The year of Success

After ending 2011 on a low note on both employment and health fronts, there was one word that particularly inspired me as we rolled into 2012. "Succeed". I was heading into the last lap of my race to a PhD, job-hunting, and praying for better health for our whole family in 2012. And, in many ways, God made that wish - and prayer - a reality.
February: I was told I was finally in REMISSION from thyroid cancer on 2-2-2012 (such a nice date, and a Groundhog Day I'd gladly relive!). Through nutritional therapy and medication, my cancer finally truly went into hiding on both scans and lab tests. Although my tumor markers remain positive, so I am not "cancer-free" (the next Holy Grail of the cancer journey), there was no evidence of active disease anymore.

March: I lost the hearing in both my ears quite suddenly due to a virus or bacteria, but recovered full hearing in my left ear and partial hearing in my right. I am still struggling with the decision about a hearing aid for my bad ear: they cost $2,000!

April: My mom and I traveled to Charleston, South Carolina so I could defend my dissertation. After literally years of work on this project, I was both apprehensive and thrilled to be declared "ready" to defend. My defense went off without a hitch and I earned my PhD on April 17th!

May: I graduated from the Medical University of South Carolina on May 18th, walking down to be hooded by my research mentor and the dean of the College. It was a very emotional moment for me as I reflected back on all that had to be overcome to get to that moment!

June: I accepted an assistant professorship at my alma mater, University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire. I couldn't have been more thrilled to get my dream job working side by side with my dad, who has worked at the University since 1984 and inspired me to become a university professor.

July: After months of worry over 50 swollen lymph nodes all over our sweet Amelia's body, they miraculously shrank the DAY BEFORE she was scheduled for surgery to remove several from her neck to determine whether or not she had lymphoma (a type of cancer). It certainly was a rollercoaster of worry, but God saw us through and gave us the very miracle we prayed for! Amelia still has two large lymph nodes in her neck 6 months later, but with confidence that they are not cancerous, we continue to watch and wait.

August: I began my job at the University. Moving into my own office was a definite highlight! My dad helped carry up boxes of books and the kids helped me decorate. I started teaching in early September.

My dad and I in my brand new office the day I moved in.

September: Aaron and I celebrated our 10th anniversary on September 6th! Plenty of people were nay-sayers when we got married after just 3 months of dating and 14 days of engagement. After 10 years, I can honestly say our decision was the best we've ever made and has blessed both of our lives beyond imagination.

October: We celebrated the 3rd bonus year of Amelia on her 6th birthday October 9th. It has been three long years of wonderful since she was given a 50/50 chance to live during her battle with encephalitis and brain demylelination in October, 2009 just after her 3rd birthday (click "Amelia's Illness" below the banner to learn more). Every year we host a "celebration of life" instead of a birthday party for her. This year was especially sweet with a houseful of our closest friends.

November: Once again, a health crisis came out of nowhere. Driving a car with a bad muffler to work all week, I suffered carbon monoxide poisoning and quit breathing for 40 minutes, requiring full CPR at home, in the ambulance, and the hospital before I finally came to. I spent those 40 minutes in the presence of something miraculous, and 3 days in the ICU recovering. By God's grace survived what could have been a deadly incident, returning to work just a week and a half later.

December: Although we suffered through a couple of killer viruses for the first time in a year or two, I didn't get pneumonia like I have for the past 4 years since receiving high dose radiation treatment that has affected my lungs. My arthritis is under control. In fact, I feel better at the end of 2012 than I have in several years, partially because my very active job has helped me shed 30 pounds and improve my cardiovascular fitness slowly but surely. We celebrated Christmas a little differently this year, as I was grading until the 23rd - no handmade gifts and a whole lot of wrapping to be done just before the big day! Our time with both sides of family was very sweet, and we are ending 2012 very hopeful for the future!

It has indeed been a year of SUCCESS: overcoming health problems, graduating, and growing into a profession I love with all my heart. The depression that dogged me for 2011 is barely noticeable at the end of 2012, and I am smiling more than I have in years. We found a new church to call home, and the children are settling into new extracurricular activities, homeschool curriculum, and new friendships. God has been very good to us in 2012!

My list at the end of 2011 was this, and I've checked off EVERY ONE by the Grace of God!

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

How about you? Did you pick a word for 2012? Reflecting back, does it capture the type of year you had? Are you picking a word for 2013? Come join me over at Grit and Glory to talk about your word of the year!

OneWord 365 Wrap-Up posts for 2012

2012 Round-Up: Top Posts, Videos and More

Take a little trip around the blog and web today to see what's been popular at Turquoise Gates in 2012. I hope you enjoy reading through some old posts and seeing some of the other content that's been a hit this year. May it all be for the glory of God!

Top Blog Posts of 2012:
1. Love > Fear (January 11th): coming alive to emotions after 33 years of stoicism
2. Under the Saddle (February 23rd): a post on mothering and how cancer transformed me into a better one
3. Lament for the Eldest (January 13th): dealing with guilt over mistakes made raising my oldest child
4. Please, God, say it's not cancer (June 4th): facing the potential loss of a child
5. Hand in Hand (October 24th): walking into a friend's cancer pain, reflecting on suffering and sovereignity
6. Catching My Daughter's Vision (September 14th): my daughter sees Jesus during a seizure
7. I Quit Joining (August 24th): I've been an anonymous face in the pews since excommunication from my last church
8. A Love Letter to the Bodies of Women Everywhere (July 27th): looking past our flaws to beauty
9. Please Treat Me Like a Real Taxpayer: Shunning Series (June 19th): wish list after excommunication
10. A Place to Call Home (May 29th): tips from the trenches of finding a new church home

Top Facebook Status: Amy does not have cancer! The largest lump is slightly flatter/more rubbery and all other 50+ swollen nodes have DISAPPEARED!! Surgery tomorrow = cancelled!! (June 28th, Rochester, MN)

Top Facebook photo of 2012: At convocation with the other 4 PhD graduates in my class at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Top Tweet of 2012 (by retweets): "I wonder: would I have ever been awake to beauty without cancer?" (October 16)

Top Youtube video of 2012: Christa Wells' and Nicole Witt's "Image of God" set to my photos received 11,443 views since May. It has been used at multiple women's retreats during worship. I still have this song on my top playlist on my iPhone at the end of 2012, one year after I heard it at the Allume conference in October, 2011.

According to Klout, this year I've been most influential around the web on topics of Religion & Spirituality, Family, and Cancer.

Who is reading Turquoise Gates? Over half of my readers reside in the U.S., but the blog is also popular (in order of readership) Canada, Russia, the U.K., Germany, the Ukraine, China, Australia, France and Brazil. It still receives over 140,000 pages views each month. Praise God that people find our family's story inspiring enough to keep reading! May His glory shine through.

The two blogs I viewed most were Joy in This Journey by Joy Bennett and How to Talk Evangelical by Addie Zierman.

My favorite newly discovered blogger is Holly Grantham, who blogs at A Lifetime of Days.

My most-listened-to album for 2012 (and the 3rd straight year in a row) was Kristene Mueller's (now DiMarco of Jesus Culture) Those Who Dream. Available on iTunes or Amazon.

Favorite movie of 2012 was Lawless, which Aaron and I both enjoyed. Brutal, but beautiful and entertaining.

It's almost 2013! I wonder what will rock my world this coming year?

Top 10 things I never should have said

I wish I had known how much I would regret saying these 10 phrases. They were a regular part of my daily repertoire before cancer taught me that each moment is a gift. Slowly, slowly, I eliminated them. They creep back in, I am neglectful. I forget so easily. This, today, is my reminder, and maybe, just maybe there is a young mom out there who can lock her lips easier than I, and because of reading this, make a pact not to say these things?

1. Not tonight, honey.
Solution: Open your eyes and roll over.

2. No more kisses, it's time for nap.
Solution: Keep letting that little one kiss you over and over and over again. He'll fall asleep eventually.

3. No, I can't rock you to sleep. I need time alone.
Solution: Plan plenty of cuddling time throughout the day, especially at bedtime.

4. I'm not kissing that dirty face!
Solution: Kiss the chocolate off!

5. Go to your father, for heaven's sake.
Solution: Praise God these kids still love battered old Mama.

6. No, you can't be naked.
Solution: How about when we get home?

7. {teeth gritted} How can I be expected to keep this place clean when you keep messing it up??
Solution: Pray while you're in the grossness of clean-up,
then realize that they'll eventually all poop in the pot,
take their shoes off at the door, and put their clothes in the hamper.

8. I'm busy, can you ask me later?
Solution: Turn away from your computer, your recipe, your mop, and answer the question.
Teach your children to answer their own questions while you're at it.

Caleb's very last nursing session in 2008
9. No nursing now, Mama's busy.
Solution: Nurse. Every chance you get. They'll grow up.
Way too fast. And you never know when something that felt totally natural
might just become way more complicated than you ever imagined.

10. Wipe that look off your face right now.
Solution: Show compassion. "Can you tell me why you're crying?"

It took me way too long to realize it, but I love being the mom the kids won't climb off of, the mid-day story reader, the anytime comforter, the kisser of bruises and bandager of scrapes. The aunt whose niece runs to her for a kiss the very first thing when she arrives. The mom at the campground who hands out organic apples and glow sticks. Who lets her kids throw Black Cat Pops anywhere they would like. The sparklers-before-bed mom. The who-cares-if-the-toilets-have-a-ring-in-them mom.

Be that mom. Don't be the mom I started out as. Be the mom that I have learned to be.

Thought Provoking Thursday link-up

*an edited repost from the 2011 archives as we drive home from northern MN on icy roads today!

What I forgot to ask for this Christmas

It pays to open up your heart just a crack. Christmas knocks, and you can open up and let the spirit in or ignore that something that really matters is at the door. My heart was raw this year and not ready to be knocked on. But something made me go to the door. And what I found in the cold winter air outside that door was balm. Balm for the hurting soul. Balm for the discouraged. Balm for the weary. Children laughing. Friendships forming before my very eyes. I want to shut my eyes. I don't want to see. Because I am grown-up and I know that pain follows pleasure sometimes. The post-holiday doldrums might side-swipe you if you open your heart up even a crack for Christmas. For joy. For beauty.

But I watch these people, these people who are living out Christmas, who are living out their calling. They are doing it right among my children. Can I really stop seeing, blindfold myself to these people, just because other people have smiled like this, have lived out Christ with me, have lived out their calling for my children, for me, and then walked away without a word? How do you drop your guard when it's a shield permanently affixed on your heart, riveted there by fear and pain?

Grace. It floods in the cracked door. It rips off the blindfold. It pierces a little hole in the shield riveted there on my heart. Because's the baby born. It's hope reborn. It's redemption, which means beauty from ashes, repurchase of the damaged goods. And if I can be redeemed, then relationships can be, too. These people could be my people. 

I look at my 7 year old daughter's Christmas list. She wants a box of bandaids. Some new pants. A note pad. But she also wants a Kindle HD. My Christmas list is the box of bandaids, the new pants, the note pad. I didn't write down the Kindle HD. Because for a minute I forgot to believe in big Grace. I don't want to ask for the impossible, the improbable, the difficult. I just ask for the littlest things I need. The bandaid for the broken heart. The clothes for my battered body. The note pad on which to scribble down gifts through tears to try and drag my sinking ship out of the dark waters of the past.

But what I really want, really need, is the Kindle. The unexpected, the impossible, the expensive Grace.  Put back together this broken heart. Teach me to trust again. Not just You, Lord. People. Help me trust people. That's what's really at the top of my list. It's almost the end of the year. Year two of the guarded me. Can you help me drop my guard, loosen this shield over my heart, heal me in 2013?

Merry Christmas, baby!

From Turquoise Gates to your home, wishing you the merriest of Christmases!

Unbridled joy...

Expressions of pure love...

All the magic of the season...

Deep connections with those you love...

And a little "rockin' around the Christmas tree"!

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
~Isaiah 9:6~

When your Advent path seems crooked

Even the decorations are hanging crooked already, the bows of the Christmas tree hanging low with ornaments, wilting before the big crowning moment on December 25. Maybe it's the new job that has me tied in knots right up until Christmas Eve. Maybe it's the late wrapping of gifts. Maybe it's how my children seem to associate "Christmas" more with Grandma and less with our own home. Everything about this Advent season seems to have come out wrong.

I've been on a crooked path for as long as I remember, and I guess my expectations of my myself are probably getting in the way. Shouldn't I be used to this by now? Failing expectations? The Advent devotionals so carefully prepared gathering dust on the kitchen island. The baking sheets that have yet to see any cut-out cookies. The Jesus we lost from one of the Nativities earlier in December still unfound in the chaos of the upstairs that hasn't been cleaned for months. My bedroom, the sanctuary of the home, buried under a pile of work clothes and undone grading.

Before the tears can fall, a whisper comes that stills my soul. Advent has been crooked since the very first Advent. Mary on a donkey, uprooted and on her way to a foreign town. Arriving to a town already full to capacity. A birth in a barn. Was any of this what she expected after that Holy visitation by the angel and the filling of her womb with the Holy Spirit?

We are in a constant battle to get it right. Get it right with ourselves, our children, our neighbors, those we witness to. Wear the right clothes to church, sit down and stand up at the right times in the service. Remember how to take communion here at THIS church. Follow the protocol, follow the rules, follow the followers who seem to be following better than we.

What if the Gospel points in a whole different direction? What if following the Gospel is following a path as crooked as my own this Christmas season? What if we're all supposed to be following down a thin mountain path, rousting along on the back of a lowly donkey, heavy with promise but laden with exhaustion and a feeling that this can't possibly be the WAY? What if the end of the path doesn't lead to a gleaming pile of gifts perfectly wrapped and chosen, but three gifts odd from three odd men who don't speak our language? What if the birth of Christmas is not some hushed moment around the perfectly stoked fireplace where all the children sit at rapt attention while the passage is read from Matthew? What if it's a smelly, painful, bloody birth onto the hay?

If He came to confound the wise with simplicity, came to bind up the broken-hearted, came to make the crooked paths straight underfoot - maybe I haven't missed Christmas this year at all. Maybe He is showing me a new layer of how crushed expectations sometimes reveal the very everyday miracles He's chosen for our blessing. Maybe this year it was more about helping a student on one of the last days of Advent, or sharing the Gospel in my office with someone who doesn't yet proclaim His name. And maybe, really, it's more than any of that: maybe it's me He's cradling along the crooked path, redeeming, revealing, reconciling. Maybe through all the crookedness He's drawing ME close to whisper, "You'll still find me in the most unexpected places." Like the very bottom of a bruised heart ready to admit that I haven't got it right, I can't get it right, and Advent is empty unless I'm leaning on the only One who can carry me through.

Come, thou long expected Jesus, 
born to set thy people free; 
from our fears and sins release us, 
let us find our rest in thee.  
Israel's strength and consolation, 
hope of all the earth thou art; 
dear desire of every nation, 
joy of every longing heart.
~Charles Wesley, 1700s~

Thrive @ Home Link-Up

Newtown Survivors: Looking into Paintings

I remember being little
as though youth were sword and shield
a hedge against evil
and what shattered innocence
like china against concrete
for me didn't take my life

it was like a slow gain in acuity
vision going from Matisse to Vermeer
details of loveliness gaining on me
but I could also see into shadows
and i began to run from darkness
instead of sleeping
under the velvet black
of night

they will be so, i think,
when they go back to school
i wonder what their parents see in their eyes today
shattered china
or is it re-firing to survive
turning into jade
jaded pupils
against the harshness
of new reality

and was this Eve?
when the juice ran down her throat
and Adam standing there watching her change
mother and father of our whole race
did their world fracture
like Picasso's
into a senseless collection of shapes
when innocence was lost
and knowledge gained
at such a price?

Paintings courtesy of
Claude Monet's Woman with a Parasol (1875)
Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring (1665)
Picasso's Three Dancers (1925)

An educator's look at school shootings

A young 1st grade teacher is dead after trying to shield her students from the gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School yesterday. Her uncle spoke to media, telling them she would want to be remembered for dying doing what she had a "higher calling" to do - teach and serve.

I am a college educator, not an elementary school teacher. But among teachers there is a quiet bond. Whatever the age of our students, they are the focus of our passion. The Sandy Hook shootings hit me hard, as I did a mental run-down of my own classrooms and realized I would not have many resources with which to protect my students. I believe I can lock the doors in some of my classrooms - something I'll be looking into when I hit campus on Monday. But for the most part, I teach in a room with four brick walls, no closets, and no desks to hide under. Although the depravity of those who go on public shooting sprees - especially this one - escapes me entirely, I can see why schools make good targets. People are lined up like sitting ducks in a shooting gallery, with nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.

There is little I could do but pray. There is little I can do but pray. There is only one Hope in the face of our world's darkest evils. There is only one Comfort when the worst tragedy strikes.

For the years of aftermath these small children face, I will be praying. For the lifetime lived without their loved ones, I will be lifting up those who lost family members in this senseless tragedy. And for the rest of us, shell-shocked and in disbelief, I can only whisper with John, "Come, Lord Jesus, come." (Revelation 22:20)

Those who taught ME in my 1st semester as a professor

We spent every Tuesday together, from the wee hours, up to our ears in bodily fluids and call lights and buckets of 0800 meds. Oftentimes I felt less like their guide into the world of clinical nursing practice, and more like a visitor on a unique and ethereal journey of 8 souls finding wings. Beyond the confines of the procedures and the protocols, I witnessed everyday miracles as they learned to love people at their most unlovable moments, to reach deep within themselves and toss away pride to get down on their knees next to someone's bed to offer a moment of comfort in a time of deepest sadness, to cry with someone who is crying, to laugh with someone who is laughing, to find a way to form words with someone who cannot speak.

They all have vastly different personalities...the class clown, the workaholic, the information geek, the helper, the girl with her ear always tuned for the code calls, the quiet one, the advocate, the one with a heart for kids. In 10 short weeks, I had the blessing of looking deeper into their lives, their passions, their hopes and their dreams. But it wasn't they who emerged changed and was me. It is the great gift of teaching, that you embark forever on lifelong learning, a journey of constant discovery, a million "I don't know the answer" moments when you hunt for information right along with your students. A chance to stay abreast of every technical advancement, every scientific discovery, and every new way to bring comfort to the bedsides of hurting people, who we will always have with us.

It's been an amazing semester. One I am sorry to say goodbye to (although winter break is luring me in!). I can't wait to dress up in my regalia for the graduation ceremony in May 2014 when these eight girls walk across the stage and join me as peers in our grand profession that is half art and half science, the perfect union of left-brain, right-brain...and watch them as they reach for the stars in the many years to come.

Thank you, section 314, for taking me along on your incredible journey this semester!