Terribly wrong yet wonderfully right

I go to work 9 to 5 and the kids slam dunk me with hugs and kisses when I come in the door limp as a dish rag at the end of the day. I envisioned my first day as a professor in the front of a classroom looking out at the bright eyes of students, but instead it is my bright eyes looking out at instructors teaching us about technology, how to make students read their assignments, how to use the library and other campus resources.

I'm sitting in chairs instead of standing at lecterns and my legs swell up like watermelons, like elephant legs, with skin dripping off them in folds. Cankles, like I used to have when my babies swelled my belly like I'd eaten a whole watermelon for dinner.

Stress is a silent river, the undercurrent of change, and my heart doesn't like stress, bucks and kicks and doesn't pump right. Anxiety is the tree falls, hazards in the stress river, where you can get hung up and drown under the current. I walk into the familiar red brick building, and all the mistakes of college come rushing back, all the times I thought they were going to kick me out because I was handicapped by my heart condition, the one that made me faint 20 or 30 times a day and sometimes made me stop breathing. I walk into the skills lab, and I remember waking up on the floor with the florid over-lipsticked lips of a professor coming at me for another mouth-to-mouth respiration, the gawking eyes of my classmates watching me be resuscitated. How could I be a nurse if I needed to be resuscitated?

I go over the waterfall of the river of stress, dragging the treefall of anxiety over with me, and I stop breathing again in the ER, and my cardiologist says yes, it's stress again, along with all these other things wrong with my very wrong body. How am I to believe I am perfectly created when I am so wrongly made, so terribly made that I stop breathing because I am stressed out by change?

There is only one answer. I remember learning always be ready to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason for the hope that is in you with meekness and fear (I Peter 3:15b) and I mulled that over for years. How could I give an answer for hope when I was constantly facing death? How could I tell my patients to have hope when they were facing death, if I couldn't give an answer for why I had hope myself?

Sometime in my 21st year, while reading Philip Yancey's Where Is God When It Hurts? I found an answer. An answer for how I could be made terribly wrongly and beautifully rightly. An answer for hope in a dying body. An answer for being willing to put my life on the line to serve the dying while I myself might be dying any day.
"The God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast." (1 Peter 5:10)
That is my answer. In my weakness, His glory is all the more evident. In my sacrifice, His sacrifice shines through brilliantly. In my submission to the trial He has placed in front of me, His Grace is on the pedestal it deserves to be on, exalted for all to see. And all that is required of me is a small, minute measure of faith. “Faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” (Yancey)
He will keep in perfect peace all those who trust in Him, whose thoughts turn often to the Lord! Trust in the Lord always, for in the Lord, Jehovah, is your everlasting strength. (Isaiah 26:3-4)

Written on Lisa-Jo's prompt, "Change"

What time I am afraid

Today I quit breathing several times while unconscious in the ER. "It is appointed unto man once to die..."

My children heard quite by accident that I wasn't breathing, and ripples of fear awakened in their young souls so long stilled as my cancer had gone silent. And so, there in the waiting room with grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, they joined a grown-up huddle of tense prayer and staunched tears.

the children laying on hands when I lost my hair back in October 2011
Oh, to take back words, hours, fears. We begged to go home, and, by some small miracle of medical kindness, the doctor granted our wish. We huddled in bed, a human chain of gratitude and grief, and fell asleep, the children sprawled across our bedroom floor on piles of quilts, rotating through the slot between Aaron and I for extra cuddles. The tears poured off and on during the night as they woke from nightmares of Mama blue and still and gone.

I don't know what is wrong with my heart right now. Stress? A new cardiac med recently increased in dosage? Insomnia that's been dogging me? Whatever it is, it has once again brought me to the precipice between life and death. Once again, God chose life for me. And all I can do is stand in awe and thankfulness. That I am here to quell the fears of these little people.

It's the little things that make or break us - Life:UNMASKED

There are times when you carry on. And times when you don't. All through my doctoral studies, it was a mixture of this...a push/pull of carrying on and giving in, as I struggled through cancer, adjusted to life with a child with significant special needs, and attempted to keep up with my studies all the while. Then there was that moment, May 18, 2012, in the humid South Carolina air, when two esteemed professors lifted the velvet and satin hood up and over my shoulders and pronounced me "doctor". It took longer than expected, but I still got to that crowning moment, despite the many times when I couldn't carry on at all.

One would think my trials were over. After all, I hit cancer remission in February, and I, foolishly, thought this would mean smooth sailing in the health department. Ummm, not so much! Radiation and the damage of cancer itself still lingers in the body past that arbitrary date when the doctor tells you there is no longer evidence of the tumor itself, and I found myself battling bouts of pneumonia throughout the spring and summer.

The lowest of low came on my eldest daughter's ninth birthday. I felt as though I earned the "Worst Mom of the Year Award" as I told her, with tears streaming down my cheeks, that she would either have to celebrate her birthday party without me present, or we would have to cancel and reschedule the whole thing. We had planned a big bash at the local minor league baseball game, and she was to throw out the hallowed first pitch of the game. But there wasn't a moment of hesitation between my tearful explanation and her emphatic answer: if it couldn't be celebrated with me present, she wanted to postpone it. So, instead of celebrating at the ballpark on the sunny August afternoon, she snuggled in bed with me all day, me wheezing and coughing from pneumonia, taking inhalers and praying for rest between bouts of coughing fits, and she perfectly content to spend the day just how she spent her very first birthday - cuddling close to Mama, no matter how "unlovable" I felt at the moment.

Now the day approaches for her "make-up" birthday party, and once again, I am under the weather. I had an unexpected root canal yesterday, and for reasons unknown to my dentist, they are never able to successfully anesthetize my lower jaw, so I underwent the procedure without Novacaine. Who would think that a procedure on a TOOTH would nearly incapacitate me with pain, even the next day? I am skeptical about tomorrow as well - the day of the much lauded party!

As I rub the sore jaw and take pain meds, mulling this over and planning how to go about baking cupcakes and preparing party favors in between my work hours today and tomorrow, I am comforted by a much-loved passage of Scripture that reminds me that even my tiny TEETH have a function and are part of a smoothly functioning whole. I am reminded that they are numbered and counted precious by my Maker, and that He cares that I am in pain today. And here, on the precipice where life feels utterly unmanageable, He is ready to shoulder the load of my cares, and to walk with me under this Cross, however silly a Cross it may seem.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (I Corinthians 12:21-27)

Hosting Life: UNMASKED for Joy in This Journey today. Joy is in Sri Lanka with World Vision; be sure to visit her blog to see all the posts from the blogging team and keep up with their amazing trip!

Did you write a Life:Unmasked post this week (if you’re not sure what that is, go here to read more)? Link your post below (direct links to Life:Unmasked posts only – all others will be deleted). Please include the link back to this post in your post, http://ow.ly/di8oR and invite others to join in. The more the merrier!  Feel free to copy the button code below to add the Life: UNMASKED image to the bottom of your post. When you’ve linked up, try to visit at least two of the other posts linked below and leave a comment. I will do the same!


The next stage

It's a memory so close to my reality I can feel it in my bones: a baby attached to me at all times in a sling; raw nipples from breastfeeding; four different tubes of diaper rash ointment in my purse at all times; troubleshooting how to empty a stinky pail of cloth diapers into a front-loading washing machine; onesies so tiny they would have fit the dolls of my childhood. Nights and days spent in a rocky chair, t-shirts smelling of that goat-cheesy spit-up, grinding baby food fresh in my hand crank grinder before dinner, Orajel, pre-treating poop stains, and feeding cod liver oil to sick toddlers.

Four babies flitted through our home in four short years. Four babies breastfed, four babies diapered, four babies loved and sniffed constantly, four babies whose every squack was answered with cuddles from a mama almost drunk with exhaustion. Years and years of co-sleeping and trying to find ways to have silent sex in a bedroom filled with toddlers. Years and years of wondering if we were doing anything right at all. Years of unsolicited advice, some of which was very valuable, and actually worked. Years of strollers and diaper bags and never leaving home unarmed with burp cloths, wipes, and extra clothes for everyone - even the adults.

He says that He has set eternity in the hearts of men (Ecclesiastes 3:11b NIV). Perhaps that is why, in the tunnel vision of exhaustion of young motherhood, I felt these years would last forever - that this insane and inane type of life with babies and toddlers was, indeed, eternity - and so often forgot to savor the little moments, the smiles, the giggles, the warm, fetid smells, the sweaty curl naps together, the army crawling babes, the joyful belly laugh of a babe who has just accomplished something VERY BIG in their universe, such as standing up on the back of a chair?

I've had a good look at what God has given us to do—busywork, mostly. True, God made everything beautiful in itself and in its time—but he's left us in the dark, so we can never know what God is up to, whether he's coming or going. I've decided that there's nothing better to do than go ahead and have a good time and get the most we can out of life. That's it—eat, drink, and make the most of your job. It's God's gift. I've also concluded that whatever God does, that's the way it's going to be, always. No addition, no subtraction. God's done it and that's it. That's so we'll quit asking questions and simply worship in holy fear. Whatever was, is. Whatever will be, is. That's how it always is with God. (Ecclesiastes 3:9-15 The Message)

I close my eyes for a long minute while I am rocking my littlest, my son, and when I open them, I have traveled through a worm hole, and he is four and a half, a strapping boy seeming on the verge of manhood, and Grandpa took the training wheels off this weekend and he is careening around on two wheels as if he's been doing it all his life. Every time he hops on his Spiderman bike, he calls to me, asking the same question, "Hey, Mama, wanna watch me? I can ride on two wheels now! I'm super good at it!"

All wrapped up in four and half bravado is fear and the desperate need still for Mama's assurance that life is safe and everything is okay. Two days ago we went to the splash pad on a rare 90 degree August day, an impromptu trip without swimsuits, just our clothes, and the kids went in fully dressed, except for Caleb. He asked, over and over - would the other kids mind if he was in his undies? Of course not, I reassured him. But he stood there, hovering, butt cheeks squeezed tight in trepidation. Not sure if undies made the cut. Not sure if undies were man enough for splash pads.

We've come now to these days when we can paint without smocks and full covering of the island with waxed paper. A day when scissors and glue are used without supervision. When kids use the computer without asking permission, and the oldest has email and her own little blog, and she writes a newsletter for their neighborhood club. Gone are diapers and burp cloths. It is a new season.

And so we go from babyhood to some amorphous childhood - I think they call this "tweens" or something, the cool parents that is, who have catch phrases for phases. We worry less about pottying and now it is zits and bras and picking on each other and hilarious, giggling talks about sex and boyfriends, texting and online predators, body parts and bodily functions, swear words and bullying and work ethic, charity and world problems and politics and transparency and the rules for bike riding all alone to Grandma's. house.

Some days, they are still just peeking out of a tent grown too small for for bodies much too big for kiddie pup tents. They are still just children, playing childhood games, dress-up, "family", "Jungle Kids", making mud pies and playing in the sand box.

The eldest is 130 pounds, an inch shy of 5 feet, wearing size 8 women's shoes. She doesn't know it yet, but she is in a young woman's body. Her mind is still in the throes of the Magic Tree House book series and the perfection of her various accents - British, Irish, Italian, French, and Russian, so far.

This phase is a slower one, less busy, less demanding in the moment - no COME NOW I JUST POOPED MY PANTS AND SOON THERE WILL BE POOP EVERYWHERE type of emergencies. It's a time for savoring what is, reflecting on the beauty of what is unfolding in these days, weeks, months years. A time for planning and looking forward to the day when this house is full of four teens. This time, I am trying to squeeze tighter to Scripture, to live in THIS moment, yet also see that this moment is not eternal, not the everlasting. That this phase will evolve slowly into the next, and we will slowly but surely grow as a family into a new season - that next there will be teens, then college years, then marriages and careers and grandbabies and homes and finances and all those adulthood decisions to walk side by side with them through. Oh, this glorious life, this parenting thing that blooms like a flower right in front of your very eyes!

But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time. (Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1941)

I quit joining

When making a fire people like to join you, when cleaning the ashes you are often alone. (African proverb)

The dancers swirl, faces wide with grins and laughter, and I am on the periphery with my camera like a shield between us.

I've always been a joiner, from every play and musical in high school to every leadership activity available in college, every council and committee at work, every volunteer position at church. Until 2010. Suddenly ensconced from every role I cherished at church, I floated bereft with only one role left: wife and mama. I pulled away even from grad school, and let myself fade to gray as the blood poured out unchecked from the knife wounds of my sides. Where was the Jesus who promised in Isaiah to bind up the wounded and the brokenhearted?

I haven't joined anything since. I attend a church, but I'm not a member. I have a job, but I'm only on the committee that everyone's on. I feel the carrot dangling in front of me, and the innate, unquenchable urge to lurch for it: University Senate needs a representative from our College - wouldn't that be fun, to serve with the students? Nursery school at church needs volunteers. The children's 4-H club needs project leaders.

I sit on my hands and keep my face neutral. Not a glimmer. Don't let them see enthusiasm on your face. Don't give away what you were born to do.

I funnel the joining energy into hobbies, parenting, writing, professional pursuits. But it burns like fire in my bones nonetheless.

Now what, God? Would you have me be knifed in the side and still go back into the fray with the wounds fresh, the scars still red and raised, barely healed? 

Lisa-Jo's prompt today is "JOIN" - come "join" then?

All I Know About God I Learned from My Dog

Dear God,
There were times when I was a child when I felt like the only "person" I was safe with was my dog. He always accepted my affection, my conversation, and my questions without every passing judgement (as long as I scratched his belly while we had our conversations). I have carried a picture of you with me for many years, a you that is a golden retriever. Warm, silent, welcoming, kind.

Forgive me if I don't hear you speaking. I'm not very good at understanding someone who doesn't speak in words. I get the "peace" feeling, and I can recognize it now when I don't have it. But after almost 30 years of faith in you, the rest of our communication still feels like mostly trial and error.

Maybe it's okay that way. Maybe you're alright with me picturing you cuddled up warm and furry with me on the porch in my darkest nights of the soul?


Letter to Aaron: Past Lovers

There's a cost to sacrificing purity. Shadows in the dark, shadows in the light. A brick and mortar building, 1970's white and red, squat little construction houses memories and ghosts I can't exorcise by willpower alone. He has them too, my lover, my husband, old memories of relationships past that rise up occasionally, and we talk about these, sometimes angrily, or regretfully, at times mournfully. It is so with consequences, bleeding into the present in unpredictable ways. And for all that lack of purity in days gone by, there is a deeper sense of appreciation for what is shared now between us. Still a knowing of what was lost in the folly of youth. We both ache to know what became of those we loved and lost, those we wounded and walked away from, those who scarred us and scavenged our souls and scurried off into the dark of unknown tunnels of labyrinths of their own making.

How were we spared the downward spiral paired to the acerbic slow death conjugated to troubled souls?

It is like a bad habit kicked, the bad taste still rising in your mouth unbidden, the occasional urge to taste the bitterness again, to know what became of those mistakes made, those people paired with, to see where life has taken them to while we have escaped the shipwreck and found the shore and made a home there.

We grit teeth and turn stoic from questions without answers, offer a quick prayer for those we can't reach out to, for they are like fire to our kindling souls still, and instead we cling to each other and purity restored, and to a few simply verses from II Timothy 2, repeating them like a mantra in the dark night, stilling the long twilight of questions and doubt:
Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.
I lit a fire with the love you left behind,
And it burned wild and crept up the mountainside.
I followed your ashes into outer space
I can't look out the window,
I can't look at this place,

I can't look at the stars,
They make me wonder where you are
Up on heaven's boulevard
And if I know you at all,
I know you've gone too far
So I, I can't look at the stars
~Stars, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals~

Linked to an old meme from Amber & Seth Haines

When dreams come true

When I was in college to become a nurse, I used to faint all the time, sometimes 20 times a day. I have a heart condition that is worsened by stress, affected by diet, and drastically influenced by the amount of sleep I get. As you can imagine, I wasn't very good at managing any of those factors as a college student. As a result, I suffered fluctuations in blood pressure and heart rates that caused me to faint all the time, and several times I nearly died because of it. From that point on, I lived life holding my dreams loosely, never knowing exactly how much time God intended me to be on this earth.
"There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off." (Proverbs 23:18)
Years passed, and I got better at living a heart-healthy lifestyle. I was also helped by advances in medical science that directed my cardiologists how best to treat my condition using medications, and finally, in 2010, a pacemaker became available that had a special function specifically designed for people with my heart problem. Life with my heart condition gets better with every passing year, and it looks like I might live a long and healthy life, as far as my heart is concerned.

One of the dreams I harbored deep in my heart, in a space surrounded by tears of grief whenever I fainted and the dream seemed to fade in the distant and perhaps unattainable future, was that of someday obtaining my PhD and teaching with my father at the very university I was a nursing student at.

 "But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded." (2 Chronicles 15:7)
Last week, my father carried boxes of books up to office 204 in the nursing building on the campus of the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire, a short 5 minute walk from the building where he has worked since 1984. The very building in which I fainted all those times, but grinned and bore it, and, by the grace of God, graduated on time in 4 years with my bachelor of science in nursing. This was one dream, one of the dearest to my heart, one that sat right next to my longing to bear children and raise them, that God did plan to help me fulfill.

My office looks out on the historic Council Oak Tree that is on the University seal, and Little Niagara creek.
Today, with a heart that felt more like bursting than giving out, I began orientation to become a full-time professor at my alma mater. I have already been welcomed warmly by some of my old teachers and mentors, along with new faculty who have arrived in the 12 years since I graduated and embarked on my career as a nurse.

I return now with something more important than any career aspirations constantly in my heart and on my mind - a husband, a home, and four beautiful souls who are dearest to me of anything I have on this earth. They have already fallen head-over-heels in love with UWEC, in a similar way as I remember falling for it as a child, entranced with everything from my papa's hands that smelled of chalk-dust to the peaceful cool of his office, and the constant trickle of youthful energy in the form of the students who came to ask questions or talk about their ongoing projects. There is something incredibly synergistic about the education process, especially at the college level, where most students have honed in on an interest all their own, and are deeply invested in their own success.

My children love my office (perhaps partially because they are allowed to watch unlimited hours of Netflix movies on my 2nd monitor while I squeeze in some work). Caleb loves to work the lock on my door and unlock and lock my file cabinet, desk drawers, and explore the inner workings of my printer. Katy has set to work reading a text on philosophy (I do mean to get a shelf of more age-appropriate books set up - but perhaps it is better for her to read the college texts??). Rosy is busy creating art to grace my corkboard. Amelia likes to arrange my textbooks largest to smallest and then redo her work in the reverse. And they all love the trips to the vending machine, simulation lab, library, and colleague's offices, where they are always greeted with smiles and pieces of candy (note to self: get a candy jar for my office!). Caleb is already a building favorite, as he doesn't differentiate yet between acquaintances, friends, family, and gives each of my colleagues a hearty hug and kiss upon leaving!

Oh, how richly my Lord has blessed me! I am thrilling with excitement, waiting for the beginning of classes after labor day, when I will finally get to meet my first group of students in the four classes I will be teaching! I will still be homeschooling, as I was able (again with God's grace! and pray for me as the semesters go by, that I might be able to continue this?) to block my schedule so that I am gone from home 2 days a week, 3 days a week for one week per month.
"Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him." (Psalm 62:5)

Stretching toward each other

It will be their 39th anniversary in a week. I remember nights from my childhood when they fought. My dad's temper flaring, my mom refusing to be a doormat. Somewhere along the way, my dad pinned up verses, a poem, an Ann Landers column, faded newsprint now, hanging like flypaper from the bookshelves right above his computer. Those thin papers have been there for years. You wouldn't think something so insignificant could change a man's heart. But slowly his tongue softened, his words melted, and the space between them shrank. Oh, he still flares up sharp when things aren't planned out just right. But one look from my mother, and he begins to concede, backpeddling, trying to take it back right while they are still talking it over.

My husband swears. A lot. I wish he didn't. And I pull away, push away even, glare with my sharp brown eyes, chastise him without words. I like to think I never put him down in front of the kids, as if they can't read eyes as well as words. But I'm fooling myself. We're stretched thin in the same places my parents were in these trying times of raising small ones, their voices interrupting, drowning us out sometimes, leaving little space for peaceful, lingering debates, pushing us into small spaces of conversation and turning up the heat.

We stretch our hands out toward each other just as my parents did. I put up verses on the window sills. He memorizes one about the power of the tongue.

Our tenth anniversary is a few weeks away. We are one quarter as married as my parents. One quarter as grown into one another. In forty, will we be mellowed into routines of concession and forgiveness as they are?

There is hope. I see it whenever I visit their home, in the flypaper thin Ann Landers column hanging from my dad's shelf. His stretching toward my mother. I feel Aaron stretching toward me. I need to stretch toward him, forget this pulling away. Forget the wounded animal hurt, forget nursing wounds. Love covers a multitude of sins. Weymouth said, Love throws a veil over a multitude of faults.
Love each other as if your life depended on it. Love makes up for practically anything. (I Peter 4:8 The Message)

Linked up with Lisa-Jo on the prompt, "Stretch"

One Right Choice: A Letter to My Younger Self

I don't know why you were born in the United States to intelligent parents who had decided way back then to raise you earthy in the hippie way, homeschool you, love you unconditionally like Jesus taught them in the few simple verses they clung to even before they really knew Who they were following. I don't know why your childhood was golden, filled with woods and brothers and beauty. I don't know why it shattered because of one person who chose evil instead of good, and bludgeoned you with sexual abuse when you were just a tiny person of seven or eight years. Even now, at 33, I don't know the rest of the story. But I do know now a lot more than I knew then. I have a lot to tell you, the mixed up you of high school and college, the you that couldn't seem to get anything right, the you who didn't even know what Right was for her.

You were all mixed-up inside, an identity of confluence, two rivers so muddy you couldn't tell which defined you better - stoic Scandinavian or earthy Native. Tom-boy or girly-girl. Intellectual or athlete. Sister or daughter, friend or enemy. Straight and narrow or wide and easy. Straight or not straight. In the shadows or in the Son.

You tried to hammer it out in silence, writing poetry under a pseudonym published in the University art journal, yelling in your soul to a God whose very existence you sometimes questioned, beating your body on the ice at late night hockey practices even though your cardiologist told you to take it easy, for heaven's sake.

Sometimes you were obedient, even though it was hard. You didn't touch beer until your junior year, even though you wanted to at all those college parties, warning labels from cardiac meds ringing loud in your ears about sudden death and other side effects of mixing substances and the life-sustaining little green pills you popped like candy to keep you upright and breathing like a normal person. There were boyfriends you'd never had and wondered if you'd ever have. Girlfriends you had and wished you didn't. Confusion roiling where your uterus ached in that empty late teen way, full of latent dreams of babies and sexual perturbation, a womb full of memories of sharp physical abuse and the duller, deeper psychological wounds of the words that your abuser sank into your soul like poison arrows.

You kept classes on an altar because you couldn't go back and erase the mistakes that would derail your lifelong dream of being a professor like your dad. Your dad and your mom...those who sustained you, believed in you even when you proved you couldn't be trusted, who loved you when you weren't lovable, who were your scaffolding to a faith you'd lost faith in...those two people you wanted desperately to be like and desperately to love yet held at arms length, afraid of your secrets, afraid of consequences, afraid of disappointing them again. Afraid of breaking their hearts.

There were places to go and things to see on this great green earth, and you ached so badly with desire to see all of it and do all of it - the paddling, the descending of the mountains on your snowboard, the breathing of the thin air of mountains, the humid air of jungles and the salty air of seas. You were afraid of death just because how could heaven possibly be as beautiful as earth? And so you prayed, long and hard and often, even though you weren't sure He was listening, to live.

There were mistakes almost made, a man almost married just because he was a man willing to marry you, a man who didn't ask questions, who didn't seem to notice that you were a woman confused, a woman who loved other women a little too much, a little strangely. He didn't ask where all the hurt in your eyes came from, or why you hungered after marriage ravenously, as if it was salvation from some invisible curse you never mentioned. In return, all he asked of you was the same - that you ignore pornography and little white lies that really didn't matter, unexplained losses of time that should have been yours, pieces of his heart that should have been yours but never would be. And were you wise beyond all your confusion and your years, or was it just that tiny chip of remaining faith that kept you from peace, kept you begging questions about what love really felt like and whether or not it was okay to marry someone you didn't love that way? No one came out and told you not to marry him. But you remembered a snippet of a verse - the peace that passeth understanding - and one hot summer day, you realized beyond a doubt that you didn't have that, and you handed that little band of gold and glitter back to him and broke your promise and said you just couldn't. Even though you couldn't explain why. Somehow you knew that just good enough wasn't good enough at all and that there was more to life than just enough.

There were days you dreamed of nothing other than moving far, far away and giving up all you knew and giving in. Your heart broke because you were a sinner and you wanted that sin more than anything else you'd ever wanted. Yet at the same time, your heart broke for all the things having that sin would ruin - family, friends, life here in this place and time and space. All the people who would never be the same if you chose the hard and difficult and damning sin instead of the hard and difficult and tooth-and-nail fight of Right.

Because you chose the tooth-and-nail fight for Right, because you didn't throw it all away and flee to a far-off freedom away from the prying love eyes of family, He gave you family, more and more love eyes that pry and see when you falter and hearts that break when you stray - and shout Hallelujah! when you survive, thrive, and get it Right. 

Because you didn't choose just-good-enough, a husband who didn't ask questions because he really didn't care, He gave you a romance that has lasted 10 years and promises richer and fuller love for decades to come. He gave you this man, this oh-so-much-better than you deserve, kisses that flood your bones with a hunger you didn't know you had.

Because you yelled in your soul at a God you weren't sure even existed, He walked with you out into the light, and He filled the light with dozens of tiny people who proved to you He existed. He swarmed you with love so much greater than the greedy, paltry, carnivorous false love of that sin that enticed you, love that piles right on top of you and clings to you and never, ever lets go, even in the twilight when you'd rather be going to sleep instead of giving more kisses and telling more stories and tucking them in again.

For every beer you didn't drink at those parties, and every obedient swallow of those pills that helped your heart keep beating, He rewards you with crazy joy in oceans and on mountains. Your heart is still sick today, and there are still pills to swallow. A tiny machine in your chest keeps the ticker ticking. You still go to ERs and falter at the ledge of death sometimes. And when you're at the ocean and on the mountains, you aren't young and you aren't strong - all you can do is sit in those waves. But the joy in those experiences is richer because it was almost stolen, and you grip joy with both fists, for you are richly blessed and oh, how deeply you know it!

Even though you can't snowboard down real mountains anymore, hike 14ers, surf the big waves, He gave you little people to show the ways of adventure to. And when they grin at the end of the day when they've mastered a new trick, or when their squeals fill the air as they rocket down hills and flip on skateboards, it's your heart that explodes with glee, because you get to do this. You are still here. And behold, He is Right again - it is more blessed to give than to receive.

You didn't know that all those lessons about living and dying would teach you how to face cancer. You didn't know that fainting in public was your dress rehearsal for the public humiliation of wearing disease in the form of a bald head. You didn't know that when you got cancer at 28, you would skip to the head of the class because you'd already learned so many lessons about sickness and living with it and thriving anyway.

And for all the sacrifices of momentary pleasure for the sake of good grades and a good reputation at your university, He gave you your very own office at that same university. The opportunity to teach thousands of young nurses as they're just starting out. To teach them how to live their faith as they follow their calling. It was worth it, wasn't it?

Every prayer you offered up to travel the world and see every beauty this green earth offered, every prayer to defer heaven just a little bit longer so you could revel in the gift of time on earth...He took it and changed it, and sent you with your stethoscope and your wide eyed dreams to the corners of this impoverished planet.  And instead of a passive traveler, He let you be the hands and feet of Jesus, holding His beautiful, broken people in your hands and healing, and at the end of those days, you were speechless, and you sat in red earth and stared out at the alien landscape and all you could do was breath as tears ran down your cheeks. Because true joy is that incredible and profound - it silences and stills and leaves you completely wrecked.

You had no idea that the real break-down would come in your thirties, and leave you twitching, dead-eyed and afraid in a hospital, trying to find a lifeline in a whole Bible full of words that seemed suddenly empty. You didn't know that all those blessings you'd racked up in 10 years since choosing the Right would suddenly dry up and blow away like chaff in a puff of a hot wind of depression beyond any sorrow you'd known even in the darkest night of your sinning. You didn't know that the path out would once again be one simple choice, one little snippet of one little verse that you would anchor to and haul yourself out on, a bloody mess. 
This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

When we name the heroes of the faith, we rattle off Amy Carmichael, Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, Billy Graham, Susanna Wesley, Helen Keller, Martin Luther, Elisabeth Elliot. Those who followed hard after Christ, sacrificing all for His glory, single-mindedly and whole-heartedly soldiering for the Gospel.

But I am not of their ilk. I am the sort who found one small Truth on which to cling in a stormy darkness full of questions...a C.S. Lewis, a Hudson Taylor, a Corrie ten Boom, an Augustine. I can only hope that in my remaining years, my questions will lead me to greater faith and actions that will bring God glory, that I might walk in the path of these great heroes of the faith, not just in their doubts, but in their belief as well.

When you were 20, you thought it was an either/or proposition, this living thing. Happy, or sad. Accepted, or rejected. Joyful, or living in darkness. Sinning, or following Jesus. Believing, or questioning.

It's not. It's a melting pot of all of this, a beautiful soup of all kinds of emotions, experiences, blessings and difficulties. Sometimes you are saved by just a glimpse of Truth that shines on the path and directs your steps. Sometimes you are defined by one little choice that cascades through your life like rain through a canopy of forest - first a drop or two, then a rushing waterfall, and finally the whole forest floor is watered and springing up with new life.

Thank you, Lord, for helping me make the Right decision when it counted. Thank you for this life. Thank you for these blessings. What a life it's been so far!

Celebrating my friend Bonnie's 1st FaithJam in 5 MONTHS!! Be sure to click the link & read some of the other letters.