November 16, 2012

Macerated Heart

We waited until Nathan was on the bus and headed for school before we bundled up in fleece and warmth to walk to Grandma's house. We talked about 'smoke' in the air (frozen clouds of breath), safety crossing streets, and encouraged each other to keep going.

Just a few blocks from Grandma's, Zoe fell. I didn't see it, but somehow she fell with her chin being the one to greet the rough sidewalk first. I picked her up, soothing tones already in action, then realized the gushing wound was beyond any get-better kiss. Shirt, coat, gloves getting stained; my panicked thought that I had absolutely nothing with me to help handle this--

Jehovah Jireh.

The man who opened the door just behind me was a man I've known almost all my life. At my request, he called my mom, who drove to come get us. While waiting, Zoe used the family's bathroom (as I held a quickly sodden crimson paper towel to her chin). A few blocks back to Grandpa & Grandma's, and Zoe watched a favored video while we waited for Grandpa to come home and give his medical assessment on whether stitches were needed.

I love physiology and planned for decades to enter medical school. One of my first dates with Trent involved treating a wounded hand he wasn't up to doctoring himself. I do not usually get light-headed around blood, but it requires great detachment to view your child's serious injury calmly.

Grandpa agreed the cut was too deep and the edges too far apart to join on their own, so to the clinic we went. My brain kept holding tight to the strand of purpose that was mine: Help Zoe. Comfort Zoe. Reassure her. Speak calmly. Use warm, non-grave pitches and tones. Keep her distracted from worry by asking other questions or talking of other things.

We waited a while in the procedure room while the P.A. finished up with another patient. We read books. Judith Viorst's book about Alexander's terrible, horrible, no-good, very-bad day was a good fit for the tears that were still there. We spoke about stickers. I covered the upcoming syringe w/ one of the sterile instrument packets. Moms know there's no need to stare at an upcoming fear for all the moments until you absolutely must face it.

The time came for the shot, and my girl, who could hold off two adults on her own while still an infant, did a credible job of keeping three adults from easily putting a needle to her chin.

It's never easy for a mother's heart to hold down her child for the purpose of allowing pain, no matter how good the result will be. This shouldn't be, your heart cries. I'm to fight for her, not against her!

Needle done, but distraction was still needed for the space of three stitches, meticulously tied. Band-aid applied over all, sticker chosen from a counter basket, and we were back home shortly thereafter. Zoe asked me how come we weren't going to walk home from Grandma's house, truly puzzled. I laughed a bit, but was too drained at that point to risk anything else happening that might necessitate a sprint for multiple blocks, bloody trail following us home...

Lunch at home brought tears again, as muscles tugging at stitches made life painful. She pushed her plate away, and my heart hurt again. We snuggled in the living room recliner under warm blankets, her favorite stuffed friends, water cup, and dark chocolate m&ms at hand. After a bit of TV watching, I shut it off and we fell asleep, Zoe-girl snuggled up next to me, a trusting puppy-pile of exhaustion from the morning's events. It was a pocket of grace, rarely experienced with a sprite of perpetual chatter and movement.

Today, Abba, I am thankful your strength never fails. My heart was macerated as much as her chin this morning, and it took a good part of the afternoon to recover my strength from what was spent in care and comfort. She may very well carry memories of this morning for the rest of her life, but without reading my words, she won't know what this morning cost me -- may never know until she is a parent herself what her hurts do to your heart.

Thank you that you are never impatient with my fears. Thank you that even when you know the full purpose of them, you never scoff at my hurts. Thank you that your care and comfort always meet me where I am, whether waiting in 4-yr-old fear for the needle that's coming or trying to remember as an almost 37-yr-old that I shouldn't lock my knees to prevent falling over myself in a faint.

Thank you for letting me be a mom. Thank you for helping me be a mom. Thank you for showing me your heart, any and every time.

November 15, 2012

More than an Adjective

I have very little time before my kids wake up, but a thought lit a writing fuse this morning. I'll have to see how fast I can type.

Language is one of my very favorite things and something that drives me crazy very often. It still amazes me that making certain sounds in your presence tells you that I'm thinking of something -- and perhaps something that doesn't exist anywhere outside my brain -- but you can understand what I mean. It's using an ephemeral brush to paint a lasting picture in someone else's thoughts, and I love finding new paint colors, techniques, insights and other things that might make more beauty possible!

Years ago, I mused in a notebook that so many words in English are both noun and adjective: lemon, lavender, cinnamon, apple, orange, wood, plastic, water... those are the only words coming to mind just now, but I know there are so many, many more.

I 'get through' more days than I live, I'm sorry to say. Keeping five steps ahead of small children isn't as easy as it looks; I'm usually coaching myself through prep work to handle the next hoop we jump. This morning, it meant talking myself out of bed to get a "make-do" load of laundry started. I have 7+ loads ahead of me today, but doing a small one first will make choosing the kids' clothes more of a no-brainer decision for me (assuming, of course, that neither child takes exception to the outfits I put in this first load). My point is that right now I have to spend a lot of energy just getting through. I've finally started to realize how miniscule an amount I can control and how quickly my entire day gets reorganized in a matter of moments. Child throwing up? It doesn't matter how carefully I've planned my day full of errands, the original plans are pretty much out the window. (Can I get an 'amen', fellow parents?)

I'm trying to find ways to escape the "do the next thing" mindset, if only because "look up and notice the sunrise" will never be the next thing on a to-do list. Being in this mindset gives me an adjective-view, not a noun-view.

Suppose you ask someone about something, and they reply that it's lemon. Interpretation options mean it's yellow, it's sour or astringent, or it's a dud (if the person says, 'a lemon'). 'Lemon' as a noun as a lot more characteristics to consider than it does as an adjective. Smell, taste, touch, and many other aspects come into play where the noun is concerned...

I'm trying to listen this morning, trying to wrap my head around the idea that defaulting to an adjective life is simplified, more straightforward; lots of gut response and almost no nuance or depth or anything worth savoring. I want to recognize more nouns today. I want to remember that things have dimension, personality, unpredictability, qualities that require me to do more than glance at them to truly know them.

Maybe this is what doesn't work for me where reading through the Bible in a year is concerned. Seeing a list of 3-4 chapters to read in a morning (which I haven't done yet; I was starting laundry instead and may regret that later) puts God on my to-do list. I read through Genesis 29 or 30, check off the box (yes, there is an actual box to check) and try to feel that I've spent time relating to God. It usually doesn't work for me. I never thought about it in this way before.

-At any rate, I'm now 10 minutes late and the kids still aren't up (which means a risk of being late for school)! I'm off and running, but I will try to see depth in my day instead of quick, easily-categorized and crossed off adjectives. I promise.

November 13, 2012


I just finished a conversation with my eldest, home sick from school, that illustrates a problem of parenting. I wanted to change his behavior toward his sister. He was so lost in what he thought and how he felt about what I might do to him that I feel sure he won't remember anything I said.

This -- trying to teach another human being how to be mature, balanced, educated, effective, etc. -- is hard. Especially so when I'm still learning it for myself. Doubly-especially when the student isn't a willing participant in the learning process!

Being a parent is being perpetual -- perpetual meals, perpetual laundry, perpetual cleaning, perpetual training, perpetual vigilance, perpetual persistence, perpetual reinforcement. It's exhausting. I don't know whether the tenth time I tell my child not to interrupt or the one thousandth time will actually impact future behavior. I don't know, but I still have to bring the same level of commitment and consistency to the table time after time after time after time.

Jokes, venting, breaks from battle scenes, and tag team parenting with a partner can all help.

Just now, though, all I can think about is my thread of resentment that my 4-yr-old threw a book my direction, wanting me to read it to her, but she just gently patted our dog and crooned to him that he was such a good dog and had such good hearing. The dog literally gets better treatment than I do some days.

I won't be a total Eeyore. There are wonderful moments that I savor long after. Right now... right now I think I owe my mom another phone call to thank her for letting me live.

November 12, 2012

Immanuel - Even Today

To those who believe Jesus is the son of God, the alternate name of 'Immanuel' barely registers. At Christmas, we sing "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" and never linger on the staggering implications.

In ancient times, a name was everything. This crossed cultures, continents, and centuries. Native American tribes often gave naming privileges only to elders of the tribe who had lived long and dreamed specific dreams. Nebuchadnezzar took the younger members of Israelite nobility, then changed their names to reflect Babylonian religious beliefs. Daniel ("GOD is my judge") became Belteshazzar ("prince of Bel" or "Bel, protect the king!"). Hadassah was crowned as Esther in ancient Persia. Song of Solomon speaks of a lover's name being as a sachet of perfume against his beloved's chest. Murders were carried out (then and still today) to maintain the honor of a family's name. Do not confuse 'name' with 'nickname'. It is more appropriate to read 'name' as 'character,' 'heritage,' and 'legacy.'

Immanuel means "God with us." It first occurs in the book of Isaiah, when God foretold through the prophet a young girl then a virgin would give birth to a son, and she would name him, Immanuel.

In the history of the world, empires have risen, thrived, died, and been buried. I know of no culture with gods that lived among the people. Greek and Roman pantheons interacted with humans, but mostly out of sudden whim or desire for mischief, revenge, or other ulterior motive. I believe we are more comfortable with gods that live away from us; we cannot conceive of a deity who can live with us day after day, yet still be noticeably different from us. When Nebuchadnezzar asked his soothsayers to tell him his dream before telling him the interpretation (nice little check and balance, there, wasn't it?), the astrologers told him, "No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among men." [emphasis mine]

Keep all this in mind as we think of Immanuel. I believe Jesus died on a Roman cross, rose from the dead on the third day, and ascended into heaven more than a month after that. I don't think he has set physical foot on earth since then, but the name hasn't changed: God with us. Not "God was with us, but not anymore" or "God will only be with us if we're good enough" or "God can't possibly be with 7 billion people at one time." No. "God with us."

He lived among us, breathed oxygen (and carbon dioxide and airborne impurities and germs, just as we do), got blisters, knew long-term exhaustion, was hungry, thirsty, devastated, and probably even had digestive problems a time or two. Yet somehow, in the muddiness and messiness of life, looking no different at a casual glance from any other Nazarene (remember they didn't have that convenient glowing circlet over his head to identify him to strangers), he was still completely 'other.' He wasn't a pious, uncomfortable-to-be-around person who always has the Sunday-school answer, who only has prayer requests about needing to pray more on behalf of those who "don't yet know the love of Jesus." He was real. He irritated others, questioned, frustrated people, baffled them, got angry, begged to do something other than what God was asking him to do, broke rules, got dusty, was told by the spiritual heavies in his day that he was a heretic, and was eventually tried on an invented charge so that Rome would execute him. (Those who really wanted him gone didn't have the legal right to do it.)

I'd love to believe that I would recognize Jesus in person, but my life choices more often reflect a heart that seeks to be away from tense times and situations. I like to think I know best, and I don't particularly like my viewpoint being challenged. How would I feel if Bible knowledge I had from my great-grandfather (passed down through my grandfather, uncles, and father) was suddenly dismissed as incorrect? Nichole Nordeman's song, "Wide-Eyed" has a powerful lyric in the bridge of the song: "Not so long ago/ A man from Galilee/ Fed thousands with his bread/ And his theology/ And the truth he spoke/ Quickly became a joke to educated, self-inflated Pharisees like me?"

In all this, Jesus is still -- through the offices of the Holy Spirit -- God with us. Paul writes that from him (meaning Christ) and by him and through him were all things created. There is nothing that exists that came into existence without him. Consider the created world to be the largest one-artist show we will ever see. Study his works; learn to identify his brushstrokes. I believe with all my heart that Immanuel always gives me what is needed to find him -- hear him, see him, recognize him -- in every moment of my life. There is always enough of what I need, no matter where I am or what circumstances I am in, to get home. I just need to be still long enough to find Immanuel.

October 24, 2012

A Medicated Life

I'm in the process of changing a medication I've taken for years. The side effects were starting to cause problems, so my doctor is having me try a different drug. I thought that meant the side effects would go away.

I was wrong.

As near as I can tell, I get the side effects not just from the presence of whatever drug path the first med was, but also from any change in those levels or pathway. Persistent headaches, slight nausea, and other things beside. It may be I'll have these until all of the first drug are out of my system.

This morning I'm thinking about changes and a quote from Anais Nin: "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."

This quote doesn't apply well to my change in meds, but I am more aware this morning that everything entails cost. I often push change away because I don't want to sacrifice. This morning is the first time my heart (and not just my head) acknowledge that remaining unchanged involves cost, too.

A habit of turning to food for comfort? At some point the cost of continuing that can be higher than the cost of effort to exercise and change habits. Staying up later than common sense suggests to read a book (which isn't going anywhere) or play a computer game (which doesn't really accomplish anything but helping me 'level up')? Sooner or later (I hope sooner for my own sake) I will decide sleep means more than giving my competitive traits free rein at 2 a.m.

And here's hoping the cost of changing one of my habits doesn't extend days to weeks into my future while my physiology adjusts!

October 22, 2012

Snowflakes in Sight

Yesterday I spied a snowflake book on a bargain shelf of books; the book looked like something right up my alley, so I bought it. Book purchase decisions don't usually take me long -- and often end in my spending money!

CalTech physicist Kenneth Libbrecht writes with excited enthusiasm about many things concerning snowflakes in The Snowflake: Winter's Secret Beauty; his words are accompanied by Patricia Rasmussen's gorgeous photographs of crystal creation.

I picked the book up just now and read about about Japanese physicist Ukichiro Nakaya, who was the first to grow synthetic snowflakes in his refrigerated lab at the University of Hokkaido back in the 1930s. This is not as easy as it may sound. Snowflakes are not simply frozen water. They do not form unless temperature, pressure, and humidity fall within a narrow range. Snowflakes are an example of truly sublime work -- sublime in the scientific sense. A snowflake was never liquid water: it froze as ice directly from water vapor, skipping the liquid phase completely. Nakaya's major contribution to the field of ice crystal formation was discovering what the relationship was between weather conditions and what the snowflake looked like.

Between -5 and 0 degrees Celsius (~18-32 degrees Fahrenheit) the snow looks like small plates. From -10 to -5, it forms hexagonal columns. From -20 to -10, the snowflakes become large, fat, plate-like flakes; and colder than that (down to -35 degrees Celsius) it goes back to small forms.

No two snowflakes have been found that are exactly the same, and here is why: a snowflake forms when water vapor in a cloud meets the right conditions to be sublime. As the water molecules form their traditional crystal shape, that crystal gets moved by wind and pressure to different parts of the cloud, changing how the crystal grows as it is being formed. The conditions for one snowflake are the same, so each of the six branches of its developing crystal match -- in every minute detail and etching. Each arm of the snowflake went through the same process. No two snowflakes were in exactly the same place at the same time for the same duration on the same path, though, so each snowflake is a representation of its path. Higher levels of humidity (presence of more water vapor) result in more and more complicated snowflake shapes in larger and larger sizes.

It wasn't even 8 in the morning, and there was God and his character, emblazoned in front of me. Do you see  him, too?

It takes specific environments and conditions to grow faith, to nurture a vibrant relationship with God. If I am too comfortable, it won't happen. I am thankful that when the conditions are too harsh, it won't happen, either! God does set limits on what we endure in order to see him. I've read that faith isn't belief without understanding, but trust without reservation. It sometimes skips over what seems like a logical next step: we somehow get from vapor to solid ice without ever seeing water. As circumstances get harder, the growth of our faith becomes more complicated, more amazing, more beautiful. No two lives are exactly alike, and neither are any two relationships with God. We never travel exactly the same path as someone else, so our development is never the same. This does not lessen beauty. If you're a 12-sided snowflake and I'm a 6-sided snowflake, that's fine: hexagonal shapes can still be breathtaking.

The truth that nearly left me gasping this morning was what it is that makes a snowflake reach its most complex form: increasing levels of humidity. The presence of more water vapor. Faith can develop almost anywhere, but it is only when lived in the community of others that the unique life surpasses beautiful and leaves people speechless. Snowflakes don't form and grow in solitude, and neither do we.

Take courage and comfort. Though our lives are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away (James 4:14), we matter. There is still time and care taken that the snowflake of my life will exhibit beauty and be a potential source of wonder to those around me.

October 20, 2012

Hansen's of the Heart

Of the many books on my shelf (or truthfully, bookcases' worth of shelves), I prize highly the collaborations of physician Paul Brand and writer Phillip Yancey: Fearfully & Wonderfully Made, In His Image, and The Problem of Pain. Each delves deeply into the mine of human physiology for deep veins of  spiritual wisdom. Brand began as a physician missionary in India, and worked for decades with leprosy patients. It was he who finally determined that leprosy (or Hansen's disease, as it's also called) attacks the nerves and simply destroys the ability to feel.

This is a stunning realization. It means every single deformity of leprosy is traceable to an injury or negative contact that was never felt. If I do not feel the surface of my eye drying out, I do not blink; the eye dries out, and blindness eventually results. If I walk too far in poor shoes and get a blister, but do not feel it, it can ulcerate and become infected. Infection eventually takes the whole toe or even whole foot, and I never felt a thing.

Running errands yesterday, I pondered leprosy and its effects. Thoughts about the heart, surrendered or self-protected, meshed strains in fugue with thoughts about leprosy and pain. While steering, I was suddenly stunned with what spiritual leprosy must look like to God...

We live in a manipulative world that excels at abuse of the emotional appeal. Our solution to this is to numb ourselves to appeal, grow calluses so we are not so easily taken advantage of. We cultivate loss of sensation and think it a good thing. I have not weighed all possible options, but it seems to me that every deformity of character, as with leprosy, is traceable to a lack of sense or perception. When life crosses my path in its muddy, messy hallmarks, I steel myself to look away or rise above it. I fail to feel. Over time, that lack of feeling leads to blindness.

Brennan Manning wrote of standing in Times Square years ago, talking with friends. He was approached by a prostitute who recognized him. The woman kept trying to get his attention, regularly interrupting his conversation. Pent up with frustration, he finally whirled on her and heatedly told her to stop bothering them. She withdrew, and her softly-spoken response left him stunned to sensibility: "Jesus wouldn't have said that to Mary Magdalene." He was so caught up in the image of who he was, assured of his celebrity, he forgot to see the life in front of him.

I wonder what it would look like to see the spiritual realm in physical terms. I wonder how many people around me (and the image in the mirror, too) would reveal grotesque contortions of soul. How many times in my life have I pushed through an inconvenient interruption by telling myself to walk right past? How many limbs have I lost, how many perceptive faculties have I forfeited, by choosing to believe that not feeling is somehow better, because pain is intolerable? I don't know anyone with Hansen's disease, but I can guarantee that not a single one would agree with that lie.

September 17, 2012

Under the Harrow

Writing is hard today.

No grand piano fell out of my sky; no elephant showed up in my living room. It would be easier to write if something specific was present. Today it's simply low-grade depression, a sudden migraine (with nausea, light sensitivity and dizziness accompanying it), and an increased volume of my internal critic.

When you write, you live for the moments when passion burns hot, words tumble down through your fingers, and perfect phrasing leaps to mind. I am told 'tis best to write what we know. I also believe that when I am most incapable that I have to rely on something outside myself, on God, to accomplish things. Right now, I am beyond myself and outside my strength.

Writing often comes from a higher perspective or speaks of past experiences. Presented problems have an answer or purpose with a neat bow. Words are aimed to teach or share wisdom, not confess lack of any of these things.

And yet...

I trust most what has cost the most to produce. I identify as another person says the refining fire went several notches hotter than they wanted; I understand the fog someone else describes in tired tones. I value those words, that experience, more than a person's host of words on a shelf full of books.

We all have hard days. We all have grim moments when we concede it's a day of meeting less than 10% of your expectations for what you say, say you'll do, and do. Storm or sudden calm catches us unaware, our sails set for a different wind.

We fight by giving of our best, even when it feels like less than a better day's best. I felt the need to write from today's furnace, to share that today is hard. It's hard to avoid dreading tomorrow's tempering heat or halt questions of how long it will last this time around. It's grim to have no clear-cut questions, let alone answers to them. Making myself write despite it all was the only thin path I thought I could walk today. I write without knowing whether my fall will be heard or make a sound in the forest at all, but...

I needed to write from under the harrow, despite it being hard to write today.

September 11, 2012

Clutching Crochet

I learned to crochet chains at a young age, but it wasn't until college that I taught myself the rest of it. Those first few afghans were functional at best! I recently began making an afghan just for me, and as a treat I'm making it out of baby alpaca yarn. Working with it is wonderful. I mentioned to my mate that I may never go back to basic yarn, and he asked if I was planning on crocheting a lot less. Baby alpacas have expensive hair, particularly Peruvian baby alpacas!

Crocheting is a very devotional experience for me. I see spiritual analogies every time I work. The yarn is a single strand that ends up making an utterly unique product, as God's love does in and through my life. Rhythmic motions of a single hook that doesn't change in position remind me of God's consistent, unchanging character. Crochet pieces in progress are patient: if I set aside a project, it will remain at that state until I pick it up again; there is no urgency or need to prevent decay. God is patient with me and meets me wherever I am, however long it has been since I last turned to him.

Tasks like crochet teach me to listen constantly. I work steadily and stay inwardly alert. Yesterday I felt an internal nudge to stop what I was doing. I stopped, then asked myself what the yarn felt like. When working, I'm focused on stitches or counts, not sensory input. I gently squeezed the growing pile of looped yarn and held it in a clenched fist. I thought about its softness and how much I could compress it, then felt my hand start to cramp.

Insights for me are often a mental guillotine, slicing through my threads of thought and narrowing focus to a singularity. I realized I have been clutching parts of my life, holding it in clenched fists. There's a large difference between holding something and holding onto it. Holding something, I can appreciate it and experience it, but not be injured or tried by letting it go. Holding on to it means I'm actually less aware of it; I'm focused on keeping it, determined that my effort, my grasp, will not fail. I make myself and my efforts the focus, not seeing life or what life gives me.

By this time my fingers were close to screaming at me. I slowly straightened my cramping left hand, then thought how much softer the yarn felt when I wasn't holding it tightly.

May 26, 2012

Write Now

Though technically mature, I yet retain this immaturity: many internal plans are preceded by asking myself how I feel about doing this or that. If I don't like it -- and don't like it strongly enough -- I often don't do it. This internal 3-yr-old is extremely unruly, especially in the areas of accountability.

Writing, to this point, has been mine. My outlet, my topics, my schedule. Today this changed. Our writing group met for the first time (informally) this morning. I have mixed emotions, which is actually a good thing. If I were completely gung-ho, I'd feel more depressed later on; if I were completely against it, I'd feel bad down the road that I was so negative. -For those playing along at home, I'm fully aware that I over-analyze things. Since I'm the one who has chosen this change, I hope to yank the inner 3-yr-old in line as regards accountability in my writing.

Now to figure out what to write that's more than just stream of consciousness... compiling short devotional pieces along a chosen theme, perhaps. I've thought often of such a collection about natural/spiritual analogies, to be titled, "Without Excuse".

For now, I must handle the situation of my 3-yr-old asking how to be a turtle when she doesn't have a shell on her back. She didn't like my idea of using her backpack. Priorities, you know.