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


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 the way he always 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 (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.


I found the crust recipe on 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.


The filling was primarily a tweaked version of the Coconut Whipped Cream I mentioned above from  (Just as an aside, 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.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Do You Have a Headache?

Think for a minute, do you have a headache?

Really focus. Any pressure, any sore spots?  That may seem like a silly question to ask you to think harder about.  But for seven years I dealt with almost daily headaches.  Seven years where that question was a reality where even on the good days, if I really thought about it, my headache was at least a 3 or 4 (on a pain scale of 1-10).  The good days were rare, so it was more common to walk around with head pain at a level of 6 or 7.

My neurologist blamed the headaches on three things: a Chiari malformation, problems with my neck, and migraines.  All three of those things are true; I do have those. But given that my headaches were often positional (improved when lying down) and also responsive to caffeine dosing, I kept asking about the possibility of a spontaneous cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leak.  The possibility seemed so remote; my doctors were hesitant to follow that trail.

Through a chance reading of an MRI by an astute radiologist, we finally had some evidence that made the CSF leak theory plausible.  In August of 2011, through a painful thoracentesis to draw some fluid for testing, we got a definitive positive diagnosis of a CSF leak and I was referred to the chief of neurosurgery at UCSD for consultation (when you’re considered a high-risk, complicated patient, you get the top guy).  We decided on an epidural blood patch to resolve the leak and got on the schedule of UCSD’s blood patch expert.  In the meantime, I was at my lowest point. I had no energy, my head hurt constantly, I was dizzy, I felt like my brain was foggy, I was nauseated and motion sick just from normal life.  I stopped driving just to keep everyone else on the road safe.

In December, I went in for the procedure and left feeling hopeful. My energy levels were improving and I had headache relief! For 6 days it seemed like it was maybe going to work, but by the end of day 6 the familiar neck tightness was setting in, and by day 7 I had a headache.  

Attempt number one failed, but we had seen enough symptom relief to know we were on the right track.

In January, we took another run at the epidural blood patch procedure.  I was hopeful that this one would work because this time, we would increase the amount of blood used, deliver the patch across three levels instead of just one, and increase the amount of rest to see if that would help the patch hold in place. This tri-level approach unfortunately triggered a reaction in my nerves from T8 to T10, leading to extreme pain circling from my back to my chest/stomach.  I was given drugs and things settled down enough for me to be discharged to go home.

This was when things really got interesting.  

By the next morning I had an excruciating headache.  We called the doctor who was concerned that some blood had made its way up to the brain and he asked me to come back for a CT scan (blood around the brain = very bad).  Thankfully, the scan was clear and I was offered two options, admission for pain management or home with narcotics for pain management.  I chose going home, thinking that would be better.  This decision would soon reveal itself as a mistake as I woke up in the middle of the night with the worst headache of my life. I was dizzy, nauseated, and when I started throwing up my husband said it was time to head to the Emergency Room.  After ruling out a need for immediate surgical intervention, I was admitted to the hospital for pain management.  At first, I was on total bedrest. The doctors didn’t want me to move as they evaluated every angle to try and figure out what was happening.  I wasn’t too excited about moving either, because every movement increased my pain and usually made me throw up.  Over the next five days, several neurosurgeons on the team stopped by my room to weigh in with their opinion. 

Finally, the pain and nausea were under control with medication and the chief of neurosurgery stopped by to give his opinion.  He outlined a few possibilities and future treatment options, but with the pain under control, the best course of action was to simply go home to wait and see if the blood patch actually worked.

In the hospital, I was filled with regret that I had even tried to resolve the CSF leak.  Things were so much worse than they had ever been.  But now, a few months later, I am HEADACHE FREE.  They did it.  They actually patched the leak!  

Patching the leak, although awesome, hasn’t been completely rosy. But each day is a little better.  I still get migraines, my neck is still a mess and causes pain, and the resolution of the leak exposed the symptoms that come from Chiari malformation.  But now, tylenol usually takes a headache away completely.

The question I asked at the beginning is a question that I ask myself regularly.  After seven years of near-daily headaches, living without a headache is still so foreign.  At times, I'll have a rush of good feelings and when I pause to reflect on why, I realize it's because I don't have any head pain.  Being headache free is something that most people take for granted.  For most, headaches are the exception and not the rule. 10 years ago it didn't feel like a blessing to be headache free.  It just felt normal.

I think that's the way it is with our lives.  We can miss being aware of our blessings.  We live our normal lives not realizing how blessed we are just to be in it.  I'm not minimizing how hard daily life can be.  Jobs can be stressful, kids can be demanding, people can drive us crazy.  But my goal is to live my life aware of the blessings that seem so normal that I don't even realize they're blessings.  So ask yourself again, do you have a headache?  No? Then celebrate--because being headache free is a huge blessing.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Focusing on the Weeds

My sister, Diana was visiting in January and said "your garden looks so pretty."  I immediately said, "ugh, there are so many weeds but thanks."  A few weeks later I was sitting outside and I really looked at my garden.  It was beautiful.  We have jokingly called it our "gardening on a budget" project.  When we moved in, it was all ice plant and it was mostly dead.  The soil is rocky and full of clay.  It was so hard that there weren't even many weeds, nothing could grow there. So we ripped out all of the ice plant and started over.  I asked friends for starts and cuttings from their gardens and planted those.  (I also love to shop the garden section clearance at Lowes and Home Depot to see what plants I can rescue.  Then if they don't grow I'm only out a couple of bucks.)   Then we added gypsum and topsoil to soften up the clay.  Over the course of the last 6 years it has transformed into what it is now.   

It wouldn't win any landscape design awards.  But I love to sit outside and watch the birds and look at the flowers.  I love to walk out and see how my vegetables are growing.  I love that I have parsley, Greek and Mexican oregano, sage, thyme, rosemary and mint right outside my door to flavor my meals.  

As I sat outside, I reflected on my response to my sister.  It was a pretty good indicator of my naturally pessimistic bent.  The first thing I saw was the weeds.  I can do the same thing with my life.  When someone mentions how strong my faith is my first thought is about the ways that I'm faithless, the ways that I don't reflect Christ, or the areas where I need to grow.   Philippians 4:8 tells us to focus on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, praiseworthy, and excellent.  4:9 goes on to say that the God who gives us peace will be with us when when we put what we've learned into practice.  

I think it's been pretty easy for me to just accept my natural bent.  When someone calls me a pessimist I argue that I'm not a pessimist, I'm a realist.  But do I honor God and the multitude of ways that he blesses me throughout the day by being a realist who sees all the negatives most clearly? As a realist can I change my natural bent to think about the real things that are lovely or admirable or any of the other qualities listed in Philippians 4:8 instead of the negative?  I think if it wasn't possible for everyone that it would just be listed as a suggestion for some people. Instead it's an exhortation, which means that it is advised or urged with a sense of earnestness or urgency.  Obviously, thinking on positive things is important to God.

It all comes down to my choices.  Every situation, every experience, can be viewed through either a positive or negative lens.   I want to be with the God who brings me peace, so I'm going to choose to think on things His way.

How about you?  What do you usually find yourself thinking/focusing on?  

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Never Enough

I'm part of the e-devotional team at my church.  Since I haven't posted anything on my blog for a while, I decided to follow my husband's example and post one of the devotionals I recently wrote.  If you want to listen to the message this was inspired by, go to EastLake Church and click on Invitation to a Second Chance Week 2 by Robert Flores.

Never Enough

Read: Galatians 6:4-5 (msg)

Reflect:  I went through a time when I felt like an accurate name for me would be “never enough.”  Everywhere I looked there were people who were more successful, attractive, healthier, better parents, less awkward…It carried over into my Christianity too.  I had friends who were super Christians in my eyes.  One had been on the mission field for several years and was eager for God to call them back (he did 4 years ago).  The other got up at 5 every morning to spend an hour in prayer before her family woke up.  They knew the bible and shared Christ with others better than I did, and I thought I needed to become more like them to please God. 
Pastor Robert reminded us that we can quit trying to be “good Christians” and we can stop comparing ourselves to others.  He emphasized that our right path and a healthy relationship with God has been designed by God especially for us.  It’s not going to look like anyone else’s because we aren’t exactly alike. 
God created each of us with a unique personality and giftings.  He knew us when he called us to follow him.  Whether we are spontaneous or methodical, introverted or extroverted; God has the perfect way to use our uniqueness.  My opinion of myself improved when I started asking God if he was pleased with me and what he wanted me to change instead of comparing myself to others. 

React:  Am I comparing myself instead of embracing the way God created me?  What is one way that I can embrace the unique path God has placed me on this week? 

Pray: God, help me to see myself through your eyes.  Help me to keep taking the baby steps you ask me to take as I walk the path you designed just for me.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Speaking the Truth

It seems funny to follow my last post about my awesome husband with this story, but here goes.  My husband is an extremely honest person.  And by extremely I mean brutally.  So often over the years I've looked at him after he's said something honest and thought, "I can NOT believe you just said that."  My favorite story to illustrate this happened while we were dating.  I needed a new bathing suit and invited him to go shopping with me.  As I tried on bikinis I would come out and show him.  (I know, probably not my wisest decision)  The scenario went like this: 
I would walk out feeling hopeful
He would look me up and down, nod and then say "turn around"
I would turn around
He would shake his head and say "nope"
With the first few suits I just thought it was a bad fit.  But after 10 or so repeats of this exact performance I burst out with "what is so wrong with every suit AFTER I turn around and you see it from the back?  And he told me, without emotion, "they all make your butt look square."
So I calmly said, "oh, ok, thanks for being so honest and helping me find the perfect suit."  WRONG.  I snapped, "well maybe I just have a square butt and shouldn't even buy a bathing suit."  I put my clothes back on, returned all the bathing suits to the rack and we left the mall with tension crawling between us.

In all reality, he is still one of my favorite people to shop with because he is so honest.   But the contrast between us back then was huge.  I hate conflict.  I want everyone to feel good and get along.  So much so that in my younger years I would lie if I thought the truth would hurt someone or cause a rift in a relationship.  I often stuffed my own hurts just so I didn't have to have hard conversations with friends.  I can remember many times when I was angry with one friend or another but when they would ask I would tell them I wasn't mad because I wanted everything to be fine.  So I would pretend or if it happened too often I would end the friendship.  The strange thing is, I thought of myself as a very honest person.  I wouldn't have said that I lied regularly because I thought that all of my lies were for someone's benefit.  As a teen, if I knew that my Mom wouldn't like something I did, I just decided it was best not to tell her.(sorry Mom, just kidding, I really was as perfect as you remember)  If I felt like my opinion wouldn't be in agreement with the friend or group I was with, I just kept it to myself.  If I felt like my struggles would upset someone, I hid them.

Ephesians 4:15 tells us "we will speak the truth in love, growing more and more like Christ."  4:25 goes on to say "So stop telling lies.  Let us tell our neighbors the truth for we are all parts of the same body."  The first time a friend confronted me with this truth in the middle of a small group I wasn't sure how to react.  He called me out by telling me that I wasn't protecting someone else's feelings but was protecting myself from conflict.  He said my lying wasn't helping me or the people in my life.   He was proposing a whole new way to live.  I wasn't sure how it would work but if this was what God really wanted for me I decided to try.  Soon I had the chance.  A friend hurt my feelings and called me later to apologize.  My former response would have been "oh it was fine, I wasn't upset."  But this time I answered honestly and told her that I forgave her but that I had been really hurt by her comment.   We talked it out and life went on.  But I will be honest with you here, learning to live this way wasn't easy.  I would often shake as I was honest about my feelings or responses.  I would still feel sick when I knew I had to have a conversation with someone.  But I also saw my relationships grow deeper, and my relationship with God grew too.

I still don't like conflict and have to overcome that each time I take the step to grow more like Christ by speaking truth in love.  My husband still struggles with blunt honesty but he too is growing more like Christ remembering to say it in love.  Mostly I'm thankful for the friend who cared enough to call me out.  His honesty came out of his love for me as a sister in Christ.  He knew the way I was living wasn't allowing me to be who Christ was calling me to be.

How about you?  How do you do with speaking the truth in love?  Do you struggle with the truth part or the in love part?