Home to the quietness of country. Home to my swing and purring cats. Home to my husband's arms quiet through the night, and home to the clamor of children excited about everything to do with my travels and my homecoming. Quite a difference from three rather dorm-reminiscent nights with eight crazy, beautiful, creative, God-seeking roommates (and one who didn't sleep there).

 The Pilot's Wife, Sara Sophia, Dear Abby Leigh, Ashleigh from Heart and Home,
myself, Gussy Sews, Elizabeth Esther, and Joy in This Journey

Our honorary roommate, Erika, is the blond to the left.

I meet amazing people who have inspired, this time in person. Bonnie Gray finds me in the first moments of the conference, and we hug hard and long. I feel honored by that hug.

Mama Hall in front of me
We sit in sessions and soak up words, words of advice, wisdom, experience, hope, love. Words of this wounded life we live for Christ. Women break open like ripe melons and spill guts and seeds and it is a mixed up revolution of tears, torment, and triumph.

Snow falls that last day, and in between checking the status of our flights home, we laugh and process, hidden in our room, hotel running on generator power. I am from Wisconsin, and I see my first snow in Pennsylvania, and laugh at the irony. We laugh so hard we hurt the next morning, sharing stories and ideas, birthing our own secrets hashtags for Twitter, and talking about a meet-up somewhere central next year. I marvel at how I thought one person was tall (she's short) and one was small (she's an inch taller than me). How you conjure up certain images of people based on their blogs. In real life, we're much messier and less polished, and yet beautiful and rich in 3 dimensions in ways words alone can never reveal.

I am invited on stage by the effervescent Christa Wells, and play tambourine to a beautiful new song of hers. I get to share Sara Groves' Different Kinds of Happy with the last lingerers after worshiping with Shaun Groves (no relation, by the way). It is a weekend full of opportunities, blessings, heartaches and tired bones.

On Monday, I wake up to my quiet country bedroom, looking out on lavendar grass and dry maroon oaks just rustling awake in the dawn. My mind is all befuddled, my house a mess, Halloween costumes yet to complete and a 12 hour shift looming tomorrow. Back in the reality of my life, Relevant seems like a distant and dreamy memory, and I reach through the fog of one night's sleep to catch the shirttails of connections fluttering there in the mist.

Hearts spinning

Long hours at a blogging conference brings cancer crashing onto my radar. I live like sheets drying on a clothesline, long loops of cloth rising up again to the pins, then the next long loop, and on and on. Rest, participate, rest, participate, repeat. I have made the transition from the mantra of my 20's (I'll sleep when I'm dead) to the requisite realization of my 30's (I'll die if I don't sleep).

Hours are bathed in tears, and then bathed in laughter. I find out what a laughter hang-over is for the very first time in my life. The trancendant beauty of both authentic pain and hilarious joy crash together like two waves meeting to form the monster roll of blue water swirling you down a pipeline of experience, a rush like no other. I play tambourine and sing harmony on stage for one song with Christa Wells, then stand in the audience hiding my face in my hat, hands raised in praise, as her words uncover my pain.

I go to sessions and workshops and marvel at the beauty of newfound friends, souls wounded and worn and ever writing, writing. Sara Sophia is as luminescent as her name, her words like pearls on a string for a whole table full of sobbing women.

New layers of my church history find light in the words of Ashleigh, who was brought to depths of spiritual pain I have not yet endured. As her tears roll, I learn and bask in the beauty of a soul dragging dirty story into light.

I watched from afar as she became famous in the blogosphere, and adored her before I met her, but Elizabeth surprises me with her vulnerability and humanity, her beautiful smile and the mannerisms that are so like my dear friend Amy. My heart aches with missing, and aches at the same time with meeting.

The snow falls in a hurricane of white, and I laugh with some dear children from Florida. We stand in the hall watching out the window and laughing, laughing. It's beautiful.

And so I am exhausted.

Thank you for your prayers.

Here I am

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come...the hymn lilts through my consciousness, floating in the pool last night alone, surrounded by the flurry of 7 hilarious roommates, during the morning devotional. I sit down alone to play on the grand piano, and I am soothed from the chaos. Surrounded by these women - high-achieving, goal-oriented, passionate, God-fearing women - feels once again like coming home.

Here is a place where Holiness and love coexist in one congruent flow from one voice to another. The rebels and the righteous, the loud and the quiet, the new friends and old friends - all band together silent, captured by the words. We are word people, a group of writers, and we hang on every one.

We meet other wounded souls, and share our stories of pain and joy through suffering. We talk churches and theology and social media. I find, once again, that I am not alone. In the velvety night, everyone in pj's, we eat chocolate and talk about the world. The strobe of a picture booth and the giddy laughter of friends echoes all the way through the thick walls of our hotel room.

This is a gathering place, an entire nation of Christian bloggers meeting together to encourage, listen, share, and grow. I hear this morning a different take on presenting the Gospel and my brain explodes into fireworks of connections suddenly made because of a single sentence. Every unsaved soul is saved already, and they just need to hear it and believe it. Not "do you want to be saved", but "you are saved already. Can you accept it?"

I struggle with the uniquely female torment over outfits and my reddened bald head, feeling like I look old, frumpy. Like I can't fit in with these women of beauty. Yet their arms are open and I call it for what it is, that old tormentor trying to whisper doubt into my ear. For He has made me beautifully and wonderfully. Even on a small blog such as this, He has given me a message. It is a message about finding joy in small moments, savoring life, fighting for it, grieving losses. It doesn't matter if that message is for a few hundred or thousand readers, like those who visit my small space on the internet, or the tens of thousands and millions the powerhouse bloggers attract.

God is good, all the time - and He's showing up here in big ways through the sistership of shared faith and vision, passion and talent. I am reveling in His pleasure as I watch each interaction, join in the community and the conversation of these women. Praise God that He works through we who are broken to bring His gospel where He's called us to share it.

lord i have a heavy burden
of all i've seen and know
it's more than i can handle
but your word is burning like a fire
shut up in my bones
and i can’t let it go

and when i'm weary and overwrought
with so many battles left unfought
i think of paul and silas in the prison yard
i hear their song of freedom rising to the stars

and when the Saints go marching in
i want to be one of them

lord it's all that i can't carry a
nd cannot leave behind it all
can overwhelm me
but when i think of all who've gone before
and lived a faithful life
their courage compels me

and when i'm weary and overwrought
with so many battles left unfought
i think of paul and silas in the prison yard
i hear their song of freedom rising to the stars

i see the shepherd moses in the pharaohs court
i hear his call for freedom for the people of the Lord
i see the long quiet walk along the underground railroad
i see the slave awakening to the value of her soul
i see the young missionary and the angry spear
i see his family returning with no trace of fear
i see the long hard shadows of calcutta nights
i see the sister standing by the dying man’s side
i see the young girl huddled on the brothel floor
i see the man with a passion come kicking down that door

i see the man of sorrow and his long troubled road
i see the world on his shoulders and my easy load
~When the Saints, Sara Groves~

Being sick together

We lay in a heap on the hospital bed, her burning up with her daily fever spike, and me lifeless after a few days without my medications.

It's a sweet, sweet thing, her eyes open, her brain functioning normally, this just a scare in a long list of scares. She is spared again. All her sweetness and quirkiness and beauty and love. All there.

And so today, just like the other day in the hospital, I spend most of the day cuddled up in bed, squeezing the dickens out of my baby girl. I've decided to go to the blogging conference in Pennsylvania, but it has been a very difficult decision. I know she'll be fine in Aaron's capable hands, but it's no fun to be far away with a sick babe at home. I scan my memory, and it seems like she's been getting sick since she was born. At 9 months, she had a fever of 106 while I played for a friend's wedding. At 2, she had haemophilus B influenza meningitis and was very, very ill for her brother's 1st birthday party. Just after her 3rd birthday, diptheria encephalitis, and then for her 4th birthday, constant seizures as a result. I don't understand why. All I can do is treasure moments like the ones that filled today, cuddled up under a down comforter, comforting my sick little girl once again.

Please pray that she will be okay while I am gone. I feel this is God's will, but sometimes it is difficult to know if you're making the right choice or not. I have until 6 a.m. tomorrow, when my flight leaves, to change my mind. Hopefully by then I'll be bathed in the peace that passeth understanding and she is on a clear road to recovery.

Watching my children finding their way
thru struggles and triumphs and heartbreak
I hope the roads they take
Are making them strong
I'll still be on my knees
Long after they're gone
Love has made
Love has made
Love has made
Has made me unafraid

Love could make
Love can make
Love will make
Make you unafraid...
~Unafraid, Amy Grant~

A prayer for healing and wholeness

She is too tired to play in the playroom now that her isolation precautions have been lifted. Her fever continues to spike up to 104 despite the antibiotics. Yet the doctors think she's fit to be discharged to home tomorrow. I can't really argue.

Questions swirl. Will she continue to improve on oral antibiotics? Will she lose some of the brain function we've worked so hard for her to regain? Will I be able to work on Wednesday? Should I? What about the Relevant blogging conference I'm planning to attend in Pennsylvania Thursday through Sunday? (By the way, if you are so led, please consider donating. We have used up the current donations on hotel and food costs in Rochester during this unexpected stay away from home. See the left toolbar on the top of the blog.)

I page through old photos and find this set as she works on two piece puzzles with letters and symbols starting with that letter. The beauty of her skin strikes me. Thin and torn in places now, dark circles under her eyes, I long for the peaches and cream chubbiness to return to her little 5 year old fists. Prayers continue to be for her survival and thriving. We pray God led us to catch this early enough this time. Again, we pray against future infection.

Precious Lord, I feel close to Mary in this St. Mary's hospital. The mother who watched her Son pay the price for my sin. Watched His body torn apart. Washed and wrapped Him after He died. Please don't let our family suffer that loss, dear Lord. Sustain and preserve our sweet Amelia and deliver us home with her healed and whole. With you alone this is possible. We do not hold the keys to life or death, and can only beg your mercy on us as we long to spend many long years with this precious daughter and sister you've given us.
For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one also hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. (Romans 8:24-25)

Refine us

She is better today, fevers persisting, but with a dose of energy from the spinal tap and the antibiotics flowing every 3 hours. Dark circles under her eyes, she shuts them against the fluorescent light, showing off her new owl teapot with eyes squeezed shut.

The flurry and adrenaline of the initial decision making fades on hospital day 2, and we and the doctors begin to contemplate those hard questions that still persist without answer. Why does she get infections in her brain repeatedly? It's nothing like the question "why does Caleb have allergies all year every year". This has such significant consequences to her health, intellect and quality of life that we must find an answer.

Aaron says it, anguished, as we walk to the hotel for a few minutes alone, kids happy in hospital with Auntie Rosalie. "Why, whenever we start to thrive, why does something like this always happen?" I don't know. I can only offer what I'm learning about accepting your cross without fighting it. Carrying one cross - the one given - instead of two - the one given paired with the anxieties we let sneak in like foxes in the vineyard.

I don't ever want to lose this little life. I don't ever want to wait too long, or miss the symptoms, or run into doctors again who refuse to treat in the early stages. How do we function like this? The older girls and I have a long talk after Caleb sleeps this evening, and talk about refining gold and silver. How it requires high heat. How God is allowing that high heat through trials into their young lives. We read the verses in Malachi that were like timber beams holding up the sagging sanctuary of my heart this morning, before I headed out to the hospital, head shiny and cold in the winter-like winds.
Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fullers' soap: And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the Lord, as in the days of old, and as in former years.

The truth remains. He has always rescued us. We are all alive together still. The needleprick on Amelia's back is just a dot, no bleeding, no complications. The antibiotics seem to be working. We have every cause for praise in this, as in all the previous trials. God is great and good, here in this day of suffering. What a lesson to learn, at 6 and 8! May these children grow up with a deep, visceral understanding of what it means to wait on the Lord, trust in His mercy and grace in the most difficult of circumstances.

Come, come and meet us here 
Come and touch our tears 
That we may weep no more 
Come, come and meet our pain 
Come and lift our lame 
That we may limp no more 
Come that we may want no more 
The doubters pray for your signs and wonders 
All the cynics say 
You’ll let us go under 
But we’re here to stay
God, will you come by here? 
Come, we have nothing else God 
And having You we want for nothing 

No death, life 
Angels or demons 
No depth, height 
Can come in between us 
And Your love, Your love, Your love, love

Sunday's ray of hope

Amy is doing better today after 18 hours on IV antibiotics. She is less sleepy and more talkative. The doctors just rounded and told us to expect to be in until Tuesday morning unless something changes for better or worse in her condition.

I wake up from nightmares wandering through hospital ICU's looking for my baby. I hold her realistic baby doll like a sack of potatoes from my arms and get glares from the nurses as I walk the halls. Finally, I find her. She is in horrible shape and her eyes have gone completely dead, no spark when she sees me. I am forced to go back to work and leave her there, listening to her screams echo the halls as I walk away. I sit up with a start and for a moment it all seems real. Then the hotel surroundings seep in and I realize I am left with only the remnants of visceral fear a nightmare leaves as memory and a pounding headache testament to late hours and way too much stress.

Ironically, the very verses I wrestle with during the "day to day" of our family's trials are the ones I cling to, repeating over and over throughout these hardest days. I will not give you more than you can bear. (I Corinthians 10:13)

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23)

I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me. (Philippians 4:13)

I will offer up my life
In spirit and truth,
Pouring out the oil of love
As my worship to You
In surrender I must give my every part;
Lord, receive the sacrifice
Of a broken heart

Jesus, what can I give, what can I bring
To so faithful a friend, to so loving a King?
Savior, what can be said, what can be sung
As a praise of Your name
For the things You have done?
Oh my words could not tell, not even in part
Of the debt of love that is owed
By this thankful heart

You deserve my every breath
For You've paid the great cost;
Giving up Your life to death,
Even death on a cross
You took all my shame away,
There defeated my sin
Opened up the gates of heaven
And have beckoned me in
~I Will Offer Up My Life, Matt Redman~

Amelia in the hospital again

My dear sweet third daughter, my Amelia Irene, is back in the hospital again. Almost exactly 2 years since she was hospitalized with life-threatening encephalitis at the University of Minnesota, I ended up bringing Amy to the local hospital because she had a fever for three days, was increasingly sleeping throughout the day, and suddenly this morning developed a stiff neck and back pain, headache, and vomiting when repositioned. A few hours in the ER told us her liver wasn't working exactly right, her heart was slightly enlarged, and yes, she had all the signs and symptoms of another spinal or brain infection.

Because of the liver abnormality, her doctors at the local hospital weren't comfortable doing diagnostic tests because of the increased risk of bleeding. The last thing she needed was a bleed into her spinal column. So she was brought by ambulance to St. Mary's hospital in Rochester, part of "Mother Mayo". In the ER there, she had some tests run, which actually looked a little more hopeful. The pressure around her spine was not as high as it was two years ago.

So for now, she is admitted to the hospital with a working diagnosis of bacterial meningitis. She continues to sleep and is very quiet and talks very little when awake. She will be hospitalized for at least 48 hours for IV antibiotics. She needs urgent prayer.

Think you've gotten maximum sympathy as a cancer patient when you finally shave your head? Nope. Walk into an ER with your deathly ill daughter and everyone realizes you've been given a lot to handle. My mother handed me a little note that made me cry:
"Sufferings arising from anxiety, in which the soul adds to the cross imposed by the hand of God an agitated resistance and a sort of unwillingness to suffer - such troubles arise only because we live to ourselves. A cross wholly inflicted by God, and fully accepted without any uneasy hesitation, is full of peace as well as of pain. On the contrary, a cross not fully and simply accepted, but resisted by the love of self, even slightly, is a double cross; it is even more a cross, owing to this useless resistance." ~Francoise de la Mothe Fenelon

You can see the sun-dog to the left of this photo, just barely (it's a cell phone pic).
And God sent me two little winks on the way down to Rochester. In Wabasha, Minnesota, we caught up with the ambulance and followed directly behind all the way down to the hospital. What a gift to be so close when I was feeling so very far away from my sick little girl! Then, as we entered town, for just a moment there was a sun-dog, a tiny little rainbow in the clouds that lasted not even a minute. I remembered God's covenant with Noah, and I thanked Him for this small visual covenant with me. Not that I believe it means she will be miraculously healed - or even perhaps survive - but it was His covenant with me that I will survive this newest entrance into the refiner's fire, my soul intact and His love never-ending.


A few months ago, I was making schnitzel with my daughter and son. It's not a family recipe for, although I am almost half German and my husband almost all, somehow schnitzel was a recipe that got lost through the generations of make-do housewives in the South Dakota and Minnesota families during the Depression era.

People often have the misconception that homeschool involves 8 hours of teaching your children from books. While books play a part, especially as your homeschooler grows older, one of the main advantages to homeschooling is that anything you do as part of your daily life can become part of schooling. This became especially important when God blessed us with a daughter who has multiple special needs. She sits for about 5-10 minutes at a time, so her performance in a traditional school would probably be markedly poor. But put her to work hammering schnitzel, and you can fit all kinds of lessons in.

Count aloud while you hammer, Amy. How many times did you hit that piece? (Aha - math!)

Let's learn about the trinity. Eggs are the perfect example. White, yolk and shell are all parts of the egg and the egg wouldn't be the egg without any one of those parts. Just like Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit. (Aha - Bible Studies!)

See how the egg sticks to the meat? That's because there is protein in the egg, and protein has long chains of little tiny molecules, so it doesn't slide off the meat like the milk does. (Aha - chemistry!)

Remember the wheat in the field, Amy? That's what this flour is made up. First they pound the wheat to get rid of the chaff. Then they grind it and get rid of the hard outer kernel. Then they bleach it to make it white. Isn't that amazing? (Aha! Agriculture.)

Most of all, homeschooling allows young children to be near their parents, who hold within themselves all of their heritage, everything they've read and seen and experienced. Oftentimes, neither the child nor the parent realizes what is being passed on in these moments, like the busy hour before dinner time.

Call it an art or a skill, homeschooling is one of the most natural things in the world. It's an organic way of transmuting information into age appropriate ideas and concepts just the right size for the child to digest. Pair it with the work of real life, and your child will always remember.

Like a duck out of water

We all have some type of relationship that scares us. Maybe you had a bad boss, so you're afraid of meetings with bosses. Maybe you got burned by friends all through your childhood and you find it difficult to develop close friendships. Maybe you grew up in a home with an unhealthy marriage and you're afraid of commitment. For me, it's pastors. My experience has always been that they say one thing on Sunday and act a different way the rest of the week. In fact, much like the populous views lawyers, I was almost to the point of believing there was something inherent in their role that prevented them from acting like normal people.

When you have a preconceived idea of how the world works, and you have an experience that is polar opposite to these suppositions, you suddenly have a flash of cognitive dissonance. And so was the conversation I just had with one of my new pastors. For the first time in my life, I went to a pastor with an idea that I thought would offend them, and instead of correction, I received unconditional love and acceptance for exactly where I am at right now.

This type of experience is exactly what restores our hope in a broken, cursed universe, and draws us deeper into relationships instead of pushing us out of them. I have lived dry on hope for many years when it comes to churches. I remember a line from a Grace Potter song, I see a tiny light, like a flashbulb sparkle in the night. Maybe, just maybe, I've really found a home. Maybe, just maybe, there are pastors that are different. Maybe, just maybe, I won't be driven to regret and hopelessness by yet another church.
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! Psalm 133:1

He sees me on the path

It's made for work, the heavy leather of a saddle. Embossed with roses, a humble piece of equipment made beautiful. As am I, worker for the glory of Jesus, yet the jewel in His crown.
As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double. Then the Lord will appear over them, and his arrow will go forth like lightning; the Lord God will sound the trumpet and will march forth in the whirlwinds of the south. The Lord of hosts will protect them, and they shall devour, and tread down the sling stones, and they shall drink and roar as if drunk with wine, and be full like a bowl, drenched like the corners of the altar. On that day the Lord their God will save them, as the flock of his people; for like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land. For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty! (from Zechariah 9)

The scarlet of Christ's blood has washed me white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). Yet there are three stages to this salvation: redemption, sanctification, and glorification. Though He sees me through the image of Christ, and no longer will send me to the waterless pit as punishment for my sin - for I am the believer redeemed! - I walk now in the sometimes arid path of sanctification. I am the piece of metal, willful, sometimes wicked, hard and rough edged, in the refiner's fire. He is bending me like a bow to transform me into a weapon for His army. I feel the fibers of self as they break to bend, I feel every clang of the blacksmith's hammer on the metal of me fired red hot.

He sees me when my eyes are dead, when my sadness overcomes. When I am penitent and when I am simply overcome by my own blackness.

He sees me as I go about my work, and guides my hand as I bend to teach four young lives everything that is of Him, from the glorious infinity of math to the endless possibility of language and the beauty and variety of art.

He sees me when I bend in prayer, shape this body new on a rubber mat with my French hip hop blaring and my children dancing around my prone back bent like that bow He is forming me to be.

He sees me when I am dirtiest, inside or out. When I've labored hard only to discover a new crust of dirt that needs to be scrubbed with His fuller's soap. What once was filthy rags, He turns to silver and gold that will never perish in the testing fires of the judgment on those last days.

He sees me when I feel the rejection of the world, when I cling to cross and the crutches of my own making to forge ahead on the golden trail, lost in the woods of depression and shadow of memory.

He knows the peace and heartbreak that live together in the soul broken over beauty. He sees behind the closed eyes and knows the words stuck in the clenched lips, sees the heart that has been bruised and labeled and torn, sees the mind that races and craves and empties and fills.

He knows my crazy uniqueness. He sees beneath the hat brim covering face bent low. He pours out my tears when I squeeze eyelids tight, and bottles them forever like the precious perfume of obedience and repentance.

He loves me through hands and hearts of others, He clothes my nakedness with grace. He turns my sorrow into dancing, my suffering into glory, and leads me ever onward toward glorification, that glorious day when I will put off sin like a set of old bones, and walk into the double portion He promises for my sacrifice and pain.

Oh, how I long for that day when I am free as a six-year-old girl dancing in the clearing, jewelry snapping like castanets around the neck that scorned them for so long, a robe to replace the hoody I hid in for two decades.

He sees me and knows me, and has turned my wretchedness into unconquerable beauty and strength through the blood of the cross - redemption. He bends me and breaks me and gives me a sickly heart and cancer and a daughter who is damaged so that I might learn to put off self and put on Christ - sanctification. And someday, I'm going home to the land where there will be no more tears, where I'll carve my snowboard through clouds and sit on the singing stars and forever sing with them and the angels glory to His almighty name - glorification.

Oh, come Lord Jesus, come! (Revelation 22:20)

I need you to soften my heart 
To break me apart 
I need you to open my eyes 
To see that You're shaping my life

All I am, I surrender
Give me faith to trust what you say 
That you're good and your love is great 
I'm broken inside, I give you my life

I need you pierce through the dark 
And cleanse every part of me 

I may be weak 
Your spirit's strong in me 
My flesh may fail 
My God you never will 

~Give Me Faith, Elevation Worship~

Linking up to Bonnie and Ann today,
amazed I'll get to see them both next week!: