Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Adult in Me

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A part of me reached adulthood today.  Well, in all honestly, it’s an added part of me, not something I was born with but something given to me.  The rest of me is 46…turning 47 in June.  But this small part just reached that magical age of 18.  When I was a teenager, 18 had such allure.  It was the age where I would get to do what I wanted with my life.  It was the age where my decisions were my own,. From the other side, as a parent, 18 is the magical age of responsibility—the ultimate goal that we raise our children toward—the ability to be self sufficient and self regulating.  The age where I don’t stop praying and guiding but where my control, my need to regulate, ends and theirs begins.  When my kids have reached that age I realized they will either do what they’re supposed to do...or they won’t.  It’s ultimately the time when I can trust that God, who was in the process from day one, will continue to be in their lives and continue to lead them. 



So going back to the adult in my chest.  18 years ago today doctors cut out my shredded aorta, and my damaged aortic valve, and replaced them with a Dacron graft and a mechanical valve.  (You can read part 1 and part 2 of that story by clicking those links) I woke up to learn that I had this new piece of equipment that I needed to watch out for.  I had to take anticoagulants and monitor my blood levels.  I had to go for regular follow up so that they could monitor the function.  I had to take prophylactic antibiotics whenever I had a procedure—even just having my teeth cleaned—so the valve wouldn’t get infected. I even had to make sure my address stayed current with a registry so that I could be notified if there was ever a problem with the valve.  (Yes, mechanical valves can malfunction and be recalled.) I listened to the loud click, click, click coming from my chest and was reminded that I had something foreign and new inside me and, while I was so thankful to be alive, my anxiety climbed because of the responsibility. I needed to monitor it, I needed to be on top of it and make sure it was doing exactly what it was supposed to do because my very life depended on it.  So I lived grateful but also tightly wound from the vigilance required.  My outward persona didn’t always show it, but the muscles in my shoulders and neck screamed out the secret that I was a bundle of stress and anxiety because I felt like it was my job to help God…and my valve…and my doctors…keep me alive. 



As my children have grown up, I’ve developed a peace about them and their futures that has allowed me to fully turn them over to God and trust that they are responsible people who can make their own decisions.  I also am at peace with the knowledge that I may not love or even agree with every choice they make.  Reflecting on my now adult valve the other day, I asked myself if I could embrace that same peace when it came to this piece of equipment.  Could I trust that this adult in my chest, who was created to do one thing, would do it?  Could I trust that the same God who guided the doctors and saved my life 18 years ago was only asking me to do my part and then trust him with all of the rest? It can be pretty easy to look at my story and feel like my vigilance and my intelligence and my perseverance are the reasons I’m still here.  But I can’t do that for long before I hear God’s voice from Job 38,

“Prepare yourself for the task at hand. I’ll be asking the questions, now— you will supply the answers. Where were you when I dug and laid the foundation of the earth? Explain it to me, if you are acquainted with understanding…In your short run of days, have you ever commanded the morning to begin or taught the sun to rise in its place? Under your watch has the early light ever taken hold of the earth by the edges and shaken the wicked loose?”



My response echoes Job’s,  “I know you can do everything, therefore I realize the truth.”  I don’t have to be constantly tense and anxious, waiting to catch the signs that my health is about to crash and burn.  Instead I can rest, the kind of rest where my breath comes in slow, deep rhythm and I feel my muscles loosen. It is in that rest that I know that whether things are crashing or not, I choose to trust that the same God who saved me—who gave wisdom to scientists who created my valve, who gave skill to doctors who performed my surgery—that he will be the one who is on constant alert so that I don’t have to be. 



I choose to embrace this second adulthood with freedom and peace.  Care to join me?


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Naked

Shame. Let that word resonate in your head. Let it resonate in your heart. Shame like tar, dripping down over you. Irritating and abrasive, thick and suffocating. Shame wielded like a weapon, "shame on you!" "you should be ashamed!" "have you no shame?" Shame was never God's intent. Shame humiliates and causes us to hide. Shame isolates, showing us that we are alone...alone in our woundedness or alone in our sin, alone because of our own choices or because of the choices of someone else, we're still alone. In the first mention of shame in scripture (Genesis 3:7) it didn't come from God, it came from within. It caused them to pull away and hide from God, it caused them to cover up. It was the result of eyes being opened, it was the result of choices that weren't what God had wanted--but where shame made them feel like this was the end of the story, God had already shaped a way to begin again.  

I remember several years ago I was in a Bible study with several other women. One young woman was weeks away from her wedding. We were studying the book of Genesis and on that day as we went line by line through Genesis 2, sharing what had jumped out at us, she said "it's good to be naked." (see Genesis 2:25) This line popped into my head again the other day. Probably not in the way that you're thinking, though. I've been talking with God a lot about what it means to fully be the person he created me to be. And a big part of that is defining what it means to be naked, and what it means to feel no shame.  

One reason I get dressed each day is protection; protection from the weather, protection from scrapes, protection from contact I don't welcome. Another reason is to cover up. I'm covering up my flaws, my imperfections, and the parts of my body I don't want everyone to see. But my clothes dull my sensations, they cover the biggest sensory organs in my body--my skin. Holding hands with my husband while wearing gloves is never as satisfying as when our skin touches. And yet we cover up and get used to feeling less. 

I do more than put on literal clothes. I cover myself in the same way emotionally. I start by putting on one layer at a time and pretty soon I'm covered with layers so thick that no one is getting through, not even God. My layers help me feel safe, protected and in control, and soon I'm so used to the dulled sensitivity that I think it's normal or even preferable.  

But God wants the naked me. He doesn't want me to hide when I hear him coming. He wants the real me, flaws and imperfections showing. He asks me to come to him even when I feel dirty and sticky and covered with tar-like shame. He calls and extends his hand. He promises that he will search me and know me, that he will show me the things I need to work on so that I'm the person he wants me to be. (Psalm 139:23-24) He promises in Psalm 51 to wash me so that I am whiter than snow. He reaches out and extends the way to begin again and he calls it grace.  Grace for the times that I didn't turn to him for help. Grace for the times that I let my shame suffocate his accurate assessment of what was wrong and what needed to be fixed. Grace for the times when I decide that my ways of dealing with my hurts don't need his help. Grace for the times that I decided to just live my own way because I had hidden myself so well that I couldn't see or hear him anymore. He calls and hold out his arms, he reminds me that my friend's assessment is true. It's good to be a naked soul, without polish or pretense, in the presence of God.  


Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Lesson in Contrasts

I can remember different times telling my mom about something new and exciting happening in my life and having her reaction seem less than enthusiastic.  She would be saying all the right words "how exciting" or "that's great" but there seemed to be less excitement in her voice than there was in mine.  Like when I told her that I had decided to stay at college the summer between my junior and senior year because I had a full time student nurse position at the local hospital.  I was so excited to be working full time as an almost nurse.  Plus I got to move into the little super studio apartment that was ready then, and I could save up money for my last year of school.  I knew I was 6 hours away from my parents but I would go visit and they could come visit so everything was fine.

Nothing can prepare you for the lesson in contrasts that motherhood turns out to be.  It starts when they're newborns and you are dying to lay them down for a few minutes so you can have some time to yourself and not too much later you're sneaking in to watch them sleep and anxious for them to wake up so you can hold them again.  We were co-sleepers when our kids were little and I can remember the transitional stages when they moved to their own beds but would still come crawl in bed with us in the middle of the night.  I loved having them with us but was eager for the day when everyone would sleep all night in their own beds...until the third morning that I realized our youngest hadn't come in again.  Realizing that a life stage that felt like it would go on forever had actually ended so quickly made me sad.

When our kids were little ones, it felt like the years living together as a family was almost endless.  Adulthood seemed like it was a lifetime away.  We looked with excitement at their futures, dreaming with them about careers, spouses, children, and callings.  We talked with them about hearing God's voice and being true to who he's created them to be.  It all seemed so exciting and so, so far away.  It was easy to talk about possibilities that would take our children to other countries when the little person was snuggled in my arms.

My children both loved missionary stories and we read as many as we could find.  At 12, our oldest daughter said she felt like God wanted her to be a missionary.  I have always been drawn to missions even though foreign missions never felt right for me.  It seemed perfect that God would give me a heart for missions in order to prepare my child for a call in that direction.  We kept reading and encouraging and praying.  We trusted that God would work out details that were right for her.  But the reality of it seemed so far away that when a friend asked if I was really sure I wanted to encourage her to embrace that life, I easily answered yes.

At 17 she called us from youth convention with excitement in her voice.  She had spent the last few years saying she didn't really want to be a missionary, she wanted to pursue acting or singing or both.  We kept telling her to pray and that God would make it clear.  During her phone call she said that they had a special time of prayer at one of the sessions for those who felt God was calling them to missions.  She told me that they asked people who felt that call to go forward and she decided not to.   She felt that prompting to go forward for prayer and she continued to ignore it but after 3 or 4 nudges from the Holy Spirit, she went forward and was prayed for and felt a renewed enthusiasm and excitement that missions was indeed what God wanted her to do with her life.   She even felt like God had given her an area of focus--an area that doesn't actually welcome missionaries so there's definitely an element of danger.  I ended the call and said "Really God?  You're really going to do this?  You're really going to call my only daughter--my constant companion for the last 17 years-to some far off place where they don't even want her?"  Now let me be clear, my tone was not "really?" in the sense of awe and wonder.  My tone was more like SNL's weekend update "really?" sketch with Amy Poehler.

As highschool graduation approached, she began looking at Discipleship Training School (DTS) with Youth With A Mission (YWAM).  She still loved theater and there was a DTS in Boston that incorporated theater arts into their program.  So after graduation she applied and they replied that they unfortunately needed to delay that DTS.  As weeks turned to months she decided to go on a housebuild in Mexico and that turned her focus upside down.  She began to feel like God was telling her to ditch the whole theater thing and she started looking intently at Mexico and praying about God's will for her.  There was a DTS that was happening soon in Ensenada.  We didn't have the money to fund it, she didn't have the money to fund it, but we encouraged her to apply and if God wanted her there he would provide the finances.

We knew DTS would change her life.  I didn't realize, though, how much it would change mine.  I knew she was going to be stretched and grow in her faith and I would get to hear about all of it, but I learned that God had tons of work to do in my heart relating to trusting him with my kids.  We live 8 miles from the Mexican Border.  We have friends who work with border patrol and law enforcement and we're well aware of the dangers.  Agreeing with God that this was his will for our daughter and it was good was a stretch.  It was only 5 months though.  I knew I could handle 5 months.  I prayed for her safety and finally came to the realization that saying no to God's will, blocking this thing he was doing in her life, would be far worse than any danger she would face.  It's a major leap to get to the point where you can say "God, I can't imagine life without my daughter and the absolute worst thing would be losing one of my kids.  I'm going to choose to trust you, I'm going to pray that your will is to keep her safe, but I'm going to accept that following you--no matter the cost--is far more important than staying safe."

She went, she grew, she fell in love...with missions, with the Dominican Republic, with Mexico...and with an amazing young man who also felt a call to full time missions.   She came back happy and safe, even after some crazy allergic reaction in the Dominican Republic with some equally crazy medical intervention.   Life went back to normal.  She worked, she continued taking college classes, she drove us crazy with her messy room, she fought with her brother, we planned a wedding, her daddy walked her down the aisle, and then she was a wife with a home of her own--thankfully just 15 minutes away.

Now here we are and I've come full circle.  I now understand those less than enthusiastic responses from my Mom perfectly.   Our daughter and her husband are planning to move in April.  Not just across town, but across the border.  They've accepted a 2 year commitment with YWAM in Ensenada. I am so excited that the call God placed in her heart 10 years ago is coming to fruition.  I'm so excited that they are at a place in their lives and their marriage where they can embrace this and go on an adventure with God.  But as I talked to my daughter about their meeting with the base director, I knew my words were sounding way more flat than I meant them to.  It's hard to express excitement when you feel this ache in your chest because your baby girl, the little one who just snuggled on your lap last week (or at least that's what it feels like) and pretended to be mommy junior, and spent so much time with you, is moving to another country.  Yes, it's only 3 hours away.  Yes, we can go visit.  Yes, they can come visit.  But this is just phase one and who knows where God will call them next.

When I look back at all the missionary stories we read, I always identified with the missionaries.  How exciting to do that work for God and encounter so much adventure and also how hard to leave everything and everyone behind.  I know now that God wanted me to look at the other side.  That part of being all in for missions for me means releasing the ones I love most to go follow that call.  It means functioning with a heart that feels like part of it has been torn out to go with my child to wherever God calls her.

I get it now, Mom.  I know that the fact that your enthusiasm didn't always match mine didn't mean that you weren't just as excited as I was.  It was just that you were trying to hold back the tears until after the phone call ended.  It's that lesson in contrasts that makes motherhood what it is.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Lessons From the Playground

Occasionally on Sundays I hang out with my 7 year old friend.  Yesterday was one of those days and we went to the park, which is a favorite thing we do together.  While we were there he met some other kids and they started up a game of tag.  One little girl was one of the youngest in the game and was having so much fun until she was "it".   At first she giggled and chased but when the older kids got away without being tagged again and again, she started to ask someone to please be "it" instead.  As the others reminded her that she needed to tag them first, she finally got frustrated and exclaimed "it's no fun being "it" for this long!  I'm not playing anymore." And she stormed to the other side of the playground.   Her Dad let her stew for a few minutes and then he went over and said, "come on, let me help you tag someone." She came back to play with her Dad by her side coaching her.  She would start to climb up to go over the equipment and he would remind her "you're faster on the ground, don't go over, run around on the ground."  Or he would point out that someone was on the monkey bars and she could run and tag their feet.  She quickly tagged another little girl this way and in her excitement she yelled out, "Now you're 'it'!  Because my Daddy knows a lot about tag! He's really good at it and he's teaching me everything he knows!"  Giggling she ran off to be chased, enjoying the game once more.

I love lessons on the playground.  It made me think of all the times in my life I get locked in to my own way of doing something.  I will try and try my way and eventually walk away in frustration because it's not fun when I can't succeed.  Just like that Dad on the playground, God will only let me stew for a few minutes before he's encouraging me to get back in the game.  He's the one coaching me (and you) on a new approach that may not feel as natural as our own way.  He's the one helping us see the opportunities we've been missing when we're looking at our situations on our own.  

How cool would it be if I could yell out, like that little girl did, my praise to my "Daddy" God?  "I forgive you because my God is really good at forgiving and he's teaching me everything he knows!"  "I'm showing you grace because my God knows everything about grace and he's teaching me!"  "I'm getting really good at loving other people because the creator of love-the one who is love himself-is teaching me!"  

Isn't that what discipleship is really all about?  Living out life with our teacher, learning to see life through our teacher's eyes and then shouting out all the cool things we can do because of Him?  

What's God teaching you right now?  Are you ready to shout it out?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Insight

It's funny how a moment of insight can just hit you out of no where.  I was listening to an old worship CD this morning and as the song said "rise up women of the truth" it took me back to when we sang that at our church in Gig Harbor.  I loved our church.  It was an awesome community and helped me grow so much in my relationship with Christ.  I also developed deep friendships.  In my memory, that was an amazing time in my walk with Christ.  Everything felt brand new.  I felt like my love for Christ was at this new level and every aspect of my Christian walk felt exciting and energizing.  I was happy to have my church family and wanted to be in their company as often as possible.  I wanted my kids to play with my friends' kids.  It felt like such a perfect world.  Which was why the phrase from the song struck me this morning.  One of the things that felt so important at that point in my life was to have the identity of "woman of truth."  I wanted people to know I was a Christian.  I wanted people to know that my faith was more important than anything and that my relationship with Christ trumped every other relationship.  I wanted them to know how different my faith made me from the rest of the world.  I wanted to be able to speak the language of Christianese and fit in with other Christians.  


When we moved to California I wanted to find a church clone of my home church.  I wanted the smallness, the community, the charismatic bent with people dancing in worship.  I wanted the intimate fellowship with other believers and a tight group of good Christian kids for my kids to grow up with.  And so God answered my prayers...in the way he always does...by providing exactly what I needed to grow more.  He led us to a big church--it was huge in my opinion.  People raised their hands in worship but no one danced.  I didn't feel a sense of community because there were 8 different service times instead of just one.  They used movie clips and clips from TV shows that were popular rather than focusing on being different from the world.  And the first week that my 8th grader went to Wednesday night youth services one of the other girls talked about having sex.   Wait, this wasn't what I prayed for.  As I wondered and worried that we were in the wrong place my family felt like this was it.  They all knew we had found our church home...but I was still pining for what we had left in Washington.  


But I plugged in, found friends, found community, and grew to love my new church.  I learned that there were reasons for using clips relevant to the culture and learned that my kids could survive with friends who weren't always making the best choices.  And I felt like I needed to unlearn the Christianese that I had tried so hard to learn.  I felt like I needed to make sure that I didn't stand out and seem "churchy" to the people in my community who we were trying to help find Jesus.  


So this morning's insight was that both of those views that I held are completely off base.  When you look at them from the surface, they look fine.  I am a woman of the truth.  I believe in the truth of Jesus, his death and resurrection. But trying to mold myself into this image that I created in my head wasn't a God inspired thing.  It was me, trying to please people.  I am also a person who needs to be able to interact with regular people who don't know Christ and don't go to church and hopefully they will see Christ's love in me and be drawn to it.  But again, trying to mold myself into the image of "relevant" that I had created in my head also wasn't God inspired.  


The thing is, both of these churches, while they are so different, are really awesome churches.  I have grown by leaps and bounds in both environments and I truly believe that God called us to the first church and now has called us to our current church.  My feelings of what I needed to do were never put on me from people in my church or church leadership.  They were put on me by that familiar burden of wanting to do anything to fit in.    


And that's where the insight flash comes in.  I was so off base because in both instances I was forgetting the truth that God had called me to serve him as me.  He didn't tell me to become a different person, he just wanted me to grow to be more like him.  He wanted to use my unique giftings, my unique experiences, my unique flaws, and my unique personality to love on all kinds of people in his name.  


I often think that I would love to be a person who doesn't care what other people think of me.  But the truth is, I do.  I want to be liked and accepted and understood.  But no one is liked, accepted, and understood by everyone.  As I walk out this life with Christ, there will be people who will judge me.  There will be people who look at my life, my family, my past, and my current behavior and look down on it.  There will be people who will misunderstand my motives and my heart.  There will be people who just flat out are bothered by my personality.   And it will bug the hell out of me that they don't get me or like me.  


However, going back to my insight, I need to remember that I am living this life for God.  If I am confident that I am walking in obedience to Christ, then it doesn't matter what people think.  If I continue to have deep friendships with people who hold me accountable and know when I'm slipping off that path, I can ditch the worry about what kind of a Christian I look like.  


I need to keep my eyes fixed on the one whose approval is the only approval I need and continue growing to be more like him.  

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Wounded or Scarred?

It's bathing suit season.  I know, I'm not the only woman in the world to have issues with bathing suit season.   Tall and lanky isn't what most people think of when they think of bikini beauty.  But my scars make bathing suit season even more complicated.

I have a big scar from my open heart surgery.  As far as scars go, everyone tells me it's not too bad.  It healed nicely, especially when you consider that this scar was spread open during 16 hours of emergency surgery.  But it still is a big scar.  It extends from just below my collar bones to about 4 inches above my belly button, right down the center (as an interesting aside, I have an issue with v neck shirts because I always want the scar perfectly centered in the middle of the v).  The scar comes with 3 friends; 2 puncture scars from the chest tubes sit to the right and the left and about 2 inches down from the big scar, and a 5 or 6 inch scar on my right upper thigh is from the bypass tube they put in my femoral artery.  The truth is that I am embarrassed by the imperfection these scars represent.  I'm embarrassed by the reality that I needed to be fixed.  I'm embarrassed by the evidence that I am seriously flawed.

But after 16 years, I'm pretty used to the scars and sometimes I even forget that they're there.  A few years ago a store clerk said, "you had heart surgery." I was surprised and wondered how she knew--then I remembered the scar showed.   Most of the time, they're no big deal.

Sometimes I want to hide them though.  When teen girls at the beach said, "nasty, did you see her scar?"  I wanted to cover up again, pretend that I was flawless.  I think we do the same thing with our emotional scars.  We pretend they aren't there.  We hide them, we cover them, we are ashamed of the evidence of our weakness and injury.  Our society talks about being "scarred" as if it's a horrible thing.  But scars aren't the same as wounds.  A wound is fresh, easily opened, easily re-injured. Wounds need protecting and special care. A scar is a sign of healing.   It is evidence that there was a wound but it has now healed.   My scar will forever be different from the surrounding skin.  It will forever be evidence of my brokenness, but it is a brokenness that God's fingerprints are all over because he made it new.  He designed my body to grow new skin, to knit together the area that was cut open and damaged.

When we let him, he will do the same with our emotional wounds.  We don't have to be forever broken.  God can reach in and redeem even the most "nasty" things.  He can knit together torn and shattered pieces of our lives and make them new.  He needs our cooperation.  If I had just gone right back to life as usual after my surgery, I wouldn't have healed well.  It took months of special care to get to a new normal.   When I've had emotional wounds, I've needed to do the same thing.  I've needed to allow God into the pain and acknowledge that it was really there and I was actually messed up by it.  But with his special care, (and sometimes God uses a professional to help us heal) healing is a possibility. My life may not look or feel the same as it would have if the wound hadn't ever happened, but it still has healed.

How about you?  Do you have hidden wounds you need to bare before God so they can heal?   Do you have scars that are evidence of what God has brought you through?  




Monday, May 7, 2012

Paleo Raw Fruit Cream Pie

I am not a food blogger.  I love to cook and experiment with recipes found on other blogs.  I love to tweak recipes so they sound better to me.  But I don't usually create a recipe on my own.  I had been really hungry for some sort of a pie that would still fall within my husband's Paleo diet standards.  I started thinking about the Coconut Milk Whipped Cream from Marksdailyapple.com (that we love just on it's own), and decided to tweak it a little and layer it with some fruit in a crust.  The result was amazing! Since a few people asked for my recipe, here you go.





Crust: 

I found the crust recipe on Stevepavlina.com within the recipe for Raw Fruit Pie (which also looked really good, but remember I had a picture in my head of what I was hungry for)
2 cups raw nuts (I used about 1 1/4 cups almonds and 3/4 cups cashew pieces).  Grind these in your food processor with the "S" blade until they are small crumbs.
1 cup pitted medjool dates
1/4 tsp salt
Add the dates and salt to the ground nuts in your food processor and whir until it's well blended and there aren't anymore large date pieces.  Dump the crumbs into a 10"-11" round pan (I used my pampered chef deep dish round baker that I've had since the 90's, but a springform pan or even a really big pie pan would work.)
Press the crumbs out evenly across the bottom and up the sides, they tend to stick to your fingers so you could put some coconut oil on your hands to help.  You need to press firmly so the crust packs together.  Place the crust in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Filling:

The filling was primarily a tweaked version of the Coconut Whipped Cream I mentioned above from Marksdailyapple.com.  (Just as an aside, Marksdailyapple.com is my husband's favorite Paleo site with the most consistently balanced information, if you're interested in more details about how to live paleo.)


My tweaked version of Coconut Whipped Cream
2 cans full fat coconut milk that have been refrigerated for at least 24 hours (I personally like Thai Kitchen the best.  It gives the creamiest texture and it's certified gluten free)
2 TBSP agave (most paleo adherents would say no to this, you can use raw honey instead or even go totally sweetener free if that's your thing)
1/2 tsp almond extract (which I'm sure wasn't sitting around during the paleolithic era so this probably isn't truly paleo but whatever)

Take your refrigerated coconut milk, flip it upside down and open both cans.  Pour out the liquid portion of the milk and use it in some other recipe that calls for milk.  That should leave you with two half cans of fairly solidified cream.  Scrape those into your mixer bowl, add sweetener and extract and mix it (I use the whip attachment of my kitchenaid) for about 5 minutes.  It should be the texture of nice whipped cream.  Put this in the frig while you prep your fruit.

1 pint of fresh strawberries, sliced and unsweetened
2 bananas, sliced
1/2 cup fresh blueberries

Now, remove your crust from the freezer and evenly distribute your banana slices in the bottom of the crust.
Spread 1/2 of the coconut cream over this
Next, evenly distribute the sliced strawberries over the coconut cream
Spread the remaining half of the coconut cream over the strawberries
Sprinkle blueberries over the top
I then used my microplaner and grated 1 square of  Trader Joe's Fair Trade Organic 72% Cacao Belgian Dark Chocolate Bar over the top of the whole pie.
Chill for at least an hour to help it set up.

That was about it.