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

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

Pain: It’s Not that Interesting (but You are)

We all have a story and often we are afraid to tell it.  It’s the part of us that doesn’t come up in our social media feeds or in casual conversation.  I get that.  I don’t tell all of mine.  All any of us can do is share what we are comfortable with and hope whoever we trust doesn’t use it to cause pain.  Most of us have already experienced enough of that.

I think I was in college when I first realized that everyone has a story that maybe is a little bit broken.  It was a relief to know that other people had hurt and healed or at least hurt and found hope again.  Not because I didn’t have hope, but I just always hated the thought of being alone, different, and the only one.  And, yet, I think we all feel like that sometimes.

Now, instead of feeling alone, I am sometimes overwhelmed by how much suffering exists in our world.  Betrayal, pain, grief, disappointment, longing, and loss are part of our human experience.

What I realize is that despite life’s mistakes and meandering hurts, the universality of pain diminishes what feels monumental from defining to just one more destination on what we hope will be a long journey.  Maybe that’s why God thought it was so important for his son to live our humanity.  Jesus suffered beyond the comprehensible and yet it wasn’t what defined him.  From conception through infinity that was always love – not loss.

Everyone has a sad story.  We just have different details, characters, and plot twists.  It’s not the pain that makes it unique, it’s the way we find our way out that makes it interesting.  It’s the way we forgive valiantly that is heroic.  It’s the way we choose healing over hate that can inspire others to do the same.  It’s the way we love through loss that we choose life.  And, always, we should choose life.

I love to hear people’s stories but it isn’t their pain that makes them interesting.  A friend who has recently been through a hard time said of her own hardships, “I now think, it really isn’t interesting.  But I am! I’m interesting and I have so much love to give.”

What the heck could I possibly say after that?

As, always, love says it all.

Can you look back at difficult periods of your life and see the blessings that came from them?  If not, my hope is that you will soon.  God is transformative.  Let him write you a new story.  

Read more here: Mercy! Being Mama is Hard

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

Mercy! Being Mama is Hard

When my children were young, as routine as saying my nightly prayers before bedtime, I would recount all the mistakes I had made with them that day.  Some failings felt so significant that I would measure them in how many extra years of therapy they would require.  While most people worry about saving for retirement, I worried about saving for my children’s counseling copays when they were grown and their mama-messed-me-up issues would manifest like a scary clown face popping out of a Jack-in-the-Box.

Motherhood was hard and it seemed like the harder I tried, the more aware I became of the spaghetti sauce dripping from the kitchen ceiling.  (Truthfully that scarlet drip would have been there regardless of my children because whenever I am in the kitchen catastrophic events occur.)

Now, a mother of teenage boys, I look back on those years and the litany of suffering I subjected myself to and I realize how little I knew God.  I couldn’t show myself any mercy because I had yet to know his.  God was this perfect being who couldn’t possibly understand the trials of being an imperfect parent.  He had never wrestled anyone with an arched back into a car seat or saw the need to abandon the baby’s stroller in the parking lot after realizing it was more likely that he would collapse from frustration than the too-complicated-to-fold buggy.  Of course, Jesus did wrestle demons and I am sure collapsing was a possibility when he endured 40 days without food or water in the desert.  Still, in those early days of motherhood, I relied more on parenting books than our perfect father. Read more

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.

Read more

The Value of Life: An Unexpected Blessing in the Middle of the Storm

*This post first appeared at Our Sunday Visitor: https://www.osvnews.com/2020/04/20/the-value-of-life-an-unexpected-blessing-in-the-middle-of-the-storm/

As a Floridian, I’m used to the rush and rumble of hurricane season.  Being quarantined feels like a similar drill: gathering supplies, overconsumption of snacks, board games, and boredom.  There is also the obsession with news updates, the what-ifs that cyclone through conversation, fear of the unknown, and the prayers that calm the storm of anxieties within.

The main difference between hunkering down for a hurricane and huddling in our homes for a quarantine is that the hurricane only lasts a few days.  The storm passes and the focus shifts from preparation to recovery.  Being stuck in the purgatory of this virus, not knowing when or if life will return to normal; being isolated from family and friends; having the promise of cherished events broken; the loss of income and freedom, all while the looming fear of losing life centers itself as the eye of the storm, has cataclysmically and almost instantaneously redefined life.

As I have feebly tried to wrap my head around all of it — the world-wide scope, and the dire implications of noncompliance, I am in absolute awe of the measures that have been taken to protect lives.  Could it be that we actually value life after all? For so long, nations have chosen warped notions of freedom by legislating the killing of the unborn; they have confused justice with life-taking judgment through the use of the death penalty; and they have chosen money over the mercies of caring for the poor, neglected, and suffering.  The heroic efforts that are in place to protect and save lives are unprecedented.  The recognition of the value of life is a welcome gift amidst this suffering and sacrifice. It’s a chance to not only redefine life in terms of our routines but to re-root ourselves in the purpose of life by resurrecting God’s command to love our neighbor that for too long has been buried under the debris of sin, selfishness, and self-reliance. Read more

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

Pro-life: Pro-love

I was subbing for a first-grade class when I received a text message from an unknown number.  It was from a family friend’s college-aged daughter seeking help for her friend considering an abortion.  She knew that I had volunteered at the Women’s Help Center, a pro-life organization that supports women throughout pregnancy, and asked if I would be willing to speak to her friend so that she understood all her options.

Choice.

Of course, I said yes. As implausible as it is to think any of us has the right to terminate life, it is a legal choice in our society.  A choice that is clearly devoid of God who created us out of love and with the innate purpose to love. Taking God out of the miracle of motherhood feels illogical, but there are many who do.  Even biologically speaking, motherhood is the most natural thing in the world.  Not just our bodies’ ability to create life but the innate desire to protect, nurture, and sacrifice for our offspring.  In the animal and the human species, this is the norm, and while it is standard it is also fierce.  Everything else – including our own survival is secondary to the “it’s in our nature to nurture” phenomenon hard-wired in most living things. It hardly seems like a matter of choice.

Being in a room full of six-year-olds is a frenzy of joy.  They are dynamic, unique, curious, and flat-out funny.  They give spontaneous hugs, ask personal questions, listen attentively when a middle-aged woman talks about cats, and without hesitation trust you with their day. They are also complicated like the rest of humanity and will become increasingly so.  Even as an outsider, I can see their proclivities, strengths, struggles, and basic need to be loved and accepted.  They have a keen sense of the world around them.  They are paying attention.  They are fully alive.  Each one a choice.

By the end of that school day, I learned that the woman made an appointment to have an abortion.  She was still agreeable to speak with me and was supposed to call me the next day.  She never did. Her friend explained to me that she didn’t want to be talked out of her decision.  I called the young woman and assured her I was here if she wanted to talk, and would be after her appointment as well.  Not to judge or lecture or to act like a caricature of a pro-life Christian in all the variances of absurdity they are portrayed as – but just to listen.  My heart ached for the burden of choice this young girl carried.  It would sound condescending to say the woman didn’t understand her choice; presumptuous to say abortion will affect her deeply, and Pollyanna to say that if she has her baby it will be full of giddy laughter and flying unicorns, when I know how gut-wrenchingly hard motherhood can be. Everything that can be said can be construed as flippant, dismissive, over-simplified, insensitive, or unrealistic.  All the best words can come out wrong. Read more