Way back when kids actually went to school, I won the award for perfect attendance for not missing any school days in a year. My mom always told me I was her healthiest kid. I think she appreciated that I didn’t get sick on road trips or require multiple trips to the ER to be sewn back together from running into walls. Discounting late-night runs to the border for Taco Bell’s Nacho Bell Grande and a fog of other questionable college choices, I have mostly lived a healthy lifestyle.
So after going through two ultrasounds, an MRI, a cat scan with angiogram, a needle biopsy in my neck, countless blood tests, visits with an internist, endocrinologist, neurosurgeon, vascular surgeon, rheumatologist, and a neurologist – all in the span of three weeks, I considered buying myself a pack of Marlboro Reds to puff on as I rode off into the sunset on a horse that would likely buck, leaving me concussed in some cornfield wondering what became of that little girl’s certificate of good health. (Yes, that’s a long sentence but it’s been a long few weeks friends.)
Still, I can’t help but feel immense gratitude. If I hadn’t noticed a lump in my neck that led to the thyroid biopsy and a diagnosis of a multinodular goiter then I wouldn’t have seen my doctor. I wouldn’t have told her about the chronic headaches and cluster of bizarre symptoms that prompted the MRI. She was as surprised as I was when the results showed severe stenosis in the carotid artery. And on the day that I received the official diagnosis from the cat scan of a dissected carotid artery with greater than 70 percent blockage, I was terrified. I called a nurse practitioner friend to ask for her opinion. She just happened to live across the street from a brilliant and compassionate neurosurgeon who agreed to see me that day to explain the diagnosis and treatment. At the time, none of it felt like a miracle. It was hectic, confusing, sordid, and surreal that this 3-inch space on the right side of my neck had not one but two separate and unrelated diagnoses. Each made more complicated by their proximity to each other. Read more
When my son was seven years old, he was trying to balance. One minute he was excitedly saying, “Look, mom, I found the spot!” Moments later, mid-wobble, he said, “Oh, wait. I lost the spot.” Of course, it was losing it I related too.
Somewhere in the zig-zag of daily life is the sweet spot where we teeter in balance between work and rest, fun and fulfilling, and, social and silence. It seems sometimes like we live in a world of extremes. We have tiny houses and McMansions, hoarders and minimalists, and fast food and the slow-food movement. There is polarization in almost every category of modern life. Perhaps it is our obsession with busyness, where this extreme has become most evident. Busyness has become a badge that says my career is at a crescendo, my family is an extracurricular expert, and my personal life is a page-turner. But are we really living a harlequin-romance novel amidst kids and career, or are we huffing and puffing from here to there, texting our spouses our agendas and their assignments, as we scurry our kids to their next activity?
The other day I was rushing my son to an orthodontist appointment when I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection of the car window I was squeezed between. To my dismay, I was only wearing one hoop earring. I looked like a rogue pirate without the talking parrot companion. Instead, I had a teenage boy who doesn’t speak as my counterpart. He only repeats “okay,” “I know,” and “fine,” as a series of responses. “Polly wants a cracker,” has become, “Mamas going to go crackers if she doesn’t hear a complete sentence soon!” (But that’s another conversation for another bottle of wine, as a good of friend of mine likes to say.) Read more
I was doing my teenage Uber driving duties and thinking about the advice that encourages parents to talk to children in the car. After all, they are a captive audience, don’t have to make eye contact (because God forbid, we have any of that), and both parent and child are physically restrained –that might not have been among the reasons listed but it does seem worth noting. We were on the return portion of our journey into silence and I was lamenting the misery of it when I looked out the car window and saw a man sitting on a bus stop talking to himself. Our eyes met and for a moment he silenced.
He was smoking a cigarette in the mid-day Florida heat. I checked the temperature on my dash and it read 98 degrees. I considered my relative comfort in the air-conditioned car and the ice cream in my freezer I planned to eat when I arrived home as a consolation from both the heat and the unwelcome hush of angst that tormented my drive. I recalled the smoking man in the intolerable heat, sitting in solace, speaking to himself. I thought of that moment our eyes met, and how for the first time that day I felt seen. It mattered not to me what I was seen as or how I might have looked or what he might have thought of me. The moment reminded me of the universality of God’s mercy at a time when I felt somewhat desperate for connection. I don’t know what he saw when he looked at me, but through him, I saw a reminder that suffering is not the only thing that is universal, God’s mercy is too.
While I consider my circumstances are likely better than his – the reality was at that moment, I felt as miserable as I perceived him to be. It’s easy to compare ourselves to others. We have standardized what we consider justifiable levels of loneliness, pain, emptiness, and grief, and if it doesn’t fall on the spectrum of horror or woe that we heard on the latest podcast then we feel like we need to buck up and go write in our gratitude journals. Before I understood the mercy of God, I would have thought the same thing. There were so many times that the pain and challenges in my life became a wedge in my relationship with God because I didn’t think I had the right to seek his mercy. I didn’t bring God what appeared to be trivial and trite by the world’s definition of suffering because it felt too small and I had been given too much. The problem with that thinking is that it separates us from God and from the mercy that heals, comforts, and forgives the wounds in our heart. We may not be worthy of God’s mercy or deserve it. Regardless, it pours out of him – a gift of unfathomable consolation that we choose whether to accept.
The last day of vacation I woke up with a tingling feeling on my lips. When I looked in the mirror, even through the blur of twilight I could tell they were noticeably fuller — like the fairy godmother of plastic surgery had visited in the night. I checked different body parts to see if she had generously waved her wand in other places too. Sadly, it was just my lips.
As lucidity set in, I realized that my pink pout was the result of a sunburn from a long day of scalloping with friends and family. I had taken the necessary precautions to protect my skin. I wore a sunscreen shirt, a hat, and covered my face in so much SPF that I looked like a geisha on holiday. Although I remembered the SPF lip balm and even reapplied it along with my milky white sunscreen, it was not enough to protect me from hours of swimming and sunshine.
I cringed thinking of the resulting sun damage and started down the long twisty road of lament and regret I know so well. Then, for the love of mercy, I had a thought that I have considered often recently. It framed itself as a question in the highlight reel of my mind: Why would you ever think you would get through life unscathed?
Life is full of losses. We lose money. We lose jobs. We lose time. We lose things that are dear to us. We lose people we love. We lose. No one likes to lose either. We live in a world that tells us life is all about the win. We are encouraged to minimize cost and maximize gains. While that makes good sense in a lot of sunny scenarios, the reality is, sunburn or not – none of us get through life without experiencing a burn. Accepting this as part of our humanity somehow dulls the sting of it. Perhaps, so much of our suffering is exacerbated by our resistance to it.
Most of us overcomplicate things. I like to think I am better at this than most people but I know it is not nice to brag. It’s one thing to overthink where you want to go for dinner (I have heard some people do this). It becomes ever more complicated when we fixate on something as weighty as life’s purpose.
By middle age, if not as early as middle school, we realize life doesn’t always go as planned. Yet we live in a world where the plan is all important – we have books about it, calendars, and self-imposed criteria for how it’s all going to go down like we are detectives Sonny and Rico on the 1980s television series Miami Vice. If we just plan life with enough precision, our boat won’t crash, drug traffickers will meet their demise, and life will be as sunny as a sweat-less day at the beach wearing pastel T-shirts and a white suit. That’s the script we are asked to write from ourselves from as early as preschool when a sing-song voice inquires about what we want to be when we grow up. As if it’s merely a matter of picking what color space ship we want to fly during our mission to Mars.
I don’t mean to sound cynical because it can be fun to make plans, motivating to set a course, and rewarding to achieve goals, but you know what they say – “life is what happens when you are busy making plans.” A friend of mine, who could be anyone really because to some degree I think all of us have gone through this – is questioning her life’s purpose. Again, I don’t mean to brag but I have excelled in exploring the same question. “What am I doing with my life?” “What color is my parachute?” “What is God’s plan for me?” “Seriously, God, is that the plan?” I could go on because like I already said, I am really good at over-complicating things. My friend puts it more succinctly and asks: “what are they going to write on my tombstone, ‘a good friend to all?’” While that is better than “she was hit by a bus,” I certainly appreciate her perspective. Read more
I know songs have been written about the ease of Sunday morning, but I wish someone would write one about the angst of a Sunday evening. That’s the twitchiest night of the week for me as I transition from the charms of the weekend to the schisms of the work week. I feel like the amiable comic book character, Pig Pen, created by Charles Shultz, traveling in my own dust storm with all the to-do’s swirling around me making a filthy mess of what was once a peaceful mind. The more I do, the more I realize how far behind I really am and the dirt cakes on — further muddying my panic.
I sort through emails. I make piles. I do laundry. I boss children — an echo of repetition. I try to remember what I needed to talk to my husband about. I usually can’t. I make lists. I pick up abandoned glasses and clip close half-eaten bags of chips laying carelessly on the counter. In all my busying, I only seem to find more to do. Each task leads to another – a maze in the making. I scatter about in the dusty swirl of tedium past bedtime – past reason. My son asks me to review his cover letter for an internship he is applying for and I stop. In that instant, where I was given one more thing to do– when I was already so done, I would have envisioned being buried under the muck of a mudslide. Instead, I felt the clarity of grace. I felt its calm and its cleanse, as I realized I belong in the middle of the mess. It’s there that my independent, almost adult child asked for my input. It’s there that the mess suddenly stopped choking me and I breathed into the precious moment of mothering.
Our to-do’s will never be done and life will always be messy no matter how much tidying we do. Serving others in the midst of it is the grace that makes life meaningful. It gives order to chaos. It realigns priorities and it reinvigorates efforts. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” (Hebrews 4:16).
In a reporting class, I took in college, if a student’s article had any factual errors, the instructor automatically took 50 points off their grade. It didn’t matter how insignificant the mistake was it resulted in an inevitable failure on the assignment. Fact checking was more important than your lead, punctuation, or your inverted pyramid. The paramount significance of accuracy in news reporting was underscored.
While the search for truth was drilled into me, when I examine the stories of my own mind, I question why they contain so many inaccuracies. If I were to grade myself most days, I would be in negative numbers for the stories I create about how others feel, the significance of an encounter, and the value of my contributions in various circumstances.
Too often the truth of who I am gets clouded by feelings. For most of my life, I considered my feelings and the feelings of others to be more important than anything else. It’s easy to believe that there’s nothing wrong with this way of thinking, even that it’s a noble pursuit. Perhaps if we could trust the accuracy of our feelings, this would be true. But feelings are often to blame for facts being distorted into fiction. Read more
I was walking back to school on a Kindergarten field trip when I realized that my classmates were ahead of me. Panicked, I whirled my head around so fast that strands of dandelion colored hair lashed my face. My fears were confirmed. I was the last of my peers, only the chaperones were lulling behind. I darted forward to catch up but somehow tumbled over myself landing face first on the sidewalk.
I remember the sting on my hands and knees from the fall. The scabs on my face lasted for weeks before they faded into a bad memory. More than anything, I remember that feeling of being left behind.
In some ways, I still feel like that five-year-old girl, always trailing the pack, never on pace. Too often I feel like my life is not my own. I am pulled here and there by needs greater than my own ambitions. And I get frustrated. I wonder when it will be my turn. I think tomorrow will be different and the anomalies of today will pass and the plans I make can prosper.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future,” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV.)
I am glad God knows his plans for me but sometimes I think maybe he should clue me into them. After all, I am having a lot of interruptions in my plans and so maybe I am on the wrong plan. Maybe I could finally get ahead if I knew where he was leading. I would follow, God. I promise I would. It would be easier though if you could give me some direction, some yellow brick road so I can get out of this traffic jam to nowhere. Read more
I spend a lot of time with the devil I know. A lot of us do. We are stuck in careers, relationships, routines, and ruts that we long to change, but don’t. There is a litany of reasons for this: fear, laziness, uncertainty, and lack of confidence. It boils down to the notion that the devil we know is better than the devil we don’t.
Maybe it’s because we believe things could always be worse that we are willing to settle with the status quo. Maybe it’s because change involves ripping off the duct tape that is holding us together while all our broken parts fall free. Maybe we are waiting for a miracle. Maybe today will be the day.
Maybe can be a terrible place to be. It’s the hell of purgatory without the hope of heaven. It’s wishing for different circumstances to determine your worth. It’s a waiting, a longing, and often, a loathing that has nothing to do with God.
God is truth. He doesn’t waiver and he doesn’t wane. He wants better for us than we want for ourselves. He would never ask us to settle. He made us to soar.
“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 be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
I know many people who are more stuck than soaring. I can relate as I have always been afraid to fly. But I am tired of the devil I know. I am bored with his same old lies. Baiting us with fear, he snares us into believing we can’t do better, be better, have better. Read more
Surrender is like giving up but with lipstick on. And it’s that lipstick that makes all the difference.
I’ve always been a lipstick gal. As a teenager, my mom took me and my siblings to the Florida Keys for vacation. I brought a container full of lipsticks lined up neatly with their labels facing outward, so I could read their colorful names. Who cares what you look like in a two-piece when you’re wearing Tiki Torch on your lips?
My mom was mad at me on that trip for something silly, like climbing out of my bedroom window in the middle of the night, and it was that container of lipstick that got us talking again. It gave us a neutral pallet to start a conversation that wasn’t tinted with admonishments or streaks of rebellion.
When I was a teenager, everything felt out of control, nothing like the rainbow of lipsticks arranged tidily in their box. I’d like to blame my hormones, parent’s divorce, algebra, and the clueless boys I had crushes on, but the reality turned out to be that so much of life is out of our control.
I know that is not motivating or inspiring or what anyone with their life mapped out on an Excel spreadsheet wants to hear. And it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have goals, plans, or a reason to get out of bed in the morning. I’ve just learned that there are many things I have to surrender.