All I want for Christmas

Even in the deepest canyons of life, when we sit huddled in the rocky bottom, unsure of our way up, the sun hits the ledges above and lights the mountainside with glory, reminding us of warmth and promise and propelling us in our search of a path out. Sunrise this morning reminds me of this ancient truth once again, the hillsides lit golden and scarlet by the ascending sun, the valleys still dark and frost-bitten from the winter's dark night. 

It is always so, when I am hermetically sealed in the warmth of my home, and I gaze out the windows at the beauty He lays at our doorstep faithfully with each sunrise. Creation is my beacon home, the light that both guides me to the safe channel and warns me of the dangerous cliffs and rocks of the dark sea. Sitting on the other side of the window, in the shadows, I am daily in awe as the sun hits the ice crystals on the windowpane and sends me twirling in the chandelier light of the morning's prism. 

All I wish for Christmas is this: that I remember that, no matter how long, deep, wide and dark the canyon of my winter's discontent, my way is lit by the Light of a holy and unfathomable God who speaks loudest through suffering and draws us closest through days such as these. Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty!

I’ve been climbing my whole life 
and I’m only at the bottom of the mountain, 
Rising up from my feet in the daylight 
rising up into the clouds and out of my sight 
is the height of that mountain 

Well my hands cannot reach it 
and my mind can’t comprehend it 
but my soul is gonna get there one day 

Lord, these shoes are gonna need some help 
so we can make it to the top of the mountain 
Many feet have gone before us 
with a habit of faith and courage 
they’ll meet us at the road’s end
~Christa Wells, On the Mountain~


Pocket full of sunshine

No matter how deep you bury joy, it bubbles up like an underground spring and overflows on days when the sun is shining. 

I got a pocket, got a pocketful of sunshine
I got a love and I know that it's all mine,
Do what you want but you're never gonna break me
Sticks and stones are never gonna shake me,
Wish that you could but you ain't gonna own me
Do anything you want you can't slow me down,

Take me away, a secret place
A sweet escape, take me away
Take me away to better days
Take me away, a hiding place
There's a place that I go that nobody knows
Where the rivers flow and I call it home
And there's no more lies in the darkness there's light
And nobody cries, there's only butterflies

The sun is on my side and takes me for a ride
I smile up to the sky, I know I'll be alright
~Pocket Full of Sunshine, Natasha Bedingfield~

Grace in the discards

Writing here has been difficult; cancer looms large but I am called to proclaim the Cross more and more through this remarkable journey. I blog hop and scatter pebbles and crumbs and the readers come more and more slowly. Will you do me this favor, encourage me with a comment when you read this? You will grace me with your presence and response.

Keeping an online journal has hidden blessings: I hit "search", and, thanks to Google, realize that I have written about my messy house every October and November since I began writing in 2008. Really, this whole journal is full of Joy's life: unmasked project - the inner workings of the mind and the heart when faced with the large difficulties of life.

Even while I'm asleep, the chairs set out for devotions with my husband mock me with their piles of clean clothes and discarded summer quilts. I know it would take 15 minutes to clean up, but I spend that 15 minutes sleeping with my nightmares every day instead. He and I are like ships passing in the dawn in the dark anyway, too tired for anything beyond a quick and quiet romp in the sheets.

Hats litter my dresser, along with the remnants of my last shift working as a nurse, the watch ticking off time and the furry blue hat a reminder of hairlessness now a memory of three weeks past.

Just as Christ chooses to love me with all His heart instead of focusing on my flaws, I look past the mess to the yellow daisies in the antique milk bottle standing on the head of my bed.

Winter has come back again 
Feels like the season won't end 
My faith is dying tonight 
And I won't try to pretend 
I've got it all figured out 
I don't have any doubts 

I've got a busted heart 
I need You now Yeah, I need You now 
Hold on to me, hold on to me 
Don't let me lose my way 
Hold on to me 

I am the wandering son 
Your love is never enough 
I keep chasing the wind 
Instead of chasing Your love 
I'm screaming out Your name 
Don't let me fall on my face 
I've got a busted heart 
I'm in need of a change 
I'm desperate for grace 

Broke Your heart a thousand times 
But You've never left my side 
You have always been here for me 
You never let me go 

Until it comes to an end 
Soon this season will end 
I'll surrender tonight 
You meet me right where I am
~Busted Heart (Hold on To Me), For King & Country~

Is unity as reachable as repentance?

It's a dark and rainy day in Wisconsin, and I am hit with a severe case of the post-Thanksgiving cum se, cum sa blues. I realize I've done this to myself with too much turkey gravy and pie, coupled with my choice to watch a Hitler movie last night and read about Rwanda this morning. 

I've been thinking a lot about cookie cutter solutions to life, how we tend to latch on to the vision God gives us that sets us free, and prescribe it for every sufferer we encounter for a while. I do this myself, take the things that healed my marriage and, assuming the things were the magic key, tell others about them. I do it myself as I try to employ Ann's key to spiritual freedom to my life, counting up small joys and trying to make a similar ladder out of them as I try to climb out of cavern created by a painful leave from one church and the painful joining of another.  

What if what works for one person is not how God will free another? I face this hard truth as two dear friends go through divorce, and slowly realize that perhaps God is allowing divorce in their lives to set them free. I face it again when death's door opens for a patient, and that is how God heals them. I would love to jump on the Prosperity Gospel bandwagon, and believe that God heals all people in this life if only they trust Him enough. My life experience fights tooth and nail against that theology, showing me time and again that instead, God moves in mysterious ways. Speaking of mysterious, I never thought I'd change my mind about Rick Warren after reading The Purpose Driven Life, seeming so full of that false theology. But what if he is also changing, growing, learning as he leads a large church in California and begins to dive into the world market of suffering as a missions minded pastor? 

As I read about Warren's PEACE project in Rwanda, a movement designed to change church planting from an extraneous solution to world spiritual poverty to an intrinsic one, involving only the shareholders of that church instead of the financial aid and support of Western churches, I am intrigued. Director Odendahl (PhD and Doctorate prepared) writes eloquently about the project, stating in his conclusion that Saddleback Church desires this project to be 
"one in which Jesus' prayer that all of them may be one, that the world may believe that you have sent me (John 17:21) becomes a reality; a partnership that truly empowers all partners and transforms individuals and communities. It is a journey towards a partnership that integrates national aspiration with cultural appropriateness while calibrated against the Biblical mandate of being the body of Christ where each member needs the other." (from Mission Frontiers, November-December 2011)
I didn't think much about cultural appropriateness when I was working in medical missions, beyond not drinking beer where women don't and wearing clothes considered modest in the culture I was visiting. In retrospect, however, a host of issues with medical missions have concerned me, even down to the medications we prescribe and the way we expect people to manage their health and prevent disease. I think about how proud I have been, to assume that a northerner from snowy Wisconsin could assume to understand the healthcare needs of people living in the tropics. The PEACE project, part of a host of post-post-modernism movements that seek to critique and change the poorly executed mission work of their forerunners, is admirable in it's goal to refine and improve church planting and associated mission work in impoverished countries. My admiration is balanced, though, by the mindfulness of my friend Joy's current blog project, 12 Causes for Christmas. She is striving to decrease competition between aid associations in the U.S. and increase awareness of the diversity of opportunities for missionaries and supporters.

In that spirit, I am tempted to revisit my younger naïveté, believing once again that it really is as simple as serving. Maybe the differences between us that seem cavernous under the microscope of critique are really very small when seen with the naked eye of love.

Maybe I am only as different from the tropical nations I served as snowflakes on the tongue. Maybe joy is just a small step from grief, and unity a hop-skip from discord. Maybe it is all as simple as repentance, turning yourself around right where you stand, refusing to look upon the deadness of sin and focusing your eyes instead on the Grace of the Cross.

Thanksgiving round-up

A few of my favorite things for Thanksgiving Day this year. How about you? Post your Thanksgiving mash-up of favorite links and music using the link tool below and tell us what inspires you this holiday season.

Ex-fundie firecracker Elizabeth Esther writes about giving in and giving up when faced with graceless "church discipline"

Amazing cover of Lady A's "Need You Now" by Adele and Darius Rucker

A description of my physical exhaustion after starting shift work again

Favorite new I-phone app? Ann Voskamp's handy organizer, 1000 gifts (also available for Droid)

Don't forget to post your faves below!

Wake-up call

You are as purple as the winter sunset sky, and my pulse quickens as the code bell rings, signaling to the hospital that another fragile person has fallen prey for lack of oxygen and a good heartbeat. We flock around like sightseers to the sunset, but you rally and suddenly you are gray, and then pink again. You, the reason I pried little fingers off my scrub pants last night to go to work. You, whose dying day is written in His book...but it is not today. I stuff the yellow tag from the code cart into my scrub pocket, the rasp of the ziptag tugging at my fingers cracked and bleeding from hospital soap. A reminder of someone who breathes again because of quick feet of these people who live out lives in the fluorescent of the hospital lights, working through the night to watch God push up dawn for a few dozen people who lay on beds hovering between this life and the next. To me, for most of the night, you were just the patient moaning in the room next door, not my patient, not my burden. My heart was heavy for the one in my room, as that code call looms for us in that room, the patient struggling to maintain a blood pressure as two nurses scurry all night to keep the veins open and the heart pumping strong.

As the code bell rings, and I look down at my patient, still breathing, heart still beating, I run with the rest to the room that calls, and see you there, purple like death. For this I have given up sleep and a warm bed full of husband, for this I have washed my hands a million times, sat through countless classes, and worked my way through an orientation folder thick with tasks at a new job miles from my home. For this my laundry piles high and the doorway clogs with coats. For this the dishes lie undone and I rush from the door anyway, emancipated for a few hours to tend the sick.

It has been a hard transition from stay-at-home mom and scholar to working mom. Even if it is two or three shifts a week, pulling on my nurse scrubs is hard when I wake up in the afternoon red-eyed from a day of interrupted sleep against the sun and Circadian rhythm and crying children. I have questioned my sanity many times since taking this job, and suddenly it all flashes into focus as I watch you vomit and eyes open to see us all sweating over your bed.

As I drive home from your code, the day you didn't die, I am sobbing for my husband, thankful we're all together and breathing this hectic life in the same rooms. I realize afresh that He put this calling in my being because it is a job that matters to him. It is not just extra income or a night off from the house. It is saving lives and loving people and being the hands and feet of Christ in the desolation of the dying night. You cause me to see the sunrise with fresh eyes. You bring thanks to my lips anew. You open the channel I've been searching for days to find, the channel that brings me to heaven's doorstep in a way that the Word alone on paper sometimes cannot. You, with your purple skin and first new breath, fill the world with new verve and my legs with new vigor. I ran fast to bring you life through the oxygen tubing, and instead I find it is I breathing afresh, the world washed clean as all of life that doesn't matter scatters clean away in the sudden rush of thankfulness for home and hearth, kith and kin.

Thank you, stranger, for waking me up this morning to His mercies made new every dawn. Thank you, Father, for breathing life into the dust of our fragile human frames and raising us again to see that You are enough, more than enough, the richest of blessings and bringer of sweetest days.

I was on a fast curve, lost my nerve on a dead end road 
I was goin’ nowhere faster than two legs can go 
Never thought I’d slow down 
I’m glad I finally know now 

I never really noticed when he moved in next to me 
Sometimes it’s amazing just how blind a girl can be 
If I weren’t busy runnin’ I might have seen it comin’ 

That’s life, if you open up your eyes 
You’ll find it gets better all the 
Time, time, time 
Running out of time, I’m runnin’ away 
I’m running out of ways of running away 
Got to slow down, if you don’t, you’re gonna break down 
I’m runnin’ out of time, time, time 

I was cooking dinner, heard a ring at my front door 
I opened up and saw him, never felt like that before 
The moment that our eyes met I knew I’d never forget 
Sometimes the thing you most need is right there, but you can’t see 

That’s life, if you open up your eyes 
You’ll find it gets better all the 
Time, time, time
~Sugarland, Time, Time, Time~

Life: Unmasked


 The weekend dissolves into a chaos of sleep and awake, night shifts wrecking havoc on my already Novemberish brain. The house a pigsty of dirty dishes and laundry, summer clothes and shoes yet to be packed away, a sheet music scattered living room and clothes-riddled bedroom. I feel my failures deep and sure, the housewife that never can be found in November, when the seasons hush and slow to winter's lone-harp song, and my body slows with it, always sensitive to cancer meds in this fresh winter. I bog down into low thyroid days, when all I do is sleep or dream of sleep. The children call me Mama Bear, hibernating for the winter, and I wonder why my cubs don't climb into the den for a long winter's nap like the black bear in the woods.

On Saturday, we are up late to cheer my hockey team on at an important semi-final in a tournament, and I sit with hockey moms who are still perfectly coiffed at 10 p.m., talking about how much housework they got done between games today, each mom one-upping the last with her beauty and time efficiency. I feel the prickles of my newly growing hair like a crown of shame, think about all I have not managed to do this weekend, and realize this is what Joy is after: life unmasked in the blogosphere, where we let our imperfections be part of our beauty and don't hide in the dark when life doesn't go as planned. I slide on thankfulness like a warm coat, and insulate myself from the tyranny of this perfectionist motherhood. My husband smiles down at me, sensing my soul rest, his brown curls unruly under his wool cap, our children running amok up and down a ramp to the men's bathrooms, burning off late night energy.

I wake up Sunday to a road too icy to trek to church, even in all-wheel drive. Slide under the down comforter and praise for a few more hours rest. In the sunlight, the world is frosted with snow, a wonderland of crystalline beauty, in all our yards autumn messiness. The children track mud and snow into the house and there is a small snowboot track on my sheet music still scattered on the front room floor.

I don't have time to maintain these regrets when I think about how He loves. ~John Mark McMillan
Instead of sliding down into the nothingness that perfectionist thinking breeds, I count my blessings at Sunday's end,

...the white glare of snow making sunshine bright and world clean growing back, black and plentiful from The Story blaring through speakers on icy roads
...moments with my dear aunt and uncle
...Sunday dinner with Grandma and Grandpa, gales of giggles echoing
...sleep, sleep and more sleep
...another week of night shifts winking at me
...down comforters and warm husband

Growing into cancer


Today I purchased a domain name: Turquoise Gates. Just type my blog name without the ".blogspot". It's a big step, growing into my own skin as a writer, committing in a new way to this blog. I started it on a whim and the push from a friend in those early days of cancer, between biopsy and surgery, when life was amorphous and too mist-like to grab hold of. I didn't know where truth lay, whether I'd be fighting for my life or breathing a sigh of relief. Three years later, I can't stop writing because I'm still fighting. Cancer is still present and I am still dealing. And so I buy the domain. It feels like buying cancer. Saying I'll have it for another year. Really it's just $10 and two little words, a space on the internet and nothing more.

And so I wave to cancer today, through the sunny sky and under the fluffy down of my comforter. November is here again, marking 3 years since I counted pearls on a string the last day before my big treatment. I should be going in for a scan and a treatment, but there is shortage of the medications I need and I won't do it until January this year. And so I breath, the fall air crisp with dying bracken and heavy with the smell of snow, and glory in this day of just waving at cancer, not being it, not living it, not fighting it. Just being. I guess I have grown into the cancer skin and it feels comfortable these days. Being alive is what I grasp for now. Really alive. I rub the 7 day fuzz of new hair on my scalp, think they must have invented velcro from stubble, and smile at the sky.


Today I wrote for 5 minutes using TheGypsyMama's prompt: Grow.

When gratitude comes slowly

The e-mail comes from Bonnie, and the topic for today is gratitude. It comes to me on a day when trouble boils up at my brand new job, a day when my mother is able to go with an old friend from church and I realize that they are all gone, every single friend still at that church, beloved people I miss so much. It comes to me on a day when I struggle to enjoy hockey, my legs like jelly and muscles pulling as I drag goalie equipment around for the first time since babies. It comes to me on a day when I simply feel like an outsider, and I wonder where I'll find community. Perhaps at the ice rink? 

I think about the paradox of I John 2:15: Do not love the world or the things of this world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in Him. Yet the New Testament also constantly exhorts us to love the people of this world, to reach out to them, to lavish love upon them, to bless them and draw them to Christ's all-surpassing love. There is an unmistakable inner craving that constantly dogs me, to find a home here, a place where I can love and be loved. For what Christian is a stranger among Christians?

My mind always settles on the picture of my closed baby fists, gripping this world tight, unbendingly. As we slowly grow old, our hands open, until they are flat on our deathbed, no grip remaining, no tie to this world, ready for the next. This is a painful process, the breaking of the grip, the loosing of the anchor lines. But just like a great oceanliner held down by ropes and cables, only the tide of God's ocean of grace is necessary to pull us away from the dock, break the chains that bind, and leave us forever adrift on the waves of His mercy.

For this, and the binding of my soul inexorably to my home and family, I am grateful. I am ready to leave whenever He calls, but understand that for now, His call is toward my husband, children, the healing of us all so we can go out on the mission we crave. For each and every small joy of each and every day, I am grateful. He has brought me through the refiner's fire, and it is with a glad face I look upon the trials coming tomorrow, for I know that He is shaping me, molding me, and loving me through the best of times and the worst.


Poetry and Instagrams

Sun glints off diamond, yellow
day before another night shift
I know when work turns sour
you'll hear my story rift

Where our talents and passions collide
kaleidoscope of the wise mind
Thoughts, emotions melt to one
Our heart beats closer to the Son

The scenes flash by on memory
caught for a moment in my dreams
A small black book of stories done
each word inks a silent scream

I write on palms the chorus line
We fell in love in a hopeless place
And so the journey carries on
we hold their hands when the race is done

The moon flies silver in the west
You sip coffee while I unwind
Two ships passing in the night
Two shadows crossing in the dawn
~Thoughts after Night Shift~

Yellow diamonds in the light 
And we’re standing side by side 
As your shadow crosses mine 
What it takes to come alive 
It’s the way I’m feeling 
I just can’t deny 
We found love in a hopeless place  
Shine a light through an open door 
Love and life, I will divide 
Turn away cause I need you more 
Feel the heartbeat in my mind

Blessing of the Receiver: Thoughts from the Counselor's Couch & Being "Girl, interrupted"

He says it is more blessed to give than to receive. Journey notes of this recovering perfectionist and Christian perform artist tend to agree.

I am a nurse. I give of my time, my energy, my skills - and am lucky enough to be paid for the giving. I help sick people, no matter what caused their ailment. This includes people just like me - people right where I was in April, depressed, anxious, full of fear, looking for a way out of their painful life. Years ago, these patients were confusing to me. They didn't really want my help - in fact, they were frustrated that they weren't left for dead instead. I remember one boy, who chased a bottle of Tylenol with a bottle of vodka. He was just a teenager. None of us could understand his pain, growing up parentless on an Indian reservation, in abject poverty, without help. We didn't know his father had suggested the Tylenol in a fit of rage over his son's constant plea for help. It took many days for us to determine that his liver function would never recover - that he would get his wish after all, unless a liver became available for his transplant. I remember his anger with me when I helped the doctor deliver the news. It turned out that the bottle of Tylenol was just a cry for help, not a death wish. He was horrified that there was nothing we could do to reverse the effects by the time his grandma drove him all the way from western Minnesota to our hospital.

In April, I had the unique experience of becoming one of those confusing patients. A patient with a death wish, locked up in a white room on a cot, leathers holding my wrists and ankles down. I was stuck spreadeagled on the hard cot, two days once. I will never forget the scorn with which I was treated by some of the staff, staff that didn't believe it was right to help someone like me. Someone who did this to their own body.  My wounds weren't by accident or trauma or something that easily labeled me a victim. They were self-inflicted. Wounds on the outside to express the deep pain inside.

Patients with mental health issues receive different care. We don't fit in. We can't explain what's wrong with us. We are too weak and confused to challenge the care that's provided us. Disrespect is rampant, amongst health caregivers and lay people alike. You would think that nurses, with their creed to help all people, would be first in line to treat people with mental health issues respectfully. But that simply isn't the case.

My diagnoses were post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline personality disorder, and suicidal ideation. Taking ownership of your own course of action is difficult for everyone. When the course of action you've already picked landed you in a mental hospital, with damaged friendships and marriage, bandages on your wrists and a pocketful of despair in your standard issue scrub suit, it is hard to believe that you did this to yourself. We tend to blame circumstances that overwhelmed us.

But in my year of psychological chaos, I have learned that taking responsibility is the first step toward healing the wounds of the mind and emotions. Once I took responsibility, I had to learn how to prevent such a thing from happening again. For me, it clicked while sitting in a boring classed called "Skillful Living". As a successful professional woman with a nice house and beautiful children, I thought I was already living skillfully. Turns out I was doing skillfully, but my mind was a loose cannon of chaotic thoughts and dark temptations. Over months of counseling and group therapy, I learned to "turn my mind" - imagine myself staring that dark temptation in the face, then turning all the way around and focusing instead on something God was giving me in that single moment - my child's smile, perhaps; the sunshine; the smell of laundry drying; a tune played on the piano; music streaming from the speakers. Being faithful in this one act, turning my mind away from suicide and anxiety, proved to be the key out of the Pandora's box of pain I had been locked up in for months.

I still sit there, once a week, on the counselor's couch. She works to desensitize me to the traumas of my past. I work to forgive myself and move on. Being a "recovered" borderline personality is a rarity. The doctors and counselors cite my case as a "miracle" case - the fastest recovery they've ever seen from so deep an agony. By calling out my willfulness and discouraging thoughts of suicide, which can lead to chronic behavior modification, my counselor struck the fear of God back into my soul, and offered me tools I can link to strong Scriptures to bail me out of my present distress.

I've learned that depression can strike me anywhere, anytime. Being willing to ride the waves of the cold water of sadness and loneliness has allowed me to ride until the waves stop, then get up and persevere. I still must turn my mind whenever there's a knife on the table, a gun left with ammo accessible, a noose, a bag full of unused and unmonitored pills at my disposal. But as I turn it, again and again, I find this habit overcomes the old one and I am mostly free of suicidal thoughts and mostly filled by the moments of joy that sprinkle my day.

The blessing of the Giver

Sunday night I sat alone in darkness, wounds gaping wide to swallow me whole again. Monday night, I was at work, witness to a miracle of healing. This patient, another dear saint, was a blessing to me as those who receive are always double blessing to the giver. Every time I entered her room, she whispered to me that I am beautiful, a gift to her, another saint's hands to tend her in her hour of greatest need.

I walk away humbled. For this is why He allows our wounds, that He might heal us. Our pain, that He might bless us in ways we would never be blessed without suffering first. Would He build my gates with stones of turquoise, if first I wasn't the city lashed by storms and not comforted? Just when my heart feels broken beyond belief, the yellow glass of this tiny heart fragmented and glistening with tears, not a piece touching another...He steps in and binds each of those pieces with pieces of His own broken, bruised and torn heart, and now I am a patchwork heart of gold and red, each piece of my emptiness fitted perfectly with a piece of His own. I am not alone, I am not ever broken when He does not bind back up.

I praise for this new job, a job where the saints are marching in, and I can be one of them, left standing, the witness in the corner who signed the death paperwork and washed the body of that soul for the last time here on earth. One day it will be me, marching in, but for now I am left here, to do the work before me, to give when I am broken, to stand testament to His glory in the chaos of the critical care unit. To hold hands, to be blessed as I give.

It ain't where
It's how you live
We weren't raised to take
We were raised to give
The shirt off our back
To anyone in need

We bow our heads before we eat
Before we start our day
Before we fall asleep
Cause in God we trust and we believe
And we see what's wrong
And we know what's right

And ol Hank he said it all
When he said country folks can survive
~from Country Must Be Countrywide, Brantley Gilbert~


A promise of snow

Autumn whirls by like a flutter of leaves emancipated from the backyard by a rake, lifted and swirling in one iridescent moment of final glory, and then gone forever into the black plastic of a lawn bag. Long night shifts caring for sick strangers, hockey practice, first flurries of snow. The week hurtles on and I don't pause to write or hardly to think. The incomparable adrenaline laced rush of joy after physical accomplishment washes over me and drowns me in happiness after hockey practice. Nine years of having babies, and I can still stop a puck and have fun out on the ice with a group of women. 

My friend from afar is in Ecuador, meeting children helped through the Compassion International program. It is a hard thing to have a missionary's heart and not bend to the constant plea of so many people. But in uncertain times, when we are making budget cuts $10 at a time, that $38 a month seems like a large commitment, especially when so important and a must every month for that one family. All kinds of things fly through my mind, my doctoral degree, so expensive - really necessary? Well, yes, if we're going to go to Central America and start a nursing school. The winter boots for kids - should I have looked longer at thrift stores in search of cheaper options? Well, no, not when the snow is already falling. What about hockey? How much money do you spend just to rediscover an old joy?

It's hard to be the bud holding promise of next spring, a handful of snowflakes to water the earth when the frozen times are done. Yet this is what young families often do, hold the snowflakes to point to the thaw. We are still growing and learning, learning this one income life, learning what it takes to be a missionary, stem frozen in time by cancer and encephalitis. We can't go yet. We will go one day, to the vast reaping fields. The fields holding the promise for the spring yet to come. They will still be there when we are ready...for the poor you'll always have with you. Perhaps that is one of God's great and incomprehensible gifts: a world where we stay in touch with our poverty. For without a visual picture of poverty, if every man were rich, would we really keep needing God? Not until the grave's doorstep, when we finally realize we can't take it with us. Money is just a dusting of snow on frozen ground...the promise of food for this life while we wait for the next. Autumn holding spring's thaw.

Linked up to Joy's life: unmasked writing project

Joy dawns again

The writing heals, forming words to express the ache, and I go to bed calm. Last moments of wakefulness are given up in prayer...praise for the majesty of nature He bathed me in as the moon rose, praise for family home, praise for experiencing the full breadth of life from exquisite joy to gripping agony, just as Christ experienced this life on earth.

As the day arcs full, from dawn to deepest night, He heals in the moment and soothes that stabbing desire to be home, home in heaven. It is true that He has allowed this life and heart to be carved out and emptied, but I don't see the stories arc full yet, don't know where He's taking this short life of mine.

I close eyes tight against sun in the morning, trying to sleep long enough to survive a 12-hour night shift. In the slumber, dreamless, He changes the heart and molds it to fit a new day. It is a sunny day, warm, kids cuddled up with me in the dawn, husband calling gleeful with joy from work. 

This is how emptiness sings. It may be a moan of melancholy loneliness on the strings or a rush of notes sung in sweetest harmony. Today I can sing the chorus to the song...

Brother, he’s suffered like a tree taken down 
Wept as he witnessed his dreams carved out 
And how can a man just keep walking around 
With his heart full of holes 

But ooh, His bow is on the strings 
And the tune resonates in the open space 
To show us how emptiness sings: 
Glory to God, Glory to God! 

In fullness of wisdom, 
He writes my story into his song, 
My life for the glory of God. 

Sister carries her loneliness 
In a hidden hollow inside her chest 
And sometimes all that she wants is an end 
To the long, long night 

But ooh, her bow is on the strings, 
And the tune resonates in the open space 
To show us how emptiness sings: 
Glory to God, Glory to God! 

In fullness of wisdom, 
He writes my story into his song, 
My life for the glory of God.

In the middle of a party, 
I’ll just want to go Home. 
But ooh, My bow is on the strings, 
I’m beginning to learn where to find the words 
To the song that emptiness sings 
Ooh, bow is on the strings: 
Glory to God! Glory to God! 
This is how emptiness sings, oh, 
This is how emptiness sings
~How Emptiness Sings, Christa Wells~

Longing for home

The silver of moonlight's dawn shivers over the last stubble of hay in the field. Headlights glow their yellow incandescent as they snake along sleepy down the country road. I hear the rattle of the oak leaves percussive against the bare arms of their mother's trees, feel the vibration in the frozen ground as the wind rushes like wave of thunder through the pine stand.

I am alone on the hill in the darkness, watching stars appear like pinpricks in the night sky. It is a day of brokenness, the emptiness of my hollowed out heart palpable in the church surrounded by strangers and the echo of a pastor's tears unfamiliar in my ears. It grows pregnant in my chest as I drive aimless through the countryside, alone with Jesus and my tears. Music flows in fragments through the ache, sister carries her loneliness in a hidden hollow in her chest, and sometimes all she wants is an end to the long, long night...her bow is on the strings, and the tune resonates in the open space, to show us how emptiness sings.*

I plead with Jesus, feel Him in this space with me, beg Him to please take me home. End the long long night. Bring me peace. Tears flow like raindrops down windows, beat on the soul like ground too parched to soak up this sorrow. Sometimes in the middle of a party I just want to go


Yesterday the heartache of friendships lost last year swirled up in the drain like so many tidbits of uneaten food in the sink, ten years gone in the blink of an eye with not a shadow of the relationships left to warm cold hearts. I hear it again, those friends fall around me like pearls from an open string, the necklace of life broken, torn and losing it's beauty in one wild rush out of the hollow of my heart. My scream is the dustpan scraping the floor, my wail the swish of broom and the quick descent of all that wild love into the trashbin.

The cat sits sentinel against my leg and I am a field stone on the hill. The silver of the moonlight dances at my feet. I am so still and quiet a deer glides like a ghost out of the treeline, tawny sleek in moonshine, almost close enough to touch. But I am riveted in the dark shadows, and she is quickly gone. The dog senses the sorrow friable in the winter night air and her moan gives voice to the pain as I beg again.

Just take me home.

Take me home.

A tractor roars to life rusty on the valley's edge. I am sliding like the wheels in the muck. I watch it crawl down the arched back of the far hill, the next farm over alive with corn dryers and cows lowing and fertility. I sit on our dry ground, just a witness to this busyness.

The headlights slide golden down the road's curves and the children echo laughter from the porch steps. Husband slides warm next to me, but there are no words for this pain and the explanation is just a whisper.

I want to go home.

I can't live like this, a stranger in my own skin. I live anyway, I make my mind busy at work, I surround the silent echo in my heart with the crash and slip of a hockey game, my dad's voice a familiar rumble next to me on a day of strangeness.

And all day, I beg. And all day, Jesus says no.

Nothing swallows me in the black night and I reemerge lost and with no answer. The family whirls with laughter and tears and piano notes and wolf-pup game howls. I am drowning in a sea of life when all I want is heaven.

I choose life, over and over again, but it is a compulsion, a duty, something I give like an unbirthed baby cold in the grave, a gift of a frozen heart to a Savior who sweats blood and begs too, not to drink this cup. I choose life where the guardrail ends at the river's edge, I choose life with a credit card burning a hole in my pocket and guns and ammo for sale just down the street. I choose life when I stand stock still at the edge of the treestand twenty feet in the air above the sweet death hidden in the bracken. I choose life when I could just lie down on this cold hill and never wake up, turn into a field stone and sink into winter's earth, cover myself with the first blanket of snow.

For He drank anyway, the thunderous wrath, the stones split in two, the world flooded with darkness as He breathes last on the Cross. And so I follow. Bitter draught of life.

Oh, to be eighty instead of thirty-two.

Oh, to be close to the release, the relief, the Love. 

*lyrics from Christa Wells' How Emptiness Sings

Expectant loneliness

Depression coming storming through the door today and takes me off guard. It's been so, so long. I am tossed by it's waves and struggle to keep hold to the Father's hand as the tide grips me tight and pulls me away. I miss the women I just met, wish I had friends like that in real life. Two long evenings this week, Aaron's been out late on call, and we are ships passing in the shadows of dawn and the dark of the cold night. I have a weekend alone to daunt me.

As He so often does, it is with a song He whispers comfort in my longing ear, head resting helpless on the hard wooden side of my swing, my eyes full of tears, and the quiet of country stifling in it's loneliness. So many times during this life, I've run from that ever-present sense of the God who fills all the spaces and places. Today I close eyes to squeeze tears down cheeks and breath a quiet thank you to the God who never leaves and ever loves and lavishes.

She's a sparkle in her Father's eye
kind of like the moon tonight
she's destined for divinity
His portion is His purity
and a glance His way comes across her face
He sheds a tear, oh oh
amazing grace how sweet the sound
amazing love oh she's been found
a sparkle in her Father's crown
holy love come raining down come storming in,
be jealous found

come violent love
come stormy seas
sweep fear away and you shall be
a sparkle in the Father's crown

and even if he had ninety nine
stayed at home and stayed in line
he would not be satisfied
He would still go out to find
the one who's always on His mind
and bring her back, arms opened wide
~Jamie's Song, Kristene Mueller~



The sun sets unbelievably pink and lavender, sets on a day filled with mistakes, brings the darkness that has filled my heart all day into the world, night always to be weathered before it pulls up day. Two of my best friends hover on the edge of divorce, and I am there to pray and love and accept. But I flee that sorrow-filled room, back to the warm arms of the husband who still loves me, whom I still love. My son acts up all day and finally goads me to explosion in the evening, ironically the evening I write about how I want to parent. It grates. I flee his constant tears and whine and I am on the porch swing with the black cloud of self-reproach stealing from the sunsets glory.

I want to be so much farther on the trajectory of Christian life, so much further from that old sin that I've supposedly died to because Christ lives in me. It's not dead yet. I'm still trying to pack down the grave site of my sin, pack it in so it can't reach an arm up through the dirt to grab my ankle anymore. Sin's bony claw reaches through, now and then, and I am in the grip of an old way of living that I thought I buried years ago when I lost my voice after cancer surgery. But no, I can raise my voice, I can stamp my foot in frustration, I can wither the child lost in temper tantrum with a look, hard and fierce, from my brown eyes.

And so my heart breaks a little on that porch swing. I am so disappointed in self. This steals from Christ all over again...the pity party that follows my fall keeping my attention focused on self instead of the Cross. Ugh. I throw off the despair like an unwanted moth-eaten sweater, and try to shrug on Grace. 

The darkness is gone. The sun is up. The Son is out. But the Son isn't finished. One surprise still awaits them. "Suddenly, Jesus met them and said, "Greetings". The women came up to him, took hold of the feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Don't be afraid. Go and tell my followers to go on to Galilee and they will see me there'" . The God of surprises strikes again. It's as if he said, "I can't wait any longer. They came this far to see me; I'm going to drop in on them." God dies that for the faithful. Just when the womb gets too old for babies, Sarai gets pregnant. Just when the failure is too great for grace, David is pardoned. And just when the road is too dark for Mary and Mary, the angel glows and the Savior shows and the two women will never be the same. The lesson? Three words. Don't give up. Is the trail dark? Don't sit. Is the road long? Don't stop. Is the night black? Don't quit. God is watching. For all you know right at this moment he may be telling the angel to move the stone. The check may be in the mail. The apology may be in the making. The job contract may be on the desk. Don't quit. For if you do, you may miss the anwer to your prayers. God still sends angels. And God still moves stones. ~Max Lucado, "He Still Moves Stones"

One of those shipwrecked friends sends a prayer in letters to me, and I pray them with her. Lord, I'm broken....I boldly claim your promise that you will not break a broken reed. I'm broken. Please send me help. Help to heal my broken heart, help not to become bitter, help in finding a job wit benefits, help to caring for my son, help to find the right council for the divorce, ;;;to "forgive those who trespass against us....". Lord I need a legion of your angels to surround me, I desperately need your protection, your love, your grace, your mercy, your healing -physically and spiritually. Please Lord....hurry....Amen.

O come, Lord Jesus, and rescue us from these lives rotting around us. Rescue us from the power of sin, teach us to lean hard into your Grace. Live Grace. Before I die, might I live Grace?
What shall I do with you, my love

What shall I do with you?
For your loyalty to Me is like the morning clouds,;
Like the dew that goes away so early.;
What shall I do with you, my love?
You keep bringing Me sacrifices
To ease your mind, 
 But it's your heart that I want.

Hasn't it been a long road
With disappointments,
Chasing after lovers
That just throw you away?

And are you done fighting now?
All the love it takes to lighten you,
Shame was never meant to be your portion.

Though these sins are red as scarlet,
I will wash them white in My mercy.
~Kristene Mueller, Mercy~

The mountains never-ending

The last of the maples shine gold on the backdrop of the rusty oaks and their gray maple sisters, bare now of the leaves of scarlet, stripped by the winds. A blue jay fans his wings of evening sky and black over the gray quiet before the rain. The world is silent and still. The hill facing me a mountain on this valley landscape. I wear her words tattooed on my t-shirt No, my hands cannot reach it, my mind can't comprehend it, but my soul is going to get there one day. I've been climbing my whole life, and I'm only at the bottom of the mountain.

My parents were good parents, are good parents. But oh, the mistakes we all make on the weary road of mothering, the ways we bend children to our own image of children, the way we knock self out of their little souls and fill it with should be and must be instead of I am.

Last year, I pushed my children up each doorstep, their fear in the dark palpable, but the draw to Halloween candy beating it's bass drum through their little bodies. A year earlier, I couldn't take them trick-or-treating because Amy was hovering between life and death in the hospital. This year, they run pell-mell, us chasing after them between houses. The fear is gone and they are free spirits, football players among the ghosts and goblins, dancing in the dark night. My eight year old is suddenly rocketing into her "tween" years, body developing, little wise mind carried on shoulders heavy for her child's frame.

I say it to them, sometimes. Calm yourself down. You aren't allowed to [fill in the blank]. I mount a sign above their bedroom door: Thou shalt not whine. It's not in the commandments, but I'm pretty sure it can be extrapolated by the suggestion of a verse - one of my favorites - that says pleasant words are as a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and health to the bones. I try desperately to walk the tightrope. Teach them self-control, but let them be who they are. Let them stay in their skin, oh please Lord, for many years to come. Caleb will stop his wailing to whimper, "I'm so sad, Mama". I can't stop his sadness, but I can affirm it in my fierce hug. Oh, that he did not already know that life is sad. That life hurts. That people wound you and people leave you. Might I pass on to him that Jesus never leaves, nor forsakes, nor asks us to package up our burdens in stoic faces, but rather asks that we hand them, covered in tears as they come, over to Him to tend to!

Another mountain of motherhood waves hello from across the valley, years of three tween and teen girls coming, as they grow up like weeds around my trunk.

My own words haunt me. I am glad for cancer. Cancer taught me to enjoy this day, and look forward with jubilee to the next. Oh, but the haunt of the possible ending, the way things will go if they don't go how we want them to. Can you live without your mother, ever? Isn't it a world of pain and emptiness you're left in as you stand by her grave, whatever age you are when that grave becomes reality?

And so it is, my thoughts roiling in the quiet countryside, as I watch dragonfly nymphs huddle in a transparent gray swarm of cloud, yearning for warmth as my children yearn for my warmth. I hug knees to chest, and breathe out the ache settled deep in my chest. Lord, help me help them to be themselves, yet ever less of human and ever more of divine. In Your goodness, Lord, bless this little family shipwrecked on the shores of heartache, bind us and keep us and make us whole.

I go to the riverbed, shoes on the shore 
I’m shaking a little bit, hardly know what for 
Oh, and the water’s cloudy as the sky 
I’m looking for answers in the riverbed of life 

I’m panning for gold, I’m panning for gold 
Until I have all my heart can hold

I go to the pages handed down and worn 
I’m hearing the sages with the Truth on their tongues 
Sifting beauty from the layers of ash
I’m tracing the universe with my fingers in the sand 

It’s there in the city, where the nations converge 
It’s in the graffiti and the shapes of the earth 
Choir lofts and kitchens, where voices ring loud 
Reflections of grace, shining glory over doubt 

I’m panning for gold, I’m panning for gold 
Until I have all my heart can hold 
I’m panning for gold, I’m panning for gold 
Take all I can hold


Bald doesn't seem becoming. It's ugly, raw nakedness.

Yet becoming bald is where Jesus shows up again, larger than life, looking on the inside instead of out.

With "flat Brandie" - another cancer patient who couldn't attend Relevant.
He sees and knows, the Potter ever at His wheel, shaping this life into what I'm meant to be becoming.

With Michelle, an online friend finally met in real life.
He crafted the round head, and counted every hair upon it eons ago. 

Before His mercy seat, He touches me quietly and whispers, "You. My beautiful bride."