“Finally brothers and sisters…think about such things”

iris

Friends, It has been so long since I have even visited this space. I came here tonight looking for a picture of me and my mom. I thought I’d take a stroll down my virtual memory lane. And friends, what I found here made me mostly sad. My goodness, what a frustrated, unhappy woman I found here. I am particularly saddened by how often I vented the frustrations of motherhood rather than express my gratitude for my daughters and all the things they are teaching me.

Looking at those old posts was like looking at the worst version of myself. I don’t mean this in a down-on-myself, fishing for reassurances kind of way. I read those posts and I saw a woman who was so burdened with guilt and shame that it made my heart cringe. Worse, even, than looking at old pictures of myself in junior high. Yikes. Maybe, if you’ve been around here awhile, you saw something different when you read my posts. I hope so. I know it wasn’t all negative. It’s just that when I read those happy posts, I remember how fleeting those moments of happiness were. How the frustration and guilt and worry were the constant. I am happy to say that this is no longer the case.

For that reason, I feel like it is important to make a change, so, I’ve renamed this blog.

Phillipians 4:8 has been rattling around in my head for a few months now, and I’ve been looking for a way to integrate it more into my life. What I post here will not be all sunshine and happiness, because I have found real peace and beauty on my way to the other side of pain, but I’m not done yet. I have so much to share with you. So many good and difficult and wonderful and painful and freeing and hopeful things. I don’t know if I’ll give much backstory or if I’ll just pick up where I am and let that big blank stay there. I was tempted to start a whole new blog. To metaphorically sweep all that old bitterness under the virtual rug and let it go to the place where neglected blogs die. But I decided that if nothing else, it’s good to know where we come from.

Perhaps by leaving the entire record here, anyone who cares to read it–past, present, or future–might have an understanding of why I celebrate what others might see as brokenness. Somehow I feel like my version of true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy is more intact if I leave it all here.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Phillipians 4:8

Jesus is not Kanye West.

I always imagine Jesus as kind of like a rock star.

Here you have this famous person who can do things that nobody else can, and the word has got out. Naturally, people flock to see Him. He is constantly surrounded by all kinds of people. They press upon Him, asking for healing or blessing or just a word of teaching. People will take anything He offers and still want more. They just want to be near Him.

His disciples, a decent sized entourage in and of themselves, are with Him, trying to manage the crowd. If someone wanted to speak to Jesus, it must have been difficult to even get in front of Him. The woman cursed with bleeding knew she could only hope to touch his cloak. Zaccheus had to climb a tree just to get a glimpse of Him. I’m sure Jesus was aware of the commotion surrounding Him, and how desperate people were for His attention. He knew that no matter how many people He healed, more could come. No matter how much he taught, people would keep following to keep listening.

The more He gives, the larger the crowd grows, and more people line up to be healed. And the more people see these miracles, the word spreads to the edges of the crowd; brothers nudge their sisters toward the Healer. Fathers pick up their sons and carry them forward to Jesus. I imagine that after a few hours of people stepping forward, Jesus’ human body would begin to grow weary, or hungry, or he was ready to go to the next place, or, you know, maybe He needed to go to the bathroom. At some point, wouldn’t it have been easier for him to touch a shoulder and the healing would be instataneous? Touch a forehead and disordered thinking is banished. Touch a cheek and hearing is restored. Touch a back and a spine is straightened. At some point I can see Him handing out these healings quickly, just to get through the crowd and be able to move on to the next without giving much regard to who he was healing. Much like a celebrity signing autographs.

But Jesus was not a rock star.

Matthew 8 shows a much different Jesus than what I imagine. The scripture says that Jesus had a large crowd following him and a leper knelt before Him and said, “Lord if you are willing, You can make me clean.” Jesus reached out His hand and said, “I am willing; be made clean.”

I am willing. Jesus could have healed the leper without a word. He could have told the man to take an offering to the temple and ask for healing there. He could have simply passed the man by. What he did, though, was affirm the man’s spirit and dignity. I am willing. What kind of thrill was it for the leper to hear those words? “I am willing; be made clean.” The healing happened in a moment, but the affirmation, I am willing, stays with the healed man for a lifetime. For the rest of his life, the man gets to tell his friends about the time when Jesus looked him in the eye and said, “I am willing; be made clean.” Wow. Can you imagine?

But that’s not the only way that Jesus challenges my celebrity image. Matthew 8 tells the story of a centurian at Capernaum who told Jesus about a servant who was suffering. “I will come to him,” Jesus said. This is so significant. Here is the Son of God, who has so much teaching and healing and ministry to do that people are waiting for Him pretty much everywhere He goes. Here is a man who is so sought after, He often times can’t even find a quiet place for His disciples and himself to rest. When the centurion told Jesus about his servant’s suffering, I’m sure there were people all around Him waiting, thinking “Get in line, dude.” Yet, here is Jesus telling the centurion, I will come to him.

He was not too busy. He was not too important. Jesus did not dispatch one of His disciples to go see about this servant, though he could have. He heard about the servant’s agony and his response was, I will come to him. The scripture goes on to say that the centurian said that Jesus did not have to go to the servant. He could speak the words and the servant would be healed. Jesus was impressed by the centurion’s faith, and the servant was healed.

Then Jesus went to the home of Peter. While there, Jesus saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. It struck me as interesting that Peter, who by this time has seen Jesus perform healing after healing, does not ask Jesus to cure his mother-in-law. Or, maybe he did and the scripture just doesn’t include that detail. Matthew writes that Jesus saw her lying in bed, and He touched her hand, and the fever left her. Then she got up and served Him.

Sometimes people are healed because they present themselves before the Lord. Sometimes they are healed because someone else presents their need to the Lord. Sometimes the Lord comes to us in our suffering with no plea from ourselves or others. But what does not change is that He is willing. He will come to us.

I’ll be honest. I have been waiting for healing for my husband for a very long time. I’ve wondered what the hold-up is. I’ve considered whether Jesus was off doing more noteworthy things like curing a child of a terminal disease or delivering a starving, oppressed people from a violent regime. Those things are important and miraculous. But Jesus is not a celebrity who is too busy. And when it happens is not nearly as important as that it does happen. Last time I checked, none of the people who receiving healing looked at Jesus and said, “What took you so long?” He is not going to absentmindedly put His hand on my husband and heal him as He passes by just to get him out of His way. He is going look John fully in the face, considering the whole of who he is and His love for him, and He is going to say, I am willing.

And, friend, He will do it for you, too.

When the ship becomes the anchor.

Last weekend I read through some of these archives, particularly posts from the winter months, and after doing so it seems this conclusion has been an inevitability for so very long.

I do not know what is around the bend. I cannot tell if the clouds are scattering or if they’re gathering. But now that I’ve let go, I can see the blue skies so much more clearly despite the hazy horizon. Every morning I rise feeling a little lighter than the day before.

My heart has always floated on the wind. My spirit yearns to follow the river, to see what’s around that next bend. When I walk in the woods, I’m never ready to turn back and go home. So I guess I shouldn’t be suprised that the more I drift, the more centered I am in my spirit…the closer I am to God.

Maybe anywhere the wind blows is all worth waiting for.

It’s hard to not worry when they keep telling you not to worry.

Since summer break began, I have already had two “firsts.” Last weekend was the first time I ever participated in a Komen Race for the Cure. And, coincidentally enough, a few days before that I  had my first-ever mammogram! Whee!

I’ll spare you the up-close and uncomfortable details of the mammogram, because let me tell you, they are up-close and uncomfortable. But, since I’m not 25 anymore–or even 30 anymore–my doctor said it was time to get a “baseline” done so that when I hit 40 (the age at which boobies begin to change faster), they have a younger picture to compare it to and identify any potential areas of concern. No problem. Especially since the imaging center was efficient, courteous, and running on schedule. The technician told me I would receive a letter in about a week with my test results. She said about 50 percent of the time patients are asked to come back for a follow-up test because the doctors want to take a closer look, and it is really nothing to worry about if that happens to me because of that 50 percent who have to come back, like, over 90 percent are given a clean bill of health. Okay, duly noted. I am not a worrier-over-nothing by nature, so I was cool.

So off I skipped away from that appointment noting how funny it was–these coincidences. Six weeks ago when my mom asked me if I wanted to walk in the Komen Race for the Cure with her this year, I had no idea that my doctor was going to recommend a mammogram. Funny how these two firsts would happen within 72 hours of each other.

The Race was, to put it simply, amazing. I live near a major metropolitan area, and this city’s annual Komen Race is one of the largest in the country–as in over 64,000 participants, over 4,900 survivors, and millions of dollars raised for breast cancer research. I was walking that day with my mom, a few of her good friends, my uncle Eric, and my uncle’s wife, Brenda, who is a two-year breast cancer survivor. The significance of this event was not lost on me. First, just the sheer size and energy of the crowd is enough to make an impression. Then I began looking at all the t-shirts. There were teams with t-shirts bearing the images of women, young and old, some with children on their laps, with the words, “In loving memory of…” These women were beautiful, vibrant, even joyful in their pictures. Some people wore the names of individual women and men on tags pinned to their shirt. No pictures but names…. “my beautiful mama Joyce,” “my auntie Suzanne.” One woman had five names listed on her tag. Five. All in all, it was a joyful atmosphere, but one could sense an underlying solemnity in some of the groups and teams that gathered. I saw some teams shedding tears together. Some teams were jubilant. Babies, survivors in their pink-shirts, men, women, young and old, all colors, all ethnicities. Mom and I were impressed by how many how many young men were walking in groups together. You know, guys who were old enough that their moms could make them be there, yet they were not walking with girlfriends, moms, aunts, whoever. Maybe they were there because their employers sponsored a team. Who cares? The point is they got their butts out of bed at a crazy early hour on a Saturday to get downtown to walk with 64,000 other people the the heat. They were there.

Once the walking part of the race got underway, because you know 64,000 people aren’t all going to run, just the movement of the group and jockeying to stay with your team becomes the focus, but everybody was very sweet. Once the crowd found its pace, and spread out into comfortable groups, it was possible to separate the walkers from the bystanders, and the bystanders cheered for everyone as if we were actually running. Everyone had pink in their clothing, but all-pink shirts are reserved for breast cancer survivors, and when a survivor walked by, the bystanders really cheered like crazy. It was wonderful to see my Aunt Brenda get that kind of support and affirmation from complete strangers.

At a certain point in the route, there is a slight hill, and I could finally see what was ahead of me.

This is what I saw behind me.

All those tiny, white dots? That river of white up ahead and behind? Those are all people. And that wasn’t even everybody. At that point in the race route, some people were already past the finish line. This was the point where the goosebumps and the tears came for me. It was amazing to see so many people from all walks of life, young and old, every color, every ethnicity, some walking because their employer sponsored a team, some walking because their families and friends have been stricken with this disease. In the end, it doesn’t matter why a person was there. Everyone was united for a common cause for a few hours that morning. That felt so very good to my heart and spirit.

Four days after the Race, I got my letter from the imaging center. My mammogram showed an area of concern. I wasn’t worried, like they said, no need to at this stage. I was more bummed that I would have to make two more phone calls and schedule another appointment. My first call was to be to my regular doctor. Her nurse talked me through the whole need for the follow up. There is an area on the left side that is of some concern. It is probably just thickening tissue which happens as we get older. The radiologist just wants a clearer look at the area. She assured me that there was no need to worry. “I understand,” I told her. “The technician who did my first test told me this happens quite a bit with baseline tests, so I wasn’t too surprised about the letter.” “Oh, good,” the nurse replied. “Okay, well if you have any follow up questions, just call us. Go ahead and schedule the appointment for whenever it’s convenient for you. This is not an emergency, so don’t worry.”

Dude.

Didn’t I just say I wasn’t? I know they probably have to give this same news to a lot of women who jump to scary conclusions, so they’re just being professional and doing their job and being reassuring, I get that. In fact, they probably say it out of habit, really. This is what I told myself as I hung up with the nurse and dialed the number for the imaging center to schedule my appointment. The scheduler is an old acquaintance way back from my softball years and is very nice. We set the date for the follow up, and she told me that the radiologist would read my tests that day and I would leave that appointment with my results. She too assured me not to worry.

Okay, maybe I’m a little bit of an emotional rebel, but the more I’m told not to feel a certain way, the more I’m going to wonder if I should be feeling that way. Again, I know that these women are being kind, and I take their kindness as such. I’m not criticizing them at all. I’m merely pointing out that telling someone not to worry often has the opposite effect of what is intended. But even still, I wasn’t too worried. All these assurances of don’t worry made me curious how other women took this news, and if that was why the assurances were offered so quickly and readily at every point along the way.

Thanks to the freedom of not working in the summer and a dad who is retired and can watch the kids anytime, I was able to get my follow up mammogram scheduled for the very next day. Again, my experience at the imaging center was smooth, efficient, professional. The technician was very sweet as she hurt me and made my body into shapes that I never thought possible all in the name of good health care. At least her hands were warm. As promised I got my results back in a matter of minutes.

The “girl” looks okay right now, but they want me to come back in six months just to make sure nothing is changing. And this time, there was no don’t worry assurance.

Huh. Which, okay, this is good news. Clearly, if they were still concerned about what they saw, they would have given me an MRI that day (they told me so). And I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill, because as I learned at the Komen Race, hundreds of women receive a much more serious and heartbreaking diagnosis every single day. Still, what should have been a baseline test for five years in the future is now a baseline for six months from now. I’m not worried, but I would have preferred the result that goes, “see you when you’re 40.” Ya know?

What was that I said about “unpleasant and unforseen circumstances”?

Yowser. Not 48 hours after I hit the publish button on that last post, wherein I mentioned things looking slightly up financially, my dog went and ate something inedible. One surgery and $3,000 later I am trying to remind myself that God knew about this and the money will be there. I’m grateful that this particular animal hospital will let people pay off their bill, interest free, as long as it is paid off within 12 months. We certainly had other plans for that three grand that we don’t actually have right now. And this is exactly the kind of “unpleasant and unforseen circumstances” I was hoping to avoid. But the upside? Now I know how much I really, really love her. She’s going to be just fine…. Dumb dog.

Moments of grace.

2011 has been off to a rather interesting start. We have had something like eight snow days in the first six weeks of this year, and I firmly believe this has been by God’s design. This extra time at home has given me more time with my kids, and more time for reflection. I’ve been able to think more about where I’m heading in terms of family and career rather than run the gauntlet of my typical week.

Good things are happening. I have a new church home and I love it. I love their approach to missions and their focus on reaching out to the homeless and the “invisible” suffering and the marginalized right here in our own communities as well as supporting an orphanage in Mexico. The teaching is Biblical, but something that I can chew on throughout the week and keeps me wanting to go back for more. I’ve been able to connect with a small Bible study group. And, it is no small thing that my husband and kids seem to enjoy it, too. That, truly, is an answer to prayer.

Our long-term goal of getting a larger home is finally close enough that we can start talking about them in terms of “next year” rather than in terms of “hopefully,” “maybe,” or “the three-year plan.” Of course, even if we are able to purchase a new home next year, it is still a hopefully, barring any unpleasant or unforeseen circumstances. But, even if we cannot, it feels good to know that we are moving in the right direction in terms of financial stability.

These last six weeks, I’ve been able to do more “heart”work and soul-searching and trying to make sure that my motivations are good and God-honoring as it pertains to my goals and desires. I truly believe that God is going to bless us in the months ahead…I just have to be sure that remain patient and obedient with His timing, and to faithfully continue the work He has given me to the best of my ability. 2011 has had some real moments of grace and clarity and peace, for which I am extremely grateful.

December Views-Day 12: Oh, Christmas tree!

I have found a new church home, and, boy, has it ever done my heart good. During the regular morning service, they played a video of a Random Act of Culture… a group of people who blended into a crowded food court at a mall and took the patrons by surprise with a powerful performance of the Halleluia Chorus. And because music just gets to me, because seeing people do something brave and share their God-given talent makes me all goosebumpy inside, yours truly here wept like a baby. It was so powerful and beautiful. That was the first crack in my stress-induced shell. It was a much needed and very welcome break.

Then last night I went to an evening Advent service.  The sanctuary was candle lit, the music was wonderful, and the Spirit was there with peace and a quiet kind of joy that can only be described as, well, divine. The stress just melted away, and now I can finally feel the Christmas spirit creeping in despite a rather terrifying pile of papers to grade, tests to write and administer, and a daunting to-do list. I’m going to try very hard not to let the stress creep back in. None of it matters half so much as the happiness and health of my family and my heart’s peace.

So, as we head into this final gauntlet of Holiday preparations, I wish your heart the very thing mine has most sorely needed–peace.

 

December Views – Day 5: Truth in photograpy (playing catch up)

This isn’t the photo that I wanted to show you of this place, but it is the only one I have. And for a girl who is already 8 days behind in a month-long project, I can’t be too choosy. I shot this photo on Dec. 5 after an evening meeting at my new church home.

My. new. church. home. ——> LONG AWAITED ANSWER TO PRAYER

More on that later, I promise. For now, it’s just good to have a place to go and feel at home. Expect a photo of these gorgeous windows from the inside later this month.

Love Thursday: On beauty and worth.

In January, on a whim, I flew down to Houston, Texas, to do something that I felt compelled to do. You see, I had fallen in love with this little blog called Chookooloonks. I don’t even remember now how I found it… but oh, am I ever-so-glad that I did. Though the photography is just beautiful, it was the spirit of the blog that just kept me going back day after day, without fail. It felt like a comfy space. A beautiful, comfy space.

It was months before I got up the nerve to e-mail Karen, the woman behind chookooloonks, personally and tell her how much I appreciated her words and admired her photography. When she responded, she was, of course, lovely and gracious and just as sweet as she could be. Her frequent message to her readers is, quite simply, that the beauty of our lives is worth celebrating and that we are all worthy to be considered beautiful. Worthy… it’s not a word she uses frequently, but it is infused in every bit of encouragement or uplifting post she writes. It was a feeling I consistently felt when I visited her blog.

And it is something that I have struggled with all my life. Feeling worthy. Now, I don’t want to get all creepy-like and say something really crazy like “Chookooloonks saved my life!” No, but chookooloonks was an open door. A warm, sunny, beautiful (albeit virtual) space where I was not preached at, but gently encouraged to think of myself and my life as worthy and beautiful, and this is important, to see worth and beauty on my own terms. It’s really difficult to describe how it all unfolded, but for lack of a better way of putting it– it just created a space in my own thinking. Just a bit of quiet space that, in time, drew me to prayer, and reflection, and contentment, and allowed me to reconnect with myself, my Lord, and my own spirit. I so desperately needed it at that time.

As time went on I secretly wished that I was a more serious writer/blogger/writing professional so I could justify going to one of these huge BlogHer conferences where Karen sometimes speaks and perhaps meet her or some of these other cool women who are such excellent writers and do such wonderful things to build a network and community among all people, but particularly women on the web. Smart, cosmopolitan, cutting-edge types that are managing to have damn-near it all in terms of career, and a family, and talent, and notoriety, and fabulous shoes. I just didn’t see myself and my worn out Clark sandals as being a part of that crowd. I’d feel uncomfortable and out of place.

So when Karen announced that she was going to take pictures of ordinary folks for her upcoming book The Beauty of Different, and that she was seeking volunteers for anybody who would or could be in the Houston area during MLK weekend, I felt compelled, compelled I say, to do it. 1. Because I was dying to meet this woman. 2. Because I relished the opportunity to tell her face-to-face that her vision of what she wants to do in the world through her blog is working. 3. Because I finally felt like I could be worthy of being considered for such a project even though, I am convinced, I have the most ordinary looking face in the world. Didn’t matter. Karen, I thought, will make me look beautiful because I’ve never seen a not-beautiful person in her pictures.

So I flew to Houston with my niece Leslie and I did it.

And it was grand because… because… well… for lots of reasons. Because I got to run down an airport terminal to board the plane at the very last minute before take off, just like in the movies! Because I got to have drinks at 1 p.m. in the afternoon… and then I got to have more that evening. Because I got to hang with the coolest niece in the world. Because I got to go to a new city. Because I flew in a plane and didn’t cry (I don’t much like flying). I got to stay in a swanky hotel. But the best part, without a doubt, was meeting Karen because, well… she is the real deal. She was so warm, and kind, and encouraging, and real. Two years ago I never would have had the nerve to put myself in a situation to meet her because I would have been intimidated by the fact that she is so well-educated, had traveled so widely, has such ability. A woman like her must have, like, a gazillion friends and I would just be a waste of her time. I’d have been too self-conscious. But see, that’s what’s changed over the past two years… with a daily, little, gentle nudge of encouragement from her blog. So, you see, I had to go and tell her so.

So I went, and just the whole experience of doing this for myself, it happened at the right time for the right reasons. And I have to tell you that I so wholeheartedly agree with Karen’s perspective on beauty. I know that I am not the only woman who has struggled with feeling beautiful or worthy or deserving or good enough. But she is absolutely right when she says that we are ALL beautiful. Her book, The Beauty of Different, celebrates this truth, and I encourage you to buy two copies: one for yourself and one for someone who needs to be reminded that he/she is beautiful.

This is the photo that Karen took of me that day.

When I look at this, I don’t necessarily see beauty, but I see worth. And I see strength. Two things that, for a long time, I had been feeling a lack of, but I do not any longer. So to my friends, to my family, to Karen @ chookooloonks, and especially to my husband and children, and Jesus… I say thank you. Thank you.