On tiptoes

Taking time to sniff the flowers and give thanks for the spring rains this frigid late April Saturday. How about you? What are doing in your neck of the woods?
That in the fullness of time He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth. (Eph. 1:10 exc.)
Links for this slow weekend:

The beauty of imperfect realities

We take portraits by Grandma's rhododendron every spring. It blooms for only a week, and I always try to wait for the perfect light, but it never seems to happen. The blooms and the light are on different schedules.

My girls are at that awkward, toothy, gangly stage. They're also at the fake smile stage. All of this adds up to some pretty hilarious portrait session outtakes. Those are the ones I love the most - when their real personalities shine through the perfect smile.

Such a picture of my own life these days. I wear remission like a new-toothed smile full of gaps. But it's my real smile, this awkward one - days bubbling over with more hilarity, more joy, not the perfection of a practiced gesture, but the explosion of gangly, long-limbed cartwheels across the carpet of life.

It may not be very beautiful to look at, this life. But it's a joy to live in it's skin. Every day the kids and I laugh together over depression waning and cancer fading into memory. Some little sign of my continued healing is noticed each and every morning...yesterday, the walk we all took together through the windy afternoon. Today, the moments stolen laughing and cuddling in bed.

I remember my mama telling me I'd someday settle down in my den with these four cubs. I thought her wildly crazy, and kept gallivanting around to friends for play dates and long, lazy afternoons laughing at our children and their antics. But those friends went up in a cloud of smoke, and I found myself alone in the den with my children.

I feel guilty sometimes. As if I should make more of an effort to get out of this house and make some friends. It's hard on my kids sometimes, too. But we've grown together in ways we hadn't before, spending all this time together.

The truth is, my tribe is my community, in the truest sense of the words. We'll be together through thick and thin, and every ounce of energy poured into these family relationships will be worth it in the end. There's always time to make new friends...but my children will soon be grown out of the gangly, toothy stage and I'll have moved on past cancer, and we'll never get another chance to be together today.

Linked to Lisa-Jo for the prompt, "Community"

To everything there is a season

Caleb wearing one of the gowns he wore as a baby
Last night, all four of my children took baths and showers. I didn't start the water. I didn't wash their hair. And I didn't have to dry anyone off, or find them pajamas. I only clipped thirty fingernails because my eldest clips her own now. This morning, I woke to the pleasant sounds of happy children getting their own breakfast. Later, they will make their own beds, brush their own teeth and hair, and get into clothes they picked from their drawers. I won't have to help them with their shoes or shoelaces, and I won't have to buckle them in to their carseats.

When I was drowning in diapers and nursing someone every hour, I never dreamed of this day. I had no idea that it would only take four years to come. It's an everyday miracle, the growing of children, the way they surprise you each day with something new. Yesterday, my Amelia had to show me that she can finally reach the tap in the kitchen sink. And take all her pills with minimal supervision.

I want to encourage you, younger mothers. The season you are in is so short! A few years, and you will be amazed at how much easier life is. The backbreaking season of hauling babies and toddlers and doing everything for them will soon be over. You might even wake up in your bed alone in the morning and actually long for the touch of little hands around your neck! As impossible as it may seem, you will look back on the work of today with fondness as one of the most beautiful seasons of your life.
I have seen the travail, which God hath given to the sons of men to be exercised in it. He hath made every thing beautiful in his time: also he hath set the world in their heart, so that no man can find out the work that God maketh from the beginning to the end. I know that there is no good in them, but for a man to rejoice, and to do good in his life. And also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy the good of all his labour, it is the gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 3:10-13)

Relief: Emotions on Tuesdays

So many things to be grateful for these days! I picked "succeed" as my word for the year for 2012, and so far, it's living up to it's name. Dissertation approved, graduation just weeks away, cancer in remission...

A couple of mundane things have been the subject of many prayers around here. Amelia continues to battle an infection of unknown origin, and we are keeping a close eye on her as the doctors who've seen her think it could be a mild case of meningitis (again). She seems to be responding well to the newest round of medications, but if you could keep her health in your prayers, we'd appreciate it.

Our family vehicle hit the skids a few weeks ago, and we are searching for a suitable replacement. This means our first car loan in our 10 years of marriage, and it is a difficult step to take. Unfortunately, with all the expenses related to the end of my schooling, we simply don't have the cash to buy anything reliable. We've found a beautiful 2002 Suburban at one of the Eau Claire car dealers. The best thing about this vehicle is that it seats 9 people! This means it will work even after we adopt, and that there is plenty of space for cousins, friends, or grandparents. We're praying that God will clearly direct as we take this scary step.

Finally, I submitted a job application for my dream teaching job at the University my father teaches at. I'm praying hard that I will get a job offer there, as it would be a dream come true to teach alongside my dad. It will also save us about $15,000 in medical costs alone. If you could keep my job situation in your prayers it would be appreciated!

I hope you are having a blessing-filled spring as well! Leave a comment and let me know how I can specifically pray for you. My prayer list is kind of empty these days, and I'd love to add your requests to it.

This is our Emotions on Tuesdays link up. Link up to a post, old or new, about your emotions. Have you written about relief lately? Tuck the graphic at the bottom of your post, and come back to share your story with all of us!

Letters to Aaron: When I Am Sinking

We didn't know we were dancing onto the minefield. At the beginning, it feels like the completion of so many promises now kept; how could we ever be sad again, when joy suddenly rides unbridled in our hearts for the first time?

We've lost so much. Innocence. Sometimes romance. A church and friends. Babies. You face it resolutely, gripping my hand in your warm, strong one.

But I fear the very clumps of our broken life you cradle carefully in your hands are the very ones I'm trying to break with my pickax of anger and despair. You are shoveling earth into the crater, but I'm shoveling it out just as fast. I didn't mean to be this way, depressed, lonely, frustrated. Just like you never meant to yell at me for it. I worry sometimes that I am the foolish woman in Proverbs, tearing down her house with her own hands. Without you, this life would have been in shambles long before now.

I cry as you lift away the dross of life. You tenderly held the clippers as hunk after hunk of hair drifted down to the tile floor. You lifted me up with love in your dark chocolate eyes when I couldn't face the mirror. You coat my ugliness in the beauty of grace.

I knew loss was inevitable. I tried to stave it off with optimism and hope. If you hadn't been there to catch me, the destruction of both my positive outlook and my tenacious dreams would have destroyed me, too. But you wouldn't let me drift into the abyss. Although I was drowning in the unfathomable depths of my own coal black soul, you never let go of my hand. I could always see your reflection dancing above me as I looked up through the water and tried to wave goodbye. The hands you held wouldn't wave, and you pulled me toward the surface.

I love that you fight off loss with both fists. You never let yourself drift down in the murky water. You're always treading, surviving, growling at fate with your deep bass, and, even though I'm underwater, your grit is what propels me back to breathe in air.

We went dancing in the minefields
We went sailing in the storms
And it was harder than we dreamed
But I believe that's what the promise is for

I do are the two most famous last words
The beginning of the end
But to lose your life for another I've heard
is a good place to begin
Cause the only way to find your life
is to lay your own life down
And I believe it's an easy price
for the life that we have found

So when I lose my way, find me
When I loose love's chains, bind me
At the end of all my faith
to the end of all my days
when I forget my name, remind me

Cause we bear the light of the son of man
So there's nothing left to fear
So I'll walk with you in the shadow lands
Till the shadows disappear
Cause he promised not to leave us
And his promises are true
So in the face of all this chaos baby
I can dance with you
~Dancing in the Minefields, Andrew Peterson~

Linked with Amber, Seth, Scott, and Joy for the Marriage Letters prompt, "Enduring Loss Together".

You're Already Amazing: Worth a Second Look

My daughter hauled an agate boulder out of the rock pile the other day. It was covered with dirt and I told her I didn't think it was an agate. She abandoned it in the yard, and the rain washed it clean. Lo and behold - the biggest agate I've ever seen!

Sometimes the eyes of innocence see hope where we do not, see beauty where we do not. Jaded by experience, we occasionally miss the wonder of this world.

This was my experience reading Holley Gerth's book, You're Already Amazing. The first time I read through it, I was using my jaded eyes to do so. In some ways, suffering can wreck you if you're not careful. I notice I sometimes assume that people who haven't suffered are too shallow or too naive to understand the world fully. I felt this way reading Holley's book the first time through. It is a very readable how-to guide that takes you through your position in Christ and uses check-lists and journaling suggestions to help you more fully explore your God-given identity and use it well.

But I picked up the book again after finishing my dissertation. I was in a happier place, and ready to think more positively about life. Out of the suffering season, the book was a welcome companion as I rethink my identity (I am no longer a cancer patient. I am a cancer survivor!). I found Gerth's personable and common-sense approach to this important topic both engaging to read and practical to implement.

Christ commands us to have faith like a child (Matthew 18:3). Gerth encourages us to use our adult understanding to explore our own role in the kingdom of God, yet demonstrates an innocent devotion to our Savior that is refreshing in a world of pain. I admire both her relationship with God and her writing on this important topic.

  • Book: You're Already Amazing (Holley Gerth)
  • Topic: Our position in Christ
  • Sub-topics: Finding your talents and skills and putting them to work wherever you are
  • Suggested audience: teen to adult readers, new and experienced Christians
  • Cost: $10-13 on Amazon
  • Recommendation: 3-4 stars

You're Already Amazing: Wearing Pearls Well

I read the maxim while cancer raged: Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass; it's about learning to dance in the rain (Tiffany Wilson, who spoke in 2007 at the It's My Life foster care conference). As I read the Psalms, this sentiment was echoed again and again in the rejoicing suffering servant's poetry, most eloquently in one of my favorite Psalms, 46, at the end of which David exhorts us to be still and know that He is God

The other day, it rained in it's soft April way all day long. The flowers were coated with raindrops. As I sat in my swing looking out at the glory of it all, I noticed the very ordinary chives growing in my kitchen garden, made extraordinarily beautiful by the pearls God had placed on each spear with his laws of gravity and physics. Each water molecule is positively charged on one end, and negatively charged on the other, so opposites attract like the latch and hook of train cars, forming strings of drops, each growing larger until it is heavy enough to drop to the earth. 

As I prepared for my dissertation, I tried to pull my post-baby belly into a pair of, well, let's just call them iron shorts. I am a large raindrop. I am glued to the earth by the gravity of too much weight, and it is a source of embarrassment for me. Holley Gerth addresses this in her book:
Inside a voice whispers, you're not enough. Depending on the day, an extra word might be thrown into the sentence. You're not pretty enough. You're not outgoing enough. You're not likable enough.
I felt all of these things that day. Would they like me enough to let me pass? Was I outgoing enough to slog through a 30 minute presentation about my own work? (I didn't even wonder about pretty. I was so sure it wasn't true.) Once I stepped into the room where I would give my presentation, I was even more embarrassed by a comment made during my introduction to the small group gathered there. My mentor said I had stuck with my studies through "thick, and thick, and thick". I immediately felt my cheeks burn, and I wanted to jump up and explain I had just been following God as best I could! Receiving this compliment seemed so false. But Gerth refutes this in her book, drawing us in to a private conversation she had with God during her exasperated and exhausted prayer. The truth is, this compliment was just telling me that others could see God at work in my life. I didn't need to explain myself, because others have already seen faith at work.
"Lord," I asked, "why do women feel as if we're not enough?" It seemed I heard a whisper in response, "Because they're not." For a moment I thought I had some holy static happening. "Excuse me, God, it sounded like you said we're not enough. Could you repeat that, pretty please?" Again, gently and firmly, "You are not enough." By then I started thinking perhaps my heart had dialed the wrong number and the devil was on the line. But in that pause it seemed God finished the sentence: "You are not enough...in me you are so much more." We are much more than pretty...we are wonderfully made. We are much more than likable...we are deeply loved. We are much more than okay...we are daughters of the King. I think the enemy tricks us into believing we are not enough because he knows that if we discover the truth, we'll be unstoppable.

If you're in the rain storms of life, wear your pearls with a confident heart. Gerth asks us to go beyond Eve's sin, and uncover the other lies that slow us down and destroy our joy in the Lord. What if we said "Yes, God really did say I can do all thing through Christ" (Phil. 4:13). "Yes, God really did say he loves me with an everlasting love." (Jer. 3:13) "Yes, God really did say I am fearfully and wonderfully made." (Ps. 139:14) Everything could change forever (Gerth, p. 42). If you're like me, one of the lies that brings you down is the concern that being confident means you are prideful and selfish. But Gerth points out that insecurity is just a tool to turn us inward - away from God and the truth of our position in Christ. We focus on ourselves, our looks, our housekeeping ability, whether or not we're fully using our talents. Holley says that being confident allows us to "stop looking inward and instead focus upward and outward on Him as well as others." (p. 51)
Another truth leaps off the raindrops. Later that day, the sunshine warmed the earth, and the chives were quickly dried in the breeze. Even dry, with no pearl necklace, the chives are beautiful.

This was a good reminder for me. I think those of us who have faced suffering and trials can become addicted to walking that path. It is hard to bring yourself to look up and enjoy the sunshine. It is hard to shed the pearls of the rainstorm. It is hard because it is scary. As difficult as it is to trust God during the rainstorm, it can be even more difficult to trust that the sunshine is meant for you, that it will last more than a brief moment. You are braced for the next trial to sweep you off your feet. But as I continue into remission, into dissertation success, I've got to shed my survival mode thinking. The path stretches long and dappled with sun in front of me. I need to look up and trust I'm not going to be lashed with the cold wind and the sudden rain. If I live the rest of my life expecting to suffer, I will miss out on so much.
Out of all of history, God chose this time for you to be on earth. He knew the exact second you would enter this world with a cry and change it forever. In between the laundry, the mundane parts of being human, we can forget we're part of a bigger story, a greater plan. And here's the thing: we only get one you. There never has been, and never will be, another you in this world. God doesn't have a backup plan or replacement policy. We don't need a copy of someone else - we need the one and only, original you. How do we live in this place, suspended between history and eternity? How do we find the courage to offer who we are in the middle of the mess? ...He is the I AM. We find God not in the future or in the past. We find Him right here with us, beside us, in us. The temptation will always be to say, "After I...." or "When this happens, then I'll...", but life doesn't work that way. Embrace this moment. Be who you are. (Gerth, p. 180-181; emphasis mine)
Take hold of the fortitude and insight to thrive in whatever season God has you. If you are in the rain, wear your pearls - don't hide them! And find hope in the fact that the sunshine always comes, sooner or later. If you're in the sun, don't be ashamed to be happy dancing in the gentle breeze! Don't wear a false garment of shame, don't let yourself be trapped in thinking this is just a moment before the next storm. God has given you this moment. Be yourself here, today. Because He can't wait to see you dancing - in your rain boots and slicker, or your shorts and tank top!

Back in the beginning of March, I was invited to review Holley Gerth's new book, You're Already Amazing. Life intervened, and although I read the book immediately, I'm just now getting to the writing of the review. This is part 2 of a 3 part series on this simply beautiful book about our position in Christ. (Read part 1 below)

You're Already Amazing: Earthen Vessels

Back in the beginning of March, I was invited to review Holley Gerth's new book, You're Already Amazing. Life intervened, and although I read the book immediately, I'm just now getting to the writing of the review. This is part 1 of a 3 part series on this simply beautiful book about our position in Christ.

My kids love to play "Africa". I find ground up rocks all over the yard, pulverized into dust. I look down at the red clay and I remember the Lord God formed man out of dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). We're all sons and daughters of Adam, sons and daughters of dust, sons and daughters blessed with the breath of life only God can breathe.

We all start as terracotta, baked earth. It's the simplest way to turn dust into something useful. Clay pots baked at a modest temperature, over fires, in pits, in some of the oldest fireplaces and furnaces known to man. Under the right conditions, terracotta can last a long time. It doesn't crumble easily.

Image credit
The only pottery prior to the 14th century, terracotta was used not only to make pots, bowls, and other household items, but also armies of sculptures, like the famous terracotta warriors of the Qin dynasty of China's first emperor in 210 B.C.

But we aren't sculptures. We're not solid. We're not made to last. 

We are hollow. We're pots. The kind you'll only find shards of when you excavate an ancient civilization. If you live your life like a sculpture, placing your trust in the solidity and beauty of humanity, you will always wonder at your hollowness. The hollowness of your relationships. The hollow and fragile nature of your own health. The hollowness you feel inside when it is just you, alone in the dark with your fears and your insecurities.

We weren't made simply as a work of art, to bring beauty to this world. We were made to be filled up, like a flower pot.

We have a higher purpose - and it's a strange one. It's to bring glory to God through our hollowness, our brokenness.

Paul says we hold the treasure of life in earthen vessels. The book of Job reminds us that we live in houses of clay with foundations of dust. Don't we all begin as terracotta, formed by the Potter out of the dust of the earth, fit for a purpose, but weak and easily broken?

Something magical happens when you glaze terracotta. The porous surface is bound to the glaze by the higher heat of a kiln, and all the pockmarks and weak places the pot was born with are filled and made strong by the glaze. Like the furnace of faith, the heat hardens the glaze and strengthens the pot in an irreversible process that will forever change the pot. Holley Gerth reminds us that, in Christ,
You're not only amazing. You're enough. You're beautiful. You're wanted. You're chosen. You're called. You've got what it takes...not just to survive, but to change the world.
Faith isn't easy. While the glaze protects us from the water damage of rainstorms of life, Satan can still chip away at the beautiful surface of a glazed pot. If we allow him leeway while we struggle to weather the storms, he'll chip away with fervor.

One of the great mysteries - great wonders! - of life is that God will use any cracked pot. In Paul's words, we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us (2 Corinthians 4:7). When we are under fire, it is common for those around us to marvel at the strength we show. During the hardest storms of my life, when I'm left wondering how I'm staying afloat, and my strength and confidence are in shreds, I am at my ugliest, and I have lost sight of my purpose in Christ, I've grown sick of hearing "how do you do it?" or "you're so strong" or "your faith must be enormous". To wear the admiration of others with any pride would be a complete farce. I know beyond any shadow of doubt that the strength I'm apparently demonstrating does not come from within. If I am able to walk through the trial with any grace at all, it is because of Christ's strength and not my own. The suffering Christian knows deeply the truths of Job 4:19, and marvels that God would ever find glory through the faltering faith of the suffering.
How great the patience of God! Look upon man in his life. The very foundation of that cottage of clay in which man dwells, is in the dust, and it will sink with its own weight. We stand but upon the dust. Some have a higher heap of dust to stand upon than others but still it is the earth that stays us up, and will shortly swallow us up. Beauty, strength, learning, not only cannot secure them from death, but these things die with them; nor shall their pomp, their wealth, or power, continue after them. Shall a weak, sinful, dying creature, pretend to be more just than God, and more pure than his Maker? No: instead of quarrelling with his afflictions, let him wonder that he is out of hell. (from Matthew Henry's commentary on Job 4:19)

Sometimes, in the intensity of life's greatest battles, whole sections of pottery are sheared off, and we are left broken. You may be like me, with large sections of your life broken off by disease or hardship. You can't see your beauty anymore, you doubt you are useful for much of anything, certainly no longer fit for service of the most high King. Gerth addresses this in her book as well:
You're not the "it" girl...it's a good thing. When we look at the kingdom of God, there aren't "it girls" (or guys). There are only "is girls". God looks at you and says, "She is loved, accepted and valued. She is created just the way I wanted her to be.

And the amazing thing is, even if we're reduced to one shard of our original beauty, the curve of the pot that God created will still cradle a handful of dirt and plants will grow from that soil. Whether suffering has stripped you of ministry opportunities, career, physical strength or beauty, you're still fit for God's purposes for your life.
In the end, what He wants most is simply us. Our hearts. Our dreams. Our days. Then what we do with our skills is just a natural response - and ordinary activities such as cooking or cleaning become just as sacred as leading a church or going on a mission trip. (Gerth, Who Am I, Really? p. 33)

A new doctor in the house!

The moment of truth...listening to my chair deliver the news I passed my final dissertation defense. Sweet words..."Congratulations, Doctor Thul!"

Everything went very well, and thank you so much for your prayers!

Hugs from Dr. Kelechi, my research mentor
With my dear Mama, the original teacher!
2012 is shaping up to be true to my word for the year!

On the home front, Amelia's been getting progressively more ill while I've been gone...she has neck pain, severe headache, light sensitivity, even her teeth hurt. So far she hasn't needed to go to the hospital, but we are heading home on an earlier flight. Please pray her condition stays stable while I am flying today - Grandma Nel is manning the home front on her own with all 4 children, so an ER run would be quite difficult for her.

Letters to Aaron: The horizon to my wanderings

I wake up in the pre-dawn, the furniture just becoming visible in our dark bedroom. This home in the country is as quiet in these early hours as you are, my silent and stoic, my granite shore, my unmoving one. Ever since we first met, I sensed the solidity of you, the way you stayed when all else on the landscape shifted. We talked about faith, and your love of the Catholic Church you grew up in burned fierce. You were a man to stay, and to change from within, not one to scatter and scurry away like so many others when they find that their beliefs don't align with the world they live in.

I look out the window and see the moon dropping like a yellow gem toward the dark horizon, the sun lighting her in apricot hues against the midnight blue sky. I am the moon, running across the sky and always in motion; you the horizon, fixed and permanent.

You tolerate my moveability, we joke about my favorite book, A Moveable Feast. And while you've come to understand why I am this way, you don't join me. You have the same convictions, the same beliefs, the same sureity, the same politics, the same way of romancing. You haven't changed much since we joined hands and hearts 10 years ago. Through my cancer, Amy's illness, my depression...you've been an unwavering Point North for our entire family. For all around us who observe our hardships and our family's response. While pain erodes you, it doesn't move you. My entire being shifts under the weight, and I lose my grip on the earth and drift out to sea on pain. But the waves of Truth bring me back to your shores, and I curl roots into your rocks and hang on for dear life.

I trust you because you are trustworthy. You are led by the One who is unmoveable. You hold strong and solid when others cannot. You remind me endlessly of the strength of our Rock, and make yourself like him, a boulder, a cliff, chipped off the great Rock of Ages who rules the tides and the torrents of our everyday.

Sometimes I try to change you. I think that, by growing my mossy roots on your pocked granite surface, maybe you are changed. But you stay the same. You resist my pell-mell ideas and don't let yourself race to chase the rapid beating of the drums in my mind. You stand there, still, waiting for me to return. And when I do, the sweetness of your strong and silent arms, always welcoming, but never chasing, that grounds me and brings me "home". In spirit; in body; in faith.

Linked up to the Marriage Letters of Joy, Scott, Amber and Seth.

Throwing off the garment of guilt

A deadline looms. I pack the children off to the sitters, and stare at the black keys, waiting for my brain to still and words to come. You come home, nudge me gently as you climb in next to me, watching my fingers fly. A friend called you, needs a helping hand to weather a storm. We look deep into each other's eyes, and put off love for another night so you can do what you feel called to. I finish the project at hand, breathe a sigh of relief.

I look around at the house, all in disarray. Call the children home from the sitters, call grandma to come help. You come home again, and beg for a few minutes of my time, the cacophony of children's high voices nearly drowning out your request. I crumble for a moment, torn in three directions, then follow you. We ponder the wilderness, and you are mostly silent, and I wonder if it was worth the trade? To sit silently with you? The last few minutes, and few words have passed, but I feel your arm heavier around my shoulders, as if you've left a burden behind and are weary.

Back to the children. Grandma is finishing the dishes in the sink. My dishes. Cleaned by someone else...again. She whisks through the front room as I cuddle in a dogpile of kids on the couch. We joke about the "kid magnet" hidden somewhere inside me. Those on the outside of the pile clamor for some skin from mama. I wonder if there's enough time in all their childhoods to fill up the places I've left empty, the places where I've been gone, heal the scars cancer left on their little souls.

Bedtime comes, and another debate over who sleeps with whom, and if anyone can steal a last minute cuddle with me in my bed? Your bedroom eyes speak rebuke, and I send them packing, wailing, to their own beds. My last night at home this week, and I've made all the children unhappy. It's as if our couch cuddle never happened...now just more emptiness from another tired refusal, "Mama and Papa need time alone."

I wear the guilt like a heavy garment to bed, and all your caresses fall unfelt on that guilt garment. It takes you an hour to awaken my senses to you again. To dig past the mother-guilt that has shrouded me again like so many bedtimes before. The sweetness of our communion has a bitter edge as my mind keeps racing to hear the inevitable soft footfalls of the first sojourner from the children's bedroom to ours. Waiting for an interruption, I miss most of the main event. You roll over, instantly asleep, and I am left in the darkness to ponder the failings of yet another day.

Guilt is ubiquitous in motherhood. Stuck in a revolving door of rotating priorities...home, children, husband, God (and all the family, friends and work that crowd their way in as well)...we're never sure if we're making the right decision. To choose one always feels like demanding sacrifice from the others. Our children are black holes for affection, and can never quite be filled up. Our marriages always leave room for improvement. In even the most orderly house (mine is not. Lately, I feel as though I'm auditioning for "Hoarders".), there is still a chore or two left undone at the end of the day.

It bites through our sleep, hogties intimacy, and lashes us with fiery spurts of uncertainty. Yet,
The Enemy has no authority over us Christians unless we give it to him. We give it to him by putting ourselves in agreement with his assessment of God-by pious grumbling, by hopeless speaking, by repeating to each other our theories of life, rather than the truths of God. We say: "That situation is impossible," "Love in marriage always fades," "Children will rebel when they're adults if they don't when they're little." All lies and self-curses. God is not as good as He makes Himself out to be; He's holding out on you. ~Andrée Seu, April 9, 2011 World Magazine
I fail to lay down the burden heaped upon my shoulders by satan almost daily. The simplicity of cast all your cares upon Him, for He careth for you escapes me...the metaphorical transfer of my baggage to His care is just that - metaphorical. Hard to grasp in real life. Yet He commands that praise be always on my lips, and that I pray without ceasing. In these two twin observances of His wonder, majesty, and Grace, I find freedom that otherwise eludes me. Who can sing praise to the King and forget all His benefits? Who can pray and not feel a little lighter at the end of the soundless murmurings of our deepest problems and greatest desires? Who can fail to trust the King with marriage, children, and home when we cease heaping shame on our own backs and instead lift hands in prayer and praise for all He's already provided?

Letters to Aaron: a rose by any other name...

Those early days of you and I were cold, dark ones. Huddled together, reporting the events of a child's day in terms of intake and output, medication boluses, infection, test results, statistics. A specter in the bed beside us, silent and shivering with the activity of machinery as, one after another, body functions were replaced with mechanized equivalent. We ran together to the snap of the air outdoors: on snowboards, we flew down hills filled with the cacophony of suburban youth. In your hometown, we sat on frosty picnic tables shooting handguns at straw bails. The tracks we left on a sand dune, on our way to say goodbye to one of our patients and a dear family. Pioneers together in a forest of taboo...coworkers falling in love...nurses going to a funeral...somehow we pole vaulted obstacles together. Perhaps that was more of a presage than we knew.

You wrote love letters from Seattle while we were dating.

But, with all the talking, the living together, no letters come now. A few lines penned in cards for important occasions, and I am proud of you for remembering as our lives fill with a litany of responsibilities. 

But I still wish for flowers.

And every spring, my wish comes true. In the front lawn, right along with the grass sprouting it's yellow-green come tulips and crocuses. You planted them just for fun...a visual bouquet that has bloomed every year since 2009.

Pioneers still, we have to push to remember how to be intrepid after a long hibernation in our world of child-raising and home-building. 

"Renaissance man". It's the only thing I've ever called you, other than simply Aaron. Your beard-wearing, sausage-making, hunting, fishing, poetry loving, beauty finding, audiophilic, logophilic, intellectual, mechanical, musical genius amazes me. If there was a manual for Renaissance men, you'd be on the cover. 

You are a still man. A soul of peace, hands steady for their work, intent, focused, unwavering. Silent at times...sometimes maddeningly so to a woman of words.

What you celebrate with action, putting feet in place of words, may go unnoticed if I don't still my soul to your rhythm.  You haven't brought me flowers for almost a year now. But in the quiet afternoon of a warm spring day, you lift me from my work and pull me to our bedroom window: there, on the hill, 100 daffodils blooming in the long grass. You planted them on the sly last fall, and waited patiently to unveil this gift. It is a gift of being known, because who else would remember yellow is my favorite color and I love the way a daffodil's bell swings like a hoop skirt in the breeze? Being together, in quiet stolen moments, surrounded only by our own whispers and our own footfalls, it comes, the visceral memory, we are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. (Matt. 19:6)

I still wish for flowers.

And you still give them, in your unconventional and endearing way - not in a vase, but among the weeds, a lasting gift that comes every year as the earth awakens.

And now you've taught your son, too, that Mama likes wildflowers best. He flies up the front steps with chubby fists full of dandelions every day. He's going to make a great husband.

Pieced together with words from 2009 and some new ones as I reflect on marriage today. I've thought about it time and again, and finally I'm doing it: joining Seth and Amber Haines and my friends Joy and Scott Bennett as they write letters to their spouses each week. The prompt this week was "names I call you".

When you can't take any of the credit

I was awake for 44 hours. My eyes burned, my body ached, and my spirit wilted. I had submitted my dissertation, and it failed. I had one last chance to edit the 100+ pages to suitable quality. I didn't have the strength for it. I was horribly exhausted, haunted by stress-related chest pain, my fingers tremulous from the long hours typing. 

And then God gave me the strength to stay awake for 44 hours and finish my work.

He took me to the absolute end of my physical, intellectual, and emotional limits.

He took me there so that I would know, beyond a doubt, that the result was totally in His hands. That it wasn't my smarts or my tenacity. That it was a gift.

And so I can say, with utter humility,


And God gets all the credit.

The promise of grace 
And You lead us into freedom 
We're bound in Your love 
And all sin has been forgotten 
At the foot of the cross 
Where our ransom has been given 

If God is for us who can be against us 
Who can be against our God 

You give life to us all 
And you breathe on us Your spirit 
You go before us, 
Father, you protect us 
Father, you provide for us all 

Your Word is a shelter strong within 
My portion and my deliverance

*the portion of the dissertation I just successfully completed was the written portion. There is an oral exam portion as well, next Tuesday at 11 a.m. (CST). If you would pray for my continued strength as I prepare for this, and for God's will and power to be on display next Tuesday?