White-hot Forgiveness

White-hot Forgiveness

I wrote this article back in March, in the middle of the Lenten season.  It was shared here at Annesley Writers. I realized that I have not shared it here, on my personal site with you guys. 

I have this propensity to explode. When my blood pressure fluctuates, when blood doesn’t adequately pump to my brain, when my pain medications are wearing off, I am unpredictable.

The most difficult part of this issue is that I am agonizingly aware of my irrational temper-tantrums, and I live in fear of my explosions. One of my family’s biggest complaints about my struggle with my chronic illnesses (aside from my horrific memory) is that I have anger issues.

No amount of awareness of the neurological basis for this weakness can relieve me of the guilt that comes after snapping at my empathetic kids or my beloved husband.

I try to stay seated as this position helps with the blood flowing to the brain issue. I take medications to help regulate heart rate and blood pressure and to reduce the gallons of adrenaline my broken nervous system dumps into my body. These physiological interventions only work minimally.

I still fall into non-coherent, flames-shooting-out-of-ears nuclear blasts. They usually end with a humiliated chuckle, and an embarrassed muttering of, “Sorry, Mommy’s head turned into a volcano again.”

Internally, I am thrashing myself, resolving to control my temper better. Externally, I am emailing my doctor, desperately begging for some kind of medical intervention that will stabilize my labile physiology that seems to have my psychology hanging by a thread.

Cognitive decline, neurological conditions, and anger outbursts can bring even the greatest saint to her knees, and these deficits pull out the parts of me that I never want to have exposed to the light of day.

Lent seems to do the same thing, and the season of Lent this year has corresponded with a heightened awareness of my short-comings.

Hot tears, intermingled with hot bath water, Epsom salts, and essential oils, meet me in the rare moments of solitude and reflection during my Lenten morning bath times. Bathing is tricky with toddlers around, so I strategically schedule shower and bath time for early in the morning before my husband leaves for work. The tears flow more freely these days, triggered by my wrestling-matches with my volatile temper.

As my body is wrapped in the warmth and comfort of oil, magnesium, and sulfate-infused water, my spirit feels cracked and raw. I squeeze my eyes shut to find my heart hemorrhaging into this cleansing pool.  I can’t do this on my own.  I am at the end of my pathetically limited internal resources, self-sufficiency, functionality, and medical options.  My false sense of self dissolves with the salts in these purifying waters, and I ugly-cry until my fingers and toes are wrinkled and the water is luke-warm.

Lent is a time of preparation for Jesus’ cross.  We let go of something that feels important to us, and we take on spiritual disciplines that may have fallen to the wayside over the year.  We strip away the flesh in order to put on Christ.

I am so quick to judge these 40 days as tedious, but Lent, in fact, is designed to be the church’s springtime, as we pull back winter’s layers of death and rise with a spirit of repentance, embracing the full gift of forgiveness through the cross of Christ, and experience a fresh empowerment of the Holy Spirit to embody and further the Kingdom of God.

How many nights do I cuddle with my precious three-year-old daughter in her bed, whispering words of repentance into her ear? “I am so sorry that I yelled at you tonight, Baby. Mommy lost her temper again, and I was wrong.” Or how many times do I have to sit down with my husband after accusing him of something completely absurd to ask his forgiveness?

I keep asking forgiveness, and they keep forgiving.

My temper issues are only one example of a deeper condition. One thing has become certain over this Lenten season:  I am in desperate need of forgiveness and grace, every day, every hour, every minute. 

I frequently feel like Paul: I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes … Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.” (Romans 7: 17-20, The Message).

My illnesses are getting the better of me. They capitalize on my weakness. This is such a hopeless feeling, except, except, I can hear a whisper…

  “Come now, let us reason together…” (Isaiah 1:18).

Lord, what reasoning do you have to offer? I whisper back. I’m a white-hot flame, ready to singe the next victim. I am lost in this chaos of a broken body and broken brain. The weight of it is smothering.

I died for this too. I died for you, with all of your struggles and all of your illnesses. I beat death for you too, Megan, my beloved child.

My tearful bath time comes to a close, I cannot lament any longer, and I feel a sense of closure, or exhaustion, as I rise to face the day.  Pandora switches songs as I wrap my diseased body in a towel.  God sings the second verse like a fresh breath of life.  I laugh out loud with the joy that only can come in the morning following a long night of weeping:

When Satan tempts me to despair,

And tells me of the guilt within,

Upward I look and see Him there,

Who made an end to all my sin.

Because the sinless Savior died

My sinful soul is counted free

For God the just is satisfied

To look on Him and pardon me.”

(Before the Throne of God Above, Charitee Lees Bancroft, 1841)








The Old Thoughts in the New Life

The Old Thoughts in the New Life

I had an old thought last night. It was about ending my life. That thought does not fit in my today-life. It was part of an old story that was my life a long time ago. My today-life has become stressful and overwhelming. We are being hit on all sides and at every angle as a family. It is all that I can do sometimes to keep breathing and moving forward minute to minute, second to second.

I sent my husband to the ER with my poor sick three-year-old, and stayed home to tend to my also sick two-year-old.   Lily had collapsed in the hall. Croup and asthma don’t work well together. I collapsed with her. My husband swept her up, buckled her in her car seat, and barreled off to the emergency room while I sat with my youngest and wept in anxiety, fear, and inadequacy. She will be fine, but last night, neither of us was fine. My life became too heavy for a moment. As I cuddled with my youngest in my king-size bed, I felt my heart ripped in half. I wanted, needed, to be at the hospital with my eldest. Yet I couldn’t. I’m too sick. And my youngest needed me. We are at T-minus 48 hours until my husband goes out of town for a week, and I feel the crud that has attacked my children descending on my own vulnerable body. How will we survive this one? Will we survive this one?

Waiting for my sleeping medicine to kick in, that old thought assaulted me for the first time in years. You could end it all. Shocked, I guffawed at the absurdity of that thought in the context of my meaningful and fulfilling life. At the same time, a part of me leaned into its familiarity. Horrified at my inclination toward this suicidal thought, I prayed that my sleeping medication would kick in and knock me out so that I could wake up the next morning fully planted in the present again.   It did. I slipped into sleep, in that massive bed with a tiny two-year-old and no husband, next door to an empty room where my three-year-old should be sleeping.

Oh, the speed bumps in life are brutal.   When half of your family is not under your roof with you when you so desperately need them. When you are not under the same roof of the pediatric wing of the hospital with your sick child when you feel that she so desperately needs you. Someone told me today ,”It’s not fair,” when I told her the medical drama that is occurring in my family.   I know that fairness is just a construct of our fallen human minds that leads to nasty comparison, leading to either pride or envy. With that said, it certainly doesn’t feel fair at times. To move from hellish situation to hellish situation, squeezing in quick breaths every once in a while. To feel like you are standing on the tips of your tip toes in an unsteady ocean, with your nose bobbing in and out of the choppy water as you spit and sputter, trying to come up for air. It does not feel fair.

Suffering never feels fair. To pursue suffering would be utter insanity. And yet, suffering can serve as a sharpening tool, as a refining fire, burning and destroying any sense of self-sufficiency or pride in our own resources. If I ever thought I could do life on my own, that notion is snuffed out when I collapse on the floor daily, when my daughter is whisked off my husband in the middle of the night unable to breathe, when I come up against that same old thought that haunted me for years. I can’t do this. Not in my own strength. I’m at the end of me. I’m exhausted, spent, maxed out. It has to be God. Suffering is a quick trip to the end of ourselves, where we find at the end either despair or God. Out of those two options, I don’t know what inclines some people to end with despair and others to land on God. I do know, however, that I have had seasons of my life where despair seemed to be the clearest answer. This is not one of those seasons. Suffering is driving me to the cross. The old thoughts of suicide drive me not to actual attempts, but to my knees in confession of my dependence on my life-source. Thomas Merton states, “ Suffering becomes good by accident, by the good that it enables us to receive more abundantly from the mercy of God.”

It is no good to worship the actual suffering in life. In suffering and in abundance, we can know God. We worship and believe in a God who can transform suffering into mercy. This knowledge transforms the phrase “God is good all the time” into so much more than a mere cliché. It gives me the assurance that no matter what floods my life, even if the mountains give way and fall into the heart of the sea, even if I lose my own life, my Lord loves me and is for me. His presence is good, and He never leaves. Therefore, wherever I go, I am safe.

Psalm 46: 1-3

God is our refuge and strength,

    a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,

    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam,

    though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

An Advent Lament

An Advent Lament

One evening in early December, our half-hearted dinner comes to a close. Few words have been exchanged, and the children have each taken about a half of a bite of mashed potatoes and drummed the table with their silverware for the ten minutes that they have been forced to sit in their seats. Jordan and I sit wearily, lacking the energy to even mutter a few words to one another. I stare desperately at the seven candles lit in the middle of the table, longing for them to speak peace to my tempestuous heart. My heart is an impenetrable fortress and refuses to allow the light in. Jordan asks me why I am staring the candles down, and I sigh and blow them out with extended effort. Their light falls short of my desperate soul’s need for comfort and peace tonight.

The heaviness in my chest and the thickness in my throat lingers. My head aches with the aftermath of the day’s panic attacks and fits of rage. The lingering failure of the day hangs over my spirit like a cloud. And the advent candles failed me. Or I failed them. The emotional and physical pain of this advent is palpable, oppressive, and I struggle to breathe through the smog of my carnality. I feel as though I am crying out to empty heavens, staring into illusory candles, reaching for something that isn’t even there. I know that this is just a feeling, and I know, on an intimate heart level, that God is indeed with us. I just don’t feel Him or hear Him right now.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Come, Lord Jesus. Break through the darkness and brokenness of my multi-faceted infirmities. Break into our family’s heaviness, and lighten our load. Bring illumination to our darkness. In your mercy, bring beauty and grace to the daily lives of my innocent children. This Advent season, I am beyond desperate for your light. I need a pin-prick of hope. I understand that my perceived needs are not always accurate, so I will accept whatever package in which you choose to deliver said hope. I just need something, anything, soon.

Turning Our Eyes Upon Jesus

Turning Our Eyes Upon Jesus

The last few weeks have been difficult.  Last October was a bad-health-month (like a bad-hair-day, only like 1000 times worse), and it seems that this October followed suit.  Maybe my illnesses have least favorite seasons.  Being sick feels manageable some fraction of the time, but over the past month, it has NOT felt do-able.  Yesterday was particularly bad, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  I felt poured out, wrung out, and blown-dry with a hair dryer.  I had what felt like nothing left.  My husband was shivering in bed with 102-degree fever, sputtering, “Is this what chills feel like?” My children were acting like the three-year-old and two-year-old that they are, and I was dancing on the impatient side of parenting.  I was not savoring each moment with them, that’s for sure.

Bed time is sacred time at our house.  We read, rock, and sing about Jesus. The kids have special song requests, each one gets his and her own time in the rocking chair with mom, and I get to sniff their sweet little babyish heads before bed (I think that baby head-sniffing works better at calming my adrenaline rushes than any medication that I have found).  In between Jesus songs, my daughter usually comes up with deep questions that I am not prepared for, like, “Mommy, what is death?”, or like, “How is Jesus going to come out of my heart so that I can sit on His lap and rub His beard like I rub daddy’s beard?”. I stutter and stammer for a few minutes, and then God in His wisdom usually helps me communicate some little nugget of truth that hopefully her three-year-old mind can comprehend.  She deems my response acceptable, closes her eyes, and settles her fair curly head into the bend of my arm, safe and comforted, trusting that she knows enough now to rest for the night.

Bedtime last night did not feel sacred. I was an unholy terror, and I hurried and scolded my kids, stretched too thin in all angles.  I just wanted to go to bed and have the day over. I was hurting physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and I was done fighting.  Rocking a child, however, seems to be the antithesis of hurry.  The act of sitting in glider with my son and singing a JJ Heller lullaby was enough to snap me out of my impatient self-centered focus. I pleaded with God to help me to be present with my children, at least for the final few minutes of their day. I sniffed his freshly washed hair for a couple seconds longer, and laid him in his crib with his blessing: “May the Lord bless you and keep you…”.

My daughter met me at the chair, and asked for the Jesus song. Which Jesus song?  You know, mom, the one where Jesus is REALLY BIG.  Where His face shines.  I sing the hymn “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”, and she sings the chorus with me word-for-word.  After the song, my big-hearted prophetess child says with the concern and agony of a 25-year-old, “Mom, why does it feel like Jesus isn’t here?  If it is so dark in this world, and Jesus is light, He can’t be here, can He?  And Jesus is too big to be in my heart.  He’s not in my heart.  He’s too big.  He would break my heart.  Is Jesus not here?”

On this night, October 31st, a night of darkness, when barely three-year-old daughter questions the existence of her Savior, my throat swelled, and my eyes filled, and I said, “Baby, I know how you feel. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like Jesus is here, but He is.  I promise. He promises.  And it is dark, but His light is here.”  I said a few more things.  I felt a lot more things. She asked a few more despairing questions, and she finally settled into the tension of not seeing yet believing.  She was okay.  Jesus was with Her.  She could rest.

I laid her down, tucked her princess comforter around her tiny body, blessed her, prayed over her and her brother, closed the door, and sobbed.  OH, I know how she feels, but I never imagined that she would feel this so soon.  But God met me in her questioning.  In this dark night, full of pain in all forms, God met me through the need of my darling daughter. He answered my despairing questions through my own mouth as  I answered her despairing questions.  We will keep trusting.  He is present. He is good. He loves us.  He is sovereign.  My sweet dreamers will learn to trust and hope, as I am learning to trust and hope, in the One who is present, gentle, and faithful. We can’t always see, but we know because we have seen undeniable manifestations of His goodness.  We therefore

Turn our eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.  (Helen H. Limmel, 1922).

Created to Create

My husband is currently working through a sermon series about God making us in His image.  This week, even as I type,  He is preparing this week’s focus:  God created us to create.  We were designed with talents, giftings, and passions that make us unique and reflect the Divine nature birthed into our physical bodies and unleashed through the installment of the Spirit.  I have been given the privilege of helping Jordan prepare his sermons. I tend think like spaghetti.  My brain goes a thousand different directions, but they do (most of the time) lead to a complete thought.  His brain is like waffles.  He is very structured.   We are discovering that spaghetti sometimes tastes pretty yummy with waffles.  We make a good team as long as we aren’t getting too tangled up in knots or overly compartmentalized!  And sometimes we have to step away and take a few deep breaths. This is, however, a fun new facet of our relationship.

So lets talk about this whole idea of being created to create.  This resonates with me, since I really enjoy writing, and some would classify writing as a form of art. In writing, I find a deeper fellowship with God than I might feel in other situations.  Sometimes I write as a response to a glimpse of God’s face.  Other times,  I write in order to catch a glimpse of His face through the act of writing.  I write to share my God-sightings, and I write to catch some God-sightings.  I write because I feel my soul gravitate toward the pen and paper, or the keyboard.  I feel at home in this crazy, albeit limited world of words.  Writing is one of my creative callings.  I would love to engage it more frequently.  Maybe as I feel better and develop more discipline (or sacred time alone),  I can flex my writing muscles more often.  For now,  this is where I am.

God created us with gifts, passions, talents, and burdens.  Each of us has a unique set, and each of us has dominion in how we choose to use them.  Some of us start from a more mobilized position than others.  Some have to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to pursue their passions.  Some lay down and allow themselves to be beaten and crippled by the lies that they have nothing to offer.  I started to read Freefall to Fly by Rebecca Lyons on the plane ride home from Nashville last week.  I nearly threw the book against the seat back in front of me when I read of Rebecca’s experience of her childhood, her unfettered pursuit of her dreams, her insatiable hunger for books, and her belief that the sky was the limit.  She went on to talk about pursuing her dreams throughout college and beyond, only to find herself crippled in motherhood, questioning if her dreams had to die because of her new role as mother.  She is certainly on to something.  She has a lot of research to back up the reality that this often happens to women.  Her intended audience finds comfort in the resonance that comes from this sentiment,  I am confident.  I will also continue to read the book.  My anger is not at that sweet, Godly woman who is a talented author.  My anger emerged out of a deeply wounded and broken childhood.

While Rebecca traversed down memory lane, I tentatively crept down my own memory lane into a land of monsters, terror, and lies.  I was not told that I was talented.  I was told that I was evil.  I was not told to pursue my dreams.  I was told that I had nothing to offer.  I was not told that I could contribute to society, let alone pursue a God-given passion.  I was told that the world would be better off without me.  I remember in grade school,  I tested into advanced classes. My caregivers held me in regular classes, and I often complained of being bored, asking to be moved to the advanced classes.  They lied to me and told me that I was not smart enough, and it would be too hard for me. We took IQ tests during grade school as well, and my mother kept my scores from me, saying that she didn’t want me to feel bad about my low scores.  I steered clear of IQ tests as much as I could, until as an adult I was challenged to take an IQ test, which yielded results that were clearly above average.  At this point,  I can’t go into the question of why a parent would go out of her way to convince her daughter that she was unintelligent, untalented and worthless.  I can, however, recognize that my childhood was not necessarily typical, or worse yet, maybe it was more typical than we would like to realize.

For a solid two decades, I took it upon myself to do the most noble thing that I could conceive at the time in my brainwashed mind: To make myself smaller, invisible, less of a problem.  Not only did I have nothing to give, but I was a taker.  A relentless taker. Thus, I had to be eliminated.  This mindset is quite the opposite of the content of our Sunday sermon.  So I have wrestled.  I wrestled with the book and with Rebecca.  I wrestled with the scriptures about being God’s workmanship, created to do good works in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:10), about being fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), about having spiritual gifts, about having talents, about being valuable.  Sadly, I wasted quite a bit of time trying to destroy myself while I could have been developing my gifts.

Unlike Rebecca, my experience as a mother has birthed within me the idea that I may have some passions and gifts that could be meaningful to the body of Christ and beneficial to the world in general.  My marriage to a husband who loves me has brought me to a place where I was forced to face that I was actually someone’s SIGNIFICANT other.  Someone wants me.  This was only the beginning.  Until one find’s her identity in her Savior, it is on unstable ground.  God used these situations, however, to provide a platform from which I could emerge from my imploded existence.  I could carefully, tentatively, take a few steps out to see what happened.  I could pen a couple pages and share it with a close friend.  I could sing in our church in front of people and actually look them in the eye after the close of service.  I could consider the possibility that I don’t have to apologize for my existence.  Not only that, but I could, for a second, fathom that I could one day live boldly within my dreams and hopes.

I’m not entirely new to dreaming, but dreaming with the hope that it could be reality is a new concept.  As a child, I lived in my day dream.  It kept me alive.  I felt, deep down, however, that there was no hope that it could ever become reality. My value existed in my day dreams, and those were where Christ met me. Mercifully, through my following decades of self-destruction, He sustained me, continued to breathe life into my spirit and giftings. He strategically placed people along my path to encourage me to pursue my passions and talents.  He provided pockets of self-discovery. He has been faithful all along.  He knows the depths of brokenness and slavery that I have trudged through to make it to the other side.

Slowly, beautifully, I am beginning to see that I am valuable. One of God’s greatest mercies in my life is that He has given me a daughter who is undeniably my mini-me in personality and sass.  And I love her.  I don’t think that I could love her more.  I love every single ounce of her entire package.  One day, as I was wrestling with my identity, God pointed out how similar my three-year-old is to me.  He told me that He loves me even more than I love her, and He loves every part of my unique personality just like I love hers.  I realized that it is really incongruent to love my daughter, my likeness, and to hate myself.  She is dynamite.  She is brilliant. She is hilarious, deeply compassionate, intuitive and thoughtful.  She is made in God’s image.  So maybe I am also made in God’s image.  Made for good works that God has uniquely equipped me to perform.

The Adventure at the Ocean with POTS and Tots

Once upon a time, I understood a certain concept in theory.  Today,  I understand it fully in the experiential sense:  A vacation with two toddlers is, indeed, not a vacation.  In fact, parents need a minimum of a week of recovery time in order to heal from the traumas incurred during said “vacation” with tiny tyrants who have been so rudely jerked out of their routine and thrown into a foreign (and often very wet) environment.

I had this crazy dream that we would all just be relaxing on a nice white-sanded beach with clear blue ocean waters lapping at our little toes, and we would giggle and splash and build colossal mideival sand castles, and go skipping down the beach hand-in-hand until we all tumbled down in rapturous laughter and delight.   I think that I stepped out of the realm of idealistic into the realm of psychotic-sleep-deprived-desperate-for-a-break-mommy-brain.

Hold your breath.  I have some shocking news for you all:  It did not go as I had planned.  Child one did not like the ocean for a while.  Child two loved the ocean and promptly got a nasty eye infection on the first day.  Mommy (sometimes known by daddy as child number three) forgot that she needs to carry around oxygen tanks, which are not conducive to any sort of happy family frolicking and certainly not ocean and sand-proof.

In addition, our 17-hour-overnight drive did not involve much sleep for anyone involved.  Our eight-passenger rental van did NOT comfortably seat 8 passengers when three of those passengers are well over 250 pounds and two of those passengers are in car seats that take up one and a half seats.  And who willingly squeezes into the middle seats in the back except for the moms of the bunch who are so adapted to sacrificing themselves that they don’t even register the horrific sacrifice of sanity and overall proprietary ownership of our bodies that is involved in the death-sentence that is the middle seat of a minivan wedged between a teenager and a toddler’s car-seat for 17 hours?  Over the course of our over-night drive across Oklahoma and Texas, I bargained with God quite frequently.  Blood, tears, and sweat were shed (maybe not blood–I can’t remember).  Body odors were rampant (remember, two teenagers).  I had brought a book to read, not considering the fact that there would not be nearly enough space to even open the book in my squished little lap.  I don’t know what I was thinking anyway:  I had tiny children to entertain.

We made it to the ocean at 10 AM, after an agonizing 17 hours .  Our rental house did not allow check-in until 3 PM.  We had with us an almost 2-year-old, a 3-year-old, a 12-year-old, and a 19-year-old.  And they were DELIRIOUS.  I was just a little nutty myself (understatement).  It has been a long time since I have seen my beloved ocean, but that day at that time, really, all I wanted was a bed.  We dug our swimsuits out of our shredded car-top-carrier (that will teach us to buy cheap travel equipment), and loaded our arms with buckets, umbrellas, swim diapers, chairs, oxygen tanks, power aides, juice boxes, books (haha), and like 85 towels. (Overkill much??).  An hour later, we were settled on a beach full of 500 other families, none who spoke our language.  The baby-children were begging for their pacifiers, and the adult-children were begging for a bed.  And thus began our beach adventure.

It really truly got better from there. We survived the drive, the first interminable day in the sun resulting in at least second degree burns for all the adults (if only we put sunscreen on ourselves the way that we lather up our babies!!!), and unloading our ridiculously overpacked van-load into the ant-infested rental house.  We slept well that night, and the next day we found a much more calm, sparsely populated beach access on the other part of the island.  We packed more appropriately (No one stumbled and fell under the load of the beach toys, floats, and chairs on the way to the ocean).  We feasted and Whataburger while watching the beautiful undulation of the very blue waves.  The children and daddy did walk up and down the shore collecting shells for Grandma and Grandpa, and mommy got a chance to sit with her babies in the shallow surf.  There were moments of pure bliss interspersed between the realities of going to the beach with two toddlers and a disabling chronic illness.  85 percent of the time I was keenly aware of the fever that kept me shivering even while sitting in the humid 90-degree beach air.  I had to chose between breathing well and going out into the ocean with the kids, and sometimes I chose the ocean.  The walk from the boardwalk to the beach was agonizing, and there were moments where I wasn’t entirely sure that I could stay upright long enough to get from one place to the other.  I tried to communicate these discomforts as infrequently as possible so that no one would feel unnecessarily burdened or inconvenienced by my disability.  They had enough to worry about.

Along with my idealistic idea of what the beach with toddlers would look like, I also clung to an idealistic idea of what the beach with POTS would look like.  I was convinced that the ocean breeze, the warm sunlight, and the salt water would be like a salve to my weary and broken body.  I thought that somehow, magically, my illness would dissolve into the sand under my feet as I walked down to the ocean.  I learned that the beach isn’t really that magical.  It was wonderful, still as beautiful as ever.  The ever-present rhythm of the ocean waves soothed my anxious heart.  The warmth of the sun did indeed soften my spirit.  The joy that my children communicated as they chased the waves and let the waves chase them back was unprecedented by any joy that I’ve seen them experience before.  I was so glad to be there.  And I was still sick.  I was shivering, gasping at times, dizzy constantly, and utterly exhausted.  My bones and joints screamed while I watched my family play happily.  I had to decline certain activities because I couldn’t move.  The beach did not fixed me, but it offered moments that breathed life into my heart and soul.  It gave my children fresh experiences and family memories that were worth the hours of travel and blistering sunburns.

When describing our trip, I told people that I hadn’t decided if it was worth it yet.  I think that I’ve decided.  It was worth it.  It was worth all of it.  It was worth it to see the delight in those little eyes.  It was worth it to sit on the ocean’s edge holding my babies.  It was worth it to watch my sweet husband tenderly hold my daughter’s hand as he helped her pick out the perfect sea shells and carry my rambunctious son into the deeper ocean because he just couldn’t get enough of the pounding waves.  We may re-evaluate the eight-passenger van deal for next time and who driving over night thinking that the babies gonna sleep, but our souls needed a fresh glimpse of majesty, glory, and connectedness.  And what’s a good story without some dramatic elements anyway?




Even in the Trenches

We are just emerging out of the witching hour for parents of toddlers as five PM approaches.  It is Friday, the day on which we parents take the final agonizing steps to the finish line of the week, only to discover that the weekend days are a repeat of the weekdays.  No one sleeps in.  Everyone is actually even more cranky than they were during the week, if that is even possible.

The family has passed around an anachronistic virus in the middle of summer, starting with the three-year-old last week. The one-year-old caught it a few days later, and now the husband, the worst patient of all, has contracted the contagion.  My other half is pathetic, and his fever is no higher than mine is on my best days.  One would think that chronic illness would give you more compassion on those who are sick.  Instead, it makes me want to scream at my husband, “Suck it up!! I have to suck it up everyday of my life!! Take tylenol, and get your rear-end off that couch, soldier! These kids can’t fend for themselves!”  I remind myself that this is not how Jesus would act, and this is irrational rage that I should contain and not communicate.  In no way could that spoken diatribe enhance my marriage.  So I bring him medicine and a cup of water and ask how his head is feeling.  I pray for more compassion and repent for my critical and unloving spirit.  (Other days, I may scream his head off.  I’m not perfect, jeeze!!)

I think that I feel particularly awful today. The pain is just a little bit more acute.  I’ve hit the floor a few extra times.  Walking across the living room feels a bit like running a marathon, and my heart may pound out of my chest with this tachycardia.  I may feel worse than usual, but I’m never sure anymore.  I may feel this bad every day, but the brain fog of POTS blessedly helps me forget my agony.  I try not to think about how bad I am feeling.  It is pointless.  I try not to think about the possible reasons.  Over the past two years, that has proved futile.  I employ my militant strategies with myself rather than spewing them at my poor sick husband.  “You’re not as sick as you think you are.  It’s all in your head.  Suck it up.  Get off the couch and do something productive.  This is your life. What are you going to do?  Cry a river of tears every day that you think you are dying?  You’ll never get anything done, and you will be super pathetic.”

The late afternoon, the close of the witching hour, carries with it a torrential downpour.  It is majestic.  I call the unruly, wild, maniac children over to the window. They are both in t-shirts, diapers, and no pants.  Who needs pants when you are under four and running circles in your living room?  They stand on the sofa, feet firmly planted in daddy’s calves watching, captivated by the river of tears pouring from the darkened heavens.  It really is amazing.   Later, we find out that we got almost eight inches that night.  The short time frame in which it accumulates is the kicker, though.  It is like God is dumping olympic-size swimming pools down onto our house!   Relieved that the kids are occupied for a few seconds, I sit,  trying to lower my heart rate below 100 bmp for a few minutes.  A friend texts, offering to pick up some chicken noodle soup for our patient and dinosaur nuggets for the kids.  They are at Walmart, and when your pastor husband gets sick on a Sunday, the whole church obviously knows.  I am learning to accept help, and I tell her that we would love for them to bring some soul food by the house.  They even are braving this torrential emptying of the heavens for the feeding of my family.  I am humbled, and fight off the shame of the needing help.

I look out the window at the rain still pouring, and I see a golden glow lighting the lines of water driving from the sky.  The sun has broken through, not weakly, but with such fervor that it is as light as a cloudless day outside.  For a few seconds, I ponder how odd this phenomenon seems, and then I remember the whole science of prisms and rainbows.  My children have never seen a real rainbow, so I squeal with childish delight and drag them, neither one wearing pants, out through the garage, into the pouring rain.  This is a bad idea, my rational side is warning me.  This will trigger a major POTS flare-up. Don’t get too excited.  Don’t walk that fast.  Don’t you dare go all the way down the driveway to the road. You shouldn’t walk that far. That’s why they got you a scooter.  I disregard the rules. Majestic acts of God trump the rules of chronic illness, and in a split second decision, I decide that this one is worth paying for physically for the rest of the night if I have to.

My son runs down the driveway to the side of the road to wade in the river of rainwater washing down the gully.  My daughter tentatively tiptoes down the driveway with my prompting with the promise of a view of the most beautiful rainbow she’s ever seen.  I reach the end of the driveway with my little girl’s hand clutching mine as she prepares to glance at her first real rainbow.  My not-yet-two-year-old son is yards away splashing with the abandon that only a one-year-old can muster, and I suck in the fresh air sharply (maybe with a bit of a gasp-wheeze, but still with awe).  My babies and I look to our left to see the thickest, most brilliant rainbow that I have ever had the privilege to witness.  My sweet girl grasps tighter onto my fingers and says, “AHHHH!! Mommy, it is just beautiful! It’s gorgeous!”  In instant, she lets go and races after her brother, splashing gleefully away.  We watch the rainbow through to the end of its life and beg for it to stay as it disappears from one end of the sky to the other as the sky grows dark again and the rain starts to sting our skin with its increased power.  My children run back to the refuge of my arms as we hurry inside, and our friends pull into our driveway with their generous food offerings for the sick and the hungry.  I apologize for my pantless children and happily accept dinner.

As they hurry back to their car and drive away, my babies and I watch them and the rain from the refuge of the garage. The rainbow is seared in my vision for a bit longer before it fades in my mind as it did from the sky.  We climb the steps and return inside to daddy with his chicken noodle soup.

And God whispers to my soul, “My child, even in the trenches, life is beautiful.”