December 17, 2013

When Gratitude Holds Hands with Suffering

During his recent extended stay in the hospital, two words spilled from my father’s mouth over and over. They were the simple words, “Thank you."

Dad thanked the nurses, the techs, the lady who dust-mopped the floor. He thanked the girl who came in with her tablet computer to okay the day’s menu. The menu would be far from okay, but he thanked her anyway.

Of course, he thanked the doctors who dropped into see him, even the on-call doc who seemed to be backing out the door as fast as she had walked in.

My Dad is a natural leader. And though his health and lifestyle have been compromised, he gave gratitude extravagantly to those who came to do their jobs. Never did he express entitlement for the care he was given.

It wasn’t long until I noticed that those caring for him were actually looking forward to coming in the door to do their part in keeping the huge medical machine running smoothly. As they entered Room 716, they would expect some teasing, maybe a story or a joke. And as they exited, they would hear the words "thank you."

Gratitude is a powerful motivator. In no way do I believe that Dad was expressing gratitude to manipulate. For him, it is a way a life, a character quality that served him well in the years he managed huge factories that produced thousands of pairs of jeans each week.

Gratitude has an understated power. When people know they are appreciated, their work finds its greater purpose. Relationships are built and a job feels less like a task and more like a calling.

Dad unintentionally led those who cared for him by his expressions of gratitude. He built community among those who were clocking in for a paycheck. It came as naturally to him as breathing.

Dad is home for the time being, having been given a window of time to rest until the next phase of his treatment.

I rest at my house with no real agenda for my day. Grateful.

The artic air took off on the jet stream day before yesterday and a southern breeze is calling me to the back porch. This afternoon I will sit in front of a blazing fire and breathe, sink into the stillness of this day, discipline myself to live in the now.

But before I do, I want to express my gratitude to those of you reading this who held me up in prayer over the past two months. Thank you for praying for Dad. And thank you for praying for me, as I have walked a sometimes weary path with him during these early days of his fight with Multiple Myeloma.

When I think of the prayer warriors who I have the privilege to call my friends, I am reminded of the battle Israel fought against Amalek. Joshua was leading the army while Aaron and Hur provided support for Moses as he appealed to his Friend for victory. (Exodus 17)

I am no Moses but I feel as if my friends have pulled up a rock for me to rest on, have held up my arms toward the Throne of Grace. My strength has its source in Another.

Despite missed meals and sleep-deprived nights, I haven’t been sick since the day I started running Dad to and from appointments. Though there have been several near misses, I haven’t been in any car accidents---even on the Friday when I misjudged the weather and drove home through an ice storm.

God has been with us. Immanuel.

A blog is a lame way to show gratitude. In my heart of hearts, I want to squeeze your hand, look into your beautiful eyes and say these words: “Thank you." 

My heart is full. To know such love from God and his people is such an overwhelming emotion. Thank you for allowing the mystery of prayer to be a source of strength for me during these difficult days.

I am certain Dad would say the same---my father whose example helped me see that gratitude can hold hands with suffering.

The New Year looms on the horizon with new challenges. If I think too far ahead, I will lose today in the shadows of an unknown future.

God has given enough for today and no more. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Linking with Jennifer at #TellHisStory and Emily at Imperfect Prose

December 5, 2013

Believing in Miracles and Promises

Miracles don't always happen in a moment. Often they grow up under your feet, blossom and find their beauty so subtly that you wonder when they happened and how you didn't notice.

Yesterday, a fellow blogger asked her friends to tell her about meaningful ornaments on their Christmas trees. 

It wasn’t difficult for me to choose even though the Christmas tree at our house chronicles memories of life since I grew up. My very favorites are the baby shoes that hang there every year. 

This year the tree stands decorated with no admirers to lean into its light, into the memories hung there. It is sad, but it is true. 

When I hung Annie’s baby shoes on the tree this year, I remembered her grandfather gave them to her. His sickness almost twenty-six years later hasn’t given us the opportunity to sit the in the glow of the season.

Yesterday, I thought about Christmas all those years ago, my first pregnancy had been a surprise. My due date was before Christmas, but she was taking her time. I grinned at the irony of the surprise---Annie hates surprises. But she was one, a blessed one, one that we could not afford.

It was just after Christmas when my baby girl wailed her way into this world, her head bruised and her lip quivering.  

God’s plans are always better than ours. And though we were poor, we had all we needed. I was blessed with a precious little friend who kept me company while her Daddy finished medical school and residency.

Now the miracle---the little girl whose toes curled into those white patent shoes has grown up and become a beautiful mother---despite me.

I once wrote that I mothered “fat over lean.” It is an art term that describes painting with oil-based paints a thin layer at time. This technique builds until the painting reveals its beauty with all of its depth of color and texture.

I didn’t read parenting books. I learned as she grew. I counted to three--and I didn’t count slowly. Three meant timeout. Always.

Annie sat on the edge of her chair with her feet just above the floor and taunted me. I stepped into the kitchen and laughed.

When she was two, she hung her head over her training potty mimicking my morning sickness when her brother was being wonderfully made in this mother’s womb. She stood beside me in the pink bathroom in her nightgown, a baby doll under her arm, leaning over and "heaving," sharing my burden, feeling my pain.

She was cute and precocious, a little talker and singer, who prayed the Lord’s Prayer and placed her hand over her heart and pledged allegiance to the flag at the age of three.

The little girl with the blond curly locks is now raising her own girls. Somehow, by God’s grace, we made it through the teen years, which meant she had to endure my recovery from a deep and debilitating depression. My heart aches to think of the toll my brokenness must have taken on her heart, days when she was growing from a girl into a woman, putting the pieces into place in her own life, while I was doing my own piecing back together. 

Grace. Looking back, there was so much grace.

The great promise of Romans 8:27 is true. God works all things together for good. Even though life didn’t go perfectly, even with the pain of a broken mother, all is redeemed. We loved God during the brokenness, and by His grace, all has worked to our good---and I believe to His glory.

Now my little girl is a miracle mom of a once broken mother. She mothers with grace and consistency. She celebrates the innocence and the wonder of her little ones. She chronicles the joys of days and moments, quotable, whimsical musings from the mouths of her babes. She lives to the full in the blessings she has been given.

I look from my place in the rocking chair and I am amazed at the way she mothers and I am so very proud…and thankful. She is my joy.

There are mothers I pray for who don’t have their babies. Some of their babies are in heaven. Those hearts have a hole that only Hope can fill. 

Others wait for their babies who live far from the arms that ache to hold them. Paperwork keeps them in orphanages a world away. I pray for these mothers who can’t write their baby's quotable moments or chronicle their cuteness on Instagram. 

Still I believe the same promise for those mothers as I have seen come in its fullness in my life, in Annie's, the promises of God are “Yes! and Amen!” 

I believe this Christmas season…
“…that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NASB)
As long as I have a Christmas tree, Annie's shoes will hang tucked in the lights and among the ornaments collected over of a lifetime. Jared and Luke's will hang there too. 

How amazing for Mary that she was chosen to be the mother of Jesus! Amazing that God chose the birth canal to enter this broken world to become like us so that he could save us.

Immanuel, God with us…the greatest miracle of all.

(Ya’ll know I was trying to be creative about the rocking chair!! I rock with my grandbabies when we are dancing! How we do love dancing!)

Do you have a special ornament or a beautiful miracle? Do you need to believe that God redeems the broken? God bless you my friends and Merry Christmas.

Linking with Laura at The Wellspring.

December 2, 2013

I Have You in My {Broken} Heart

I am really more of a letter writer than a blogger. Somehow I never find my truest voice on my blog. I have been frustrated and angry with myself for not getting to the place where I let my truest self rise to the surface. Writing to an invisible audience stumps me. That's not the case with letters.

When I am writing a letter, words in an email or on a piece of paper, my written voice finds its soul. 

Many times, I end those letters with the salutation, “I have you in my heart.”

I'm amazed at the people and places the Writer has etched on my heart over the years. As I trusted Him more and more with the relationships and circumstances of my life, He writes his love for people, for the world on my heart of flesh.

Some of those written there, I know well. Some, I don't know at all.

The variety of names and faces (sometimes only a name with no face) written on my heart astonishes me as they form in my consciousness while I unload the dishwasher, dry my hair, or make the bed. One after another they come to my mind when I am driving alone in the car. 

All things are from God, even the prompting to pray. He loves people and loves to use people to offer the ministry of prayer on behalf of others.

This didn’t happen for me overnight---this discernment that leads me to pray for those written on my heart. There was more written there than I was aware. I came to understand this over a lifetime of submitting my heart to the Writer.

Praying for others draws my heart closer to the One who loves me, loves them. God has them in his heart.

As I have grown more in the grace of God, more assured in His love and forgiveness, I have consciously set my intentions to be open to His writing. I do this by asking for a name when someone needs prayer, saying it out loud. I don’t memorize it or keep a long list in journal. God is faithful. He remembers when we forget. He doesn’t forget to call out to us those he has written on hearts.

But we won't hear his prompting if we aren't listening, if we insist on living in noise and distraction. We have to be willing still in the silence, to ask God to bring to mind the joys, the sorrow, the need and provision. He wants us to dream with others, remind him that He created the person on your heart to bring Him glory.

Of course, there are the expected relationships that sit right on top of my beating heart who I pray for over and over. There are others who have come to me in the living of life (and incredibly through blogging.)

And then, there are my in real life friends…maybe I have told them too many times that I have them in my heart? It's hard to express how much in your heart someone is---someone you known for half your life, how much they mean to you, how much your heart cares for their heart. Have I used my salutation so much that it no longer carries the weight it once did?

I often think I don’t communicate well in person. My intense passion doesn’t reveal the softer side of me. I am a truth-teller, intuitive to a fault (if that can be and I think it can.) Though I have tried to tone it down, bow to the softer-gentler me, she roars to the forefront on undisciplined days, shows her true colors. I am sure my intensity has caused others to walk wide circles around me.

I promise, I don’t bite. (Unless, I am hormonal.)

I write letters. Some I send. Some I don’t. 

Today my heart is soft and pliable. I haven’t connected to it often in the past few weeks, fearing its ache, protecting myself from the brokenness that I might find there.

“The Lord is near to the broken-hearted.” (Ps. 34:18)

So today I take the risk to let down, let go of the strong I have been propping up for days. I am ready to embrace the weak, the broken. I am ready to risk my heart to hear new names, let new chapters be written, to live with expectancy rather than expectation. My ears are listening, listening for who or what has been written on my heart when I was unaware.

Today, should I write any letters, I may change my signature ending to…

”I have you on my {broken} heart...”

Because there is a good chance I do.

Thanks for the many prayers lifted for me and for my Dad over the past weeks. Tomorrow he begins his first day of collection of stem cells for his transplant that will most likely happen at the beginning of next year. We have waited for this day and we are thankful.

Will you give the privilege to pray for you?

Linking with Jennifer at #TellHisStory and Emily at Imperfect Prose