clear to them. There is always the chance of a defective pacemaker or wire, and I am sincerely hoping they can discover if that is the problem today.

For those of you interested in the actual technical details: basically, my pacer is not "capturing" my heart's rhythm (so my heart continues to beat unnaturally fast), then kicks into a different mode, trying to "capture" the rhythm in the base of my heart. This works, but my own rhythm is still going in the top of my heart. So the top of my heart and the bottom of my heart are not beating in synchrony, which feels very uncomfortable at first and then causes chest pain because the blood leaving my heart is not fully oxygenated. It needs to be fixed - and hopefully the diltiazem (Cardiazem) I'm on will fix it. For now, it is still acting up.

This song - from Psalm 25 and 30 - encouraged me deeply in July when I had a different, equally horrible health event. My dear friend Amy singing it to me over the phone from Phoenix is in my "top 10" memories from my lifetime.

Since I am so sick
Since I am in need
Since I have no healing within me

Oh my God be mindful of me
You are my help and my Redeemer
Oh my God be mindful of me
You are my help and my Redeemer

Unto you O Lord
I lift up my soul
In Your lovingkindness I believe

Surely those who wait on You
Will never be ashamed
And all of those who call on You
will know the faithfulness of Your name
~ Since I Am So Sick by Waterdeep (buy here)

A good cover of the song on Youtube:

*Photos from an impromptu lunch date a few weeks ago courtesy of my mother with all my children and sister-in-love Melissa and her two sweet babies.

Today, I am thankful for impromptu love-fests at small town restaurants, friends singing encouragement across the long miles, Psalms that speak comfort in a stinging soul and aching heart. He is here, and not silent. Make Your presence known, Jesus, to all who watch us through these gut-wrenching days. May our peace be our testimony of faith when all else fails.

Linked with joy to Ann's campaign for gratitude:

Back and forth

Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place. ~Susan Sontag

My aunt was only sick a few weeks.
Her sons couldn't bear the sharpness of spaded dirt falling on her in the grave.
They dug with their hands instead,
leaning deep in the hole to drop gently on the beloved.

It's a different world, a different part of me whispered in the flat hushed land of the reservation. I think these men do intuitive better than most. Rules matter less here.

I remember them both...lovers in old age, uncle with the chaotic overgrown eyebrows and curly hair and twinkly eyes that I thought maybe my grandfather had also, though I never met him. Aunt with the quick laugh and the tiny, tight body and the curling linoleum kitchen.

At her funeral, my pacemaker went crazy and I fought for peace of mind on the long drive back to a hospital after the luncheon. Then let pill after pill of nitroglycerin burn the space under my tongue on the ambulance ride to a bigger hospital, as my heart flip-flopped in and out of a dangerous rhythm that had the paramedic silent and sweating.

Long ago, before children, I came to terms with this kind of thing.
But the terms have changed.

Four children and a husband later, the pacemaker is still not working right, and I bit my lip and stalled back tears of pain as my chest ached yesterday. The doctor tells me I have to come to the hospital every time that pain comes. But I can't live at the hospital. So I hide pain and try hard, and fail often. Last night, to the hospital I went at 1 a.m. with my mother and aunt as "someone nice for company". Slept peaceful with the pain gone once they gave me the nitroglycerin they refuse to send home with me (wouldn't it be easier without the I.V. and the million questions and the night on the uncomfortable cot?). Tomorrow I go back to the cardiologist with Aaron's presence to try again to sort out this mess. 

I need protection. (my heart flutters dangerous sometimes)
I need strength. (I have never been so tired)
I need peace. (so I can give peace to these precious children)

Pray for me?

Empty places

Grief became to her like breathing; she couldn't rise or go to sleep without the pressing feel of it against her heart, the weight of it like a suitcase she didn't know how to unpack. ~Karen White, On Folly Beach

The holiday season descends and with it the joy of the circle of family. Empty seats hover like ghosts - we don't set them, but they are there, in our hearts, as we look around at the beloved faces and the mind constructs a list of those gone now for this season. I read that some people set the places, an empty chair, a plate never dirtied; I wonder if those people know better how to unpack the suitcase of grief, that they can stare it in the eyes at the dinner table.

The circle of life continues though we resist the gravity of time's passing. I wonder, too, at God's wisdom that He empties and fills the pitcher at the same well, that we of finite passions could not possibly hold all the love for all those we lose and all we gain. Yet do the loves we lose ever really vanish, or is it the lacework on the tablecloth of life, the beauty around the edges that pulls hard at the heartstrings? The last lingering refrain of a song so plaintive we close our eyes hard against the joy and the still deeper pain of hearing the notes?

God is personal but also propositional; beyond our knowledge, and yet we can know (Ephesians 3:19). Human life is not a test of worthiness or a vale of suffering we must somehow rise above. It's a quest, and creation is a mystery - both in the wonder-full sense and in the Agatha Christie sense: a marvelous work, and a problem with a solution. ~from Janie B. Cheaney's August 14th article in World

Christmas Card Outtakes 2010

Sometimes the outtakes are the most fun.

Who'd she inherit that hair from, anyway?

Your guess is as good as mine!
Amy's jammin', Katy's giggling, Caleb's confused, and Rosy's hamming it up. 
Could they possibly look in the same direction for 2 seconds??

Rosy looks like the perfect child who sneaked into the photo session with the crazy family.

And here...not so much!
What is Caleb doing? Winking?
Katy looks like a cartoon character in this one with that grin.

Annnndddd....the inevitable "action shots" of family photos with a 2 year old boy!

Next week, you'll get to see the "nice" photos as I review Christmas card services, both print and online. 

I am thankful...

For beautiful friends and the beautiful hands that serve us in love...

For dancing on sunny days when our hearts are drenched in the rain of sorrow...

For peace that passes understanding...

For unbridled joy no matter the circumstances...

For what He gives...



And what He takes away...



For sustaining us through the worst of times...

For healing...

For making the sun rise and set and bringing beauty to our lives each and every day.

Thanks be to God, our Provider, Lover, and Friend.

Happy Thanksgiving, America!

Pluck, pluck, BLECH!

“Mother ducks pick feathers from their chests to line their nests.”

I wake up almost every morning before I would like to.

I cook when I would rather be working on a school project.

I sing and read stories in the precious moments I want to spend talking to my husband.

I wash floors crusted with milk that I didn't spill.

I clean toilets that I don't sit on. (feel free to fill in the missing consonant for a giggle!)

I wipe noses instead of wrapping the piling-up presents.

I clip 50 toenails and 50 fingernails every single week.

I put away toys I don't ever play with.

I stood under a tree looking up, through my camera, at the frozen crab apples that no one picked (they were delicious still). Caught in the branches was a piece of goose down. The kind mother ducks pluck from their breasts to line their nests. Having plucked ducks and geese, I know that with every pluck there is a little dot of blood, a piece of flesh torn out, too. I had just listened to a speech that used this analogy to capture motherhood - yes, it is difficult; yes, it hurts; but where, exactly, do we expect the nest building materials to come from, if not from our own bodies? From the trash? The discards? Do we really want to live in a nest built out of leftovers and unwanted pieces? 
What struck me, looking up in this tree, as I counted the ways that I sacrifice every day, is that I did all that for pay, once upon a time. For children who weren't my own. For children I didn't truly love.
Ridiculous- embarrassing - humiliating is the fact that I would ever begrudge my children the same.
In the past few days, I have started praying about and thinking over all the news we received during Amelia's hospital stay at Mayo. In a nutshell, the fact that this might not be something she will outgrow. Yesterday, I finally met with my cardiologist and learned that I did, indeed, suffer some heart damage during the episode a few weeks ago that may have been a mild heart attack. Unfortunately, the damage lies right beneath the wire that connects my pacemaker to my heart, making it less effective and explaining why I have been so under the weather the past three weeks. In addition, my thyroid cancer suppression is too high again, raising my resting heart rate to 120 beats per minute (mine is normally less than 60, so this is double my normal). While most people think being hyperthyroid means losing weight and having lots of energy, the exact opposite is true for most thyroid cancer patients...being too high on your meds means horrible, bone-aching fatigue and a diversion of all your body's resources to the core, keeping your heart racing day in and day out.
I have to accept the fact that God asks me to keep giving under these circumstances. Rectify my expectations with the reality of my life. 
Even when (fill in the blank)...I will still give to them. And through them, You, Lord.

I am willing to receive what You send,
lack what You withhold,
relinquish what You take,
suffer what You inflict,
do what You command,
be what You require.
~ Prayer by unknown author ~

And the winner is...

the dearest Melissa Ann(e). Wouldn't you just love to know her in person?

Congrats, Melissa - enjoy your $20 gift certificate! And thanks so much to Dayspring for providing it!

Giving full vent

I never had a temper until I had children. At least, so I thought.

Katrina at 9 months
Besides occasionally getting frustrated in heavy traffic and bemoaning my singleness to a God who seemed callous to my fate, I rarely experienced anger. I thought of myself as a "peacemaker", and "even tempered" would have been part of my self-description.

Then - despite proclamations from multiple physicians regarding my eternal infertility - God gave me four children in four years. And before I was even half done bearing them, I found out I had a temper.

A bad one.

Yelling was part of my daily coping. Doors were slammed and laundry flung here and there, and sometimes I even dressed my kids roughly instead of tenderly. I remember pulling my fingers deep into fists so tight my chewed-short nails left imprints on the life-line of my palm. I often spoke through gritted teeth - my jaw so tightly clenched that I went to bed with an ache there in reminder.

Katrina & Rosalie in May, 2005.
I hated it. I loved my children, and realized - perhaps even more than most - that they were a gift to be treasured. But everything orderly about my life went out the door the day I brought my first child home. It took a few months to get things under control, and about the time I learned how to integrate the extra laundry and tasks into my day, I found myself pregnant again and tired beyond belief, vomiting every hour and searching endlessly for something nutritious that I wouldn't throw back up.

It was while potty-training my third daughter that I realized I really needed some help. I'd been praying about it for years, and I wasn't gaining any ground against this temper of mine. Another child was on the way...and this 3rd one would only be 15 months when the new baby arrived. I was already far beyond my human ability to cope with all the diapers, disobedience, and disarray. I didn't want my children to remember me as an angry mother spitting out commands, retreating in tears, and begrudging every chore she ever did for them. I wanted them to remember love. I wanted it to drip from my body like the blood of Christ, freely given from a heart that longed to be united with those little souls, my children.

A not-so-sweet mothering moment - all dressed up & nothing but tears!
And so I sought an older woman of the faith (Titus 2). I went to her because I heard someone say once that she used to have a temper. You'd never know it to see her now...one of the most soft-spoken women at my old church. If anything, she was one of the kindest and gentlest people I knew - someone I definitely longed to be more like. She smiled a sad little smile when I told her my plight, gave me a hug, and prayed over me. Her eyes spoke words she didn't say aloud, I know this pain. I know what it is to long to change...and to fail. I know what it is to wound the ones you love most.

Thul girls, Christmas, 2007; you may notice #3's mischievous expression!
She gave me a few Proverbs that helped her, and suggested I put up a few notes around my home to remind myself when I was tempted to yell at my children. It helped...a little. Then something really strange happened. I had been praying daily that God would take my temper away for about 1 month when I was diagnosed with cancer...in my throat. You know, where yelling comes from. Right in front of my voicebox. I had surgery to remove the cancer. And I lost my voice. Totally. I couldn't yell...I couldn't even speak! All my words were whispered, for weeks. I had to teach my children a special "family whistle" so that I could summon them in crowds or get their attention in noisy public places.

One of the signs on my kitchen windowsill reminds me of this, to this day. Verses written out, along with the words, HE gave your voice back - use it wisely!

The purpose of the Proverbs is to teach - not to argue or debate; and to provoke thought. Proverbs is a compendium of wisdom, the sum of the moral wisdom of man, a group of wise and weighty sayings that reflect the truth of the world. Many people take Proverbs as a series of commands (1 + 1 = 2). Yes, all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (II Timothy 3:16). But there are books written specifically to different people at different times, there are commands and there is wisdom, there are judgements and there is story. The Proverbs are classically viewed as "wisdom" - guides for our moral and ethical behavior as Christians. Julian Rivers, a professor at Cambridge and Göttingen universities, has this to say about how we use and view all kinds of Scripture:
We do not read the Bible flatly as a book of rules for right living; rather we take full account of its literary and linguistic forms. We do not read it as merely an ancient source of pious thoughts; rather it is the true story of God and his people, which tells us how things really are and commands us to abandon our self-centredness and live for him. We do not think we must do exactly as ‘they' did; rather we seek to understand what was right about the judgements the texts make in their historic cultural contexts. We do not proof-text, taking a single verse or passage to have concluded the matter; rather we place it within a coherent and overarching view of God's entire revelation. We do not think that the Bible is simply a starting point, to be left behind as the Christian tradition unfolds; rather it points forward – and back – to Christ, who is the centre of our lives. And we do not read the Bible simply to know what is good and pleasing to God; rather we read it to be caught up into it and then to live it out.
I am thankful that God spoke through Proverbs and personal trial to my heart. The triumph of my story is that I did get caught up in it...and my temper is largely a problem of my past. I wish I could point other mothers in the midst of their own struggle toward a "magic bullet" of Scripture that knocked the teeth out of my temper. Unfortunately, it wasn't just something I read, something I prayed, or something I changed that brought the beast of my temper under control. It was the Spirit of God living in me and changing me. For each of us, that process looks a little different. I can simply pass on hope that this, too shall pass. Get on your knees, deep in your soul. Beg God for change. Stay deep in Scripture, so that it runs through your mind like an infinite stream, conscious and unconscious, eroding the architecture of you into ruins and exposing the beauty of the marble out of which He is building a new creation.

With His strength, you will be able to laugh in the face of the worst of times, and have peace when nothing in life seems right. (Proverbs 31:25)

A few of the Proverbs that helped me most in my hardest times:
A fool gives full vent to her anger, while a wise woman keeps herself under control. (Proverbs 29:11)

She who is often reproved, yet stiffens her neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing. (Proverbs 29:1)

In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and her children will have a refuge. (Proverbs 14:26)

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but she who has a hasty temper exalts folly. A tranquil (healing) heart gives life to the flesh, but envy (jealousy) makes the bones rot. (Proverbs 14:29-30)

This post linked to Ann Voskamp's thankfulness campaign: