Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Breakdown Breakthrough

One small step for mankind; one giant leap for little me.
And, no, I didn't go to the moon. But this achievement is, for me, nearly as exciting and far less dangerous. Alert the media, I had a physical breakdown without an emotional breakdown.
Did the twitter universe explode? Not yet. Just give it a minute or two. I'm sure Drudge will pick it up.
In all seriousness, on the face of it my declaration of mental stability is not the makings of a front page news story. Or the back page news story for that matter. Emotional and mental stability should be a given. At least it is assumed to be a given. No one talks about their breakdowns on the kitchen floor or the mornings they collapsed on the couch in such a state of devastation that they didn't even pause for a moment to grab a tissue. Through the tear flooded eyes the box would have been too difficult to find anyway. So the emotionally distraught simply soaks the cushions and hopes the mascara marks can be removed with a little upholstery cleaner. This problem - the mascara problem - is one that devastated men don't contend with. Crying, on the other hand, is a phenomenon in which I don't believe they are immune.
But let's get real. I mean real, real. Not Facebook photo real but sobbing on the bathroom floor real.
I breakdown. There, I said it. I'm emotionally unstable. There are days I want to curl up in the fetal position and be carried away to Heaven like Enoch, one of Hebrews' members in the Faith Hall of Fame.
I've cried so hard I've choked. I've been so irrational that I've kicked things in my anger and frustration. When my Mom has tried to comfort me in the midst of my distress I've had every possible reaction. Sometimes I've pushed away her hugs while in other moments I've collapsed into her with every ounce of my little frail body.
Why these breakdowns? What sets them off?
Sickness. Six years of suffering. Sadness over how stuck I feel. Anger over how little (read: nonexistent) the change in my circumstances. Frustration over trying new therapies, remedies and medicines only to be let down...again. Disgust over the protruding bones in my body. Hatred for the numbers on the scale that won't budge. Hopelessness for any future outside of this malnourished, weak, ailing body.
All of these thoughts (and more) pile on and crush me. I collapse under the weight of them and end up prostrate on the floor or the couch or my bed with no will to rise. In those moments of desperation all I can do is cry and curse.
No, this isn't flattering. But it's real. This is real life. Breakdowns happen. Crying happens. Staining the couch cushions with tears and mascara happens. And it isn't pretty.
But the breakdown isn't the end of the story. After every breakdown I have gotten back up again and found my footing. At some point in between sobs and gasps for breath a new cry of the heart emerges. A cry for God to rescue me.
I'll be honest, I don't always know what that rescue will look like in reality. All I know is that my only hope to get up off the ground and face the day is for God to do it in and through me. So that's where I go. I take my heart to the foot of His throne and ask Him to pick it up and carry it because I can't.
I've done this so many times it's a miracle God hasn't thrown me out of His sanctuary! If I were Him I'd be exhausted by my breakdowns, pathetic sobs and tear soaked cries for help. But He never grows weary of helping me. He never fails to pick me up. He never tells me that this time around I'm on my own. He always meets my need, brings me to my feet and dusts me off so that I can face another day.
And, unbeknownst to me, He's been doing something even more miraculous than the rescue. He's been building my strength before the breakdown. When I used to collapse in tears I'm finding that I'm soldiering on instead. And today was my Neil Armstrong moment. My one giant leap. I became overwhelmed by an impending breakdown. This time it came in the form of disgust with my body and the shockingly small frame I have inhabited for a shockingly long period of time. The weight of that sorrow felt heavier than my bodyweight tripled in size. For a moment my emotions teetered on the brink of a breakdown. And then a strength rose up where tears would have once cascaded out of my crushed soul. Resilience, hope and renewal lifted me up at the exact moment grief once would have taken me down.
The breakdown breakthrough didn't happen overnight. It has taken God years of picking me up and letting me fall down again to build the muscle that doesn't succumb to every emotional instability. But He's been at work. He is still at work. Behind the scenes, God is diligently building the muscle in my spirit that stays strong through the overwhelming pressure of an impending breakdown. The steps to strength are slow but God is faithful. And today He is celebrating with me in my one giant leap towards steadier, stronger faith in His goodness and grace.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Cleaning therapy 101

I'm an ardent believer in cleaning therapy. I know it doesn't sound as good as retail therapy, but in my experience it has the same remedial effect. And when it comes to choosing between cleaning therapy or traditional shrink therapy there is simply no competition. Cleaning therapy is much more cost effective and even comes with an added bonus. As the mind is cleared and renewed so is the dirt, junk and dust from whatever messy surface was tackled in the day's session. It's a therapeutic win-win.
Cleaning therapy has been one of my treatment options of choice for years. Usually my sessions are conducted right at home. The refrigerator is nearly always in need of a good clean-out and wipe- down. Laundry is never in short supply. Floors never cease to attract dirt. Cabinets never cease to attract dust. Suffice it to say, the therapy couch is always wide open and I have my pick of appointment slots.
The cleaning therapy approach is quite simple. No PhD required. No make-up or dress shirt required. In fact, the messier the outfit, the better. The more unkempt the hair, the better. Once the outer appearance is as disheveled as the inner emotional state, grab a spray bottle, a vacuum, a role of paper towels and a few empty plastic bags. Then pick a surface and get to work.
How to choose what mess to clean first? The question is, how much therapy do you need? Are you looking for an hour session? Go for the fridge, my tried and true favorite. Just need a little pick me up? Find the nearest carpet or hit the bathroom with a scrub brush in hand. If you want better looking clothes to wear after your therapy session is complete I'd suggest tackling the pile of laundry accumulating on your closet floor. And if you're desperate for relief from the oppression of heat intolerance then grab a bucket, a hose and do double duty on beautifying your bug-splattered VW Beetle (or your vehicle of choice) while relieving your muscle from the pain of its spasm.
I can't promise that by cleaning your house or your car or your dog that you will suddenly have no more emotional stress, physical pain or mental instability. The troubles of this life run deep, strong and arise with a frequency I know all too well. But by engaging in a little cleaning therapy you can change your outlook on your circumstances. By getting the hands dirty and the house clean the mind can be cleared to take on the challenges of life with renewed passion and determination. What truly gets clean with every swipe of the sweeper is the anger, defeat and frustration that accumulates in the heart and stops the body from having the will to go on. What happens while cleaning what can be seen is only a glimmer of the true work of restoration and revival underway in the spirit of the cleaner.
If, today, you find yourself burdened with the muck and grime of this life, take heart dear friend because you are not alone. And, if you're like me, wincing with the pain of muscle spams and weeping over the hopelessness of another summer with heat intolerance and discomfort, then turn on the spigot and find relief in the mist of cold water and a clean car. Your car, your fridge or your floor - whichever surface you choose will be the better for your therapy session. And, most importantly, so will your heart. Because while you're busy scrubbing and rubbing the dirty spots clean, God will be doing the same on your heart. He'll renew you and breathe new life into your tired soul so that you can face another day, another challenge, and another dirty floor.

Friday, May 27, 2016

All in a day's walk...

Pippy trotted on my left. Molly trotted on my right. The dog that came racing toward us from behind wasn't trotting at all. He was running full speed ahead.
Molly first sensed the threatening dog's presence, followed quickly by Pippy. By the time I realized why they were tugging on their leashes with terror in their eyes the muscular black pit bull mix was an unsettling few feet away. The moment my eyes met his my whole body leapt into defensive Doggie Mom stance. I pulled the girls in close and stepped out in front of them. In anticipation for an impending attack I broadened my stance and put my game face on.
My eyes scanned the neighboring yards in search of the dog's owner. Not a soul was in sight although the open garage at the home bearing a "Beware of Dog" sign gave me a sneaking suspicion of where this dog belonged - behind the home's chain-link fence. I would have happily heeded the posting had the dog heeded the fence. But an open garage door was an invitation to come out and terrorize the neighborhood and this dog was all too happy to oblige.
In the absence of a dog owner or a surprise entrance by Superman, I determined to be the protector and guard of my two terrified, trembling pups. I readied my most authoritative voice and, with as much gusto as I could muster commanded the dog to heel. When he stopped dead in his tracks I was astonished and emboldened. The dog started to take another step towards us but I put my hand up (as if that could stop him) and sternly told him no and then added, "go home." The beast didn't heed the go home directive but he did stop his advance.
I called out in the direction of the open garage hoping maybe the owner was inside and would hear me alert him that his super scary looking slobbering dog was lose and way too close to my schnoodles for my comfort level. But no one came. The dog was still standing there, staring at Pippy, Molly and I.
When the dog didn't try to advance any further I once again commanded him to go home and then I slowly started to back up. I kept my eyes locked in with the dogs. I was determined to show him no fear. A few steps backwards and I realized I'd have to turn around or I would end up face down on the pavement thanks to my own clumsy doing. So, with authority and confidence, I turned around and began walking at a quick clip away from the dog. When I made it a few houses down, unharmed and feeling quite courageous, I turned around to see the dog still standing in the middle of the street. Maybe he was stunned that a pip-squeak of a human had just stood up to him - and won.

The end to this neighborhood walk story is a happy one. Pippy, Molly and I made it home safely and , thankfully, unharmed. We even made it home with more confidence in our step.

In this life there will be threats, terrors and plenty of scary situations but the close encounter with the intimidating neighborhood dog reminded me that I don't have to live paralyzed by fear because God is my protector, guard and shield. He stands before me as one strong and powerful, able to overcome and conquer even the fiercest of offenses.
God never promised that this life would be immune to danger and peril but He did promise that He would always be our strong tower, safe haven and protection from our foes. On every walk God is there as our security and our defense. We have nothing to fear because, with God, we can rest assured that we will always make it home safe and sound.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

MS Redefined

You've probably heard that MS stands for "Multiple Sclerosis." According to the medical books, you heard right. But I'm here to tell you that the medical books don't tell the whole story. MS stands for something more than an autoimmune disease. MS is more than an abbreviated label for a collection of symptoms. MS stands for something far more powerful than physical dysfunction.
MS is short for Mighty Strength.
I know what you're thinking. People with MS don't seem to be very strong. Aren't their bodies fatigued and weak? Aren't some in wheel chairs? Don't their eyes lose the ability to see?
For some of us with the variety of symptoms known as MS those assumptions are true. Some of us are physically slower. Some of us get dizzy, see spots or lose our vision entirely. Some MS warriors are in wheelchairs because of limited mobility. Some have spasms in the muscles beneath the surface of their skin and suffer invisible symptoms no one can see.
But all of the physical limitations that are part and parcel of the medical dictionaries definition of MS don't capture the greater meaning of those two little letters. MS is the title for a warrior. On the uniform of the soldier with multiple sclerosis is a badge of honor designating their mighty strength as a fighter. Because they are fighters. They have to be. They wouldn't be here if they weren't fighting like hell to hold on. To survive. To thrive in the midst of every obstacle, every encumbrance and every setback.
You see, MS is an everyday battle. The enemy is sneaky. He pops up when you least expect him with new weapons and tactics that are shockingly clever and all-too often, all-too devastating. The threat of a relapse is always right around the corner. A new set of symptoms lurks somewhere in the darkness like a land mine just waiting to detonate and destroy.
But mighty strength keeps the warrior fighting even when the enemy strikes. They fight with medicine, therapies and sheer will. They keep waking up and suiting up even when the odds are stacked against them and the future looks bleak. Physical attacks, emotional turmoil and bodily warfare are all in a days work for the mighty strong warrior.
What the medical books won't tell you is that MS is a war to be fought, not a threat to be managed. Multiple sclerosis challenges the human spirit and attempts to strip its victim of peace and joy. But what the symptoms can take away physically they can't touch spiritually.
Out of spasms, muscular weakness, fatigue and vision loss comes something far more powerful than every text book symptom of the MS autoimmune attack. A new kind of MS arrives to the fight - Mighty Strength. God infuses weak bodies with fierce spirits that won't lose faith in the future and hope in tomorrow. The MS warrior looks the enemy in the eye and refuses to surrender.
Multiple sclerosis isn't a death sentence and it isn't sure defeat. It is a challenge. MS is a catalyst for mighty strength and for the fighting spirit to flourish.
So next time you meet someone with MS remember who they are and what they are. They are a warrior. And a mighty strong one at that.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Happy birthday Pippy love

Yesterday was Pippy's fifth birthday. In dog years that makes her thirty-five which in human terms equates to settling down, raising a family and paying a mortgage. Pippy was fixed (sorry girl) and doesn't pay rent. She is, on the other hand, unbelievably settled and paying her way in free snuggles. Pippy is my faithful friend, constant companion and unofficial therapy dog.
And to think five years ago I didn't consider myself a "dog person."
I had grown up with a dog. Puff, the furry white Japanese Spitz, was a fixture in my front yard. One of my earliest childhood memories dates back to the day I named her on the drive home from purchasing my white ball of fluff. At first I toyed with the name Snowball but the name was too long. I liked the brevity of the name Puff. It stuck and so did Puff. She lived a wonderful sixteen years. She lounged in the front yard under the sycamore tree, barked at teenage boys who walked past the house and slept at the foot of my bed all of my growing up years.
When Puff passed away I was only a few months away from leaving for college. The thought of getting another dog wasn't even a glimmer in my mind or my parent's for that matter. Years passed before the dog conversation resurfaced.
But on the sandy shores of Hilton Head Island a Schnoodle brought the topic of dog ownership back into the picture and, like a dog with a bone, it was a topic I refused to drop. After watching a lively Schnoodle prance obediently next to his owner on the beach along the Atlantic Ocean I was convinced I had just become a dog person. The only thing I still needed was a dog. Preferably a Schnoodle dog.
Two weeks later I was in the car with a puppy leash, collar and wad of cash in hand to retrieve the Schnoodle of my dreams. After searching online, "oohing" and "awing" over countless pictures of little balls of fur, I had found a breeder only two hours away from home with a litter of pups ready to find their forever homes. The breeder had two girls left, Abby and Maggie. I told her I would meet them both.
The dogs were plopped down in the grass when I first saw them. I plopped down too and waited to see what each dog did. Maggie paid no attention. She was off sniffing. But Abby took an immediate interest in the new human in her presence. I petted her and she sniffed me. Then I walked around the grass and she followed me.
I picked Abby, named her Pippy and never looked back.

Five years ago I couldn't imagine planning my days around dog walks, shopping for durable dog toys and sleeping best with a dog curled up against my side. But Pippy changed everything. Pippy made me a dog person. Or, more accurately, a Pippy person.
The five years Pippy and I have spent together have been an adventure I could never have imagined the day we met at that grassy campground in Northern Ohio. I didn't foresee years of undiagnosed illness, moving to Florida, Ohio and Florida again. I couldn't predict the weeks I had to spend away from my Pippy love while I searched for answers to my health mystery. Even more, I couldn't imagine how much I'd miss her while I was away.
Most of all, I never predicted how wholeheartedly and completely I would fall in love with my beloved ball of fur.
For all of the ups and downs of the past five years - being sick, getting diagnosed with MS, scouring the country for healing and relief - Pippy has been a faithful support and friend. In episodes of extreme suffering she has sensed my need for comfort and come to my aid. When I've been lonely and yearning for companionship she's snuggled near and shown me love.
I don't know what the next five years will bring but if they are anything like the last five I know I don't need to worry. I'll have my furry friend at my side and we will face the world together, hand in paw.
So, happy birthday, Pippy. And thank you for an incredible five years.

Invisible Symptoms

How do you explain the invisible? Take, for instance, muscle spasms. How can any explanation properly convey the pain of a muscle that is being pulled like a rubber band? When the unseen force of a contraction strikes my leg and radiates up my left side there are no words to express my discomfort and distress. I've tried to use analogies like a vise grip and even a game of tug-of-war. But even my best attempts at sharing the inner life of my invisible symptoms fall short in providing true understanding. It is as if I am speaking a different language from my audience and there is no one there to translate.
Over the years spasms, spotty vision, vertigo spells and fluctuating blood sugar have helped to fill up my symptom list. Somewhere along the way I stopped trying to make the world see my invisible suffering. I stopped talking about the pain and discomfort associated with each new ailment. I shut the world away and went into my own personal hibernation. Silence became easier than speaking. Isolation more desirable than explanation. 
In my state of human hibernation I did my best to avoid any questioning or discussions of my condition. Even the well-meaning concerns of family and friends were too much for me to handle. I didn't want to talk about what they couldn't see and I couldn't adequately describe. So I avoided all conversation. I made my visits to family functions as short as possible. I stopped attending church on Sunday mornings. I refused to see any more doctors out of an unwillingness to have to, once again, enumerate my symptoms and recount my health saga. There was so much happening beneath the surface, in my muscles and nerves, that no one could comprehend and I didn't have the energy to effectively communicate. So I simply stopped trying.

It wasn't until I reached the dead end of ineffective explanations that God gave me a new story to tell. He lifted the burden of telling the world about invisible symptoms and gave me the commission to tell the world about visible faith. 
Out of all the unseen symptoms that have plagued my body God has nurtured in me a stronger belief in His perfect plan. I trust in His will. I find peace in His presence and comfort in His promises. With every new invisible aspect of my illness God has increased and strengthened a visible attribute of my faith. He has used every symptom that no one can see to cultivate a faith that can shine for His glory. 

My journey of faith isn't over and the invisible symptoms might not be either. But even if a new and unexpected physical ailment seizes my body I have the assurance that God can use it to manifest something in me more important and more powerful than pain or suffering. God has, can and will use every discomfort to deepen my dependence on His Son and my faith in His perfection. I trust and believe that God will use every invisible symptom to proclaim the goodness of visible faith in my Sustainer, Lord and Savior. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

We all fall down

As I walked toward my usual coffee shop I spotted an unusual scene. Out in the afternoon sun, standing next to the parking lot's curb, right by the "Fire Lane" sign was a gathering of women. The group formed a circle around a random patio chair. A few ladies were kneeling while one held a glass of water with a tall straw. Even from afar it became apparent that something was not quite right.
I made my way to the group and saw a frail old woman with a full head of white hair and gigantic sunglasses seated in the oddly-located chair. She looked exhausted and visibly shaken.  A sudden fainting spell was the last thing she had anticipated after a leisurely cup of coffee over the Sunday paper.
Between short, labored breaths she repeated apologies to the kind strangers who had come to her aid. When words failed her she just shook her head in disbelief at her predicament. As they all waited for the ambulance to arrive and assess her physical condition, the women assured her that she was no trouble at all. A worker from the cafe brought her a baguette and banana along with a big glass of cold water and moistened towel. Another woman kept her hand on the elderly woman's back for physical and moral support.
As the elderly woman tried to fight back tears one of the strangers knelt down before her and took her hands into her own. With conviction and love she reassured the elderly woman that she had no need to apologize. "Honey, don't you worry, we all fall down."
The kind words from a complete and utter stranger struck the elderly woman. She broke into a smile and lifted her head to meet the woman's gaze. She couldn't say much in return. This time her throat caught on a different kind of tears - tears of gratitude.
With the words of a stranger two hearts were touched that afternoon. I, too, needed to be reminded that we all fall down. But, just like the fallen woman in the parking lot, there is hope that I can get back up again.
When the ambulance arrived the EMTs did a thorough check of the woman and gave her a good report. No broken bones. Not even a scratch on her pale skin - a miraculous outcome considering the rough pavement that broke her fall. As they helped her into a waiting car her smile became wider and brighter. Her fall wasn't the end of her story. She was standing again, going home on her own two feet.
In my own life I've taken so many falls. Physically I've fallen on walks with the dogs while traversing the pavement of my familiar neighborhood. I've fallen into more MS relapses than I can count. My spirit has fallen into depression and hopelessness over my unpredictable, distressing and chronic health condition.
Like the elderly woman in the parking lot I've ended up on hard ground, shaken up and overwhelmed with despair.
But God is faithful and always comes beside me with words of comfort. "Don't worry, everyone falls down." 
Every time I fall God speaks encouragement into my heart, reassuring me that the fall isn't the end. When I land on the hard ground with a thud and wonder how I'll ever rise to my feet again God breaths words of strength into my soul. He extends His mighty hand and lifts me up off the ground. My Helper God dusts me off and bandages my wounds. He restores my bruises and makes me new.
Each one of us will someday, someway tumble and fall. It is part of being human. But we don't need to lay on the ground in distress and worry because God will be the very first EMT to come to our aid. He is the faithful God of all comfort, our healer and friend. And He will be there every time we fall.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Flowery Affection

"Ooohh...red roses! What's the special occasion?" Eager to hear his response, the petite, white haired cashier smiled with her eyes at her tall, young, manly customer purchasing a dozen roses. A smile spread across his face as he said, "Wedding anniversary." This delighted the elderly cashier. "That's so wonderful, dear! How many years?" The young man dawning a tattered ball cap and workman's boots - hardly the flowery type - replied that this was his third wedding anniversary with his wife.
The cashier was genuinely happy for the fledgling couple. The adventure of marriage so new and fresh. Before she sent the man on his way with his token of affection she looked straight into his eyes and, along with his receipt, offered a word of advice. "Now remember, every girl wants flowers. Sometimes just for no reason at all. So make sure to get her flowers all year round, okay?" Her look was serious. This piece of wisdom was for his own good and the harmony of his home. He smiled, nodded and promised to follow her instructions.
I was next in line and as I approached the cashier she smiled and shook her head as she declared, "My boyfriend never buys me flowers!" The cashier, easily seventy-five years old and long past the typical dating phase of life, was clearly frustrated with her companion's lack of romanticism. She went on to tell me that he has never, not once, purchased her flowers. According to her, he never would even consider such a thing. This is a sore spot in their relationship because she is a woman who wants flowers. Particularly roses and preferably at random. She wants flowers when there is no special occasion to celebrate or anniversary to recognize. And not once had her boyfriend of three years ever presented her with a bouquet of anything. Not even a bundle of milkweeds and sunflowers. The absence of flowery affection was undeniably a disappointment in her otherwise comfortable and content relationship.
As my cashier turned gal pal scanned my items and finish my transaction she carried on with her lover's lament. "Every girl wants flowers. We all want those special little acts of love that show he's been thinking of us."
I had to stop myself from responding with an, "Amen, sister!" Gail, the name of my cashier relationship guru, hit on a profound truth. Single, married or three-years attached to a passionless pragmatic, every girl wants to know she is thought special and loved dearly. Because every girl is.
I left the grocery store single, without a bouquet of roses waiting on my kitchen counter but the moment I reached home it dawned on me that my token of affection was waiting in my front yard. A flowering tree greeted me the moment I maneuvered my car off the street and into the driveway. Tulips lined the front of the lawn. A lush bed of soft grass was sprawled out in front of the house, encircling the great big sycamore tree creating shade under its lush canopy of green leaves.
Rose bushes, tomato plants, daffodils, lilacs and pine trees were all waiting for me when I returned home. Each one was a sweet expression of God's matchless love for me. In every petal and plant my tender-hearted Heavenly Father had thought of me and desired to shower my life with flowery demonstrations of His affection.
If today you find yourself without a companion, an anniversary or a dozen red roses look out your window. Take a walk in a park. Look around and see that all around you there are displays of God's unmatched love and affection. God cherishes you. On every tree, growing in every flower is a message of His endless love.
Don't you feel special?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

If I were an animal....

"If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?"
It is the question that interviewees dread and interviewers relish. The chosen animal persona is, in theory, a window into the soul of the candidate. Will they choose an animal that displays leadership and courage? Will the interviewee opt for an animal known for their loyalty and love? Or will they look utterly flummoxed by the seemingly irrelevant question? Deep down the interviewer is probably secretly hoping for the latter. Stump the nervously sweating job seeker with a completely silly question that has nothing to do with any job field - unless the interview is taking place at a zoo.
I can picture myself in such an uncomfortable scenario, unprepared for the animal inquiry. Chances are my reaction would have been that of the dumbfounded interviewee staring blankly at my questioner, wondering what possible relevance my animal persona could have in an all-human job field? In a moment of panic I would have chosen a rabbit, bringing an abrupt end to the interview. Why a rabbit, you may ask? The interviewer would have asked that same question and I would have stumbled over a few sets of umm's and ahh's before saying, "They're cute and don't bark." Can you say, "Future CEO?" 
Thankfully no one has ever asked me what kind of animal I would be if I were an animal. But just in case the question ever comes up, I've come up with my answer. 
I'd be a song bird. 
Okay, so maybe song bird doesn't scream "Future CEO" any more than a bushy tailed cottontail but I'm not vying for the biggest office or the position of chief in any office. I don't need to be a lion who displays independence and courage or an elephant with big brains. And too many jokes could be made if I chose an ant. Not that there is anything wrong with an ant. They are hard workers, team players and masters at finding food. Have you ever seen a couple of ants carrying a huge chunk of bread? Impressive little buggers!
I'd choose a song bird because in their feathered lives they embody the spirit and soul I hope to personify in my human life. Song birds rise every morning to greet the day with excitement and delight. They chirp and sing melodies of joy, come rain or shine. 
Song birds can sing alone or can sing in a duo, trio or even a choir. When they sing as a solo the music is just as beautiful as a tree full of feathered vocalists singing in unison. The notes are always perfect. The pitch is never off. And there is always a lightness, brightness and happiness in the tune. 
I want to be a song bird. I want to wake up every morning singing a song of joyous praise to the Lord on high. Come rain or shine, good days or bad, I desire to display the heart of the song bird who keeps singing tunes of thanksgiving. 
The song bird is a delicate animal with a strength of spirit that is resilient, steadfast and dedicated. They are small but they are mighty in grace. They are delicately feathered but fierce in joy.
When I get to Heaven if God puts on His interviewer cap and asks, "If you were an animal, what kind would you be?" I'll have my answer ready. I'll tell Him, "God, I'd be a song bird so I can sing endless praises of thanksgiving to you!"

Monday, May 16, 2016

Light in my darkness

In my second floor bedroom is a window that faces east. Every morning I rise up from my sleep and look out that window and silently welcome the day ahead. During the long, cold, dark winter months that welcome comes with an exasperated sigh sent out to a black night sky. But then spring comes and so does morning light. By May the sun and I are right on schedule, greeting each other good morning at precisely the moment we both arise for the day.
During spring and summer the sun and I are perfectly synchronized, making for a much more enjoyable morning greeting. The sun peeks through the tops of the trees and casts rays of brilliant light through the leaves. Gazing out my eastward facing window I have a perfect view of the colorful streaks painted across the sky. The radiance illuminates my room and fills me with overwhelming truth and life giving light. This morning window ritual is more than a pleasant view or pretty scene. My time at the window provides an infusion of strength and fortitude. Those moments at the window are a sunrise on my spirit. The Lord's face shines down upon me, invigorating my soul and energizing my heart.
As I step away from the window, I am filled with renewed courage rooted in the power of the God who has shined a light into my darkness. No matter what lies ahead or what unforeseen challenges I may encounter as I move throughout my day, I will take them on filled with the overcoming life of Christ.
Since the moment Jesus Christ broke into my heart with His overwhelming light of life I have never walked a single day in darkness. I was walking in the pitch black, stumbling for each step until my eyes were turned to the light. The one true, eternal light of Christ.
The sunrise view from my second floor window reminds me each morning that the same light that saved me from my spiritual darkness when I was lost to sin is still illuminating my heart and my life. Every morning I get to choose to let the rays of God's goodness envelope my soul and fill me with His spirit. Every morning I have the blessing of a brilliant and beautiful spiritual sunrise.
And, guess what?  So do you.

Friday, May 13, 2016


Do you have a mantra? You know, that one saying that you repeat to yourself with conviction and commitment. Yogis say it on their mats.  Motivational speakers encourage it and athletes chant it in the locker room. Buddha gets the credit for its origins, but mantras have come leaps and bounds since monks started meditating on their bamboo mats. Now it seems as though everyone has a mantra.
Except me. I don't have a mantra. At least I didn't until today. It dawned on me today that all of these mantra-chanting yogis, football players and successful entrepreneurs might be on to something. Maybe my health, wealth and happiness has been in short supply because I haven't been claiming it in a mantra.
So I decided to come up with one. I jumped past the traditional Hindu "om." First of all, I'm not Hindu and secondly saying "om" made my lips tickle from the vibration of the sound. 
Next I tried out a "grounding" mantra. "I am here." "Be here now." "Breathe." I opened my eyes and just felt silly. I knew I was there all along. 
I decided to jump to the wealth slogans. "Success is mine." "Money is plentiful." I opened my eyes and my bank account was still at the same 86.94 cents and I felt spiritually impoverished. Time to move on.
In the spirit of sports I said some "Fight, fight, fight" chants but the enthusiasm fell flat when I realized I wasn't wearing a helmet. 
Finally I tried on a self-affirming mantra. "I am strong." "I am healthy." "I am beautiful."
When I opened my eyes I was more discouraged then ever. I wasn't feeling strong. In fact, I've spent the last three days feeling utterly weak from an acupuncture-induced healing crisis. The last thing I've felt is healthy and the mirror is making me feel the exact opposite of beautiful. Telling myself I am the things I so clearly am not in this moment didn't do anything to change my circumstances or give me a happy outlook on life. The mantras only made me feel more pathetic. The self-affirming mantras ended up stripping me of hope and crushing my spirit.
But then I thought of a different kind of mantra. Not the traditional "you are woman, hear you roar" kind of mantra. This time I fixed my meditation on a mantra more akin to "God is God, hear Him roar." 
"God is good." It was a simple choice. Nothing fancy but trustworthy and true. God is good. Over and over again seated in my cross-legged position on the living room floor I repeated my "mantra." My God-tra. Not a man-tra. Not an affirmation of my own self or my power.
Telling myself that I am strong and courageous might sound good in theory but some days my body won't be on board. I won't always feel or be healthy. I might not fit the world's classification of rich, beautiful or successful. But God will always be good. That one mantra, that one affirmation, can always be repeated with confidence because it will always be true. Nothing can shake the goodness of God. No sickness, sorrow or failure can rob me of that one simple truth: God is everlastingly good. 
So if you didn't have a mantra before today you can try mine on for size. I'm confident it will fit you just right. And when you're done meditating on those three simple words I trust you will be filled with joy and peace. I know I was. Because when I opened my eyes my mantra was true. God was good. God is good. And He always will be. 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Christ over credit

A $26.95 store credit doesn't sound like a big deal because, in the great scheme of things, it's not. But when I lost the record of the return that garnered the store credit printed on a flimsy receipt the loss didn't feel so small.
When the store had issued the receipt I had stared at it, dumbfounded that they were not more advanced. Where was the plastic card that would fit so well in my wallet's compartments? The store informed me that they didn't have plastic cards. They had paper receipts. With a wink and a prayer I folded up the receipt and put it among the modern day gift and credit cards in my wallet, vowing to never lose the documentation of the pre-paid $26.95 future spending spree.
But all fantasies of a spree were crushed when, to my dismay, I opened my wallet to find the receipt gone. In disbelief I pulled every card, gum wrapper and penny from my wallet in search of a crumbled piece of glossy paper. It had been right there next to my library card and bright green debit card for weeks. And now it was gone before I even had the chance to spend my loot on the spring clutch I had been coveting in the store's front window.
After rummaging through drawers, stacks of papers and every nook and cranny of my car I was forced to accept defeat. As a last ditch effort to regain my small store credit fortune I recalled my sob story to the clerk at the store's check-out counter. With a shrug of her shoulders and paltry apologies she informed me that the store kept no record of my return but that the receipt would never expire. Tell that to the landfill, I thought to myself. Surely some trash bag will be very happy to receive my store credit.
Back at the front of the store I gazed upon the object of my store credit affections: a khaki colored clutch imprinted with pink and green paisley flowers. In that moment my foolishness dawned on me. No, not the foolishness of haphazardly sticking a piece of paper in-between some credit cards. Although that was silly and resulted in loss it was no where near as devastating as so strongly desiring a possession, a material thing, that I would allow it to spoil my joyful spirit and rack me with guilt. In allowing an object of this world to capture my attention I took my eyes off of Christ and put them on a clutch.
Back in the car a weight lifted off of my shoulders. I no longer had the credit and I didn't have the clutch. But I had something better: a renewed sense of peace and tranquility that only comes from resting in and having Christ. In an instant God restored to me the serenity that comes from being cleansed of wrongdoing and freed from guilt - even the guilt of losing a store credit and coveting worldly goods. Although I sinned and stumbled by seeking contentment in the offerings of the world God was quick to renew my spirit and replace my guilt and frustration with grace and mercy.
The trash has my store credit but Christ has my heart. When I look to Him I am filled with joy that can't be lost or misplaced. In Christ alone I have eternal contentment and satisfaction. And thankfully, there is no receipt required.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Caring for cardinals

When I opened the front door at six in the morning I expected to see Pippy and Patches patiently waiting to be welcomed back into the house after their daily morning trip to the great outdoors. What I didn't expect to see was a baby cardinal jumping frantically on the porch, practically flinging itself into the wooden door. The moment the door swung open Pippy pranced back into the house but not Patches. The old and feeble cat swatted at the bird in a lame attempt to snag a feathery breakfast. The frantic bird jumped straight up and down like a frog, simultaneously moving in a zig-zag shuffle.
The aged attack cat was looking quite spry in those brief moments. Her paws were swatting at the bird and a stern look (if cat's can display such emotion) was written on her face. I tried to scoop Patches up and away from her prey but she squirmed out of my grasp. A scene of horror and flying feathers flashed through my mind until something remarkable happened.
In a moment tailor-made for a Snow White sequel two cardinals swooped in from the yard and onto the porch. They chirped and tweeted in hurried, high-pitched tones. And then they descended upon the little limping cardinal. And then, in the blink of an eye, the two strong birds swirled around the weak bird, lifted him up and carried him away, out of the reach of the enemy cat and back to the protection of the bird house in the front yard.
I rubbed my eyes just to make sure I wasn't dreaming. Sure enough, I was awake. My eyes weren't playing tricks on me. A bird-to-bird rescue had just taken place on my porch and I had been witness to its success.
That morning I took a few extra minutes to stand on the front porch, stunned and perplexed by the remarkable scene I had just watched unfold in front of my eyes. In those brief, quiet moments before the rest of the house was awake, school buses rumbled by or dogs went out on their daily walks, a sweet song of the birds filled the air. Their tune serenaded me with truth and in the stillness I heard lyrics accompany the melody line. "Look and see how God cares for the cardinals... You, dear child, are worth more than many cardinals."
Sometimes I question whether God is actually caring for me. I survey my physical circumstances, comparing myself to my healthy and vibrant peers, and wonder if God has forgotten this little cardinal on the porch. Frantically I've jumped up and down and side to side in an attempt to free myself from the grips of my symptoms. I've chirped and tweeted countless S.O.S calls, pleading for rescue and relief.
Has God forgotten me? Has He abandoned this little set of vulnerable, hurt feathers?
The bird on the porch reminded me that I am not forsaken or forgotten. God has certainly not abandoned me nor neglected my calls for help. The rescue mission just isn't over yet.
I'll never know how long that little bird was hopping around on the front porch, but by the look in Patches' eyes, I imagine it was more than the brief seconds I witnessed. The bird rescue team didn't swoop in the moment the bird fell from the nest and ventured into a danger zone. The bird's circumstances looked hopeless before deliverance descended on the doomed cardinal.
The scene of the daring rescue and delightful song that followed reminded me that simply because God hasn't rescued my physical body from its distress just yet doesn't mean He isn't watching, waiting and staging a story-book rescue mission. He sees my need and hears my distress calls. At the perfect moment, before my enemy can snatch me away with all the evil intent of Patches' furry paw, God will save me because I am His beloved child more precious than countless cardinals.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

One step closer to becoming the Proverbs 31 woman

As a child I was taught that to laugh at a person is disrespectful. Don't laugh when a classmate falls off the monkey bars. Don't laugh when the girl in the front row asks an easily answered question. Laughing with was encouraged. Laughing at was disciplined.
So imagine my confusion when I read about the Proverbs 31 woman who laughed at the future - God's future. My elementary playground rulebook would surely discourage such behavior. Laughing at God and His future would be a punishable offense. The Proverbs 31 woman must have missed that lesson in class. Or maybe she was the class rebel. Either way, her reaction to the unknown and the perfect plans of God has, for years, baffled me.
Until last night.
As my body jumped from raging hot to freezing cold to hot again, putting me through the thermostat ringer, a smirk formed across my face. Then I began to laugh. I laughed at the mystery of it all. I laughed at the unpredictability of my body. I laughed because I could have never imagined that, at the age of twenty-six, this hot flash roller coaster would be the saga that is my life. With hands like ice cubes and feet that felt as if they were bitten by frost, I let out an audible belly laugh.
Most of all I laughed because if I might have cried. It would have been so easy to cry over the suffering God has allowed to plague me for years. The thought of dreams, hopes and wishes that have been dashed in the wake of physical discomfort would have been enough to bring a flood of tears to my eyes. The crushing fatigue that was weighing on me like sandbags could have brought with it a crushing despair and sorrow.
But instead I laughed. Even under the weight of my circumstances I was able to laugh and in that moment I understood the Proverbs 31 woman. She wasn't laughing out of disrespect or disregard for the perfect will of God. The woman described in Proverbs 31 laughed because if she didn't laugh she'd cry. She trusted God enough to choose laughter in the face of a thousand reasons to wail and sob. But she believed in God's goodness enough to laugh in the midst of trials and tribulations. When the rest of the world might have wept, the Proverbs 31 woman laughed instead.
For all of these years that I've been praying to become the Proverbs 31 woman I've never asked to be filled with her laughter. I guess I didn't need to ask. God had a plan for the future that included a lesson on laughter. Now I understand that even in the heat of the trial I can laugh at the future because I am trusting the one Who holds it.

Monday, May 9, 2016

"Just Breathe"

"Just breathe."
As I laid on the living room floor in the comfort of a yoga child's pose the voice on the video calmly instructed me on the proper breathing pattern. In through the nose, out through the mouth. With my forehead to my mat and my "energies" completely uncentered, I rolled my eyes. "I know how to breathe," I thought to myself. Her exhale sounded like a rush of wind. I let mine out with a big, exasperated sigh as I said to myself, "How's that for breathing, silly yogi?"
For days I've been steering clear of vigorous exercise. My body hasn't been strong enough and mentally I'd come to accept my physical limitations. Instead, I've turned to less heart-racing exercise practices such as Christ-centered yoga. But today something deep inside of me wanted to hit the pavement at a quick clip. Determined to heed the internal call I laced up my sneakers and tuned in to my inner resolve. "I will run a mile," I told myself. A mighty feat for these weakened legs.
An hour later I was standing on the sidewalk with my earbuds in place and the sun on my face. Without wasting a moment I broke out into a run. Okay, maybe not a run. Let's call it a "comfortable jog." It didn't take long for that comfortable jog to become very uncomfortable. There was barely a breeze in the air but I felt as if I was running straight into a headwind. There wasn't even an inch of elevation but my movement was as labored as a runner ascending straight up a mountain.
In an instant my inner resolve and determined spirit were met with doubt and defeat. "I'm barely moving...Why aren't my legs working?...Why is this slow jog so challenging? That's it, I'm going to give up!" The thoughts flashed through my mind with rapid succession. "You look pathetic!"
And then it hit me like a gale force wind. "You aren't breathing."
During my short thirty seconds of jogging I hadn't taken a single breath. The words of my online yoga instructor hadn't penetrated. I had forgotten to "just breathe."
I took a deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth, with as much force as a gust of wind. And then it happened, my legs started to move faster. The sidewalk didn't look endlessly long. With every deep breath in and out the mile ahead didn't feel quite as daunting.
I must have breathed like that for ten minutes without giving a single thought to my little spindly legs because before I knew it I was one mile in and hadn't turned back to the car. Without a concern in the world I looped back around, added another mile to my run, and ended feeling stronger and less winded then when I began.
And all I had to do was breathe.
When my heart rate slowed and the pinks in my cheeks faded a lightness enveloped my heart. Just breathe - it is so simple yet so easy to forget. To make it through this life, to take even another slow step forward, I need to be taking in the air of the Almighty. My lungs need to be filled up with the air of the Holy Spirit that has the power to give me strength and stamina to face the mile - or two - ahead.
How many times have I set out on my day without thinking about the steady rise and fall of my spiritual lungs? How often do I try to keep my heart filled with hope and my soul satisfied without calling on the name of Jesus to deeply fill me with His spirit?
"Just breathe." It is so simple. It is the most basic of practices. From the yoga mat to the race track to the quiet place of my praying heart, just breathe. Just start there. If I can breathe just one deep inhalation at a time I can make it miles further than I imagined. Not because of my air, but because I will be filled with the perfect spiritual breath of Christ.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Child of God and a beautiful, amazing Mom

When I close my eyes I can still feel my first grade reading-challenged frustration. While my close friends were being ushered into the accelerated reading program I was struggling to sound out level one books. For whatever reason, reading didn't click in my young mind. I relied on sounding out even the simplest of sentences and I was far behind my peers.
Mrs. Robinson, my sweet and attentive first grade teacher, called my Mother in for a parent-teacher conference and made a recommendation no parent wants to hear. "Maybe you should hold her back." The idea didn't sit well with my Mom. She pictured all of my little friends moving on to second grade and imagined the effect that would have on my little mind. The life-long stigma of being "less than" was not acceptable for her one and only daughter. She believed in my potential. She believed that, with hard work, I could catch up. Mom left the meeting on a mission to teach me to read at a second grade level by September when I would, she promised Mrs. Robinson, be reading sufficiently to advance to the next grade level.
That summer Mom became my devoted teacher. I can still remember the box of "Hooked on Phonics" materials full of cassettes, flash cards and the promise to improve my reading power. Slowly but surely I read through each book in the "I Can Read" series. Frog and Toad assisted in teaching  pronunciation and recognizing letters. The Bernstein Bears came along to reinforce the difference between those pesky b's and p's. 
By fall something extraordinary had happened. I could read at a second grade level. I reentered Grandview Elementary right on track, meeting the expected standards for my age group. Mrs. Robinson was surprised by my progress. But not Mom, she wasn't surprised in the least. She never doubted my potential for a moment.
The lessons Mom taught me that summer shaped my future and the rest of my life. More than how to read, Mom taught me to never accept the world's labels and never give up in defeat. With every phonics lesson and reading level mastered, Mom proved that I am capable and able if I am willing to work. 
Most importantly, Mom taught me that God has filled me with exciting possibilities, great potential and a future. It may not be fulfilled with the snap of a finger or according to the world's time table but God will have His way in my life when I dedicate myself to Him. He will first teach me how to succeed for His glory as I practice obedience, pursue His truth and give Him my time. In the end, the outcome will be more satisfying than overcoming the great reading deficit of the first grade. When I diligently pursue the goodness and glory of God He will accomplish His great and perfect purpose for my life. 
That lesson, the lesson that God has made me able, capable and worthy of His great plans, is a lesson no school can ever teach. At the tender age of seven I wouldn't have learned such a valuable and enduring truth had it not been for the devotion of my Mother. On this Mother's Day there are a million and one reasons to thank my beloved Mom. All of the blog posts in the world wouldn't give her enough honor and thanks so I'm choosing this one blessing. The blessing of knowing that I am beloved, valuable and destined for great things because I am a child of God and a child of a beautiful, truly amazing Mother. 
I love you, Mom. Happy Mother's Day. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Little and loving it!

To the world they are just a pair of stretchy pants but to me they are so much more. My new leggings are symbolic; a reflection of the attitude and outlook of the girl inside the pants.
These new pants aren't your typical pair of black slacks. My yoga leggings are made of the softest cotton and feature a geometric mandala design in varying shades of rich blues, pretty pinks and sunset yellows. These are not pants that blend in with the crowd. These pants are quite the opposite. They boldly proclaim, "Hello, I'm here!" The wearer of these pants does not go unnoticed.
You may assume that since I purchased these pants and am happily wearing them that I must be an attention seeker. I must be desiring for people to take notice of me and acknowledge my presence. The truth of the matter is just the opposite. For the past six years I've tried to do just the opposite. I've tried to hide my size, shape and figure - or lack there of. You see, six years ago my weight dropped suddenly and unintentionally. The downward descent of my weight and the rapidly dwindling number on the scale happened so fast it was stunning. All of my efforts to stop the weight-loss train proved futile. Changes in my eating and exercising didn't correlate to the stark changes I was seeing in my size. Before I knew it I was smaller than I thought physically sustainable.
Miraculously, and by the grace of God, my body kept going. It has survived at this weight against all medical reasoning and rational. The same hasn't always been true of my spirit. It hasn't always thrived with so little bodily cushioning. I've wanted to hide in a burlap sack where the world can't see my protruding bones and twiggy legs. When strangers and bystanders have questioned why I'm "so skinny" my gut reaction has been to run and find the nearest hole to escape down. It wouldn't be hard for me to do. After all, I could share a burrow with a rabbit.
But running away to a rabbit's hollow isn't rational in the real world. Only Alice gets to escape to Wonderland. I've had to stay here in reality where perfect strangers have felt comfortable questioning the cause of my size. From an eating disorder to envy, I've heard every response and reaction. Every dropped jaw, turned head and careless comment has only made me feel more isolated, stuck in a condition I can't change or disguise.
The rest of my MS symptoms and complications can be masked. No one needs to know that my eyes are seeing blotches of color or that my left foot is in a perpetual spasm. But I can't hide my weight. Big clothes make me look like an ant in sweat pants and jeans fall right off my non-existent hips. And the burlap sack look hasn't come into vogue quite yet. There simply is no disguising my size.
I can't hide my weight or escape the confines of my own body. That is a fact I can't change. But I can change my attitude and outlook. I can change my pants.
Enter: the brightly colored, beautifully patterned yoga pants. My new pants are a reflection of my new perspective. I can't hide from my body so I'm going to embrace it. I'm going to buy fun, bright colored pants made of a stretchy material that won't slide off. I'll shop in the "tween" section without shame. I will smile at gawkers and answer the questions of nosy - I mean interested - strangers. I will love my tiny little legs and spindly small arms. I will choose to be thankful for every bone in my body instead of lamenting the lack of cushioning and covering.
Today, in these ridiculously comfortable, perfectly patterned pants I am choosing to embrace the little me. God has allowed my body to live, move and function at this weight. He knows why my body won't put on weight and, if He so chooses, can restore my size in an instant. But He hasn't yet. He hasn't because part of His plan for me is to be little. At least for now and maybe forever. The future is His. But my attitude and outlook is all mine.
So I'm celebrating my tiny size and choosing to live with huge joy. I'm choosing to wear the pants and the heart that shout to God and the world, "I love this little life of mine!"

Little Me loving life - and the new pants!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Cleaning War

Benjamin Franklin once said that the only certain things in this life are death and taxes. His statement is true but insufficient. He forgot to mention that the house will always need to be cleaned. So we have three sure things: death, taxes and the constant accumulation of dirt.
Cleaning is the never-ending chore. Clean the floors and less than twenty-four hours later there will be no trace of being swept in sight. And don't even get me started on the bathroom mirror. That sheet of glass becomes smudged and spotted with splatters faster than I can rip a paper towel off the roll. The cycle of spray, wipe and polish will continue until the other, final inevitability comes about: death.
This endless cleaning cycle used to frustrate me. I considered cleaning my Hundred Years' War. In that saga England couldn't gain control of France for a hundred years. In my saga I couldn't gain control of the filth, dust, grim, smudges and dirt. Like England versus France both sides in my domestic battle brought allies. I came with all-purpose cleaner, a roll (or two) of Viva paper towels, scrubbing brushes and a vacuum cleaner. My opponent, the dirt, rallied the support of the dogs, cat and God who stepped up to arm the dirt with pollen, dust and a vast array of sticky substances. Let's face it, victory was never mine.
The dirt-war reality used to be a cause of consternation for me. I would sigh when, twenty minutes after cleaning the stainless steel door of the fridge, new fingerprints had emerged. Defeat was inevitable. Cleaning felt futile.
Until MS.
Yes, a sickness transformed my outlook on cleaning. What was once a chore is now a purpose. When my body won't cooperate and I am house-bound, feeling utterly useless, I look at the dirty fridge and see a mission. No matter how miserable I feel I can always clean something - anything. It's all dirty. It's all begging to be cleaned. Even if it is just a counter top or folding a load of laundry. Somewhere in my house there is a mess and if I quiet my sorrowful, floundering mind for just a moment I can hear it calling my name.
In the dirt I've found a calling to be fulfilled. I've discovered a war being waged that could use a soldier.
In so many ways MS has left me sidelined. I can't travel the way I used to. I can't work like I want to. In the evenings, when others are heading out for a night on the town, I'm preparing to crawl into bed. In the mornings when others start their day recharged and refreshed I am searching my body for the energy and motivation to face the next twelve hours.
When my mind starts racing with all of my "can'ts" I feel overwhelmed and defeated. But when I stop and think about what I can do I see dirt and I get to cleaning.
The purpose and meaning in my day may not extend past a clean fridge that only stays shiny and sticky-free for a few hours but I conquered a feat, I won a battle. By joining the cleaning brigade I've escaped the pity-party and defeatist outlook that held me hostage. I've accomplished something with my spray-bottle and sponges.
The hundred years dirt war rages on, so bring it on messy house. I'll be back for the bathroom mirror tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Becoming a butterfly

I'm jealous of butterflies. I know it's irrational to be jealous of an insect but I can't help how I feel. And I feel envious of butterflies.
Think about the beauty of being a butterfly. The allure of the butterfly extends beyond their colorful speckled wings and distinctive spots. The butterfly's life, from the very beginning, is a blessed existence. Just consider the life cycle they enjoy and I dare you to disagree.
Butterflies begin their lives as eggs nestled on the leaves of plants and trees. The Monarch likes the milkweed. It's quite a fitting name for the cradle of a baby butterfly, don't you think? A plant containing the name milk sounds just right.
After a brief stint on the leaf a caterpillar breaks through the filmy surface of the egg sack. Admittedly this caterpillar stage of life isn't the most glamorous but every growing child has an awkward stage. Butterflies are not immune. The upside of this stage of life is the same as that of any growing boy. Caterpillars have the perfect excuse to eat and eat they do. Eating is practically all they do, starting with the leaf onto which they were laid. From there they eat everything in sight until they cozy up on a protected branch to prepare for the third stage of their charmed existence.
Oh, the blessed third stage of the butterfly. This is the stage I wish God would establish in the human life cycle. In this third stage the awkward, chubby, crawling flower dweller spins its way into a silk cocoon. The technical name is a chrysalis. In the human life cycle I would rename it a sanctuary. The caterpillar, wrapped up in its natural protection, spends weeks - sometimes months - hanging from a plant. From the outside looking in there appears to be little action in the insect's life. They appear to be having a good long rest. But on the inside transformation is under way.
As a human being I am not equipped with inborn silk-spindling abilities and I don't have the luxury of escaping from the world while my transformation is being completed. My changes - inside and out - happen in real time without a curtain or a cocoon to shield the world from my vulnerabilities.
Some days I long for the cocoon of the butterfly so that I could be protected from the world while God does a work on transformation on my life. I want to be wrapped up and tucked away while the painful, trying metamorphoses of my heart takes shape.
But I'm not a butterfly. The warts, quirks and flaws of my life and the challenges I face aren't being made new under the guise of a chrysalis. It is all happening in real time.
God has chosen not to comfort me in a cocoon but to comfort me while I'm out on the leaf, enduring the elements of rains and winds unprotected by a flimsy casing. God has chosen to use my vulnerabilities as a catalyst for my growth. God has given me trying circumstances that have played out visibly for the world to see in order that I may use them as a testimony to His faithfulness.
God hasn't let me escape this world, this life or this body. He hasn't thrown me in a bag to wait out my transformation or tucked me into bed to sleep through the soul change He has under way. God is keeping me in the world and awake while He works through my stages of life.
Although I don't get the cocoon of the butterfly I do have the promise of a beautiful future to look forward to and anticipate. God hasn't given me a silk-sanctuary but He has given me the guarantee of a rich, glorious inheritance. In His time and His way, God is making me into a masterpiece more stunning than a Monarch.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Life in my everyday rainforest

As I walked the dogs this morning I fantasized that I was traversing a fairytale rainforest. It wasn't difficult to envision given the dense fog and persistent mist that was hanging in the air. A blanket of low clouds have settled over Northern Pennsylvania and with it high humidity and drizzling rains.
To picture a rainforest only felt natural. I could easily imagine orchids and thick stalks of bamboo where tulips bloomed. In the place of Maple trees I saw rubber trees and palm trees. I imagined walking right up to a lush banana tree and picking off a cluster of its rich, vibrant fruit. I wiggled my toes and imagined they were walking on moss and fragrant soil. With every light drop of water that caressed my faced I drew further into the rainforest of my mind's design.
Dense leaves. A hanging sloth. The croaking of a frog and the call of a toucan in the distance. My short walk through my suburban neighborhood was transformed into a journey through a natural oasis.
When I returned home after my short walk that lasted only a few blocks I realized my time in the rainforest wasn't over. In fact, I live in a perpetual rainforest of a entirely different ecology and composition. I live in God's rainforest of blessings. He is perpetually, without ceasing, showering down on me goodness. Every morning His mercies are new and His grace is abundant. Instead of the steady stream of mist in the physical rainforest of the Amazon, God pours out the richness of His love in a steady stream that is unyielding and unending. He fills my life with the beauty of His creation. From the people He has put along my path to the plants He has cultivated in my yard, God has made me a rich and vibrant land in which I can thrive.
Every day, rain or shine, my world is a rainforest. I am being drenched in the blessings and love of God. He is surrounding me with a fog of His grace and a haze that can only be described as heavenly. Call it living in a fantasy or escaping to fairytale land, I call it everlasting and eternal. The blessing of God is that each and every morning that I wake up I have the the joy and the adventure of living in the most enchanting rainforest.
God has created for me a rainforest of blessings and I don't even have to go to the Congo to experience it.

The "edge"

The sign on the locker room wall, "CREATING THE EDGE,"  caught my attention.
Edge/ej/noun: the upper hand; dominance; the physical and mental advantage of your opponent. No matter the sport or age, every athlete wants "the edge."
The "edge" principle was posted on the wall along with an ad for a youth fitness program where students and teens are challenged to improve speed, agility, strength and stability in a "friendly" bootcamp style workout - if there is such a thing. Under the care of expert trainers and coaches participants will hone their innate sport abilities, perfect their skills and gain the coveted "edge."
The edge. The upper hand. The traits and abilities that score the most points and make the starting line up. The dominance that garners the watchful eye of college scouts and the most desirable scholarship offers. Parents who hope to see their sons make the most goals, score the most baskets and run the fastest mile salivate at the thought of "the edge." Cheerleader-crazed Moms and stadium-seat-shouting Dad's dream about "the edge." I can see the parental enthusiasm in my mind's eye as they sign their children's name on the dotted line, securing their space in the grueling workout of  pull-ups and push-ups, all in pursuit of the coveted edge.
Poor kids, they'll never see the rigorous workout coming.
To develop the edge students will be pushed beyond their limits. Coaches will demand that they run further and faster than ever before. Trainees will be motivated to break their mind's perceived physical limits. Students will be faced with heavy ropes to tax the muscles and increase endurance. From squats to deadlifts and kettlebells to barbells, the sport's fittest of participants will be challenged from every angle and with every modality.
Exhausted and exasperated kids will leave wondering, "how will this help me score more goals or shoot more hoops?" But the coaches know the fundamental principles of fitness and the secret behind "the edge." To be great on the sports field the students must first be great in the gym.

When I signed up to be part of God's team I, too, thought I knew the program. Oh, how wrong I was. God had a far different fitness plan in mind. I thought He'd have me memorize scripture. Instead He taught me how to cry out to Him for help from the pit of my aching gut. I assumed God would have me serve the homeless soup and a smile. God has had me learn that my purpose can be fulfilled in prayer and the giving of love to the smallest and nearest.
When I enrolled in God's plan for my life I thought I would get the "spiritual edge." Silly me, I assumed I would understand how God works and why. I thought He would fulfill every desire of my heart because I love Him and believe in Jesus. Instead He has been taxing me with trials and tribulations to strengthen stability, increase my endurance and enhance my equilibrium.
God has been putting me through the paces to give me the ultimate edge: the emotional edge. This is the edge that will prove critical in this life to keep my eyes fixed on the prize, the Savior and the glory of God.
In God's perfect training program He has been perfecting my emotional edge through the ups and downs of inconclusive test results, unpredictable health and even the silence of solitude. With every muscle flare and episode of optic neuritis He has been strengthening my core and my foundation in Him. He has been letting the strain and pull of this life build in me the emotional endurance to keep walking with Him even when the going gets tough and the road is rough.
God has been putting me through the exercise protocol of a lifetime in order that I may exhibit the edge that wins the eternal, ultimate prize. He wants me to be perfect. Heaven knows, I'm not there yet. I'm still going through His program and putting time in at His gym. But with every exercise overseen by the hand of God and every moment He is my motivator I am getting stronger and steadier.
So with regularity and dedication I am hitting God's gym, following the instruction of my Coach in pursuit of perfecting the ultimate edge.