Turning up the volume on life

Cancer jolts you awake to small things that never mattered before. It's like turning up the sound on your sonar in an underwater submarine. All those marine life sounds that blended into the background before? They roar into clarity, and you hear the whale songs and the whoosh of the fish swimming by, all that normal life flow that just swam past oblivious little you before is wondrous, important, noticeable now.

I try to tell this to my friend who has the tumor in her lung. The first day, the sounds of my words go in one ear and out the other, her eyes dull, her head too full of words like "cancer" and "prognosis" to make sense of words like "beauty" and "blessings in disguise". This doesn't surprise me, because I was her once upon a time, on the first day of cancer. But three days later, she is laughing, telling me how she taught her son how to mow on their lawn tractor, the one with the trigger clutch that pops wheelies when you put it into gear, how they spent a whole afternoon doubled over together over this little simple joy. Mother and son and their ghetto lawn mower. She is awake now. Awake in ways she never would have been without a tumor growing in her lungs.

I wake up this morning, four and half years after my own first day of cancer, six months after my first day of remission, and this is what I see: a hill painted in an impossible pallete of reds, greens, golds, oranges, the sky an impossible shade of azure. I wonder: would I have ever been awake to beauty without cancer? To pain? To the bittersweet and haunting preciousness that is life? Would I have marveled at the gift that is each day with my children, each day able to perform my job, each night able to sleep flat in a bed at home next to my warm husband?

Who can say they would take back yesterday just to get rid of the bad? Would we really throw out all the good with the bad? We are not sovereign. And for good reason. We can't make such decisions; we can't even comprehend them.

All I can do is wake each morning, and walk through the day, unwrapping each small gift as if it is the best Christmas gift ever, and praise God for using the pain of my journey to give me eyes to see.

The sun goes down
The stars come out
And all that counts
Is here and now
My universe will never be the same
I'm glad you came

Can you spend a little time,
Time is slipping away,
Away from us so stay
~from Glad You Came, The Wanted~

SheLoves synchroblog

Sometimes believing, sometimes pretending

The sky is a black void pebbled with stars, swept with the Milky Way's belt, like a chocolate cake gilded in gleaming white sugar sprinkles. Moonless and magical. It's been a day of feeling off, just a bit cranky, from the moment I woke up to my son's UFC style cuddling in our predawn bed to the hours spent editing powerpoints for the 39 hours of lecture I have to prep for in the coming month.

The stars hanging in still life bring the chaos to a halting stop, and the last breath I took is held in my lungs for a moment as I stand, hand in hand with my two youngest children, looking up, up as far as the naked eye can take us into the question marks of the universe.

They're tired for once, these late night children I've bred from my own insomniac bones, and the house goes still. Aaron and I pop in a movie, one to match my mood, The Gray. It's one for Aaron, all action, hunting, man against nature, survival. But deep in the plot are threads that pull at the frayed edges of my own: a man with a gun-barrel in his mouth; a poem about the exhaustion of putting up yet another fight to live; the poignant flashbacks to moments with a wife who died of cancer.
I break, just a crack this time, not into a million shards of shiny glass like I might have months or even two years ago. I stutter out the words, how I know the taste of rifle bluing. How I struggle with the exhaustion. How I fear abandoning this man I love to raise our children (can he do it? How can it be possible that I would watch from heaven without tears?).

I crawl into the familiar fetal position, knees to chest, my face still in the inner panic of the moment. And he, this Lover who abandons me not, folds himself into a warm parenthesis around my ache, diffusing the sorrow that I feel all the way down to the morrow of my bones.

My list of questions flows brittle, jumpy like a Jack Karouac poem up to God, silently, questions from Ecclesiastes, Psalms, Isaiah. A prayer from Revelation (come, Lord Jesus, come!) that ever more often finds it's way to my lips. And with the doubts, I've by habit paired the words of the desperate father in Mark 9:24: Lord, I believe! Help thou my unbelief!

How can I long for life so deeply that it threatens to break me in two, yet struggle not to give up in those moments of utter exhaustion when the very last thing I can do is fight longer and harder and for who knows how long?

How can He say that these are "light and momentary troubles" (2 Corinthians 4:17)? How could Paul, watching his comrades burn at the stake, run from lions, hide for their lives, starve in poverty, rot in prison? How is that light and momentary? Does He see our family? Does He see the struggle at dinnertime with Amelia (please just eat one bite of toast, I beg you child). Does He feel the heart flipping and leaping and pounding relentlessly in my chest throughout the day? Feel the blood drop from head to feet in one giant waterfall, and see the stars and hear the thunder in my ears and feel my knuckles whiten as I hold on for dear life so as not to lose a job, or knock something over with my head, or, God forbid, stop breathing during class or clinical or in front of my dearest, beloved children? How do we grasp eternity in the face of this compelling portrait of everyday gall?

How can He say there will be no tears in heaven? How can He make life so utterly beautiful, even in it's wretched brokenness, and say that we will not miss it even enough to cry? How can He paint such a shattered and desolate backdrop to the very aching resplendence of our lives here on earth?

Does He see my daughter quaking on the floor, froth on her lips, vomit on her t-shirt, excrement and urine rising putrid from her 6-year-old jeans? Does He hear my silent prayer for her life, hear my tears as I hold her until she stills in my arms and wakes? Does He know that I know that I cannot take care of a 40 year old daughter who soils herself and cannot drive or work? Has He prepared me for this, is He preparing me for this?

There are days all I see is the sovereign. The Judge on His seat, behind the bench, the finality of that gavel ringing in my ears. There are days I see only glimpses of mercy in between the God who says He will not tempt me beyond what I can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). Why would a loving God tempt me at all? Is all this character building worth the blood, sweat, tears, vomit, poop, messiness, gut-wrenchingly hard work?

There is a moment in The Gray when the main character, desolate, alone, and hopeless, throws his head back to the heavens, an admitted atheist, and pours out his anger and his cry for help to the empty gray sky. There is no answer. He stands, and says, "I'll do it myself." He cannot wait five minutes for an answer from the God he does not believe in, trust, or wait on for rescue.

Sometimes it feels like I am calling out to an empty gray sky. But what are my alternatives? Whether He answers or not, whether I understand His will and His actions or not, I have only two choices: hopelessness and unbelief, or to walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

And herein is the hard road of faith: the waiting through the long, dark night, for the next time you see your baby smile, and you glimpse God again. Those glimpses of sight that light our path like gifts doled out for the moments when we need them most, reassurance when we are about to give up and give in. For those who cannot wait for His rescue, who give up on the God who often seems distant and even not there at all, the smile of the baby is just another coincidence. But for those who have made the thousand choices to believe when all evidence is to the contrary, we see the handprint of the Great One in the smallest nuance of life. The smallest victory. The shortest moment of joy can redeem every long season of grief and disbelief. All that teetering on the shrouded path suddenly becomes two feet planted once again on solid ground.

I stare into her eyes, limpid. She doesn't know the hard path of faith. She is only six, and can barely understand seizures and brain injuries, and pooping her pants. She doesn't know she was the light today that brought me back to the path, relit the fire of faith somewhere deep inside. For her, her sisters, her brother, her Papa, I walk once more into the fray. However the road may twist or turn, however heavy the gray storm clouds are that shroud me from the face of God, I will keep putting one foot in front of the other, sometimes truly believing, sometimes desperately pretending that at the end there is a heaven where He will wipe away every tear and say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant." (Matthew 25:23)

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What questions plague you in your daily walk with God? Do you find the daily practice of faith difficult? Do you struggle with disbelief?

Linked to A Pause on the Path's On Your Heart Tuesdays

Take it, every little piece of my heart; Break it, every little piece of my heart

I have a friend, a beloved one. She is hurting. So I hurt with her. I send unanswerable questions heavenward. I let tears fall unchecked. I promise to be there. It doesn't seem like enough.

Why is this world so full of pain?

Why is it always those at the back of the pack who get picked off by the wolves? Those who've suffered most, who've endured the unendurable, who've been in the Refiner's fire so long you would think they'd be melted down enough. But He wants every last bit of it, every last piece of our soul we're holding back, every dark corner we haven't let Him in to see and love and cleanse and care for. Cracks us open wide, forcing us into the pain so that we can do the healing.

I know these things, deeply. My own cancer was my tutor in the whys and wherefores of suffering. I come through transformed. I will never be the same. Yet, on a day like today, when my body literally aches from weeping, all I can think of is mercy. Just this once - could we skip the character lesson and be washed over by Your grace? Could You spare my dear friend this pain? Let this cup pass over?

If He would not let the cup pass from His own Son's lips, all for love of us, I dread that this is not to be. The cup is filled to the brim with tears, and, for love of our souls, He will beg us drink.

These verses drenched my soul in comfort in the darkest of pits, when I sat by Amelia's bedside begging for her life. I read them, repeat them, murmur them, pray them. I notice, again, let it soak in deep - that the results happen at the final revelation of Jesus Christ, "in the last time". Not here, not now, but when He comes again and wipes away our tears forever.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9 ESV)
Sometimes you felt the trouble
Sometimes you felt down
Let this music relax your mind

Stand up and be counted, yeah
Can't get a witness
Sometimes you need somebody
If you have somebody to love
Sometimes you ain't got nobody
And you want somebody to love, all right

Then you don't want to walk and talk about Jesus

Just want to see His face
You don't want to walk and talk about Jesus
Just want to see His face
~I Just Want to See His Face, The Rolling Stones~

Lisa-Jo prompts us today with "Wide" 

I Homeschool, and Yes, My Children are on a Mission

There has been some uproar on the Internet over Tony Jones' liberal, derogatory and incredibly polarizing article "Death to Homeschooling!", in which he decries homeschooling as anti-missional and wrong for every Christian family, everywhere.

My friend Joy Bennett of Joy in This Journey offers a civil and logical rebuttal. I'd encourage Christians on both sides of the homeschool choice to read both.

Homeschooling by the Numbers [Infographic]
Via: DegreeSearch.org

What I won't tell you on your first day of choir

They are seven and nine, strong and beautiful, and they can sing on pitch now, so we sign them up for the youth choir at church. This new church, it's traditions, they've felt like coming home. It's been my safe place after twisting, twitching in auditorium chairs in the dark, gritting teeth through sermons, muscles taught during worship music. I sat down in the hard-backed pew, the choir sang, we stood and sat, and prayed and confessed together, and I felt something open inside that had been locked tight for most of my life.

I used to wear glass around my neck like a worry stone heavy, grounding me in the present. My fingers found it every time I had to smile, had to speak, had to move through people. Glass must be stronger than rock, because I wore through the rock I held in my pocket for the same purpose, and my pendants are just shiny from all the anxious stroking. One is a whirl of color like a pinwheel of hope: through the grayest days of my recovery, I would look down into it's infinity and dream of living in color again.

The other is my Lake Superior. I carry a piece of this place I've loved, where I've rested, to remind me that peace is possible. I hold it tight between thumb and middle finger, like a piece of the land where hope will be found again. 

I haven't worn these much while sitting in the hard backed pews. But yesterday, my girls joined choir. It is an oddity of this era, that when your children join something, you join, too. Dropping the girls off, I was corralled into a small room adjacent to where they are rehearsing: mandatory parents meeting. We stand around the edges of the room, most of the moms sitting against the wall, in groups of three or four, a cacophony of laughter and the twitter of voices thunderous in the small space. I reach for my neck, my cheeks hot. But today my neck is bare. I finger an earring instead, try to put a neutral half smile on.

The meeting takes only 30 minutes. We are signing up to take turns in the choir rehearsals, chaperoning. All of it brings the familiar bile back up my throat, and my lips are tight now, not neutral any longer. It's not because I hate being an outsider. It's not because I wish I had a friend there to talk to. I don't feel left out. I am haggard with the desperate fear that I will be forced to be included.

Fear is not orderly. It doesn't measure threats and mete out just the right amount of panic. It is all or none. Put your thumb in a wound and twist, and there will be the metallic soulless scream, the tortured twisting of the body, the bunching up of the face. Put me in a room of church people, make me look in their eyes, listen to their conversations, and that is what is happening inside.

Oh, Father, how will this be possible? I have no desire to pass my wounds on to my children. I want to them to be in Sunday School, the choir, the pageants, VBS. I want them to feel included in your Body. I am much happier hanging out as the ugly little toenail on the Body of Christ. Yet I don't want to isolate my children down here by the dirt with me.

The meeting is over. The mothers gather around the rehearsal room door, peeking in at children. I give each of mine a passing smile. They can't see the glisten of tears through the glass. I walk down a quiet hall, give my silent scream. Wander back and find a recessed doorway and fold myself in it, sitting down there on the threshold, in the basement of this church. I am the woman battling, elbowing silently, isolated, through the throng, unclean, exhausted, reaching out to touch the hem of the Master's garment (Mark 5:25-34). Just a moment of healing, Christ. 

The children emerge, piling out the doors laughing, still singing. My oldest is her usual self: a new experience, however enjoyable, leaves her exhausted. Her younger sister is bouncing on the toes of her flats, talking a mile a minute. I put on the realest smile I can muster. For this - for you - I sacrifice.

What I will not tell you on your first day of choir is exactly that - this is a sacrifice, my children.

By the time I free myself from the throngs of the church, I am fleeing a haunted house, not a safe place. I run with the children across the park to the car, slam earbuds into ears, turn up the Grace Potter. My husband grasps my shoulder but I can't say it, I have no words now, I am still running inside. Tears pour, music flows, I find a rock in the bottom of my purse and I rub, I rub, my soul prays in sobs.

You would not let me be wounded again, Father?

We are home, and the cocoon of this day has surrounded me completely now, and I am huddled in the dark. My husband plays music out in the bright house, making dinner. He's out there, telling the night to leave me in peace. I hear the words of the song. Pull them to my neck to finger.

And you are the mother
The mother of your baby child
The one to whom you gave life

And you have your choices
And these are what make man great
His ladder to the stars
~Timshel, Mumford&Sons~

Catching my daughter's vision

Amy painted this, of the Jesus who has visited her thrice, for my office at work 
Everything is focused in, fine detail, microscopic, onto this image she portrayed to me, her yellow-haired Jesus with the blue clothes and the glowing feet; her angel with spiky orange hair and the wings that don't fly and whole face that smiles. I dream of it, down to the cross-hatch of the linen of those blue clothes, to the strands of that yellow hair, to the burnt-umber orange of the angel's coif. It passes through my prayers as I beg for no more seizures, beg peace for a nervous system taught and tripping. I try to focus on that image hard as I battle with her skinny little stubborn frame at every meal time, hours of battle for just a few bites. I show her a video of a child getting a feeding tube placed, the gagging, the vomiting, the red-faced crying and begging. I make her smell formula, which isn't even as nasty as tube-feeds. This is what you'll have to eat, I say, if you won't eat food. With the seizures come the texture aversions and the difficulty coordinating chewing and swallowing. Finally last night we give in and make milk-toast soaked in the broth from the pot roast, and spoon the gelatinous mixture into her mouth through her tears, and I am at the glowing feet of that Jesus deep inside myself, praying, beseeching, weeping without weeping with my face.

This is what you do to fight for a child. It comes up on you like a storm blown in sudden from the northeast. You are in the sunshine of the last rays of summer one minute, and the next all the old familiar sounds of the storm howl around you - the tears, the eyes that won't track, the bumping into walls, the pooping in the pants, the can't-swallow-anything. I call the neurologist and he isn't there and I think it will be impossible to go two more days like this even though we've gone months like this before. The nurse asks for her weight, and I walk into the bathroom and weigh her, all her clothes on, and find she is only 1 pound heavier than she was 9 months ago, and I am on my knees by the scale, thank goodness. How hard have we worked for that 1 pound. How helpless I feel at that moment as the nurse repeats back the weights to me, and asks me to check again. How can she have outgrown her dosage of medication if she hasn't grown? I ask. The nurse has no answer. Wait for the neurologist, she says. He'll have a plan. For just a few minutes on the phone, she is the angel, for she has heard the hard-edged grief/anger/fear in the voices of a million parents and she knows I don't ever want my child to seize again. She can't do anything more to stop the next seizure than I can, only just speak in that soothing voice, assure me there will be a PLAN.

So I focus. On the threads of the blue cloth. On the glow of the steadfast feet. On the broad shoulders that carry the load I cannot. Come, Lord Jesus, come...not just to her, to us. Carry us home.

Written on Lisa-Jo's prompt, "Focus" 

God of all comfort, stay away from my baby?

I start my job, and she starts quaking again. Six months, maybe more, have passed since the last seizure, so long that I've forgotten the weight of the worry you wear like a heavy winter blanket around your shoulders all day long. I carry her with me to work, carry her heavy and set on vibrate in my pocket in the form of a cell phone, jump whenever it goes off...all just false alarms. I run out of class to answer all the calls from the hospital prefix, and the operators reminding me of upcoming appointments probably wonder at my sigh of relief followed by snappish, I can't talk now, sorry, I'm at work. Mentally, I wipe the sweat collected on my brain's brow, she's not in the hospital, everything is quiet and okay for now.

She seizes mostly in the evening and at night, and I wake with her, cycling like we did when she was a baby, every 2 hours or so. I grit my teeth and bear it, hold the party line when my husband shoos her off to her own bed at 9 p.m., aching to hold her, know she's okay. Sync my breathing with hers, know her breath is still coming, regular and true and deep. I hold him instead, and sleep light, as if the mattress is made of pins, until she creeps into bed with us around midnight, grasps my hand, and I fall deeper, peaceful now to the rhythm of her sucking on her "nuksie".

Sometimes I wonder if I should be tougher. But I wasn't made of the stern stuff. I have more playful and more lenience in bones that feel so old sometimes. I rest on the blue chair in the afternoons like a grandma and watch the children dance in the living room in the falling rays. Sunbeam babies in halcyon days, spectator mama laughing at antics till dinner.

She tells me Jesus came, two nights ago. She's told me this only twice before, once shortly after her brain infection that held her in a hammock hovering over death's yawning darkness, the great river that separates us from those we love until we, too, swim into the night and cross to the light. She was only three then, and I didn't answer much, just listened. Then at 4 1/2, after a 2 hour seizure in the ER, she told me of Him again, the same Jesus with His yellow hair and happy face and blue clothes and funny belt and feet that glow. This time He brought her angel to play with her and make her laugh, because He knew how scared she was. Her angel has orange hair, spiky, and she has wings but she doesn't fly, she dances and spins and flips about on the floor in a funny way that makes sick girls hovering in some unconscious abyss laugh. Her angel laughs like a thousand bells and when she smiles, her whole face smiles. Now this third time, she comes to me, with the story of the angel and Jesus, the same story, and she is only a month shy of 6 now.

I can't ignore the yellow-haired Jesus with His blue clothes and the orange spiky haired angel who dances and smiles with her whole face. Because for 3 whole years now she's said the same things. And always the same: when they come to her, they come to comfort and make her laugh when she is sad and scared because she can't be with me. Is this heaven, I wonder? Not that we forget, but that we are comforted, and we are loved, we can stand it until the others get here to be with us again? Does time tick slowly like when you can't sleep on Christmas Eve, or does it fly by like when you're sleeping on a regular old night cuddling someone you love?

She looks up at me, face glowing, radiant, full of Jesus, and she brushes tears from my cheeks. She laughs and says, Isn't it beautiful, Mama? Aren't you glad Jesus comes for me? And it is a sour, hollow lump in my throat. Oh, how I want to be thankful. But oh, how I want to keep you, my girl! I don't know what Jesus coming means. I don't like seizures and I don't like you needing comfort from anyone but me.

But what will happen to a warrioress who has laughed with her angel and smiled at Jesus three whole times, and remembers? What will this child carry into the world, for whatever time she is aflame in our world? How can I be jealous of time and the Creator of life?

I hold her tentatively to my chest, feeling her energy pulse rhythmic like the singing of a star. Warm like a campfire just lit between the palms on an autumn night. So alive. And it is I, older and wiser one?, who comes away comforted.

imperfect prose

I quit talking when I lost hope of Utopia

I used to be a soapbox grassroots political passionate, from days spent longing for my 18th birthday as I watched a Presidential election pass me by in 1996 to fighting unionization in my 20's at my place of employment. I've always been an "issues" voter: worried more about the morality of government than anything else, I had a short list of issues that determined which candidate got my support. Through the years, those issues remained almost unchanged: women's rights; abortion; and issues of personal freedom and choice such as those defined by the Constitution and it's amendments. When I was 18, I was for the death penalty. Now I'm opposed to it. At 18, I would have voted against gay rights, raised in a Bible-banging fundamentalist cult and still a talking head for what I'd been taught in my formative years. Now I'm much less sure of myself: I'll vote for the rights of gay spouses in healthcare every time, and I don't know how I'd vote on gay marriage.

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But this political season has me silenced. I think mostly because I still desperately dream, somewhat delusionally, of a political arena that encourages balanced, although passionate, debate. Discord? Certainly. But with chivalry, respect, and a chance for everyone to get a word in edge-wise. I've never voted for a candidate I agreed with 100%, nor have I voted against a candidate I disagreed with 100%. Isn't it that way for every voter? Because there is no duplicate of the unique and wonderful YOU in the universe?

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It seems like politics are more polarized than ever this year. Maybe it's that I've never been through a Presidential election on Facebook. Maybe it's that I've finally made enough friends who disagree with me that I'm bombarded with more and more ideas very much other than my own. When we're not facing a major political decision, I love the back-and-forth that is now part of my daily conversations: many of these friends have gently and respectfully helped me expand my horizons and have even helped me work out whether or not my ideas are based on Scripture or just the pipe-dream pulpit-banging of a mouthy pastor.

I'm going to let the cat out of the bag: I won't be voting Democrat this election. But I won't be happy about voting Republican either. Because I am not a party-line voter. I no longer consider myself a "Republican", history in the Young Republicans notwithstanding. What I really believe in is freedom. Personal responsibility. Reaching down to help someone else rise up. Grassroots aid coming from the very communities needy people live in. I don't want to live in a socialist nation. I want to live in a free nation.

There's a big reason I feel this way: my faith. Not only am I commanded to love my neighbor as myself (Mark 12:31), I am told that "religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows" - and perhaps the uninsured? - "in their distress." (James 1:27) Call me a passivist hippie commune love-glazed freak, but what a country we would live in if we could somehow encapsulate Galatians 3:23-28 in a government!
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
I can't make that kind of change happen no matter how I vote in 2012. Maybe that's why I sigh every time I think of the election. Unfortunately, the main issue I'll be voting on this Presidential election will be economics. Our country is in serious money trouble. Someone has to find a way out of it. Our current administration has proven that it doesn't have an answer to balancing the budget, plugging the holes that money is leaking out of, and still accomplishing what the Federal government needs to do. One major reason? It has kept adding to the ever-longer laundry list of what the Federal government "needs" to do. What needs to happen - hopefully before we become the next Spain, Portugal, or Greece - is a long, hard look at that list, and some serious prioritization and budgeting. We've got to quit borrowing to accomplish our goals. We have to make our goals fit into our budget, somehow.

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The Constitution states that we shouldn't overthrow Government lightly, lest we all suffer even greater than we currently do. Yet when a "long train of abuses" and "Despotism" are evident in our Federal system, it is our "right...duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for [our] future security."
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. (from the Declaration of Independence, signed by 56 supporters of Freedom on July 4, 1776)
If we are to continue to exist as a free nation, we cannot print money like it is mere paper. We cannot borrow what we cannot repay. We cannot vote individual mandates into law, as we did with the Healthcare Reform Act, penalizing people for inactivity, which is unconstitutional. We cannot be ruled by fear and propaganda, such as the misinformation regarding the uninsured population statistics - which did not take into account illegal aliens and other non-citizens nor those who choose to live without insurance due to youthful ignorance, stupidity, or lifestyle - used to push the Healthcare Reform Act through the House and Congress in 2012.

We have been, historically, a creative breed. We've worn our "melting pot" brand proudly. We've been known to work together enormously successfully on occasion - think World Wars and the Great Depression. We've survived horrible rifts such as the Civil War, Prohibition, and the Civil Rights Movement. Great changes have been effected by large groups of people - women and children, minorities, religious groups, and even political organizations. We've transformed our nation over and over again. Today we look nothing like we did in 1776. If we survive another 200+ years, I imagine it will be a totally different patchwork quilt of people and ideas. Will there be more harmony? The pessimist in me doubts it. But I want to believe it is possible. 

I am more than willing to reach a hand across the aisle and grasp yours in brotherhood. I promise not to be a bad sport if my side loses. I won't quit speaking up for what I think is right - because that is what makes our nation great. But I love you just the same. I love atheists, lesbians, Muslims, liberals, humanists, drug addicts, commune-living hippies, researchers who wear hideous business suits. All kinds of people who don't look anything like me.

Democrats & Republicans hug in Hawaii's House after invocation, April 2012 (image credit
Whatever your political stripes, I encourage you to remember that the world will not end on November 6, 2012. We must maintain our relationships as we struggle through these great debates that are coming in the next few months. Because when the dust settles, and a new or returning President claims victory late that night, WE will be what's left of this nation. WE will determine which senators and congressmen get elected in the wake of the Presidential election. We will vote our opinions over and over again. We will spend our money on what we value. We will speak freely as long as we are able. We will build the bridges and come up with the solutions and make amazing suggestions that politicians will grab from Twitter and Facebook and your blog and mine and call their own.

Don't stop talking. But for heaven's sake, don't stop loving either! Perhaps our founding fathers said it best, as they concluded the Declaration of Independence: And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Part of the Faith and Politics synchroblog hosted by Andi Cumbo

I wasn't sure I liked babies

When my belly swelled with each of you, it was a burgeoning promise and a sacrifice all at once. Each time it fell slowly in 8 weeks to a soft deflated balloon, like the wrinkled skin of a swimsuit stretched one too many times, a place where you babes laid. And after Caleb, and cancer, it never deflated. It just stayed. Instead of a cave where a baby used to be, it just stayed like a pillow attached to me, even though I ate less and less and tried different diets and even had cancer for four years.

Sometimes I still pass my hand over my stomach and there is a memory there, between palm and belly, of the days you lived inside me. Five babies passed days there, swelling my frame and kicking me with "otherness" from the inside out. I thought it would freak me out. Instead, it blissed me out.

I try to deny it, especially when I am alone with your Papa, but you are always with me, the four of you I got to keep. I see things everywhere that remind me of you, and I wonder constantly what you doing or thinking or needing. I thought I would be able to shake you off like a sweater you left on a chair when you didn't need it, when I leave you with your grandmothers or a babysitter. But I carry you somewhere deep in your soul. This weekend, it was my 10th anniversary, and your Papa and I were like two kids on our honeymoon, but there were these hideous Christmas ribbon wind-catchers blowing in the hippie shop window.

Pulled away from home by my first week of professoring, and our anniversary trip, I asked your Papa if I could have you back sooner. He said yes. And so you came, slam-bam-thank-you-Ma'am, tumbling out of the Suburban, grandparents laughing with you. We all went to the shore of Lake Superior and it was wide-stretched-arm days, and rock-picking, agate-hunting, and cliff-climbing, clambering joy.

I used to wonder how I would get through life without you, back when I thought I wouldn't have kids, back when I thought men weren't made for me and I'd never marry. For I carried you in secret, deep in my belly like magic beans, and I saw you in the faces in my dolls even though I never told anyone my 5-year-old secrets. My grandma always looked into my brown eyes and said "still waters run deep". Mine ran deep with dreams of you. And now you are here, and still I dream of you. Delight in you.

You just never know.

I don't get many things right the first time
In fact, I am told that a lot
Now I know all the wrong turns
The stumbles and falls brought me here

And where was I before the day
That I first saw your lovely face?
Now I see it everyday
And I know that I am
I am the luckiest
~from The Luckiest, Ben Folds Five~

Linked to Fried Okra's synchroblog

The view from the 10th year

The evening of our 10th anniversary, we talk about how things have changed and how they've stayed the same. How it seems like our wedding was yesterday and forever ago. How you could see me the day we said "I do" and how now I can see me, too. How I could see you, and how you still can't see yourself clearly. What opened my eyes to self? Cancer, emotional pain endured, reprocessing of the things that shaped and harmed me? Life hasn't been graceful to me, wrinkles and gray hairs sprouting; you either, face ruggedly handsome now, man of hard labor, man of sorrow, dear husband mine.

Ten years ago today it was the first morning we woke up together. I remember it felt scandalous, waking up in your arms. Almost impossible that there was a stamp of approval on this bliss from parents, God, society. That it didn't need to be a secret that I was in your naked embrace. And then we went off on an adventure, this time of the day we were half-way through North Dakota, playing travel Scrabble across the plains on our way to Seattle and the Sound and paddling and sleeping under the stars.

Today, ten years later, a different big water, a different adventure. You are off at the hardware store for split rings to mount 3 pound spoons on my grandpa's deep water fishing rod, dreaming of lake trout. I have a whole sketchbook of white pages for writing and sketching and I'm looking forward to sitting next to you on the cold rock curled up with the dog while you fish. Watching you. I will never tire of watching you, love. And then perhaps we'll find a café for lunch and maybe a hippie store because I need a new purse. And agates on the beach. Then a indie-folk concert tonight at a brewery.

But for all that we've endured, and for all that life has washed away from us, by grace we are still elementally the same people. Music, bread, cheese, beer, words, outdoors, water, the unexpected, and the flesh and minds of each other. These we still love together, after ten whole years.

Joining Lisa-Jo on the prompt, "Graceful"

Letters to Aaron: I am Supposed to Be the Helpmate

I found you on the stairwell after I got done printing materials for my first day of work, waiting for me silently there, to make sure I came to bed so you could hold me and dry my fear tears. I heard you, 20 minutes before my alarm went off, up making coffee and warming the waffle iron. I saw you, packing my most comfortable shoes into my work bag for the drive home and putting a charger cord for my cell phone in the extra pocket, checking to make sure I had my office keys. I took the warm travel mug of coffee straight from your hands as we walked out the door, leaving for work at the same time. And when I walked out the door at the end of the day, there you were, after finishing work at the same time, waiting for me at the closest door so I wouldn't have to walk one extra step to putting my feet up in the air-conditioned car.

I heard you loving on the kids as you short-order-cooked left-overs for dinner while I rested for 20 minutes in bed. I heard the sounds of you washing their feet in the bathtub, and rummaging through drawers for their pajamas, and keeping them out of my office while I finished grading, assuring them I wouldn't forget to come hug and kiss and sing them off to slumberland.

And when I walked down the stairs, bone weary, there I found you, icing the cake for our daughter's long-awaited and belated 9th birthday party tomorrow. I saw the bag you'd packed with paper plates and candles and special silverware and the big 9 wax candle that has to go on the baseball cake. There by my work bag was the gift wrap for the t-shirt I'll buy tomorrow on the way to the party while you work until the last minute wearing 30 extra pounds of lead shield to do your job in radiology without ever complaining about how your back hurts at the end of the day.

And tomorrow? You'll have breakfast made for me when I walk out of the bathroom make-up on and earrings in, and hot coffee in a mug with just the right amount of cream, and the first thing you'll ask when I cry about how long the day will be, and how hard, will be, "Is there anything I can do to make it better?" Even thought I always nod no through my tears, you will keep asking, a thousand upon thousand times, until death do us part.

              helpmate (or) help-meet [ˈhɛlpˌmeɪt]
                                        noun companion and helper, especially a wife

It says, in Genesis 2:18, right at the beginning of the Bible we both hold dear, the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” He was talking about me. The Lord God made me to help you. But so many days, it is you helping me. Feeding me, clothing me, making sure I take my pills, get my feet up, go to sleep at night, take care of myself even though the children clamor for more, more, more, the world is out there calling for just a little bit here or there, or someone needs a helping hand or hospitality or a shoulder to cry on. You are more than my protector, my brother in Christ, my supporter, my bread-winner, our household decision maker, my leader, my courage under fire, the one who catches me when I fall or when I faint or when I collapse in tears.

You are my helper, my cheerleader, my best friend, my lover, my checks and balances, my reminder, my beloved, my believer, my companion, the one who quietly, steadily and sweetly takes care of many tasks that should be in my realm. Often, the dishes, laundry, dinner and childcare are kept from falling completely off the radar only by your perseverance, endurance, and love. 

And after all that, you have time to frost a cake. Love to frost a cake. Capacity left to do it creatively and beautifully. Character to do so without a complaint (and even a smile on your face). There is not a grudge, a sour word, or an angry expression.

Sometimes I fall even shorter than just letting things fall on your shoulders instead of picking up my own slack: sometimes I pile guilt on my shoulders because you are so good to me. Sometimes I don't let myself be loved. Sometimes I just let myself believe I am an utter failure because I am not a helpmate most days; I let myself be blind to the fact that instead, I am treasured, cherished, and kept.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church... (Ephesian 5:25-29)

 You are so wonderful
Being near you is all
That I'm living for
You've shown me more kindness
In little ways
Then I've ever known
In all my days
Tell me we'll stay together
Let me love your forever
'Cause you're a wonderful one
You're a wonderful one

In you, there is a rare quality
Your love baby
It means the world to me
For me, you're always concerned
And you ask nothing in return
You're really more than I deserve
From my heart I mean these words
You're a wonderful one
You're a wonderful one

Sometimes I'm up
Oh, sometimes I'm down
But your love
You're always around
Words of confidence
You speak to me
Baby, then you place a tender kiss
on my cheek

It makes my burden
A little bit lighter
It makes my life
A little bit brighter
'Cause you're a wonderful one
You're a wonderful one

From Amber & Seth Haine's old meme that I apparently can't get enough of! 

This day, 10 years ago, I was working my last 12 hour night shift before my wedding. In 2 days, we'll have been married 10 years. How much we've weathered in 10 years. And how much sweeter love tastes, 10 years later! I never would have dreamed it possible... How big is our God, and how amazing the man He gave me!

When your dreams get lost in the mist

There have been many starry-eyed beginnings on this long journey to becoming a professor, but today was not one of them. On the last eve before I face a roomful of 100 or so starry-eyed students, sophomores and juniors entering their first semester of the nursing curriculum, I found myself much less excited and much more afraid than I had dreamed. It was an eve of many tears as I realize just how ill-prepared I am for the first day of this journey.

I go out to the porch swing, my personal sanctuary, at 2 a.m., when I should be sleeping, as those students await me at 8 a.m. sharp, with their skills lab packets, ready to begin their pre-testing for which I am the somewhat clueless evaluator. Instead of sleeping, I am shaking in my boots.

And, as He has so many times before, God matches the internal pendulum of my thoughts and fears with a picture in nature to comfort me. The very trees I treasure are hidden from view as a pea-soup fog rolls over our valley and clouds the night in an impenetrable white of hidden hopes and dreams, darkened landmarks of comfort and familiarity. I take a deep breath of the humid, heavy air and I know that the fog will lift in the morning - from this landscape I love and from these dreams I hold so dear and so close.
I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for me to bear the yoke while I am young. Let me sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on me. Let me bury me face in the dust— there may yet be hope. Let me offer my cheek to one who would strike me, and let me be filled with disgrace. For no one is cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to anyone. (Leviticus 3:19-33)
 You have my heart
And I am Yours forever
You are my strength
God of grace and power

And everything You hold in Your hand
Still You make time for me
I can't understand
Praise You God of Earth and sky
How beautiful is Your unfailing love
Unfailing love

And You never change God You remain
The Holy One
My unfailing love
Unfailing love

You are my rock
The one I hold on to
You are my song
And I sing for You

And everything You hold in Your hand
Still You make time for me
I can't understand
Praise You God of Earth and sky
How beautiful is Your unfailing love
Unfailing love
~Chris Tomlin~

Thoughts on a Blue Moon

It was a blue moon, but it looked decidedly yellow to me when I discovered it at 5:30 a.m. on Friday morning.

It is only "once in a blue moon" that I am up at 5:30 a.m. and happen to notice the sky. And that I am suitably motivated by anything to go hunt up my telephoto lens and stay up for another 45 minutes to capture an entire moonset just for the fun of it.

Ironically, I didn't even know it was a blue moon while I was taking the photos. I just knew it was an incredibly clear dawn and the moon was particularly beautiful.

I am reminded that I am often prone to dive into something rare and monumental. And that I am exceedingly bad at being faithful in the little things, the normal moon sort of moments of life.

I thought of this as I edited the photos of the moon that waned from red to yellow to orange to pink as it set across the sky that was at first midnight black and dawned to a dark cobalt and finally a hazy turquoise.

I don't have a soloist's voice, so I've thought over the past 10 months of joining our church's amazing choir. But it requires weekly practice, early mornings at the church, and listening to the sermon from the choir loft instead of sitting next to my family.

Instead, of a "blue moon" experience like the church choir, I've chosen to try to be faithful in an everyday moon sort of singing. Every night I am singing my children to sleep - everything from favorite modern worship songs like "You Never Let Go" to old hymn standards like "Rock of Ages" and even family favorites like "I Saw the Light", which was, hysterically, our processional at our wedding 10 years ago.

However beautiful the blue moon is, I don't aspire to a blue moon life. When the time comes for me to wane away from this world, I hope it can it be said that I was faithful in the little things, rather than that I accomplished grand ones.
“There have been times of late when I have had to hold on to one text with all my might: "It is required in stewards that a man may be found faithful." (Amy Carmichael)