Thursday, March 31, 2016

I matter.

One word. That's all it took.
All it took to reach a deep and distant need I didn't even know I had. One two-syllable word to sooth a throbbing place in my soul.

If words are ever music to the ears then this was a symphony. A long and pleasing ballad played by an exquisite hundred-piece orchestra in the round. My heart seated right in the center, embracing all the depth and richness of a myriad of notes all infused into two simple syllables. The healing word he spoke?
Simply, my first name.

Called across a crowd.
Called out, despite my back to him.

I was walking down the row to make my way out of the worship center, so he had to call out to me if he wanted to speak with me. And he did. He could have dismissed it, but apparently it was important enough for him to pursue.
I was important enough.

With an about face I was greeted by the warm smile of an old friend. Yep, that old Young Marrieds class strikes again. We'd started that class with good friends many years ago, with hearts anxious to serve, anxious to encourage, and anxious to provide a nourishing place for these couples to call home during their new season of life. 13 years later that's exactly what God is offering MY heart through many of them.

He called out to me because he wanted to celebrate with me. Apparently, every time he and his wife see me in church, they are so encouraged with and for us. Six years since my initial health crash and they still recognize that it remains a monumental victory for me to be at church on a Sunday morning. Life moves pretty quickly and people lose track, but somehow they've remained in tune with our ongoing reality.

Which is pretty amazing in and of itself because how DO you stay in tune when you only see somebody sporadically at best, let alone rarely have a conversation opportunity to stay current?

You guys, it felt like somebody had just drenched refreshing, cool water on my parched and weary soul living in a hot, dry desert. Drenched. You know, like when NFL players pour the drink cooler over the coach in celebration of victory. That drenched.

The part that soaked me most was simply when he initially called out to me from across the aisles. It's been so long since another adult called out my name to get my attention that I can't even recall the last time it happened. I hear my name, Mommy, called out plenty. Sacred music to my ears.
But Tanya? No, that's not one I hear.

Amidst a long season of feeling isolated from our church family, and therefore, wrestling with my value in the Body of Christ, this friend's simple choice to reach out to me that Sunday morning was a profound gift from God.

And God's a generous God, isn't He?

Because after our church's Christmas program days later, I was talking to somebody in the lobby and heard my name again! A friend actually came back in specifically to seek me out and hug me. (Me!!)
Christmas hadn't even arrived, and my heart was tearin' into the presents like no tomorrow.

A month or two prior, a different friend made her way across the worship center to say hi and catch up. You guys (yes, I'm from Chicago), that may sound like an incredibly ordinary scene and sentence:
"My friend made her way across the worship center to say hi and catch up."

Likely doesn't sound terribly significant, does it? I understand. So here's a little excerpt from Accepting the Sidelines to give you some context:
Whenever you haven’t seen somebody for a considerably long time, there’s an enthusiastic reunion, right? And the typical catch-up questions come naturally. Then on the opposite side of the spectrum, when you see somebody frequently, like every Sunday morning, you get to go beyond those surface questions to dig into the day-to-day grind, and walk through life with them.

But my husband and I, we’re in this awkward frequency of the in between.
We’re not seeing these folks regularly. But it’s not like it’s been 5-10 years since we’ve seen them, either.

It's awkward for most. Understandably. Yet those friends I just mentioned?
They came

And THAT's what's significant.
Their genuine interest in our friendship prevented awkward from cultivating, which let love grow instead of distance.

Remember the women's gathering I told you about recently? Boy was that night ever tangible evidence that joy and sorrow aren't mutually exclusive. Because while it ended on a sobering note, it began with much sweet celebration in my soul.

When I arrived and entered the room, I spotted another old friend from that Young Marrieds class. She was in the middle of a conversation, but her eyes about popped out of her head when she saw me. In other words, she got it. She got that it was a big deal for me to show up.

Shortly after bumping into her, another dear friend had the same reaction, only add to it her hands over her mouth in shock. (Truly, I wish I could share the awesome picture of her in my mind. Hands over her mouth and all. The cutie above's the best I could do.)
Between the two of them, I felt like a celebrity. I really did.

And it's not about feeling like a celebrity, of course. But let me tell ya, where there is pain and isolation and doubts about your value, there is great need for healing and grace. Lots of it. The Lord blessed me with both that evening. And each of the other times the other friends called out to me.

It was as if the Lord was saying through Bob when he called out to me across the church aisles,
"Tanya, you still matter here."

As if He were saying through Sandy when she made her way over to me that Sunday morning,
"Tanya, you don't have to contribute to be enjoyed."

And saying through Shannon over Christmastime,
"Tanya, Who I am IN you is ministry. You DO minister."

And through Kristen's wide eyes,
"Don't ever minimize 'simply' showing up, Tanya. It is NOT trivial for your journey. Your presence alone is enough."

And through Melissa's hand over gaping mouth, I believe He wanted me to hear,
"THIS, Child. This is how beyond delighted I am every. single. time. you draw near."

Each a gift I unwrapped from the Lord, reminding me that I am still consequential,
That I still matter at church,
That although we have not been involved,
we also have not been forgotten.

We are still valued,
still loved.
And even celebrated!

Healing salve for my soul.

Monday, February 15, 2016

When Healing Hurts

Her words of kindness, they cut like a knife.
Pain has a way of taking your heart to peculiar places like that.

They’d passed a pad of paper around the table, and when it came to me, I read the headings at the top of each column I was supposed to fill in:
Name. E-mail address. Small Group.

Sounds like a simple sign in. But that last column, it came as a punch in the gut. It’s so loaded for me. Because we’re not in a small group, and we long to be a part of one again like we used to be, but we can’t right now. Haven’t been able to for six years. Six years . . . And we feel the loss. We grieve it deeply, as I shared in Accepting the Sidelines.

I’ll spare you the details except to say that since my health crash, simple things have become monumental achievements for me, including going to church. In fact, at a dentist appointment last month, I needed the hygienist to help me simply walk down the hall. My body’s not what it used to be. And sadly, neither is our church involvement.

Seeing the list of every name with a small group home for their heart listed, I deliberated as to what to write. Nope, not N/A. And no, I didn’t want to leave it blank. So I wrote my honest answer just like everybody else did. Only mine looked quite different:
Can’t wait to be able to be a part of one again!

We continued to hear the hearts of the women from the panel, and attempted to make our way around the table to share our own stories. We listened, we encouraged, we, uh, accidentally started a fire when a piece of paper got too close to the tea light so our quick-on-her-feet table hostess quickly put it out while our table disrupted those around us with all our loud snickering from the corner of the room.

[Note: Peaceful picture above pre-pyromania]

It’s the stuff memories are made of. I only spent two hours with these women, but I felt as if we’d been hangin’ out together for a long, long time. There was just something about that table in the corner.

Shortly thereafter, the evening came to a close. And the sweetest table hostess you’ll ever meet offered me a brochure listing all our church’s small groups. Assuming she offered it in response to my sign-in comment, she was likely confused when I declined, but I told her I knew all the info was online, and that I had an invisible illness that limited me. Not always my favorite ice-breaker when meeting new people, but my strange reality is that it's not a lack of information that stands between me and a small group.

Amidst all the dismissal activity, a sweet new gal two seats down likely didn’t hear my response because she followed up by sharing which small group she’s a part of and how much she loves it. (The friend sitting between the two of us had been in that young marrieds group we led a while ago, so she was the only one at the table familiar with our family’s journey.) I turned to the new gal and replied,
“We LOVE small groups. But we don’t have one.
Because I have illness instead.”

I turned to my friend next to me, said how much we’ve missed it, and unexpectedly, the flood gates of tears opened and opened wide. And let me tell ya, they weren’t closin’ anytime soon.

A thoughtful invitation to be part of community unearthed my deep pain of not having been able to be a part of one for a long, long time. So there I sat, a sobbing mess in my friend’s arm while everybody got their coats on and exchanged pleasant good-byes.

This friend, she wasn’t intimidated by my pain. Her tender heart spoke words of comfort and words of hope into my hurting soul. The freedom she offered me to freely grieve was a rare gift. Thank You, God. For Your hands and feet through her.

Truth be told, amidst the pain, there was likely a heaping portion of pride in the mix as well. Because I wrestle constantly with thinking that my value is in what I do, rather than in Who He is in me. And that includes my part in the body of Christ. So since I’m not able to be involved in formalized ministry, I constantly battle voices that question my worth – because I’m not contributing. I may be a leg in the body of Christ, but I feel like a broken one that’s not doing its part. I get loving Jesus mixed up with performance so easily and so often.

And small groups that meet on Sunday mornings? Well I’ve been going to Sunday School since before I was born, so to have somebody “reach out to me,” well, my pride felt on the wrong end of that conversation. I’m used to being the reacher outer, not the one being reached out to. So I felt misunderstood. Because deep down, I wanted to be thought of more highly. I want to be perceived as the active, valuable member of the Body, not the uninvolved one who needs reaching out to. I guess not all that different from wanting to be one of the cool kids in school, huh?

It’s a humbling journey these nuances of chronic, invisible illness. Quite an awakening to all that lurks in the heart. And I wrestled with whether or not to even publicize this pain. Reliving the pain by getting it on paper made for another difficult day emotionally, and it left me asking, “What’s the point? Why not just talk about the good stuff? The joy?”
I was tempted, yet again, to stuff.

Then I went back and read the comments on Accepting the Sidelines. And I rediscovered several comments from folks saying I was describing their struggle, that they were facing the same pain. I remembered my mission here, and realized I needed to write it for them. For Tina, for Lizzy, for the rest of you who are facing the same painful isolation. This piece is for you – to remind you that there is somebody out there who truly understands. Who cares. And who feels your pain with you.
You are not alone, my fellow sojourners. You are not alone.

The other reason I struggled with whether or not to share this was because I’m concerned about the prospect of those sweet new friends stumbling across this piece and feeling badly when they have nothing to feel badly about, nothing they did wrong.

What those two precious souls don’t know is that the Lord has been lovingly leading me along a journey the past couple months as it relates to my pain on the sidelines of church. I’ve discovered that during this long journey, I’ve primarily been stuffing my pain the entire time with the intent of protecting my beloved church family. Or rather, protecting myself. Protecting myself from the relational temptations that can accompany pain. In other words, I love my church family far too much to open a door to a temptation to be bitter, and so I’ve pretty much closed the door to my feelings in that arena of life.

Not necessarily the best way to manage pain. So God’s giving me permission. Permission to acknowledge my pain in that context even though it doesn’t feel pretty or churchy or appropriate. The freedom to grieve our relational losses because I’m (finally!) learning that it’s healthier even to grieve than to stuff.

Our pastor reminded us just yesterday morning that Jesus has the authority to change our identity, and I believe that’s exactly what He’s doing in my emotional being these days. I believe He’s changing my identity from that of a stuffer to that of one who lets her heart feel, who lets her heart beat. Because even in the painful feelings like grief and loss, it’s in our allowing ourselves to feel that keeps our feelings alive, keeps our souls alive.

There's a strange sense of encouragement hidden in my grieving the other night. Evidence of emotional health and healing. That night, God offered me the opportunity to tell my heart to beat again.
With heavy tears, I said yes. 

Image complements of
Women of Providence Baptist Church

Monday, February 8, 2016

Defiant Joy

(or "I Wasn't Planning on Writing About my Senior Prom")

It’s how Bono described U2’s half-time performance at the Super Bowl just months after 9/11.
Defiant joy.

In other words, the collision of pain and celebration.
In fact, the conscious choice to instigate their collision.

It was a more-than-delicate commission. Providing “entertainment” in one of the most widely-watched TV events of the year after the heart of the nation had just been ripped apart.

As my husband and I were watching this look back on 50 years of super bowl halftime shows we happened upon, I was drawn to Bono’s notion of defiant joy. Of course I had to over-analyze it, too, namely because the good girl in me feels a bit uncomfortable with the word, defiant. Compliant has always been the style I’ve worn, although don’t worry. God’s starting to show me that it doesn’t suit my soul well.

And so the over-analyzing ensued:
hat's that mean, defiant joy?
What's it look like from a heart stand-point?
Who or what would I be defiant against amidst pain?
And is that okay?? . . .

I know in my head that joy and sorrow aren’t mutually exclusive, at least I have since my old pastor enlightened me several years ago. (Phenomenal message, by the way. Listen to it!) But I don’t do it well, the whole joy-while-grieving thing. I tend to eeyore my pain, at least internally. Not to mention it feels fake and contrived. Even dishonest because it’s not an accurate reflection of my feelings.

Many years ago, I had a very distinctive opportunity to make joy and pain collide – or not. During the spring of my senior year in high school, just a day or two before my Senior Prom, my Pop-pop passed away. His funeral? Prom Day.


That spring, I had accepted an invitation from my good friend to go to Prom with him. Yet my grandfather’s death left me feeling so torn inside. How could I put on my black dress of grieving only to come home, whip it off, and put on a party dress and dance the night away? In my pain, I was entirely averse to the prospect.

So I carried my pain into the stark high school cafeteria, found my friend, and told him what had happened. I think I asked if it would be all right with him if I didn’t go, but honestly, I don’t remember because sadly, I wasn’t really asking. I was just being polite. (Or so I thought at the time.) And in return for my self-absorption, my friend was incredibly gracious and sympathetic.

And you know, with as much as I still wrestle over this notion of inserting joy into the mix of sorrow, I wish I would have known one thing then that at least I DO know now.
That is, it’s not about me.

I wish I would have thought more about my friend when making that decision, rather than just selfishly thinking about my grieving. Because it’s not as if thinking beyond myself would have dismissed my grieving. If anything, it held potential for healing. It always does.

I’m embarrassed at how little I thought, at the time, of what it would be like to be in his shoes. How was my decision going to impact him? I made him miss his Senior Prom, for pete’s sakes. That’s not a loss he can recover. And I know, I know – it’s only high school, Tanya. We’re not talkin’ about the big rocks in life. I know that. Yet I also know that there are some pretty cherished memories I carry to this day from my high school years, back to my years at Laramie Jr. High, and all the way back to my elementary school years.  
Memories matter.

Ann describes this turn toward joy amidst life’s gut-wrenching pain as simply letting yourself be loved:
This swallowing the richness of living,
it comes in letting yourself be blessed.

Letting yourself be loved.

Of course that conveniently appeases the good girl in me because when you put it like that, it’s not so defiant, after all! Don’t get me wrong, though. I’m not lookin’ to continue appeasing her because she’s got a lot of growing up to do. That being said, our Father, the Creator and Embodiment of perfect parental love – at times, He accommodates. And even coddles. (Still shocks me.) So apparently, there’s grace enough for the good girl who still lingers.

Interestingly enough, a cousin of mine and I went to high school together. In fact, we were in the same grade. Which means, she faced the same choice I did when Pop-pop died: to go to Prom, or not go to Prom. My cousin chose differently and went to our Senior Prom that night. I was supportive of her decision, but for the life of me, I couldn’t get my 18-year-old brain around it. I couldn’t figure out how she was pulling that off.

You know, 20 plus years later, I still don’t have it figured out, but I think she was onto something. I think at 18 years old, she had a better feel for this Defiant Joy stuff than I do at 40-something. So I’ll keep scratching my head, I’ll keep asking the questions, I’ll likely keep over-analyzing, and I’ll hopefully let my hindsight serve me well along the way.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

When Trusting God Seems Foolish

Dare I admit that? That although I’ve walked with God for nearly 30 years and found Him to be consistently faithful, we’re facing circumstances where the gravity to which we’re having to trust Him has left this question whispering in my ear:
Are we being completely foolish to trust Him – THIS much?!? . . .

My prayers are outrageous. My trust feels irresponsible. 
And remember, I’m the responsible one. The older brother.

I read somewhere that faith is trusting God so much that if He didn’t come through, you’d fall flat on your face. Lately, we’ve been in a circumstantial free fall, and we see the ground merely inches away in time.

We’ve sought to be good stewards by checking all options to prevent destruction. Because we don’t want to be like the guy sitting on top of a roof in a flooded land watching boats go by and asking God why He didn’t rescue him. We’ve looked for the boats as we’ve simultaneously trusted Him. And our view from the rooftop shows we have no other choice but only to trust Him. (At which point I’ll add a little levity to say that you know you’re a mom of a 5th grader when you pray to the Lord with all sincerity of heart yet a little smirk on your face saying, “Help me, Lord. You’re my only hope.”)

I know what’s true. I take God at His word when He says that He’s able to do immeasurably more than anything I could ever ask, or even imagine. Yet when the usually-calm Red Sea is suddenly violently splashing at your legs and you can feel the sweat of the soldiers as their advance breathes down your neck, trusting God feels foolish.
If that’s where you are today, I want you to know you’re not alone.
And He can handle our raw honesty, friend. Our humanity. In fact, He welcomes it.

(Image above: Scene from ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’ 20th Century Fox)

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The God Who Coddles?

It all started with a blue shirt on Laurelford Lane. It was just a t-shirt, but I loved that t-shirt. It was that icy light blue color I can’t get enough of yet have such a hard time finding. The one that exudes life and elegance. It had a unique, square neck line, too. SO much more complimentary than the ol’ crew cut or v-neck. (Why, oh why, don’t they make square-neck t-shirts?)

Well, I couldn’t find my beloved t-shirt, and it was the choice shirt for the occasion. A casual occasion, but an important one, nonetheless. Maybe friends visiting from out of town, I don’t remember. But I know I needed it. And I couldn’t find it. Let the fretting begin. 

So I did something that felt a little funny at the time. I prayed about it. I asked God if He would help me find my cherished shirt. But I felt a little silly praying about it. Because it was just a silly t-shirt, after all. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t anything that mattered. It was a big deal to me, but I knew it wasn’t a big deal to God. Just a first-world problem.

But God said yes. 
Yes to my silly t-shirt. 
Yes to my first-world problem. 

I was pretty taken back because admittedly, I wasn’t expecting Him to say yes. The whole left side of my brain had the case for no all laid out, and I trust the left side of my brain. It’s a good friend to me, you know. But God didn’t follow my logic. In fact, it kinda felt like He broke the rules. You know, the ones we good girls put in place.

Well, it wasn’t long before it happened again. Another t-shirt (because I’m just a t-shirt and jeans kinda girl). This time a black, kinda sassy, one. Again, the shirt for the occasion. And all my searching was just an exercise in banging my head against the wall.

I thought,

Do I ask Him again? 

Can I really ask the same thing twice? Especially when He said yes last time? 
Is this just calling upon Him as a genie in a bottle? I mean, it’s just stuff. 

Despite all my efforts to talk myself out of it, I held my breath and asked again. Pretty sure I added all kinds of disclaimers this time –

It’s okay if not, God.
I’ll trust that You’ve got something better in mind if I don’t find it. (Or at least I’ll try to.)
Really, Your will be done. 

A self-protecting girl’s gotta protect herself from disappointment after all, right?

Except that I found the black shirt. 
He said yes again.
I shook my head in wonder.

That was about eight years ago when I took those risks by asking God to help me find something that clearly had no bearing on eternity. And it was just the beginning.

For the past eight years, I have regularly asked God to help me find things. I’m talkin’ – multiple times a day. It’s pretty much how He and I hang out. Today it was a pair of shoes and a receipt. The other day, it was important notes I’d jotted down on an envelope during a phone call with a nurse. I’m in a season of life that’s largely characterized by survival, so I can’t find things. Regularly. And regularly, He has said yes.

And every time, I think,

Are you kidding me, God? 

Yes – again? . . . 

Today, I wanted to wear my chunky-sole shoes because I was going for a walk and wanted good support. Well one quick unsuccessful glance and I didn’t even get the words out of my brain before the shoes were right before my eyes. That immediate, before-I-could-even-spit-the-words-out response from Him felt so excessive, it was uncomfortable. Uncomfortable to receive.

So with a heart of resistance, I asked Him,

Why do You keep accommodating me? 

Because I love you.

But what about the hard side of love? 

I know you know the hard side of love.

I laced up my black semi-platform shoes, still bewildered, if not thrown by the excess. And as I grabbed my coat, I finished with,

What if others found out out?
What if others were to find out how accommodating You’ve been? 

Especially parents!! What would THEY think of You as a Parent? 

He didn’t respond. I have a pretty good hunch He’s not concerned.

My friends,
God is not this scary, impersonal being without a heart. He's your tender, compassionate Father who loves you, cares about your needs, and abounds in grace after grace after grace. Don't let yourself forget that today.

- to treat in an indulgent or overprotective way
- to treat (someone) with too much care or kindness

I have more discoveries on this whole accommodating experience with God that frankly feels like coddling, but we'll have to come back to that another time.

In the meantime, thoughts?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Legend of Deer Hollow

A Tale of Crisis and Community,
Friendship and Faith

Once upon a time, there was a family of deer who lived in a cozy nook of an inviting forest. A daddy buck, a mama doe, and a precious little fawn. They made their home in the small hollow, just up the hill from the creek and the crawfish where the evergreens meet the hardwoods and the honeysuckle.
The friendliest creatures encircled them all around.

One morning, before the days of little fawn, a couple of friendly butterflies flew into their path, and the deer were immediately drawn to their vibrant beauty. The deer and the butterflies quickly became good friends, and went on little adventures together – through the forest, to the ocean, and up the smoky blue mountain.
They shared a fondness for the beautiful world around them, wanting always to partake in the daily divine.

Together, they sang, they laughed, they dreamed.

Then one day, the Creator beckoned the butterflies to fly to the far side of the land and make their home on the other ocean. The deer were very sad about the butterflies’ departure from the forest, but they knew their Creator’s plans were always good, so they trusted Him as their companions flew away.
They knew this wouldn’t be the end of their story together.

Many seasons passed while the animal friends were apart, yet there were summers of sweet reunions and across-the-miles winter celebrations when vivid crocuses burst forth with songs of new life. All the while, their friendship remained a bridge between the oceans.

One autumn day as red and yellow fell to the ground, the mama doe felt herself falling as well. She became terribly weak, laying day after day on a small bed of brittle leaves as the crisp autumn breeze turned cold winter chill.

Forest neighbors gathered round day and night, offering strength, support, and compassion to the family of deer. Other creatures from around the forest and even from afar heard their cries and also came to offer kindness and generous spirits of service.
And a symphony of psalm rose to Heaven every time.  

Since the fall, the doe had to lean hard on the buck. And though he grew tired and weary, the buck never lost his footing, despite the deep muck that overtook their land from all the rainy days. 

The deer were broken. Their landscape had changed. 

In time, the doe was able to stand again, and walk, but her gait was never quite the same. And she wrestled constantly between the strength of her heart’s desires and the weakness of her body’s reality. She grieved the impact that autumn day left on her family’s landscape. All the loss in its wake. Because she’d always longed to leave the forest a more glorious place. At least their little hollow. 

She longed to be a strong doe and do all the things other mama deer do. To run freely with her fawn through the lush green, explore curious with him around every bend, show him all the wonders of the big world beyond their little forest, teach him how to dance freely with the Creator and breathe deeply of His grace.
Instead, she was working hard just to walk.
Just to survive.

Her world has felt painfully small.

And their family was no longer able to pilgrimage to the far side of the land to visit their old friends. Yet their flighted friends continued to come to them. Always flying in with life, laughter, love on their wings.

One spring afternoon, the butterfly brought the doe a gift only the soul could see. The rarest kind. It unearthed a healing flood the doe could not hold back. So she leaned on the butterfly, unwrapped her pain, and laid it bare on the floor. The butterfly felt the full weight of her friend’s pain, and spread her wings wide around her. Holding her tight as the storm raged on.
Tears of hurt. Tears of healing.
Holy ground saturated with the sacred.
Since that life-altering September 16th day [yes, four years ago to the day], some things have changed for the deer. And a lot hasn’t.

Several of the friendly creatures that encircled them in the hollow have made their home in a new part of the forest. And so have they. The little fawn, he’s not so little any more. And the butterflies, they’ve faced some harsh winds of their own.

The strong buck remains with hooves firmly planted in the deep, deep muck. And the doe continues to wrestle hard between her desires and her reality.
The storms rage hard every day.

However, one thing also remains.
The sufficiency of His grace.

The grace to take the next step – when the last one was all I had in me.
The grace to ask for help. Yet again. Despite fearing that I wore out my needy welcome long, long ago.
The grace to trustwhen I don’t even know what that looks like anymore.

So “my flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” ¹

“Therefore we do not lose heart.
[Well. Many days we do. But it’s not the state of heart that characterizes us.
Because] though outwardly we are wasting away,
yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” ²

For one thousand four hundred and sixty one days, He has said to me,
“My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.” ³

And one thousand four hundred and sixty one days later, I remain resolved that

“Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses,
so that Christ's power may rest on me." ³

~ ~ ~
This piece is dedicated to everyone who has helped our family stand (or walk. or crawl.) over the past four years. Upholding us with your faithful prayers, your steady streams of encouragement, and your selfless acts of service. Through you, we have beheld the glory of God.

It is ESPECIALLY dedicated to the remarkable families of Deer Hollow Court.
In Wake Forest.
Your unprecedented legacy will forever live on in our family’s story.

(Hey before you go, I think you'll also enjoy reading My Tomato Plant Story, & Surviving the Traumas of Life. But first, would you do me the honor of leaving a little comment below to let me know you stopped by? It makes my day whenever I hear your voice!)

1: Ps 73:26
2: 2 Cor. 4:16
3: 2 Corinthians 12:9

Saturday, August 9, 2014

For When Your World Feels Painfully Small

He’s invited me to several reading parties at bedtime this summer. Usually when my husband’s out of town and it’s just the two of us. The book I carry into his bedroom is about discovering the wonders of God in the moment, especially the ones masked in the mundane.

As I’m reading with highlighter in hand, always in hand, I turn sentence into sunshine. No longer blending in with the mosaic of words, but shining right off the page.

She talks about her aunt, the one who traveled the world, “wandering the streets of the foreign and unusual.”* And the time she came and induced a tiny toddler’s squeals of laughter simply by rolling a red plastic ball.

“I will never forget your daughter’s wild joy in that ball – a happiness like I have never seen in all my travels through all these years.
And in the simplest of experiences . . .”* 

With my son’s legs sprawled over mine, I continue to read, continue to highlight, as Ann beckons me to open my eyes to see and unwrap the gift of the moment. The joy of the here and now.

And that example, that story of the well-traveled aunt, it speaks to me. Because I wrestle over our family’s world – it’s become painfully small. While others make plans for ocean views and starry summer nights, I hope to feel well enough take him to the library around the corner. I give thanks that he deems it a treasure, yet I ache when –
well, when I compare

But that aunt in the book just told me that in all her travels around this big world, she’d never seen the wild joy that she’d seen that day.
In a home. 
Doing something incredibly simple.

I sense a subtle tug to let what I’m reading seep into the moment. Because as I read, I’m in one of those moments. One of his last days he’ll ever live the simplicity of a single digit.

My awareness begins to wake up, and I capture his closeness. Side by side our legs dangling off the bed and books propped in hand, his little feet begin to nuzzle their way into my sandals. My loose sandals, my ever-present nagging reminders of sickness and weight loss, become divine dwelling.
My proclaimers of loss turn place of prosperity. 

With noses buried in books, neither one let on, but we both know it’s going to happen.
The sandal falls to the floor.
The joy rises to the moment. 

Sweet moments like these usually garner polite smiles from this weak and weary mom. But no, not this time. This time, I was primed for more. Primed for joy. This time, when he whips his head around with head-back, mouth-open laughter, I join in.
This time, I am a part of the moment, not an outskirt observer of it. 

In unusual playfulness, I kick off the other sandal.

And then, I am humbled. Because my son, my tender son . . .
He climbs off the bed,
Crouches down low on the floor,
And with gentle little hands, starts to put my sandals back on my feet.
Oh, how this boy has seen servanthood at its finest in our little world. It's shaping his soul – in ways no trip around the world ever could. 

Maybe our world hasn’t gotten smaller, after all . . .

But bigger.

I graciously tell him I’d rather leave them off.
The better to snuggle with. 

Well no doubt about it I was making a fashion statement that day with my hospital-white circulation socks. My elastic crutches that hold me up and help me stand. Picture black capris, white stockings, black sandals. Give me an eye patch and I’m half way to pirate. But a girl does what a girl’s gotta do, you know. At least around the house.

So before climbing back onto the bed, he examines the circular openings on the soles of my socks, wonders why they’re there, answers his own question – so my feet can breathe. Yes, the soles are indeed designed with a need to breathe.
The souls are also designed with a need to breathe.

I turn my head to look at the clock. 8:50pm on the dot. The exact time I said we’d be done reading. With a glimmer of glorious rule-breaking rebellion in my eye, I ignore it. Oh yes I sure did.

Minutes later, he mentions the time, but wants to read Chapter Three and shows me it isn’t very long. This boy, he knows his mama. He knows I don’t throw my yeses wild to the wind.
Tonight, I say yes. 

His voice and arm gesture proclaim a hearty YES as if I had just handed him the moon. As he gets comfortable on the small of my back, I hear cicadas out the window and highlight:
“But the irony:
Don’t I often desperately want to wriggle free of the confines of a small life?
Yet when I stand before immensity that heightens my smallness – I have never felt sadness. Only burgeoning wonder . . . all wonder and worship can only grow out of smallness.”*
With his Chapter Three adventure complete, I point out the chorus of cicadas, tell him they’re singing him a lullaby. He smiles, and pauses to hear their song.

We close our eyes to pray, and I pray differently tonight.

I thank Him for the chorus of cicadas, 

for holes in circulation socks, 
for sandals falling, 
For feet! he says. 
Yes, Lord, for feet. 

For kind ladies at two separate bakeries who each offered my soon-to-be birthday boy a special treat this afternoon, 

for the breath of life, 
the miracles that surround us. 
I pray for friends and family. 
The sick, the grieving, the ones in harm’s way.

Open our eyes and open our ears, Lord,
to see and hear the miracles that surround us every day. 

As soon as I amen, he asks what I read. Apparently, he heard a changed prayer, too. With pleasure, I share with him truth and grace, simple and profound.

“The holy grail of joy is not in some exotic location or some emotional mountain peak experience. The joy wonder could be here! Here, in the messy, piercing ache of now, joy might be – unbelievably – possible!
The only place we need to see before we die is this place of seeing God, here and now.
~ Ann Voskamp

And so, on an ordinary August night, my son's bedroom became holy ground.
A simple summer reading date turned vehicle to the Sacred.
The goodness of God set loose through a pair of ordinary sandals.
Together, our hearts traveled where no footsteps of ours ever could.
In the grandeur of the small.

"Take off your sandals,
for the place where you are standing is holy ground."

 ~ Exodus 3:5

* Excerpt from One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully by Ann Voskamp 
Image courtesy of Tim Pirfalt
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