Thursday, October 9, 2014


Illness has the ability to change perspectives.  Though it's another thing in life that is out of our control, it can deceive or provide clarity, depending on what we choose.  We decide the outcome of illness whether there is a cure or not; whether we live or die.  We decide our end even if we cannot control the circumstances or pain level.  Truthfully, we decide our end whether we are ill or not.

I've spent half my life in and out of gastroenterology offices.  Most of the doctors I saw were quick to give me a simple diagnosis, in spite of not truly listening to all of the symptoms. I never want to hear the term irritable bowel syndrome again.  I believe it does exist, but I think there is more to it than that.  Then, I met a doctor who listened.  Who cared.  Who truly, sincerely wanted to help.  He is nearly 80 and he's seen it all.  He's seen enough to know that he doesn't know everything, and that patients can offer more insight on their diagnosis than they're often given credit for.

Before my first visit, I was convinced that intolerances were behind it all, due to some kind of inflammatory issue.  A few tests suggested that my feelings weren't completely invalid.  I cannot tell you how close the doctor was to diagnosing me with crohn's disease and how close I was to believing it; we were both surprised to discover that my colonoscopy results were normal.  It was a blessing, but I was worried there wouldn't be any kind of treatment for whatever mystery issue was ailing me.

Despite having a fairly high deductible that I wasn't even close to reaching, the gastro ran every test under the sun.  He was the first doctor to test the function of my pancreas.  He was also the first gastro who didn't think I was crazy for thinking a missing gallbladder might be the other part of the problem.

It turns out, we were both right.  He was more right than all the other doctors combined.  I found out I have something kind of uncommon, exocrine pancreatic enzyme insufficiency, and something not quite as uncommon, bile salt malabsorption.  The names are complicated but, thankfully, the treatment is simple...but definitely not cheap!

I met my $5K deductible.  Health is priceless.  I would pay it again if I had to.  I feel like a different person.  When your digestive system isn't functioning the way it should be, and you're constantly aware of all the cramps, noises, and gurgles.  And constantly worrying about weight, how to respond to people's rude comments about your struggle to maintain it, or even how you'll explain to random friends or strangers that you cannot get together because your life revolves around your food choices and can feel a lot life at all.  What hit me hardest, though, was feeling like I couldn't be the mother to my children that I wanted to be, because I couldn't always keep my promises.  I feared missing out on more than just dinners with friends and church functions; I was afraid that I might miss out on some of my kid's greatest life events, from their college graduation to the birth of their children.

This all may sound dramatic, but these were real concerns.  I am at least 15 pounds lighter than I was in college.  I definitely didn't have healthy eating habits at that time in my life (not even close--who does?), but I was more sturdy.  Honestly, I believe it's somewhat of a miracle that I didn't miscarry my children, considering my body was not digesting food properly for so long.  

The topic of self-confidence can be a cheesy one.  We're told to believe in ourselves, to not care what others think, to focus on what's inside and not outside.  But is it really possible not to care about how others perceive us?  Humans were made for relationships and we want to feel loved and accepted...totally.  God created us with that desire so that we would seek him for our sense of wholeness, but while we are in these bodies we will be tempted to view ourselves as inferior, because we don't have his eyes.

Our eyes scrutinize the wrong things.  We can criticize someone's character or appearance, and who are we to do that?  We don't know their past, we don't know their struggles, we don't even know if they feel loved.  How would you feel if your judgment of someone caused you to completely avoid them, and then, after it was too late, you discovered they were dealing with loneliness?  How would you feel if someone told you that maybe you were lacking true friends because you couldn't even be honest enough with yourself to realize the way you looked at others, literally--that first glance, kept them away.

When you meet someone, do you look with bitterness and insecurity, or the love you deserve to see reflected right back at you?  Maybe you're too busy studying the way their jeans fit to notice the love they're willing to offer you in that very first glance which begins a friendship?

I can tell you who my true friends are.  They are the ones who have prayed for me, cried with me, called me, offered to help, and, in the end (or the beginning :) even celebrated with me...they are the ones who still saw me when I was struggling to see myself.  They are the ones who remind me of Christ in their sincere love that looks beyond me and, somehow, still right at me.

They are not the ones who criticized, gossiped, and only looked with judgmental eyes and hearts.  My friends are too full of true confidence to steal it from someone else.  That's because their confidence comes from a source outside themselves, not a job, an income bracket, a diet plan, or a mirror.

I have known what it's like to feel desperate for an answer and solution.  I have learned to see that same longing in the eyes of others, as a result of my own experiences.  I know those people need a friend the most, but they're also the most likely to receive judgment for their struggles.  I have felt that kind of judgement, but never from a true friend.

I saw the longing in someone's eyes yesterday.  I was talking to the pharmacist when a stranger overheard the name of the enzymes I was prescribed.  She quickly ran to my side as soon as I turned around, and in an almost excited tone she asked, "Does your daughter have cystic fibrosis?".  I could see her heart sink when I said no and explained that the medication was for me, and that I didn't have cystic fibrosis.  Pancreatic insufficiency is common among those with cystic fibrosis.  I do not have it though.  I have a faulty pancreas for one of two reasons 1) genetics or 2) the gallbladder surgery I had many years ago. I do not know what it is like to have a child with cystic fibrosis and, as a mom, I felt for this woman when she told me about her daughter. I wished that she could experience the same relief and peace I felt, knowing my condition was simple and treatable; everyone deserves good health.  I can only imagine how she has struggled.  This medication is not affordable.  At ALL.  In fact, without insurance, it is $2,000.  Yep, that is 3 zeros.  It is unjust and criminal. 

How have our judgements of others created a negative domino effect outside of our lives and hurt our society?  Those who need healthcare the most often struggle to afford it. From baby formula shortages in food banks to postpartum depression, so many stages in life are made worse by our own judgements and inabilities to empathize and love sincerely, the calling that unites us all.  

We are all vulnerable when we are ill.  And we are all ill.  Our illnesses can manifest themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually.  If we are honest enough to admit to these weakness that we share, we might become strong enough to see that we are all in need of the same thing, each other. And instead of being blinded by our projected insecurities that convey themselves as judgments, we might see each other, and our capacity and necessity for love.  Our ailments provide the opportunity for our greatest healing to happen.  It's no mistake that Christ called us to take up our cross and follow him.  The very cross that Christ carried paradoxically lifted him and us up; it became a symbol of the greatest victory of life over death.  We can be healed and united in love because of his sincere love for us to the point of death.

1 Peter 4:8
Above all, love each other deeply because love covers a multitude of sins.

Romans 12: 9-18
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Fairy Garden Contest

I really enjoy the whimsical blog The Magic Onions.  They've been holding a fairy garden contest these last few years; I knew I wanted to submit something this year.  I wanted to stick to using natural elements as much as possible, while still making it colorful and fun.  We went on a walk and gathered different materials from the greenbelt behind our house.

I'm happy to report that 98% of the materials are natural, aside from the paint and one or two store-bought decorative pieces.  The girls had a lot of fun picking up sticks, and Mirabel shared some of her ideas and even contributed to some of the painted pieces (the rocks).  The fairy is made out of sticks and other objects dropped from a tree in our greenbelt; her wings are made out of leaves.  The butterfly was made using similar materials.  My step dad actually carved that little toadstool house and gave it to us! We just painted it :). The paint isn't natural ;).  I used acrylic for that.

Here's our submission for this year's fairy contest sponsored by The Magic Onions.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Remembering Easter

One of the last things Jesus stated while he was vulnerable on the cross was an apology.  Not for him, but for us.  He had to show us how to apologize.  He forgave so that all wouldn't be lost.  Every miracle performed up to this point would have been in vain without forgiveness.

We stand in the way of our own freedom.  Our lips sealed tight with the fear of vulnerability.  Two of the most powerful phrases that make us vulnerable and free are "I'm sorry" and "I love you".  And both of those phrases allow for the other one to be true; the absence of either one makes the existence of the other impossible.  Theology aside, eventually, we all need to apologize.  You cannot love yourself or anyone else without forgiveness.

Bitterness is a fun house mirror at a carnival.  It distorts our perceptions and traps us in its maze. The exit is there, but we can't see it until we remember the way out. That requires thinking in reverse and using a compass. Retracing our steps and moving backward so we can move forward.  Reflecting on things we want to forget so we can understand how we got lost and where we got confused, and even empathizing.  Because, most of the time, bitterness is a result of someone else's misunderstanding.  Their own false perceptions that allowed love to get lost in translation, and this time, we were on the receiving end of the message.  Bitterness destroys our sense of direction.

In finding our way out of the maze, we can get stuck.  If we use the memories as our only navigational tools, they can serve as hindrances that leave us on repeat.  Reflecting alone can lead us to repeat what we are supposed to forgive. Bitterness and blame become impenetrable walls that impede our exit unless we follow the only true compass we have, and take responsibility.  It doesn't matter why they did what they did.  What matters is acknowledging we were wronged so that we have something tangible to forgive and let go of, that's what we are responsible for.

When we know better, we do better, says Maya Angelou.  What if we know the only one who is better than all of us?  Then his example is all we need to know to do better.  His apology made way for our freedom.

It is easy to point the finger at a victimizer, especially when it would seem you have every reason to feel victimized.  But when we look at the situation that involved the greatest injustice, where all the blame fell on the undeserved, words of forgiveness were still uttered in the greatest state of vulnerability.  Love and an apology were nailed down in one place, literally.  We can all be transformed by this freeing moment and the life that follows.

Jesus' mysterious parables are analyzed and dissected in an effort to understand his message.  But its his final moments that offer the greatest lesson.  Nearly lifeless and nailed down, he performed the most transforming miracle: in his greatest moment of weakness he revealed perfect strength by forgiving the unforgivable so that we could be free to do the same.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

A humbling experience

Before becoming a mother, I was barely ever on time, sometimes a minute early (unless husband was coming along, then I'd be 15 minutes early).  Now, I'm usually at least 5 minutes late.  Sometimes plans change altogether, especially when three outfit changes happen within a span of the lost 5 minutes that would've landed me in the barely-on-time category.  And that's just with one kid.  Thankfully the other one still wears diapers and we don't have to stop and use the bathroom on the way out, but that can also backfire when 15 minutes are required to clean up a blow-out.  Basically, I've come to terms with the fact that my time is not my own.

It never really was, but I liked to think that it was before--when life seemed like it was under my control. Those were also the days when I imagined that rationalizing with a toddler was an easy two-step process; when, to be honest, I viewed motherhood as something that would be easy because I figured that if you love your kid enough, you'd have all the knowledge you need to get through any obstacle.

I have learned that love is enough, but only in the "love covers a multitude of sins" sense of the word. It's enough to keep you trying.

There is a new sense of awareness that motherhood awakens. Not only are we given a third eye in the back of our head; a heightened sense of instinct that tells us to turn around when our kid is about to jump off a table head first onto slate tile; an ability to wake up at the sound of a tiny whimper 3 rooms away in a well-insulated house.  Yes, those would all imply heightened senses, but there is also a wise fear that develops.  It's an awareness that YOU are responsible for who this person becomes, or does not become.  It would be easy to simply focus on outward achievements; being responsible for the condition of someone's heart requires you to reflect on the state of your own soul.

When they're little, they speak the words you speak.  They want to walk in your shoes (literally, at least my kids do).  When they see you put on lipstick, they want to do it too.  Then, if you do it every day, they probably start to wonder why.  You may even begin to hear them say, "I want to wear lipstick so I can be beautiful" and that statement in itself is enough to change your grooming routine.  So you wear lipstick less and opt for chapstick more.  You tell them they are beautiful without make-up, but you want to prove it to them by believing and behaving as if YOU are beautiful without make-up, too.  Suddenly, you don't want to talk about your insecurities around them, how you feel like you're not smart enough, brave enough, good enough, because you realize THEY will believe this about themselves, too.

Then you decide that simply not talking about it isn't enough. ("It" being everything that you struggle with internally.)  Changing what you believe would make it enough, though, because what you say and what you believe manifests itself in how you behave, and especially how you love.  And you know they deserve the best love so that they can be the best people, the kind that don't have to struggle with this as much as you do.  It doesn't even matter if the person before you made the mistake of not changing what they believe(d) (that person being the one who was responsible for you).  Your reality? You no longer have an excuse, and if you do, you'll have to eventually replace it with an apology 20 or so years from now when they look at you with a broken heart, or a broken marriage, or even worse, a broken spirit that believes it's unlovable.

Terrified, anyone?  I'm learning to see that this great responsibility is a gift that can only be opened when viewed as a daily adventure in trusting all that our Heavenly Father says is true: We are beautiful and capable simply because we are his.  When we deviate from that belief, we begin underestimating ourselves.  Our kids know when this happens and it leads them to do the same, and that can penetrate every area of their life, leading to the very heartache we wanted to keep them from.

This belief in our capacity for great things and great love as God's masterpieces is not a profound concept.  It's something that children know and understand; it's why they believe they can be doctors, astronauts, and presidents; they are born ready to accept and give love. This concrete belief becomes an uncertainty when they see brokenness.  We distract them from truth with our own fears and false beliefs.  Our job is to be their preservationists by filtering our flawed beliefs with the truth of who we are in our Creator's eyes.  Behind every hardened, angry, bitter, criminal heart is a child who is a victim of robbery, the truth was stolen from them by someone who struggled so much with their own loss that they had to destroy any reminders of its former existence.  This is the human tragedy that starts in the home and ends when we return to our first home, like the prodigal son who finally understands that his Father's healing love is unconditional and perfect.

I am working on fully believing with all my heart that "perfect love casts out fear."  In realizing the emotional responsibilities, motherhood can become scary.  But in embracing love's ability to cast out fear, we can understand that most of our fears and insecurities are rooted in a wound that, thankfully, perfect love can also heal.

And it took becoming a mother to finally start to get it.  Here is something I wrote out of a love for my own kids, what's been a source of instruction an inspiration.  I feel honored to call them mine.  I can understand why our own Father feels that way about us, I know I can't understand it completely since it is just a glimmer of how we are adored...

I stare at what I've created,
The smaller but better part of me,
for a glare, the evidence of light
proof that I am doing something right.

When I look long enough
I see what can go wrong,
the possibilities.
Turning away isn’t an option,
but I am allowed to blink.
I am allowed to sleep;
never uninterrupted.
And it’s ok to avert my eyes
but I have to look back
Or I will miss 

It’s a masterpiece:
a piece from the master,
on loan.
I can’t afford to make the
payments alone
and I can’t afford to give it back.
There’d be too much to lose,
but I can have it taken from me
at any time.
But I still lose
myself every day
in exchange for more of this,
what lasts
when we are gone;
what holds my gaze and holds me
close and
learns how to run and hide, 
in places I’ve never thought to look.
In finding it I find myself
hiding there too.

It’s the gift that begins a new sacrament,
What carries the heirloom of who we are in its expression.
It’s the treasure whose matchless value we tarnish 
when we misunderstand our own worth.

It’s what we were meant to love into existence,
The mistake is expecting it to fully exist on anything else.

It’s the smaller but better part of me (and you),
The only heart that ever beat beneath my own,
Whose life now rises above mine 

To teach me to love from the greatest heights, without fear.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

A big block of wood

My hands are so dry and cut up, the skin on my fingertips is getting rough... Dry and rough from washing dishes after cooking dinner; changing countless diapers, then washing my hands right after; from playing outside in the cold, or hanging up Christmas lights while praying I don't die.  They're dry from wiping down tables covered in glitter or finger paint, and then washing my hands again.  Dry from picking up mysteriously moist pieces of old food hidden in the corners of our dining room, thrown from a chubby hand belonging to the high chair-eater in the family (on a long day, sometimes that's me, minus the chubby hand) and WASHING MY HANDS AGAIN.  Dry from putting dirty laundry in the washer then needing to prepare lunch, and washing my hands yet again.  I've never washed my hands so much.  I promise, I don't wash them unless I truly have to.  Ironically, they are also dry from drying so many tears.

As a mom, you get your hands dirty a lot; you deal with a lot of germs.  Your kids get sick a lot as it is, so you try to limit the germs that YOU can at least avoid spreading. (Because someone is going to lick the cart handles at the grocery store or pick at old gum under a restaurant dining table, so you want to set a good example of how to stay healthy.)

I still get mistaken for a middle schooler. I'm 29 but look about 16 when I'm actually trying to look older.  I'm finally at a point in my life where I can appreciate that.  But if you look at my hands, you'd think I was much older.

If you look at the hands of an artist or craftsman, they're usually pretty dirty and beat up.  Look at the hands of a soldier.  They're tough.  But they tell their own story.

Earlier today, I was telling a friend that one of the most challenging things about motherhood is that it doesn't reap instant rewards.  It doesn't matter how many child development books you read, you won't ace parenting with flying colors when you're put to the test.  There aren't raises or bonuses, though the sound of two toddling sisters giggling while chasing each other around a certain glitter-filled dining room is worth more to me than any of that, of course.  But you're the only one who knows when you've aced your test.  You come out smiling after a tough playdate with more meltdowns than you could keep track of--you aced it.  Heck, even if your teeth are just clenched and it looks like you're smiling, and you kept your cool, you still aced it. God is on your side, and you know it because you couldn't have come out of that scenario without a few prayers.  He knows more than you think, just look at his hands.

He is the potter and we are the clay.  He molds us with his scarred hands.  The only model we have to follow regarding child-rearing is the relationship documented between God and his people, one involving sleepless prayerful nights, throwing dinners involving hundreds of guests without worrying about having enough, knowing someone better than they know themselves and loving them anyway, stinky feet-washing, taking the time out to heal others, performing miracles without expecting anything in return, and even a willingness to lay down one's own life.

Performing miracles without expecting anything in return sounds a whole lot like getting thru 40 weeks of pregnancy and topping it off with hours upon hours of labor. Or it can be something as simple as asking your 3 year old to explain their painting and listening, or successfully getting thru a day that started off with zero sleep.  It's everything you do that leads up to the finished product--that is the miracle.  Pregnancy isn't hard; it's just the sampler plate and a beautiful symbol of the whole process from start to finish: a labor of love, pun intended.

Sometimes it feels like God handed me this block of wood and he's expecting me to carve a masterpiece, when the only tool I have is a toothpick that's been chewed on by a teething one year old.  It's like, I haven't even started and my hands already look like they belong to a grandma (no offense to the grandmas, your hands are the best).  I guess I'm missing the point, then.  These dry, rough, raw hands--they're part of my reward.  Everything that has contributed to how they look is contributing to the finished product, and is changing me in the process, too, from the inside out.  When they're moms asking me how I did it, I'll be looking at more than a block of wood (even if Mirabel still calls her sister blockhead, thanks to Charlie Brown), and they'll be looking at someone whose hands aren't the only things that have changed as a result of all that carving.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Thankful for Home

Up to this point, I never really owned anything other than student loan debt ;).  Though we don't fully own our house yet, it is in our name and we didn't need a co-signer to buy our home, unlike with student loans (Yay! We're growing up! :).  I don't remember the details of the papers we signed over a month ago, but I remember the feeling of relief I experienced when I unpacked the last box and actually got to throw it away.

The truth is, I've never really had a place to call home.  All the moving I did throughout my life probably contributed to that feeling.  I've lived in a lot of buildings, but this place we're living in now has become more than that in just a few weeks.

We got to pick out the lot that we wanted; we were here when there was just a cement block above a pile of dirt; we got to see the bones of this house go up, the framing and the windows.  At times it felt like it would never be completed.  I remember the anticipation I experienced before meeting my husband, before getting pregnant, before going to college... always waiting and waiting; it felt a lot like that.

Growing up, I knew what I wanted but I hadn't seen it in many places, and that's the other reason why I never had a place to call home.  I wanted to know what it felt like to feel secure, and to be able to exhale and just be.  I wanted that for myself and I wanted it for the children I wasn't even sure I'd be able to physically have.  I wanted to create that atmosphere with the kind of husband I wasn't even sure existed.  Home was an idea that felt distant and unrealistic.

There are a lot of things we do to interfere with our greatest hopes, consciously or not, because sometimes they are rooted in our deepest fears.  I have been blessed with a place where I can breathe easy and feel secure, a home, because of the people that live between these walls with me. But in the same way that a building wears over time if we don't invest in it, a home cannot be abandoned once it's been unpacked, figuratively speaking.  We made it here because we were brought here together, after overcoming obstacles apart, but to keep this house a home we need to overcome our daily obstacles together, so that we don't slowly grow apart.  My greatest fear is unoriginal: I don't want to lose the ones I love most.  God brought them to me, and he's the one I need to depend on daily to keep them here.

I hope my children stay close forever.  I know they will go their own way.  Maybe they'll go to school out of state, or study abroad, or travel, but I hope that they always feel at home where we are.  If we depend on ourselves alone, though, we will fail by default because it's human to repeat cycles.  A house only remains a home when the foundation is unconditional love, built on the one whose love for us never changes even when our lives and situations do.  That's the kind of place we all need to come home to.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Music Therapy

On days like this 


...and Spotify :).