Sundays are for worship

Hard to imagine this is all possible on a phone.
Now I *almost* want to get one!
You can download their music at the Rend Collective Experiment store.

Weekends are for mothering

We have a lot of babies at our house right now - just not the human kind!


This one, recently renamed "Tiger", seems to be trying to
live up to her name - she always has her claws out!
This little cat loves babies and snuggling almost as much as a human mama!

As if four kittens weren't enough, we adopted a chick for the week.
My dad - a.k.a "the Chicken Whisperer" - is on vacation, and has one
tiny little chick that needs constant attention. This little one is so
noisy, Aaron has already threatened early butchering!

Scrap the plan

Four o'clock in the afternoon often comes around, and I look at my to-do list for the day and realize I have yet to earn the privilege of crossing something off. Before cancer, before Amelia's encephalitis even, I hurriedly got to work - shooing the kids up to watch a cartoon or outside to fend for themselves for an hour so I could attend to the housework, schoolwork, or ministry that had been neglected all day.

And then my whole life turned upside down. In those long hours spent apart from family each time I have a treatment or scan, in the timeless solitude of the hospital room tending Amelia and longing for home, a new reality emerged. I never once regretted the undone chores on my to-do list. But I did regret all the small lost opportunities to nurture, build relationship, simply be with these changelings that are my children.
So what do I do, these days, when I face the to-do list never embarked upon? I crumple it up, toss it in the garbage, and grab a new sheet of paper. Today, I scrapped one that said:
  • Call Sara F re: garage sale
  • Lippincott writing
  • Produce podcast for Kelechi's class
  • Meet with parents re: IWU job
  • IRB revision
On the fresh sheet of paper, I wrote another list - the one I actually worked on today. The path that God pointed to, instead of the plan chosen by my own 3-pound brain.
  • Plan summer school with the girls
  • Cuddle Caleb for ___ hours (fill in the blank)
  • Read at least 5 board books aloud - at least twice through each book
  • Make a picnic lunch
  • Fill the pool
  • Water plants
  • Mop the kitchen floor two times
  • Mop the dog corner once
  • Wash swim suits - twice
  • Play space ship on the porch with the chairs removed from the kitchen
  • Call someone to set up a playdate for Rosy
As a Type A personality, God has definitely used the trauma of life to cleave me away from Plan A and ingrain the perspective that it is the busy application of my talents that He desires - not the busy application of my talents only in certain endeavors. He does not care a wit about my list, but He does care if I stick to the list to the exclusion of what He calls me to do each day. I never once dreamed that cancer and encephalitis would be the capstone lesson in a lifetime of learning flexibility.

Join me, perhaps? I start one list in the morning, titled "To Do". I write a second list in the evening, to prevent depression when I look at my still-to-be-done list from that morning. I title it a "Done" list. Sometimes keeping track of what you have actually accomplished allows you to review your day from an entirely different perspective.

Let's try something new! If you keep a blog or other online journal, link back to this post with your own thoughts about priorities, list-keeping, and expectations for your days. Just click on the link below, and add your blog information and your photo. The instructions are very easy - and it would be fun to hear your thoughts.

Striving for Relevance


Today I am breaking one of my own rules. I am blogging for a different purpose. I heard about a conference through the network of blogs I read - Relevant. The tag line is "Blessing my family, engaging the world". I can't think of a better way to encapsulate my goal for my life. That is it: my purpose, in a single sentence. It is why I keep focusing outward. It is why I - or should I say "we", as this decision is driven by my solid, faithful, and focused husband - refuse to quit because life is hard right now. It is why I kept writing through each day of the gut-wrenching cancer diagnosis in 2008. Why I kept writing through the lonely days of treatment. Why I wrote every single day of Amelia's life-threatening encephalitis, ADEM and now severe epilepsy. And while I lost a baby and through every surgery and complication that followed.

It is why I am willing to make my blog fit into my life, why I keep plugging away at school, and why I write for a textbook company. Because the trials are redeemed by Christ, and I want to shout it from the rooftops! I refuse to bury the treasure I have found under a mountain of housework.

I have said again and again that I have more strength, endurance and resolve than my culture would like to give me credit for. I refuse to believe that my resources can only meet the demands of mothering and housewifery. And so, I blog; I go to school; and I work from home. I am passionate about it. I feel called to it. And, by the grace of God, I have a husband who agrees! Yes, I would love to attend this conference. At the moment, the funds must go to the more mundane tasks of life, like purchasing a road-worthy vehicle large enough to convey our whole family plus the occasional babysitter. So here is my shout out to Country Bob's BBQ Sauce, which I am sure I would love had I ever had opportunity to taste. My dear readers know all about my spicy new taste buds since receiving radiation in 2008! What a blessing it would be to receive a free ticket to this conference!

Far from painful

You may imagine that I am suffering on my fairly strict no sugar/no starch diet. Much to my own surprise, I have found exactly the opposite is true! I tried a similar diet in college, in an attempt to control my fainting episodes, which at that time were thought to be linked to drops in blood sugar. I wasn't successful...I think probably because I couldn't afford enough protein to satisfy my insatiable hunger as a busy student athlete. Now...with a half of a cow in the freezer - all natural, primarily grassfed at that! - it is quite a different story.

Last night, my meal was steak, a large mixed herb salad with homemade buttermilk curry dressing, and steamed artichoke with yogurt-curry and drawn butter & thyme sauce for dipping. (cultured dairy products are allowed on this special diet)

Visual and gastronomic feasting! Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a stalled ox and hatred therewith. (Proverbs 15:17)

What remains

Elisabeth Elliot's prayer today: Lord, deliver us from smallness and self-pity. "Make us masters of ourselves that we may be the servants of others"(Sir Alexander Patterson).
I have always been a very "in the moment" sort of person. The moment is the focus: if it's good, entertaining, sweet - then I am in a good mood; if it's bad, negative, draining, tiresome - then I am in a bad mood. Living with cancer, living with a child with new disabilities, requires that I step outside the moment.

I started that process by developing a constant scale system, completely internally and inside my own head. My "inner monologue" often had to do with weighing the pros and cons - adding a pro here or a con there depending on the moment, and then evaluating the sum. A good day had more pros in it than cons. After all, that's how many decisions are made, right? It was a logical system, right?

Unfortunately, this system devolved into a very complex matrix because I soon realized that I couldn't assign the same weight to different brands of "bad" and different moments of "good". A bad seizure has to have more weight than spilled milk. A moment of unexpected silence in the house in the busy afternoon is less than getting news your cancer hasn't grown in the past two months. So I scrapped the system.

I had an epiphany moment reading I Corinthians 3 aloud to my Rosy-girl one day when she was struggling with a bad attitude. (I remember the irony of the moment - occurring, according to Murphy's Law, on one of my very worst days, a day when I was certainly laying up more wood, hay and stubble than gold, silver and precious stones.) The words are hard ones: each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

Rosy looked at me and said, "Isn't God amazing, Mama? He saves our good works forever and burns the bad ones up. I am glad my bad works are gonna be burned up."

The thud deep in my soul was ground-shaking. That's right. The bad ones will be burned up and gone in a moment, forever, and the good ones will stay for eternity, a visual reminder of what was done right. Simply weighing the bad against the good doesn't capture the whole picture. It leaves Christ out of the equation. In Isaiah 43:25, it says I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. He will not remember them. They are blotted out, gone, forgotten, burned up and destroyed forever. Is it possible that He burns up the failures so that they do not detract from the brilliance of those works done for His glory? Is it possible He does so out of mercy and tenderness to us?

This may be the key to rejoicing in everything, in everything giving thanks. If I burn up the bad immediately, if it is confessed and then blotted out and forgotten, isn't every day a "good day"?

What Christ did on the cross is inexorably shift the pendulum toward the true, honorable, lovely, commendable, just, pure, excellent and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). By destroying the sting of death, wiping out the penalty for the wrong words, the sullenness, the anger, the questioning and the fear, He has created a new paradigm for those who choose to believe in Him.

When He looked down on us yesterday, He did not see a bittersweet picture. He saw a redeemed picture. He did not see a 31-year-old woman with cancer, exhausted from the heat and afraid of fainting, riding on a horse because in that moment she still could: He saw a 31-year-old woman riding a horse, enjoying the friends He provided. Period. He has washed away cancer, exhaustion, fainting. What will remain for all eternity is only the good - because I have accepted His washing!

Yesterday, my daughter had a horrible, violent seizure that lasted over four minutes. I was afraid it would never stop, or that she would choke on her vomit. I felt completely and utterly alone. It felt like eternity. Yesterday, on the way to the clinic in Rochester where hope for these seizures is housed, our van broke down...again...at the most inopportune moment. My first reaction? "Wow, God, you're really piling it on!" We waited for a car, we drove through the heat without air conditioning - and it felt like eternity. At the clinic, we talked about the inevitable 9-1-1 calls, the rescue medications to prevent permanent brain damage or death, the spacing of medications that will require even greater responsibility as parents. Time stretched thin, the doctor's words echoing in our heads as we drove home through the crippling humidity and heat. Eternity.

The sweet moments seemed so fleeting yesterday, in the face of all the "bad" of the day. Yet this is what will last. The fleeting moments of "right". Sunset, on horseback, cool breezes, laughter lilting, sweet fecund smell of the ranch, cool wooden floor in the old farmhouse, cricket calls and frog songs, teenage hijinks full of life, and little ones tagging along after big kids. For eternity, those things - the pure, beautiful, excellent things - will live on in glorious, indelible gold.

Adversus solem ne loquitor

in these kaleidoscopic times
fragments of ourselves are scattered
yet as the earth slowly turns
the universe follows
our colours blend together
and everything falls into place
proving that we are stronger than
the sum of our parts
~ Anne Engelen

My new favorite book on suffering has my head whirling, new truths dissolving old fallacies and a deeper, more painful perspective emerging. I spin on the words of God to Moses: Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? (Exodus 4:11, emphasis mine) I've heard three major arguments about the role of suffering for the Christian up to this point:
  • suffering is an indirect byproduct of a cursed world that just "happens" or is "allowed" to affect the Christian;
  • suffering comes from Satan, and is "allowed" by God;
  • suffering is discipline directly handed down from God to punish sin in the Christian's own life.
In John 9, Jesus and his disciples come upon a man who has been blind from birth. The disciples ask, Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind? Jesus corrects them - their perspective is too limited...they need a new category! It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him. (v. 2-3) Charles Stanley puts it this way:
Is it possible that adversity can originate with God? All of us would be more comfortable if Jesus had said, "This man is blind because he sinned, but God is going to use it anyway." That would be a much easier pill to swallow. But Jesus leaves us no escape. Sin was not the direct cause of the man's blindness: God was.
In these photos, grandmother and grandchildren bend in the parchment dry spring dirt to tie cotton rag flags onto twine demarcating the garden beds. Flags that remind little feet where to step; visual cues of the boundaries, the lessons already learned. And so it is with Charles Stanley, for me: a flag to remind me of lessons already learned, the free grace I was so eloquently taught as a child. This little book - my new favorite - is dogeared and underlined on nearly every page, first by my mother and now by my hand. When my suffering seems unfair, undeserved, there is a flag: the murder of God's own Son has yet to be avenged, and waits for the last day when He will judge from His throne. When my suffering seems purposeless, there is a flag: Christ has a goal in this, a goal so important it is worth my agony. When I fear I am alone in my suffering, that Christ has abandoned me, there is a flag: in John 11, when Lazarus dies while Christ tarries on the mission field afar, He was deeply moved in spirit, troubled, and wept. "He was not emotionally isolated from the pain suffered by those whose perspective was different than His own. When you hurt, God hurts." (Stanley, p. 21)

A Latin phrase I learned as a teen comes to mind: Adversus solem ne loquitor (do not speak against the sun). There comes a point, after the soul audit, after the weeping on my knees, after the begging for an answer, when I must simply stop fighting what I cannot change.
Suffering is unavoidable. It comes without warning; it takes us by surprise. It can shatter or strengthen us. It can be the source of great bitterness or abounding joy. It can be the means by which our faith is destroyed. Or it can be the tool through which our faith is deepened. The outcome hinges not on the nature or source of our adversity, but on the character and spirit of our response.
Stanley says something else that rocks my world today:
[I was] convinced that God could be trusted in the midst of adversity, that He really could work all things together for good if we adopt His definition of good and accept His system of priorities. I realized that God knows exactly how much pressure each of us needs to advance in the spiritual life. It was hard for me to stand back and watch others suffer because I was not aware of all God was doing for them on the inside. My perspective was limited to what was taking place on the outside.
You see the cancer at 29, the brain infection that came out of nowhere and struck down a perfectly formed child, the seizures I report and the food poisoning and the damaged pancreas and the breast tumors and the surgical complications. But what is happening on the inside - on the inside of me, of Aaron, of our whole family unit - is absolutely worth the anguish.

Truly, these are "kaleidescope times", we are scattering and blending into a fresh new painting together. This mural is far from finished. We're still putting up the flags. It is with little feet we still trod the carefully circumscribed pathways of this garden of faith. It is through this season of suffering that we learn to walk them with our eyes closed. The peace of God in our hearts is the hand of God clasping our small one. For even when He speaks no words, He is not silent. Even though unseen, ever present. Though He places the suffering here in our midst, so too He comforts and sustains.

::

Today, a woman wrote me that she accepted Christ after reading this entry from last week, and the verses linked there. She is, literally, from the opposite side of the globe. Today, in the midst of writing these words, my daughter had a 4 minute seizure of the worst kind. So He continues to bring glory through the blood, sweat and tears. So He wrings praise from lips trembling in fear. So He upholds when we are undone. Please lift us up in prayer. Amelia has an appointment at Mayo this afternoon, and we pray with groanings too deep for words...Father, please give this doctor wisdom to heal this precious treasure.

Out of the ordinary

Weekends are often outside the ordinary.
This weekend more than most.
Drive-in movies on Friday, munching popcorn coated in real butter.
Even though it was 40 degrees and raining.
(In adventures such as these, we teach our children to revel
in unexpected joy found in inopportune moments of wonder.)
Saturday: a sun-soaked day at Grandma's. The men are gone
fishing in the semi-arctic at Cass Lake. The children and women
stay behind, and paint rainbows in the late afternoon sun.
We make messes that normally wouldn't be allowed - and laugh about them.


(In celebrating moments of beauty swimming in chaos
and mess, we teach our children a different path to the
worship He commands. We teach them to see His
fingerprints in a cursed and clanging world.)

A weekend full of adventure.
A weekend full of tenderness.

I see Him shining, now, after years of practice, in both dim light and full sun. Being outside the ordinary can bring some mixed emotions, some ingratitude, some chaotic churnings of the soul; but also so much joy. These out of the ordinary days are the ones that stick like glue to our memory.

Abstaining

Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. (Philippians 4:4-6)


I had cancer related lab tests drawn yesterday, and had the results in the afternoon. My calcium is okay, but probably because I have been taken my normal prescribed supplement x8 for the last 3 days! The doctor says to keep plugging away at the supplements since I still have symptoms. The symptoms of low calcium that I get are horrendous muscle cramps (so bad they kind of "freeze" me in place), tingling in my arms, legs, and face, and fatigue. It has been the busiest week of our summer this week, with spring activities overlapping with summer ones, and it has been difficult to keep up.

My tumor marker test is still positive, I learned late in the day. Even though it should be negative now as it is suppressed with the Synthroid level I am on. My other tests also show the Synthroid dose is once again not working as well as it should, so that will be upped again at my appointment on Tuesday with my oncologist.

So, I spent a restless night pondering all of this, and a few verses that came floating into my head in the dark. Philippians 4:4-6 has been my go-to verse for my lifestyle for many, many years. And I still agree that being careful because I think I can save myself is a pointless endeavor. But, in light of all this and my desire to make wise choices so that I can be on this earth as long as possible for my children, I am considering making some drastic changes to my diet/lifestyle to fight back. With the guidance of my doctor, I am considering cutting out all sugar, starch, alcohol and over-the-counter drugs (read ibuprofen and aspirin) in an effort to keep my blood sugar below 120 at all times and reduce the amount of work for my liver. This is because easy, quick food is what cancer loves best: eliminating easy, quick food has definitely been shown to slow cancer's inexorable march. After speaking with him, I went ahead and started all of this yesterday. I was planning on a starchy late supper and a Summer Shandy when I got home after a very, very busy day...and instead feasted on a spicy Italian sausage from my friend Jan who is apparently related to some amazing cooks!

It will be an interesting new phase in my life. I am a moderation master in some areas, but there are some areas where I definitely don't have good self-control. I also struggle with diverging that drastically from my normal cooking pattern, because I much prefer to be on auto-pilot in the kitchen in those frantic evening hours pre-dinner. I think I will try putting together a pretty solidly planned menu so that I can just look at a list...and cook what it tells me to.

Prayers, please? That cancer growth would slow down and I won't need any radioactive iodine before October? That the cancer would be treatable with the iodine? That my calcium would stabilize? I am grateful for your prayers.

He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. (Romans 14:6-8)

Time is short

God gave me cancer to remind me that my time is short.
He gave Zac Smith cancer, and took him home at 31,
so that Zac could remind all of us of the truth:
all of our days are numbered.
Time is short for all of us, my friend. Let's get to work.
2. Love.


Let us labor for the Master from the dawn till setting sun,
Let us talk of all His wondrous love and care;
Then when all of life is over, and our work on earth is done,
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.
~ When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, here sung by Johnny Cash (listen if you dare)

Take this cup


The gift that God gave to His only begotten Son was to crush Him. The gift that God may be offering to you in His loving hands may be a thorn--something about which you cannot imagine why God is doing this. Yet He is saying, "Will you love Me? Will you trust Me? Will you praise Me?" The Bible tells us in Romans 8:17 that we are heirs with Him if we suffer with Him. We become co-heirs. He wants us to be with Him in our sufferings. He wants us to understand the sufferings that He went through for us. Of course, we can never understand it. Of course, it is beyond any of our wildest imaginings. But we know that because of that shameful cross you and I receive redemption. I don't know what the gift may be that God is handing to you today, but there may be bitterness in the cup. There may be a thorn. Now when you and I begin to feel sorrow for ourselves and we think, "Poor little me. Why does God do this to me? I don't understand why God is allowing this to happen to me," go back to Isaiah 53:10. It was the Lord's will to crush Jesus Christ, His Son, and to cause Him to suffer. Why? "Though the Lord makes His life a guilt offering, He will see His offspring and prolong His days; and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand because He poured out His life unto death and was numbered with the transgressors. He bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors." ~Elisabeth Elliot
I found some of the most succinct and truth-filled words on suffering today at the blog of a fellow Christian who just died of cancer yesterday. He states that Christians going through great suffering must first "focus on being still and developing our relationship with God. Second, we can focus on ministering to others through the pain." (from Zac Smith's blog of his last days - well worth the read) Finally, he focuses on how to survive suffering well - concluding that we can
  1. Focus on our eternal destiny in heaven & the relief it will bring
  2. Focus on the surprises God has planned out along the way, and let your frustration go
  3. Be obedient and live in the moment God has you in: do not lose sight of today because you are focusing exclusively on the future
I would say that these three ideas are great ideas, but they are also extremely difficult to live out in real life! Focusing on eternity and the relief it brings almost always make the bittersweet grow ever more bitter, at least for me. I get distracted thinking about all that I will lose touch with once I die. I start thinking about the ensuing pain that will have to occur before I die (cancer isn't an easy way to go, especially if you are young and your body has a lot of "fight" left in it). Zac's second point, to focus on the surprises, can be a great distraction from frustration and pain. But sometimes the surprises are not what you'd hoped, and you wallow on in ever worsening disappointment as there is sometimes little or nothing to rejoice in the situation, and your rejoicing must simply be because of God. Because He is and was and ever will be, and you can rejoice because you know Him. Which brings me to Zac's third and final point. This, I think, is the heart of how to suffer for Christ rather than just because of Christ. By bowing to His plan, and finding out how to serve Him in the moment, we can be the hosts of His glory, as His sovereignty, grace and extravagance shines out from our pain.

Aaron and I were recently counseled that God must be trying to get our attention through all of the suffering and health issues we've had as a family in the past two years. We believe, wholeheartedly, that this is true: the initial cancer diagnosis definitely served as a wake-up call to both of us. Zac Smith talks about the same process for him and his wife: get cancer, be woken up, realign yourself with God, get cured, get busy planning for the future. BUT sometimes you do all that, and cancer comes back. Other trials crop up. Then you are faced with a situation like Acts 28: Paul, the thorn still in his side even after fervent prayer for healing, is busy healing others. Rather than focusing inward as a family, trying to determine what God is trying to do in our lives, Aaron and I both feel this is the time to focus outward - to minister to others through our suffering.

Two Calebs, same Jesus

It tells of One whose loving heart
Can feel my deepest woe;
Who in each sorrow bears
A part that none can bear below.
Oh, how I love Jesus!
Oh, how I love Jesus!
Oh, how I love Jesus!
Because He first loved me.

~ O, How I Love Jesus, by Frederick Whitfield, 1855 ~

Sometimes there is something awesome and even frightening about how swiftly, powerfully inexorable the march of time is. Occasionally, I would swear that I can feel the wind as the world turns, and day turns to night and back again. That constant marching of time carries us further away from things we've lost - health and loved ones, yet closer to them with each passing moment as we dance toward death and reunion in heaven. As I sang my children to sleep for their naps today, a haunting memory flooded over me. Another little Caleb...a different place and a different time...and a mother's plaintively sweet and unapologetic voice as she sang him to sleep with his favorite song about Jesus. As my children came, one after another, I continued to ponder this scene, and wonder how it was that she taught him to love that song so much. In the past week, it has happened to me. My own Caleb begs for a favorite sweet song about Jesus, every time he lays his head down. He sings along in his little tenor, the words coming a millisecond after they leave my lips, a call-and-response of mother-heart and son-joy drifting upwards to Jesus' throne every night and every naptime.

The words of the third verse tug my heart strings every time I sing them. Truth shouts out from these lines: One whose loving heart can feel my deepest woe; who in each sorrow bears a part that none can bear below. As the trials and losses and limitations have piled on in the past 2 years, I have often walked a lonely path that no one can truly share with me. People have joined me on that path at times: my friend Amy whose own daughter suffers seizures and limitations much more severe than Amelia's; my friend Heather who walked the cancer road with me for a time; my mother, as she shares a deep understanding of my response to loss and the loss of my baby. But there are much longer stretches were it is just me and Jesus. How comforting to know that He feels my deepest woe! He is so much more than a sympathetic listener or a serving friend (not to belittle the gifts of sympathetic listeners or serving friends!). He is right there in my heart, feeling the break and bathing it in his own tears; the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26b).

What is is less than what was, and that brings grief. The last few days have been happiness interlaced with sorrow, the sorrow threads woven in by the loss of that babe, the loss of freedom, the loss of many things that could have been great joy, the loss of security and naïveté. I imagine myself, in brief moments, heavy and full with the last month of pregnancy, unpacking cloth diapers instead of sending them off to be of use to someone else. I imagine myself without cancer, without fatigue and sudden calcium deficiency and the horrible muscle tetany it brings with it. I imagine myself back to a different time...my body and soul and mind like they were when my first children were born, and cares were so distant and ambiguous and out-of-focus. It is not where I am today. I am grateful for the consequent lessons the suffering has brought. I am thankful that others have submitted to their suffering. It is as if Amy is standing before me, when I sit on the bed singing at bedtime, holding out a vignette of unfettered beauty and fragrant warmth - the vignettes she created by bowing to Jesus-Lord instead of thrashing before Him. The vignette she wrought by allowing her wordless lament be mouthed by the Spirit, who groaned for her with pleading too deep for words. May I be a similar instrument through these days of suffering, and hold out a gift built of faith and obedience to some young mother in the future.


An exercise in what might have been:
capturing loss via double exposure through tears.

Sundays are for family

A happy family is but an earlier heaven.
~ John Bowring ~

"Family Sunday" was instituted a few years ago by my parents, who sensed change in the air as some of my siblings started to move farther away from home in pursuit of career, family, mission. It has been a joy to have these days set apart for family games, meals together, and conversation. People have asked me time and time again how I got to this place of faith at such a young age. Herein lies the answer: it was passed down to me from my parents. Not just the church-going habit...way beyond reading Bible stories, or singing songs...see in this video the beauty and warmth of a million choices to serve Him daily with hearts and hands. See the imponderable joy, grace, love that shines in their home today. (And oh, yes - do try to ignore the competing harmonicas - there were three going in the hands of children, which kind of drowns out the beauty at times!)

They did a lot of the hard work so that I never had to - and in this way He will lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands. (Exodus 20:5-6)

One (girl) band

Thanks to the suggestion of a friend, I have started experimenting with recording "one man band" songs, track by track and instrument by instrument (Pomplamoose is my favorite band of this sort - although they use two musicians, not one). I probably should invest in a better microphone - I am using the headset I use for videoconferencing for school! I enjoyed the creative outlet of recording this song in 11 tracks, errors and all. The story of the past 2 years begs telling in some sort of synoptic form. I pray that the suffering we have undergone leads many "sons to glory". There are two things that make it worth the pain: knowing I will have jewels for this to cast at my Savior's feet; and praying that our example of faith leads someone to Him. It will be worth it all, when we see Jesus/Life's trials will seem so small, when we see Christ/One glimpse of His dear face, all sorrow will erase/So bravely run the race, 'til we see Christ! (Esther Kerr Rusthoi, When We See Christ)

video

If you interested in trying your hand at the "one man band" thing, contact me and I will send you the links to the free software that enables you to do so with a laptop and a microphone.

Jubilee

I can tell by the way you're searching
For something you can't even name
That you haven't been able to come to the table
Simply glad that you came

And when you feel like this try to imagine
That we're all like frail boats on the sea
Just scanning the night for that great guiding light
Announcing the jubilee

'Cause the people who love you are waiting
And they'll wait just as long as need be
When we look back and say those were halcyon days
Down at the jubilee
~ Jubilee, Mary Chapin Carpenter ~

This song is a plaintive refrain of what it is to be searching. "Jubilee" - what we all search for in life and what we'll only really know in heaven. The latest turmoil has freed me to "come to the table, simply glad that I came". Suffering looses the bondage of the super-mom ideology, and allows me to simply be glad I am here. Thank you for that, cancer...thank you for allowing it, God. These are, indeed, halcyon days - days when the wind and the waves are almost magically calmed for a period of rest, respite, and unmitigated joy. Take time to click on the link above and listen to this beautiful song.

Helping parents with really sick kids

Ever have a friend whose child is hospitalized? I found an excellent resource online today, with a list of things to put in a gift basket for a parent whose child is in the hospital. This is THE LIST I've given a dear friend twice now (thank you - you know who you are!) when a day in the hospital turned into a week. It would greatly bless any friend of yours facing similar difficulty, and may be a good idea for hospitals or even church small groups to provide as a service to those thrust suddenly into need.

Survival items
  • phone card for long distance
  • tooth brush/tooth paste
  • shampoo and hand cream
  • small box tissues
  • Tylenol (adult)
  • sanitary pads
  • razor (there are never ANY in the hospital, for whatever reason)
  • mints, gum, instant breakfast, calming herb tea, chocolate
  • trial size antibacterial hand gels
  • digital thermometer (paranoid parents always double check)
  • a journal for parents to record experiences or medical information
  • note cards/writing tablets/envelopes/stamps/several pens
Special touches
  • pillow from home
  • crayons/coloring book/drawing pad/stickers/book/small kids games
  • blanket/tee shirt/hat/underwear
  • slippers/soft socks
  • coffee mug
  • wonderful body refreshing spray - purse size (lemon/citrus is the most universal scent)
  • cash, cafeteria gift card and/or parking tickets, gift certificate from hospital gift shop
  • a list of nearby restaurants that deliver to the hospital
Services
  • Pick up, launder and drop off laundry
  • Babysitting of other children
  • Offer to organize or pay bills, bring bills to the hospital, or contact service providers such as phone, power, cable, garbage, post office to alert them to the family emergency
  • Mow lawn/shovel snow/weed gardens/feed pets
  • Make meals for those stuck at home
  • Bring homecooked food to your friend who is stuck in the hospital (a friend brought me homemade buffalo chicken pizza at the hospital while Caleb was sick and I will seriously never forget it!)
  • Offer to sit with the sick child in the hospital so the parent can run an errand, go outdoors for a few minutes, make phone calls, or get food out of sight of their child, who may be unable or not allowed to eat
Thanks to Ped-Onc Resource Center for the great list!

Babies for Mother's Day


One from the new batch of kittens, born on Mother's Day.

One year ago: Scarlet with her litter mates - bottle fed for
6 weeks! Now she is a mom, too.

I received a long-awaited, lovely surprise on Mother's Day: the cat I bottle-fed nearly from birth had her own litter of kittens in our basement on Mother's Day while we were away! They are teensy yet - as small as Katy's hand, and mostly tiger striped in grays and blacks. One sweet one looks just like our Alley Cat (yes, that was her name) who died shortly after giving birth last summer. She is black and white spotted, very cute.

I've made a few changes to my blog, on the right sidebar. People often contact me for the titles of book or names of songs I've quoted here. I've added a place where recent songs can be played and purchased through Amazon, books as well. I'll update these frequently to reflect recent content that has spoken to me, in case you wish to have a copy.

The Golden Ticket


The devil, who has for the most part ignored you up to that point since you weren't a threat, starts to take notice. And so do other people. Believers and unbelievers alike may become your adversaries. Remember what happened to the boy David when he decided to fight Goliath? His brother attacked him angrily. Then Saul, the king, challenged him, "You're just a boy." Then Goliath himself mocked David. In that moment, David had no supporters except the Lord. Get in the battle and see what happens. ~Tim Haring, April 30th devotional for Faithwalkers journal, available in it's entirety here
This has definitely been my experience. At certain points along this difficult road, as I follow God like a blind woman down a path I didn't choose that leads to a destination I am totally unsure of, I have felt overwhelming support and love from my community. At other points, that support has fallen away and I have been forced to wonder, "Am I even on the right road any more? Did I slip up somewhere?" I have to re-examine everything - my motives, the reasons I have faith I am on the right path, the signs God provided along the way, and most of all, my relationship status with God. Cancer, initially, was a huge wake-up call. All my priorities were shaken up like papers in a raffle basket, and, since the dust settled, nothing has ever been the same again. What I knew in my heart has become what I do with my hands: 1. God; 2. Aaron; 3. children; 4. blood family; 5. church family; 6. the lost. The challenge has been to sort through the various activities that fill my days and put them in their correct slot on the priority list. School, for instance, is particularly challenging. I believe it fits somewhere between church family and the lost - my reasons for going to school are to witness to the lost and to build the church family by going on mission as a nursing professor and being a voice of the church in the broader community. Adoption is another challenge - is that up there with children, blood family, church family, or is it an edict from God and something that should take top billing as Aaron and I pursue it together? These are the two activities that have undoubtedly drawn the most "heat" in the battle surrounding my life and my time and my service to Christ. School and adoption are two aspects of my life many people do not understand. Yet they are part of what Christ has called me to do, and I must "enter the battle and see what happens". I cannot, in good faith, table these things because it doesn't make human sense to pursue them. Aaron and I are in agreement, after long, hard examination, that these two things stay in our lives. We have to keep stepping forward on that, even if brothers, kings, and enemies oppose us and question our sanity.

A little book of collected writings on suffering, edited by Nancy Guthrie (who definitely knows her subject), has been a comfort through the latest onslaught. Corrie ten Boom recalls a conversation she had with her father when she was a child:
When I was a little girl, I went to my father and said, "Daddy, I am afraid that I will never be strong enough to be a martyr for Jesus Christ." "Tell me", Father said, "when you take a train trip from Haarlem to Amsterdam, when do I give you the money for the ticket? Three weeks before?" "No, Daddy, you give me the money for the ticket just before we get on the train." "That is right," my father said, "and so it is with God's strength. Our wise Father in heaven knows when you are going to need things too. Today you do not need the strength to be a martyr; but as soon as you are called upon for the honor of facing death for Jesus, He will supply the strength you need - just in time."
God has called me to face cancer, various other health difficulties, a child with special needs, graduate school, homeschooling my children, homemaking for my family, and pursuing adoption - all at the same time. He has given me the money for the ticket. Only He know how much strength I need to survive this - nay, to shine for His glory while doing these tasks. From the outside looking in, to friends and family and strangers who don't have the ticket for this train in their pockets, it seems impossible, improbable, unwise, fool-hardy even. But I have the ticket in my pocket - my Father has given it to me just in time to board the train. Now that I am on the train, jumping off would be the fool-hardy action! God is holding my hand and we are steaming along just fine.

I plan to type up an entire article by D.A. Carson titled "Dying Well". The verses he opens the essay with remind me to number my days and resolutely press on if I am sure of what God has called me to do. The entire passage is Psalm 90:3-4, 9-12, but verse 12 is what gets my attention: So teach us to number our days, that we may get a heart of wisdom. The wisdom and strength God is pouring into me is probably very different from the wisdom and strength He is pouring into you. We have different tasks for which He is preparing us!

Having your faith tested is not all sorrow, misery, tears, torment, agony! Charles Spurgeon states, "It is as great a mercy to have your salvation proved to you under trial as it is to have it sustained in you by the consolations of the Spirit of God." The old adage, what doesn't kill you will make you stronger, comes to mind. It's true in our marriages, isn't it? When our vows are tested by sin in our spouse, or sin in ourselves, we walk through that fire begging for the trial to be over, only to emerge on the other side realizing we can now trust those vows. We know now that they stand up under fire! So is faith that has been tested by suffering - I know now that I will not lose my faith, that I can walk bravely (albeit with tears and sweat and begging for grace and mercy) toward the day He has fixed for my death. I will not crumble. His strength holds me up. I have tested it now, and so I can believe all the more.

Finally, the story of Manoah and his wife - Samson's mother and father - keeps coming up in various conversations and books. I think God is teaching me immensely through that story, found in the book of Judges. God speaks to them, and their reactions are polar opposite. They hear from God, and develop a set of expectations. When life fails to meet those expectations, Manoah falters, and his wife ponders the whole situation and arrives at a conclusion on which she acts. Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it this way:
Suddenly, everything seems to go wrong. The situation is perplexing and baffling and quite the contrary of what we had expected and anticipated. We seem to break down altogether and to lose hope entirely. We jump to conclusions, and almost invariably, to the worst conclusion that is possible in the given circumstances, the same assumptions as that which led Manoah to his worst conclusion, (namely) that somehow or other, God is against us, and that all we had so fondly imagined to be an expression of God's goodness and kindness was nothing but an illusion. In the midst of disaster and trying difficulties, the Christian religion, instead of acting like a charm or a drug, and doing everything for us, and suddenly putting everything right, asks us, nay rather commands us, to think and to employ logic. Manoah's wife understood that God is never capricious; God is never unjust in his dealings with us; God never contradicts himself and his own gracious purposes.
Finally, Lloyd-Jones concludes with lines that bring me such peace in this time when everything seems questionable, chaotic, unsupportable. You may not understand what is happening to you; it may seem, to you, all wrong. Trust yourself to him. Believe when you cannot prove. Hold on to his constancy, his justice, his eternal purposes for you in Christ. Regard these as absolutes, which can never be shaken, build your case logically upon them, remain steadfast and unshaken, confident that ultimately all will be made plain and all will be well.

For now, we are staying in the battle, and seeing what happens.

Floating

For this little girl, the best medicine is and always has been the bath. She had two seizures on Friday and took 4 baths. I reveled in the unbroken beauty of her spirit and her lithe figure, even in illness. She is preserved, so completely. Happy mother's day!




Reminds me that, in addition to our brains and our science and our technological advances, we were first given herbs, wine, bread, oil (Psalm 104). The smallest blessings (running water, heated water, a large antique clawfoot tub) are sometimes the grandest life has to offer.

He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realise just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.
Oh, how He loves us.

If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.
And Heaven meets earth like an unforseen kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest,
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets,
When I think about, the way
He loves us.

~How He Loves Us, David Crowder Band

My rainbow

A double, double rainbow (two distinct rainbows, one completely through 2 repetitions of Newton's 7 color spectrum, the other nearly through 2 repetitions, in supernumerary form). The day before surgery, it felt like a reassurance, even to someone who doesn't generally trust "signs". I am a skeptic. But, as we pulled away from the Cancer Center, there it was, spanning from one horizon to the other. As I stood in awe, I recalled the Biblical story of the rainbow, and wondered, "Will He never destroy me again?" Is the corporate covenant between Creator and creation personal in that moment when the events of life collide with an atmospheric miracle?

A symbol of grace. I'm sure hundreds of people in the Eau Claire area saw this beautiful double specimen. But for me, emerging from the Cancer Center the day before surgery to diagnose cancer yet again, it was a very personal message. One I'm glad I interpreted correctly as a message of hope and grace.

Fashion plates

I found them at a garage sale...and was transported, instantly, to my friend Erica's yellow farmhouse, the fertile must of the cows, the murmur of machinery, the hot, stifled air of the piano room at the front of the house. I never had this toy, myself. But she did...and I think she was rather confused by my interest in it as the fascination, for her, had long ago worn off. The quick and easy perfection of your creation as you slid the wax stick over the raised fashion plate, the hours you could spend coloring in your own combinations of dresses, pants, tops, hair styles, accessories...I was smitten! It seems funny to me now, looking back at my childhood, which was mostly a story of sports, outdoors, tomboyishness - those fashion plates, and my dozen or so baby dolls, were the feminine moment.

Rosy, of course, loves them. We've had a few half-sunny/half-rainy days since my surgery, and the air is cold and dank. So we are huddled inside, mostly. I am in pain, and curled in bed with books for the most part. The kids all have a head cold, and they've been pretty content with quiet activities. I think we are settling in to the news that summer is going to be different than we had thought. Settling into the goodness of it, and getting a feel for the different sort of work it will be. I can't just be idle...either in my humanness or in my faith. I am just not wired that way. Aaron and I are busy discussing the grand possibilities of the non-cancer life: work? School? Summer vacation? All seem possible again. We step - tentatively now - forward. So many times we have thought the carpet was finally still beneath our feet, only to have it yanked out in a new and unexpected direction.

Days of quietness are unequivocally the gift of God. I praise Him for these past few. I find it interesting that themes of "peace" and "quietness" are often given a feminine slant, like this in Isaiah 32, to the women of Israel:
The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. [wow - imagine that forever!] My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest. Though hail flattens the forest and the city is leveled completely, how blessed you will be, sowing your seed by every stream, and letting your cattle and donkeys range free. (verses 17-20)

Sorrow may endure for a night

Summer was looking pretty bleak, a few hours ago. The consummate pleasures of we Northern dwellers crescendo in the summer months...gardening, running around barefoot, swimming, the long shadows of afternoon sun glinting on aluminum softball bats, and the crickets song in evening. How much of that can you revel in, fighting cancer?

Deliverance.
Freedom.
"Sorrow may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."

Aaron gave me a painting yesterday with four words in it: Dream big. [permission granted] And that's what God just did: permitted us to turn again to dreams. The pathology on the 2 inch tumor they removed yesterday came back, miraculously, benign. Which means a summer with hair, a summer without chemo or radiation or vomiting or slowly growing old. A summer without dying from cancer! My survival odds are back to 76% at 10 years. Which, albeit not great odds, is so much better than what we had to contemplate over the past week.

The cloud has passed over the sun, and we are bathed in warmth again. The rain shower has blown past on the summer wind, and we are left in the cool green fields of flowers and frogs singing. We are waiting to hear the katydid's lullaby and look forward to dipping our feet in the rushing ocean later this summer. I can sign the kids up for swimming lessons. I can take my comprehensive exam and continue pursuing my degree. I will be able to take walks, and stand being out in the sun, enjoy my friends coming to visit in June, go to weddings this summer and dance.

I can't wait to get my feet dirty in this field of joy.

Surgery done, hopeful??

I am going to take my own good advice and not blog at length under the influence of narcotics. The surgery was 1 hour, there was one 6.5 cm (2.5 inch) fibrous tumor removed, and the bloody, gold discharge was confirmed to be coming from the tumor that was removed (the small second tumor was left, to be followed by mammogram). Pathology results should be in (at least preliminary ones) tomorrow. Hopeful that "fibrous" means "benign"? The incision is 2 inches long and quite painful, a probe was used to separate the tough connective tissue from tumor, so I will quit typing and retire to bed with pain pills, husband, clear liquids, and movie in hand.

When destruction comes

Surgery today at 10:30. Praying I come out with a lump removed, not a breast. But God's will be done, not mine. A breast is a very small thing in the grand scheme of eternity.

A friend gave me this from Oswald Chambers:
"When the darkness of dismay comes, endure until it is over,
because out of it comes the following of Jesus which is an unspeakable joy."


For he wounds, but he also binds up;
he injures, but his hands also heal.
From six calamities he will rescue you;
in seven no harm will befall you.
In famine he will ransom you from death,
and in battle from the stroke of the sword.
You will be protected from the lash of the tongue,
and need not fear when destruction comes.
~from Job 5~

He doesn't promise we will never be wounded, injured, suffer calamity (even 7 times over), starve in famine, fight battles, be lashed by others, or see destruction come. Destruction may come with surgeon's words tomorrow; but I need not fear. I will be bound up, healed, no harm will befall me, I will be ransomed from death, I will not suffer the stroke of the sword. I will be protected and I need not fear. What comes tomorrow, the news of tomorrow, is not the answer: God's love is.