December 19, 2014

Creating Crap

Why is the act of creation so hard?
I love the initial feeling when an idea comes. I excel at ideation (though I hate that word; it reeks of marketing manipulation).
I'm horrible at follow-through. Three afghans, in progress for more than a year, will bear witness. My craft closet, gleefully reclaimed from my daughter when she transitioned out of needing a changing table, is chaotic. Think of Monica's messy closet on Friends.

The time following creation is bad for me, too. I'm detail-oriented (can't see the forest because I keep examining the quality of bark on a single tree) and prone to criticism. That moment when creation is done, when I survey the results of my labor... yuck. The gulf between what I pictured and what resulted is horrendously wide, and in that moment after it's done, I want to give it away so I don't have to see it again.

Fast-forward to Christmas. Ideas for gifts? I'm usually good at this. Ideas for gifts that are personal and creative and fit a budget? Harder, but still possible for me. This year, I worked with my brother to record myself playing piano to put on CDs for family members.

I'm listening to the play list of my recordings and holding the completed envelope (with song list, arrangers' names, this picture and suitable gift tag-type info).

"Winter Sonata", by Genece Hamby
I hate it.
I loathe it.
I'm having to fight my inner voices calmly pointing out every missed note, every abrupt tempo change, and then the low, homemade quality of the package.

I'm getting used to this, by the way. I don't like things I've written until 3-6 months after I've written it. I don't know if I will ever enjoy listening to myself play piano. Kind of ironic that "Like a River Glorious" is the song playing right now, the part of the verse with the lyrics, "not a surge a worry/ not a shade of care/ not a blast of hurry/ touch the Spirit there".

My offerings may not feel suitable to me. I don't know how to change those emotions. But I know I can keep offering what I have, refusing to give in to the voices that tell me it would be better not to give at all. Those are lies. I know this because no one has ever given me a gift, from a ring my parents gave me all the way to a pink ribbon bracelet my daughter made out of her pajama pants drawstring, that made me think: "Wow, this is pathetic."

Gifts matter because they say something about the heart of the giver.
I made and gave these with love and a heart longing to offer myself to those I love. Those I know will know that and appreciate the gift.
No matter what I think of the gift's quality.

October 09, 2014

Puzzled by Faith

My husband and I watched a movie last night while the kids were gone. The movie was good, funny, and had many mirror-moments for me as a mom. We enjoyed it, even if it isn't one we'd purchase ourselves. I thought over other movies I've seen from "faith-based" production companies (which are poorer quality, art-wise) and wondered what the difference was for me.

I thought of the movie we watched (which I liked), then compared it to the movie Her, which we've also seen. If you are a conservative Christian, it's unlikely you will understand or enjoy Her--not impossible, but unlikely. I think there are too many places that the stretch would be farther than is helpful. It's not impossible to like Her, though, because we both did. I hurt over the relationships portrayed, the hurts in individual lives, and felt characters made poor decisions. I liked the movie because of how it portrayed the raw honesty of it; Her is a movie that was willing to walk into a problem, present an answer, and stick around to see the messy ends of how that answer played out over time.

"Christian" films don't usually do this. They present flawed characters or messy lives, but there's usually an obvious character somewhere in the cast who's getting it "right" and whose approach will be humbly recognized as the godly view by the end of the movie. This is the difference in quality for me.

I am a Christian. I believe that the God I love and serve is the only God who was, is and will be. I believe he never changes his character. I believe he created me and loves me too much to allow barriers between us--most of them barriers I put in place myself. I do believe he is the answer to everything in my life, but it doesn't mean I'm the character in the movie with all the answers.

10/4/11 by mcapraro
When you open a puzzle, the picture on the box (and maybe on a poster inside) tells you what the end will be. That's Christianity. I know how the story will end, and I have some help in piecing it together. Where most people go wrong is believing that picture on the box means they know where each piece goes. No. I still have to sort pieces by color. I still have to work in sections. I still have to put in a lot of time to assemble a complex puzzle. I may not know until the end that a handful of pieces from another puzzle got dumped into mine by the enemy to confuse me.

I get a bad taste in my mouth when books or movies or other Christian art suggest that reading the Bible gives me the ability to pick up a piece and KNOW where it goes. Too often it results in my having a patronizing or pitying tone toward someone puzzling over their present piece. "Those poor people. If only they'd ask Jesus."

Abba, please help me to remember that knowing the picture on the box isn't the same thing as knowing where each piece goes. You've anchored my life in uncertainty so that I can learn to trust in You rather than myself.

October 07, 2014

Play it Forward

The battles of parenting never cease, from your child's cradle to grave. There are lulls, though, and I'm so, so, so very thankful right now to be between the pitched warfare of toddler/preschool and teen years. I haven't seen the oodles of spare time this fall I thought I would, since my expectations for what I'll get done rarely never match reality (My house will be sanitized! All papers will be ordered and in labeled files! I'll work through college texts and FINALLY understand matrix algebra! -I wish I could tell you this last one was an exaggeration, but no.).

One of the weekly events I have is because of a dream of mine. Some people dream of vacations in old age, but I dream of being the 85-yr-old woman on the block that preschoolers want to play with. I have it all pictured in my mind: a small tow-head telling his mom in a piping treble that he's headed over to see if Miss Susan can play.

I remember and treasure the adults I knew in childhood who knew how to play. They are my heroes.

A friend nearby is in a position very familiar to me, because I was there just a couple years ago. Single parenting because her husband's often working on the road, two young kids at home with energy and nap schedules that make outings draining, and one of those children being frighteningly smart, curious, energetic, strong-willed, and verbal. Ever had one of those? It's like being on a tilt-a-whirl in a hurricane some days.

These kinds of kids are enchanting and delightful. In small doses. Whenever someone offered to take my toddler, I'd push back a bit in warning: "Are you sure? She can be a lot to deal with." If they persisted, I figured it was caveat emptor and they had been forewarned. Once I saw a haggard look on their face or a stunned sort of shellshock, THEN I knew we could talk honestly about whether they were up for watching her again. Sometimes it would take multiple exposures. In the middle of my firefight, it could be so very, very frustrating to have others look surprised that I thought my kid was difficult. I often wanted to protest that I wasn't a bad mom; they just didn't know my child like I did. If they had to spend every day as point person, they'd agree with me! I knew they would.

These experiences sank into my bones. Seeing someone else in the same predicament made it a no-brainer for me: I get a weekly playdate with her kids. She's still point person. She still has the dirty work. I just know that I'm uniquely positioned to understand her and understand her kids, too! It can be fun when it's just a couple hours in a week. And oh, the difference between 24/7 and 21/7... The day I got a break automatically became my day of worship. I looked forward to that time all week. Monday was doable because Thursday was coming. I got the bliss of setting down the heavy weight I hefted the rest of the week, and because my parenting muscles got a break, they had a chance to rebuild.

I don't believe in karma. I don't even think I'm doing anything terribly hard. My friend probably thinks I'm a saint and her savior and that I hung the moon and walk on water. For me, it's paying it backward in recognition of where I was and how hard that time was. It's about paying it forward so that I CAN be the senior citizen every kid wants to visit. More than anything, it's about encouragement. Sometimes it's nice to know it's possible to survive young children without committing homicide or winding up in prison. You know, the little things in life.

October 01, 2014

Voicing Thoughts

Aretha Franklin released her cover of "Rollin' in the Deep" this week (full album available October 21st); she began singing at age 10 and is still performing at age 72. I marveled today at the power of her voice and what the human voice can do. Whenever I get interested, I usually go looking for more to learn, so... this morning I went looking for information about the human voice.

Following A.W. Tozer's example, I often like to start my learning with looking at Bible verses about the topic. The word 'voice' occurs hundreds of times in the Old and New Testaments, from Jacob's voice when he tricks Isaac to get Esau's blessing to descriptions of voices of angels, the voice of God, and comparisons of the sound of voices to thunder, trumpets, and mighty waters. The Greek word translated 'voice' is phone (foh-nee'), which we still use today in a number of words like telephone, phonetic, and euphonium. Plutarch called phone "that which brings to light upon that which is thought of in the mind." Or, to use Spiros Zodhiates' words, "The voice explains that which one had in his own mind for others... Phone is the cry of the living creature."

The spectrogram of the human voice reveals its rich harmonic content.
When we inhale, our bodies gather oxygen in the lungs, then exchange needed oxygen and unneeded carbon dioxide. Exhaling removes carbon dioxide. That exhaling, when it's controlled and shaped, is how we speak. Air from your lungs is the fuel for speech. Muscles like the diaphragm are the regulator, controlling the rate the air leaves your body; singers train for years to learn proper diaphragm control. Controlled air goes past two flaps of tissue in your airway called your vocal cords. Vocal cord length and shape plus the size of your airway are what determine the pitch of your voice, how high or low it is. You flex and relax throat muscles to control the pitch of your voice, whether singing or speaking. When the airflow is controlled and the pitch is decided, you use your cheeks, tongue, jaw, teeth and lips to turn the air into recognizable patterns. Vowels are shaped airflow; consonants are all about restricting or stopping the airflow.

Most of us learned to talk farther back than we remember. Without thinking about how we do it, we take the thoughts and ideas and feelings inside us, then use air (breath, wind, spirit, ruach, pneuma) to carry those intangible things past our shaping manipulations so they can take shape in someone else's mind. Jesus says in Matthew 12:34 that the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.

Beyond that, the human voice is one of the most intimate things about the human body. We identify loved ones by voice alone; we yearn deeply over hearing our name said by someone we love. Darlene Rose once said that no one ever said her name the way her mother did; I know I feel similarly about how my mom says my name. Parents learn to recognize their child's voice across distances, to discern whether a cry is their child or someone else.

This is the kind of relationship and knowledge Jesus talks about when he says in John 10 that sheep follow their shepherd because they know his voice; they will not follow a stranger. Hebrews 3 & 4 plead several times for us to listen to God's voice today rather than hardening our hearts and turning away.

I think of all the speaking and singing voices I can recognize in very short order and how quickly I move from identifying the person to enjoying whatever I might hear. I'm working to recognize God's voice like this. I'm trying to take time alone to be still, to listen, to train my heart and inner ear to become so familiar with him that I could never mistake a stranger for him. I know it will take time.

September 24, 2014

Letting It Go

And lo, the spirit of reason and truth spake unto her, saying, "Guard yourself, for the time of Halloween costumes is upon you."

I'm not sure when it happened, but Halloween is not the low-key fun holiday I remember as a kid. No one spent $195.50 on a costume to look like a flamingo from head to toe. School parties had jugged Kool-aid to drink and cheap cookies. The amount of candy you raked in had to do with how many houses you were willing to visit. Now... my daughter wants to be Elsa, along with half the child population in the nation. My son wanted to be Yoda. I wished him luck. Then he wanted to be Anakin Skywalker as a Jedi from Episode III. Yes, he's particular.

The problem, my friends, is me. If I do something, I want to do it the right way. It has to meet certain standards, adhere to the ideal, meet a budget, and be darn-near fool-proof so my kids can get them on by themselves at school.

I found costumes that met the budget, the idea, and even pleased my kids (though my son is a Stormtrooper instead; he's happy about it). It was that I realized _I_ was irritated with them for being so easily pleased. Couldn't they see the workmanship was shoddy?! Didn't they know these costumes weren't good representations of what they wanted to be?! How could my offspring have such low standards?

No, the problem is me. If they're pleased, why am I displeased with their costumes? Why am I insisting that what they want isn't good enough for me? When did I suddenly see their lives as a report card for how I'm doing as a parent?

It takes a really poor costume for a kid to comment on how bad another kid's costume is. It takes very little for a parent to think, "Wow, that could have been done better." It also takes very little for a parent to think, "I didn't do NEARLY enough compared with that costume."

I will remind myself of the apostle Paul's words in Philippians 2:12-13:
"Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him."

Work hard to show the results of my salvation... In other words, acknowledge deep within me that I need to Let It Go. Rejoice in the play and fun with my kids; don't allow myself to believe that striving for excellence in my kids' Halloween costumes truly matters at all in the long-range view. It doesn't.

I will also choose to be thankful I found an Elsa dress, even if it isn't exact. If I hadn't found one, I might have tried to make one, and there the temptation to go overboard on perfection might have been too much for me. My family wouldn't have seen me surface for weeks. I would have been researching costume design, dyeing fabrics... it wouldn't have been pretty. At all.

Lastly, I will choose gratitude for how God works in me to change my desires and choices, even in something so small as Halloween costumes.

September 23, 2014

Buckle up, Scholars!

I am an auto-didact. I love to learn, and I love to seek out new information regarding a very, very broad range of topics. French history? Polish fairy tales? The history of salt and where/why/how it was used and what it meant in cultural references? Connections between electrical wiring and neural networks? I'm your gal. Through analogies, descriptions, and story, I like to make topics interesting to people who weren't interested in them before. History, physiology, language, math, grammar, spiritual truth, literature, art, music, genealogy, and technology can all be fascinating topics if the teacher has a passion for the subject.

Since this is my blog, I want to use those gifts. If you choose to read, I hope some of my topics might help you understand something that wasn't clear before. I can't promise crystal-clear, but maybe the waters will be less muddy. Think CGPGrey, but in words. And perhaps Power Point diagrams. I like diagrams.

This morning my burning passion is for the difference between exegesis and eisegesis. It happens most often when studying the Bible, but it can be used when studying any book or text.

Exegesis is to explain the words as they are written. If the original author sat in your audience and listened to you teach, would they agree with you? Less is more for exegesis (unless you're the author!). Understanding someone else's words often means crossing big gaps in time, cultural understanding, expectations, and language. Gay meant something different to G.K. Chesterton than it does in our time.

Eisegesis is reading a meaning into the text. If you read someone else's words and think to yourself: "Ok, it DEFINITELY means this!" and never, ever reconsider it, be wary. Your mind likely grabbed for the first available meaning (which was probably something that made sense to YOU in YOUR time and in YOUR culture). Eisegesis is using a text to say what you want it to say.

It's wonderful to propose ideas and ask questions. Did Dickens mean to imply such-and-such with this relationship in Dombey & Son? How long would it have taken this character in the Bible to make bread? What alcohol content did wine have in the Middle Ages? Questions are great. They're what help you engage with the story. It's how you answer the questions and what you do with the answers that mark the difference in good learners. Did you assume Dickens' words were meant for someone in your time? (They weren't; he had no idea your world would exist in his lifetime. He wrote the words for HIS world.) Did you assume bread looked the same in Bible times as it does when you make it? (Unless you live in the Middle East and make naan or aish merahrah, it's unlikely.) Did you think wine has existed for thousands of years, so it must be the same? (It hasn't. Wine's composition and how it's made have morphed over time. Not changed completely, but enough so you shouldn't assume.)

Those who bother me most are teachers who move from exegesis and questions straight into eisegesis without giving a heads up when they crossed the line between the two. "We don't know what this name means for sure. This gives us a little freedom in imagining the meaning. Since we don't know what the name means..." NO. No, no, no, no, NO. That went from "we don't know for sure" to "we don't know at all" in less than two sentences. The teacher has now shifted their weight of teaching onto something that was just an idea a moment ago. This is a hard thing to catch if you're not looking for it. Persuasive teachers often fall into this trap. They find a meaning that could mean this... y'know, it works WELL if it means this... it DOES mean this!

No it doesn't. Stick with it COULD mean this.

If a teacher tells you they KNOW what something means and it can only mean this, they better have the credentials you would expect for an expert in a very narrow field with years of experience. People with that kind of knowledge don't have to throw their weight around. Their knowing is usually quieter and assured; they're less likely to argue because they don't need to.

First rule of learning: Always ask yourself if you agree with what you're being taught. Is this information supported or contradicted by what you've learned elsewhere? I can't think of a single person in the world with whom I agree with about everything. That includes my husband, my parents, my children, my counselors, and yes, trusted teachers.

And that includes me! If you have questions for me about what I say, please ask! If you think I said something wrong, please engage with me about it. If you don't understand something and would like to learn more, let me know what the topic is and I'll do my best to go find out and share what I find.

Learning from people is best when it's a conversation, not a monologue.

September 19, 2014

Energizer Rabbit on Crack

If you're alone and making siren noises to yourself while driving, purely because the sound and feeling of making that sound interest you, something is wrong.

Today has been insane, and it's completely my brain's fault. My thoughts have been scattered and insanely high-energy. Think free-form popcorn. For hours. Even when no one's there to keep an eye on it.

I took my Ritalin like I should have, and maybe I shouldn't have had two cups of high-octane coffee, but wow... I wrote my daughter's teacher a note this morning to let the teacher know that my girl has been high-energy for the last 12-18 hours. I called my husband before he came home for lunch to warn him about me. "Hi. Before you come home, you should know I am NOT restful to be around right now!"

Talking to oneself doesn't have to mean craziness, but my solitary chatter today has been... scary... even for me, the one who's DOING the chatter.

"LAAAAAAAA!!!!!!! -Ok, that's weird. Why am I making these noises? No idea, but God, I hope you're listening, because I don't think _I_ am right now. Why are just those leaves turning red on that tree now? Wow, that's a big tractor. I wonder if it's the caffeine that's doing this to me or the Ritalin or the sugar in the creamer I used. I wonder what the difference in chemical composition is from Ritalin to caffeine to sugar -- I should look that up in my psychopharmacology textbook when I get home. How soon should I start the meatloaf? I need to bake brownies first--ooh! I should add those white chocolate chips to the batter! and butterscotch ice cream sauce! Did I actually finish my bible study lesson? I wonder if the Hebrew word for 'lily' changes to another Hebrew word if you insert the he letter in the middle. I spent quite a bit of the grocery money for this week already, and it's mostly for just one meal; I should know better than that. Nope, that's not toilet paper rolled over fresh tar, it's just newly-repainted white lines for parking spaces. WooooOOOOOOoooo... wooooOOOOOOOooooo... Making siren noises while I'm by myself is DEFINITELY not normal. I'm nearly freaking-forty! I should be more mature than that" and on and on and on.

You can't possibly read that paragraph as fast as the thoughts came into my head and out my mouth. It was playing at higher than 45 rpms. Mickey Mouse-gibberish speed.

I'm trying to direct this energy into things that aren't harmful and aren't bothersome to other people. When I can, I'm trying to use it productively. I did make the pan of brownies. I've made two meatloaves from scratch (one for tonight, one for the freezer). I've planned out the timelines that will work for meatloaf, mashed potatoes, homemade gravy, and vegetable to be done in time for supper at 5:30. I made myself sit down to talk with my husband when he was home because I knew I would feel guilty later if I didn't--and I also knew that I WILL need rest periods, even if it feels like I'm the Energizer bunny on crack right now.

I don't know the cause of my mental state today. I don't know how to stop it or what good purpose it could possibly serve. Sometimes I feel broken, the questionable relative that just has times of behaving strangely.

I'll be glad when the tilt-a-whirl thoughts end as this is NOT a fun ride to endure. BUT. I will refuse to believe I am fatally damaged. I will choose to believe God is neither surprised nor appalled by my internal state. I will remind myself that today, too, shall pass.

And maybe tomorrow I will be calm again.

September 17, 2014


This season of life is new to me. Both of my children are in school, and there are gaps of time in the day that never used to exist. Time to breathe, time to finish drinking an entire cup of coffee before it gets cold, time to tidy a house after the morning melee, and (wonder of wonders) a long stretch of time that the house remains tidy.

By nature I'm an ambivert. I can be social, but I also welcome silence, solitude, and the space to ponder and process whatsoever my mind chooses. The last several years have had many interruptions, questions, disruptions, interventions, admonitions, and instructions, but precious little solitude. I fell in love all over again with my husband when, as I cautioned him not to expect much to change around the house these first few weeks, he said, "I don't expect anything to change for more than a month! You have close to a decade of solitude to make up for."

This is only my third week with regular silences, and I'm learning some hard truths about myself and the world I inhabit. I am learning that we dislike, resist, and even FIGHT stillness.

A movie quote from "The Sound of Music" says that a life of activity suggests a life filled with purpose. Do I resist being still because I fear that it means my life has no active purpose? Have I fallen in the trap of believing my value is equal to my productivity?

It is HARD to be still. Hard to hold myself in check and refrain from acting simply to be active. I'm somewhat dismayed at how quickly a week can fill without any deliberate effort on my part to make it full. It is far more difficult to keep time open. Open time requires actively resisting requests and invitations, learning to say the dreaded word "no" to what is good, sincerely believing that saying "no" can leave me available for what is best in the long run.

When I woke up this morning, my day had a blank holiness of six hours' time. Two of those hours were gone in a flash, with little say-so from me. And yet... it was because so many hours were open that _I_ was open to where the moment might lead. My margins are wider now than they have ever been. I have more time, so I resent things that take time less--while fighting a good fight to maintain deep margins.

Still... still I am waiting. Still, I work to cultivate a listening heart. Still, I have the conviction that more is coming. Still, I enact my belief that there is more beyond me and my activity. Still, I am willing to wait, to halt my action until such a time as I truly am needed.

Today I am praying that my heart will learn to cultivate and crave stillness.

September 16, 2014

Trust the Joy

I looked at the clock and realized I had less than an hour before my kids would crash through the door after school, so I did what any mom in her right mind would do: I made myself a horrendously large cup of chocolate milk.

There's no one here to cry foul, no one to monitor my syrup usage, and no one to whom I must explain my actions. How is it more parents don't do this?

On the one hand, I could see it as selfishness cropping up where I should have learned selfLESSness by now. I prefer to see it as evidence of my having kept the heart of child.

Have you forgotten? Do you remember the delight if your mom broke the rules and let you have ice cream for breakfast? Or a candy lunch? Or deciding to have the family eat supper in the blanket tent you made in the living room? Do you remember the fascination of seeing something with new eyes and wondering EVERYTHING about it? You had no stored knowledge or ready reference for what was in front of you, so you tried to absorb everything you could about it, whether it was a flower, a new person who was funny, a new story, or a fascinating bug on the sidewalk at your feet. You'd even crouch down, push closer, and squeeze in so you could see better, absorb more.

Have you forgotten?

Where is your joy these days? Is it joy you feel when you complete a job that's been hanging over your head? Is it a joy to see someone catch a spark you lit in hope? Is it delight you feel when you're fully present, all-the-way-up-to-your-elbows in and focused on whatever's before you? Are you able to set aside your to-dos to be fascinated by what you thought was familiar when it shows up on the wrong timetable and out of place? Can you set aside your tasks and grant the time for questions to come? What is that? Why does it look/taste/smell/feel/behave that way? How does it react if you touch it? chase it? try to hold it? How does it change?

It takes time for the questions to come if it's been a while since you gave them the space to form.

If the questions feel silly or hard to force, be near a child and be willing to listen. They ask questions as simply as breathing. The questions may seem ridiculous to an adult mind, but if you're willing to wait and ponder the question, you might remember...

You might remember how hard it was to wait. You might remember the breath-taking wonder the first time you saw someone turn a balloon into the shape you requested. You just might remember how important and sincere your question was and how it hurt when the adults just laughed instead of answering. If you're willing to push into the struggles of memories from your childhood, and you're willing to stay in the frustration a while, you might get back the joy.

The joy of finding out there's no school today because of the snow that made your mom's shoulders slump. The joy of finding your very favorite book is back on the library shelf, even if you've read it so many times you have it memorized; you remember how familiar things can be as wonderful as finding old friends. You'll get back the joy and relaxing feeling of comfort that came from burying your nose in a favorite blanket or pillow or stuffed friend. You might even get back the hedonistic joy of gulping down a carafe of chocolate milk without any grown-ups finding out you did it.

And getting back these joys is worth whatever price you might have to pay.
Now please excuse me. I need to go gulp my milk in less than 10 minutes!

September 15, 2014

My Fear of My Girl

A friend of my heart wrote a post about her fears in having a daughter. I love her writing voice, and many of her phrases tugged on resonant heartstrings in me, so... despite the on-going litany of tasks and to-dos and shoulds and "Good Things That I Ought to be Doing Instead" [please tell me I'm not the only one who has these] I've run to my keyboard to think through some fears myself.

I knew from the moment I married that, if I had children, odds were heavily weighted in favor of having a child like I was. We have a clone of me (or as close as we'll get outside a laboratory) in our heart-winning hurricane of a girl. She is mature for her age in many ways, but she still brings me fears aplenty.

I fear being her primary female role model, because I still get it wrong so often.
I fear looking at her and finding new things that need fixing in me.
I fear walking through familiar prisons again with her--and forgetting how I got out the first time.
I fear seeing her bypass some of my prisons and (heaven help me) possibly resenting her the tiniest bit for escaping what I did not.
I fear feeling my heart sink as I watch her get bewildered by the same things that confused me.
I fear that my role of comforter and rejuvenator will atrophy or be destroyed as she gets older.
I fear that she frames who she will be without me or in spite of me.

My daughter, more than my son, reminds me of who I have been and who I am. She is as painful and frustrating a mirror of me as heaven could shape. In wrestling with how to help or direct her (or simply outlast her), I have often thought wildly that _I_ of all people should know what to do! I've had more time with her than anyone else on the planet has. 2300+ days. 55,000+ hours. So often she leaves me staggered and speechless. She unwittingly shows me how often I don't have the answers.

I want so many good things for her. I know how hard the road could be ahead. It feels like cheating sometimes to remind myself that she belongs to God first, so HE is the one who directs her life, and it's okay if I don't have the answers because he does.

I'm trying to 'be' when I'm with her in ways that leave me feeling vulnerable. Answering questions she asks me just after I get out of the shower. Being honest about my struggles and insecurities. Asking for her help without leaning on her in ways she isn't meant to uphold me.

If it's hard to be a woman in all the ways that are best and brave, it's a billion times harder to be that and encourage an open floor for questions from your preschool audience as you do it.

For now... it's the best way I know to help her learn to be whoever she might be.

May 13, 2014

Refined at 3 A.M.

Increasing pain and fatigue for more than six months, despite no answers from multiple exams and consults with medical specialists. Finally, an answer, which led to drastic surgery on my neck and spine. Some symptoms went away, but others have gotten worse -- as the surgeon told me they might. The surgery was only meant to fix the worst part of my problems. I wasn't surprised the symptoms were there; I was blind-sided by them being worse in my arms, worse on my right side than on my left.

My right deltoid, the muscle that sits at the top of your shoulder, is severely compromised because the nerve that sends and receives its messages back to my spine, isn't working. The muscle itself is fine. The messages and those sending or receiving them are fine. The line between them is flawed. Think of the game 'Telephone', where you whisper something in someone's ear one time, they whisper it to another, who whispers it to another, and so on. By the end of a line, the message has become incredibly distorted.

Now imagine that happening in your body.

In physical therapy we're trying to cut down on swelling around that critical nerve. I'm instructed to avoid activities that teach my muscles to compensate for a shoulder that doesn't work (I can't raise my right arm more than part-way before my other shoulder muscles leap in to assist) because we don't want my body to learn bad habits. I also need to keep moving my shoulder so that it doesn't 'freeze' -- forget that it IS able to move altogether.

I'm still on pain medication, though it's tapering off. The hardest times, as anyone with chronic pain will tell you, are at night. Sleep slips away from you. Distractions are fewer. There's something about 3 o'clock in the morning that invites big, unanswerable questions like, "Why?" or "Why me?" or (the big one for me during this time) "How can it be possible that a definition of love includes circumstances like these?"

I have learned a few things over the months. If I'm awake at 3 or 4, I'm best off going with truth. Playing games on my gadgets will pass the time, but not help my mind or my body in any way. I try to pick up a devotional or Bible or other book that points me toward truth. A couple I've learned on heavily are written by Sarah Young. You may have heard of "Jesus Calling". I particularly like "Jesus Today", which focuses on hope.

Moments ago I opened the book to read this:
Thank Me in the midst of the crucible. When things seem all wrong, look for growth opportunities. Especially, look for areas where you need to let go, leaving your cares in My able hands. Do you trust Me to orchestrate your life events as I choose, or are you still trying to make things go according to your will? If you keep trying to carry out your intentions while I am leading you in another direction, you deify your desires.
Be on the lookout for what I am doing in your life. Worship Me by living close to Me, thanking Me in all circumstances.
Not exactly an 'attagirl', I must say.
And yet... It can be encouragement. These words were written by someone going through her own crucible, so she didn't write them casually or easily. I think of what I've learned about refining during biblical times and see the refiner, who never leaves the side of the crucible until he has overseen all temperature increases (which are many) and skimmed away all impurities. The refiner keeps at it until the surface of the metal being refined reflects their face.

God is still in charge of my life. He is not surprised, confused, or baffled by my being awake this morning at 3 in pain. I don't understand the purpose in it, but I will choose to believe there CAN be purpose in these circumstances that are hard for me. Refusing to be refined puts a barrier between me and my refiner. It never helps me.

April 30, 2014

The Ache of Gratitude

In the last week I have had ample reasons for gratitude. For family and friends who have cared for my kids with very little change at all required for my offspring. My daughter even suggested that she would really just prefer to live at Grandpa & Grandma's house. When I asked if she wouldn't even miss me, she suggested we could come and visit occasionally.

I am thankful for meals so many friends have delivered that have saved my husband the energy of making meals every night after a full day of work. For dedicated, caring medical personnel; for people concerned with how I am doing -- all of these remind me of so much that is incredible about mankind. A female anthropologist (I believe it was Margaret Mead, but I'm not sure) said that the first sign of civilization was not tools or dwellings, but evidence of healing. It meant that despite a person's lack of ability, they were still valued highly enough for another to shoulder a heavier load until the wounded was recovered. My usual responsibilities have been shouldered by so many others this last week and more.

This morning, however, I am thankful for pain and illness, for injury. I have never been so aware of how often my upper arm muscles get used as I am now, when my right arm is having problems. Feeling pain is part of it, but finding with a shock that brushing teeth, putting in contacts, brushing hair, holding a pen, texting, opening jars and so many other things this right-handed person does are now excruciating, if not undoable. I'm in awe of the body's flexibility as I ask my left hand to step out of its understudy role and how well it does so much of the time (if somewhat awkwardly!). I'm suddenly humbled and overwhelmed by how much work these muscles in my right arm have done for more than thirty years without so much as a notice from me. I am so thankful for the pain that makes getting dressed, putting in contacts, putting my hair up, and brushing my teeth such an accomplishment. My pain has narrowed my life so I am more able to rejoice over things I brushed past as nothing for so many, many years.

Pain isn't easy. Ever. I can't possibly explain to you how much this past year has ground me down over the hours and days. You wouldn't be able to understand large sections of where I am now unless you walked close to me for large sections of it as it happened. My husband might argue that even if you have, it's STILL hard to follow my logic!

My hope in writing this is to challenge our default belief that pain is bad and to be avoided. This morning it has been a means of so, so much thankfulness that I wanted to offer that option to you, too.

[Tip for you: lying on your back will make it easier to brush your hair if your shoulder muscles are hurting, but it doesn't help for putting in contacts. Just so you know. : )]

April 26, 2014

Present Pain

I had major surgery on my neck last Monday. After a couple nights in the hospital, I came home Wednesday. It's good to be home, but nothing about life is the same. Pain is high, and my pride is taking a beating in all areas of my life. I can't lift more than five pounds, I can't drive, and there's a problem with my right arm that makes it nearly impossible to do anything without my left hand helping.

Waking up is hard, since it means facing high pain and no comfortable position (at least, until my medications start to kick in). This morning I was struggling at 1:30, 3:15, and again at 4:20.

We usually think of pain as a nuisance or inconvenience or, at worst, an obstacle to outlast or overcome. This kind of pain isn't like that. This is the kind of pain that makes every aspect of life into 'now.' What am I able to do in this moment? What am I trying to fight through right now? Can I last through what's happening now? What sorts of tasks or activities are possible this minute? Should I ask for help to pick up this cup now, or should I be pushing myself further into pain in order to recover? I'm having to find new ways of doing everything, from putting on a jacket to putting my hair up in a simple ponytail. I never would have considered such things a triumph before this week.

I've received amazing support from family and friends, care packages that have made me cry, and a wonderful phone call today from a long-time friend of the heart. I told her my frustrations about being denied all my usual means of passing time. Pain and lack of energy prevent walks, exercise, gardening, writing, and worst of all, my brain is so distracted by pain that I can't focus enough to read, either. I told her I was having a hard time just sitting in a chair or lying in bed with nothing to do but try to focus past the pain. My good friend encouraged me to picture myself being held in the protective arms of God through all this, and that thought has given me good mulling material the last hour.

If I had a small child with limited understanding who was greatly hurt and in on-going pain, I as a parent would be holding her as often as she'd let me. I'd never let her out of my sight, and every choice I made would be one that allowed me to drop everything if she needed me. I picture a small infant, old enough to sit up, but not old enough to talk, cradled safely in her parent's arms, watching the world in her wounded state from that impenetrable haven.

These thoughts don't change my circumstances. I'm still in pain. I still don't have any clue what anything beyond 'now' looks like. But it makes all the difference in the world to know that so many battles in front of me are not for me to fight. My Abba fights for me, and his arms tighten around me in comfort when he sees my pain increase.

For today, this is grace that is sufficient for me.