Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Love Story

Think for a minute about the greatest love story you can imagine.  Movies have shown us amazing romances, with gifts, fancy nights out, perfect words whispered in the perfect tone of voice.  The books I read in junior high always had the man so in love that he couldn't even notice another woman, his words were always smooth and the sex was magical (yep sex books in junior high).  

One of my favorite love stories though, didn't happen in a book or a movie.  It didn't even happen in a romantic setting.  I witnessed it in white hallways filled with the smell of urine, confused elderly people and grumpy nursing assistants.  The summer I worked as a CNA (certified nursing assistant) was eye opening.  I imagined that the people who worked at the nursing home were there because they wanted to serve someone.   And some of them were, so sweet and respectful to the people we cared for; taking the extra time to make sure they had everything they needed, taking the time to listen.  I didn't know that people who didn't care about the little old people would apply for and get a job like that.  So I was shocked when I saw CNA's who were disrespectful, didn't care or were even mean to the people we were supposed to care for.  Often it was just neglect; hair left unbrushed, faces unwashed.  But their was one woman who lived at the home who was always well cared for.  I remember the first morning she was assigned to my care.  One of the more seasoned CNA's said I wasn't ready to take care of her, she would do her care with me so that I would learn to do it right.  She said it wasn't that I wasn't doing a good job but this woman was special.  So we went through the routine.  Everything had to be just perfect.  The right pillows in the right places, her hair brushed just so, her clothes arranged just right.  This woman couldn't do anything for herself, and she couldn't complain if things weren't done just right.  As we went about our routine the other CNA said "her husband will be here in about an hour.  Everything needs to be perfect by then."  

I think I was expecting a tyrant, but I recognized the man when he came because I had seen him every day I had worked so far.  He was just a regular older man, soft spoken.  He came every day and stayed by her side.  He fed her, brushed her long hair and styled it.  He would sit by her chair, his face close to hers and smile into her eyes as he talked to her.  He would touch her face tenderly--his love for his wife was obvious.  He was also fiercely protective.  The soft spoken man disappeared if he arrived to find she hadn't been cared for like she was supposed to be.  He was her voice, her advocate, her defender.   It was almost puzzling, the way he loved her.  She couldn't give him anything anymore.  She couldn't return his tender caress, his words of love.  She couldn't serve him in any way.   

Ephesians 5:25-28 says "Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ's love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They're really doing themselves a favor—since they're already "one" in marriage." (message)  

I don't know if the man was following scripture or just doing what naturally came out of the love he had for his wife.  But I know it impressed me.  And then I forgot about it.  I was 20, independent,  full of plans for an amazing future.  My (future) husband was going to love me but he wasn't going to need to take care of me.  But 24 years later this older man keeps coming to my mind.  I really think the Holy Spirit keeps reminding me of him.  My awesome plans for my future haven't exactly turned out like I thought they would.  And the independence I cherished has faded down to a low point lately as my health problems have brought on symptoms that make me depend on others more than I really ever wanted to.  I never looked at this old couple's relationship and thought "I want that."  

I'm not big on public affection either.  I cringe when I see friends on facebook talking about how awesome their significant other is.  I always think, "just tell them!  Why are you telling all of us?" (and for everyone I just offended, truly it's not you--it's me.  Keep it up if it makes you happy because it truly is my issue.)  For some reason I'm not different than I was back in highschool when I was still 16 and didn't want my friends to know that I really liked Rick Knowles.   But I am going to make myself (and maybe anyone like me) sick for a minute and publicly proclaim that I really like the man that I married.  

Because I can see now that Rick really does love me like that old man loved his wife in the nursing home.  Lately I don't carry my weight around the house, Rick works all day and then comes home and cooks.  He takes me to the doctor, he takes me to the grocery store, he rubs my head and my back, he researches doctors and treatments online and most importantly he prays for me, with me, and tells me over and over that he would pick me again EVEN IF he knew all of the challenges my health would bring into our lives.    He's thankful to have me in his life in whatever state I happen to be in.   When we first started dating I wanted this exotic romance that would take us on adventures around the world. I wanted flowers and diamonds and fancy restaurants.  Instead I see now that those things make great stories and they're probably fun but they're not really what true love is about.   True love is about being there, it's about laying down your own life for someone else.  For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. And that's what Rick does.  So next time you see him, tell him that he's a really nice (older) man and that you really respect and admire the way he loves his wife.  

Friday, December 9, 2011

Where's My Concern?

An old friend of mine posted a heartbreaking video on bullying this week on facebook.  And in the comments one of his friends remarked about how different high school would have been if we could have all just been ourselves.   The post and conversations got me thinking about bullying and the pain of high school.  Not so much reflecting on my own experience but more about reflecting on my cluelessness. 

I think I’m clueless because I don’t have any memories of my friend being bullied.  All I remember is that he was such a nice guy.  I remember that he wasn’t ever mean to me.  I remember liking him so much and I just assumed everyone felt the same way.  And I think that’s why there’s so much pain when you’re bullied.  It’s usually completely undeserved.   You’re just a person who doesn't fit the mold in some way and that makes you a target.  For me, it was that I was tall and skinny and got good grades.  (Or maybe it was because I was a nerd and didn’t know it—ha-ha)  The other thing that I thought about was that part of what was so painful about not fitting in and being picked on is that it always seems like everyone is in on it but you.  Everyone else is cool, everyone feels the way the bully feels about you.  My cluelessness shows that this isn’t always the case.  It makes me think that there were lots of times when I felt like everyone was in on some meanness when in reality most of the school was completely unaware of the target on my back. 

Another friend posted the other day about her son being bullied.  Kids are stealing his things, hiding his school supplies.  Who knows why he’s the target.  And the emphasis was on teaching our children to be kind.  But teaching kindness isn’t enough.   We can teach kindness until we’re blue in the face but without the ability to empathize, it falls on deaf ears.  This takes me back to my cluelessness and the grief I feel about that.    I feel like I’m a pretty empathetic person and this shows that I completely missed some big clues.  So if empathy isn’t the key, and kindness isn't the key, what is?  I don’t have a simple answer.  I remember the pain of my daughter being excluded from a clique for the first time and all of these girls were kind, empathetic girls, one on one.  They had nice parents who taught them the right way to treat people.  But they still specifically excluded her.  I’ve seen my son on both sides of the equation, being labeled or excluded because he didn’t fit someone’s idea of who he should be and I’ve also known how painful it is to watch your child single another child out as the object of his taunting.  He was taught over and over that it was wrong.  It was addressed every time it happened.  Yet he did it anyway.  And if I’m honest I know I’ve done it…I think most of us could remember a time when we joined the crowd and someone else walked away hurting.

Philippians 2:3-5 says, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had." (NLT)

I was clueless about my friend being bullied because I was so concerned about myself.  But beyond my selfishness there was one other part (just one—yeah right) part of Jesus’ attitude that I didn’t have and I think it’s absent every time we see cruelty or bullying.  Jesus suspended judgment as he interacted with the world.  Yes, he called people, especially the Pharisees, on their wrongs.  But he knew everyone's heart and he could have walked around excluding everyone who was different from what he KNEW was right, but he didn’t.  He decided instead to walk in love and embrace people right where they were at.  He knew that this kind of genuine love can do far more than bullying can even pretend to accomplish.  He didn’t hang out with a particular type of person; he had friends from every social group.  He didn’t care what other people thought of him because of who he chose to hang around.   I cared.  The opinions of the very people who were mean to me still mattered.  And this concern captured more of my attention and energy than what was going on in the lives of my friends. 

I wish I knew of a simple way to teach this to children, but I don’t.  I guess it needs to start with me.  Really, it needs to start with all of us.  I need to take my eyes off of MY life, MY issues, MYself, and really start seeing others with Jesus’ eyes.  Eyes that are humble, full of love, full of empathy and full of compassion.  I need to drop my attitude and take on Jesus’ attitude that only God’s opinion and priorities matter. 

And to my friend, I’m sorry that I didn’t see when others were bullying you.  If I could go back I would see with new eyes and be a better friend who was aware of what was going on in your life because you matter—both to me and to God. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Shift

I was in Junior High and I remember waiting for my Mom to get home from a doctor appointment.  I don't remember being worried about her appointment.  I mean, she was my Mom.  She was the pillar of strength for our whole family.  It was dark when she pulled in the driveway and put the car in the garage.  No one else was home and I walked through the dark family room to unlock the back door for my Mom.  When she walked in she stopped and looked at me.  I asked if she was ok and she said, "I have a tumor." And then she started to cry.  I wrapped my arms around her and held her as she cried.  In that instant something changed in our relationship.  I realized that the woman who was always there for me, the woman who went to every appointment with me and seemed so unflappable was human--just like me.  She had weaknesses and fears and needed my support just as much as I needed hers.

My mom and I have always been close but I truly do think her health crisis that year was key in shifting our relationship.  We weren't sure if the cancer she had fought 10 years before was back, and we were so thankful to learn her tumor was benign.  But post-op complications meant a long recovery and my Dad would pick me up from school and drive me to the hospital where I would sit by her side, do my homework and drink apple juice until I couldn't stand the flavor anymore.  I just knew that I went from the childlike idea of Mom being there every time I needed her to the idea that I was so blessed to have her in my life in whatever capacity she could be there.

I think that's why it is so strange to me that I don't want my kids to have the experience of having a sick Mom.  So often I grieve over the normalcy that they miss in their lives.  They were 10 months and almost 5 when my aorta dissected and their experience has always been the experience of having a mom with serious health issues.  They've both had to deal with a mom who was more fragile, who couldn't do everything other moms can do.  I never felt cheated by having a mom with health issues but over and over I've felt like my own kids got ripped off somehow.

My daughter easily slips into the role of caregiver and so I push against that and push her to go out and live her own life.  But since she's 20 I do lean on her more and confide in her.  She's always been one to call me on my moods and can sense when something isn't right.  I don't try as hard to be strong for her.  But my baby boy is a different story.  This man-boy was the kid that I couldn't do the pretend cry with.  It did him in.  If my daughter wouldn't share I could pretend to cry and she would giggle over how silly I was.  If I did that to my son he would cry too.  He couldn't stand to see me upset.  So I carry that.  I try to put on the brave face for him.  "Here's what the doctor has said, and it's going to be ok."  But he sees the stress and yet I won't let him break out of the sensitive little boy mold that I've locked him into.

Today was different.  I was frustrated after a call from the doctor's office.  The procedure that's supposed to be the first step in hopefully fixing my CSF leak needs to be scheduled.  The urgency I feel doesn't seem to match the doctors' and so I was told that we're going to get this scheduled and that the doctor who will do the procedure is really booked up so it might not be right away and she'll work on it and call me tomorrow.  I've had a steady headache, dizziness, back pain, fatigue, etc since July now.  But it's really been happening intermittently for the past 5 years.  It's obviously not killing me but I'm weary.  So I hung up the phone, sat down to trim beans for dinner and silently started to cry.  And that's when the shift happened.  My man-boy came over and wrapped an arm around my shoulder.  He asked me to talk to him and as I poured out my frustration in the middle of my sobs he held on to me and reminded me, "Mom, God's got this."  He asked me what he could do to help me, and as I leaned my cheek against his big, hairy, man-arms I said "you're doing it."   It's that shift like I had with my mom happening all over again.  Maybe it's a shift that's hardest with your baby.  He's not a little boy anymore.  He doesn't need to be protected and sheltered anymore.  It's ok for him to see that I have weaknesses and fears and that I really need his support just like he needs mine.

My son is right.  God does have this.  Every delay in my treatment can be used for great things.  God taught me something so valuable today that I wouldn't have learned without the delay.  My son is growing into a man who is strong and dependable.  He doesn't need me like he did even 5 years ago.  But what a beautiful thing to start to transition to the relationship that we'll have for the rest of our lives.    Thanks for my son God, and thanks for the lesson.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


Weeks ago I was laying flat on my back with a headache.  As Rick, my husband, walked past I said "I feel worthless; I'm just laying here doing nothing."   That was before I got the test results that told me that I have a CSF leak.  You would probably think that finding out that I have the leak made me feel like it was ok to lie around.  But I really don't like lying around. I like to be up and doing things.  I like to be the one serving others.  I like to be active and involved.  And there's really nothing wrong with that.  But in this period of time, many of the things that fed my worth have been stripped away and it's a struggle for me emotionally.

Our society equates worth with what we contribute.  I can remember as a young stay-at-home wife and mother attending business parties with my husband.  Other women would ask me, "What do you do?" My answer that I was home full-time was usually met with a polite dismissing comment and they would excuse themselves to talk to someone who seemed more interesting to them.  I was happy to be home with my kids, but these encounters still stung.  Part of the way I dealt with it was to remember that my contributions weren't financial but they were still important.  And that way of thinking has carried me for a lot of years.  Again, I don't think that it's a bad way to think.

But like God so often does when we're on the edge of the truth, he finds a way to bring me into his center because God doesn't want me to stay on the edge.  All these years I've been justifying my lack of outside employment and how that ties to my worth by looking at all of the ways I contribute through my life.  I could count up hours instead of dollars and I felt good about how much I was pouring myself out to serve others even if I wasn't making any money doing so.  I still felt like I was contributing--to my home, to society, to God's kingdom.

God says my worth comes from who I am and whose I am, not my tasks. I've said I believed that for years.  But if I truly believe that, when my tasks have to slow down or stop, I wouldn't feel worthless.  Scripture over and over talks about worthless idols and often when people are described as worthless it is because of their idol worship.  Am I an idol worshipper?  Maybe, if the idol is being healthy or being the one who jumps to help others.  (Remember an idol is anything that takes the place of honor that should only be reserved for God.  If these things are more important than doing what God asks, they've become idols)

So when I first had to start staying home more and laying around more I thought, "Ok, I'll just be the prayer warrior.  I can't go in and serve but I can be useful by praying like crazy while I'm home."  Again, this isn't a bad thing.  It's awesome to pray for others but my ability to spend time praying for others doesn't give me my worth anymore than a job or volunteering or any task does.  Philippians 3 says, “I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. 8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9and become one with him." (NLT)  Christ is the one who gives me my worth.  Not because of anything in me or anything I do, but because of HIM!  Psalm 139:13-15 reminds me that I am fearfully and wonderfully made and again the thing that tells me is that my worth comes from being made by God.  It says "wonderful are your works." Not because we're special on our own but because God is special and he made us.  

So if my worth comes from being created by God and the gift of Christ's righteousness, I can rest in that when I can't do anything else.  When I can't do anything else, I can still love the Lord with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind and all my strength. (Mark 12:28-34) So when I go back to the basic questions; "What gives me my worth? What makes my life worthwhile?" I can fall back on the truth of scripture and remember that there's nothing I can do that will add to what Christ has already done.  I just need to live my life worshiping the one who gave me life and has allowed my present circumstances.  That's a lesson worth learning.  

Friday, October 28, 2011


This morning I feel shaken.  So I did a search for "shaken bible verse" and this is what I got.  It's pretty cool to read all the different translations.  (if you're a word nerd, anyway)  It came up with Isaiah 54:10, "Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed," says the Lord who has compassion on you. (NIV)   What I love is that I had just been praying, "God I can't feel your peace."  I love that God so quickly reminded me that my ability to feel his peace has nothing to do with the reality of his peace being present.  Our pastor, Mike, likes to remind us that "feelings lie".  My feelings tell me right now that I'm not in God's presence because I don't feel him.  But He's there.  He never leaves.  Wesley's notes on this verse tell me, "the mountains shall sooner depart from their places than any kindness depart from thee."  Yeah, I know it's outdated language but what an awesome reminder.  When I look out my window in the morning I expect Mount Miguel to be right where it was yesterday and the day before and the day before.  But so often I feel shaken and think "where's God?"  Mount Miguel is more likely to be gone when I look out my window.  Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary says, "We are neither to despond under afflictions, nor to despair of relief.  Mountains have been shaken and removed, but the promises of God never were broken by any event."  The events going on in my health right now are big.  But they're not big enough to break God's promises.  These reminders are enough to remove the ball of anxiety from my stomach and settle me back on ground that can not be shaken.  

Friday, October 21, 2011

There's a monster in my closet

I woke myself up this morning from a dream yelling "Daddy!!"  My 20 year old daughter came running in to see what was wrong with me.  Obviously, I was fine.  But I was dreaming that I had woken up and a cupboard over my closet (from the house we lived in 6 years ago) was opening on it's own.  I must have jerked in my sleep which knocked my cpap mask slightly off which makes the machine loud.  The sound--a hissy, gurgly sound--crept it's way into my dream and I was sure there was something in the closet cupboard hissing or growling at me.  So I yelled.

Now here's the crazy confession, I've always been afraid of my closet.  Any bedroom closet.  Growing up I couldn't sleep if the closet door was open, and often even when it was closed I was sure that there was a monster in there.  I know a lot of kids have that fear. But in college when I had a little apartment by myself I was happy that the closet wasn't in the bedroom and was actually in the living room.  But I still always had to look in there before bed and then make sure the doors were closed.  I still can't sleep well if the closet door is open.  I wake up in the night and without my glasses the shapes all meld together and look frightening.  

The other part that was weird was that I yelled "Daddy!"  I always called my Mom as a kid.  I can remember the only time I ever called my Dad was after hearing my Mom tell my Dad she didn't know why I couldn't call him when I was scared in the night.  For that one night, I called out for Daddy but went right back to the comfort of Mom after that.  And I don't call my husband "daddy" unless I'm talking to my kids.

So as I laid in bed this morning wondering why I would yell and dream of monsters in my closet, I thought of my life right now.  As a kid the monsters in my closet were big scary things that I was afraid were going to hurt me or worse. I started each night trying to convince myself that I had nothing to be afraid of.  My mom even went through a period of time where she would use the logic of showing me the closet, moving all the clothes around before closing the door.  It helped for a few minutes and then the fear would creep in, what if the monsters could hide? I felt like I needed protection as the fear threatened to overwhelm me.  Mom would come and all my fears would melt away as long as she was present.

My monster is now the uncertainty of my life.  Will the neurosurgeon I'm going to see next Thursday take my case or will he determine it's too complicated?  If he refers me out of network will I have an insurance nightmare trying to get them to cover me?  Will any doctor know how to treat this CSF leak?  What if I have to deal with headaches for the rest of my life?  What if they treat it and I end up with surgery complications?  What if they don't treat it and the fuzziness I feel gets worse and turns to real memory loss and I lose other functions because of cranial hypotension?   Those all combine to form a pretty big monster.

My first thought was that I expected Rick, my personal monster-slayer/husband to come running but why on earth would I have called him "Daddy?"  But then I thought about my father God.  He is the only one who can banish the monster of fear.  He's the one who didn't give me a spirit of fear.  He's the only one who knows exactly what the future holds for me and how all of this will turn out.  I also know that he is worthy of my trust.  He doesn't promise me that he'll take care of this for me immediately.  He doesn't promise that I won't have pain, he doesn't even promise that I'll be physically healed on this earth.  But he does promise that he'll never leave me or forsake me.  And because he promises me that he'll be there I know that I can rest in his presence.  I know that his presence is enough to melt my fears, no matter how big the monsters seem.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The 4 friends

It's almost been a week since I found out that my pleural effusion is caused by a CSF leak.  To say that I've been overwhelmed with the information is probably a huge understatement.  Part of me is validated that finally I have proof that what I've been suggesting to my doctors for years is actually happening.  Part of me is relieved that the effusion isn't the result of some rare form of cancer.  But I'm not sure what this means for my life and I'm not sure how or even if they'll treat it.  I know that my dural ectasia complicates things significantly.  I have an appointment on October 27th with a neurosurgeon and until that time I'm resting and trying to process and cope.  So since I'm resting I've had lots of time to think.  

One of the things that has been on my mind a lot in the last few weeks is the story from Mark 2  where the 4 men carry their paralyzed friend to Jesus.  One day I was overwhelmed with anxiety as we were waiting for the results to the latest round of tests. I felt weepy and I called my friend and told her I needed prayer.  I shared all of my worries with her and she prayed for me right then.  She also said that she was with a few of our other friends and could ask them to pray too.  That was when I first started thinking about the 4 friends.  I know prayer is the quickest cure to anxiety.  But sometimes my anxiety is so high that I can't seem to think clearly, let alone pray.  After I hung up I felt my heart rate slow back to normal and the anxious fluttering in my stomach subside.  I needed my friends to carry me to Jesus because at that time I wasn't able to get there on my own.  

The other reason that this has been on my mind is because I'm not really that good at letting my friends carry me.  I want to be the strong one.  I want my friends to be wowed by how faith-filled I am in the face of hard circumstances.  I want to be the comforter, not the comforted.  I want to be the one reminding someone of truths from scripture, not the one being reminded.  Truth is, I hate being needy.  But right now, I do need my circle.  I was imagining what it would have been like if I was the guy in scripture.  I can see myself saying "seriously you guys, I can get to Jesus on my own.  You don't need to carry me."  And then what?  Try to drag myself there even though I actually can't make it alone?  Or I can imagine telling them not to mess up the roof to the house because I didn't want to be that much trouble.  As I imagine these things I think of how life would have been different for those 4 friends if they hadn't been allowed to carry their friend to Jesus.  Those 4 men got to witness a miracle firsthand.  They got to be commended by the Son of God for their great faith.  They got to be a part of something huge, something eternal.  

Maybe these things come to my mind because it makes me feel better to hope that my friends are getting something out of helping me.  Maybe it's still the result of my pride that just won't allow me to accept help unless I see it doing something good for someone else.  But I know that something big happens when we carry our friends to Jesus.  Something bigger than any of us can do on our own.  I know that hearts are bonded when we walk through trials with a friend.  I know that relationships are deepened when I strip away my defenses enough to admit my needs.  

God designed us for relationship and some of us (ahem--you know who you are because I know I'm not the only one) like to think that we're ok on our own; that we do fine doing life and faith and relationships on our own terms.  For whatever reason, God won't let me stay in that place of solitude and independence.   

So if you're helping someone out, or offering to help out and your friend seems irritated, just know that it's not you.  It's just your friend having some rough edges ground off and sometimes that doesn't feel so good.   Thanks for the help.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Healthy Transparency

I struggle with transparency when it comes to my health.  I'm sure that might be a surprise when you read my blog because I talk about it a lot and basically puke out a ton of details.  But in real life I'm more likely to not say anything when I'm struggling.  An incident this morning really made me think about that.  I had thoracentesis yesterday and when I was relating the incident someone said, "Dawn I had no idea you were so ill."  The statement made me cringe.  And later, as I thought some more about it I cringed again for a totally different reason.   I want to be clear, her motives were pure sweetness.  She was expressing love and concern for me so I don't have a problem with her AT ALL.  

Reason number one that I cringed.  I don't want to be defined as ill.  That definition makes me feel weak.  It makes me feel like I am an illness rather than a person with a chronic health condition.  See, I even did it there.  I have a "chronic health condition" not an illness.  Hmm.  So what's my issue?  I don't look at other people who are ill and think they're weak. (unless they're whiny)  I wasn't ever treated differently as a kid by my parents because of my health issues.  I wasn't coddled or told to buck up.  It was just something they walked through with me.  So why does this bug me so much?  Why do I hate it when people ask me how I'm feeling or basically give me any extra attention because of my health?  I really don't know.

Maybe the real answer comes in the second reason I cringed.  As I thought about the conversation later I felt...are you ready for this...PROUD.  Yep, I was proud that she didn't know because that meant that I handled my stuff with strength and grace and stoicism.  And that made me sick.  (not ill, but nauseated at how messed up my thoughts can be)  Why did I make this into a measuring rod that tells me how well I handle my challenges?  Why did I feel like I was winning some unspecified competition by my ability to hide my chronic illness.  

I never want to be the person that people want to escape from at parties.  The one who goes on and on about health issues and whines and complains and seeks attention and sympathy.  I really think that's an ok goal.  However, God has brought me through a lot of crap and continues to do so on a daily basis.  Every time I hide it, I hide the amazing testimony of His love, His strength, His healing, His grace in my life.  That makes me want to cry because I know I couldn't make it through one second of this on my own.  But every time I hide my struggles so that I appear strong, that's exactly what I'm trying to say.  I'm good on my own.  I've got this.  

Ask my husband, my kids, my best friends and they'll tell you that I so don't have this.  I'm so NOT good on my own.  What I want is to come to a place of healthy transparency.  The kind that doesn't make you avoid me at parties because I won't shut up about my latest procedure.  The kind that also doesn't make you want to tell everyone what a hero I am because I'm so strong as I deal with my challenges while I smile humbly in the background.  I want my life, my story to be that yeah, I deal with some crap and God gets me through it every time. I want to be honest but undramatic about what I'm facing.  I want to ask for prayer without feeling stupid because I'm asking for prayer AGAIN.  I want my story to be that I would be a mess of anxiety and pain if I didn't cling to the One who knows exactly what is going on and holds my future in His hands.  I want to live and laugh and love as I honestly deal with the challenges life brings my way.  

Do you ever feel this way?  Like you're hiding what God's doing in your life and you can't figure out why?  Pray with me as I work to be transparent in a healthy way so that God gets all of the glory he deserves.  

Friday, September 9, 2011

Giving it to God, part 4

This is part 4 of a 4 part series.  To read part 1, click here.  To read part 2, click here.  To read part 3, click here

Around the same time that I was learning to focus on my blessings instead of the negatives, I also found a new neurologist who specialized in headaches.  He was able to see that I was having 3 different kinds of headaches and found a medication that actually gave me headache free days instead of headache free hours.  It has fewer side effects too.  All in all I was feeling better, exercising regularly, things were looking up.  Best of all my anger at God was gone and I was again growing in relationship with him.  I had a few months of things going really well.  My echo-cardiogram was good so my cardiologist said we could skip my yearly MRI, we went on vacation and got to see family, and I went to my first National Marfan Foundation Conference.   After hearing again the risks and the necessity for monitoring at the conference, I called my cardiologist and requested that we do the MRI.  My headaches also started ramping up again and I noticed that my endurance as I exercised wasn't as good as it had been a few months before.  I thought that the many hours in the car had been too much and I just needed some recovery time.  

I was so anxious as my MRI came closer.  I normally have some anxiety, but they are routine so I don't know why it seemed worse this time.  As they did the test I knew they had found something because they took more time than usual and injected the contrast an extra time.  The results did show a pleural effusion and the radiologist wondered if one of the cysts from my Dural Ectasia had formed a fistula with the pleural space and that's what was contributing to the fluid around the lung.   At this point, it's all speculation based on impressions from the MRI.  I'm not happy that another health challenge has cropped up.  I have referrals to 3 specialists and I'm not looking forward to another season of doctor visits and tests.  I sent an email to family to ask for prayer and I've obviously been praying a lot about it myself.  At first I was filled with anxiety and my anxiety was causing me to not listen very well to God.  I couldn't hear his assurances that he was taking care of me.  Instead I was frustrated and trying desperately not to get angry again.  I was overwhelmed with the thought of a season of poor health; it was made worse by the memory of how far from God I felt when I was so angry.  

I received a text message from my brother after asking for prayer telling me that God had revealed to him that I haven't given my health issues to God, that I still try to control things.  And you know what?  It's true.  That was from God.  I see it in my anxiety. I see it in my need to do everything I can to take care of my body.  I see it in my diet.  I see it in my exercise plan.  None of those things are bad, but it's the heart behind it.  It's the desire to control and do everything right so that things will go well. With that comes frustration when things don't go well because I have done everything right!  God had said the same thing to me earlier in the week--that I needed to just relinquish all of it to him.  I obviously hadn't listened since he told my brother.  The thing is, I love how God works.  If anyone else had said it to me it probably would have made me mad.  But when my brother told me--because of who he is in Christ, because of his humility and his love for me--I wasn't angry I just instantly thought, "Ah, he's right."   I love that God knows our relationship so well that he knew who I would receive the message from.  

So now, here is my dilemma.  I want to surrender this completely to God.  But I don't know how.  I don't know how you balance surrender with appropriate concern and responsibility.  It wouldn't honor God if I just stopped getting medical care, stopped taking care of myself.  I need to use my discernment to know when an issue needs follow up and when I can let it go.  But I want to let it stop with that rather than going beyond that to taking control and responsibility on my own.  I am praying and I know that God will show me how to give this to him, even if I have to do it daily for a while.  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Giving it to God, part 3

This is part 3 of a 4 part series.  To read part 1, click here .  To read part 2, click here.

As much as I wanted to give up the idol I had made of my health and focus on God alone, it felt unattainable.  As weeks turned into months--and eventually I hit the one year anniversary of my constant headache--my weariness, fear and pain turned into anger.  The invitation to come closer seemed to be something I couldn't accept.  I wanted to, but the realization that God could heal me, he could take it all away in an instant if he wanted to, was more than I could handle.  I knew he had heard me crying out and begging for him to take this away, I knew he had seen my tears and my struggles and my fear and he wasn't fixing it.  I knew there was nowhere I could go to get away from God, (see Psalm 139:1-18) but my anger made me want to walk away from him.  I was giving my life to follow him; we had left our home in Washington, my husband had left his corporate job for full time ministry, we were living 1200 miles away from our families and friends and the return on all of that obedience was worsening health and constant pain.  I know that God owes me nothing.  I know that God made the ultimate sacrifice when he sent his son and sacrificed him for our sins. I know that scripture promises that God will never leave us or forsake us. But the knowing didn't change my feelings.  What I felt was abandonment, disregard, and total lack of concern.   And the longer I was angry the more I was sure that God wouldn't want to heal me because I wasn't showing him the reverence that he deserved.  I felt bound, held captive by this anger that I couldn't seem to let go of and the helplessness of knowing that I was the only thing keeping myself from the God that I loved more than anything.  Even on my angriest days, I still loved the Lord.  I still didn't want to try to do life without him.  I wasn't at the point of denying his existence.  But I also didn't know how to reconcile the love that I felt for God with my anger because of my lack of healing and my constant pain.  

I would like to say that I had some fantastic encounter with God that turned me around.  That somehow God showed me this divine purpose for my suffering that made every moment of pain worthwhile.  But that wasn't what happened.  Instead it was a decision.  It was as simple and as difficult as me just deciding that I couldn't go on so angry.  It was the decision to believe that God loves me more than I can ever comprehend and that if he was allowing me to be sick, I had to trust that he would use it for his glory.  So I began doing the things that I knew, the things that were the foundation of my relationship with God.  I started reading my bible, praying, participating in worship.  Most of all I started asking God to give me a new attitude.  I started asking God to heal my anger, to heal my wrong beliefs rather than my physical body.  I came to realize that God cares way more about the state of my heart (not my physical heart) than he does the state of my body.  God had been working on my healing for years and continued to invite me to look at life differently.  He asked me to develop an attitude that seeks to find the blessings instead of the problems.  As someone who leans toward being a pessimist this wasn't an easy thing.  One thing that really helped was a book that my husband gave me by Ann Voskamp called One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are.  One of the phrases she used in the book was "the beautiful ugly" which refers to finding the beauty God has blessed us with in the midst of difficulty.  As I started to list my blessings, to focus on gratitude, God began to change my heart.  He began to transform me into someone who can say that my circumstances may suck, but there are so many other things that are fantastic so I'm not going to be defined by the suckiness.  It's not a denial thing, it's not a refusal to see reality, it's choosing to believe that God really does have my best interests at heart and there is beauty in this life if I open my eyes to see it.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Giving it to God, part 2

This is part 2 in a 4 part series.  To read Part 1, click here.

Owning my health didn't just lead me to make responsible choices, it led to major struggles with control and frustration because I never could own enough of it to fix it.  Something had to change.  

You can imagine my frustration about 4 or 5 years ago when suddenly a whole new world of challenges began. I started having severe, excruciating headaches.   As a child in 2nd grade I had been sick for 2 months with headaches that were so bad that I couldn't get out of bed.  I was ok if I was lying down, as soon as I stood up the headache came back.  They never were able to determine a cause and eventually it resolved.  Except for migraines it was a onetime occurrence.  After a solid week of constant headache, I went to the doctor.  After a few weeks with no relief they referred me to an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat specialist) who couldn't find anything wrong.  After more time with no relief, I was referred to a neurologist.  An MRI showed Chiari Malformation so they sent me to a neurosurgeon who did more MRI's and found that my dural ectasia was severe so they couldn't treat the chiari malformation surgically.  I left with an answer of "we really have no idea what to do for you.  Just go live your life."  The neurologist tried medications which offered some relief and lots of side effects, but at least I could function.  I switched to UCSD and still the neurology department didn't really know what to do with me.  I researched on my own, I changed my diet, I adjusted my activity level, and some of it provided some relief, but nothing healed me.  

In the midst of all of this I cried out to God over and over.   I asked everyone close to me to pray.  I asked God to show me if there was some sin in my life that was causing this.  I wanted to make myself right, I wanted to fix this.  If I was blocking God's healing in my life I wanted to know and take care of it.  I confessed my lack of faith; I confessed that I knew God could heal me I just wasn't sure that he wanted to. Time went on and pain became my constant companion.   I argued with God, I was working at a church and homeschooling my kids--both things I felt God had called me to do--so how could I really be effective for him if I hurt all the time.  How could my life be a testimony if I was frustrated and exhausted and needed to lie down?  I could do so much more if he would just make me well!  I had a plan!  Why wasn't he getting on with it?

One day, as I was driving to work I was listening to tobyMac's song Made to Love You and singing along at the top of my lungs because it was one of my favorite songs.  I got to the part where it says "anything, I would give up for you, everything, I give it all away" and as I sang it, I heard a voice say very clearly "even your health?"  I was alone in my car and it wasn't an audible voice but it was loud and clear and it was a voice I knew to be God's.  Shaken, I pulled my car over to the side of the road and just sat there.   God asked me again, "Even your health?  Would you give up your health for me?"  I was stunned.  I knew God wasn't literally saying he was going to make me sick.  I want to be clear on that, I don't believe that God caused my health issues.  But I knew that God was asking me to give up the idol that I had made of my health.  My health was on this high pedestal, it was the unattainable that I was willing to change everything to achieve.  I could readily give up money, fashion, a house, but God knew that my idol was being healthy and he knew that spiritually, that wasn't good for me.  I was able to justify this idol by saying that I was being a good steward.  God said that my body was a temple of the Holy Spirit, so it was honoring God to want to make my temple the best it could be.  He was inviting me to come back to Him and Him alone, forsaking all my idols.  Could I do that for him?  Could I accept whatever came my way with my health and still honor and glorify God with my life?  Could I be sick well?  Could I live without grumbling and complaining?  Could I be joy-filled and pain-filled at the same time?  It was an invitation I wanted to accept.  It was the invitation to come closer to my savior and allow him to be enough, even as my body broke down.  But I knew it wouldn't be easy.  

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Giving it to God, part 1

This week, I'm exploring how God has been teaching me to give up control of my health. Today's post is part 1 of 4 posts in this series. 

I can remember a conversation with my Mom when I was really young.  I knew that I had already had surgery for 3 hernias before I was 2.  And then I heard someone talk about hernias being caused by straining or lifting too much.  So I asked, "Mom, did I lift heavy things when I was a baby?"  She told me no and I asked if she was sure that I wasn't trying to carry chairs or something.  

When I was 4, I was diagnosed with scoliosis.  Again, I remember the early questions but I don't know if they were directed toward me or just overheard as someone asked my Mom.  "Is it from poor posture?"  Then later as a teen when I had to wear a Milwaukee brace and hated it desperately, one of my Mom's friends suggested that I should visualize my spine straight and refuse to see it, even in my mind, as curved and then it would straighten and I wouldn't have scoliosis anymore.  

As an adult, an acquaintance told me that she had been researching Marfan Syndrome and believed it was caused by low copper and if I would just buy the supplement she sold that I could probably eradicate my syndrome.  

In my Christian circles, lots of people brought faith in.  "You just need to have more faith."  "It's not going to happen if you don't believe that God can heal DO believe God can heal you, right?"  "You're putting too much faith in medicine, that's why you're not being healed; you trust what your doctors say rather than just believing God."  And I think the most damaging were those who believe that all illness is tied to some sin.  A friend, and don't misunderstand me--this is a wonderful Christian woman who acted out of love and concern for me--gave me a book that she thought would help me.  It was a book that linked specific illnesses to specific un-confessed sins.  

So over and over, starting from a very early age, I swallowed this message that somehow my health challenges were my fault.  Somehow there was something that I was doing, or not doing, that was bringing these constant challenges into my life.  The nurse side of me didn't buy it.  Logically it didn't make sense based on what I knew about my syndrome.  And the friend of Christ side of me didn't really buy it either, it just didn't line up with John 9 where Jesus says that the man wasn't blind because of sin but so the works of God could be displayed in him.  But even as I didn't buy it there was this small voice in my head that whispered that it was my fault.  That if I could just figure out how to do the right things; the right diet, the right activity, the right faith, the right prayers, the right attitude...that somehow I could fix this and not struggle so much with my health.  I willingly embraced the responsibility for my health.  I owned it.  

Monday, August 22, 2011

Wait...who was the lucky one?

I was thinking the other day about something that people say to adoptive parents that I've never heard them say to parents who've given birth.  Maybe they do say it, but no one said it to me when I gave birth to our daughter and I've never heard it so I'm operating on the principle that no one says it to parents by birth.  But when our son was a baby I heard it often.  Someone would know our story and look at our beautiful baby boy and say "he sure is lucky that you guys adopted him."  Or they would see him do something adorable and comment, "what a lucky baby."  And I'm going to be honest, that phrase still makes me seethe.

It's not that I don't want my son to feel blessed that we're his parents.  I do.  Just like I want our daughter to feel blessed that we're her parents.  Just like every parent wants their children to feel thankful for the sacrifices parents make to give their children a good life.  But this phrase cuts me because it somehow implies that we did our son a favor.  It implies that he was a stray that we took in because we have such good hearts.  It goes back to an issue that so many adoptees struggle with--the feeling that they were castoff, that somehow there was something so wrong with them that their birthparents rejected them at birth.  I know it's not true.  I know the love that went into the sacrifice my son's birthparents made when they decided not to parent him themselves.  But the truth is that there is a loss at the heart of every adoption that needs to be dealt with.  And I don't like how our society turns that loss of the adoptee's first relationship into something that makes him "lucky" because now he's with us.  

The reality is that if we hadn't adopted our son, someone else would have.  We didn't save him from an orphanage or death.  It's even possible that he could have been adopted by a family with way more money than we have.  In 1995, the year of our son's birth, there were 100,000 women in the US who had applied to adopt.  According to the 1988 National Survey of Family Growth there are an estimated 3.3 adoption seekers for every actual adoption.  We truly didn't rescue him.  

Truth be told, we felt like the lucky ones.  The day his birthparents selected our profile out of all the waiting families  at our agency was better than winning the lottery.  But there's more to it.  We knew then and have had it confirmed over and over that God put our family together.  Our family felt incomplete until we had our second child.  We prayed and prayed for a baby, prayed for a child who would be ours and that's exactly what we got.  He is as much my child as the daughter who shares my genetics and grew in my body.  He continually reminds me of members of my family in both looks and personality.  He also is unique and brings in a richness that wouldn't exist in our family if he wasn't here.  Even 16 years later, I marvel that I've been blessed to have this child in my life.  

I guess my point is, if you know someone who is adopting or has adopted, share their joy.  Rejoice with them and marvel at one of the wonderful ways that families are made.  But keep the "lucky" comments inside.  Thanks.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Blogger's Block

Okay, I'm going public and admitting that I'm pretty weird.  To the people who know me well, this isn't much of a revelation.  But I've had a horrible case of blogger's block.  My last blog post was on Valentines 6 months ago.  It's not that in the last 6 months I haven't had anything to say.  I'm a pretty opinionated person.  But every now and then I get hit with something close to shyness.  I feel like blogging will make me completely open and exposed and it feels like too much.  I worry that my opinions will be offensive (which they will be to someone, not everyone will always agree with me), or that people will think that what I'm writing about is stupid (which will also happen), or that my chosen topic wouldn't fit with the whole "learning to follow" theme.  But my husband keeps telling me I'm a gifted writer with a story to tell so I've decided to start blogging again.

But here's my disclaimer:

1. I may offend you.  Not because I want to be offensive, I actually want the opposite of that. But I can't always walk the middle line.  I have opinions and they're not always going to agree with your opinions and that's okay.  Part of what God is working on in me lately is being okay with disagreement as long as everyone is respectful.  One of my strengths is harmony and because I like harmony so much I will sometimes keep quiet just so there's harmony.  God doesn't want me to stay silent on the beliefs and opinions I hold, even if they create some conflict.  I just need to handle the conflict in love.  Pray for my husband as I grow in this because he'll be the one to hear me obsess when this is hard for me.

2.  Not everything I write about is going to be deep or significant.  I may write about the silly or the mundane because that is part of life.  Sometimes things will strike me funny and I may decide that writing is better than not writing even if it doesn't hold some deep eternal significance.  Part of this blogging process is helping me to find my voice or my personal writing style.  If you think what I'm writing about is ridiculous you have my permission to stop reading.

3.  I've decided that everything fits with the theme of my blog because all of life is useful in learning to follow closer to God.  I want to be a 24/7 Christian and so every experience I have is about walking out my faith in the here and now.

So that's my new resolve.  I plan to write more and I'm not entirely sure if anyone is around to read any of this anymore after 6 months of silence, but I'm going to write anyway.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day

I have to get this off my chest. My husband doesn't really like Valentine's Day. He thinks it's commercial and a money making scheme. Now when I tell this, a lot of women instantly feel sorry for me. I didn't get flowers, or dinner out, or jewelry, or or or...But don't feel sorry for me.

I have a husband who showers me with love every day of the year. To you, a dozen roses may speak of undying love. To me, it's the dozens of backrubs, it's the dozens of times he sits with me at doctor visits, it's the constant affection, or the look in his eyes when he sees me across a room. We don't have the same picture of romance as many couples but that is ok.

The bible says that love is laying down your life for another person's benefit.  It struck me this morning that scripture tells us over and over how to show love, but it doesn't spend much time on how to tell if someone else loves us.  Obviously God wants us to be loved and feel loved.  But I don't think he wants it to be our focus.  My focus needs to be on how I can best show those in my life how much I love them.  My focus needs to be on demonstrating Christ's love, not ensuring that I receive love from other people.  

So that's how I plan to spend my Valentine's day, well really how I plan to spend each day.  I need to find out how the people in my life feel love and then do those things without worrying about what I'm getting back.  I know that I won't do this well each day, but I do feel good about making this my goal.

Happy Valentine's Day.

Friday, January 28, 2011


I've been thinking about jealousy lately.  And I'm wondering if maybe jealousy has gotten a bad rap.  I can remember in the early years of my relationship with my husband any time I was jealous it was viewed as a bad thing.  And it's that bad rap that causes so many of us to be puzzled by the bible verse that says "Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God." (Exodus 34:14)  Wait...God's name is jealous and he is jealous.  Then how can jealousy be bad?  I think it all has to do with the heart.  What is at the root of jealousy we feel?  Is it truly the jealousy mentioned in Exodus 34:14 or is it something else entirely?  

When my motives are my own selfishness, like if I'm jealous because my neighbor drives a nicer car than I do, or the friend with the new engagement ring just trumped my great weekend story, or my coworker got the promotion that I wanted then I can be sure that I'm not feeling the same thing that the bible talks about in the verse above.  

But there are also times when jealousy is the warning that things aren't as they should be.  And I think that this is when I'm more in line with what God means when he says that his name is jealous.  We were meant to have a certain order to our relationships.  No one, aside from God, should come before my spouse.  And so if the time and attention that is rightfully my spouse's is going to someone else, he would have the right to get jealous.  It would be a holy jealousy just like what is mentioned in Exodus.  

God can't be selfish, he can't be petty.  He is to be honored and loved and cherished above all else.  He knows when he's occupying a lower place in our lives and hearts and he is jealous.   He knows that the best thing for us is when we put him first, so when we don't he's jealous.  It's the outpouring of pure love, and that's the one time when jealousy can be a good thing.  

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Learning to let go

The last four months have been so strange.  For the 19 1/2 years preceding these last 4 months, my daughter was a constant in my life.  From the minute she entered this world until 4 months ago, the longest we had been apart was 1 week.  She didn't go to daycare, she didn't go to preschool, she was homeschooled.  She did sleepovers and playdates and even a week here and there at camp, but most of the time we were together.  After she graduated she had college classes and work and her own life, but we were at least connecting each evening as she told me about her day and asked about mine.  So it's been strange to have her gone with only 1 weekend home in the last 4 months.

Naturally it's made me think about what it really means to let go.  I knew it wouldn't be easy but my goal has always been with both of my kids to grow them up and launch them into independence.  But I was unprepared for how un-ready my heart would feel.  I wasn't prepared for the feeling that life went way too fast.  That the season of being a close family unit of 4 is over way before I thought it would be.  When my kids were school age I would tell them that I wanted my babies back.  I didn't want another baby, but I wanted to hold my babies, while they were babies, one more time.  

During these 4 months that my daughter has been away, my son has been growing into manhood.  He's almost 16, almost the same height as me (I'm 6' 1/2") and desperately wants to be treated like an adult.  And so I struggle doubly with the sense that life has gone way too fast.  That the years that seemed to stretch out before me when they were little are almost over.  And it brings so much anxiety.  Did I teach them the right things?  Did they learn how precious they are in my eyes and especially in God's eyes.  What if I made mistakes? (I did)  What if they make mistakes? (they will)  

But when I sift it all out it comes down to one key truth.  I'm trying to control things that are out of my control.   God didn't ask me to grow the fruit, He only asked me to be obedient in planting and watering seeds in my kids' lives.  I can't take credit for the good that God has grown in them and I can't somehow make things grow faster or better than the speed that God is allowing it to grow at.  God asked me to set a foundation in their lives.  He knew I would make mistakes, He knew I wouldn't be perfect, but he blessed me with 2 beautiful people to raise and enjoy anyway.  

My goal is to learn to let go while cherishing the relationships as they exist right now.  I want to live each day thankful for what I have rather than longing for what once was or what could have been.  Only by staying connected to and submitted to God do I have a hope of succeeding at that.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

I just finished reading the book, The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  I guess that I'm naive because I had no idea that things were that bad in the 60's.  I didn't know that people thought their black maids carried diseases and germs that whites didn't have immunity to.  I've never been able to understand prejudice.  I've never understood how someone can look at a physical characteristic and dislike a person because of it.  I grew up in a predominantly white school.  We had a handful of other races.  But it was just skin in my opinion.  I don't remember looking at a person and making a decision about them just because of how they looked.

My favorite baby doll as I was growing up was black.  It was in the 70's and I thought she was the prettiest doll at the store and it never even occurred to me that anyone might have an issue with her skin color.  Why would they?  She was beautiful.  I can remember taking her everywhere and one day when going to visit relatives I got  my first comment.  My older relative said "why did you bring that nigger baby with you?"  What???  I knew that was a word you didn't say.  And I was angry.  My doll was beautiful; her skin was an amazing chocolate color, her hair was dark dark brown.   I wanted to bring her with me everywhere.  And I can remember thinking (at 7 years old) "I'm going to grow up and marry a black man so that my babies look like this doll and I'll bring them where ever I want and you better not say anything about it."

It still puzzles and angers me when I hear racist statements.  I just don't get it.  Our DNA is the same.  And more than that, God created us with unique physical characteristics.  And He considers us all equally His children.  Our skin color, the shape of our eyes, our hair-- none of that matters.  God looks at our hearts, and so should we.

I love culture, I love the uniqueness and richness of the different cultures--I don't want a big melting pot where we don't have differences anymore.  But I do want a world where everyone is accepted and respected just as they are.