2011 in Pictures

January. Cousin love.

February. Praying with Papa.

March. Meeting old friends in Fargo, North Dakota.

April. Maple syrup party.

April. Surviving my own version of "Bleak House".

May. Early summer joy, late nights and early mornings.

June. Flowers and sprinklers and kid joy.

July. Camping and South Carolina trip.

September. Hunting for fossils in Iowa with Auntie Rose & Uncle Dennis.

October. Hair loss and leaves falling.

November. Early snow and Christmas trees.

December. The wonder of Advent, seen through new eyes.

A word for 2012

The Christmas season fades to a blur behind us, and the new year looms. It will be my year of 3's: 33 years alive, '12 = 1+ 2 = 3, my 3rd cancer scan, my 3rd year with cancer, my 3 article dissertation. Every year, I've picked a word, one word that epitomizes the lesson I want to learn over 12 months. The theme for my days. This year, I'm picking a word quite different from those of years past.


verb (used without object)
to happen or terminate according to desire; turn outsuccessfully; have the desired result: Our efforts succeeded.
to thrive, prosper, grow, or the like: Grass will not succeed inthis dry soil.
to accomplish what is attempted or intended: We succeededin our efforts to start the car.

The dictionary touts a fourth definition - to obtain wealth or standing. I am in favor of the first definition - to terminate according to desire. I have a list of things I hope to succeed at this year, God willing. Following a year of intense disappointment and depression, I wanted to choose a positive word for this coming year. A year whose story pages are still blank, spreading before me with such possibility and promise. May God be with us as we work toward our goals this year!

1. Succeed at finishing my dissertation and graduating
2. Succeed at finally seeing cancer in remission
3. Succeed in becoming more emotionally intelligent and healing wounds of the heart
4. Succeed at mothering and housekeeping
5. Succeed at becoming a better wife to my dear husband
6. Succeed at kicking depression
7. Succeed at focusing on raising emotionally integrated children thriving with creativity

Inspired by Alece's community at Grit & Glory

and linked to Bonnie

Top Ten for 2011 & an Author Favorite

I hope you enjoy a grand tour of the blog to close out the year! The top ten pages for 2011 in terms of pageviews:

1. Cathedral
2. Real-life fairy tale endings
3. The wound that blinds
4. Story of this battle
5. What I learned at my old church: Lessons after leaving
6. Reflection in the mirror
7. Hurt
8. Battle wounds
9. In a perfect world
10. Awakening to love

And my very favorite post of 2011:
Trading in my cardboard crown

2011 was my year for endurance, patience, abiding in trial. Little did I know, in January, how apt this word would be for 2011. I have chosen a much different word for 2012. Join me again tomorrow to read about it!

Strong's 5278

1. remaining under, endurance; steadfastness, especially as God enables the believer to "remain (endure) under" the challenges He allots in life.
2. to preserve: under misfortunes and trials to hold fast to one's faith in Christ
3. to endure, bear ill treatments bravely and calmly

That He may say of me, "and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary." (Revelation 2:3) 

Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us..." (Hebrews 12:1)

Are you generic?

Suppose your organization is hosting an art sale as a fundraiser. You usually sell art from the community - some good, some not so good. This year, however, someone donated their entire library of historic art to your sale. You have a Michelangelo, a Rembrandt, a Picasso, a Monet. They are worth millions each. However, the advertising committee doesn't want to scare away the usual clientele of low bidders looking for local pieces at a good price. They decide to leave out the famous paintings and go with their standard poster verbage highlighting local artists.

The day of the sale finally arrives. Quite a stir ensues, as people realize what you've been hiding: Picasso's painting is risque. Monet's is mistaken for a cheap hotel print. No one likes how "lumpy" the vibrant oils of Rembrandt's painting are in real life. The Michelangelo is of (gasp!) a naked man. Most of your usual buyers walk out, disgruntled when they discover the grand scope of this year's sale. Later, you hear from several serious art collectors who are deeply disappointed and slightly angry that they weren't notified of your acquisitions.

Nobody likes to be sucked in with wrong information. 

We do this type of misrepresentation everyday. Reports indicate that this has become even more rampant with the advent of social media: we disclose only a small corner of our lives, the cleaned up, funny, and happy parts of our lives. I am guilty of this all the time. Just this morning, my Facebook status read: "After 2 months of hockey, I finally feel like I am back. Never thought this day would come!" I didn't really have space - or desire - to share that the first two periods of the scrimmage my muscles were cramped and screaming pain, and I had to breathe through it to survive, like childbirth. This status reads kind of like I am a fit jock, instead of the overtired, overweight, and out-of-shape 30-something I really am.

The most glaring way we represent ourselves incorrectly is in regards to our faith or belief system. Christians wear that label on their lapel but shy away from sharing their Gospel - which has always divided rather than unified - unless pressed to do so. We tout lifestyle evangelism - living our faith quietly instead of proselytizing. We tame our beliefs and only exercise them in small groups of like-minded people and perhaps the quiet seclusion of the voting booth. Many atheists and agnostics represent their beliefs as scientific, cool and collected - hiding the deep passion they feel for their religion and disdain they feel for mainstream Christian "sheep" who've been brainwashed or simply "go with the flow" rather than owning their faith. Wiccan and other religions in the margins face stigma by calling themselves "alternative faith practitioners".

Another analogy is found within my professional sphere: generics pretend to be the real thing, but they aren't even close. Sythroid is the Rembrandt of thyroid cancer meds, and levothyroxine, it's generic counterpart, is a cheap print of the real thing, faded and poor quality. Generic medicine is held to a different standard than name-brand. To maintain their trademarks and reputation, brand-name companies test every dose for accuracy and allow only a 1-3% fluctuation in the amount of medication delivered by each pill, capsule, or ounce of fluid. Generic manufacturers are held responsible by FDA regulations that state every dose must be within 20% of the advertised amount - allowing those generics in your medicine cabinet to fluctuate by as much as 40% per pill. Generics are tested at random by the FDA, and a single company could go decades without any testing being done on their products.


not protected by trademark registration: “Cola” and “shuttle”are generic terms.

Do you wear "Christian" with a capital C, representing the radical and revolutionary faith birthed by Christ, the great martyr and singular salvation, the God-man? Or with a generic small "c", joining the millions who profess this faith without ever sharing it with a soul or getting in touch with the God who invented it? Is your faith at full-strength, or do you fluctuate by 40%, dosing low for the public and high for your small group members? Are you holding a portrait of faith that is a hotel-quality print that won't offend anyone, or a stunning masterpiece that inspires both love and hate from it's audience?

I am issuing a challenge - to myself along with all who read here. Own it. Memorize a few things that really epitomize your beliefs: John 3:16, the Apostles' Creed, a paragraph from your favorite author. Be prepared to talk about your faith. Don't just live it...tell people about your passion as well. In my experience, honesty and transparency equal a life full of diversity AND true relationships. If you are toning down your faith to keep up acquaintances or appearances, you are doing nobody a favor. If you're hiding a Rembrandt in your closet, and your walls are covered with posters, how do you even know if people really like you at all? I prefer to share my zealous faith with people who love God 100% as much as I do, and refresh my faith spending time with people who 100% disagree with me.

This year, purpose to own the trademark of your faith, and hold yourself accountable to higher standards as you engage with people in your real life world.

Joining Joy for life:unmasked today.

Defying Death: Adventure & Mortality

There is a grievous evil I have seen under the sun: riches kept by the owner to his hurt, and those riches perish by evil adventure... (Ecclesiastes 5)

I am an adrenaline junkie. This trait is the product of the many times I was urged on by my younger brothers, only to chicken out at the last second. So many trees I didn't jump out of...races I didn't engage in...hills I refused to slide down. By college, I pushed myself hard to learn to snowboard. I became a hockey goalie. I tried bungee jumping and sky diving. I kayaked down many dangerous rivers. I once tubed in the buff down a river in Minnesota.

All of these risk taking activities sound pretty mild - but there were other death-defying habits I developed that weren't so harmless. I was a habitual liar. I constantly amped up my own stakes in my own game, at the expense of those who naively believed me. I messed around with binge drinking for a while, at the expense of my body. I think self-harm and suicide fit in the same category of death-defying stunts that gratified that gaping hole in me that could only be filled when I was on the brink of something dangerous, breathtaking or bad. Satan knew just how to seduce me, and I often closed my eyes to his rather transparent attempts to draw me away from safety and truth.

I gave up most of those habits when I was given a family. They still lurk in corners and occasionally I toy with them a bit too much. But, for the most part, I've abandoned risk taking in favor of a more sedate...and healthy...life with my husband and kids.

This insatiable thirst for adventure has cost me many things. One of the most bothersome to me is the dream of heaven. It is difficult for me to imagine how life could be exciting and perfect without any risks to take. How in the world will I enjoy myself if I can never die? Is that why Eve ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil - sheer boredom? Curiosity about how life tasted when the stakes were raised?

One of my cancer-inspired dreams is a good one: I slice through clouds with a snowboard, falling from a thunderhead a thousand feet to the sea of white below. I wonder if you still get that going-off-the-top-of-a-rollercoaster tickle in your tummy if you know nothing can kill you? I have to table my confusion until I get there and can ask Jesus. I simply can't imagine living forever and not losing the thrill of it. But then again perhaps I see life too often in the negative space, the black, not the white. Perhaps I don't really understand what it is to be alive at all.

Don't let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Remember him before you become fearful of falling and worry about danger in the streets... (Ecclesiastes 12:1a & 5a)

2011: The Year of My Best Friend

Frost glitters in the headlights, a million diamonds in a ditch. A million of His gifts scattered just for a night, just for my hungry eyes. I think back on a year of slowly counting the small things. How the joy has glistened brilliant on the darkest days, and lit up my heart in ways I didn't think possible. I read Deuteronomy 30:20-21, the verses that pulled me out of suicidal hopelessness, to a friend facing her own season of hopelessness last night. I think about His command, to choose life instead of death, blessing instead of cursing, to serve Him with our whole mind, body and spirit. How does that look in real life, with skin on? It seems like an impossible command...especially that last part. Like He is setting us up to fail.

I remember slowly that this is a book of law, a book for a time before Christ's ultimate redemption of our whole human race. The law was instituted to highlight the failings of humanity, how far we are from the perfection of God, how often we disobey, intentionally or unintentionally. While He certainly wants us to strive for that whole mind, body, spirit servitude, He knew from the beginning of time that we would fail at this.

This year, grayed out by depression and plagued by nightmares, flashbacks, and moments of the most utter helplessness and sorrow, I have succeeded at one thing...putting skin on Deuteronomy 30:20-21. I have chosen life instead of death, blessing instead of cursing, and laid myself out to serve Him wholly. Of course, I've failed in the minutiae of life, but as I look back at the big picture of 2011, I have done better at this than ever before.

What has that looked like? Willingness to welcome Him into my darkest days. Obedience in telling Him how I feel, instead of kicking Him out when I am angry. Pleading to Him when the tears burn sulfuric and the chest heaves with uncontainable grief. Remembering Him when the road of life is easy, and my burden lighter. Not forgetting His sustenance and faithfulness when I am filled with joy.

Following this command has healed my soul. And while depression still lurks, and sorrow still devours, I am never alone in my abyss. When the sun is shining and the smiles beaming, I have someone to thank, someone to revel with. In the most friendless year of my life, I find loneliness peopled by the divine, and I am satisfied, for the first time. It is a taste of eternity, walking daily with Christ. 2001 was the year of the Lover of my soul, 2006 was the year of my rescue from my temper, 2011 is the year of finally knowing Him as my Best Friend.

For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments, then you shall live and multiply...But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days. (Deuteronomy 30:11-21a exc.)

Where the star leads

The lights can be seen for miles. Something like the Star of the East. This year, the Wise Men rise out of the Christmas story and speak to me. With all their studies, their charting, their search for knowledge, they sacrificed all to ride through the continent to find a King. Of course they started with the king himself - looking for his heir, no doubt. But all they found was a disgruntled and power-hungry king who tried to manipulate their little adventure for his benefit. They left the palace and ended up in a stable, worshiping before a mere babe, a humble, working-class newborn. I wonder how they felt as they laid their strange gifts down? Did the irony of those gifts strike them? Did the stars also foretell of His assassination?

I am on a knowledge quest of my own. The Wise Men remind me not to make the quest itself an end - to focus on what is borne of that knowledge instead of the gaining of it. I have looked for the King in country and in organized religion. But He is often not there. He is still in the stable, still in the humblest places, in the least expected corners of life. The Wise Men remind me to go looking for a newborn in a manger instead of a king in pomp and glory. I have felt deep embarrassment and uncertainty as I lay my gifts before that King. The Wise Men remind me that He is the one who judges the thoughts and intents of the heart. He does not scrutinize and criticize my gifts, but allows me to bring Him glory through the most ironic of offerings - my brokenness, my shame, my defeats.

I think, too, about my children. Am I preparing them for a life of this kind of adventure? Epiphany moments followed by humble and risky obedience? Will I show them what it means to follow Christ wherever He leads, however dangerous the journey, however unlikely the arriving place?

This year, I'm following the star and hoping for true wisdom. I come only to worship and lay my gifts down. I am walking in the footsteps of the fallen, on the path that leads back to the lowly manger and the holy family, surrounding their newborn son along with the angels, the shepherds, and the beasts.

Do you see what I see
A star, a star
Dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite

Said the shepard boy to the mighty king
Do you know what I know
In your palace wall mighty king
Do you know what I know
A child, a child
Shivers in the cold
Let us bring him silver and gold

The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
~Do You Hear What I Hear?~

True humility

This past week, someone challenged me to be more humble. At various points in my career, I've faced similar criticism that labels me as "too confident". I've been thinking and praying about this. I long to show the face of humility to those around me, and it concerns me that others don't see this when they see me. Yet I know that, internally, I struggle greatly with self-esteem. How can this be so and yet so invisible?

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 
to cleanse every part of me...

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 may be weak 
Your spirit's strong in me 
My flesh may fail 
My God you never will
~Give Me Faith, Elevation Worship~

How can my heart be broken, how can I be shipwrecked on the grace of the cross, and not show it? I know that pride is at the heart of all sin. I do not want to be guilty of it. I don't want pride or arrogance to be what people see in my eyes. I memorized Proverbs 16:18 in the King James Bible as a child: pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

I also memorized Paul's powerful testimony. He said unto me, "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in your weakness". Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (II Corinthians 12:9) How can I possibly hang my head in humility when I am glorying not in my own strength but that of the Christ who saved me from my darkest sins and my most cavernous deficits?

I stand, only in light of His mercy. I fail constantly - to communicate well, to do the right thing, to be busy instead of lazy, to persevere, to count my blessings and also count my suffering as great joy.

He gave me undeniable talents, and has cultivated them into skill and beauty. I have progressed through graduate school on the tightest possible schedule. Music flows from my fingertips, and I can sing a great harmony line. I sew, craft, build. I raise and school children. I started a company. I am hard at work on a series of three scholarly articles for my dissertation. I write here almost daily, pouring my soul out for the community of online readers. I take luminous photographs. I paint, draw, engrave. I care for pets with love. I survive - cancer, abuse, heart problems, hair loss, fatigue, depression, PTSD, suicidal impulses.

All this I praise God for. Looking back over the entirety of my life, I know none would be possible without His great mercy. I would be a bitter, hollow shell of a person by now. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses! He has used every hard knock and every soft landing to mold and shape me, to bring me to my knees, and lift my hands in awestruck praise of Him.

When you see me, you see the confidence of a soul set free to create, perform, and to pursue Christ in every walk of life. You don't see the me, naked without Christ...the me without grace. Because that "me" no longer exists. I have been pardoned, bought, and elevated on the eagle wings of the Savior! I will never stop soaring on the wind of His love!

True humility is this: never seeing yourself without the covering of the Cross. True confidence is this: I do not depend any longer on the dead human self or body. I depend wholly and gratefully on the absolute propitiation, the key that loosed all my chains, the provider who daily sanctifies me and tests my faith, chases after the last dark corners of my heart and loves my whole being.

I am desperate for Your touch 
a glimpse of heaven for the glory of Your Son. 
In a moment You can turn a life around 
forever to be found in You. 
I am reaching out to find 
theres nothing greater than Your love that holds my life. 
Your grace and mercy that have saved me by Your blood, 
and swept away my shame, o Lord. 

Your love is like fire that burns for all to see. 
My only desire to worship at Your feet. 
So let this fire consume my life. 
Let Your love take me deeper 
pull me closer to where You are, 
'cause all I want is more of You. 

I'm surrendered to Your love 
forever humbled by the message of the cross. 
I stand abandoned in Your presence and Your embrace, 
and I'll never be the same Oh God. 

When You call I will follow. 
At the cross I surrender all, 
Jesus, I belong to You.
~Love Like Fire, Hillsong United~


Venus on the horizon at sunset
Let your boat of life be light, packed only with what you need - a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink, for thirst is a dangerous thing. (Jerome Klapka Jerome)
I have a nightmare, excruciating. I am with my husband and two of my children, the eldest and the youngest. We take a sightseeing ride over St. Anthony Main, where the Mississippi burgeons for the first time into her full glory as a major river of the United States. The river is 300 feet below us, huge boulders slicing her flow into streams. Suddenly the car we are in tips haphazardly to the side, nearly spilling us to our death over the rocks. My husband grabs my son's ankle and my daughter grips the rope. Then we huddle together in the bottom of the car, shifting all our weight to the other side, trying to keep it upright. I beg my sleepy husband to hold tight to my son's ankle or I will go mad.

I wake up sweaty, and it is time to get up and get ready for work. I put on my scrubs, my PhD(c) lab coat, my stethoscope. I head back to the ICU to pick up a patient. I face the scorn in the eyes of the coworkers. I try to find the cath lab to drop this patient off for his procedure. I am squeezing the bag that connects to oxygen and the tube through which he breathes while comatose. I can't find the lab through the maze of construction in the hospital, and I am begging, "Lord, if this is a nightmare, please let me wake up." The stress mounts, and I am undone.

I come up another level, this time really to consciousness. At least, I think so. I am drenched, weary, fearful. What if this is just the third nightmare-within-a-nightmare? I have visions of the movie Inception. It is not until 30 minutes later, pulling on my yellow jacket and heading out the door to church, that I am sure I am really awake this time.

This is PTSD. The nightmares and flashbacks bring me continually to my knees, so that I pray even in my sleep. How can I deny that God is moving through the most painful season of my life, when all the traumas of past days come crashing down and I can finally hear the sound of the walls in my heart moaning under the pressure of new stress, collapsing and clouding my mind with their dust and grit.

In Deuteronomy 31, God sings through Moses' mouth these words to Israel:
I would have said, "I will cut them to pieces. I will wipe them from human memory," had I not feared provocation by the enemy, lest their adversaries misunderstand, lest they should say, "Our hand is triumphant, it was not the Lord who did all this." See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god beside me: I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver you out of My hand. For I lift up my hand to heaven and swear, "As I live forever, if I sharpen my flashing sword, and my hand takes hold on judgment, I will take vengeance on my adversaries and will repay those who hate me." Rejoice with me, O heavens, bow down to Him, all gods, for He avenges the blood of His children...and cleanses His people's land. (Deuteronomy 31: 26-27; 38-41; 43)
He wants me undone. He wants me struck open like an overripe melon, spilling my guts and hollowing out a place for Him. He wounds me so that He may bind me, so that I might see the awesome power of His hand in my life. While I am hurting, I sit in the palm of His hand, in His grip. When I am whole, it is He who makes me so. He empties out my life, so that I might simply live. He sweeps away distractions and leaves only that which matters most, so that I might notice the simple joy and the all-consuming love that surrounds, instead of all the cobwebs I've stored up in my spiritual house. It is as if the furniture has been removed, and standing in the echoing room are my husband and children, my family and friends, just people - nothing else. The sun streams in the windows and hits the whitewashed walls, and I am undone again, this time by the incredible beauty of His creation instead of the cardboard crowns I have constructed life long. I can say, this day, that I care nothing for appearances, abandoning them for the absolute, pure glory of God.

Glory to God, the beginning and the end, Who was, and is, and is to come. (Revelation 1:8)

It's the simple things

 The days are dark and dreary, and I am penned up at home, feeling a bit cabin-feverish. Like a jewel in the dust, sparkling in the sunlight, are the moments with the kids that remind me how blessed I am. Amy's music is a constant source of deep joy. Today I recorded her singing "Joy to the World" while playing her guitar. Hope you enjoy as much as I did!

Tonight in a tavern

The week is spent mostly apart. He peoples my dreams with allure and comfort, and I wake lonely, bare. Tonight, finally, on the third try, we get out for a date. We head over to the village near us - yes, a village still, in this 21st century - where the wind is screaming down the lone main street, rattling the gravel on the road. There are none but farm trucks outside the tavern. It is a wood shack with metal roof, the size of a double wide trailer. Inside, warmth. On the single powerline in town hang Christmas lights and plastic Santa faces from the 1950's. There is a blue wreath with a sign that says, "Keep Christ in Christmas". The evening train blows it's familiar long whistle as it approaches this whistle stop town.

We sit down to pork steaks seared by one of the 4-H club boys, mounds of sauerkraut and boiled dumplings. The waitress brings us a "relish tray" with radishes, cheeses, and small onion bulbs. I am overdressed in my charcoal wool sweater and orange Keens. My husband is the only hippie in the joint with his long hair. We talk first of the difficult things - how I'm doing, what it's been like for him to return to the workplace from which I was fired, what I learned from my therapist today. Then on to giggles over Wheel of Fortune and four dollars worth of trivia playing that lands us the top spot on the scoreboard. I drink sweet glassfuls and he beer, and talk drifts to a 16 year old girl in the adoption newsletter we just received. Can we risk it? We both feel a familiar tug, and agree to call social services tomorrow to find out more. Move forward with a home study with our tax return.

Our friends are hovering around divorce. We feel a humility and thanks for the grace of a happy marriage, a place we both call home and happiness, joy and journey. Companions. Here in the yellow light of the tavern five miles from home, we slow to match each other's mood. Two tables over, the Mexican farmhands who lend the only diversity to the place grow louder as eight o'clock approaches. We head home in the winter wind, feeling slightly out of place in our sedan, holding hands. Simple, and the best of date nights.

Scheduling the next scan

I sit in the familiar off-white office, with the cups stacked neatly on the shelf, and a few panoramas of autumn leaves. The doctor squeezes my throat hard as I swallow water from the cup, feeling for tumors in my neck. There are none. The rest of the appointment breezes by - yes, my calcium is still low, so I have to keep chomping down the Tums. My drug levels are perfect for suppressing cancer growth, which means I'm tired for some other reason. He hands me the white sheet with the schedule for my cancer scan in January, and I am suddenly floating, untethered from reality, off into the whitewash of the fluorescent light.

And so a day comes and goes, and I measure the week in doctor's appointments, therapy, naps. My mother comes to stay since I chose to stay at home through my latest bout of suicidal thought and nightmares, flashbacks. I convalesce in my bedroom under the comforter.

One more scan, one more long vacation from home, one more chance to find the tumor lurking. Then the doctor says we can just follow my tumor markers since the scans aren't finding the tumor anyway. I don't know what's worse: having the scans to find the supposed tumor, or giving up and living with the tumor. In any case, I'll try not to think about it until January 16.

The calm

Well, all the cool kids [aka my blogging friends] are doing it, so here goes: my very first vlog!

The world is still, and I'm alone
I close my eyes, and You are here
In crowded streets, in busy halls
I pause to breathe, and You are near.
In every place, in every time,
In every way, You are my guide.
I've always feared my loneliness
but now I find, in my abyss...

A quiet assurance
Your simple endurance
This peace everlasting
This calm in the eye of the storm.

On dreary nights, on sunny days,
You find me there, and take my hand.
When I collapse, You lift me up,
This love, too great to understand
~The Calm~
written by Genevieve M. Holmen, 2001

Stringing pearls

Today I simply count, hoping that stringing pearls will be enough to build a rope for my rescue from a dark season of depression following the loss of my job.

1216: making it all the way through hockey practice
1218: nap with my sick little boy
1226: kid size ice rink in the backyard
1238: Deuteronomy 30
1253: peaceful nap with no nightmares
1259: beautiful gloves from Saver's
1274: the long exhale at sunset

Walking away with dignity

In the dark bedroom lit by the moon, husband slumbering deep, I am awake. There is a scissors on the dresser and I am thinking of thick scarlet blood running. I worked at a job for 11 weeks, and I am still acclimated to working through the night. The noose tightens again, my throat constricted, thoughts impulsive and sin filled. One of the hardest lesson you have to learn as a caregiver is that people live and die without you. There was a time when I was a new nurse when I didn't understand this. Realizing you are not God is difficult, especially when you're young. God granted me special talents with my hands - the ability to find arteries hiding, to slide plastic IVs into tender, ropy veins, a sixth sense when danger was near. I had to learn that other nurses had the same talents. That I was just one in a vast army of people with the same gifts. That I was not the only person who could do what I did.

Facing the fact that you are not as unique as you think is difficult when you also know that God created you an individual totally distinct from every other human since or before. Yet all these people I've cared for, I've left at the end of the shift, however long. And their stories progressed on without me. I have to believe that God wanted me there on that unit for just 11 weeks, and that He doesn't need me there any longer. I was blessed to participate in saving two lives while I was there. Maybe that's just what He needed from this time. Maybe He just wanted to confirm for me that I haven't lost my touch. That I can still look deep into the eyes surrounded by the white of panic and see the person deep inside, connect with them, comfort them in those last moments of consciousness.

Adjusting to this - that I am no longer necessary there - while maintaining a sense of purpose for my existence is a difficult tightrope to walk. Those synapses that harness me to my own worth are tenuous and faulty, a suspension bridge with planks missing, planks that fell into the river of doubt deep below while I convalesced from the deepest and darkest season of depression and pain I've known.

I held his pink cheeks while his body was wracked with coughing fits today during naptime. I fall in love all over again with the blond spike, the dark chocolate eyes, the pearly row of baby teeth, the flush of sick little cheeks. It is my moment of worship, this day, holding this beautiful soul in my arms, the ache in my chest dissipating and the dreams of death diminishing. It is Christmastime, and I can't help but think of the Savior babe, the one Mary clung to, the miraculous birth that she trusted though she must have had premonitions that her Son was born not just for her pleasure but for the rescue of a fallen world. What must she have felt when she knelt beneath the cross, finally realizing that even Christ had to leave His place in our world? Never was a person so necessary. But sometimes it is through the sacrifice of all we hold dear, the bending to sovereign will much more important than our own, that is the greatest act of care a person could ever make. Walking quietly the path that is laid before us with the dignity of a soul that grasps Grace and forgives the calloused and sightless persecutor is, indeed, the most Christlike beauty.

Opposite action

My camera sits gathering dust on the dresser, a talent set aside in a busy season of new work. Meanwhile, the world gathers snowflakes and dresses herself in snowy down for the long winter. This beauty called to me, but I turned a deaf ear in favor of more sleep.

The manual of skills I took home with me from the psych unit gathers dust, too. A treasure trove of ideas for fighting depression set aside as depression mounts in the dark cold night. I skipped the entire section on emotions, because I don't have emotions. When something hits close to the wounded heart, I simply feel a pervading ickiness that defies description with words like "anger", "sadness" or "hopelessness". I scrounge for a mindless distraction until that burning in my chest recedes and I can put my happy face back on again.

All of this detracts from holiday spirit, and for the first time, I don't want a Christmas tree. I loathe shopping for Christmas presents, a task that seems insurmountable, out of reach of our budget. I am overwhelmed with the mere thought of baking.

I drag my cold and dormant body out to the tree farm with reluctance. The beauty there washes over my cold soul like waves of wonder, and there is a spark of Christmas cheer lit somewhere deep inside. We shake off the perfect tree and bring it home to decorate.

The kids are sick with the requisite early winter head cold, crabby and uncouth, snotty and snide. Aaron home on an unexpected vacation and I newly emancipated from my job, we try to parent pleasant, but the words are often angry and the temper fuses short.

All this is undone by the wonder in one tiny snowflake, caught on the drift and showing it's fingerling crystals in the snappish December air.

Undone by the beauty of a loved ones smile, the cuddles on the hay wagon, the peacefulness of the warm shed and hot cider on a quiet Monday at the tree farm.

And as the snowflakes fall in a beautiful cascade, covering caps and eyelashes of these beautiful souls we are blessed to parent, we are reminded though our sins be as scarlet, He will wash them white as snow.

It is a slow repentance, turning of the mind under the blinking lights of the Christmas tree heavy with ornaments. He brings me back to Deuteronomy 30 in my therapist's words on a bleak Thursday evening. Opposite action: identifying my emotion, naming that consuming ick that is slippery and hard to label, and choosing something I don't want to do - something I fear will make it all worse - throwing myself into it body, mind and soul until I realize that I am stronger than I think, better mother than I imagine, perhaps even a wife worthy of husband's pursuit.

For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?" Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, "Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?" But the Word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice and holding fast to Him, for He is your life and length of days... (Deuteronomy 30:11-14, 19-20a)
Today, I want to hibernate under my down comforter, under the streaming sin, watching the nightmares and pleasant dreams play across the projector behind my eyelids. Instead, a Christmas craft - with paint! - throwing myself wholeheartedly into this mothering I so often neglect and children I often disappoint. Today I choose to be the mother I wish I was all the time. Today I choose the opposite action, so that fear and shame may dwindle and Christmas be merry and bright once again.