New Heart Day: Incision

Incision.

That was the word I choked on as I tried to repeat the anesthesiologist's telephone report to my husband. It's a ridiculous word, one we don't usually use, one you're certainly not supposed to hear applied to your child. He'd called and asked me to repeat Josiah's birthdate to confirm my identity, and then calmly said, "The first incision was made at 10:01. Your next update is scheduled for 11:30." As if that were a normal thing to say, and the earth hadn't just stopped under my feet; as if I could breathe in a hospital cafeteria while my baby was cut open down the hall.

We'd all done well that morning; a 5:20 alarm urging us out of bed, packing bags, brushing teeth, letting the dog out.

It was the first day in a week that we'd had rain, and I nodded at the sympathetic sky.

In effort to avoid falling apart in a waiting room filled with curious eyes, we'd gathered to talk and pray and cry a bit in our own quiet living room before making the drive to Vanderbilt and starting the routine: Leave the car with the valet. Sign in. Repeat the birthdate a zillion times. Put on bracelets with his name on them. Wait to be called in, handed a hospital gown (he calls his dad from the bathroom to say, "how *does* this thing go on, anyway?"), then get in a bed and wait some more.

The staff was amazing. They asked Josiah about his plans for the fall and he said, "Africa. I'm going to Africa on a mission trip." We kept things light, and were all laughing as they rolled him away toward surgery at 8:30, already loopy on medication just starting to kick in.

My plan to get the crying part over at home had worked well, I thought.

Until that 10:02 call.

Remember what Simeon said to Mary, when she came to present the infant Jesus at the temple?

"And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed—and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." Luke 2:34-35

It is a great and grave thing to be a mother. I'd wondered if it might be like this; if I might feel the blade from the waiting room. I'd been taught these words of Simeon were a foreshadowing of the future; a warning to Mary of the pain she would go through at watching the crucifixion of Jesus. Now I believe it was more.

Now, especially, I think Mary, watching, felt in her soul the sword that pierced Christ's side as only a mother could.

It felt like a weight, an elephant, a pain in my chest unable to be resisted, forcing tears to the surface.

For the rest of the day, the calls came every hour and a half.

11:30 "Everything's going well. We're going on bypass now."

Ah yes. Now his heart has stopped beating; now blood is being pumped out of his body and chilled and sent back through the system but skipping the heart so that this amazing work can be done through a six inch incision.

I finger their names around my neck.

We try to eat lunch with minimal success, move from one room to another, waiting.

1:00 "We're getting to the nitty-gritty of the surgery now; the homograft is thawing and the doctor is preparing to sew it in."

His broken aortic valve is removed and set aside for research; his pulmonary valve is removed and then sewn in place of the aortic valve, and now, whose loss has been miraculously changed into gain on our behalf?

2:30 "Things are good, but when we went off bypass, we saw a slight leak so we had to go back onto bypass to repair it."

This should have been the call that the process was over. Instead we learn they've done this crazy thing of stopping and restarting his heart, not once, but twice, and it wasn't perfect, yet. I frown til the next call comes.

4:00 "Things look good. We're closing up now, and the doctor will come out and talk to you when he's done."

I breathe more deeply than I have in the past eight hours. The exhausted doctor meets us in the waiting room to report a job well finished; the leaks repaired, valves in place and an expected full recovery. He puts his hand out, and I hug him instead.

There is more waiting ahead; it's three hours before he's finally settled in his room in intensive care. I tell Rob I'm nervous, he says he's only excited, then proceeds to almost faint when we walk in the room and are confronted with tubes and wires and an IV pole that looks like it could power all of Nashville. There's something here for every function of his body, it seems, while it learns to live again.

Three hours later, twelve after the call that turned me into a poor copy of the sky, my baby returned to the world, opened his eyes.

They were watery, blinking, having a difficult time focusing under all the bright lights--just as they'd been as I watched them open seventeen years before. This time, they were beautifully deep brown rather than murky baby blue. It was like he'd come back to life, come back to us, and when I put my hand on his he moved his thumb over mine and squeezed. It was 10:02 pm, Wednesday, May 24th, 2017, and one of the best moments of my life.

The incision was closed.

This One with the Broken Heart

He first broke apart right under my heart, this one with the broken heart.

And there was nothing I could do about it.

We mamas, we are made to shelter. Our babes make their first homes in us before we are even aware, the date on the calendar known only to the One who wrote it in His own before the earth's first turn. Once they are not, and then the next moment they are, an invisible dot full of concentrated, particular potential. And then the dot expands, and each child grows, pushing organs aside and enlarging our ribs and causing our own hearts to expand in return, the blood pounding heavier in our very veins.

But first the breaking.

As a mama, I'm wired to surround and protect. We spend lifetimes building foundations of love, shaping and crafting outer walls of security, layering on roofs of understanding. We want our children shielded from all that could harm, and we're determined to build that shelter out of our very selves.

Yet each person begins as this split right down the middle. All human life, then, is built of breaking. One combination, and then hundreds, thousands of splittings--millions and billions over time. Every scraped knee accelerates the process, every new thing learned, and it doesn't stop until we die. We grow, not because our cells enlarge, but because they break.

He was born in our little house on a cloudy Monday morning after hours of erratic, irregular labor. We'd called the midwife to our home and then sent her away once already the day before, sent the kids away to a friend's and brought them back home again as hours ticked by with no baby. Finally, there was no question the day had come, but after many hours of labor, he still hadn't. It took all my strength and a word from his daddy to finally free him from a tangled cord wrapped around his neck and chest, ten pounds and two ounces wedging shoulders in tight. I'm not sure who cried hardest when it was all over, but a few hours later we all realized it wasn't.

We'd wrapped him in a blanket, wondered at his size, his deep blue eyes. Passed him brother to brother and back to mama. He'd nursed and slept, and everything looked good ... except the thermometer. He wasn't holding his temperature, no matter how we wrapped and snuggled him. And when he cried, his color looked off to me. Finally, we headed to the hospital knowing something was wrong and we had no idea what.  I didn't cry then until my best friend from high school called as we got into a hospital elevator and asked if I was okay.

I wasn't.

They weren't quite sure what to do with us since he hadn't been born in the hospital, and when it was obvious to everyone I wasn't letting this baby out of my arms they finally tucked us into a children's room where I could climb into the bed, though he was the patient. Doctors flurried in and out looking at this and that, running this test and the next. Tests finally showed what was going on; the hole between the chambers of his heart had not yet closed. It happened occasionally, and they expected it would close on its own in the next day or two.

But there was something else on the ultrasound that we would have missed otherwise and maybe never known: he had a bicuspid aortic valve. Normally three leaflets, his was made up of two. It appeared to be functioning well, but the cardiologist explained that one day, it wouldn't. He couldn't tell us whether we'd be back in two weeks or fifty years, but at some point, that valve would give out. We'd need to monitor it weekly and then monthly for awhile so we'd know when the deterioration began and replace it before that giving out happened.

Two weeks after he was diagnosed, the valve currently in use as a replacement in newborns was recalled. Apparently, it had a tendency to stick shut. My own heart stumbled over the words. Because what do you do when the thing you've used to fix your baby's heart sticks right shut?

The hole closed on its own within the first 24 hours, we brought our perfect baby with the hidden broken home, and God and I began wrestling. What on earth was this about? Why was this happening? And what on earth was I supposed to do about it? Because if there was something to be done, I was going to do it. I was on a hunt for answers, and I wanted them now.

Most of the wrestling matches took place late at night and early in the mornings, coffee on the table and open Bible and often Josiah himself on my lap. The first clue came from a passage in Exodus chapter four. After being called to speak to go back to Egypt and plead with Pharaoh for the release of his people, Moses argues with the Lord about that calling ...

“Please, Lord, I’m not eloquent. I never was in the past nor am I now since you spoke to your servant. In fact, I talk too slowly and I have a speech impediment.” Then God asked him, “Who gives a person a mouth? Who makes him unable to speak, or deaf, or able to see, or blind, or lame? Is it not I, the Lord?"

I unraveled a little. Because I'd been looking for someone to blame.

What had happened? Was it the devil who had gotten in somehow and caused this problem? He'd certainly be the convenient one to pin the problem on.

But here in Exodus, God upset that idea. Right here He took ownership of the situation, reminding me that He was the One who had made Josiah. Which could mean only one thing ... this broken heart in my precious baby? He'd made it that way. 

Deep breath.

So Jesus said to the twelve, "You do not want to go away also, do you?"
Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life"  John 6:67-68

There was nowhere else to go, so we'd have to get through this together.

Somehow brought to my attention next came the story in John 9, where Jesus heals a man who was blind.

"His disciples asked Him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?'" Looks like I'm not the only one looking for a place to lay blame. Jesus replies... "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9:2-3).

All right; so God also would get glory somehow from this situation. That was a bit easier to get my head and heart around; light at the end of this tunnel. Every week we brought him in and the doctors stuck the monitors onto his little chest, passed the monitor over a baby ribcage throwing pictures onto the screen, and told us what we could see without them--Josiah was doing fine; this broken valve looking strange but functioning perfectly.

Finally, I went back and read the scriptures which had given our Josiah his name; the ones about Josiah the long-ago king of Israel. Their words described him like this: King Josiah “walked before the Lord with his whole heart.” That's what we wanted: I told the Lord that obviously, Josiah would have to HAVE a whole heart in order to walk before God with it, so that was what we would believe for.

And so we have. Eventually the visits were stretched to every two weeks, then once a month, and for many years we only made an annual trek to the hospital. His heart continued to work well without surgery, without medication, without any of the expected interventions.

Until about two years ago, when things began to change.

Fifteen years had gone by since we were first told a breakdown of the valve was inevitable, and one day he began to have some chest pain. Over the next few weeks and months, occasionally his heart would pound hard, and exercising could make him a bit light headed. We found his blood pressure had started to go up. Doctors frowned at the screens during his checkups, noting some leakage of the valve, a bit of bulging of the aorta itself. "Aortic insufficiency," they called it, and called for an MRI. Six months later, numbers showed progression of both issues, plus an enlarging left ventricle. Our recent move brings us to Tennessee, to Vanderbilt and a new doctor, and someday has finally become an actual date on the calendar.

We're not really ready. I wonder if it's possible to be prepared for such an unnatural thing?

How's a mama desperate to shelter supposed to wrap her mind around knowing her child is literally being built of a zillion tiny breakings she can't even see?

My baby towers over me now, and confides that he's anxious mostly to have it over with, and I can relate to that. To have had this hanging over his head for many years has been a weight I understand only from a distance.

And so the unimaginable imagined is about to happen. We'll report for pre-op on Tuesday morning, May 23rd, and I suppose they'll tell us then all the details we've heard from far away and tried not to pay too much attention to. We're still watching for a creative miracle as I know God is capable of showing off. However, if that's not the story God's writing here, surgery is expected to be an all-day affair May 24th, with two or three days in ICU and a few more on the cardiac floor to follow, probably a week total, before they send us home for several weeks of quiet recovery.

I still wonder if I'll feel the blade from the waiting room.

"It's not that your heart isn't going to break; it's how you let the brokenness be made into abundance afterward." ~Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way

And so, we wait a couple weeks to be broken and remade. The calendar is thankfully full of events competing for our attention; we've had graduation and there's a dance recital for his sister this weekend, and then we'll all escape to Florida to dip toes in the sand and splash in the ocean, squeezing in a week of vacation and one last bit of hyper fun at the cusp of summer so we don't lose all of the season to recovery. 

If you think of us, we would certainly appreciate your prayers. And if you see me, you might remind this mama to breathe. And to keep watching for the glory I know must be coming.

"God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?" Numbers 23:19
 

Pray that our Josiah comes out of this experience with a truly whole heart. And that my own would expand in the breaking.

 

What's in Your Hand this Easter week?

The Story is loud this week.

You can't really escape it, and no one bothers denying that Jesus Christ of Nazareth was crucified one Passover some 2,000 years ago.

The only thing in question is, will you wave a palm frond or a hammer?

If you turn your nose up at Him; turn away to yourself, your intellect, your addiction, whatever "god" you've made for yourself-- be assured, we all worship something-- the hammer's in your hand. The problem is, you may have killed Him but you leave yourself still in need of saving, because nothing and no one else can ever do the trick. The responsibility and guilt for all your flaws and failings remains on your shoulders.

It's no wonder so many of us are tired.

This Easter season, would you consider again the story of Jesus? Would you ponder the stories you heard as a child, the stories that have compelled millions to find shelter in His sacrifice, the normal people turned saints through no good works of their own, who have been freed from the unbearable weight of sin and guilt and the desperate loneliness of thinking themselves some individual cosmic mistake?

Would you look deep into the life of this Christ who weeps, and find yourself there; Him longing to bring you home?

Beauty from Ugliness

At the end of last year, this meme was going around. 

Last year seemed to be more than a little rough for most people I talked to.  There were lots of people with cancer diagnoses and other sicknesses, some marriages and other relationships crumbled, celebrities (and loved ones) died, and let’s not even mention the political season.

As we entered 2017, so many people around me breathed a sigh of relief to be starting fresh in a new year. Sadly, depending on who you ask, 2017 hasn’t shown much improvement so far. This New Year was born screaming -  and appears to be colicky. What if this year is no better than the last? What if it’s worse? How much of this can I take?

Tired of my griping, I sat with a friend of mine and nearly wailed, “I don’t want to be so negative!  How can I be joyful when there’s so much ugliness and grief?” And my friend very gently said, “You have to go search for it!” And, she’s so right!

We used to say we live in a fallen world with only a slight shrug. Now, it seems, we say it with the same resignation as a cancer diagnosis. Ever since the first sin, this world is bent towards pain, ugliness, and destruction. Maybe we’re just becoming more aware of that ugliness. But as those who belong to God, our focus doesn’t need to be so downcast. We look towards Christ who conquered the world; and not just the ancient world, but every desperate hopeless point in history from then through now and on to when He comes again. We need to keep our focus on Him and not on the world. How can we do that when things seem so bleak? This is what Paul said that we should do: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Phil. 4:8)

Let’s think about times when God turned ugly situations into something beautiful. When the sin on earth became so bad that God decided to send a flood to wipe out the majority of mankind, it was a beautiful rainbow that He chose to show Noah and his family to remind them of His promise. When mothers go through the pain of bringing life into this world, they have the sweetness of a baby at the end of their very literal labors. We’re constantly told that things will be hard for us here, but at the end there will be rest. (And to this mama, rest is a beautiful, beautiful thing.)

Since we will go through trials and troubles, is it okay to be upset? I think so.  Jesus Himself got distressed, but He remained focused on the Father. But the Bible says to “take every thought captive to be obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5) This isn’t a command for God, but for US. God desires that we not be burdened by things here on earth, and focusing on the negative, ugliness of this world takes away from the salvation that God has already given us.

So, give yourself time – A few minutes?  A few days? A year? --every situation is different--to feel the pain of a situation.  But be sure to turn these thoughts back to God, who is always ready to turn our mourning into dancing. (Psalm 30:11) There may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning. (Psalm 30:5)  But joy doesn’t come while we cross our arms at it and scowl, daring it to be as bad as the night before. 

Regardless of the circumstances, we are called to see and to be the beauty in them. Either the beauty of gratitude, the beauty of being a blessing, or the beauty that God will bring out of the situation.

How might reminding yourself that beauty is coming change your own bad days?

Different

She cried when she told the story, and we listeners, we cried, too. She'd had a discussion with her sweet preteen son, who struggled with learning differences, and what he'd said cracked hearts wide open around the room ...

"Mama, it's hard when I'm with other kids.  I never say the right thing, and I'm not sure anyone likes me. I'm so glad you listen to me and know me.  Really, you're my best friend."

Could there be a greater compliment?

They're a mystery sometimes, these bundles of joy who so quickly wriggle out of their wraps and take off running into the sunset.  Each child is a complex combination of talents, personality, learning strengths and weaknesses, interests, preferences ... the list goes on and on. Each is singular, unique, different.

Some seem more different than others.

Those of us raising children who struggle with particular brands of outside-the-box-ness so often feel alone. We know mental illnesses exist, and yet they still tend to carry a bit of a stigma, as if a diagnosis implies we've done something wrong, somehow.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sally Clarkson writes, "I did not have all the resources available now to understand his (Nathan's) differences. I mostly had a lot of critics who made me feel like a failure as a mom."

Sally and Nathan Clarkson know this fight from the inside--the fight to not only define but embrace differences; to find the help necessary to tame the harsh edges that so often cut on both sides, to encourage rather than give up in frustration as a parent trying to train a child in the way he should go.  This book is a window into their own struggle, and also an invitation to enter into our own more fully.

After years of studying Nathan, listening to him, finding ways to reach his precious heart, they finally had their list of letters--OCD, ADHD, ODD, plus a handful of learning issues and of course his own personality!  But every person is, of course, much more than a list of letters. Sally writes,

"Our boy was not a diagnosis.  Not a problem to be solved nor a disorder to be fixed. He was a child to be guided and trained and gloried in. And Nathan's differences--yes, even the ones which sometimes exasperated him and us--were, like Nathan himself, also part of the gift he is to the world and to us." 

If you're the parent of an outside-the-box child, the wife of an outside-the-box husband, a friend to another mama who's parenting an outside-the-box son or daughter--or even if the outside-the-box one is the face looking back at you from the mirror--I believe this book will bring insight, encouragement, and inspiration. Find it at www.thedifferentbook.com .

Choosing to See

I will NEVER, as long as I draw breath, forget the feeling that hit me like a two-ton elephant sitting on my chest and sucking every bit of air from my lungs the day the sonographer looked at my eyes and solemnly confirmed my already anxious suspicions; “There is no heartbeat, sweet heart.”  Hopes, dreams and expectations were incinerated in one second and I felt a breaking in my soul.  The storm was upon me, and all the spiritual muscle and faith I thought I had was put to an ultimate test that I began to lose rather quickly. 

After five years of infertility, I had given up the hope of having another baby, and I threw myself into homeschooling and raising and loving well the three awesome kiddos I was already blessed with.  I never could quite shake the feeling that our family was incomplete, but I tried to give it to the Lord and set about my days with purpose and joy.  After a successful year of adhering to a healthy eating plan and losing a little bit of weight, however, I was pleasantly surprised and overjoyed to discover I was expecting!  Joy quickly gave way to insecurity, and I was plagued with unexplainable fear, worry, and anxiety my entire first trimester.  I had never fought this before, and there was no reason or explanation for why I would be feeling these anxieties this pregnancy.  I tried so hard to pray and cast all my cares upon the Lord, but the fear kept coming back with a vengeance.  And then, at 14 weeks, those anxieties turned into a reality there was no escape from.

I was sent home that awful Monday afternoon this past September with some decisions to make.  I was numb as we went through the motions of telling our children and family.  I was numb to everyone else's tears and hugs and "I’m sorry"s, enveloped in a blanket of sadness and depression that very quickly began to envelop and smother me.  It was almost a particular color; a color that filled my eyesight so that everything I saw filtered through it.  Instead of running to the Lord, my refuge, the One I’d professed I’d follow and worship no matter what so many years ago as a twelve-year-old girl, I pulled the blanket of my despair closer and tighter around myself.  

My husband, Chris and I decided finally to have a D&C, which the doctors scheduled for Wednesday morning.  On Tuesday I had to return for a final ultrasound, wanting to hold out hope that they had made a mistake somehow.  After getting back home that afternoon, I began having slight cramping.  In my exhaustion it didn't even occur to me that I could be going into labor, but within forty-five minutes of that initial tummy cramping, I found myself in the bathroom delivering my precious baby boy into my hands.  What followed was many hours of a traumatic miscarriage at the emergency room that left me quite literally empty, emotionally and physically.  Due to the amount of blood I had lost, I was required to stay in the hospital overnight.  At about 3 in the morning when my husband and I had finally been given a tiny, sterile, white little room to sleep in, I found myself wide awake, staring at the ceiling in the darkness.  My husband was beside me, trying to doze in a very uncomfortable plastic recliner.  I remember lying there, re-playing the events of the past hours. I tried to remember every detail of holding my tiny little baby in my hand.  He had appeared perfect in every way, and of course he had fit in the palm of my hand.  As fresh tears began go fall, I grabbed my now hollow-feeling tummy and wept.

"Where were you, God?"

This question screamed at me in deafening tones.

I am now fully convinced that God, in His grace, allowed me to deliver my sweet boy the way I did, rather than having the procedure we'd planned. For as I lay there in the dark, quiet, aloneness at the absolute end of myself, I was able to see through the fog and haze and realize a truth that ultimately set me free.  I woke my husband up, grabbing onto his hands as though for dear life, and through tears I admitted to him that I didn't want to be mad at God.  I wanted to trust Him!  It was a simple statement, but one that held such release for me that just saying the words made everything change inside my heart the moment I spoke them.  I had no flowery, perfect prayer in me.  I wasn't able to even process all the correct verses or hymns or prayers that could or should be said when one is surrendering everything to the Lord.  All I could sob out was this one, simple statement of truth: I want to trust You, God.

The anger and despair that had filled me was instantly lifted, and God showed up in that little hospital room and became strength for me.  All my anger and despair turned into genuine, healing mourning.  I began to feel His presence, and I began to feel held. I began to SEE Him. And a new level of intimacy and trust was reached. 

Have you had any of those ‘Where were you, God’ moments? 

Are you having them now?

Do the questions fall and soak tear-stained pillowcases night after night?  Do the words fall angrily off the tip of your tongue like they did off Mary and Martha’s,  “Lord, if you’d been here…”

"Where were you, God?"

His grace, if we allow it to, floods in and becomes every answer to every question we’ve every asked!  He has, and never will, leave our side.  His answer to our desperate "Where were you?"  is that He has filled us and surrounded us and enveloped us every second of every day since before the foundation of the world was laid out.  We must choose to see.

In Matthew 14, Jesus sent His disciples out into the boat and across the sea ahead of Him.  He gave them their orders.  He told them exactly where to go.  They were acting in obedience and walking in His will for their lives.  Yet, the winds still came against them.  The storm began to surge all around them.  On their way to a new shore, a new season, new opportunities and ministry and fresh ground to harvest, their vision became shattered and a storm became bigger than their mission and purpose.  The bible says as Jesus comes to them walking on the water, the disciples were terrified and thought He was a ghost!  They could not recognize their Savior, their Lord, the Master they'd walked with day after day!

And this blinding is what storms are so competent at doing.  The wind and sea-spray clouds our eyesight and blurs our vision, causing us to choke and sputter so our cries and praises become silenced.  We lose sight of the fact that the One in command of those very winds and waves is the One who walks on water to rescue us, time and time again.  The One who always comforts us and shows us greater wonders and miracles and signs than we'd ever see if life were always steady and calm and peaceful.  The disciples couldn’t recognize the miracle they were witnessing – Jesus walking on water towards them.

We must remember that in this life, we WILL have trouble.   We WILL face storms.  But the one who walks on water says He is greater than this world and that He NEVER leaves us or forsakes us.  When we long to never have a storm, we forget we're asking to miss the opportunity to see Him walking on water--or to walk on water with Him.

A dear friend recently told me something that sent my mind reeling:  she reminded me that when we worship in the midst of sorrow, tragedy, trial and difficulty, that is true worship and a type we will not be able to give to the Lord when we leave this life and go to eternity in heaven. How profound! I have the opportunity, but only while living here in this fallen world, to lift my hands to Heaven and cry out to the Lover of my soul when all hell is coming against me. I have the privilege to lift my dirty, tattered, weary, tear-stained soul to the Creator of the Universe who placed every single star in the heavens and offer up praise to Him when my heart is broken and my world is falling apart. To open my eyes and see Him walking on stormy seas towards me, breathing God-life into the broken, dead, shattered spaces that are being wrecked and ravaged by the wind and waves of my storms!

Where was He?

Where was He when you lost that job?  That opportunity?  That dream?  Your reputation?

Where was He when your heart broke from losing that dear loved one?

Where was He when the doctor delivered that life-changing news?

Where was He when the adoption fell through and the infertility doctor said there was nothing else they could do for you?

Where was He when your marriage fell apart?  When that wayward child began traveling paths not intended for them and breaking your heart?  When home became reduced to a broken mess of brick and timber?

The answer:  He was and is, ALWAYS and forever, right there with you.  He sees you!  We have to choose to see Him.

The moment I stopped asking God where He was, and instead asked Him to let me see Him where I knew He was--right next to me, right in the midst of losing my baby boy--a peace that passed all understanding invaded my heart and mind. Suddenly, I began to see Him everywhere.  There was still grief and longing and many tears, but pervading all of that there also a sense of lightness that I cannot explain!  I wasn’t enveloped in the suffocating darkness anymore; I was aware of being carried gently in His everlasting arms. 

I chose trust.  I chose worship.  I chose to see Jesus walking on the water in my storm. And He did.

I am praying you, too, will see some water-walking miracles this Christmas season, and that all your own "Where were you, God?" questions are answered with the fullness and assurance of His faithful and life giving presence.

Blessings,

Rebecca

To All the Mamas Carrying Christmas ...

I was probably a few years into being a mom when I first realized it: the change that had come to my Christmas.

I’ve always loved Christmas.  Loved the lights on the tree, the beautiful songs, candlelight, gifts, snow and cookies and surprises and glitter and just … the whole shebang.  Nearly every year, we made the trek over the river and through the woods (well, I think there might have been a river, anyway) to both of my grandmothers’ houses, heading to Christmas Eve services where every year I cried my way through at least the last three verses of Silent Night as the flame and scent of drippy wax being passed from candle to candle slowly made its way down each pew, finally to the one clutched tightly in my own little hands, and I wondered at both the glory of holding my own burning flame and the sheer beauty of the story of Jesus’ coming, each sinking deep into my childish heart.  We’d trek the few blocks home then, boots crunching through snow, walking carefully to make the flame last as long as we could, not willing to let the flame go away.

The next day at my other grandparents’ house, snowy footprints across the carpet announced Santa’s surreptitious visit, and presents piled under the tree were gleefully unwrapped much too quickly, I’m sure.  It took at least the whole day to work our way through playtime with each gift, and then we’d sit down to a table glittering with china and snowy napkins and piles of food.

All in all, it was a wonder; just how Christmas should be, to my childish mind.

Then came my own children, stockings lining up every year like we lived in Who-ville or something.  And Christmas?  Well, it was different, somehow.

Christmas used to be something that happened to me.

Now, it was something I needed to make happen … or happen, it would not.

The beautiful lady on the donkey, heavy with Child? Probably should have been a tip-off.

The pretty tree?  Yummy food?  Candles burning bright?  Hand crafted decorations?  They didn’t just appear out of nowhere, some Christmas miracle.  No, if Christmas was to come, it would come because I worked to make it come.

For the wonder and beauty to come to our homes, a mama must carry the weight of Christmas.

Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the descendants of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming in, he said to her, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was very perplexed at this statement, and kept pondering what kind of salutation this was. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy Child shall be called the Son of God. And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; may it be done to me according to your word.”

Luke 1:26-38

My husband doesn’t spend November-December in a dither over how to get gifts to the cousins in Texas.  He doesn’t labor over whether we should decorate in red or gold, or try to figure out which stationery to use for the Christmas cards, and most likely, your husband doesn’t, either.  No, those are things we, the mamas, will ponder this season, an unseen army bringing Christmas again, these multiplied centuries after Mary first carried her precious Burden over the rough roads to Bethlehem.

The cinnamon rolls, the delightful tree, the Advent stories read and loved, the very memories your children carry into their own adulthood? You.

You are the bearer of your family’s Christmas, sweet mama. And you’re in good company.

So rejoice!  You’re not alone, you’re not the first, and you won’t be the last.  Embrace the gift of being the bringer of Christmas in your own precious home.

The truth is, when we embrace this season as a glorious weight, but reject it as an oppressive burden, we can lay down the heaviness of it and pick up the glory.  Your children won’t remember how perfectly decorated your tree was, and they won’t recall which stationery you finally picked out.  They will remember the wonder, the joy, the beauty of it all.  And when the weight falls heavy, remember the point–Jesus has come!  This is a celebration for you to share and enjoy, a season of remembering all He has done.  If you’ve picked up the weight of comparing your Christmas to someone else’s, if you’re worrying over your child’s long list of wants and your short list of wrapped gifts, if the cinnamon rolls came from the bakery instead of the oven … let it go!

Glory in the beauty and enjoy every moment as the gift it is.  And if I see you in the store, balancing cranky babies and a twenty-pound turkey, I’ll smile and you’ll see it in my eyes:  Carry on, fellow Christmas-bearer!

In what ways do you find the weight of Christmas heavy?  How can you lay the burden of it all down this year?

Of Words, Brokenness, Thanksgiving, and Jehovah-Jireh

I run into her as I turn tail and head for a quiet corner, me a guest so grateful to be invited to this space where I know only my hosts and they within community have many relationships to warm themselves by, anxious to be out of the way and breathe a bit, this introvert wishing for the superhero trick of invisibility once again.  Lanier Ivester is as lovely as her unique name portends, and when we find ourselves face to face in the theatre aisle which is my only path to a quiet corner she says hello, graciously inviting me into this circle which belongs to her, too, though I don't know it yet and hadn't heard of her work before (so grateful I have, now--find Lanier here).  We circle, trading bits of our stories and selves, and looking back it's easy to see what we're doing, this dance old as the hills in my imagination, taking turns revealing ourselves, trying to see if any of our pieces match: we learn we are both writers; she tends goats and chickens on a farm and I miss the ones we had years ago; we both love England, though she from actual memory and I from afar.  Somehow the conversation turns to the difficulties found in writing, or not writing, or wrestling words to the page or whatever it is we call this thing we do (or more often, don't do) and suddenly I am telling secrets, things I hadn't even said to myself though I'd pondered them many times.

I tell her how I love words but they feel scarce to me; how so many race through my mind in a day I seldom find time to catch and write them down and yet I'm sure there must be a limit to them somehow.   Deep down I'm afraid there's no way I have more than a few good stories to share, a few good ideas happened upon, a few things to say worth anyone's time to read, that there's a quota and I'll quickly reach the end of mine.  So perhaps the truth is that it's not merely a matter of all the *things* in the way of me actually writing--not just the kids and laundry and cooking begging doing--maybe I'm guarding my words jealously, hoarding ideas, afraid I'll be poorer for the pouring.  She smiles and nods. I'm not alone, its seems, and I'm grateful as I walk away thinking I've found a new soul- friend.

Our church congregation took communion this past Sunday as we do every week, and as I stood in the crowd sharing this deep remembering and looking forward to Thanksgiving, the words washed over me again ... "While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.  “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them (Mark 14:22-24). And the place Paul looks back and instructs the church ... "the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;  and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes." (1 Cor. 11:23-26). Do this in remembrance of Me ... whenever you eat this bread and drink the cup.  When I read these words I can't help but believe that He was commanding more than ten minutes during a formal church service. The disciples, after all, were gathered in a candlelit upper room, feet freshly washed, reclining before a table laden with food, as they had done many other nights and would do many more nights in the future.  "Whenever you eat this bread."  How often do we eat bread? To me this statement expresses Jesus' intention for us that every meal is to be a reminder.  Not just the nibble and sip at church, but every. single. time.  Every time we gather to be nourished around a table, we are to remember.

Because we are prone to forget.

Ann Voskamp's new book, The Broken Way, reminds us of what happened in that room.  Jesus gave thanks, and then He broke the bread so He could pass the pieces around. She reminds us that brokenness is an imperative step in the process--His as well as ours; that brokenness is the common thread of the human condition and if embraced and entered into wholeheartedly, a key to the healing of our world--just as Jesus intended. This passage left me undone ...

"In His last hours, in His abandonment, Jesus doesn't look for comfort or try to shield Himself against the rejection; He breaks the temptation to self-protect--and gives the vulnerability of Himself.  In the sharp edge of grief, Jesus doesn't look for something to fill the broken and alone places; He takes and gives thanks--and then does the most counter-cultural thing: He doesn't keep or hoard or hold on--but breaks and gives away. In the midst of intimate betrayal, He doesn't defend or drown Himself in addicting distractions; He breaks and is given--He gives His life. Because what else is life-giving?"

He doesn't keep or hoard or hold on--but breaks and gives away. There's a lesson in there for me.

A lesson for all of us, perhaps, this Thanksgiving, as we gather around tables nationwide, with family and friends and neighbors who are themselves broken because they are human, who have perhaps broken us for the same reason ... to have the best and truest Thanksgiving doesn't require the best hospitality, the best china, the best recipes, the best decor, but a willingness to break open and give.  Because this is how we remember best; the way we honor His broken -and -given -ness; by resisting the fear that we will run out.  By denying the enemy's lie that our time, our love, our talents, our bread are limited--because we have come to know ours may very well be but His are not, and He has given us all things, swung the doors of heaven and the storehouses wide.  Jesus has passed the broken pieces of Himself, His very body, round a table as big as the world for thousands of years and there is still more, always more, always enough.