Magic mama

How many years have I stood amongst the carefully groomed rows of pines on this family farm, smelling evergreen as I suck oxygen, trying to keep upright and keep that smile on my face? It's not been easy, these last 5 years, plagued with illness, to keep up traditions. Maintain the magic. Be present with my children for each and every landmark of childhood when every cell in me is crying out for my down comforter and a long winter's nap.

Mary must have known this bone-deep fatigue, teetering atop the donkey all the way to Bethlehem, heavy with child. Holding a promise deep within, yet struggling in her humanity. Maybe it is this way for mothers everywhere. We know we must keep on, to savor the seasons with our offspring, to carry out His promise, one foot in front of the other.
So we trim the tree, hang the stockings, keep all the family traditions alive in spite of ourselves. Even something as simple as buying Little Debbie snack cakes and putting them on the snowman platter is enough to undo me sometimes in the late November dusk. But they are always there, and now they are a part, inexorably, runes of ritual for these four of mine. Be faithful in the little things, He said in the Gospels. Who knew He might mean Little Debbie cakes and decorating a tree? I feel sanctification growing up from my bones like hope from the spring eternal.

I can't ignore the reverence, pride on their faces when the living room is transformed. Every ornament, hung carefully - we huddled over it, remembering who gave it and when and why it is special. Tears flow over ornaments from loved ones passed on, favorites hung at the top of the tree in the "safe zone".

This is what has happened because of Cancer. Before, I was the methodical mother, practical, task-oriented. I used to clean in every spare moment, especially in the late afternoons. Now I am often in bed, recovering from something. Yesterday, we caught up on The Voice, all under my down comforter together, vivid conversation almost drowning out the power vocals streaming from the laptop on my desk. Last night, the man of the house on call and away to the wee hours, we staged a sleepover. Two in my room, and two in the front room, in front of the Christmas tree, chattering to each other until midnight.

Cancer turned me into a magical mama and their childhood is filled with wonder and memories of adventure and out-of-the-ordinary instead of me mopping floors and keeping a perfect house, a perfect homeschool. Cancer unlocked the door to some secret passageway in my heart - one that remembers the magic of childhood and lives it, with them.

Here's to wonder, during Advent and every day of our trialed years.

Five Minute Friday
Written on Lisa-Jo's prompt, "Wonder"

Clarity fading away

It's been a week of doing. A week of putting one foot in front of the other, breathing one breath at time deep into friable lungs, trusting God for each moment of consciousness and praising Him at the end of each day for each completed task. A week in which I survived Thanksgiving without having to take a nap. Managed to go to the tree farm per family tradition and decorate the house with my kids without missing (hardly) a beat. A week in which I resumed work, bruises and pain and all, delivered lectures, and looked deep into students eyes, and captured teachable moments and felt my calling coursing through my veins instead of death.

It's also been a week of long naps, early bedtimes, and hitting the snooze button - something I never do. It's been a week of slugging down coffee, putting on a little more make-up than usual, and swallowing tears as I push through pain to get things done.

There's a sticker on my computer that says, "Just become like a child that discovers the beauty of the world every moment again and again." And so I do. On my way to work, I drink orange juice, life blood from a fruit that doesn't grow in Wisconsin winters, and I taste life sweet and tangy straight from some Florida farmer's labor. My husband makes scalloped potatoes for dinner, and I can almost taste the potassium flooding into my veins and giving me just enough energy to sing Christmas carols to my children as they drift off to sleep.

I talk to colleagues about my experience, and their eyes are wide as saucers, and we talk about what it's like to be a professor in the bed. To become a patient instead of a teacher. To taste all the things we lecture about so lassez faire. And there is nothing lassez faire THIS week when I teach my students how to suction secretions from a patient struggling to breathe, because last week that was me, and I know how it feels to choke and want to scream when you can't.

It's odd how life goes so quickly back to almost normal. How I stand in a field, tired and ill, and yet what I am thinking about is how amazing it is that my baby boy is yielding a yellow Swedish saw with his papa and cutting down our Christmas tree. How the hum of the tractors is just as homey as it always has been at the tree farm, for the 20 some years I've been coming here. It's life. It's beautiful. It's no different than it was 2 weeks ago.

It's this amnesia, I think, that makes us human. Christ didn't have it. He had eternity always in mind. I forget. Eternity gets lost in the details almost as soon as I've returned to the mortal world. Every now and then, I remember. But it's not my every thought, it doesn't control every action of every day. I strive to be like Him, but I am not. I am just like everyone else. Caught up in the flurry of work before winter break, scurrying toward Christmas. Making my lists and checking them twice, planning my shopping, budgeting, trying to budget energy too. 

Oh, that heaven were always foremost in my mind. Oh, that I would never lose the perspective I gained in those 40 minutes of clarification, crystallization of what I am here to do, what I am meant to do, what I am meant for. 

I long for heaven. When at last I will never forget. Make me better at this, Lord. Help me remember, now more than ever - this Christmas, more than last, and every Christmas, more than the last.

Home for Thanksgiving

The sun glints off the mustard gold of the field across the way. I can hear builders in my parents' new house, pounding nails the day before Thanksgiving. The kids are hooting and hollering in the woods with cousins while Grandma bakes all everything again this year - another year I can't. I slowly remember that last Saturday was my sister's birthday and that I've once again spilt blood all over this day that is supposed to be cake and candles and presents and carefree. Something about that, knowing I wrecked her birthday, just like when I lost Theodore on November 17 in 2009, breaks me and I bend over double in my swing in the morning sun.

I feel it, just like that. I am all the way home here, in this broken world. I feel myself sliding back down like maple syrup on a cold winter morning, through my head, which suddenly glows warm with the knowing of all that has happened, and down into my heart, where I suppose I should have been all along. And though I couldn't know and I couldn't prevent, for whatever part is mine, I am broken. That once again it was November 17. And I am broken all over again that I have been given this beautiful life and this beautiful place and these beautiful people. And taken it all for granted. Poured my ugliness all over His beauty helter-skelter as if I had never been taught this lesson before.

As empty as I feel in that moment, as the tears cascade and my heart thunders loud in my ears, I know this moment is what stopping breathing was all about. It is why He continues to test and try. It is why He pushes limits and allows death to seep through cracks. He wants me here, at the foot of the Cross, fully aware of my neediness, my indebtedness, and my gratefulness.

This is exactly where He wants us all on Thanksgiving - and every day of every year of our short time here on earth. On our knees. Praising, faltering, grasping for more. 

How deep the Father's Love for us...
How vast beyond all measure!
That He should give His only Son
to make a wretch His treasure
~Stuart Townend (sung here by Fernando Ortega)~

I see myself there, for a moment, on that lonely hill of a past time and a foreign land. It's windy, and I pour out my soul like a pot of black mud where the Cross pierces the earth. I cannot look up, for what overcomes me in this moment of pouring out is the magnitude of His love as it pours down. This is the Love I felt in the darkness of those 40 minutes in-between. Who am I, that He would look down and love me, save me, and join me to that Love inseparably, eternally, for no price I paid or deed I've done? This is the Holiness and Awesomeness of God, when you come face to face with Him.

He says that a lucky man can number his days at 70 or perhaps 80 years. I've been given 33 and consider myself one of the luckiest people I know because I know what each day here is worth - the struggles of it, the beauty of it, the having of it. Thirty-three is, historians say, ironically, the same number He was given when He took the bitter cup that was mine and drank it down to it's last dregs, to save every last one of us. For this, I am thankful. For You, I am thankful. 

And for today.

Life is beautiful. My new nephew August with Katrina in the sun.

Savior I come
Quiet my soul...remember
Redemption's hill
Where Your blood was spilled
For my ransom
Everything I once held dear
I count it all as lost

Lead me to the cross
Where Your love poured out
Bring me to my knees
Lord I lay me down
Rid me of myself
I belong to You
Lead me, lead me to the cross

You were as I
Tempted and trialed
The word became flesh
Bore my sin and death
Now you're risen

The in-between

I woke up from 40 minutes of unconsciousness to an alien sound. It took me a few seconds to understand that it was me making that sound, a vast empty sucking sound, the hollow of my chest pulling air in slowly a few times every minute in a chaotic, rhythmless gasp for life. In between, someone was pushing sickly sweet oxygen down into my belly through the purple ambu bag, and I remember trying to swallow it, or breathe it in. I was looking up into the eyes of a coworker from the University who still works in the ER, and she was calling my name through a long tunnel, her voice echoing off the walls as it bounced it's way down to where I lay in a cavern deep below the crowd who seemed to be working on my body. If there is an in-between, a place between alive and dead, I have been there. It is a platform suspended, invisible, where your soul perches like a frightened bird, too afraid to rejoin a quavering, hurting body, the glass ceiling that opens to heaven now shut above you, beat your wings against it as you would to get back to that dark warm firelight of something as light as air and as flowing as water, some element that doesn't exist here.

Brother, he’s suffered like a tree taken down
Wept as he witnessed his dreams carved out
And how can a man just keep walking around
With his heart full of holes
But oh, His bow is on the strings
And the tune resonates in the open space
To show us how emptiness sings:

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

I remember well the first time this happened. I was 17 and had played my last heart beat out on the stage at a dear friend's wedding. The last notes of the piano fading into the postlude, I wavered through the crowd to the bathroom, my smile wooden as friends complimented my playing. I collapsed there and waited for someone to come bring me my mother. I felt my soul leaving my body, and the sound in my ears was the rhythmic "whumph-whumph" of helicopter blades, helicopter blades hovering just over the water, and I could feel the ocean spray kicked up by the windstorm, only then I noticed it wasn't ocean water, it was ice water my mother was splashing on me, and I was on the cold tile floor of the bathroom and pinned there, motionless. Her voice came through a tunnel, too. On that ambulance ride, I flew away, and felt the warmth of heaven touch me even though I kept my eyes closed on purpose. But something pulled me back and I opened my eyes to look down at my naked self in an ER room and hear my mother calling me, frantically, through that tunnel.

It happened again when I was 22, just before I feel in love. And I think that time I almost made it there. I was so ready to be done. I had no idea what joy lay before me. I was so tired by the work He had me doing. I was so ready to go home. That time my heart stopped.

Then it was 11 years, and I almost forgot about the in-between, until I saw it again in August. And now again, suddenly, so quickly, on Saturday.

Four times. Four times I've almost made it all the way to heaven. If there is an in-between. And four times, He's comforted me, and then sent me back, said there is more for me to do here on this turning Earth. Sent me back to the chaos and the cold and the separateness.

Before Christ died, there was a place called Paradise, or Abraham's side, a place where believers went to await further vindication and ascent to heaven. But that was after they died. Is that an in-between? There is a powerful story I love in Luke, the story of the rich man and the beggar named Lazarus. This story tells me that it doesn't matter if I've seen the in-between. It doesn't matter if I've met my angel. It doesn't matter if I shout it from the rafters. It won't change anyone's mind, if the prophets and Moses cannot.

Paul speaks of a man who was caught up to the 3rd heavens and saw things he cannot even put into words. Is this the in-between? Are there those of us who are brought to the in-between for comfort rather than just to prophesy, like the author of Revelation, who was brought to heaven to describe it to us? My daughter Amy knows the in-between, I, too have seen it. It is a place I can't describe but I know well, and when I get there I know nothing else but thankfulness and peace. I am surrounded by powerful emotions and beings and other souls, and I forget all about the former life, and I am wordless and wise and only a whisper in a whole breathing current I've suddenly joined.

Coming back here is so hard. This world is cold and harsh and lonely. I cry for days and I can't tell anyone why. It is because I am separate again. Completely by myself. This life is so hard. It is not just because it is hard to recover. Yes, I am covered head to toe in bruises and my physical reserves are tapped out and all I can do is rest and wait for strength to return to these veins. But it is the harsh slam of the door to that welcome tide where I am at once joined again to Love and no longer lonely, no longer striving, no longer working, no longer suffering - that is what I mourn in these days of tears as I come back to life slowly and painfully from the in-between.

So tame my flesh
And fix my eyes
That tethered mind free from the lies

But I'll kneel down
Wait for now
I'll kneel down
Know my ground

Raise my hands
Paint my spirit gold
And bow my head
Keep my heart slow

Cause I will wait, I will wait for you
~I Will Wait, Mumford & Sons~

Almost dying

I quit breathing sometime on Saturday afternoon for 40 minutes or so. My brother did CPR on me. My children watched me through all of that. For three days, I didn't get any answers. I floated in and out of sleep, recovering. Nightmares.

There is a room somewhere in the belly of every hospital, a room I love working in. It's called the trauma bay, the trauma room, or something like that. It's a huge room where they bring people who stop living on ambulances. I had no idea what it would be like to wake up there, splayed out like a fish on a gutting table with 30 people working on you, disoriented, confused, unable to make any decisions for yourself. I've always had an instinct about working there, been next to the person's head, comforted them. Because somehow I knew it was terrible to wake up there. When I woke up there, there was a friend at my head. But still, it was one of the absolute worst moments of my life.

I'm glad Saturday wasn't my day to die. I keep leaning hard on the verse that says there is one day appointed for me to die, and only He knows the hour. However peacefully I felt myself floating off, and however chaotically I felt myself pulled back into life, it wasn't my day to die.
"Each time the mystery of suffering touches us personally and all the cosmic questions arise afresh in our minds we face the choice between faith (which accepts) and unbelief (which refuses to accept). There is only one faculty by which we may take hold of this mystery. It is the faculty of faith, and "faith is the fulcrum of moral and spiritual balance." I write as one who desperately needed a refuge. The bottom has dropped out of my world, as it were, more than once. What, exactly, is going on?  Where was I to turn? To God? Is He God or is He not? Does He love me or does He not? Am I adrift in chaos or is the word true that tells me that I am an individual created, called, loved, and purposefully placed in a cosmos, an ordered universe, a universe designed, created and completely under the control of a loving God and Father? It helps me, at such times of bewilderment and sorrow, to go to some of the simplest words, such as I am the good shepherd." (from A Path Through Suffering, Elisabeth Elliot, p. 98)

A puddle in a pew

A girl, a rock, the vast expanse of water that goes on for as far as the eye can see. Here I see God. Here is where I can listen and hear the whispers in the waves and the laughter of children lilting over the windy shore, see Him in the moss-clinging rocks and the millions of brilliant stones cast upon the shore just because. Just for Him. All this beauty. And just for us. A whole world created just for the glory of God.

If I were being perfectly honest, this will always be my church. My family is where I first found God and it is where I meet Him most authentically daily. It is where I work out my faith on my knees, and it where I feel the thrill of Him most often.

Katy receives her 4th grade Bible during "Children's Church", when all the children of the church go to the altar and worship for 10 minutes in front of the congregation, then receive the blessing of the congregation before dismissing to Sunday School.
But for my children, Sunday after Sunday spent at home with family as church was not enough. Pain fades so much faster when you're a child. I was still in the middle of a mental breakdown after our expulsion from the evangelical church when our kids started begging to go back. We found a "hospital church" for a while - a church in our hometown that specifically ministers to people recovering from abuse, broken hearts, and faith crises. There, in the dark of the worship hall, I could hide my panic attacks and hear a few words or stanzas of comfort while my children came back to life in the Sunday School rooms brightly lit and colorfully painted.

The children added their names to the Church's "heart" during Family Worship this Sunday.
Then there came a time when God winked, and we went to hear Handel's Messiah at Christmas at a church we'd never heard of, a Protestant mainline church we normally would never attend, and suddenly, we were home. Under the huge oak beams 150 years old, with the warmth of the pipe organ filling the rafters, and a choir singing hymns I remembered viscerally from my youth, every sinew in my body that was trained to be taut as wire in church relaxed. I was in a puddle in a pew.

There are moments, still, when I am overwhelmed. I live in fear of being discovered. I don't want to be anything but a face in the pew. The children, on the other hand, want to be in everything. Youth choir. The pageants and dramas. Vacation Bible school. Family worship meetings. Ministries to the elderly.

I am happy for them, these little girls in their blue choir robes. Part of me weeps for the fact that I never experienced this rich heritage as a child. Part of me shudders in fear that this blossoming hope they have for church will be crushed someday. I pray that they can be like thousands of people I've brushed shoulders with over the years - people who've been at the same church for 60 years and never missed a beat. I can't imagine that kind of life, that kind of fortune. But I dream of it for my children...pray for it.

That someday, their children, and then grandchildren, will be dressed in these same blue choir robes. That maybe, finally, we've started a new tradition that will last for a few generations.

I am excited to announce the publication of an anthology on Finding Church: Stories of Leaving, Switching and Reforming, edited by Jeremy Myers. I contributed a chapter on leaving church in the age of social media. The book is available for pre-order through the publisher here, and will be available via Amazon and other major booksellers December 1.

The reforming pessimist

I've tried for three years now to turn myself into an optimist. But for thirty I've been a glass half empty girl. Now I have some type of binocular vision, seeing the world in both black and white, the positive and negative crowding in together a confusing mosaic of blessings and curses.

My messy house is the nest in which meaningful moments are carved out with children who are growing up way too fast. Busy days are filled to the brim with more important tasks than dishes and laundry, but I still sigh at the unfinished homemaking chores at the end of the day. I watch my kids running across the troll bridge in the autumn afternoon sun, and I breathe deep the crisp air, but half of my mind is on grading unfinished and schoolwork they're not doing and all the busywork I used to measure my worth by.

I've been a griever, a lamenter, a mourner for as long as I can remember. My childhood held a hidden pain too deep for me to understand, and twenty lifetimes of pain shoved in to my formative years billowed out in weird ways: I found things to cry about because I had to cry and I couldn't cry about what I needed to cry about. Now the well of pain is too deep to tap so I leave the cover on most days but still the pain aches there inside despite the gathering of joys and the counting of blessings I've made it a habit to do.

How does one go about healing wounds when it hurts so to peel the bandage back? When it's festered so long, it seems easier to pretend it's been amputated long ago. I guess that's why I run away so often. Run away from failure headlong into small adventures, like drives into the country to count the rails on a track with my train-crazy son. Like last-blast fully clothed afternoons at a splash pad, with all the other moms looking at me like I'm crazy, they fully prepared with their beach towels and their kids in swimsuits and goggles, and mine the crazy lady's kids dripping wet in jeans and t-shirts.

I don't know, really, if I'm teaching them to be spontaneous joy addicts or just social outcasts. I don't know if I'm teaching them the same bottling-up-pain coping I employ or if I'm showing them that you can salvage something out of a day lost to that deep ache after all. All I know is when the day ends, we are all smiling. The kitchen is still messy, but we're laughing in bed together under the comforter watching The Voice and trying to guess who's going to win the latest vocal battle. I haven't solved any of my real problems, I suppose, but I've enjoyed life anyway. Lived it. This day I lived. This day I smiled. This day I wasn't crushed by the granite boulder of a prisoner's existence. Today I was free for a while. Today I forgot for a time.

I'm trying to believe this is what it means to grasp the Promise - that I'm washed clean as snow, that all my past is forgotten in the outpouring of Love from the Cross. If He remembers it no more, do I really have to (Isaiah 43:25)? Do I have to go back there? Do I have to unleash those sorrows, work through them to truly be free of them? Or can I just shrug them off like old clothes, put on the new ones He's offered me (Colossians 3)? It is a crazy life, this Saved life, isn't it? Who cares if people stare? I don't have to drown in the pool of my suffering, because He's pulled me out of the mire and muck, and even if my glass is half empty for the rest of my life - the beauty of it is, that means it's still half full.

Life lessons from the least of these

On the hard nights, when she stumbles and tumbles and stutters and her world blurs and bends, she asks me to take her head in my hands, wash it in clean water, wash away this world and float her off to freedom. In the water, she is whole. She floats free from the chains of a body still ravaged by an illness done 3 years ago. Her spirit and her mind rest in the quiet pillow of warmth, the world buffeted away by the sprinkling and the stroking.

Is it touch, the magic of water, the floating free? Is it Mama and she alone that dredges the cares of a long day away from a tired 6-year-old frame and brings that sweet smile back to her gaunt cheeks?

She lays back, and trusts completely. Mama has her head in her hands. She won't go under. She won't drown in this tub. She is safe.

 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:1-4)

The pain in my arthritic hands floats away in the warmth, my pain leeching away with hers. The giver herself blessed by the giving (Proverbs 22:9).

He says that we who are thirsty should drink freely from the well. That He is springs of Living Water that will restore our very souls. I am learning these lessons in 20 minute sessions, at the feet of my child who leads me to the calm of the Father through this diorama of faith lived out in the everyday of our evenings. That when I am lost and troubled, there is peace in the arms of the Parent. When I am weak and weary, there is Life in the water.

Perhaps this is what it means to "turn and become like a child" - to humble oneself to learn life's deepest lessons in a shallow tub from the smallest and least of these, our own children, who somehow know Truth in ways we cannot grasp with all our adult intelligence, debate and study. To simply be still, to simply believe, to simply receive the gift of the moment - is this what He means when He welcomes me to drink at the well and be filled? 

I stroke her hair, and I long for the complete and utter peace I see wash over her tiny face. Oh, to trust so deeply that I can rest like that! Help me, Father, to become like these little children, and rest in You. To let your whispers of touch and washing of my feet be the comfort my weary mind aches for.
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. (Revelation 22:17)

As one saint goes marching in

I've held 50/50 chances in my own two hands, flesh of my third daughter lying silent in the sleep of coma, doctors hovering in full biohazard gear, telling us of damaged neurons and people who don't wake up from infections like these. I've lived 50/50 chances in my own bones, almost 5 years now of a cancer journey, and I am passing that first hallmark on the road to survival, on to the next, the 10 year mark, when I have just a 50% chance of still beating cancer, still having a beating heart, still being here.

A friend died quietly on All Saint's Sunday in the peace of her earthly home, and while she walked away from us, she was welcomed on another shore by others who'd been waiting there for her return to another home. Today is her funeral, yesterday her wake. I touched her cold hand in the casket last night, a new friend gone quickly from my life. The nurse in me saw the sore on her nose from the NG tube, the reddened finger from the oxygen probe. The signs of cancer's battle still visible after death. She faced that last battle with a smile on her face, with courage, with hope. I held my tears back while I was in her room, because she was brave and I didn't want her to see that I am not. Today at the funeral, her body was gone. An urn stood at the front of the church instead. It was a little too quick, this ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I stared at the ceiling, the stained glass windows, let the music carry me away to the top of the church, so I could numb the tears and flee the fears, keep myself together in front of my peers.

We all hold death somewhere silent in our cells, but mine can be pulled out and measured in a test tube of blood, quantified in numbers, just how much death is there stalking me this year. How much treatment will be needed to keep it at bay. How my chances change every time they test my blood. I have my Scriptures that have become my mantras: sufficient unto each day are the troubles hope is in you, maker of heaven...redeem the time...with God, all things are possible...
If God is for us, who can be against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (from Romans 8)
I live in moments, I breathe in small joys, I am mindful of that which is set before me in this present time - the class I am about to teach, the task I am about to accomplish, the piece I am playing on the piano, the painting I am working on, the children who throng me and demand all of me. But it is a practice, all of this. A way to keep pain and hopelessness and paralyzing fear at bay. A Holy practice of obedience, because He tells me to carry His light burden, to walk in peace and not in fear; to walk and not faint, to believe in things much bigger than the landscape I can see with my own two eyes.

I hide tears behind closed doors. When I am doubled over with grief, I do so alone. I don't want to gather my children into these moments and darken what days we have together. I don't want to bring my husband in to the gates of my vast suffering. I struggle to let even Christ be with me in my Gethsemane nights. How can I say I have hope, how can I believe all these promises I have listed, and still be so overcome at times by the weight of death that hangs so heavy on my heart?

Several times throughout the Bible, God mentions the measure of our years at 70 or 80. My coworkers at the University see me as "young blood", 33 and maybe 40 years of a career ahead of me. Will that come to pass? Will I see my daughters and son at their weddings? If I make it to 20, I will be in the 3% that beat the odds. My children will be the ages of my friend's, her brave children, brave like her, who shed barely a tear today as they celebrated their mother's vibrant life and spoke of her deep faith. Will I have "fed" my children enough of my faith by then, by that 20 year mark, that they can be so brave? Will they be braver than me?

Through the sobs that wrack me on my drive home, loosed finally in the silence and privacy of my car, away from the eyes of others, I turn up the music and let myself come back to my body, this body filled with fear today. This body that watched a friend fall to cancer in a month's time with little warning. This body that can't imagine doing it half as well as she did. This body and mind that don't want to go there yet - home. As much as I long for heaven, as tired and worn out by life's struggles and cancer's lingering effects as I am, I have so many things left undone. So many things to finish. So many lives left to touch and mold and cherish. The voice of a friend sings me home to my yellow house, the home I want to stay in for ever so much longer...

when I was a child I held my mother tightly
then i grew taller and left to follow my dreams
I went after my dreams and some of them brought me delight
But they didn't bring me everything i hoped they might

I fell into love like a skydiver in the clouds
It wasn't enough no we couldn't sustain it ourselves

All the things i pursue
Well they stay for a season
Then everything moves
Everything moves oh
My towers fall
But you aren't leaving me
cause everything moves but you

I trained my body to run and not be weary
I worked and i read how to raise a better family
Then i bought a good house on the safe side of town because i could
And as long as my life stays like this i'm feeling good

 Until my bones become brittle against my will
My heart is home oh to make the earth stand still

You are a tree always in bloom
You are a hall of endless rooms
A living fountain springing up
I'm satisfied but never done
I'm never done
With you
~Christa Wells, Everything Moves But You~

When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (I Corinthians 15:54-58)

Moments of mystery {30 Days of Thanks}

Remission day was 8 months ago. I still have no lymph nodes in my neck, throat or chest. And so another infection slams me in a sudden 24 hour assault, and the good ear, the one I can still hear out of, swells shut, the ear drum torn, blood pouring forth, and I am on four more medications in addition to the 15 or so I take on a daily basis still. All because of cancer. A friend, newly diagnosed, asks me if life ever returns to normal. I tell her it does...sort of. It does, in the sense that the doctors visits spread out, the diagnostic tests are fewer and farther between, there are many days you forget about cancer altogether and enjoy life like never before.

Every small joy you ignored in the busyness of normal life is suddenly captured in vivid color. The miracle of a single orchid blossom...that orchid plant that all you did was water on your sill for an entire bursts into bloom, and you are overcome by the symmetry of the blossom and the pinks and yellows, and there in the mundaneness of a Wednesday evening in your kitchen, you are face to face with God in a moment of utter praise for an ordinary miracle.

Life is shrouded in mystery. Why did I get cancer at 28? Why was it the aggressive kind that took four years to bring under control? Why does every check-up come with mixed celebration - no radiation in December, yes, but March? The doctor says probably. Tumormarkers rising, falling again. Scans inconclusive, then negative again. Hope is the thing with feathers...YES, but to me that quote rings true, not because hope is beautiful as a swallow captured in the hand, but because it is an elusive thing, a wide-eyed bird you can hold in the palm of your hand for only a brief second, feeling the pounding heart of fear under your fingers, the whisper of the wings fluttering as hope threatens to take wing away too soon.

You learn, on the hard road, to grasp quickly and tenaciously at the small blessings. You learn, on the path marked with suffering, to read deep the meaning of the allegories, the lessons shrouded in mystery. The hearing loss that marks today is a question of trust: do I value my hearing enough that I will give up faith in an everlasting, unchangeable God for the gut-wrenching and useless practice of worry, anxiety and helpless planning for tomorrow? Do I cling to the Cross, do I look down at the footsteps marked before me on this road, the very footsteps of the Christ I long to follow? Do I prepare again to sweat blood in Gethsemane as I pray that the cup may pass? Or do I fling the cup as far from me as possible, rage at the cup, rage at the God who proffers it, rage at my circumstances, rage at my helplessness?

I have made my choice, long ago, and I will not waver. I choose the path of joy and thanksgiving. I choose the easy burden He trades me for my difficult one. I trust Him to carry my pack of rocks - the yoke of cancer, infection, complications, endless consequences of a dreadful disease I did not ask for and do not understand. I trust that whatever outcome He has planned for me is exactly that - planned eons before my birth, eons before my diagnosis, and ages before this small infection that has cost me the hearing in my good ear. I choose to believe that He is bigger than, greater than, and more important than any sacrifice I might still be asked to make on this temporary road of life.

I choose to mark this day - with it's doctor visits, painful procedures, aching ear, silence, and orchid blossoms on my window sill - a day of thanks. Day 7 of my 30 days of November gratitude. For He has richly blessed me beyond measure. The least I can do is accept whatever tribulations He asks me to journey through, to take the cup despite the blood, sweat, tears, and prayers. To take the "no" answers with the "yes" and "maybe". To wait upon the Lord for my deliverance and the answer to my prayer for healing.

Will you join me? Count a gift each day for which to give thanks this November, the month of Thanksgiving? Will you join in the tradition of the pioneers - plagued by disease, death, and hopelessness - who set a feasting table in the presence of their friends and enemies and gave thanks for what little food and kindness they experienced in a foreign land? I arrived nearly 5 years ago in a desolate foreign land of a difference sort - the land of Cancer, where my landscape changed from the na├»ve, carefree life of a young mother at home with children to the desert of doctor's appointments, scary lab tests, surgeries, and radiation treatments. I expected something different. God gave me a whole new life to live. I chose to trade cursing for blessing, even in the immaturity of 28. I am going to keep choosing it now, 33 and still living in this foreign country despite that magical word "remission" spoken back in February.

Please join me - and see the orchid blossoms instead of your pain. See the joy of this day, instead of your suffering, your fear, your disappointment, your anxiety for the future. Trade your heavy burden for that which is light. He offers you His burden to shoulder, the burden where death has already been defeated, where sickness has been healed, where sorrow has been forever wiped away for an eternity of celebration. Can't we count one small joy, and focus our eyes on this and the prize that lies ahead, instead of whatever plagues us in our daily walk? It is such an easy trade. Mindless, really. Join me. Not on the road marked with suffering, but on the road marked with a million small graces, like diamonds in the dust, just waiting to be noticed and reveled in.

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:29-30)

Thrive @ Home Link-Up

30 Days of Thanks

Day 1: Waking up to a bed full of kids.

Day 2: Violets blooming on my kitchen windowsill.

Day 3: Orchids hanging rich with promise.

Day 4: A sign I've always marveled at. Been inspired by.

Day 5: Two daughters lovely, thrilled with their matching pj's.

Home is my favorite soap

Home is my favorite hippie mint and rosemary soap washing off a day of trouble. It's two toddlers pushing two lovers to opposite sides of sleepy oblivion at 3 a.m. It's the smell of my husband's hair as I drift off to sleep and the beautiful familiarity of my own messes all around me. Home is letting your phone run out of battery and sleeping until the kids wake you up to help them put their costumes back on the morning after Halloween.

I've had a heavy burden, too much for these shoulders to carry. I am worn out, sad, gloomy. Sara Groves tunes carry me back to the Throne for a quick drink and a long cry most days. Today, it's good to be home.