Category: Struggle

Every Day Christmas

As a kid on Christmas morning, I would gaze at the pile of papered packages beneath the tree, searching for the big one—with my name on it. Biggest was best, of course, and so I would spot it, pick up the oversized gift with my child size body, and place it at my parents’ feet. I perched and pleaded for my turn to unwrap the promise contained within the bright and festive Christmas paper.

Our first year in Orange, I learned that St. John’s does “big,” well at Christmas time too. Big crowds pack in to worship within an ornately decorated sanctuary, aglow with strings of lights and candles, colored by brilliant stained glass windows, and humming with breathtaking music. St. John’s also does big outreach events for the holidays, things like hosting Thanksgiving and Christmas for kinship families, Project 23, and Operation Christmas Child. I love all these things, and more, about my church.

When I first came to St. John’s, I just stood in awe, taking it all in— all the vibrant ministries, all the worship opportunities, all the talent and history. I came from a small church, where I was the big fish, and at our new church, I wasn’t sure of where I fit in.

But like a God who would send an infant to a manger in Bethlehem, to make his grand appearance, I found my place at St. John’s enfolded in the humble and gracious fabric of its people.

On Ash Wednesday this year, we received word that our daughter, Elyse, had a rare auto-immune disease called Juvenile Dermatomyositis. It quickly spiraled, and a week later, Nathan and I cradled our 18-month old in the hospital, so weak she couldn’t walk or lift her head.

By God’s grace and provision we were able to get back on our feet, and with treatment, Elyse has been doing remarkably better. But, on Mother’s Day, a pipe burst in our bathroom, leaving our family of four displaced from our home for three months.

I thought I would find my place at St. John’s on a platform, but little did I know I would find it within the space of my greatest vulnerability and need.

It was in these circumstances I experienced St. John’s story through eye to eye relationships, through humble and heartfelt generosity, and the love that spills into the cracks of ache, like a trickle from the altar.

In my deepest pain I encountered the sweetest mercy, through loving home cooked meals that tasted like grace. The Haiducs can make a mean lasagna. One day a box of “busy bags” showed up from an army of St. John’s moms, with toys and crafts that lifted Bree’s spirits and kept her busy, and scraps of Bible verses to keep me going. One day a bouquet of dandelions and ingredients for smoothies was dropped on our doorstep. A check arrived in the mail to meet the amount due for an overdue hospital bill. The Friendship Quilters made a quilt sewn and tied with hope and prayer for our Elyse.

I shared on Facebook one day that Elyse’s sun sensitivity had gotten worse, and two days later, someone showed up with a princess parasol for her. While the teachers at St. John’s gathered hand drawn Bible verses and other inspiration in a book, for our family. Classes of kids drew cards of encouragement, and bowed their heads in countless prayers for a baby girl they knew only from pictures.

When our house filled with water, St John’s families showed up with towels, and buckets, strong arms, and hot boxes of pizza. As we tried to get our house ready to move back in, two high school students from church, volunteered to watch our girls, as a St. John’s life group of 6 people arrived in work clothes, to vacuum, mop, and organize.

I love big gifts. This year I’m thinking about getting my girls a Barbie doll house to unwrap on Christmas day (Shhh! Don’t tell!). I love sitting in a magnificent, century old church, and feeling small, as I join my voice with an overwhelming chorus of worship. But lately, God is helping me to appreciate small gifts too. He’s giving me eyes to see the small gifts of handmade love and outstretched hearts that tell the story of St. John’s through community, and relationships.

I think thats the story God was teaching us with Christmas too. Instead of a big platform, God sent his son in the helpless package of soft, baby flesh—displayed for shepherds to worship in a wooden manger surrounded by livestock. Immanuel, God-with-us, came to Earth completely dependent on relationships, for a mother to love and nurture, and a Father to guide. Jesus began his ministry by becoming close friends with twelve other men, by touching, by healing, and by serving people.

Tonight I’m grateful for my baby Elyse. I’m grateful for every smile, for every step she takes, and when she twirls, I watch in awe. I’m grateful that God uses babies to remind us of who He is. I’m grateful that, through her, God has taught us what St. John’s is all about—God sized love—in human packages.

So I guess this Christmas, the question I’m left with, is how do I continue the story?

Create Your Own Sunshine

 

 
 
SHADOW GIRL
One day the sun will kiss your face
One day your body will not ache,
A day you won’t need to run away,
Yes, there will be a day.
A day you stand in the light,
A day you will chase the sun,
A day when all will be made right,
A day we’ll stand in the light of the son.

I met my close mom friend for coffee. My two-year-old daughter was in tow, and her eighteen-month-old son was her debonair date. We rioted the local hipster coffee shop, our toddlers climbing on the benches and shouting, as we collected skeptical glances from the Chapman University students with their laptops, sipping macchiatos and balancing oversized spectacles on their baby faces. The entire cafe let out an exhale as we got our coffee to-go, herding our rambunctious kids outside along with our oversized strollers. It was a cloudy morning, which meant I could actually enjoy a casual stroll outside—like a normal mom and her normal little girl.

My daughter has a condition that means she cannot be in direct sunlight. Even with the cover of clouds, we have to protect her from too much UV exposure. We use hats, UV clothes, sunscreen, and parasols, but when she is having a flare up—even all of those precautions don’t always prevent her from getting a painful rash on her face, elbows, hands, and knees.

But this Fall day, we felt normal, walking beneath the protection of clouds, we felt free from the burden of hiding. My friend and I talked freely. The kids chased each other. Smiles were contagious and laughter came easily.

A couple hours later the sun peaked out, reminding us our precious morning was ending. I put my daughter in her car seat, and decided to drive around the down town area so that she’d fall asleep. As I began our drive, my daughter complained that her fingers were hurting. Our morning outside was having its effect. As my daughter quieted down and gently gave in to sleep, I let my mind wander to the sad thoughts I usually avoid. My daughter would never feel the warmth of the sun on her face, without it hurting her. The realization stung more than usual. Tears blurred my vision, and I blinked to let them roll boldly down my cheeks.

I paused my car at a stop sign, and looked up to see a white church sign with big block letters. “CREATE YOUR OWN SUNSHINE,” it read. The intersection was empty, so I grabbed my phone and snapped a picture. I knew it was a photo I would treasure, a story I would tell my daughter about one day.

In life we will all face limitations. Whether its the form of disabilities or disease, mental illness, grief, or the eventual effects of age—life eventually presents struggle—seen and unseen, that influence our every day lives. Sometimes we are born with our limitations, sometimes they show up and surprise us one day in a diagnosis. Whether its something we’ve lived with for a lifetime, or a new normal, there will be days when the loss will surprise us with a sharp new pain. As we live day by day, hour by hour, our limitations present themselves in new challenges that we don’t always anticipate. Sometimes its the same old challenges that suddenly wear a hole in our hearts like the toe of an old sock.

Our greatest fears and vulnerability loom beneath the surface of our imagination like a monster under the bed, making us want to run and hide—or hang our head in shame.

But when we face the limitations forced on us by a world we can’t control, we can stop, and look up and see the challenge of each new day: “CREATE YOUR OWN SUNSHINE.”

Pain and suffering leave gaping holes in our hearts and lives. Our limitations will taunt, accuse, and challenge us to believe that we aren’t whole. But maybe those holes can be the place where God plants the seeds of sunshine.

The sun rises each new day. The son rose after three days of darkness. When this life weighs down on us with its demands and limitations, when we feel like we have to hide in the shadows, or feel too weary to get out of bed, we can look up and see the Son.

The Son takes our weakness and shame and makes us whole—the Son shines hope into this dark world. We hold out His grace in our tired hands, like the shining sun that lights us up, from the inside out; and in his hope and promises, we can “CREATE OUR OWN SUNSHINE.” A little light that promises hope in hurt, a grace shaped love that keeps our hearts beating for more.

 

 

Can We Stop and Sit Together?

This morning I sit, like a fixed point in the center of a storm of distraction. My house is messy, I still have a project due, and my girls have been watching a show–maybe longer than they should. But my heart feels full of so many things I want to share with you. I wish time and kids would allow for me to sit and savor conversation with you over hot coffee that grows cold, because there’s too much to say between us.

Lately I’ve felt tired. In this marathon of life we’re on, I feel like we’re in a season of endurance. Our fight against Elyse’s JDM isn’t following the easy arc we hoped it would, we’re back in our house and yet so much is left undone.

I’m not naive to think we’re alone in these struggles. Everyone has some sort of battle they face on a daily basis, whether its cancer, rebuilding a home that was disassembled by flood and fire, or fighting back the darkness of anxiety and depression. Maybe its just overcoming the small annoyances life throws at you, like to do lists that never seem to get done, or small disappointments that add up, and grow burdensome, like the loose change in your wallet.

Sometimes the biggest struggle we face is isolation and weariness–the feeling like there’s too much to do and we’re doing it alone. Sometimes we feel like nobody sees how much work we’re putting in. Sometimes we just wonder if anybody sees us, if they really care.

If we were having coffee, I would put my hand over yours, I would look into your eyes and tell you: I care. Others care too. I just think that our culture has become so bogged down with performance, that we’re all battling this fog of busyness, the fog of being seen, but never really feeling fully known., 

Maybe this isn’t you. If it isn’t, that means you need to pull others out of the fog. Take them to lunch, listen to them, and encourage them.

We all have the weapon to fight back the fog, and it is love. Love quiets the raging voices, love calms choppy waves of uncertainty, love transforms gnarled nail shaped wounds into marks of sacrifice and forgiveness. 

If you’ve forgotten how to love well, if you’re feeling too alone or weary, I invite you to visit your local classroom. Its a place you may have to kneel, ask questions, get messy; but in this place you will forget yourself enough to let joy overtake you. Are you ready to hear where it is?

Its in the park, with wood chips in your shoes and dirt under your nails. Its in a classroom that smells of syrup and play dough. Its on the floor with toys strewn around you, and gleeful screams in your ears. Surround yourself with children, and let them remind you that life is about reckless abandon, its about reckless love. Because a child’s love breaks through the walls of isolation and apathy.

I get lonely. I feel like everyone knows who I am, but few people know me. It feels like too much work sometimes to invest in friendships when my life takes so much work as it is. But when I need to feel known, when I need to take a break from the pressure to perform, I get on my hands and my knees and let my daughters climb all over me. They knock down all the walls I’ve been putting up around my heart, and remind me that love is easy, if I just let it in. Love is loud, and messy. Its hands on. Love shows up and knocks people over and disarms them with tender grace.

So when the world feels like a confusing place. When we feel alone and unknown, lets love like we dance when no one is watching. It means throwing open our arms, closing our eyes, finding the joyful rhythm, and throwing ourselves in. God will always catch us. 

There’s an awkward silence between us now. Tears in our eyes. We both feel like we’ve been a little too vulnerable. We stand up, we hug each other–the kind of real hug, where we really hold on and squeeze our arms tight. We look at each other and smile, then head for the door–ready to keep plodding forward, ready to face the day knowing that we’re not alone.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”  Hebrews 12:1

“Dear Future Husband”: I Have Anxiety

The catchy tune by Meghan Trainor, “Dear Future Husband,” is a favorite in my house. Since Alexa understands my 4-year-old daughter’s voice commands, she can listen to it until her heart’s content, until mommy pulls the plug.

Its a cute song with a good beat. I’m grateful my girls are too young to understand all the lyrics of course, but overall the message is sweet, but maybe lacking a little depth. No problem Meghan, I get it, “Dear Future Husband: I have Anxiety,” wouldn’t have the same hook.

I’ve been married for almost 8 years. Like every marriage, we’ve had our ups and downs. And while I have absolutely no regrets, about my husband, or the journey we’ve taken together, I can share with you the kind of open, honest conversation I wish I’d had with my man before we tied the knot.

Dear Future Husband,
You say you love me deeply. I’m guessing I probably seem perfect to you right now. Love has a way of doing that. But I’m not perfect. I have anxiety. I’ve come to accept it. Its something about myself that I’ve actually come to appreciate, but I need you to be okay with it too.

Not just the “okay, its annoying but I can put up with it, okay“— because that kind okay won’t carry us through a lifetime. I mean the okay that holds my hand when I can’t breathe, the okay that brings me icepacks for tension migraines, the okay that holds us together through perinatal depression, the okay that understands that our life will look a little different.

If hearing this makes you want to run, then run. I don’t want a man that scares easily. I need a man that fights for me, when darkness threatens to overtake my mind. I need a man that digs in his heels and challenges me to be the person he knows I’m capable of being. I need someone who will pull the covers off my head and kick me out of bed, someone who will make me go outside for fresh air, or make breakfast burritos at midnight. I need someone that will cradle me when my fears feel bigger than my fight.

But before you think this is one sided, wait. If you’re willing to accept me and all my complications, you will get to see the gifts behind my struggle too. I promise you deep empathy and compassion. I promise that when you say “I’m fine,” I will look into your eyes and know the truth. I will feel more deeply, in the hard times and the good. I will love you more than you thought possible.

We are all broken in our own ways. I will stand beside you in your broken moments, and won’t look away. I know what it feels like to feel small, to question yourself, to feel like maybe you weren’t assembled right. But I’m beginning to learn that in the brokenness, we can find the most strength. We turn to God that supplies our strength–Who offers an endless supply of love.

Love can bind up our wounds, love can make us strong together, love can heal us. I believe this like I believe in the sun. But I know that love means a lot of pain, and hard work, and commitment too.

If you’re all in, if you want all of me, anxiety and all, then I know that our life will also be filled with the sweet and simple things too. We will have candlelit pizza dinners, movie nights with popcorn (no butter), and silly inside jokes. We will laugh until we cry, and pick the grey hairs out of each others eye brows. If you say “I do,” know that its yes to all of me, anxiety and all.

How to Heal a Broken Heart

People disappoint us. We give them our time, our trust, and maybe even our secrets, and sometimes, they don’t protect it like it deserves to be protected.

People are true too. They are loving and devoted, generous and tender. But the ugly and beautiful aren’t always distinguishable on the outside. Or maybe its that each of us are a mosaic blend of ugly and beautiful fragments..

When we entrust the beautiful parts of ourselves to people who are careless, our hearts can feel beat up, broken, or even hardened.

God thinks out hearts are pretty important. So important that, “from (them) flows the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

Rejection has a way of bruising my heart. Intentional or unintentional hurtful words burrow in like thorns that cause sharp and unexpected pain. Sometimes I know why my heart is hurting, but I’ve let the pain grow so deep, that I have trouble figuring out exactly where it started, like finding a splinter in a callused foot. My heart can start to get callused from wear and tear, pain forming a barrier that makes me feel less and less.

A once fleshy hearts can become so solid and impervious that it repels instead of absorbs. It can build layer after layer of self protection that shields from feeling any emotion. It fortresses itself against life, instead of being a pipeline of love to the surrounding world.

God knows the condition of our hearts. He knows that we need His grace poured into our heart cups—that we pour that grace into each others heart cups to be whole again.  His grace is the antidote to a hardened heart. It is the elixir we need to be able to love.

“I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)

I use to admire the people who let tragedy, disappointment, and rejection ping off them like the flat rocks that skid across smooth water. My life would be so much less complicated if I cared less; if I felt less.

But God calls us to experience the world through loving hearts that feel, and hurt. He wants our hearts to beat and break for the community around us. A heart too tough to absorb the pain, may mean we need a heart transplant. We need God to remove the hearts that have curled in on themselves and hardened. Because tender hearts that hurt and feel, are sensitive to God’s molding and shaping, refining and defining as we engage our worlds with vulnerable hearts, willing to be known.

As a kid, I always felt ashamed when an unkind word or mean glance caused me to cry in front of my peers. At some point, we learn that being tender hearted is a bad thing.

My four year old is starting Pre-K. I’m feeling typical mommy nerves over what this year holds in store for her. But I think my biggest fear is that my daughter will begin to learn that she can’t wear her heart entirely on her sleeve. Her heart is so visible, pulsing through every inch of her little body and pouring out of her intensely blue eyes. Her heart is open and tender, and untouched by the world’s wounds. I love that her heart is like a vibrant paint, that spills and colors every part of her life with intensity and feeling. When she cries, it is with earth shaking sobs and big gliding tears. Her anger curls with a hook in her brow over great betrayal and injustices. Her joy, is so intense that it beams from her face like sunlight that brightens a dark room and helps you to see. When she loves, it is a passionate, kisses all over my face, look me deeply in my eyes, kind of love, that I know she feels with every fiber of her being.

As adults we learn to stuff, swallow, or hide emotions. We don’t want to feel too sad, so we numb it with pleasant distractions. Nor do we want to feel too happy, it could lead to disappointment. So we are divided by happiness, and anticipation, as we wait for the other shoe to drop. We don’t give ourselves over to the throws of anger, even at injustice, because adults are suppose to stay even tempered. And love, well love seems okay as long as it is returned to us in equal amounts. If we love more than we’re loved in return, then the imbalance can pose a risk—and rational adults don’t like to gamble with their hearts.

But then there is God. A God that whose heart is pure, passionate, and pursuing. He rages over injustice, cries out and weeps, He loves and longs for us like His bride.

God takes risks in relationships. He meets us more than halfway. He gives more than we can ever repay. He loves and forgives when we don’t deserve it.

Callused hearts are rendered useless by unforgiven hurts, dark and unmet longings, and deep seeded pains that can’t ever be completely unrooted or explained.

A world without God makes our hearts harder and less feeling. But God makes our hearts beat like new again. He replaces the heart that is twisted and scarred and knows too much, with a new heart of flesh that beats supernaturally for a world that needs more of us—a world that needs more of Him–a world that needs love.

My First Book Launch Team: More Than Just Making It

About 6 weeks ago I signed up to be a part of my first ever book launch team. I didn’t know what this was exactly, but I knew I was 100% behind the author Erin Odom. You see, I’m in a writing support and encouragement group called Hope*Writers. Us Hope*Writers, we like to stick together, to pray for one another, to give positive feedback, and to promote each others work. But in HW, Erin is a shining star. Not just because her blog, Humbled Homemaker, is an amazing resource for moms (it is!), and not just because she is a great writer (she is), but because she is a person that is always answering questions, lifting others up, and offering encouragement and useful advice to other aspiring writers. This is an author I want to get behind.

To my surprise, her book More Than Just Making It wasn’t about mindful living or deeper spiritual awareness like I initially thought. Those are threads woven into it too, but when my book arrived in the mail, I laughed out loud. The full title was: More Than Just Making It: Hope for the Heart of the Financially Frustrated. While I’d love to read another book on living in the moment, receiving this book was a God wink, or as Erin calls it, “a kiss from Jesus.”

Yes God had been listening to my prayers. A burst pipe and a flooded house have displaced us from our home all summer. Dealing with insurance and the onslaught of expenses was not the easy process we’d imagined. In March my youngest daughter was diagnosed with a rare auto-immune disease that meant a week long hospital stay, prescriptions, and a monthly visit to the hospital’s infusion center. As a LCMS pastor, my husband is blessed with a generous paycheck, but all these circumstances on top of each other, meant God was challenging us to make every dollar count.

 Money is an uncomfortable topic that most of us would rather avoid. But Erin cuts through the tension with personal stories that pull you in. Her useful advice feels like its coming more from a friend over coffee, rather than just a book of how to’s. More than that, her engaging stories and compelling honesty help me think about other friends that may be in need. Friends that beneath the smiling facade, might be struggling to buy enough food to feed their family. Her book has helped me become more clued in to the difficult reality that exists within my own community and church.

I recommend Erin’s book if you’re looking for ideas on how to make your budget stretch, or even looking for supplemental income. I also recommend her book for those that are financially secure, to go along with Erin on her journey as an educated woman from a “good Christian home,” living in poverty. She upends our comfortable categories, and challenges readers to see that anyone could find themselves barely making it.

More than Making It shares a message of hope, offering practical advice, along with the hope that comes from faith and God’s redemption.

After all, Erin Odom is an example of how God can walk with us through difficult circumstances, that shape us into Hope*Writers; she is a walking testament to how our sad songs become love songs, and how our struggles transform into stories of His goodness.

Pre-order your copy of More Than Just Making It before September 5th to receive $220 of free bonus gifts. 

Wide Open Spaces- The Summer We Gave Up on Having Plans

I’ve joked that this is the summer of “Wide Open Spaces.” Yes, “Wide Open Spaces,” like the 1998 song by the Dixie Chicks that I shouted along to while driving my baby yellow Jeep Wagoneer, windows down, hair flying, pink rhinestoned sunglasses sitting defiantly below my over-plucked eyebrows. While the song hummed of independence as a teenager, its become our summer theme song because it sings of our calendar- lots of wide open spaces, to fill,with two young girls in a small apartment. Wide open spaces because we’ve cancelled our summer plans and vacations in order to focus on getting our house back together after it flooded from a burst pipe on Mother’s Day.

Before you feel too bad for me, know that I don’t regret the house flood of Mother’s Day 2017, because it has given us an opportunity to make repairs on the house that we wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. Its given us a nice pool to use all summer, and a smaller living space to have to clean. Its taught me that I can survive an entire summer with only four pairs of pants, five shirts, and two pairs of shoes, and its shown me that our family is whole because of the way we love each other, wherever we live.

I’m feeling nostalgic because our apartment living is coming to an end in two weeks when the lease is up, house- ready or not (praying for ready).

But this summer of Wide Open Spaces in a small apartment has taught me a thing or two about how to live life well, that I’d like to remember when we’re back home with a full Fall calendar.

  1. I can busy myself with mindless stuff even when my calendar is wide open–Mindless TV, social media, email, etc. Stuff that keeps my mind busy, and hands moving, but leaves my heart with an ache of empty.
  2. There’s something valuable about lingering with other people. Being present, without an agenda, to just let the minutes, hours, and days unfold together with meandering conversation, tender moments between our children, and memories that will write our life stories and our kid’s identity. Thank you Erin, Patria, Danielle, and CeCe. I love you so.
  3. My kids like to just be with me. No screens, No nifty gadgets or toys. Laying together in a big king bed will do. Our bodies tangle together as we tell each other silly stories, ask and answer outrageous questions, and dream out loud.
  4. I always found the John Lennon quote, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans,” insightful but incredibly cliche. Its amazing though, the amount of time and life there is to live when you aren’t busy cleaning, preparing, and planning. It has given me time to ponder, to write, and to just breathe. I want to create more margin to just live in the present, rather than always preparing, and making other plans.
  5. I lost my bible somewhere with all the rest of my important stuff in storage. Since my brother in law is in the “used books reselling biz” I got my hands on Albert Liao’s Bible. It was sitting on the top of a box of discarded books. Albert’s Bible is filled with a lifetime of highlights and notes of a man that was searching for God in his own life story. This summer of “Wide Open Spaces,” I read Albert’s Bible and remember again and again that we all have our own stories, stories that ebb and flow with restlessness and contentedness, heart-splitting pain and heart splitting joy, but His truth always brings sense to it all.

Bless the Lord O My Soul -Through Depression

I crept outside into the quiet buzz of night. I lay my head on the cool grass of our front yard and stared at the stars. I remember thinking, one day, one day when my life makes sense, I will write about this. 

The memory creeps up on me now after reading Psalm 103, “The life of the mortals is like grass.”

I remember the haze of depression and anxiety  I was walking through that night almost two years ago, right after giving birth to my second daughter Elyse. I went outside to stare at the stars, to remind myself that there was a world outside my own spinning head. I needed to remember that no matter how chaotic my mind was, there were still stars that shone, and grass that grew, and a cool night breeze that could kiss the tears that ran down my cheeks.

Sometimes we need to remember that we are cherished and loved. We need to be reminded that we matter.

But when my thoughts are so loud and noisy that its hard to escape my own mind, I need to remember how small I am. I need to remember that my problems, and my fears are like a blade of grass in a thick sea of green.

The world looks different in the deep night, from the ground looking up. As hard as this disease of mental illness is, I’m so grateful that it forces me to pause and look outside myself. To look for angels on the hillside when it seems like I’m fighting a losing battle. I’m grateful that the deep longing in my soul reminds me to look for “He that is in me,” rather “than he who is in the world.” (1John 4:4 (emphasis added)

When my body feels heavy and ill fitting, and my mind doesn’t seem to tick the way it should, I can call to Him from “my inmost being.” I can be flawed and broken, because “He heals all my diseases,” Yes He satisfies me with good things, He renews my youth, He redeems my life. (Psalm103)

Infusion Day

I’m sitting here with a faint smile across my lips. My daughter is laying across my lap, her hand cupping the perfect point of her chin. We’re resting and waiting as the medicine drip, drip, drips into her veins.

Once a month we come to the hospital’s infusion center for her to get a steroid drip and IVIG blood infusion.

We get up with sleep still in our eyes and quickly fill our bellies. We load into the car in our comfy clothes and bags of books and blankets and stickers, to camp out at the hospital. The day starts early and wraps around dinnertime, sometimes later.

The day after, she’s lethargic and cranky, suffering a hangover from the infusion that her body so desperately needs.

I dread these long days of being tied to an IV pole, but a part of me craves the comfort of them. The comfort that comes in knowing that these are days of healing.

God speaks to me more loudly as I sit in the hospital and watch the smiling children with their sunken eyes and patchy hair. We’re lucky here, because Elyse gets an IV in her arm instead of needing a port in her chest like most of the kids.

A doctor from Elyse’s hospital stay came in to do her check up. Tears collected in the bottoms of her eyes as she took in how much she’d grown—How Elyse’s once angry red skin now looks smooth and creamy.

Today a nurse gave us a Joy Jar. A jar with a rubber ducky, and a soft square blanket, a light up ball, and thick, bright crayons. A tall, clown-like man came in with polka dot tennis shoes and oversized glasses. He bent down over his long slender legs and played a ukalele, singing a slow folk song.

This isn’t like an amusement park where children come for their fill of happiness. But this jar of joy, and this awkwardly sweet clown are brave and beautiful reminders that this place is full of life and hope. As the kids hum along to a melancholy tune, wearing hats embroidered with the letters NEGU (never ever give up), I see happy that is fought for—like striking a match in a dark and unfamiliar room.

I want to sit and listen to every family’s story. Stories like the three sisters that come along every two days to hold their baby sister’s hand during chemo; or the grandma that brings her three year old, Eva, once a week. Her sparse short hair is always decorated with a large pink bow. I want to light a candle for each of them like a birthday cake. I want to hold onto their wishes and blow them like dandelions.

As I sit now and see the brave stories unfold, I long to be the kind of person that sings their sad songs with them, and offers jars full of joy. They teach me that joy is fought for, and hope is holding the candle of faith during a long, hard wait.

Get Back Home

We are living in an apartment as our house gets remade. But as the walls are rebuilt in our home, its within the four walls of this small apartment that I’m learning how to live again. You see I’ve been so concerned about what I want to do with my life that I’d forgotten the importance of who I already am. Sometimes we have to relearn the basics. 

As I curl up on an unfamiliar couch in an apartment full of borrowed furniture, my words curl around me like a blanket as I reread an old manuscript I had tucked away and forgotten about. I read the things that had first helped me to find my writing voice. Things about how to be a mom and still find myself at the same time. Words that somehow gave voice to the constant stone at the pit of my stomach, and the little question marks that constantly buzz like unfinished thoughts in the back of my brain.

I had discarded these stories as postcards of my past, as I fixed my eyes on bigger goals. But life’s unplanned challenges have humbled me. Like wiping away the layers of makeup before a mirror, I’m remembering what I really look like.

In the background the lyrics of an old song hums a familiar tune,

“Once, there was a way to get back homeward
Once, there was a way to get back home
Sleep, pretty darling, do not cry
And I will sing a lullaby”

As ironic tears line my cheeks, I realize I’ve taken a long, hard journey home. I’ve circled back to me- to that unmasked face in the mirror. A face that is creased with a few more crinkles in the corners of my eyes, but those same green eyes and freckles look back at me honestly. I wish I could explain to my teenage self how the soul doesn’t droop and sag like skin. Although my skin betrays me to be 33, my soul still feels smooth and bright, like an unweathered stone.

As I read the words from a girl who didn’t know the pain that I know now- its easy to think I knew little. I was naive and optimistic like an eighteen year old that doesn’t think the sun will leave a lasting mark. But in a season when I’m jaded and lost, these words from my past are as green as the grass I lain in to tell stories from the clouds. Green like the crab apples we’d pick from the mushroom shaped trees in Apple Hill. Green like the sweet peas I pureed to create my first homemade baby food.

As the landscape of my life shifts, cracks, and droops I remember that my soul is still planted in the same small hole. Each word I write, read, pray, and speak are like buds of life that spring forth from that same unmovable place.

When Bree was two, she would put her shoes on the right feet. I watched proudly thinking somehow she’d learned her right from her left. At four years old though, its a guarantee that her foot will find the wrong shoe, even when I  set them in front of her the right way. Today, I just watched my 21 month old, Elyse fit her little feet in the proper shoes, while Bree waddled out the door again like a duck, toes pointing in opposite directions. I realized that sometimes the right thing comes naturally.

As I assert my own knowledge and independence, I go through a season of getting things backwards too.

I dream that someday I will be a writer and speaker, but the truth is that the important tending needs to happen in the little circle of soil that holds my soul. From that small, sacred place, God can bring forth life that can bear fruit and shade. But its in the dark hole where He does the work that matters most.

Curled in the dark, like a womb, a waiting place, I wait for God to do His good work in my heart. I pray that He will grow me into a tree that stands tall, but more important, that I have solid roots like fingers always reaching back home.
“The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40:8