We live out in rural Wisconsin. It’s kind of easy for me to get caught up in some of the negatives of Midwest living.
Think subzero, hurts to breathe, snot freezes in your nose kind of winters and two week long summers.
But I’m getting better at learning to stop and appreciate the things I overlook in my hypothermia. Like the fact that our view of the night sky is unobstructed and undiluted. Unobstructed because we’re in the middle of fields and undiluted because we’re a fifteen minute drive from a gallon of milk and subsequently any “city” lights.
We’re currently experiencing our two weeks of incredibly gorgeous summer in which we have defrosted enough to turn the air conditioning on and break out the bug spray for our state bird, (the only one that survives the winter) the mosquito. We often stay up and outside as late as possible to enjoy every moment of it.
So yesterday I got to look at that beautiful night sky, not from behind iced and snow blown windows, but from the patio, reeking of “Deep Woods”.
It was magnificent.
How often do I pass a cursory glance over that expanse and only see those scattered few, bright, blessings shining down?
I sat listening to children bouncing on a trampoline, squealing with mock outrage over an overzealous sibling with a hose full of teeth chattering well water. I sat laughing, as our newly acquired (officially egg laying) chickens squawked over the commotion and ran crazy poultry circles around their coop.
And content, I gazed up. Focused in. To those bright, obvious, stars and then past them. As I panned across that sky, a thousand more came to my attention. These blessings aren’t as bright. They seem to get lost in the vastness in which they’ve been scattered, but the sheer volume of them is breathtaking.
Lord! How I overlook your blessings!
Oh, I see those that are closest at hand, that shine the brightest from here. I see the obvious food on the table, clean water from taps and roof over our heads. I see the ones that are measured biggest from my current vantage point.
But what about the others?
The ones that from here, under the heavens, appear so much smaller and less significant.
The gift of less. Is that a star, or a meteor? I can’t quite tell from here…
The gift of trial. Perhaps it’s a passing plane or satellite? Maybe if I squint…
The gift of the broken AC, water heater and car. The disability denial. The breast lump. The endless special forms that come with special needs. Certainly if I had a better vantage point, I’d see them more clearly?
And I think, someday I will. Someday I’ll look down on them from above and I can’t help but think those stars that wink so small from here, will flare brightest in light of eternity. Those blessings so much harder to distinguish living in the world will be clearest in their proximity to the Light of The World.
But some of them He shows me here. When His telescoping Spirit reveals small glimpses of what it must be like to gaze down on the twinkling blanket of blessings He’s laid over me.
Remember that lump of last month? That sure didn’t shine brightly as my biggest blessing when first I glimpsed it.
Then they told me it was precancerous. That these lesions are only found via mammography because they spread outward, instead of up, without forming a palpable lump. That I was two years from my first mammogram and if I hadn’t had that cyst that prompted the imaging, which found the lesion…..
And that cyst? It disappeared a few days after the partial mastectomy that removed all trace of the lesion with clean margins and no further treatment.
Some blessings sure shine brighter than others…. depending on my vantage point.
This road we’re on sure has a lot of stones in it. The narrow path can be hard to navigate. Trying not to fall to the left or the right is tough when this road less traveled never seems to stay straight. Instead, we’re full steam ahead on a journey that has more twists and turns than the county fair roller coaster. I heard someone say once that if you’re bored as a Christian, you’re not doing it right. If there is any Truth to that, I have to believe we’re really rocking this following Jesus thing.
But the really cool thing I’m finding about maturity is that my reflexes have greatly improved. Usually, at a new bump or bend at break neck speed, I start with crying out. Right away I know to approach the One Whose stamp of approval has been placed on this detour. I occasionally start with the “Why me”, followed by (a little bit whiney), “What is it about me that requires THIS much correction?” Or maybe “What am I NOT learning?” and sometimes, “How long, Lord?”. This is a much quicker stop than it used to be. Because, well, reflexes. Muscle memory? Practice?
Next, I move on to remembering. Because when I’m nervous or scared or just plain tired, I know that I fail to practice some basic safety measures like looking in the rearview mirrors. Looking at where I’ve been reminds me of how I’ve gotten through, and Who is always traveling WITH me. Over every rough patch, through every close call, I can find strength in remembering that those situations seemed precarious at the time too, so surely there is hope yet for this one.
Then I slow down and remember to check those side mirrors and watch my blind spots. Because, in remembering, I’m reminded that this is when the enemy delights in trying to destroy. Destroy my peace, destroy my calm and destroy my deep breathing exercises. A bit of defensive driving here is absolutely crucial. I grab hold of that manual, that map, that Word of God and speak Truth to myself where lies threaten to sneak up on me.
This last couple of weeks I had some difficulty navigating. We hit a few bumps. The A/C went out in my van. Which isn’t such a big deal unless you have a kiddo that doesn’t regulate their body temperature well. Then, there’s the water heater that suddenly quits. And in the midst of a cold shower, another bump. Or rather, a lump.
In my breast.
And if any of you have experienced this kind of bump in your road, you may know the kind of road I traveled this week. It took a twist at the ultrasound, after the mammogram, when the radiologist ordered the core needle biopsy. Though I’d been in regular prayer over all our bumps lately, I will admit that the big medical words like radial scar and inter ductal carcinoma had me doing more of what would be considered, praying continuously.
I prayed continuously as they prepped for biopsy. I prayed continuously when that room looked more like a crime scene than an exam room. I prayed continuously that I would not lose my lunch, that I would remain conscious, and that they would finish soon. And as it was all over, I prayed for wisdom for the staff that would interpret the results.
Curled up with a couple of ice packs that evening I was still praying. My busy mind in direct contrast to the stillness of my living room, I made a familiar stop at “Why me”. Because I was feeling a bit…. afflicted.
Why us? Why finances? Why always medical problems? Why SO HARD? Why can’t we have “those” problems instead? You know, the ones those other people have? How much longer, Lord? And this whole pity party collided with gratitude for a Father that tolerates the questions of His struggling children.
So I finished my devotional. I finished my daily reading and I prayed for the ability to hand it all over to Him. For a peace that surpasses circumstances. Because I knew He could provide it, I turned off all the lights and crawled into bed.
When Psalm 41 flashed insistent through my head.
I don’t know Psalm 41. Is that in the first book, or the second? I’ll look tomorrow.
I tossed, turned, fluffed and got back up to take some more Motrin. Then tried again.
Lord, I know You already know those biopsy results and You’re already ahead of our every need. Please help me remember that and rest in You.
1, 2 & 3…
That seemed rather specific so I picked up my phone and looked it up quickly on Blue Letter Bible.
Giggling and crying, because that’s how I roll when the Creator of the universe lowers Himself to not only hear my prayer, but whispers comfort in illuminated text. I shut my phone off and went to bed. And slept.
The air conditioning is still broken, the water heater still needs to be replaced and biopsy confirmed what’s called a radial scar. Benign, it should require no treatment, but will at least need to be removed.
But I have it on good authority that we are being protected and preserved and we will be delivered in our times of trouble. Not to mention being sustained and restored. I’m feeling far more peace about the road we’re on.
It was a long day. I sat on the edge of the tub, watching warm water rush and fill the spaces between super heroes strewn about the bottom. Reaching my hand out, exposed wrist up, I was testing the temperature for sensitive skin when I heard the slam of the front door. Followed by six years of energy careening through the kitchen, around the corner, and into the bathroom. The only thing moving faster was his mouth, which immediately updated me on the progress of the Pokemon catching expedition I had interrupted with my call for bath time.
Smiling, I looked up to find the object of my affection covered head to toe in dirt. And as he wriggled and talked and peeled himself out of said layers of dirt I watched, in immediate frustration, the growing pile of filth on my freshly cleaned floors. Freshly cleaned because baby girl was in the room next door recovering from the stomach flu and I’d spent my entire day armed with bleach.
That’s when he reached out one little hand, covered with sweat and dirt and who knows what else… and grabbed onto the (white) wall for balance. And I lost my tired marbles. I scooped him up, still talking, (but now confused) and deposited him on the front step to remove the worst of the offensive clothes. Complete with shoes caked in chicken coop bedding. Great. The floors of the rest of the house would now need my attention too. I proceeded with my lecture of removing our shoes when we come in the house…”and the next time you’ve been playing in the dirt pile you need to take those clothes off outside and let me know so I can bring them straight to the laundry room instead of making a giant mess in the bathroom!”.
With wrinkled brow and confused eyes Mini Hubby asked, “But…wasn’t I supposed to come in to get clean?”.
Now the house is heavy with quiet, the chores have stopped for the day as not to wake anyone and I’m left thinking and praying over all the messes in our house. Because the one threatening the bathroom isn’t the biggest or hardest one.
I’m remembering earlier in the week, when a different child bursts in the front doors and shakes off the world with angry words and angrier tears. Only this mess I can’t sweep and mop up. I can only absorb the words and try to speak Truth to the hurt beneath the anger. Because every day I send this one out and the world lies into young, impressionable, sensitive ears.
And the world isn’t going to change until His kingdom comes.
So how do I combat the rejection, the striving for perfection, that has this one forgetting who they are? Hating who they are?
I’m remembering deep breaths and forced calm while I tried to make sense of a world that doesn’t even make sense to me. My heart breaking for this one that struggles, wanting to fit in a world I don’t want any of us to fit into. Because it’s a mess.
As I sit, remembering, I hear the slow ascent of world weary feet on the stairs and wait for the settling onto the couch. For the sideways glance that says, “I’m ready to talk”. And with the lights turned low we talk quiet and calm about Truth. We start what, I think, will be a continual cleaning up. Washing in the Word, purposeful prayer, and trusting Jesus to guide us through waters of anxiety and depression that are much too high for us to navigate.
Now, I sit here, grateful. Praising God for the gift of being mom to these three. For getting to be even a small part of what He is making them to be. These little messes into masterpieces.
And I’m praying, that He’ll help me embrace the messes they bring for what they are. The tools He’s using to create who He means them to be. And may they ALWAYS know they can come home messy. That they will never have a mess so big, I won’t be ready and waiting to help point them to the One that makes all things new and promises to work all things for their good and His glory.
Have I ever told you I never planned to be a Stay-At-Home mom? It wasn’t what I thought my family would need. I thought my future family would need things like reliable vehicles, family vacations and savings accounts. It turns out my family would need a mom that could devote hours a week to paperwork, phone calls and appointments for a couple of medically complex kids so they could get a diagnosis in one year, instead of the average fifteen. They would need a mom that could stay home and research, fight for answers and fight insurance companies until she got them. Thank God, He knew I was wrong about the career and making money thing.
I was wrong again when we finally got our first diagnosis and I decided to bring Baby Girl shopping for school clothes. At Justice. We don’t normally shop at places like Justice. Because shopping at Justice falls into the same financial category as family vacations. If you don’t have a tween daughter, just take my word for it. But somewhere in my sleep deprived, grieving mind, spending a ludicrous amount of money on Baby Girl seemed like… justice.
So we walked in the door and I said the craziest thing, “What do you like, Baby Girl?”. Two hours later I had agreed to a pile of clothes that not only exceeded our clothing budget (for the year) but also some hard and fast rules I had on 8 year old modesty.
Then there were “the shoes”. Because of Baby Girl’s deteriorating coordination, footwear had been limited to Velcro laces and flat, functional shoes. She did not find flat, functional shoes at Justice. She brought me a pair of the most ridiculous, sequined, flashy, silver platform sneakers… with tie laces.
And I took one look at her hopeful little face, thought of what that doctor had said two weeks before about her being in a wheelchair within ten years… and placed the shoes on the growing “keep” pile. Three years later, we do not believe that first diagnosis is what God has for Baby Girl. And I’m absolutely sure that she didn’t need “the shoes”.
I was recently wrong again. I know, I’m as shocked as you are. I was sure once the kids were all in school, I would be able to go back to working outside the home. We would have things like savings accounts and there would be vehicles we could at least afford to fix. And bless sweet Hubby’s heart and broad shoulders, maybe he wouldn’t have to keep taking all that overtime…
Oh, I knew I wasn’t going back to a career in IT with long hours and longer commutes, but when Mini Hubby started kindergarten this year I was pretty sure a job in the school where Oldest Son was starting High School would be a perfect fit. It almost was.
These last several months my heart grew for kids in tough situations, with big obstacles and even bigger attitudes to overcome. I learned how to better support Oldest Son socially and in academics. And because I had the opportunity to see what he sees of the world on a daily basis (trust me, their world is far bigger, scarier and less restricted than ours was) I know what kind of conversations we need to be having regularly. I also had the chance to work among adults again. I won’t lie, it is far more entertaining than working with myself. I found a whole bunch of new people to love.
There was also puke.
A few times.
The loss of my mother-in-law.
A surgery for tonsils and adenoids.
Some problems with some crucial labs for Oldest Son and Baby Girl, and finally….
The realization that God was sending me home, again.
Usually when I’m wrong, it feels a lot like… failure. I’ve made the wrong choice, my plan didn’t work. It can feel like I’m giving up, letting go or making emotional decisions (“the shoes”). Because I can’t see the full picture. My vantage point is far more limited than God’s. But, in hindsight, it is a joy to see how He purposes my missteps. Redeems them all and uses them for my good and His glory.
Right now though? I still can’t see what He’s doing. And that’s hard. So I’m holding tight to a few of these Truths.
And maybe this song. 😉
I just found out I lost another former classmate to suicide. Yes, I said it. Suicide. Because if we truly want to be there for them, we need to be willing to “go there” for them…to the uncomfortably dark places they’re in.
My heart has been breaking a bit today. Not just for the loved ones that are left behind (I’m so sorry) but also for the despair experienced by the one they lost. Because I’m acquainted with the kind of pain that makes you resent a sunrise, loathe your next breath, I can’t help but wonder if they knew the only One that can meet you in despair, and pull you through. Yes, this is where I’m going to talk about Jesus. The only topic more taboo, I think, than suicide.
Every grieving loved one left in the aftermath of suicide knows, you can’t be with them every moment.
I’ll say it again, because if you’re grieving their loss, you’ll be doubting and agonizing over that statement.
You couldn’t be there. You couldn’t have know exactly when that moment of hopelessness would come. We don’t have that kind of control, though we wish we did.
So for those currently in despair…this is your HOPE.
Jesus can save you here just as He does for eternity. I know, because in despair is where I experienced the LIVING God, as close as that next dreaded breath.
Just as any of your loved ones would tell you, you are absolutely welcome to call me, text me, reach out to me, and I will love you as best as I know how. But unlike some others, I’ll tell you honestly that I’m also very aware I’m not enough. At some point I know you will be alone when that despair crawls in and settles so heavy on you that you can’t breathe, a darkness so pervasive, you can’t see clearly the painful destruction you’ll leave behind. When all you can see and feel is agonizing pain.
So, I implore you. Set aside whether you recognize your need for a Savior. Set aside your belief of the existence of heaven and hell. Set aside any past hurts from religion or the church. You need not even share your weakness with anyone else!! But, please, give Him a try. In the privacy of your own home, PRAY. As if your life depends upon it. Because. It. Does. Ask, seek, knock. Storm the gates of heaven with your cries for help. Grab hold of His robe and DO NOT let go until He reveals His face to you. He will not disappoint. You will not regret it. What have you got to lose if I’m wrong?
And what have you to gain if I’m not? Relief? True joy? The assurance that you’re NEVER alone? Fully and truly loved?
I met her twenty years ago, before either of us had met Jesus. Back then she sat in her recliner opposite the matching one her husband occupied, wearing what I would come to recognize as her typical uniform of worn out flannel and faded sweatpants. Hair cropped short and not a stitch of artificial color on it, or her face, she sported twenty year old glasses and a deep, rough, smokers laugh as she told stories of hunting and “mudding” and cleaning fish with her bare teeth. Okay, I made up the last part about her teeth, but she definitely cleaned her own fish, along with anyone else’s. She was “butch” before being butch was cool. She fascinated and scared me in equal measures…and I was dating her son.
Over the next several years, we’d shop together, eat together, smoke together and laugh together. Turned out she wasn’t as scary as she seemed and neither was her son. I married him and gained her.
She liked to tease that she liked me better than him and that there were no refunds, he was mine for good. But she’d prove over and over again that she loved us both the same. She called me her daughter, and he was still her son. She’ll always be my Mom.
We built our home, and our family, right next door to this lady with the men’s size 10 feet. And those feet would regularly make the trek between the houses for awhile. Three grandkids would soften and delight that rough around the edges lady in ways I hadn’t seen coming. They’d light up her face and dull her colorful vocabulary.
Until those work damaged arms screamed loud for pain meds. And the doctors gave them.
And then gave more.
Until that hard working, hard loving, hard living Mom stayed put in that worn out recliner for years. Barely recognizable, she stopped working, stopped loving and stopped living. Sometimes only awake for a few hours a day.
We thought we lost her for good then. That generous lady that sent diaper coupons to distant nieces and nephews starting their own families, dozens of bottles of baby soap and lotion to the ones that were close, paper plates and napkins for every family get together and cards to everyone for every occasion.
Then, just when we were grieving our own personal tragedy…she met Jesus.
Now, when a person taking enough oxycontin to bring down a horse tells you they’ve been talking to Jesus, you don’t take them too serious like. You start believing that this is about to be another personal tragedy. And you start crying out to your own personal Jesus (the One that tends to speak to you through His Word, in your prayer closet, not in the flesh) for some relief.
That’s when it happened. It turned out her Jesus and our Jesus were the same and He told her to dump out her pain medication, that she didn’t need it anymore. So she did.
Because Jesus can reach you even in a drug induced fog and when He tells you to do something….you do it.
Twenty years of narcotic use fell away like as many chains, gone as quickly as those pills skittered and slid to the bottom of the garbage can. And those doctors that gave them to her? Kept her for three days to witness a miracle by the Great Physician. No withdrawal, no pain. Until they finally said they had no reason to keep her and no medical explanation for what just took place.
Her miracle wasn’t without some consequences though. Twenty years of increased doses did some damage to both brain and body but for the next two years she learned to live and love hard again and we enjoyed every minute of learning to live with, and love her, back.
She played BINGO, returned to competitive shooting, watched middle school orchestra concerts and elementary school programs. She went to movies, the town fair (complete with kiddie rides), filled grandkids full of junk food and ice cream, and even learned how to use a debit card. She laughed, and played, and even though she might not have had the capacity to read and study the Bible, I absolutely believe she knew and trusted Jesus as her Lord and Savior.
In fact, she’d tell you He saved her twice.
Today, my greedy, selfish, heart is a little disappointed it doesn’t appear that He’s going to save her a third.
I’m grieving the pending loss of our Mom and Grammy from this world while trying to remember to be grateful for the gift she was. Trying to thank Him for giving her back to us once, long enough to soak up her silly personality and sweet generosity at a time we desperately needed both.
Praising a loving Savior powerful enough to save us from both the grave, and the chains that bind us here.
Rejoicing in the knowledge that no matter what, we will meet again, in heaven.