Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cry Out

What to do on the mornings when lonliness and fatigue threaten to overwhelm like a tidal wave? How do you pull yourself out from the current that's pull is ripping you away from shore, into unknown waters?
This morning I was faced with the weight of loneliness and weakness overtaking my body. I lay away in bed, paralyzed, unable and unwilling to move. Emotional and physical fatigue plagued my body even after nine hours of uninterrupted sleep. I lay there, feeling helpless and defeated. All I wanted was to go back to sleep, forget about waking up and getting up for today. Could I stay in bed all day?
I could feel the waves of despair overtaking me. I closed my eyes tight and cried out to God.

God, make my life a sacrifice to you. Use me to glorify your name today. Uphold me in my weakness. Comfort me in my loneliness. God, you will sustain me even when I struggle. Use my difficulties to make your name great. May my life be a testimony to your goodness and grace. Do not remove my struggles, be with me through them.

I couldn't ask God to send me someone to keep me company or miraculous healing as I lay listless in that bed. I knew what God was desiring of me. He just wanted me to face the day by his grace. Rising from bed had nothing to do with how I felt or didn't feel. Getting up was about taking a step in faith that this day is worth celebrating because God created it. The beauty of a fresh morning dew has nothing to do with my physical ailments. Birds singing, sun shining, trees swaying - it is all so much more than the struggles of this body.
I face today not on my own strength but on God's; not by my own power, but my Lord's. I am weak, failing, suffering, defeated, dejected, frustrated, worn out and worn thin but he is mightily strong, consistent, powerful, eternal, glorious and gracious. He is carrying me when I am to weak to stand.
This morning I needed his loving arms more than ever. And, of course, he was there. I cried out to him and he answered. He did not change my circumstances, he stepped in and comforted me in the midst of them. He reminded me that he is right here, suffering with me, commiserating with me and wrapping his arms of love and support around me all the while.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Thanks, Ossy

Oswald Chambers has a keen way of convicting me. You would think this would deter my morning reading of his devotional "My Utmost for His Highest" but it has done just the opposite. Instead of shying away from the spotlight on my failings, his blunt look at scripture and unapologetic stating of the truth has left me craving more. Each morning I bound out of bed, ready to soak in whatever it is God has to reveal to me in his Word.
Even though I love the short and to the point devotionals that doesn't always make it comfortable to read them. They hit me between the eyes. In less then a page, Ossy (as I affectionately refer to him), is able to get to the heart of the most daunting Biblical principles. He focuses in on the dark recesses of our hearts and behaviors. He isn't simply concerned with how we appear to the outside world; he is much more interested in obedience, our thought life and childlike faith.
When my heart is housing a less than God honoring emotion I see the flaw in my ways with every word of the devotional. Each sentence chips away at my lame excuses for continuing in human error. The devotional always starts with a scripture that is brief and, at first glance, unassuming. But after reading through the devotional once I open up the scripture's chapter and read it in its entirety. That is when it all hits home. Ossy pulls a simple part of a complex chapter and gets right to the heart of the matter. Scripture can be overwhelming but he reveals a message from God that feels like it was written specially for me.
Some lessons are tough to grasp and truly embrace. Maybe I'm a slow learner or maybe it is part of being a stubborn human being that makes me reluctant to change. Even when I know a change needs to occur, I take my good old time taking the step in faith to release my wrong doing. When I open my Bible in the morning I am once again reminded that there is something in my heart that God wants to remove. Every morning it is as if he is asking, "Are you reading to give it up to me now?"
This morning it was a conviction that has been resting on my heart for days. It centers around one scripture, although I haven't read this particular passage in months God has been pulling it into my minds eye and playing it on repeat: John 12:27.
“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour."
Jesus didn't ask God to deliver him out of his toughest time in life - and lets face it, what could be harder then facing a slow, painful death on a cross while people below chanted, mocked and harassed? I can't think of anything worse. Yet, he didn't beg God to take him away in a cloud or send someone else to take his place. He accepted that this was God's will. 
What Jesus says next is really stunning. He says, "Father, glorify your name!" 
He doesn't complain, whine or get downright angry. Instead, he turns to the ultimate purpose in life: to glorify God in everything! 
My trial has been nothing compared to the horror Jesus Christ faced and still there are far too many moments when I neglect to give God glory. I fall into the trap of asking God to remove me from my struggle and change my circumstances. But that isn't what God wants me to be asking. When I'm asking God to change my path I'm showing that I don't fully trust in his will and plan for my life. Instead of trusting in his time line, I let my faith falter. 
John 12:27-28 have been piercing my heart and chiseling away at my defenses. This short little scripture has been calling me to obedience and a new way of praying. I should be asking God for more faith and wisdom, not an escape route from my problems. In the midst of the storm I can ask God to uphold and sustain me with his mighty hand. 
This is transforming my prayer life. I don't need rescued. I need stretched, challenged and grown. If God sweeps in like Superman and takes away all the problems of life I will never be molded and matured into the woman of faith he desires me to be. The trials are his tools and they are put into use for my benefit. 
That sounds to me like cause for gratitude and thanksgiving!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Hugs and Kisses

It has been upwards of eight months since I've been on a date - and I'm not even sure that so called date counted. The last time I had any interaction with a male my age is too far back for me to remember (unless you count ordering at restaurants as prime interaction). Let's just say that my love life has been on hiatus, or more accurately, has become non-existent. As to whether or not it plans on making a comeback is a mystery.
This lack of a male presence in my life didn't bother me for most of the past year. It was over a year ago that my relationship with Dan ended and with it my desire for a significant other. We broke off our engagement on February 13, 2011. Those days are painted in my mind in the most strange fashion. On one hand the memories of the ending of that relationship can be remembered in sharp focus. The day it all fell apart my Mom and I were traveling to visit my brother and his family in Virginia. The dissolving of my soon-to-be marriage happened right there in my Mom's car. I remember my feelings of unbelief and shock and the music that played in the background - Sara Bareilles, to be exact.
And then there is a part of me that looks back and sees nothing but a blur. My future as I knew it was gone and it all happened in the blink of an eye. With a wedding already planned I went into the mode of canceling vendors and reservations while contacting everyone I knew to alert them of the abrupt change in life plans. There was so much to do that it has all become a big blob in my mind's eye. Who did I call first? How did I broach the subject with my family members? I don't remember the specifics. I just remember being overwhelmed.
Even though watching that relationship end wasn't easy, I didn't do much mourning. I cried but only for a brief time. I didn't sink into a depression or struggle to move on with my life. That came easily. For the next ten months I led a full life. First my life consisted of working for Captain Dent then school. My dating life was nonexistent and that was fine by me. I never felt the need to replace one boyfriend with another and I didn't need the attention of a man to give me self worth.
Fast forward to the past six months and my life has consisted of doctors, health ailment Googling and a lot of heartache. But not the heartache of a single love sick puppy. This heartache has been all about being sick, confused and utterly frustrated.
I can honestly say that I've spent almost every day since February 13, 2011 completely comfortable with my relationship status. I say almost because a few days ago I actually had a little twinge of longing for the comforts of romance. At first I thought I must have been dreaming. It has been so long since I've even thought about men, love and all things red hearts and roses, but I couldn't deny that I was thinking about the love life I don't have. And for a few moments I pined for the days of feeling affection from the male species.
The fact that my mind even wandered here for a moment stunned me. I didn't know I had these feelings! I didn't know I missed being "in a relationship" as Facebook would say. 
So, I thought on my circumstances - my single hood. I started to realize what it is I'm missing. I don't miss having a boyfriend to text and call every five minutes. I'm relieved to not be glued to a cell phone and the constant communication that seems to characterize the modern day dating game. I don't miss the affirmation a significant other gives. Despite the physical difficulties I've endured, I don't have a poor self image. I'm not thrilled with my current look but I do understand that it is temporary. Some day (soon I hope) I will start to gain weight and my body will be restored. I look forward to that day - and look forward to how I will look. I prefer my body to be more than skin and bones.
What I was dreaming of was something far more basic. I was coveting the physical touch that love birds have the privilege of enjoying. No, not that type of physical touch. You know what I'm talking about: making out on a couch, hands roving and hearts pounding. That is NOT the physical touch I'm referring to. I was coveting something much more basic - and innocent. The simple pleasure of a hug or an arm around the shoulder. I'm a woman of simple pleasures I suppose.
I never realized how important human touch is until I went a year and a half without it. We are crafted to desire human contact. God made us to enjoy and share in physical embrace. This connection doesn't have to be sexual in nature or for adult eyes only. A fulfilling physical connection can be G rated.
I tried to recall the last time I've had real human physical interaction. I could think of only one place where I experience the blessing of human touch - church. When I visit my childhood church I get a month's worth of hugs from the folks that have loved me and prayed for me since I was a toddler. Everyone greets me with a warm embrace. After a church service with my New Life family I feel loved and cared for simply by the number of hugs I receive. There affection is overflowing.
Those Sunday mornings take away any longing for a significant other. That longing is replaced with comfort. My church family's love takes away the pangs of loneliness that creep in after long absences of physical embrace.
The other night I laid on the couch, my body feeling weak and my emotions running thin. My Mom sat across from me, pain filling her eyes as she asked me how she could make me feel better. I thought about that physical touch that I had been missing just earlier that day. No person at that moment could take away my physical ailments but the emotional pain could be eased. So, I asked my Mom to rub my back. As a child she used to rub my back as I fell asleep. It was always comforting and one of my sweetest childhood memories.
I realized after that night that when you are in need, simply ask. I don't need to day dream of physical embrace, I can seek it out. When I need a hug I can find it in the family that loves me. When I need to cry my Mom's shoulder is poised and ready for my meltdown.
To benefit from the blessings of physical contact I don't need a boyfriend - that isn't even what I truly desire. Dates, flowers and love letters aren't what fulfill the need for an embrace. A simple hug will do the trick.

Debby

Tropical storm Debby it taking its good old time beating up the gulf coast of Florida. Deb is moving at a slow crawl of about 2 mph while she unleshes her power on thousands of Floridians and disappointed vacationers. We can now thank Debby for a tornado in Naples, a power outage in Marco Island, rip currents and 60 mph winds. By the time it is all over we might be looking at as much as 10 inches of rain fall and a possibility of rivers flooding over. Check back in tomorrow around 4 pm - until then flood warnings abound.
The news media is flocking to the shores of Tampa and Pensecola, tracking every wind gust and wave heighth, keeping the 24/7 cycle of alerts and pictures coming. This is the stuff The Weather Channel lives for. I think they secretly pray for hurricans.
Of course, many people take these storms very seriously. The roads become sparse, home owners break out the sand bags and water gets purchased in bulk. This is millenium preperation in the middle of June. It reminds me a lot of a snow storm up north in the middle of February. Life comes to a screeching hult.
This morning, sitting in church, I was taken back to Erie in the middle of winter enduring a harsh lake effect blizzard. Just like during a snow storm the church this morning was a ghost town. When I showed up I questioned whether or not the whole thing had been called off. Where rows of cars are usually parked I saw only soggy, wet, car-less grass. In a blizzard the scene would be quite similar if you substitue snow for rain and soggy for icy. The result is the same: low attendance and empty pews. It is so easy to find an excuse to stay in bed on a Sunday morning when the weather outside is threatening. When it is an Erie snow storm we are warned not to drive for fear of slipping and slidding on slick roads. When it is a hurricane season and the raging waters dump rain without ceasing and blow winds that could carry away small children, we are told to stay in the interior rooms of our home for fear of a funnel in the sky. The conditions are ripe for such an occurance - better safe than sorry, right? In mass, we heed the warnings. We keep our TVs tuned to our favorite news station and get in comfy sweat pants for the duration. We resolve to run our errands another day, eat whatever is left in the fridge and forgo the plans we had that would take us away from the protection of home.
And what about church? Well, of course, it goes by the waisteside too. The empty seats to my right and left, and all down the rows of the church stood as a stark picture of how easily we can put God on the back burner. We hit a storm, a trial or anything unpleasant and we forget God. When we hit a bump and we immediately reach for the steering wheel of our life. We reasons that we must take control, that circumstances are such that we have to do something! We want to make things happen, change our circumstances, try to secure our own safety and future.
But is that really the way God wants us to approach the challenges of this life? Are we supposed to feel the compulsion to step in and take over? It is easy to talk the talk when it is sunny out and the roads are dry. Those are the days it is pleasant to take a drive to church in the morning and maybe even chat with a few friends outside after the service. Getting up and out is easy when the birds sing a welcoming tune and the breeze is refreshing. When you arrive at church your hair looks the same way it did when you left the house, as opposed to a drowned rat like it might have this morning, for instance. Unlike during the blizzard, you don't have to leave the house twenty minutes early to make it to the service on time. When the weather is good the going to church is easy. But once that tide turns and the sky turns black, the roads look tretcherous and the temperature plunges, we find reeasons and excuses to stay home.
We can choose to overcome the storm outside and get to the church on time, or we can give into the little voice that says, "It's okay, just skip it." When trials come we have the same choice. In the midst of our challenges we can abandon obedience, prayer and reliance on God, rationalizing our actions because times are tough. Or, we can turn TO God - finding comfort in his house during the storms of our life. There are only two ways to handle the tropical storms that are bound to beat against us while we journey through this life. We can go to God or we can go at it on our own. Going to God might look like a challenge. It may even look physically impossible or daughnting to say the least, but if we take that first step of faith God will see us through. After all, he created the winds, rains and waves of the storm - what makes you think he can't get you through them?
This morning I was a soggy mess by the time I made it through the front doors of the church. How fitting, don't you think? God doesn't require us to show up with everything in place, looking as if we just stepped out of the picture perfect family portrait. God simply requires that we come. That's it. In the storm and in the sun, just come to him. He takes us as we are - squeaky shoes, wet hair and all. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Donna Reed Days

You've lost that loving feeling. Yes, that's right, I'm talking to you America. What happened to your kindness, compassion and upbeat demeanor? Have you forgotten how to smile? Are you so miserable that you must go about life with a downward cast glance and an air of annoyance? This isn't the America we read about in history books or watch on old black and white TV shows. This isn't the land of joyful dreams and opportunities that it's all cracked up to be. Instead, it has turned into a bunch of stone-faced citizens trudging through life with caffine addiction and an eye watching the clock. People don't seem to be enjoying life. They seem to be resenting it.
All it takes is a trip to the grocery store to see the trouble with society. Everywhere, people are in a hurry and usually aggrivated. By the time you make it to the check out line there is usually someone tapping their foot in frustration from having to wait in line. Few people smile at each other and heaven forbid the employees act as if they've ever seen you before (even if they've been your cashier roughly one hundred times before).
Today I went to get my haircut and, once again, peeved America was in full swing. I went to one of those walk-in salons that abound across this great land. Every 1/4 mile on University Parkway in Sarasota you can stop and get a cut and style in under thirty minutes and well under thirty dollars. I had my pick between "Hair Cuttery", "My Salon", "Great Clips", and a whole host of others that I now forget because cute salon names only stick with me for so long. I decided on Great Clips because I didn't want my hair sawed off - clipped seemed safer. So in I went. As expected I was in and out in under twenty minutes and all for only $16.00 (including tip). Not too shabby. Except for my hairdressers attitude. Let's just say that her clips might be great but her mood was not. It was only 10:30 am but already this women was acting like she had been cutting hair for a twelve hours marathon and needed a break and possibly a martini. Or maybe this is just her normal?
She was annoyed with me because I didn't want to sign up for a mailing list. I'm sick of receiving paper in my mailbox, must you be irritated by that? Then I made the enormous mistake of telling her I wanted to start with just a slight trim on my bangs, and then maybe - just maybe - a bit more taken off. What was I thinking? She fired back with an attitudinal, "Why wouldn't I just cut it all off on the first try?" Umm, excuse me? Have you ever heard of the customer is always right? I refrained from stooping to her low level. Instead I jokingly said, "Well, I always figure you can cut more off but you can't tape more on." Who could argue with that logic? Not my hairdresser. She proceeded to cut my bangs then the rest of my hair. All I wanted was a trim of the dead ends and a little fixing of the layers that had gone arry. She completed the job quickly and didn't do a hack job. I have no complaints about the quality of her work, only the manor in which she did it. With ever snip of the scissors it seemed that her annoyance grew. She included some tell tail sighs that gave away her disdain for either her line of work, customer or life in general - who knows? All I know is that my hair looks healthier and shorter but not too short. And my bangs aren't in my eyes but don't hit in the middle of my forehead. Mission accomplished.
Yet, I am left wondering why Americans are so sour? When did this happen? I long for the days of "The Donna Reed Show" where every character seemed overly enthusiastic about life. They knew all their neighbors and the boy who delievered the milk. In the evenings Dad returned home with a smile and kiss for mom, not a slammed door and frustrated grunt. Kids ran out and played with their friends in the great outdoors and parents had parties filled with laughter and board games. But America has changed and with it has come the downfall of not only moral standards but positive attitudes. Now people don't play board games with a cheerful host making martinis, they do shots in the bar while ESPN blasts in the background. Kids don't run free between their neighbors yards, they play video games equipped with make believe guns. Good luck getting a friendly face at the grocery store, let alone milk delievered to your door in a glass bottle. Times have changed. With the breakdown of the good old days has come the break down of the attitudes that went along with that lifestyle. People are ornary. They aren't cheerful.
There is a sense of down and out, not rising up and accomplishing.
Conversation is filled with complains about the economy and the 24/7 news cycle only exacerbates that issue. It seems that the dark, depressing side of life has taken center stage and the uplifting has faded into the background. I would say that this is a problem only here in Sarasota but I've been around and I've seen that it isn't centralized to one area - it is sweeping the nation. What can we do about such an epidemic? How do we stop the negativity and restore our people to the optimistic bunch of settlers they started out as? Maybe they just need a reminder of how blessed we are!
Consider this - we have the freedom to turn on the TV or internet and go on any channel or website we so choose. We can walk down the street without fear of witnessing military and citizen violence. We can choose to worship God freely and openly - or believe he doesn't exist and live life as such. We can go to school, apply for college, take a risk on starting a business or apply for a job. We have the freedom to choose where we live and how we want our home to look. We can wear what we want and express ourselves through our appearance. If you want a tattoo you can get one. I wouldn't advise it, but it is your freedom to paint your body with ink or leave it all natural.
How about food? You have your pick of pretty much anything you can think up. Food is plentiful here. How about entertainment? Whether or not you are rolling in the money, there is tons to choose from. Our country is full of free entertainment as well as events that cost you an arm, leg, and first born child. The options in this country run the gammet. What do we have to be depressed about? Shouldn't we be smiling because of all the privilages and opportunities we have? Let's stop focusing on the negatives that surround us and focus on the abundance of positives. Sure, this country has its flaws and there is plenty of evil and trouble. But that's inevitable. If we only focus on what is wrong with life we miss what is right.
Here is my message to America: Stop being a negative Nancy! Embrace the positive Patty outlook on life. If you need a reminder of what that looks like I suggest a little one-on-one time with Donna Reed or Leave it to Beaver. Break out the pen and paper and take some notes, these old fashioned characters might teach you a thing or two.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Tears and Tissues

One non-malignant brain tumor pushing on my pituitary gland...please, and thank you!
It may seem odd to hope and pray for such a thing, but I was doing just that a few days ago. On Monday I went in for an MRI in the hopes of narrowing down (and finding out) what is causing my health dilemma. To be honest, I thought this would provide answers. I was pretty convinced the results would come back with either Multiple Sclerosis or a tumor pushing on my pituitary. I was hoping for the latter. Why would I want such a diagnosis? Easy. They can remove the tumor and my life can come back! That was my reasoning for wanting something to show up on that little image. I was holding out hope in getting answers from that test. And the pitutary gland makes sense - or made sense, I thought.
But, alas, it wasn't meant to be. Instead of a tumor or MS I was given a clean bill of brain health. Yay? I should be happy, but I'm not. I'm frustrated. I've gone years without answers and I'm at the end of my rope. I want to know what is wrong with me - even if the diagnosis is grim and seemingly hopeless. I want to know the giant I am facing. Right now he is nameless and faceless. I am getting tired of fighting a battle against an enemy I don't know or understand. What can I say? I'm worn out. In the past few days I have cried more then I have in months. My emotional breakdowns have reached a frequency that blows through a box of tissues - literally. Songs on the radio have me breaking down in convulsive sobs as I drive. I'm a wreck and I am at a loss as to how to get control of myself again.
Today I sat in the doctors office with no clue what to do next. Part of me wants to give up. Close up shop and go home. How long can I can on this way?
And then the other part of me wants to buck up and push on. I am torn between defeat and heroism. The two sides of me are at war and in that doctors office a battle was waged. Tears flowed. I couldn't control the struggle inside of me. Inside I was breaking apart. I cried for the two years of my life that have been held hostage, at the mercy of this mystery. I cried for the bones potruding from my back, making me look more and more like a skeleton with each passing day. I cried for the frustration that was exploding from every fiber of my being. What is wrong with this body? Why doesn't it absorb all the nutrients I give it through my food? Why is this happening and what will ever make it stop?
I feel like a train, speeding out of control with no brakes. Will it have to crash to bring this whole thing to an end? What will it take?
In that room with dimmed light and soothing Chinese music, I held my head between my knees and let the overwhelming exhaustion pour out of me. My eyes soaked through tissues, making my face a blotchy mess of tears (but not a mess of mascara, thank you creator of waterproof makeup).
As the doctor talked, the flood gates were broken open even further. My breakdown continued throughout the visit and after Dr. Zhao left the room. I couldn't put a cap on it. For the first time during this whole ordeal I let myself crumble with reckless abandon. I didn't attempt to stop it. I couldn't even if I tried. I sobbed. I shock. I fell apart at the seams.
For the past two years I have held it together during the ups and downs that have been riddling my day to day life. In every situation I have tried to be strong and not show how much this has beaten me up emotionally. But today I didn't attempt to hide it any longer. I am on my knees for everyone to see. I don't have any more answers. My stamina that was maintaining a steady pace of paper thin has broken through. Today was the culmination of all of the devestation that I have felt yet avoided for years. I simply couldn't keep those feelings at bay a moment longer.
So, now what? Do I give up?
Never.
For two years I have fought to keep going. Running when it hurt, walking when my legs burned, smiling when inside I was crying and getting up each morning when some days I wanted it all to be over - for good. But God hasn't given up on me. He hasn't let me come home. He still wants me here. As long as he keeps me breathing I will keep fighting. Until the day he brings my soul to Heaven I will continue on in this journey.
I have no idea why my health got off course two and half years ago and I have no idea why it got better last summer only to relapse six months later. There are far more questions than answers. But I do know that God is in control of it all. The ups and downs aren't a surprise to him, he knew they were coming. None of this is a mystery to him and not one moment of it is wasted. He promises that all things will work together for good for those who love him. He is going to work this out for good. He may not do that in a way I expect or could even imagine. He probably has something far more creative in mind - and much better, for that matter.
God doesn't demand that I always remain strong. He knows I am human. He does ask that I trust him and have faith in his plan and timing. He wants me to find rest in his promises even when I'm confused and feel broken. So that is what I am going to do. I am not going to attempt to "figure" out what God is working out in my life. I am going to rest in knowing that he has me on HIS path. This isn't my route - that's for sure. This is God's. I'm on his timetable, not mine. God doesn't want me trying to peak ahead at the upcoming turns. And he definitely doesn't want me asking, "are we there yet?" He wants me to enjoy where I'm at on the journey - even if that place includes tears, tissues and doctor's offices.


James 1:2-3
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Amazing Grace

Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me... I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see... Emotionally there are moments when we come to the end of ourselves. Our own human strength runs out. Our mental stamina wears thing. We need grace. In those moments of pure exhaustion we turn to the one who can sustain us. He saves us. And, oh how precious does that grace appear those hours when we first believe. When we have run out our own will to go on we find a failing so beautiful, so divine that it is awe inspiring. It is lyrical and melodic. It's tune becomes a lullaby through life. Once we first experience the hope and security of His amazing grace, we cling to it. It is our assurance and our security. One day there will be a day when we come to the end of our physical selves. Our bodies will wear out, our breathing will slip away and our hearts will cease to beat. We will experience another type of weakness and, just like the moment when we ran emotionally dry, we will feel helplessness as the our body gives out. But in that moment, something beautiful happens. We are shown something so miraculous that it makes the suffering and pains of death insignificant. We see glory. When all physical capacities are gone and our earthly living is complete, we are shown the most remarkable vision. All of the weakness felt on earth, all the suffering endured comes into focus. Our blindness is restored to full sight. We can see the picture God had been painting all the years of our lives. Every up and down, valley and mountain comes into focus. Every turn along our journey makes perfect sense. And then, the most stunning picture of all. We see our Heavenly Father - the one who we yearned for, longed to meet and cried out to. We finally meet Him face to face. And every moment on earth is a sweet memory. We see the meaning of our lives. We reap the promises of God. We see the many mansions, the streets of gold and the angles singing praises. Everything that seemed a mystery on earth is revealed. When you are assured of your place in Heaven, death doesn't seem so bad. In fact, death is cause for celebration. Someone who once had to endure the pressures and complications of this life now gets to enjoy eternity in Heaven... perfect, endless, glorious Heaven. What could be better? Last night my Grandma passed away. Some people shed tears at the passing of a loved one but I must admit I feel nothing but happiness. Her last few years on this earth were so labored. Her physical capabilities were reduced to breathing. She couldn't feed herself or even sit up on her own. For a woman who enjoyed church responsibilities and a teaching job as an adult I'm sure watching herself deteriorate in this way was devastating. When my Grandma was young many women didn't go to college. But she did. She graduated first in her high school class - a small number of students but still quite an accomplishment. She went on to college and became an English teacher. She also played piano, her true love in life if you ask me. She had a passion for music. As an adult she played piano for church until Parkinson's disease stripped her of her ability to control her fingers. What the disease took from her fingers couldn't be taken from her spirit. She then joined the choir. As time went by her body wouldn't allow her to do that either. But when you love something as deeply as she did - lyrics and a melody - you can't take that away from someone. She stood in the front row of the congregation and whistled along. She was an incredible whistler - no doubt the best I've ever heard. At the end of her life she was in a nursing home, confined to her bed by night and a wheelchair by day. But you know what? She still whistled. My Dad would play piano and she would whistle along while using her hands to conduct his tempo and rhythm. At times in the music she would feel a crescendo coming on and would direct him to up his volume and intensity. At other moments she would "Shh" his playing that was too loud for the melody and lyrics of the given tune. She loved her music and knew how she liked it performed. Up until the very end she kept that love alive. In the last few months even her conducting had grown faint. She barely whistled, if at all. She was getting ready to go home. Then, last night, with Amazing Grace playing in the background and her son and daughter holding her hands, she went home to glory. Her physical body came to the end of itself but her soul went to its true home, the place it had yearned for since that very first time she found God's amazing grace. Her family left here on this earth can rejoice for her. She is home! She is in the presense of the most holy God and she is enjoying the most spectacular music, a melody that we can't even comprehend. I can see it now, and do you know what I see? Grandma, sitting behind a piano, whistlilng while she plays. When we've been there ten thousand years, bright shinging as the sun. We've no less days to sing God's praise then when we've first begun... Play in peace, Grandma.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

True Love

Every great now and then I hear a story that warms my heart. You know the type - the heartfelt tale of true love. Your typical feel good, chick flick, type story. The sort of movie that girls drag their boyfriends to (if they have one) and their mom (if they don't). My feel good tale to share falls into the Mom date category. Even if I had a man in my life I'd leave him at home for this one. Mom would be a much better date for this story line. Let me set the stage. Maria is 86 and suffering from dementia. She can't remember names, what the date or year is, where someone is if they left the room sixty seconds ago and when she is supposed to eat. Or wait, maybe she already ate? She doesn't know. If left to her own devices she would surely not survive very long. She can't remember to eat let alone remember the dangers that surround her and how they work - for instance, a stove, fireplace or hot faucet. She is at the mercy of other people taking care of her. Life is funny, isn't it? We come into life absolutely dependent. Without our parents caring for our every need we wouldn't last long past our initial entrance into this world. Someone takes care of everything. From feeding to changing to moving from one position to another - we are helpless. Then we grow, age and mature. We take on some of the responsibilites our caretaker once had. First we sit up, then crawl, walk and run. Over time we feed ourselves and the rest is history. We are self sufficient. The thought of someone having to change our diaper becomes revolting. Actually, the diaper itself is revolting, the wearing and having it changed by a third party is just plain humiliating. But then something happens along this journey called life. We start to go in reverse. Our capabilites become less. Other people must start helping us with basic functions we used to perform ourselves. It might start with a little help up the stairs. You've seen this I'm sure, just a young whipersnaper giving Grandma a shoulder to lean on as she manuevers up the steps into a restaurant. As time ticks by so do the rootamentary functions of life. Next the steps are completely unmanagable and the ramp is the only way to the restaurant Grandma could once walk into with ease. Slowly but surely she becomes more dependent on other people to help her get through daily life and accomplish the basics of daily living. And one day, she's back in diapers. And the saddest part? She can't even be humiliated because she knows she needs them and needs someone to change them. Life comes full circle. For Maria, star of this story, she can't rememeber enough to make it through life on her own. She needs a protector, a caretaker. And who better then a Mom - namely, her Mom. Maria's caretaker is her 104 year old Mother. Amazing, right? But wait, I'm just getting started. For the past sixty years the two have lived either together or across the street from each other. They have literally spent their lives together. When Maria was a young mother her marriage ended. Her Mother quit her job to care for Maria's two sons so Maria herself could work. At that time they lived across the street from one another. Now, for over fourteen years they have lived here in Sarasota. Maria suffers from artheritis and dementia. Her Mother takes a low dosage medication for high blood pressure and that's it. Talk about an amazing speciman! Most people aren't alive at 104 let alone taking care of a disabeled person and only popping one pill a day. Remarkable! What is even more amazing to me is the incredible love these two have for eachother. They share a love most people never experience this side of Heaven. They have walked through life together with more committment and dedication to each other then most people find in a marriage. How could I not think about my own Mother during this story? We aren't 86 and 104 but we have a bond that I dare you to try and break. She is my ally and my biggiest fan. She has a dedication that far exceeds anything I could ever ask for or dream of. If I were to be in Maria's shoes and be suffering from dementia I know my Mom would be right there taking care of me, too. I've already watched her take care of me now when I'm sick and suffering. The few times she has been away and I've been in a bad way her pain has been palpable. I could feel her sorrow on the other end of the phone. She's jumped in the car at a moments notice and driven across the state of Pennsylvania to be with me when I needed her. She is utterly faithful. So, when I read about Maria and her Mom I get it. I understand their bond, their relationship and their unfailing committment to each other. It may seem like Maria can only be a taker in the relationship given her physical state, but her Mother disagrees. Maria gives and loves. When her Mother leaves the room she can only be gone for a brief time. If she is gone too long Maria will go looking for her. She may have dementia but she couldn't forget her Mom. The memory might fade and body might fail but you can't make a person loose their ability love. When all else is gone, that remains. And that, my friend, is the moral of the story. You can't steal a person's love. And you can't break up the bond of a Mother and daughter. But I could have told you that already.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

One too many threads

Before you can experience the beginning of God's power you must come to the end of yourself. As long as you are holding onto even the slightest thread of control God's power cannot be manifested. The moment you let go - completely and entirely let go - God can take the reigns. He won't if we are still holding on - even if we are only holding them ever so loosely.
It is a shame the number of Christians and non-Christians alike who walk through life holding onto the threads that they believe are holding everything together. They hold in their hands thousands of strings for family, work, traveling, the future, church duties, and hobbies. Life becomes a juggling act of keeping a handle on all the threads without dropping one or pulling it to tightly. The weight of success lies strictly on that person's shoulders. If it fails it is their fault and if it succeeds it is their accomplishment.
Others have let go of some of the strings, yet can't seem to release their hold on others. They understand that their life at church is in God's hands. They let go of that thread - what a relief, one less thing to worry about. Maybe they even release the string that attaches to their safety. They trust God to keep them out of harms way and protect their family and children. Maybe this person has let go of their control of human relationships. Instead of always striving they have learned to rest in Biblical truths and teachings to guide their earthly interactions with family, friends and mere strangers. But still this person holds on to some things. They can't seem to let go of their job and their financial security. After all, they are dead meat without a good job and a 401k, right? Instead of trusting God to provide, they constantly put the pressure on themselves to make the right business decisions, work crazy long hours and do whatever it takes to make their career a success. This can be tragic. Despite giving relationships to God they can still suffer because of the strain of a workaholic in the house. Although this person may rely on God to get him to and from work safely they endure stress about the responsibilities of the work itself, limiting the peace they can truly experience.
When we refuse to let go of even the tiniest, thinnist thread, everything suffers. We can't hold onto one and expect that God will pick up the rest. We have to face the facts. To have God step in we have to step out entirely. We have to drop every thread. Then, and only then, will he be free to step in with his almighty power, ultimate wisdom and omniopentence.
I don't know about you, but his qualifications sound a whole lot better than mine. It's a mystery as to why we want to hold onto any strings in the first place. We have a God who is ready and waiting to take the drivers seat, take a firm hold of the reigns of our carriage and steer this ship! We should be jumping out of the way, scrambling to get a place in the caboose, relieved and thrilled to be on a journey where we don't have to constantly keep our eyes glued to the road ahead.
To experience this peace and this relief we have to come to the end of our human striving. It is natural to want to have control. We are fallen sinners, living in a fallen world that preaches work ethic and self actualization. Unfortunately, the world misses God's will and direction with all their "I can do it on my own" talk. Our society will discourage us from relying on God more than ourselves. They will think it is lazy and pure foolishness. But don't listen. Their eyes are blind to the things of God and their minds are darkened to truth. The Bible warns us of these opposing voices and encourages us to continue walking in the ways of the Lord.
Last night, as I laid down to go to sleep, I knew I was holding on to a string again. My worry and concern for my health was back on my shoulders. I had taken back control. At that moment I was feeling so weak that it dawned on me that I might not wake up in the morning. This thought had never occurred to me before. Despite an extremely low weight, low blood pressure and, at times, rapid heart beat, I've remained relatively strong. There has never been a day I haven't been able to walk, even if it is only for ten minutes. I have pushed through pain and discomfort and extreme fatigue. But last night I knew something in me was different. My breathing felt labored. My body felt like it had lost its will. This was a new sensation. I laid there for a few moments, processing my current circumstances. That is when I accepted that I might be at the end of my physical rope, my body may have been giving out. That is where my mind settled. From there I knew I had a couple of options: I could break down and cry because I was scared or I could let God have control of my feelings and go to sleep.
I choose the latter. I closed my eyes and got comfortable. In my mind, I simply allowed myself to be okay with not waking up, if that was God's will for me. I decided to let him have his way, and I stepped out of it.
Well, it doesn't take a genius to figure out how the story ends. I woke up this morning.
I didn't wake up feeling like a new woman with the energy of a toddler and the weight of a healthy twenty-two year old, but I woke up. When I opened my eyes I felt renewed spiritually. Physically I felt drained, like I hadn't really slept for eight hours. But spiritually I felt like I had a new peace that I had been missing the past few days. In that room the night before I had come to the end of my human control. I was faced with the fact that I couldn't keep myself alive any longer than God would ordain. In accepting that I released the right to myself.
I let go of my threads.
Now I can once again experience God's peace and his power. He can take hold of the reigns of my life and pick up every thread. I'm comfortably resting in the back seat. It has a big cushion and a warm blanket. God has even thought to put a pillow back here for the moments when my neck grows weary. His power is great and his understanding is beyond my comprehension. And, just think, this is only the beginning.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Every Morning

I'm human. I want answers and I want them now. Actually I wanted them five minutes ago. But I'll take them now. Better late than never.
Life is a constant, ever present reminder that you don't get your answers on your timetable and you don't always get your way.
There is a girl that lives in Maryland who has suffered her entire life with the torment of not knowing. She is sixteen but she has never aged passed eleven months. Yes, that's right, she has the development of a toddler and the size to match. She has two older sisters and one younger who are completely normal. And there, stuck in the middle, is a girl who looks like a baby with the birth certificate to prove she is actually a teen.
Of course it goes without saying that her life has been drastically different from your average teenager. She'll never drive a car. She'll never go to school so she is never going graduate, get a job or move into her own home. She'll never even use a toilet. She is stuck. A prisoner of her own body.
I can't even imagine the emotional and physical toll this has taken on her parents. They have been strong and supportive, never wavering in their dedication to making their daughter's life as full as possible given her limitations. They have remained committed to each other when so many couples split under far less pressure. They have turned their lives upside down to make sure that their disabled daughter has the best life possible.
They have done all of this living in complete darkness as to the cause, explanation and future of their daughters condition. Doctors have never been able to pinpoint why this abnormality came about in the first place or the course it will take as she ages. Each day is a mystery. At the age of four the young girl began suffering from illness after illness. She was hospitalized for pneumonia a number of times and it was clear that there had been a shift in her condition. Not only was she not growing and developing but she was becoming sick far too often. Since then their journey has been up and down, every day a surprise and a massive question-mark.
How do you live life with such uncertainty for sixteen years? This family doesn't have a clue what tomorrow will bring. Will their daughter and sister suffer seizures, illness, blindness, or slip into a coma? No one knows and no one can make a prediction with any confidence in their accuracy.

When life seems to be too difficult to bear and the questions that surround the future weigh heavily, there is hope in the here and now. There is hope in knowing that you have today.
For this family that is enough. They have this moment. Tomorrow is a mystery and only God knows what it will hold. It isn't for us to know. Even when Jesus was on earth he didn't reveal himself all at once to his disciples. There were times they were confused by his wording and his language. There were times when they weren't meant to understand - they needed to trust.
That is all God is asking us each and every morning. Don't strive to understand. Don't attempt to plot out or predict the future. Just take today and use it. Don't waste a single moment. Because you may not have another.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Perfect Harmony

Encouragement and strength can be found by simply opening a book. This truth is displayed to me every time I open Oswald Chambers, Elizabeth Elliot or C.S. Lewis. The words on the written page are rooted in spiritual truth. They cut through the muck and mire of the earthly voices and opinions that dominate TV, newspapers and 99% of human conversation overheard at a coffee house. The words of these writers pulls my focus back to right living; it puts my gaze heavenward.
In our culture it is so easy to slip into thoughts of earthly matters. We are constantly bombarded by topics and subject matters that have nothing to do with God and everything to do with our own needs, opinions and desires.
I bought a newspaper today. Most of the articles I read had nothing to do with God or things of moral value. Most had to do with politics - demonizing the opposing party and criticizing those with differing views. The section of brief's were filled with news of robberies, murders and misdemeanors. Letters written to the editor were riddled with complaints about laws, politicians and noisy neighbors.
I came home and turned on the TV. The news was filled with depressing sagas of scandal, abuse and criminals going to trial. I switched it to that silly show "The Doctors". They were talking about diseases, medication and depression. Yay! I flipped to TLC but they were telling people how hideous they looked in their clothing on "What Not to Wear".
Without a concerted effort you can go through your day without hearing much of anything positive or uplifting. It is a sad state of affairs when it is harder to find good in the world then it is to find bad. I guess this is the whole trouble with sin - it has inundated this world, leaving nothing untouched. When you see sin for what it is you start truly understanding the devastation it causes. I'm at that place. I see how the human condition is left in shambles because of our sin nature. It is upsetting because I know most people don't see it. How can they be missing this? Doesn't anyone else see that we are living in a den of discord and disharmony? It is as if someone is singing in the wrong key and no one has noticed. Is everyone tone deaf?
When I start to get discouraged I find comfort in my favorite Christian writers. They remind me that other people on this earth have seen the chaos for what it is but have kept on living out their faith in spite of it all. These writers encourage me when the promises of God become muffled in my mind and the noise that surrounds me becomes overpowering. I open one of their books and they remind me where my hope is found, where my peace rests and where my strength is restored.
If I could meet one of these pillars of faith I'd want to meet Elisabeth Elliot. From the moment I read her first book I've been in awe of her faith and the way she articulates it. She is inspiring. She has given herself entirely to the will of God and in return he has handed her blessings along with extreme tragedy. Most people would have abandoned God if faced with trials such as the death of two husbands, but she hasn't faltered. She has remained faithful in spite of extreme trials and heartbreak.
I believe God puts people like Elizabeth Elliot on this earth as an inspiration to other Christians. I know she has been an inspiration to me. Her words have given me much needed reminders of my God's love and perfect plan for me on days when my frustration has grown overpowering and my patience has run dry. She quotes scripture that cuts to the core of my being. She gives insight that opens my eyes to my failings and inspires me to press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:14).
Today it was just a short piece that left me humbled and renewed. It was entitled, "When the Music Stops."
"There are sometimes spaces in our lives that seem empty and silent. Things grind to a halt for one reason or another. Not long ago, in the space of a few days, the "music" in my life seemed to stop......" She went on to quote John Ruskin who wrote, "There is no music in a rest, but there is the making of music in it.....How does the musician read the rest? See him beat time with unvarying count and catch up the next note true and stead, as if no breaking place had come between." Elizabeth went on to write, "There was 'the making of music' in what seemed a hollow emptiness. It's His song, not mine, that I'm here to sing. It's His will, not mine, that I'm here to do."
There is nothing more to say, nothing more to add. She makes the point so perfectly. This life isn't our song, it is His. If we are finding ourselves in a place of rest it is because He wrote the score that way. It is not our job to scribble on the page and add a few half notes or quarter notes. It is our job to play it as it is written, performing each melody with the form, dynamics, rhythm and, yes, even pauses intended by the master composer.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

In my own little corner

I tried a different church this morning. I'm not quite sure why. I thought I had found the church I would attend here in Florida. I've been to that church three times and like it very much but still felt a desire to try just one more.
Silly me.
The music was loud and whiny, I felt like I was in a foreign land - not a church service. For one song they sang in Spanish. I can't speak Spanish so how could I worship God in a language whose words I don't know the meaning of? It was during that song that I fell out of the mode of worship and became frustrated. The music was growing louder and the first hour of the service was upon us.
Before I left for church this morning I had such a great peace. My soul has been yearning for quiet tranquility not noise made by drums and belting vocals. I can't hear God when the music is making my chest thump and my sternum ache. That is not worship to me. Worship is the revealing of God's truth. That is when I feel the most connected to my Father and the most humbled in his presence.
After one song in particular, where the whole congregation seemed to be in a state of moaning and distress, I couldn't take it one second longer. I didn't feel my God there. I had felt him so strongly that morning in my little apartment but not here, not with all the emotional wailing that seemed to be more performance than worship. At any moment I wouldn't have been surprised if people started speaking in tongues.
I got up and walked out. Never before have I ever left during a church service but today I just couldn't stand to feel my peace with God stomped on by a a base drum. There is a time and a place for loud songs of praise but this morning I wasn't at that place in my heart. I wanted to be on my knees with soft piano accompaniment, maybe even pure silence.
God has put in my soul a thirst for serenity and quietude. I'm not sure if this will always be the desire of my heart, but for now it is. And I must admit, I'm happy to oblige. Some people love to dance in the aisles of church, clap their hands with energetic enthusiasm and raise their hands as they sway with the beat of the music. At this point in my life I'm craving something different.
I want a mat on the floor; a cushion for me to set my knees on. I want the stillness of a hushed room, only the sounds of nature and wildlife to interrupt the silence. I want Christian books filled with wisdom about scriptures and encouragement rooted in truth. I want my Bible that has my pen marks, highlighted verses and notes in the margins.
God is revealing things to me. He is revealing my weakness and my great need for him. Through reading his word and resting in his presence he is teaching me.
There have been so many men and women of the Bible who were kept in solitude for a time. Even Jesus spent time in the desert. I'm sure it was quiet there, too. But these times of silence were needed. It is the moments of quiet when God can make himself heard without competition from outside sources. We get the chance to focus on him alone and not the bombastic noise filling our daily lives.
Maybe I shouldn't have left during that church service today. I'm not sure if God was shaking his head in disapproval of my actions or if he understood my heart on the matter. Well, I'm sure he understood my heart - he always does - but I'm not sure he would find my feelings appropriate or not. Either way, I cannot take back my actions. All I can do is continue to soak in the word and ask God to forgive me for any actions that might have come across as offensive to some at that church or just plain rude. I didn't mean them in that way, I just wanted to get back to the presence of God and I wasn't experiencing it there in that room, pounding with music.
When I got back in my car I breathed a sigh of relief.
This time in my life is my own personal desert, right here on the coast of Florida. This is a time when God is growing me spiritually through suffering and daily communing with him. Sometimes that means I will need to pull away from the rest of the world so I can pull closer to him. Sometimes it might appear to everyone else that I'm just being a loner, but I'm not alone. I'm pulling closer to my God, finding comfort in the rest he promises and the peace he so abundantly provides.

Full of Purpose

With summer comes thousands of children finishing up another year of grade school and enjoying the warmth, sunshine and days filled with freedom that is only found in June, July and August. For many kids these months mean one thing: summer camp. Some kids fly across the country, away from home, to attend "special" camps just for girls or just for drummers or just for kids who love MacBook Air (I'm not sure about that last one but it wouldn't surprise me). Other kids might only venture a few miles away for day camp or a little farther for overnight camp where days are spent swimming and hiking and nights are spent by a campfire, under the starry sky.
Growing up all my friends loved summer camp. There was one camp in particular that almost every one of my friends attended every summer without fail - Camp Notre Dame. It was only about eight miles from my house and I passed it every Sunday on my way to church. My friends loved Notre Dame. When they were kids they attended for a week or two at a time. When they outgrew being a camper they moved onto being counselors. They had inside jokes, special songs and silly dances all the product of their time spent at camp.
Every summer when camp registration would roll around my friends would ask if I was going to sign up for the same week as they were. Every summer I declined the invitation. Summer camp never sparked my interest. I never wanted to go sleep in a cabin for a week, away from home without my family, Mom's cooking and comfy bed. All my friends raved about the great memories they were making and how I was "missing out" but I never gave in. I never went to summer camp.
Except for that one time... I was a Girl Scout (a short lived venture that I never was all that into). As is the way with Girl Scout troops, they plan special activities to enhance "bonding" and make girls more well rounded and capable. That is the point of the program as I understand it, anyways. Boys have Cub Scouts and then they grow up into Boy Scouts, finally reaching the pinnacle of Eagle Scout when they can make a fire out of a piece of bark and their brain power. Girls have Brownies and Girl Scouts. It is all about the equality of the sexes.
But back to my days in the troop. Our group had a special summer camp weekend where all of the girls in the group would attend together and have oodles of fun! Or so that was the idea.
As you can imagine, I wasn't a fan of the idea. I was a homebody. Never mind that the camp only lasted two nights and three days - I didn't want anything to do with it. But, I relented and packed my bags for the special weekend.
Lets just say that what ensued was not the fun-filled weekend the brochure boasted. I was miserable. I felt flu-ish and even got sick a time or two. I asked if I could call my Mom and tell her I didn't feel well (AKA: "GET ME OUT OF HERE!") but they wouldn't let me use the phone. When I told the nurse I didn't feel well she actually told me she wouldn't believe me unless I could produce vomit for her to see with her own two eyes. She was a charmer, can't you tell?
Needless to say, that experience solidified the feelings I already held about summer camp. I never again relented on my position and never again made the mistake of giving into the hype.
Bottom line: I was the kind of kid that got homesick. Not all kids suffer from this. Some kids could go live on a ranch, away from Mom and Dad, all summer long and it wouldn't phase them. I would have been escaping after hour three of such an endeavor. My heart has always been at home. A week of non-stop friends couldn't pull me away. The promise of exciting activities, swimming and nature exploring never looked as good as the white house on 41st Street.
As I've gotten older I've faced the fact that growing up means moving away. With age comes the expectation that you will fly the nest. It has to do something with the roots and wings theory. Your home and parents give you roots throughout your childhood and then comes the time to spread your wings and fly.
When I went away to college I put this into practice and it worked beautifully. I had a few nights at the start where I longed for the comforts of home and the company of Mom, but overall I adjusted quickly.
Then this whole health mystery hit and I came back to where my heart still resided. Home has been a safe haven since I was a little girl and that hasn't changed a bit. There really is no place like home. Home is where the heart is. Home is where you are understood, loved and accepted for who you are right in that moment.
Now I'm living in Florida, once again away from home. I thought I'd be homesick again. I thought I'd be spending my evenings longing for home, crying over loneliness and the distance that separates Erie from Sarasota. But the strangest thing has happened: I'm not homesick. Somewhere on my journey of growing up I have become comfortable with miles between me and my childhood home. I don't know when it happened, but the tides of change have moved in me.
Instead of homesickness I am plagued by another time of yearning. I have purpose-sickness. It doesn't have the same ring to it as "homesick" but you get the idea.
Each day starts with the same question: what should I do with myself? For the past six months my life has revolved, non-stop, around my health. I have had little else to entertain my focus and fill my hours. Where I go, what I do and when I do it is all controlled by how I feel and what ailments my body is experiencing that given day. There have been days when I have ventured out for an adventure only to be struck by sickness that drives me back home, to the couch or, more often, the bathroom. My life has been ordered by the body that I'm stuck in. A body that I can't predict, control or understand.
There have been days when my frustration has reached its boiling point. I break down, cry, and then slip into silence. Words can't explain my despair on those days, so why even try to vocalize my feelings?
My life has come to a halt because of my body. My mind wants to be active, accomplishing tasks and taking on responsibility. But my body is standing in its way, like my own personal Berlin Wall. I want my body and my mind to be united. I want them to work in unison and have a purpose. I want, I want, I want! But wanting doesn't change a thing.
When I grow weary of this struggle I can't help but long for a purpose that goes beyond putting on twenty pounds. I am tired of a life revolving around me, yet my unpredictable health makes giving of myself difficult. Yet, I know that a self-centered existence is just plain wrong.
So, how can you make life about others when you are so caught up in taking care of your own suffering?
You write a letter.
You send a thank you card.
You make a phone call.
You give someone a compliment, a smile or an encouraging word.
I may not be able to serve in the same ways I did when my health was vibrant and thriving. I can't stand on my feet for hours in the soup kitchen or go to work for an eight hour shift, but I can still do something of meaning. I can brighten someone's day. I can be a little light to someone who may feel stuck under a cloud.
Purpose is a funny thing. Our society has made us believe it has to produce something we can see, usually money. We equate having purpose with being successful and useful. Students want a diploma, a sash and a long list of accomplishments in their graduation's program. Everyone is looking for recognition, something to show that what they are doing has meaning. Humans are always looking for other humans to validate their actions. On our human scale, we look for results to indicate that those actions are taking place.
But maybe our scope is too limited and misdirected. Maybe purpose goes beyond what the world can see and hold. Maybe purpose is something much bigger and much, much greater.
Purpose is about being Christ-like right where you are. When we view purpose as living a spirit filled life we will find that we can fulfill that purpose anywhere, no matter what our health or wealth may be. If we change the definition of purpose that is too often shrouded by plaques and fancy titles, we see that it doesn't have to do with what we "produce" but Who we reflect.
When I look back on my summers growing up I wouldn't trade them for anything - not even Camp Notre Dame. I spent my days running through the sprinkler, climbing the big (in my little girl opinion) tree in my front yard, and taking trips to the beach with my Mom. Summer was perfection. No wonder I experienced homesickness!
I do know something that I may regret in the future: missing my purpose in the here and now. I don't want to miss God's ultimate purpose for me because my vision is clouded by mystery symptoms and ill health. Starting today I am going to live a life of divine purpose. I won't be going into an office to work a job or sitting in a classroom learning a new subject. I will be reflecting the Holy Spirit that lives inside of me. I will be showing the world the love of Christ. That is my purpose and I can't wait to live it out today and every day.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Advice from the nuts

Will someone please give me a Dear, Stephanie column and a box full of letters from confused and discouraged writers? I would take that job in a heartbeat.
In fact, I might as well just start now. The letters don't have to be addressed to me. And who cares if I get a paycheck in the end (if this takes off I will eat those words, I'm sure). I just love advice columns. It is a pipe dream of mine to be a Dear Stephanie someday. What qualifies a person for such a position? People watching? I've done my fair share of that. In fact, I have twenty-two years experience. I was a people watcher fresh out of the womb. I love to observe the actions and habits of other people. Forgive me if I sound borderline creepy. Individuals are simply interesting. Each one is unique and has little quirks that no one else shares. You can learn from watching how other people interact with one another. For example, you can learn not to dominate a conversation, among many other critical life lessons. Being a people watcher is an education in and of itself.
This is why I don't have time for college. I am too busy watching people. Excuse me while I get my studying on. 
Which brings me to today's letter to Dear Annie. I have mixed feelings on Dear Annie. Often I totally disagree with her advice. In my humble opinion she misses the big picture more than she hits it. And even when she does come to a conclusion I can give an "amen" to, she uses reasoning that makes my brow get all furrowed.
Take today, for instance. The writer, known as Parent in the Northeast is a single mother who is 31, never been married and doesn't care to ever marry. The whole arrangement just doesn't appeal to her. As you can imagine, her friends don't understand this. She is constantly enduring questions such as, "Do you want to die alone?" What upbeat friends! Parent in the Northeast just wants people to know that it is okay to not marry and it is okay to not WANT to marry. She asks Annie what ever happened to "mind your own business"?
What does Annie say in response?: "Good luck with that." That gave my brow a little twitch.
Hmm... If I were Parent in the Northeast I'd be disappointed with that lame "advice." In defense of Annie, she goes on to give this parent a comeback for the next time this situation arises. Say something like, "I cannot imagine why you think this is your business." And this is where my brow furrows.
What kind of advice is that? So, people start meddling in your personal life and you give a comeback that is the equivalent of a Chihuahua snapping a child's wandering hand? Her response was juvenile. I think Parent in the Northeast would get a lot further in her reasoning to the questioners by responding with grace and maturity then resorting to sharp-tongued commentary.
It is perfectly alright to not have a burning desire for marriage. It is also to be expected that there will be opposition to this way of living. The numbers don't lie. Most people are married at some point in their life. Can we fault the married population for believing that everyone must want to be married, too? Of course not. They are in the majority, after all.
If this were Dear Stephanie I'd answer the letter much differently. My response would go a little something like this:
"Dear Northeast Parent...It is understandable that the endless barrage of questioning about your marital status will get (and obviously has) gotten old. Please try to cut your friends some slack. Although they may not always use the best wording and phrasing, I'm sure they just want you to be happy and content. Still, I agree that they should respect your feelings on marriage and your desires for the future of you and your son. I suggest responding to their questions with grace and joy. This will be the best way to convey to them that you are happy to be a single woman. Throw in a little humor, too. A light touch goes a long way. Remember - sweet will get you further than sour. Showing frustration could be misinterpreted as bitterness about your relationship status. I sense that you truly are happy being single and that marriage isn't a status you feel you need to ever obtain. Show that to those in your life by killing all the questioning with kindness. Show them how marvelous life can be as an independent, single woman!"
What do you think? Do I have a possible future as a dear so and so?
It is amazing to me the voices that are littering newspapers and TV talk shows. They are throwing around advice that doesn't seem to be in the best interest of their readers/listeners. They say the most inane comments and get paid for it to boot. What are the credentials of these people? Who taught them their logic? Shouldn't the people giving so called "advice" be trying to better the lives of those seeking answers?
Maybe the problem is that too many of these commentators on life are coming at life itself from the wrong vantage point. Instead of seeing things through a Christian, moral scope they are observing everything through a self driven lens: What is best for me? They are being led by selfish motives, not what is truly right.
This world doesn't need more advice from confused and misdirected human beings. The world of Dr. Phils and Dear Annies isn't leading us in a positive direction. Last I checked, divorce rates haven't dropped because TV has started trying to solve relationship problems while a studio audience observes this twisted form of "entertainment". We need people who are looking at life through God's view finder. We need real convictions rooted in truth, not what feels right or suits us at the moment.
I don't think the USA Today or Herald Tribune would ever have me as an advice columnist. They would probably call me one of those "Right wing Christian Conservative nuts". And to that I would say, "Uh-huh! And thank you, thank you very much."

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Abundantly Grateful

My NOOK Simple has a battery life of a couple of months - depending on use.
My MacBook runs for about six hours of consecutive pointing and clicking before it starts signaling its departure unless I plug it into the charger.
My iPhone doesn't require a daily charge unless I'm in extreme texting mode - which is quite rare these days.
My Sony digital camera can go for a whole week's worth of vacation picture taking before it is calling it quits.
My Nikon DSLR takes hundreds of photos before it wants a recharge.
But when any of those devices need to be plugged in there is no stopping the rapid decline in functioning that is to follow. Take, for instance, my Nikon. It starts taking away features from me when I don't have enough battery power left, even before it is entirely dead. First, a little picture of a battery starts flashing on the screen. At this point the battery is still green and seems to be indicating that the camera is growing tired. Then shutter mode quits. No more picture taking fun. I can view what I've already taken, change up my settings and scroll through the menu but my flash is disabled and my camera is useless for memory catching until I recharge. If I keep using the remaining features at some point my little green battery will turn red and then, at some point, all lights go dark.
What I realized today is that I too am feeling like one of my many devices that starts giving out as the battery life slips away. Each new pain, ache and weakness is another bar on the battery life indicator that fades away. The picture of my battery is flashing, just like my cameras. It is dying to be plugged in. It is warning me that the mode in life which gave me the ability to run, jump and laugh is disabled. I need a charger. I need plugged in. Will someone, please find me an outlet?!
Trust me, I've tried to remain strong and keep my composure but my will to push through the pain is wearing thin. Every day there is a new ailment and symptom that didn't seem to exist before. My body is screaming at me and I can't find any way to make it stop. Just a few days ago a pain in my neck started. A bump had been there for a good long while (I'm talking months) but I didn't think much of it. Every great once and a while it ached a bit and I noticed it but never before had my neck felt so stiff and sore. I knew it wasn't how I had slept. That is a different kind of pain. This was at the base of my skull, right near the bump.
At first I tried to ignore it but as the day wore on I began to realize that this new development wasn't a passing whim. And sure enough, as I sit here today writing I still feel the pain in my neck. It has caused a stiffness that makes me feel aged and weak. Sometimes I slowly turn my head, trying to work out what a chiropractor might call a "kink". I keep good posture. But no luck. The pain persists.
Then this morning another development. This time it came in my legs. Throughout this health mystery I have suffered off and on with odd symptoms in my legs. Sometimes it is joint pain in my knees and other times it is what I refer to as "sand bag legs". These ailments come without warning and have always left at some point (sometimes it takes much longer for them to vacate then I would like though). There presence seems to have no rhyme nor reason. Today, as I walked Pippy, my legs fired up again. This time it was worse then before. A shooting pain crept into the back of my knees while my hamstrings and quadriceps ached. Again, my body was screaming. Oh how I wish I knew what it was shouting. Is it trying to give me clues to what is happening inside of me? Speak more clearly, please. I can't understand your language. I don't speak pain. Do they have a Rosetta Stone for that? I'd gladly invest in such a guide to this foreign language.
As I walked I started to get discouraged. Why am I suffering in these odd ways? Why do symptoms come and go without warning? What picture are these manifestations trying to paint? I'm more confused then ever - and that is saying something. I'm always saying how confused I am but this time it has reached new heights. Usually I'm a googling fanatic, trying to figure out what is wrong with me and how to get well again. But now I'm so worn out that I don't even research my symptoms. The googling frenzy has ceased.
I know, this is bad. When you don't want to Google what is wrong with you then there must be something SERIOUSLY wrong with you. That is the litmus test. Do you want to research until your head hurts? No? Get this girl to hospital (as the Brits would say).
By now you are probably wondering where the silver lining is, because if you've read a word I've written then you know that there is always a lesson, a bright spot or a glimmer of hope and peace. I must admit that this morning it was tough to find the message in those moments of pain. With each step I grew more concerned and downcast.
Then I freed my mind for a few brief seconds. Sometimes that is all it takes. It only takes a split second for God to get through to us, but it can never happen if we don't allow our fears, concerns, anxieties, frustrations and depression to pause - even if we can only manage to do so for a millisecond. So, I took a deep breath and put all those negative emotions on hold. That is when He let me see a flicker of truth.
Gratitude.
He showed me that I need to be thankful even when my physical capabilities are being snatched away. John 10:10 says, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."
With each new affliction that comes over my body I feel like I am being stolen from. I wake up, and sure enough, the thief was there in the night, taking from me another aspect of my health. The question "why" is an easy one to ask and one that most people wouldn't blame me for asking. Yet, God doesn't leave room for why's - he gives us assurance. He tells us that he sent his son, Jesus Christ, so that we could have a full and abundant life. He warns us that there is a thief and he even gives us a heads up as to what this thief will do when he heads out on his late night prowl. We have warning. God hasn't left us to wonder and he hasn't withheld information. He was upfront right from the beginning.
Thankfully he didn't stop at the warning. He goes on to tell us that there is hope for a glorious life, in spite of the break ins and robbery. Even when everything is taken from us we can still enjoy a life of joy, peace, contentment, harmony, love, abundance and grace. Those gifts aren't withheld from us just because our physical bodies are stolen or broken. When money runs tight, marriages break up, health fails, kids misbehave, or a loved one passes away the promise of a life to the fullest is still as true as the day it was breathed from the lips of God. It isn't contingent on our circumstances or our trials. It is true no matter what.
That is what I learned this morning while I walked. Even if the thief comes again tonight and takes away another one of my physical abilities I still am living a full life because he can't take away the abundance God has already given me. No robber, no matter how adept or skilled, can get his hands on that.
So, instead of getting discouraged I decided to get thankful. I remembered the sky from the day before and looked up once again. This time I thanked God that I could push through the pain and walk. There are people born with no use of their legs. I thought of my cousin Ashley. She has Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) and since the age of two has been wheelchair bound. She has no use of her legs; her spine is weak; she can't move herself. These things will never change for her, unless God works a miracle in her body. There are other people who once walked and then, by way of accident or disease, lost that ability. I can't even imagine how hard it would be to know the freedom found in moving about on two legs and then have that taken away. But still, life can be had to the overflowing, even in those circumstances.
As I thought about those people, suffering much worse then I ever have, I couldn't help but feel pain for them. I'm grateful for what hasn't been taken from me, but I still ache for individuals who suffer greatly. My heart sinks for people without the ability to walk. When I think about Ashley my heart breaks in two. I want to give her the experience of walking a dog and the chance to run and play with her friends. If, through my pain, she could experience that freedom I would be in pain for the rest of my life.
As I finished my walk I went into prayer. First, I thanked God for the strength to keep walking even though my legs ached. And then I prayed for Ashley. The promise of an abundant life has been given to her as well, even if she never gets the chance to walk. Just like the thief can't steal that promise from me, he can't steal it from her, either.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Stop and smell the roses

Pippy is a sniffer - hard core. I've never met a dog quite like her. She would spend all morning, noon and night smelling her surroundings. To her, what the world smells like never gets old. You would think that by the 100th time of walking up and down our street she would have had enough of smelling Gloria's (my neighbor across the street) grass. But no. Every single day, without fail, Pippy yanks on her leash to sniff the small clump of grass and dirt around Gloria's mailbox. It just looks like the rest of the neighborhood's dirt to me but to Pippy it is smell-tastic. Maybe she is on to something. Maybe there is buried treasure beneath that unassuming mailbox. Who knows?
What I do know is that Pippy has a curiosity for life. Even the simplest of surroundings, the kind that would pass me by without so much as a second thought, are prime adventure locations for Pippy. Every new place we visit is territory worth exploring.
On our trip from Florida to Erie I witnessed this love of the sniff each time we stopped for a dog potty break. I would pick Pippy up out of the back seat, set her back onto solid ground and she would start to pull and run, nose firmly planted towards the ground. I thought Pippy was strictly Poodle and Schnauzer but I swear to you there is Beagle in there somewhere because when Pippy goes on sniff alert she might as well be in the woods hunting hare. If Britain favored Beagles for their hunting skills and the royals liked them for their petite size and "singing", then they would have loved my Schnoodle. She's small, sometimes noisy and would love the chance to trace the scent of a little critter or a leaf floating by, for that matter. She isn't picky. She'll sniff anything. The Brits would love her.
I think Pippy's stop and sniff breaks kept her excited on our trip home. Every time she exited the car there was a new scent, a new type of grass and an unexplored patch of dirt just calling her name. Watching her overflow with excitement at each new gas station, restaurant or rest stop parking lot made me see highway stops in a whole new light. They are a thrill. They are an adventure.
I know what your thinking: the bathroom at the Pilot gas station on highway 75 in the middle of Kentucky is far from a thrill. You may be right. But don't forget to look at the grass outside. Don't forget to take in the trees, the landscape, the people milling about, the Mom and Pop shop on the corner and the wildflowers in the field across the street. You may not stick your nose to the ground and sniff out the surroundings but being in a new place can still be a chance to explore. All it takes is looking around, breathing in the unfamiliar air, and appreciating the beauty and uniqueness of the new scenery.
Pippy has taught me that I have a tendency to go through life with my nose down, too - but not in a good way. I go on walks and forget to look up. When I'm driving the car for long distances I stop seeing anything but the black pavement beneath me and the cars around me. When I'm riding as the passenger I go for miles and miles without looking out the window. Instead I keep my face in my book, forgetting to take a look at the world whizzing by.
But once again Pippy is teaching me a valuable life lesson. She is teaching me to look up and out. Her innate nature of being a sniffer is showing me what I'm missing in my own life: the curiosity to stop and smell the roses.
As life passes me by I am looking down, only focusing on what is coming next or what my final destination is but in my staunch determination to push forward I miss the wonder of the journey. It is a shame to imagine all the beauty I've already missed along the way. Just this morning I was walking Pippy when I realized I hadn't truly looked up at the sky yet. We were half way through our walk and yet I had been so focused on the path we were walking I didn't even think to take in the world around me. As soon as that thought crossed my mind I looked up to the sky. The clouds were grey and looked ominous. Yet, behind those clouds was a bright blue sky. You couldn't see much of that baby blue but it was there, just waiting to shine through when those pesky clouds would make their way out.
My gaze towards the heavens didn't last long. Only a moment or two. But it made all the difference. It reminded me of my place in this world and the amazing God who weaved together this fascinating creation. A simple glance at the clouds spoke more than a thousand words. It spoke peace and tranquility.
I wonder if that is what Pippy gets when she sniffs. Maybe she, too, is experiencing the wonder of creation and the marvelous design of her Creator. We'll never know what goes through those little doggie minds but I suspect that they are much wiser then we give them credit for. They know how to enjoy the simple treasures of this life when we humans simply let them pass us by. Dogs knows how to appreciate the seemingly unimpressive. They stop for the noteworthy and the not so noteworthy.
There is a lesson in that for all of us. We should all be making time to stop and smell the roses of life. The rose may look like a rest stop on the highway or a lush botanical garden. The rose may be a cloudy sky or a dazzling sunset. The point isn't whether or not it looks grand at first glance. The point of looking up is to experience all that this world has to offer because you never know what God is going to show you. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

The show must go on

Let's be honest, who doesn't want life to be easy? I highly doubt that many people sit around wishing and praying that they will face adversary and trials. We want butterflies and roses. We want smooth sailing. Trouble is no fun. It is emotionally and physically draining. If we all had the choice of having days consisting of happiness and ease wouldn't we choose that over difficulty and sadness?
Yet, life isn't that simple. Trials aren't contingent on whether or not we ask for them. They come unannounced and without welcome. Even if they aren't wanted, they make their way in. Trials are like termites: they permeate the premises. They invade.
My trial has come, left and come back again. It has left me weary and worn out. There have been days I haven't wanted to get out of bed or off of the couch. My will to go on has faded. How much longer will I have to live in this body with these physical challenges and abnormal symptoms? How much longer will I struggle to have proper digestion? How much longer will I be stuck at this weight, freezing without the body fat to keep warm?
Any strength I've had hasn't come from my own human power. What little human stamina I had is long, long gone. I have faced each day only by the grace of God. But still there are days when my human failing gets the best of me. I want to give up, close up shop and go home. I want to curl up in a ball and just cry until the storm passes. If I just wait it out long enough will it go away? If I just close my eyes and go to sleep will I wake up and find that this was all just a terrible, horrible dream? But each morning I am reminded that this is reality. I am reminded that I can't escape my own body. I am stuck here, in this physical state for only God knows how long.
Each morning, the suns rays shine through my window and once again tell me that God's will is for me to be in the midst of a storm. No matter how beautiful it looks outside, my body is still in a state of turmoil. Even when the world around me looks like perfection I still feel the devastation my body has endured. And the toughest part is that I don't understand why it started in the first place. I have no idea how long it will continue.
This weekend I went to my cousin's wedding in Columbus, Ohio. I had been asked to sing at the ceremony about a month ago and of course, told them I would happily do so. At the rehearsal for the ceremony I had to leave before it even began. In the cold sanctuary my blood pressure was dropping and my body was going into shutdown mode - a phenomenon I have become way too adept at detecting. Still, I knew I would sing the song the next day at the 2:30 ceremony. No matter how badly I was feeling the night before I knew in my heart that I would pull through the next day no matter what.
Saturday rolled around and my mind was focused on the task at hand: sing this song without any hint of the trial on my physical body. I didn't want to stand in front of all the guests and appear to be in the midst of a struggle. I wanted every person in attendance to hear a song for a bride and groom and feel the love between the two about to exchange sacred vows. I wanted to fade away behind a melody. I wanted to paint a picture with lyrics of love and passion.
My physical limitation didn't matter in those moments. When the piano began to play my weight didn't matter, my digestion didn't matter, my blood pressure didn't matter and my weakness didn't matter. All that mattered was the tune, the meaning and the glowing bride and groom.
And, you want to know what? It was flawless. Dad, my piano player, didn't miss a note and played at the perfect pace. I didn't fumble over a single word and hit every note. I was able to sing each word with emotion and feeling but never once did I think about the trial in my own life. All I thought about was love - but not the love of husband and wife. I have a secret: I thought about the love of God for me, not the love of Brian and Angela, the couple exchanging rings and vows.
When I sat back down in my seat my mind wandered to five little words: "The show must go on."
It isn't just true in theater. It isn't just true when there is a stage and a microphone.
The show must go on each morning when the sun rises.
The show must go on when my body is weak and my spirit is burdened.
The show must go on when my body temperature plummets and my will to carry on wavers.
The show must go on because God hasn't given up on me yet. For whatever reason, he hasn't healed me yet and he hasn't taken me to heaven yet. He has me here, feet on the soil of this earth, heart bound with his in heaven. He has me in my human body, despite ill health. If God hasn't given up on me yet then I'm not giving up, either.
Tomorrow morning when the sun comes up it won't be a reminder that my physical body is still underweight, weak and frail. The sun's rays will remind me that God has given me the gift of another day to show how, with and through him, trials can be faced no matter how difficult they may appear. Even when our physical circumstances appear daunting and threaten to overtake us, we can walk confidently in the truth that God is faithful and powerful enough to sustain us when we are weak.
Each day is a chance to show the world that with God, the show can go on. And it will.