Friday, September 30, 2011

A Little Bit of News

Guess what y'all! I said yes.
About a month ago, I found an invitation online to write every day for 31 days.
And I said yes. 
 I confess, I started early and got ahead of myself just a little bit.
And, well...
I've already got the first thirteen days done and a cute little graphic, too.

 But you can't fault me my excitement
because this subject is one of my favorites.
So won't you join me for the month of October
on a journey to Happier Ever After?
 I can't wait.
We start tomorrow!  See you then!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

When Your Son Is a Soldier

I was putting away clean dishes and packing lunch boxes, but Adrian and his dad were hunched over a screen before breakfast or even coffee. I leaned over Adrian's shoulder to see what commanded such early attention, and I saw the string of comments numbered 99.

It had started with Adrian's Facebook status that read, "Try Jesus, if it doesn't work out the devil will always take you back." It sparked a discussion debate about evolution, the need for proof, and a rationalizing away of 16 years of faith with flippant condescension and quite a few four letter words. The main players were a self-proclaimed high school atheist, a kid from the neighborhood who contributed only foul language, a smart kid who dusted off everything he had ever learned in science class, and my son who, together with his faith, was the evening's punching bag.

As I listened and made turkey sandwiches, I began to feel animal instinct in my gut. Not trusting the mama bear awakening from hibernation inside me, I remained quiet. Mike had some pointers for Adrian about how to move away from argument by asking questions to get his friends to think through issues and draw their own logical conclusions. Adrian had bowed out of the Facebook conversation at about midnight, at 70 comments. He was hoping to continue the discussion at school face to face.  He had also hoped to leave the thread on Facebook for others to read, but the comments continued without him or the Light of Christ.  His Facebook wall had become a platform for others rather than for himself, so at 107 comments, he hit delete.

With the touch of one button, all those cyber-words disappeared forever. Or did they? Words are powerful. It's quite amazing for little intangible things to go out into time and space unseen, without being able to be held or captured or retracted, and carry such weight to direct future relations and events. It's quite remarkable really.

Later that day, the mama bear storm still threatening inside me, I read through some of those comments (before they were removed). I still had nothing to say about any of this for fear that what would come out of me would be protection for my little boy rather than encouragement for a soldier of the Lord to stand firm after he had done all, Paul's wise words to those he fathered in the faith when they were being attacked.

Apparently that's a dad thing, not a mom thing, because Mike carried that early morning conversation with him throughout the day yesterday too. But rather than remain quiet, he found words to uphold Adrian, and Adrian texted words that shined bright right back to his dad.

Before I share the text messages between father and son, I need to set the stage for one of the comments. Our family is reading Not a Fan by Kyle Ideman out loud together at the dinner table each night. The premise of the book is to highlight the biblical difference between a true follower and a fan. It has been a great book to ponder as a family because being a true follower is quite the challenge to live out daily. Each chapter ends with a real person's testimony of choosing to really follow Christ and be more than a fair-weather fan. Each testimony ends with that person's admission: My name is Jacob Carter, and I am not a fan.

Here's how the text conversation between Mike and Adrian went yesterday:

 Father: I was moved at your witness of Christ to those guys on Facebook. I believe it also revealed how lost they are. You also got to enter into the fellowship of suffering with Christ. How precious it is to identify with Jesus.
Son:  They were laughing at me at lunch today. It was embarrassing! Everyone was like “what the heck?” But I rejoice because God was mocked and laughed at, so that means they didn’t hurt me. They only helped me look like Christ even more!
Father:  Awesome! This is so good, Jesus said happy are you when people insult you and persecute you because you are MY FOLLOWERS! Matt 5:11 – you are not a fan. J

How glad I am that a father can find his words when a mother can't.

How good it feels when being proud of your boy-soldier is what finally tames the mama bear inside.


Friday, September 23, 2011

What Hindsight Can Do to One's Faith

In August of 2000 Noelle became very ill. Since then our family has been through much graver illnesses like Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and kidney failure with a subsequent transplant. I have been the care-giver for two transplant patients, since then — two! 

Me — the one who dropped mom off at the periodontist's office for gum surgery and then picked her up two hours later and promptly fainted dead away just listening to the doctor tell my mom with her slightly swollen jowls not to swish because it might disrupt the stitches.

Since then, I have given countless shots to Mike, three of which were mistakenly with an IV gauge needle (oops!), pulled raw skin away from a port with medical tape on a daily basis, and unstopped drains that were clogged with hair that fell out in clumps. Not to mention vomit duty, and all without fainting or even a squeemish stomach.  We do what we must when we're surviving.

This week life has been busy and trying, and I'm sure it's no accident I stumbled upon this story I wrote as an email to ask for prayer for my kids eleven years ago when Noelle was two.

Once upon a time in a time and land much like our own, a beautiful baby girl was born to a very proud mommy and daddy. Mommy and Daddy, overjoyed with this perfect gift from God, enthusiastically began to meet her every need: 2:00 am feedings, diaper changes galore, Tylenol for fever, an occasional antibiotic for an ear infection, many hours in a rocking chair with lots of singing ....

And every night before bed, Mommy would pray, "Thank you, God, for your good and perfect gift to us; thank you for keeping her healthy and strong. Bless her as she sleeps and grows (you grow during sleep, you know that?) into a beautiful young woman that will come to know you and love you and serve you. Cover our home with your perfect peace and protection tonight, preparing us for all that will come tomorrow. Amen."

Then Daddy would pray, "I plead the blood of Christ over my daughter, our house, our cars, our possessions, and our family."

As the baby girl grew into toddlerhood, she added her prayer to her parents', "For this day. For Mommy. For Daddy, For toys, for [insert everything she could think of here]. Jesus' name, AAAA--Mmeeeeeeen!"

Then one day, the little girl got sick. Mommy rushed her to the emergency room (twice) where they ruled out leukemia and meningitis (Whew!), but found that she had pneumonia. A bit of antibiotic and back to living happily ever after. But two weeks later, the fever returned, peaking at 105.4. This was cause for admitting baby girl to the hospital. Four days later it was determined that she had a whopping sinus infection and a severe kidney infection. 

Further tests, which involved 2 1/2 hours of begging a recently-potty-trained two-year-old to pee on the X-ray table to no avail, detected renal reflux caused by anatomical deformities. It seems her urinary apparatus did not develop into the finely-tuned machinery God created it to be. But being the courageous young heroine she was, her body had quietly and persistently made a gallant effort to overcome this disadvantage all by herself since before she was born.

Had she continued to barely win the battle alone, she would have developed kidney failure. In fact her urologist was surprised that her kidneys were not already damaged.

Feeling better after 5 consecutive days of Rocephin injections

But God sent pneumonia, 105.4 fever, and a bad sinus infection to protect her from kidney damage and impending kidney failure. In the middle of the night, in a chair beside a hospital bed much too large  for a two-year-old, the mommy found herself praising God for things like pneumonia, emergency room trips, and scary-high fever. She realized God's provision had shown up in things rarely recognized as "from God." She even thanked God that her baby was losing the fight on her own. (Who is ever thankful for losing?)

She remembered two and a half years of nightly prayers for health, growth (she was off the bottom of the growth chart since three months of age without explanation), and protection. She thanked God for answering her prayers with, "No." 
She repented for praying things just because that's what one is supposed to pray for. She asked God to give her faith to believe He is always at work, even if she was unaware, as she usually was. She asked God for faith to respond with worship and gratitude for things He is silently orchestrating in His perfect wisdom that may not look on the surface like gifts of grace.

The family will face extended medical treatment, not only for the little girl, but also for her brother and sister because this condition is hereditary. So in "real time" the family hasn't lived happily ever after yet, but is trusting in God's blessing and promise that they will. -- The End.

I've learned this week that stories are much more entertaining when they are not our own personal experience. But I have been effected by living this story in ways that watching it on TV or reading it in a book never could. I praise God for the work he's doing in Noelle and in the lives of our whole family. Please continue to pray for us as we seek God's healing in Noelle's body and perhaps Adrian and Reagan as well. They have a 40% chance of having the same condition. We are praying that God will bring glory unto himself in every aspect of this trial and complete his work in us through it. (written August, 2000)
It appears I was already gaining the fortitude when Noelle was a baby to withstand dire medical diagnoses and treatments without fainting. There was no way I could have known back then that God was preparing me to nurse and comfort my husband and guide my young children through their dad's cancer.

With hindsight I see that God was up to more than I knew at the time. That renews my strength this week when I've grown weary. It's good to see growth and remember that God is at work even in the midst of trial. That's encouraging and I definitely prefer it over fainting in the dentist's office any day.

Even youths grow tired and weary,
   and young men stumble and fall;
   but those who hope in the LORD
   will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
   they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40:30-31


Friday, September 16, 2011

Adventure for a Good Girl

Preparing to launch her first book, Grace for the Good Girl, Emily Freeman posted a few Jeff Foxworthy-ish statements that grabbed me by the earlobes and said, "Hello! I'm talkin' to you!" This book has already changed me, and I haven't even read it yet. But not in the way you probably think.

You know you're a good girl if you put "Make a to-do list" on your to-do list.

Bulls eye.

"You might be a good girl if" statements started showing up daily for about a week and each pinned me with a dart to the heart into the center of the boundaries, and I learned something new about myself. Not that I'm a good girl — I knew that long ago.

But that I have been desperate to raise good girls.

I have two.

And for the most part they are, but that other part? Yeah, I've gathered a few gray hairs over that small part. The good girl in me is obsessing over the parts of my girls that boldly go where I never went.

I've got to let it go:
  • uncage these girls to know God's grace more intimately than my restrictions and expectations.
  • foster the desire to please God above all others.
  • release them to the reckless abandon they seem bent to that I know little of.

I mostly walked the straight and narrow because of fear. I was compliant — not from love, but from fear of consequences, fear of the unknown, fear of angry discipline and the let-down in their eyes.

I don't see this in my daughters.

Instead I see daring, wide-open, unhinged desire to take on life without reservation. Yet that has not stopped me from trying to mold them into my image.

All these years I've thought that giving them a good-girl take on life would set them free:
  • from possible regret.
  • from possible failure.
  • from a whole host of things I've never been willing to risk, even though they might possibly turn out great. 
But my daughters aren't good girls; they're brave hearts. And I think I'm wrong to saddle these courageous girls with my cautious approach to life. They live in a different age, perhaps one in which caution will not serve them as well as their daring will.

I don't need to read this book for me. Rather, I'll read this book looking for the way a good girl raises daughters that are bent toward courage.

Tomorrow, we three will take our copy of Grace for the Good Girl and head to Charlotte for a day of shopping, then stop in on the author at the nest. Maybe these two chick-a-dees can teach their mother-hen a thing or two about adventure and flying fee into unfamiliar places. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Suffer the Children to Come

From the hundreds of images Mike brought home from his twelve days in Kenya, I only found one or two with the elderly in them. I asked Mike why this was, and he said there were indeed a few who came.

Would you?

If it meant walking
who knows how far
and being this tired before it even started?

And then having to walk back?
In the dark?
After you stood for a six hour church service?
Would you come?

If you had to be carried
because you hadn't been able to walk in over 2 years?

Would you come like a child,
universal and  biological,
 tortured yet also somehow unscathed
by Earth's harsh realities? 

They're altogether hopeful and haunting.
Could you come like that?

Would you?

Could you?

They stand...
 and wait,

with no room to move, no bread or water,
yet they are attentive, all eyes on one who will deliver Good News.
 They are orderly, patient, kind.

Would you come like that?
Would you?

Here the answer is yes, a thousand simple times — yes.
Standing room only and shoulder to shoulder,
a resounding choir of yes.
It confounds.

It humbles.

And these are the cheap seats, the side of the stage,
the front reserved for the adluts
who will also stand.

Come to me all you who are weary
and burdened,
and I will give you rest.  ~Jesus

Contemplating faith that is simple and easy in Kenya,
and so complex and uncrowded in America.
I wonder how far would I go
to come unto Him?
Joining Ann today.

Monday, September 12, 2011

September 12th

I drive in to the office and see the flags from the federal building and the Veterans Affairs Administration Building that flank both sides of my car just like I do each morning. Red, White, and Blue sentinels unfurl in the cool breeze of morning at full mast today, and I feel relief.

Remembering is our duty and desire. But when I am severely stricken, words just don't come. When tragedy forces us down under its dark and dusty crush, my instinct is to listen and not speak.

So yesterday I watched horrific images again and heard sorrowful reflections on that day in silence, just as stunned as a decade ago. Tears are all that escaped me — again.  A decade has not helped me make sense of this day.

Could it be because we were not created for death and destruction? That God placed us here in a Garden to commune with him eternally? We are alien and stranger to these things of this Fallen Earth; sorrow and despair speak a language I don't speak.

So today, September 12th, our duty to keep tragedy company behind us, I fill with relief and a desire to speak my native tongue. I let gratitude be the familiar words that guide me back to the place of Hope, Rescue, and Relief.

#510 – 529

~ heart-shaped rocks painted red
~ mother-daughter love

~ American armed forces that fight for freedom
~ Chris's dress uniform on Sunday
~ a budding rap artist with an upcoming audience
~ big dreams from young kids
~ grace for a good girl coming next weekend
~ a shopping date with daughters
~ African stick figures that herald good news even from a Muslim-dominated terrain, a gift of the Gift

~ still not knowing what to do with that fateful day
~ taking stock of the past and finding much contentment there
~ someone to walk with through this life
~ kisses at the refrigerator door
~ 11 in a living room
~ talk of Mary in September
~ plans for next year
~ early morning productivity
~ edits from a new friend
~ beautiful Fall temperatures
~ flags, and spirits, flying higher again

~ Counting with Ann today ~

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Music To a Mamma's Ears

It was Wednesday night and that meant zig-zaging back and forth across town to get to church on time. Adding three kids to the back seat and one to the passenger side was only the beginning.

There was a conversation going on between two in the back seat. A third had ear buds in. My son sitting shotgun was having a hard time plugging his cell phone into the dashboard because he was distracted with telling me about his AP English teacher and how he rocks the whole world. (Thank you, Jesus, for answered prayer. Amen.) I was listening and glancing over occasionally so he'd know how intrigued I am that Mr. McWilliams understands him. I'm also navigating 5:00 traffic. Can anyone say multi-tasking?

We did the same thing on the way home, only this time in the dark. Adrian was still excited about his English class, and wants to finish the story he had started several hours previously. He gave me all the details and set the stage for what he was about to show me. 

They had read aloud from an anthology textbook in class that day. This is not a textbook he can take home, but he thinks the writing was amazing. He doesn't agree with the author's contentions necessarily, but, oh, the writing is just so amazing that he doesn't think he will be able to sleep tonight. Even in class he thinks of me, the only other person he knows who loves words like that. He just has to share them with me, so he takes careful pictures — five of them in succession so as to capture the entire selection.

While he was pulling out his phone and calling up pictures to read the piece to me, a new song started on the radio. Three teenie-bopper girls in the backseat began to bop. And sing. 

With abandon.

 (Go ahead and hit play on the embedded video below for the same effect we felt in the car while you read the rest of my story.)


At that very moment the girls began to sing the most infectious song ever, loud enough for God in heaven to hear them. Adrian took a deep breath to protest as loudly as humanly possible, hoping to overpower not one, but all three girls behind him. I knew what was coming and braced myself with the steering wheel for the oncoming collision of teen wills. But his inhale became a gulp and he paused. I took my eyes off the road long enough to see what had happened. I watched him exhale, deflate, and set his phone in his lap in one movement, as if he had surrendered.

The car was rocking side to side to the beat of the music and Adrian began moving both hands up and down alternately, a scale in mid-air. There was a far-off look in his eye with a hint of a smile as he considered his choices. With his left hand weighing heavy, he says, "World War III or... [and tipping the scale to the right] ... or happy singing." He shrugs a shoulder.  "I'll just read it to you when we get home, Mom."

And that's when you know that they're growing up. When they see beyond themselves and put others first right in the midst of the circumstance. When they put on hold their own amazing words so someone else can sing happy. When doing so feels good and seems right, and he can tap his toe and sing along.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

African Appetizer

Mike's home, and he brought a few pictures. 

He did take a picture of his dusty feet, after all. 
But I prefer this one, because you can really see just how dusty it was:

There's a few amazing stories and images to accompany them. 
For now, to whet your appetite, I leave you with these two images...

This is one town in Kenya at one moment in time.
Y'all, it makes me wonder what heaven will be like.
This makes me want to go there. Now.
And be surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.

Project Simple Pleasures2 
{Warning: If you click on the last two pictures and zoom in, it will give you goose bumps.}
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