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 ~

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 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

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 ~

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

This beautiful life


Her palm quivers across horseflesh and an age-old ache awakes deep in my heart.  This life is so beautiful.  It seems too beautiful to ever leave.


I watch a friend walk over the last threshold of childhood and into a bright and indefinable unknown, and a shiver of cold and loneliness sweeps over me as she is bathed in the beautiful light of evening.


She smiles a smile that you can only smile when you are young, and alive in your skin, and stretching your arms in flight for the first time.  The light catches my eye and sends a prism shooting, a millisecond of glorified sunbeam that sparkles like a jewel off this beautiful piece of sod, high on the hills, up in the late summer wind with the moist smells of horses and hay and apples floating on the evening breeze.


A whisper between girl and horse falls through the shaft of light around the corner of the aging barn.  It's gray bones a silent reminder in a harvest-time moment of fullness and promise and beauty, and the ache grows deeper.


I have been so tired the last few days.  It is one of those seasons of a long battle when you would almost rather give up the fight than keep fighting.  All the beauty that surrounds as autumn approaches is like the poisoned apple proffered Cinderella, the sadistic lie of Life, that promises an everlasting horizon of entertainment and beauty instead of the slow sink into eternity as bones grow old and crippled and sore and tired.


Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, "I find no pleasure in them"- before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain; and those looking through the windows grow dim; when men rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint; and the grasshopper drags himself along and desire no longer is stirred. Then man goes to his eternal home and mourners go about the streets.

Remember him—before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.  (from Ecclesiastes 12)


I remember my Creator, I quake sometimes, in awe of Him.  In awe of an awesome God who first gives us a beautiful creation we are loathe to leave, and then promises, if we believe, to perfect that beauty for all eternity.  As the yellow late summer sun strains through the kelly green of the grass, the barn crumbles, and the dogs shiver in the cool evening shade, I stand with my arms outstretched to a heaven I cannot imagine and do not want to go to now.  I see, in one moment of this achingly beautiful life, that I do not and cannot understand what it means to walk this mortal clod nor what it entails to leave it.

This week has been a week of contemplating, again, death.  Leave-takings.  My last grandparent gone.  A friend from the internet writes that she naps all day long, how her hours grow shorter as she approaches the final days of her 10 year battle with cancer.  A young man, my age, grows visibly weaker every Sunday in the back rows of church, spotted with cancer and hunched in a wheelchair.  My own body is weak now, either from infection or cancer meds that have gotten out of balance again.  I spend long hours on the couch and bed.  Mocked by the dishes in the sink, the dirt on the floor, the mounds of summer clothes that must again (endlessly, this twice a year task comes) be sorted into bins and organized before the air chills further.  I sit at my computer for a few hours today, and sigh as I peer through a pink bed sheet haphazardly strung up against the strong late summer sun of eventide, where a curtain should have been hung years ago.

Nostalgia


What makes it into the photo albums and scrapbooks is not necessarily the memories that make it into our mental bank from childhood.  A spur-of-the-moment stop at the Trego Dinner Bell, where I remember eating many lunches with my travel-weary grandparents, made it into the memories, but there were few photos romantic enough to make it into the album.  It was a random joy...the hot beefs with instant mashed potatoes, the homemade apple dumplin's thick with dough and cinnamon, the weak diner coffee and the kids drinking from the half-and-half single serving cups while we waited for our onion rings.  After dinner, outside to "blow the stink off" in the mostly-deserted parking lot on Labor Day evening.  Sisters instructing the younger ones on how to balance along the parking lot stanchions made of cement and railroad ties.  The younger ones abandoning organized play for a through and unorganized running about the entire pitted tar lot, giving chase to a butterfly.

This is how life happens.  Not in the right light.  In the most humble of surroundings.  No special guests.  No special plans.  Herein in the gift that life is, how it goes on without our planning it, how it provides beautiful moments even outside our schedule or even our expectation.

Seeing Grandma on Saturday was like seeing a husk.  She is not here.  Thanks be to Jesus...her spirit is somewhere much more beautiful.  The husk she left reminded us all of the love she gave.

My children will someday remember childhood.  Remember childhood with Aaron and I as parents.  As I stood outside the Trego Dinner Bell, waiting for a camera worthy moment, I realized that these moments, these moments unworthy for the camera, are what will define their memories.  So I snapped some pictures, and thought about my own childhood.  The Trego Dinner Bell pie.  My grandparents, footing the bill every time we stopped.  Love.  How to smother my children in it.  How to recognize the real moments of childhood, and capture them, in my mind and theirs, in my camera and their albums.

Oh, how things change!


Eight years ago today, a lonely beachhead on the outer banks of Puget Sound, a meager honeymoon dinner of fresh bread, Gouda, and sausage, honey mead, and taking photos together for dessert.


His smile is less bashful now, when he sees the camera pupil pointed in his direction.  Today, a busy day with family, surrounded by our progeny, barely a moment to say "happy anniversary" in the morning light before wee ones crowded in the bedroom, hungry for breakfast.






Happy anniversary to the man who heals me, helps me and holds me.
The perfect father and husband for my brood and I.

I am reminded of the old adage...
"the more things change the more they stay the same."
(Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose)
~ Alphonse Karr, 1849, Les Guepes ~

In the hands tending to little ones,
I see the same hands I first fell in love with.
In the day spent serving others,
I see the spirit I first fell in love with.


At the end of the day, my love, you are still the same.

A eulogy


Today I have to write a eulogy for my Grandma Irma. (I shouldn't say "have to", because it is an honor to do so.)  Although somewhere in the corner of your mind you know that such things are a reality, that someday all of our loved ones will be gone, it's not something you sit and ponder until the moment comes.


I took these pictures on my last trip to Silver Bay in June.  It was odd, then, to walk up to the house that used to be turquoise, that used to hold my Grandpa's stooped yet strong smiling form.  Grandma is too short and stooped to show her face in the small kitchen window above the sink these days.  It was always Grandpa's long arm and thick hand that reached out to the pane to greet us.

The door to his behind-the-garage workshop was stuck shut after a winter and spring with no tenant.  The rusty handle felt smooth in my palm as I walked in for a wrench and a screwdriver and stood among the spiderwebs and dust bunnies to weep over my Grandpa.  Remembering, all in a flash, the smell of the lawnmower that he never allowed me to run (ladies don't mow lawns and no self-respecting man - even at 80 - would allow one to try); the bike pump hissing as he inflated the tires on my very first bike; the chug and bubble of a boat motor as he tuned it up back there; the smell of Grandma's fat little hand-patted hamburgers sizzling over a charcoal flame; his thundering giggle that sounded so natural as his pipe hung from his lips and he nursed a single can of beer while he grilled.


The paint drips are from the time we painted his house when we were kids.  Grandma gushed over the help, and fed us sandwich cookies, cold milk, and Little Debbie treats.  Grandpa was out supervising, and I remember getting scolded for this drip.  He taught me (although I already knew - I was just being lazy) how to go from wet to dry and brush your drips out as you went.  My grandpa thundered his approval when you did something well, but was never afraid to encourage us to do better.  Where he could be a difficult taskmaster more interested in teaching than showering praise, my Grandma Irma was a soft, deep well of tenderness, affection, and blind belief.  She always thought the best of us and would have been shocked to hear anyone say we had ever failed at anything.  She thought we were good, sweet, hard-working, diligent, intelligent, and gifted.  While I often felt I was otherwise, her deep love for me watered me in ways no one else did.  In some ways, I see the good in myself because she believed good of me, even when it wasn't true.


The turquoise paint has been replaced with functional and sensible sage green siding.  I remember hunting for the perfect, matching shade of turquoise when we painted the house back in the 1990's.  I remember how the Silver Bay sun, which never felt hot any other day we visited, burned holes in your back as you stood on the ladder to reach the peak of the cape cod shingles.  I found a glimpse of the turquoise paint between the meters for gas and electric, where vinyl siding couldn't be applied.  I see there the evidence, again, of teenage "just good enough" painting - missed spots and uneven, sloppy strokes.  When I showed Grandma Irma this picture, she poo-pooed what I saw and told me, "What I see there is love.  What other couple on this block had all their grandchildren up on ladders painting for them instead of paying a fortune to have someone who didn't know them do the same messy job.  You kids were such good kids."

Her passing reminds me not to be sloppy about how I love, not to do a "just good enough" job, with messy, uneven strokes, leaving the unlove showing through.  To be hard-working as I approach relationships.  To see good in people, to love them with a tenacious, unfaltering love, like the love Grandma had for me.  She was a good example of love.  She never worried about herself, but instead pored herself out for us, even during that last trip.  Helping prepare beds, helping with dinner prep and clearing the dishes to the counter so I could wash them...she still wasn't ready, at 80-something, to give up serving those she loved.

And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. II John 1:6

Clinging


The cold, dark water swirls as four figures tiptoe into the deep.  The sisters stand tall, drawing in breath with lifted shoulders against the sudden icy dip.  Sun bathes white backs in warmth as they shudder in submission to a two thousand year old practice.  Father leads the way.  Preacher walks beside.  We head "down to the river to pray, studying about that good old way..."  I am an onlooker on a safe, warm shore, as they walk in the steps of many saints, out to baptism.


Waist-deep, these girls I've known since birth smile against the cold.  They have heard the Word of God (Acts 2:41); believed (Acts 8:12, 36-37); and received the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:43-44), so now they walk out into the water to show all.  The immersion in water a picture of the immersion of soul, the passing from death to life through belief in the Person, the death, and the resurrection.


Their father holds them, and their arms clasp tight as they wait to be cradled back into the lake.  Links in a family chain.  A grip that won't let go.  This father here on earth a picture of the Father in heaven, who promises never to leave us or forsake us.  I look at this picture, and it is something to work toward.  Something to teach toward.  I, too, am a link in a family chain.  A daughter and sister first, now mother to daughters.  I want them to clasp tight like these girls.  Even through the difficulties of a teen transition, even through sharing bathrooms and mirrors, dressers and closets, bedrooms and bunks.



I want to raise girls that jump from the water of baptism with a shout of joy and a string of laughter.  Girls who don't just do what they're told or follow the rules...girls that find joy in Christ, understand their wholeness and healing through the grace of the cross.


Girls who emerge from the water still holding hands.  Sisters who are unafraid in a culture where holding hands means something different.  Sisters who face the world together, united, intimate, and ripe with the secret joy of shared experience on the cusp of womanhood.


Girls who bow heads but paint fingernails; who wear white to their baptism, punctuated by lace; girls who see reflections of beauty in a sin-filled culture, embrace details that embrace truth and eschew those that reflect only sin.

Girls who submit to authority out of wisdom, not brainlessness.  Girls who learn and grow, blossom and put out roots, read and study and pray and sing and dance and teach others.

When the Bible teaches that men and women fulfil different roles in relation to each other, charging man with a unique leadership role, it bases this differentiation not on temporary cultural norms but on permanent facts of creation. This is seen in 1 Corinthians 11:3-16 (especially vv, 8-9,14); Ephesians 5:21-33 (especially vv, 31-32); and 1 Timothy 2:11-14 (especially vv, 13-14). In the Bible, differentiated roles for men and women are never traced back to the fall of man and woman into sin. Rather, the foundation of this differentiation is traced back to the way things were in Eden before sin warped our relationships. Differentiated roles were corrupted, by the fall. They were created by God. ~excerpted from Children Desiring God