Joy of Faith (and ice cream)

One of my doctors suggested I try a Mediterranean Diet after I had been diagnosed with a spontaneous carotid artery dissection. “Spontaneous” is the operative word here because it just happened and no one knows why.  It’s rare for people my age without some kind of underlying genetic disease or physical trauma like a car accident.  I had neither.

I have nothing against the Mediterranean Diet.  I like to eat fish and appreciate a plan that includes red wine.   For a few days, I considered it.  I wanted to be excited– to have some new regimen that would fix the broken parts of me.  I read a few articles that outlined the diet.  I even ate some walnuts. While I desperately want to heal, my diet is not the problem.  Whatever caused my artery to spontaneously dissect had nothing to do with what I ate.  I thought about the years I spent as a vegetarian, my almost-daily exercise routine, the half-marathons I had run, and the complete randomness of what happened — I realized I was basically that cliché of the uber-healthy person who drops dead.  Only I didn’t die.  By God’s grace, I am still here.

What I need most is not a new diet but to accept that we can’t control or fix everything (or sometimes much of anything). I’ve spent so much of my life not being spontaneous – thinking that if I followed the rules, the outline, the diet, and the plan, then I would be safe.  Of course, these things matter and it’s important to not be reckless with our lives or the lives of others. It’s just that we can easily get so focused on the regimen that we forget the reason for it.  I knew it wasn’t legumes and olives or even wine I needed.  It was ice cream. Read more

Faith in Quarantine

I don’t know if I am going to mentally survive the isolation of quarantine.  The number of people testing positive for COVID-19 is skyrocketing here in Florida.  I am considered at increased risk for severe illness if I get the virus because of yet another dubious gift of 2020, severe stenosis caused by a dissected carotid artery.  Trust me, I wouldn’t want COVID-19 anyway, but I certainly don’t want to do anything to tip the precarious situation I am already in.  So, I stay at home.

I have a lovely home which I have gone to great lengths to find perfect throw pillows for but I am sick of being here. It feels like jail, only with comfy, well-coordinated pillows. Being quarantined reminds me of the birds we had as pets when I was growing up.  My friends hated to spend the night at my house because they would squawk and squeal like angry alarm clocks way before our teenage bodies were ready to wake.  And, no wonder the birds were angry – they existed in a cage of monotony.  Quarantining makes me feel somewhere between an inmate and a caged bird.

When it turns noon, I pretend my nightgown is really a sundress and carry on with the day’s inactivity.  And to add to my disdain, I get frustrated with myself for being so whiny about having no life when the whole reason I am doing this is so that I can have life.  So, I cram peanut M & M’s in my face and watch with envy as the hummingbird outside the window flutters from flower to flower in a fury of freedom.  I can’t help but wonder if she knows anything about the caged bird (not the one that sings – the angsty, squalling bird that tormented tired teenagers). Read more

Crisis of a Wannabe Gymnast

Sometime in my late 20s, I lamented to my boss that I was having a mid-life crisis.  I think this had something to do with the Olympic games that were being held that year.  I loved watching gymnastics and couldn’t help but think that it should be me on television in a leotard flipping and flopping and flying on behalf of my country.  Never mind that I had yet to take a single gymnastics lesson in my life.  My heart ached to do something with so much passion that it would literally propel me skyward — while also managing to land me firmly on my feet. Plus, I liked the sequins.

At the time, I was married with no kids.  With a career in fundraising for a children’s hospital, the work I did was inherently meaningful – and we have already established that I had a kind boss tolerant of premature mid-life crises.  I had a house, some cats, a dog, a good husband, and a job. And yet, I had this nagging feeling that if not an Olympic gold medalist, wasn’t I meant for more?

The question of purpose arises intermittently like a bad stomach virus that leaves me longing for the merciful reprieve of a saltine cracker. Life’s epic search for meaning seems like it should take a straight path hurdling over obstacles, dismounting into some profound contribution to humanity, and landing with the specter of triumph (and yes, maybe even a gold medal around one’s neck.)  Instead, it throws me off-balance like a gymnast teetering on the brink of a disastrous fall.  My trajectory towards something meaningful can feel like an angsty wobble of futility leaving me more frustrated than fulfilled.   The great mercy in having been through this multiple times is that I now realize our contributions to the world aren’t always noticeable — even to ourselves.  That’s the humility of it.

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Marlboro Reds and MRIs

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

Works of Mercy: Stop the Wreckage

Do you ever just want to tell someone they are messing up?  “Hey, you! There is a train coming towards you at 100 mph and I am thinking you may want to get off the tracks?”  Presumably, we would all say something if someone was in physical danger, but when it comes to spiritual divergence it’s easy to stand idle and watch people get smushed.

Of course, we don’t want to think of it like that because we are good people.  We mean well.  In fact, it is often our meaning well that motivates us to keep quiet when someone is engaging in self-sabotaging behavior – and what’s more self-sabotaging than sin.  We live in a world where the prevailing message is to stay in our own lane, live and let live, and it’s none of our business.  There is an as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else mentality that might not be so absurd if it were possible.  If we all lived in bubbles and our actions didn’t affect or influence others then maybe this idea would float.   Certainly, we can’t decide for others.  We have control over so very little.  In many ways, surrender seems not only like the best option but the only one.

The work of mercy, to admonish sinners, feels heavy and laden with judgment.   The word admonish is strong and clear.  It’s also downright scary.  Who wants to risk a relationship they value by pointing out the devaluing behavior of someone they love?  Who wants to have the hard conversations of correction that no one wants to hear?  Why wouldn’t we all keep quiet instead of blowing some obnoxious whistle of alarm?

My answer to this is to avoid the smushing.  The smushing that can cost people their jobs; the smushing that destroys marriages; the smushing that creates addicts; the smushing that buries someone in debt; the smushing that ruins friendships…the smushing that could have been avoided had someone been brave enough to say something. “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.  But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1).

It is important to do this work of mercy gently and in the spirit of love.  No one likes hearing that they are messing up.  No one likes to admit fault or acknowledge that their actions aren’t in line with their values.  This is the hard work of love and one of the most beautiful acts of love we can do for one another.  The people in my life who I am most indebted to, most loyal to, and most grateful for are those who have risked having a hard conversation with me.  They came into my lane, got into my business, and pointed out the risks and consequences that went beyond the bubble of my life.  I know it all sounds terribly dramatic, or at least just terrible.  But when you really think about your own life, you have either been lucky enough to have someone yank you off the track or unfortunate enough that you wished someone had.

Most of us have been in that uncomfortable position of knowing someone is doing something wrong and not sure if they should say something or “mind their own business.”  I certainly can’t tell anyone what to do but I know for me, I have never regretted a hard conversation made out of love and I genuinely feel grateful to those who have guided me.  What about you? Would you say anything?  Would you want anyone to say anything to you?

Read last week’s post: Mercy! Being Mama is Hard

Be You: But Not All About You

We toured colleges with our son last spring.  In every tour, in every talk, we heard a similar spiel: “We want to get to know you — get a sense of who you are.  The best applicants are the ones where students are themselves.”

I hate to be cynical, but all the “just be you” enthusiasm made me skeptical since most of these schools admit like 5 new students a year.  Statistically, it doesn’t seem like being oneself is as important as SAT scores, GPA, or any other metric that funnels the throngs of applicants into a thread of coveted acceptance letters.  Highly competitive schools with high performing applicants humanizing their cut-throat admission policies with a warm, fuzzy, encouragement to simply be oneself, and as surely as the sun rises in the east you will shine.

Of course, we have all heard the same messages in our own lives.  It’s not a bad message either – to just be yourself.  In a day when diversity has become a means of deliverance, individualism has become an art of self-love.  Still, one can only play Mirror, Mirror on the Wall for so long without becoming utterly bored or an utterly boring narcissist.  Loving others has always been where it’s at – where we truly feel full, alive, and connected.  So, yes, be you but don’t be all about you. One of the things I love most about God is he loves unconditionally and universally.  “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” (Galatians 3:28).  The world may classify its people into hierarchies, but God has none of that.  He made each of us unique and yet loves all of us the same.  How fun is that?  No competitions or emphasis on what makes you so special.  He eliminated that pettiness when he died on the cross for our sins.  It was the great leveler that gave each individual that has ever been or ever will be the same unequivocal opportunity for redemption.  Of all the world’s laws, treaties, pacts, covenants, and alliances I don’t know any that compares to him dying on the cross so that each and every one of us can have a shot at eternal life.

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Too Small Coffee Table; Too Little Faith

I am trying to center myself so I can do what I need to do and be who I need to be.  This never seems to have anything to do with my daily tasks that are so time-consuming.  Regardless of how centered I am, I still have to scoop kitty litter and make supper.  I have to do life.  Yet often, life feels more adrift than this anchoring I seek.

The need for centering pulls at me reminds me that my busyness isn’t my primary business. I sit with it sometimes and try to make sense of what is so urgent.  It’s uncomfortable and I have to fight the urge not to get in my car and drive to the store to look for a new coffee table.  I’ve decided my coffee table is too small for my living room and even though that involved a small measure of math, it makes sense to me.  This centering that I crave – not so much.  I know it’s God by its persistence and truth be told, it makes the distraction of the coffee table seem like a welcome muse.

Then, of course, I question why I can’t sit with this God I adore and listen to what I need to do and who I need to be.  Why do I resist?  Why do I let myself succumb to distraction?  God probably doesn’t think the six-inch difference in a coffee table is paramount to his plans for me.

So, I still myself.  It chafes this stillness that God commands.  I listen to the emptiness of this space and try to discern what is so relentlessly nagging at me.  Is God in the quietness?  The busyness?  The mundane?  The despair?  The spiral?  The spaces between it all?  “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”  (Proverbs 15:3).

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The Search is Over: Finding Love in Him

I was in my car when the 1985 song, “The Search is Over,” by Surrender came on the radio.  I had not heard it in years and for a moment it reminded me of being a 13-year old girl pining over some boy or another who refused to acknowledge my existence in a reasonable way like a bouquet of flowers, box of chocolates, or a boom box blaring a romantic song outside my bedroom window.  (Then I remembered it was my Whitney Houston album I played at such somber times of adolescent angst – not Surrender.)

Lost in thought about those days when I would cocoon myself within my four lavender bedroom walls and lament my imperfect body, wardrobe, and life’s entirety, I had a most random thought of a certain guy.   He was never my crush, or who I fixated on when I drowned myself in pity, or whom I even had a fleeting thought when I sat idly and listened to sad songs about people who once knew love.  I heard the lyrics “The search is over.  You were with me all the while,” and I thought of God.  I was surprised at how my brain went from unrequited teenage infatuation to the essence of total and complete love that is God.

Yet it made sense to me because in the time since record albums were replaced with cassette tapes, and cassette tapes were replaced with CD’s, and CD’s were replaced with music subscriptions, and music itself degraded into some sort of homage to one’s booty — I’ve searched for many things.  I have searched for the perfect man, house, job, couch, school, church, outfit, plant, publisher, vacation, vocation, doctor, and dog.  I have spent so very much time on a search of some sort.  What I found is that none of it compares to my relationship with God.  In all of the searching that so often felt paramount to my satisfaction, to any chance of happiness, all I really needed was what I already had.  An abiding God, who faithfully stood at my side, humoring my distractions, patiently awaiting my many detours, and holding me upright despite wayward falls.  “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain,” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Read more

Smiling Hearts, Frozen Iguanas, and Viral Monkeys

Reality can be absurd.

During an unusual cold snap in South Florida, there were news stories cautioning people to watch out for frozen iguanas falling from trees.  Days later those stories were replaced by articles about people selling iguana meat – to eat.  I live in North Florida so when the temperature dipped, I only had to worry about covering my plants and wearing closed-toe shoes.  Still, I followed the stories about the non-native iguanas and the people who eat them.

More recently, I have been reading about sightings of non-native wild monkeys in the area and other parts of the state. Apparently, some of these monkeys are infected with a deadly strain of Herpes B.  These herpes positive primates have been known to attack when their territory feels threatened.  So, now not only do Floridians have to worry about being bonked in the head by a comatose iguana, or whether it’s actually chicken in our Brunswick stew or reptile meat, we also have to worry about diseased monkeys charging us.

And people think life here is just sandy beaches and lulling surf.

I often contemplate the absurdity of life. There is so much truth that reads like fiction.  So many realities that seem fantastical.  One of the biggest of which is that there exists a God who so madly loves us that he died for us.  Of all the ways he could have mesmerized, awed, and astonished us to show his love, he chose death.  I can’t say that would have been my pick.  On the surface, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that he willingly gave his life out of love for us.  When you contemplate the suffering that preceded his death, it feels as absurd as free-falling iguanas. “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us,” (Romans 5:8).  Much to the hindrance of my relationship with God, I have struggled with the reality of this truth.  How could he possibly know me so completely and still love me unconditionally?  How could he identify all my weaknesses and still want me?  How could he acknowledge all my failings and forgive me?   And my favorite wondering of all, how could he allow me to suffer when in a breath he could remove the entirety of the world’s suffering?

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Brave: Beyond Rollercoasters and Roaches

My son was on one of those whirling amusement park rides that circled the clouds like a frenzied dog chasing its tail.  Somewhere vertical in the sky he spun so fast that the metal contraption that contained him angled sideways – much like my stomach felt down below.  I could barely stand to watch him, and I fervently prayed he wouldn’t end up with whiplash or vertigo or otherwise be thrust into outer space.  I’ve always been the girl at the park who held the drinks, the jackets, and whatever else the “fun” people couldn’t take on the thrill rides.  I am okay being this girl. I don’t feel even the slightest pang of regret for my union with solid ground.  I hang out with squirmy toddlers in their strollers and watch pigeons as their heads bobble in search of food.

So, I don’t typically think of myself as brave.  That’s a word I associate with the kind of courage it takes to ride a rollercoaster or kill a roach without screaming and spastically throwing shoes. I am not that girl either. I yell for my husband, sons, and even the cats (who look at me in disdain as if I’ve just equated them with some kind of animal).   If no one is nearby, I resort to evacuating.  I figure shelter is overrated and the roach can have my residence.

This year, I aim to be brave.  This doesn’t have anything to do with rollercoasters or roaches, but instead, my relationship with God.  For the last several years, I have focused on surrender. Surrender is one of those words that is easily confused with defeat.  Yet in the battleground for our souls, Read more