Homeschool Sunday

They fall and fly together on the swings, two sisters pushing each other higher and higher. We are on a road trip in Iowa, a trip to find fossils. Home school on a Sunday. Just as it is with the swings, so it is with their school, these two motivating each other, teaching each other. Rosy learns facts and methods from Katy, and Katy learns to dance and laugh with her creative little sister. They put up posters all over the house, together, for a "Sprouts Play by Firelight" during our bonfire next week.

He follows sisters, and his sandy crocs pump high in the toddler swing, aunt pushing him along and sister pumping and singing next to him.

We find the fossil hill, a cliff of sandstone slowly falling, with fossils and bones and impressions left behind. Almost immediately, Katy finds a crab and Rosy finds a crawfish. What are they doing in this hill?

We talk about the flood, the whole earth covered with water. Fear rises in their eyes as they imagine it. I remember feeling that holy awe myself. We talk about covenants and promises, and they smile again, happy in their hunt with no fear of drowning on this hill.

Next is a horseshoe crab the size of a boulder. Too big to bring home. Amy climbs higher, looking for something small to take home.

In the end, the van is packed with small fossils to line our gardens. On the way home we hit another playground. In this one snippet of time, we've studied science, history, the Bible. They've worked together. They've sorted and made decisions about prioritization of which rocks to take home.

Home school is not difficult. Especially if you are willing to look outside of the 5 day a week, paper based education box. The things learned on paper are easily forgotten as is all the mundane chatter of our days. But fossils as big as your arms can hold, a slippery cliff of sandstone - these lessons of wonder in the natural world are a treasure forever.

and all of creation sing with me now 
lift up your voice and lay your burden down 
and all of creation sing with me now 
fill up the heavens let his glory resound

Breaking up is hard to do

In her signature changeableness, autumn granted us a day of sun and 80 degree weather yesterday and today she is watering my mums in the cold wind. Until yesterday, our firepit was just that - a firering on the hillside, with space for our six chairs. 

Next week, we will host 40 people for a bonfire and worship night in thanksgiving for the 5 years God has given us with our Amelia. Two years ago, I vividly recall the Asian doctor's frown as he told me she had, at best, a 50/50 chance of surviving the infection ravaging her brain and spinal cord. She couldn't stand, sit, or remain awake for more than a few moments. They said she was basically comatose.

But today she is alive - very much so! - and so, on that sunny yesterday, we began to dig the red clay dirt, pile rocks, expand our firepit seating area.

The children are old enough now to really help. Scoop after tiny scoop went into the wheelbarrow while I used a spade, an axe and a hoe to dig out roots and heavy dirt, digging a deep ridge into the hillside.

"For me?!!" She asks incredulous. So much work just to celebrate her. Yes, I said, breath coming heavy and hard, chest tight from the digging.

In a family where you've nearly lost two children, and have cancer yourself, birthdays are a very big deal. They are not simply a cake-and-ice-cream celebration, but truly a thanksgiving for lives spare and lives enriched by these trials we've walked through together. Even Caleb could say "brain injury" and "cancer" since about age 2. When you hover this close to the grave, you have an intense response to God's gift of every single day. Another whole year of single days He spared you.

I go the doctor and today it is my heart that is being dug up again, over the most mundane of side effects. I am, indeed, losing both my hair, eyebrows and eyelashes. It is a product of genetics, stress, radiation and cancer suppression. No one can tell me if it will come back. Should I shave my head now, or wait for it to be the wispy strands left by this ravaging inflammation? If my head were shaved, they could at least treat the pain (yes, apparently hair follicles can hurt) and the problems with my scalp.

I never pictured radiation burns on my head 2 1/2 years later, didn't know it lingered in my body so long. With every scan and treatment, more damage is done to my hair.

I return home and sit in the grayness, under my down quilt, and I can see the hair clippers from here, on my bathroom hamper. I don't know the answer. I am starting a new job in 2 weeks and I'd rather not be bald, but then I'd rather not be dandruffy and wispy either.

The firepit is finished, and we have room for 40 now. The rain today didn't wash our work away, and my chest expands as I realize it is a good job, a job well done. I never knew I had landscaping in me, as my thumb is decidedly not green.

I sit in bed and consider my options. The pros and cons of a bald head. You get more street cred for your cancer when you're bald, that's for sure. No more suffering in silence. Just like my dirty feet yesterday, a visible sign of the tons of dirt moved, a bald head would be a visible sign of the body that has betrayed me time and again. Yet what if I could have two more months of hair? Am I ready to lose it forever, if it never grows back? My grandma lost all her hair in a similar stage of life, and it didn't grow back until she was eighty. She lost it after an egg truck hit her and she was in the hospital for her injuries. My mother remembers helping her brush it just so, so the bald patches wouldn't show.

For just a moment, Janis Joplin plays through my head, my song to God today, "Take it - take another little piece of my heart now baby. Break it, break another little piece of my heart, I know you will." But I since it without vengeance, sing it without anger. More of Him, less of me. I desire it, ask for it, know it is good for me. But when the sacrifices come...oh, sometimes they are so bitter. I close my eyes and remember that the whole story of the Bible, that Word I love, is sacrifice with healing and wholeness following on it's heels. I do not need to be afraid, for I know He cares for me.

It's all so much to ponder. Life, death, thanksgiving, celebrations, side effects. I'll just keep praying and trust that I'll know the day is right when I do finally pick up the clippers.

A discovered symphony

My heart pounds all night, 160 beats a minute, and the instinct to run, hide, is high up in my throat. I can't slow my heart, and I begin to panic. A prayer, a pill, a liter of electrolytes. Another movie to watch, a distraction. I don't understand why these nights of the racing heart. Psychological? Physical? Who knows anymore, with PTSD knocking on my door although it knows it's been shut out. My cancer rearing it's ugly head (literally) as I lose my hair and my body changes shape, and I fight off pneumonia and then Lyme's disease. I lose track of where the trials are coming from, and so I just rest, instead of running, and pray that God lifts the racing heart so I can sleep. At four a.m., it finally slows to a tolerable 120 beats per minute and I sleep deep and restless.

I wake, though, listening to the song of the world with different ears because of this video (if you can't watch the whole thing, watch from 42:00-50:00. It will blow your mind). The trees are aflame in the valley and the crickets still sing their high percussion. A bluebird lands and lends his whistle to the symphony. The buck grunting in rut, the moose's high trumpeting call, the caw of the hawks and the wind through the trees...all part of the way that rocks cry out His name.

I sit and listen, and add my voice,
"Holy is the Lord, God Almighty,
the earth is filled with His glory.
Holy is the Lord, God Almighty,
the earth is filled with His glory.
It's rising up, all around,
the anthem of the Lord's renown.
It's rising up, all around,
the anthem of the Lord's renown."

I am struck with the vastness of God's creation and the constant praise it sings - the pulsing stars with their chords of melancholy, the percussion of handdrums from the larger stars, the animals in the deep singing to each other, and the whole firmament constantly aflutter with noise and beauty. He whispers a verse I memorized as a child, For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. (Psalm 50:10)

I listen again to the music of the pulsing stars, the whale song. I think of the rushing sound of the wind blowing snow, and the thud of hail on the wet grass in summer. The fireplace in the living room crackles alive with sound, and the waves rush in from the ocean, caught in my miraculous conch shell.
Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts! Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the LORD! For he commanded and they were created. And he established them forever and ever; he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away. Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and maidens together, old men and children! (Psalm 148)

What more is there to say? I breathe the words of the Psalm to my God, whose praise is rising all around like mist from the cold earth. Tonight I get to join the symphony as I play in worship for a whole group of His wounded warriors. Praise God, indeed! For voice to sing, fingers to play, harmonica breathing it's vibratto over a chorus of wonder. For a spirit of peace instead of a spirit of fear. I am buoyed up on the earth's song and in wonder that I can join in again, my spirit set free from the chains that bound just a year ago. 

God is good, and He is with us, in every cricket song and sunrise, in every note played and every word written. God is with us.

The 1000th Gift

"Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that confess His name." (Hebrews 13:15)
A sacrifice of praise? Is it really possible that my praises count as sacrifices, even when they feel so free, warm, rejuvenating? I am offering my time, my mind, my soul, my heart in those moments. Exactly how Jesus  begged us serve Him. I have sacrificed moments during the worst of times and given them in the best of times. Today I celebrate passing #1,000 in my counting of God's gifts.

Why is a sleepy Iowa town such a place of rest?
The green of a time gone by.

The playfulness of a simple necessity.

Family made paintings blending perfectly.

Even the trash can is lovely.


Falling asleep with a pup warm to cuddle with.

Porch sitting is still a well-practiced art.
People come and go all day, for a cup of coffee,
conversation, sharing of all the new town tidbits.

Old things aren't replaced willy-nilly. 

The slides are still the slippery kind.

Autumn leaves are traipsing down from trees heavy with rain.

The soft "thud" of yellow unripe walnuts hitting the sidewalk.

Lace curtains still.

(Number 1,000!) Being loved on by family.

The elfin Norwegian architecure - an old service station so graceful.

Feet flying high in swings, happy shouts, and kids worn out by days end.

Today I sing a simple song of praise. No woe, no laments, no complaints or troubles. Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul. Thank you, Lord, for making me whole! Thank you, Lord for giving to me thy great salvation so rich and free! 

*caveat for Northerners: there is some Southern Baptist
"slaying in the spirit" happening about half way through this video*

For making the sun to shine
Putting those stars in the sky,
For flower that bloom,
the ocean so blue
Thank you, Lord.

For the sparrow that sings,
Who makes sweet melody,
For rivers that flow,
the rain and the snow
Thank you, Lord.

For everything you've done for me
For making me whole
Saving my soul
Thank you, Lord.

For my home and family,
For love's truth that you've loved me,
For the shoes on my feet,
and plenty to eat,
Thank you, Lord.

For this church to worship and pray,
For the freedom that I have today,
Sweet spirit I feel
Your presence so real,
Thank you, Lord.

For being a friend so near,
Giving my sad heart cheer,
For holding my hand
When I could not stand,
Thank you, Lord.

For giving your life for me,
on the cross of Calvary,
For taking my place,
mercy and grace,
Thank you, Lord.

Linked to Ann today, who gave me the idea of counting

Truth bleeds through the lines

I was 16 years old, I wore my black trench coat everywhere and had a butch haircut. I was mad at everybody – including myself. It takes a lot to melt a teenager, but the note inside the black leatherbound King James Bible my Papa gave me for my birthday did the trick. It’s hard to keep your cool when you read that your father prays for you every day. As with all books, I wasn’t content until I’d read it through, and I did so, front to back, like a novel. I rationalized that the word count was lower than Les Miserables, Victor Hugo’s epic that I’d finished the month before...

Hop over to Mom's Toolbox to finish reading my guest post there!

Friday afternoon vignette

The sun has been tucked up in the billowing down of the clouds all day. I sit in my swing, and close my eyes to hear the world aflutter around me. The crickets sing their high undertone as one of the last songbirds left us sings her autumn praise to an empty world. A woodpecker is hard at work in the woods with his percussion and the crows punctuate the melody of the golden earth preparing for winter.

The sun glows through her blanket for a moment, and I tip my head back. The yellow bleeds through my eyelids and I am awash in my favorite color. I have paused Jane Eyre, the perfect shade of gray but too oppressive. I am alone at home, the children gone with one of their favorite great-aunt and uncle ahead of us for a weekend of fun.

He bleeds through. He warms my face. He bathes me in gold. He is here in every sound, fragrance, poetry, music of the earth. I am alone but held so gently.

Yesterday I washed the wounds of others in the free clinic. Spent an evening singing with the voice he gave. Hugged hard a hurting friend. I awoke feeling tired of this world again, tired of gray, tired of hurting. The computer blinks to the screensaver, and I remember harder times. Amy, sick and gray on her hospital bed. A baby blighted in my belly. A time of trouble in my marriage. The crisp, familiar scent of hospital sheets surrounding my aching head. A missionary's chorus has beguiled me, and the words come silent to my lips as I thank Father for His grace and healing.

O, I come to the Son who can heal with His wounds,
O, I come to the Thief who has robbed every tomb,
O, I come to the Victor, my Life and my Love,
O, Lamb of God, I come.

O, Lamb of God, I come.

I spring up as we tumble into fall

It feels as though summer just began, and already we are tumbling like windfall apples toward autumn. The trees are beginning to turn to their scarlet brilliance, the farmers are rushing to gather last crops of hay before the hard frosts.

The plants that spent all summer growing strong are leaning over, turning their rusty brown, and lying their backs on the cool earth. It is the time of year for bonfires, sweatshirts and unearthing the deep down quilts from their summer closets. The front room is littered with bins of clothes as we switch our wardrobes over in preparation for the long Wisconsin winter.

This year, the butterflies are lingering, monarchs still blazing orange in the long grass and little yellow and blue swallowtails looking as though they had just cracked the chrysalis. The two kittens still home with us are learning to catch mice, although they'd rather play with their prey than eat it. We who hate shoes are still hanging on to our sandals, wearing long pants but refusing to shutter up our toes for the year.

My faith works in opposite of the seasons. This is the 4th autumn of cancer. I am still fighting it. The side effects of treatment drag my body down, but my mind and my soul are ever growing, ever more strong, ever more seeking. I remember the first November, when I went into radiation hibernation for a week, then spent two with my grandparents - them now gone ahead to heaven and my parents working hard to make their home into a vacation spot for the generations. They call it Sk√łnnestad, Danish for "beautiful place". It lies in their sleepy hometown on the coast of Lake Superior, and they paint it in muted grays and blues, choose yellow comforters, lay maple flooring. A new beginning for a new November.

I won't leave for cancer scanning again till January this year. Last year, just before the holidays, and it was too much - too much to think about cancer so much, too much to be away from family. This year, we wait an extra month. My tumor markers have stayed stable all year, and will be checked again in October, in the height of autumn. My night sweats and hair loss tell me something is awry, but so far I receive no answers. By the time my scan comes around, I will be deep into my first hockey season since I had my first baby. I buy larger breezers to accomodate the extra inches, and skate hard till my lungs burn down the road where there is fresh tar.

God tore me down to my foundation this summer, a long road of construction I've been walking since last October, peaking this summer with hospital stay after hospital stay to treat the sudden onset of a black hole of depression unlike anything I've weathered in the past. I am slowly coming alive again, my laugh returning, my anxiety waning, my fingers able to make music again. While the earth sheds life for sleep, I am shedding dark for light. I wear a shirt too tight just because on the back it says, "I'm alive like never before". It's true. God is putting some amazing structure onto my foundation, and it looks nothing like my faith of before and more and more like Christ. In stripping me of my Christian "home" - my church - He is showing me that He and I are inseperable, that He will never strip me of His presence. Even when I could't look in the mirror for fear of the hatred I had for my reflection, He loved me. In the most tear-filled nights, He soothed my soul. He allowed me to come to the brink of myself, and now He is pulling me back into His arms.

And so, this autumn, we lift our arms in praise, we sing to Him in thanks, the tears flow for joy instead of sorrow.
...bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. (Isaiah 61:3)
I read this passage at a child's funeral - the Caleb we named ours after. I see his parents, who came through what no parent can imagine, and they are indeed a display of His splendor, almost ten years later. All this we've come through - my cancer, Amelia's brush with death, her ongoing special needs, the loss of our child, the chaos of infections, my doctoral studies, depression, anxiety, financial trouble - He is teaching us to lean on Him so hard that He can graft us on, never to be separated, part of His planting for the display of His splendor.


Battle cry of the broken-hearted: GRACE!

The hornet is sleepy as he walks down the porch rail, too tired to fly in autumn's chill. Satan is growing tired as well. He shot that one fiery dart into my soul: the belief that I don't deserve my life and my husband and children deserve better. I lost sight of the fact that God set us up as a family and specifically gave me life, wants me to accomplish something with it, despite my mistakes and weaknesses. All Satan accomplished was to tear a hole in my heart with that dart, a hole for God to fill.

I picture him, battle weary and worn from beating his wings against Christ's back, as Christ kneels to wrap His covering over my wounds. The shields of other saints circle me with prayer as I lie broken on the battle field. The fire on his darts whistles and dies in a spiral of smoke because the Cross has already extinguished them - these fiery darts meant to drag us down, down to the pit of hell.

I picture Jesus, beaten and broken for me on that cross, the scarlet river of His perfect blood washing away each and every sin that Satan would accuse me of. Even that nagging belief that I am too disgraceful to stay living. Christ drank the cup for me, took the price for my sins on His back as He died for me so that I might live.

Should I then say I don't deserve to live? Who am I to determine that I am not the right mother or wife for my family? Didn't He write all the days of my life out before I was even conceived? (Psalm 119)

I drag myself up to a kneeling position. The blood pouring from my side has staunched it's flow, and I reinflate my empty lungs with the heavy breath of His grace. I look down at my armor - dropped because it was too heavy to carry with that wound in my side. That belief weighing down on me with every step: you don't deserve this, you don't deserve this, you don't deserve this. I rationalized that because all my righteousness is as filthy rags, and no one is perfect, no not one, he's right, Satan. I don't deserve this. (Isaiah 64:6 and Jeremiah 2:22)

But Grace shouts out to the contrary: UNDESERVED FAVOR. The Cross proclaims that it is ALREADY GIVEN. Who I am to take the bread of life, already baked, fresh and aromatic, and push it away, saying, You never should have given me the bread of life? He alone is sovereign and He alone is good, and it only from under His wings of salvation that I can say to Satan, This was given to me. I deserve it through Christ alone.

And so I rip it back from His lies, my life, this undeserved favor. It is mine. Not his to take. Given to me by the maker of the universe. If God wants to take me home through cancer, my heart problems, so be it. I will run the race I am given. But I will never again allow Satan to trick me into destroying my body and disappointing and grieving those who walk this sacred path with me. I will not ever again wield a weapon against myself.

I beg God that, whenever my ending comes, He will send a thousand stars of grace out into the sky for others to see. That the odor of the bread of life He so richly gave to us is mine until the last breath He grants me. That I can finish like the young warrior in the video below, and proclaim my heart will choose to say, "Lord, blessed be Your name!"