"'And you've quite given [writing] up?' asked Christine.
'Not altogether...but I'm writing living epistles now,' said Anne, thinking of Jem and Co."
- Anne of Ingleside, L.M. Montgomery


Over and Over Again

Some of my thoughts from back in May about baby girl's health:

It's a lesson God's so patiently repeated to me time and again this month and the last.  I heard it loud and clear on the day they discovered something might be wrong.  For most of the month of March and all of the month of April I struggled with the worry.  The last thing I wanted to hear as a parent was that she wasn't perfectly healthy. 

This little one and I put in a lot of time at the hospital at the end of the pregnancy.  Twice weekly visits to the obstetrician and twice weekly non-stress tests.  Nurses would stand in groups listening to the crazy little beating of her heart.  Amniotic fluid levels were low and the doctor said "bedrest" and "hopefully we can wait until you are 37 weeks".  So we prayed and I rested and I hydrated and I saw the specialist and soon everything looked perfect again.  The doctor said the arrhythmia was "absolutely nothing to be concrned about" and my fluid level soared above where the ob expected and now she was saying "hopefully we can get you to 39 weeks" and we praised God for his faithfulness to answer prayer.

When 38 weeks came the fluid levels dropped again, the doctor said it was time.  She scheduled the induction for the following morning and it was answered prayer in my eyes because I had a feeling she was coming soon and I knew that another doctor would do a c-section.  Our sweet baby girl was born and the doctor made jokes about labor that only lasts 3 hours and delivery that takes only a minute and how next time Jeff could just deliver the baby.  She told me to get a good look and then they rushed her over to the incubator and a whole crew of doctors and nurses who took a good look at her.  She was pretty and pink and perfect and yet that heart still beat out that unusal rhythm.  They ordered an EKG and an echo and told us we'd hear more tomorrow.  And we didn't worry because we were confident that God had already told us she would be fine.

Then Thursday morning brought the pediatrician in and the confidence flew far off. He told us of PDAs and PFOs and frequent PVCs and aortic coarctation.  He told us time would tell and that we needed to watch for the signs that our girl's heart wasn't doing its job.  My tears held off until he left the room and then all I could do was cry and hold my baby and wonder what the future held for her.  All of that knowing what God had spoken was gone and all I could do was worry. 

We could read on her face a much different story than the one I had heard from the doctors. It was the same way when I was pregnant.  The doctors would say something that would bring on the doubt and I would feel her dancing around inside - so strong and extremely active.  And with every movement I heard the message over: "Do not worry."  Now I was holding this baby who was strong and alert and eating so well and everything looked perfect.  And she was speaking with her eyes the same words her Daddy was saying out loud: "Do not worry!"

They said when they sent us home that the arrhythmia was sounding better and that they had high hopes that it would go away on its own.  An appointment was set with a pediatric cardiologist and they sent her home with wires - a portable EKG machine. The machine came off 24 hours later and I was confident again that she would be ok.

Her little life has been like a broken record playing the same tune over and again.  The doctors find something new to worry over and she keeps telling us she's just fine.  Another hospital stay for RSV and she never shows a symptom.  More monitoring of that tiny heart and they say everything looks fine.  We won't know for sure for another month, then another 6 months, but it looks like all is well.  A positive test for Organic Acid Disorder and still she grows and looks so healthy.

This recurring scenario feels a whole lot like God patiently teaching me to trust.  And I can't help but be so grateful for the way he calmly walks me through it all time and again.  The worry springs up and he teaches me again and again, even though this lesson is taking me a lifetime to learn.

The newest update is that the PFO (one of the holes in her heart) is still open, but it's not a big deal - up to 1/4 of the population has a PFO.  The PDA closed! Thank God!  The aortic coarctation was never present - the hospital pediatrician mis-read her chart!  She never showed even the slightest sign of RSV.  The Organic Acid Disorder scare turned out to be nothing at all.  The only thing that has been even the slightest issue was a little bit of acid reflux, which seems to have cleared up.  The PVCs are still present, but only enough to warrant a repeat check in 6 months.  They are far less frequent than they were when she was born.  We have one healthy, happy and extremely content little one on our hands.

Taking the Joy Dare from A Holy Experience: writing down three gifts each day for a year.

January's Joy
February's Joy
March's Joy
During the month of April (an incomplete list, since I was so busy soaking in the joy of a new baby that I forgot to look for all of these specifics):
1.  3 gifts round
white ball of dandelion seeds that delight my boys * candy filling those eggs that wait for Easter joy * sweet little baby cheeks
2. 3 gifts white
new piece of paper all ready for another month's joy * milk mustache * white gravel drive against vibrant green grass
3. 3 gifts surprisingly found
fluid levels even higher * peaceful, quiet lunch * encouragment
4. 3 gifts in His word
living sermons from little ones bringing to mind that we must "become as little children" * conversation with a 4 year-old about Jesus' teaching that "No man can serve two masters" * reading the passion story together , feeling the sorrow and reminding that Sunday is coming!
5.  3 gifts at 11 am, 2 pm, 6 pm
commandments not to worry even when things look bleak * asking forgiveness and recieving grace from little ones * hard eucharisteo - working hard all day and experiencing mess & chaos & disappointment despite it all - yet God is so glorious in all this brokeness!
6. 3 gifts nailed together
nails in the cross and in his hands * nails in the walls holding their pictures and shelves * the screws and nails he drives all day to put food on our table
7. 3 gifts waited for
baby girl * Sunday morning * hearing little voices yell, "Christ is risen, indeed!"
8. 3 gifts rising up
sun rising as I hid eggs in the yard * the overwhelming joy of Christ risen * rows of green shoots in the fields
9. a gift hiding, held, heard
little guy always finding new hiding places * all snuggled up together * hope that we'll be holding her soon
10. 3 gifts opened up
the doctor opening the door to announce it's baby day tomorrow * opening the door to our home where my boys wait for me * opening the menu at our favorite restaurant to celebrate her coming so soon
11. 3 gifts budding/blooming
new little life * pink flowers * surprise lilacs waiting at home
12. 3 gifts worn
my own clothes * dinosaur sticker from Cap on her receiving blanket * precious bow in her hair
13. 3 gifts bright
baby eyes open wide * little boy smiles as they welcome us home * sun peeking through clouds
14. 3 gifts found looking up
her looking up as her brothers smile down on her * rain falling to quench dry earth * no time for looking up when such an amazing gift is lying in our arms
15. a gift in a bag, in a box, in a book
lunch brought by friends * little hospital room that feels so much like a box * him reading for school with her in his arms
16. 3 hard eucharisteos
the not-knowing * blue marker on white carpet * 3 kids by myself with a headache
17. 3 gifts woven together
purple blanket Grandma made for me * pink cardigan passed down * them all cuddled up together
18. 3 gifts inherited
the way she looks just like the boys * long fingers and toes traced back to her great-grandma * generations before who tended their living epistles
19. 3 gifts square
books piled up that the boys are reading to their sister * square pretzels he keeps sneaking off my plate * garden plots laid out
20. a gift stacked, stashed, stilled
books full of baby pictures * plenty of food in the pantry * fears stirring & stilled
21. 3 gifts found in Christ
inheritance of a son * the freedom of being not my own * reminder that he will provide
22. 3 gifts close
little ones held close as we worship * her resting on Grandma's chest * kids all cuddled up on Grandma's lap
23. 3 gifts reflecting
silly boy watching his reflection in the mirror * time to think & new conclusions * beautiful moonlight
24. 3 gifts fragile
tiny little body working just right * tender feelings of little ones * joy shattered by discontent
25. a gift cloth, steel, wood
precious little dress * doorknob turned that's long been still * space in a tree just the right size for sitting
26. 3 gifts moving
three squirmy little ones *
27. 3 gifts "ugly beautiful"
all these emotional growing pains * need fulfilled * dirty mop water - clean floors
28. 3 gifts orange
cheetos on little fingers * carrots-to-be * orange light reflecting
29. 3 gifts in dirt
deep, rich, rain-soaked fields * garden so close to planted * grapes and strawberries planted
30. a gift given, made, sacrificed


Messy Days

Something I wrote back in the middle of May after a really rough day...

There is always joy in motherhood.  But some days can just exhaust.  The days where the almost- 3-year-old runs down a steep hill right next to a road and out of my reach and then runs into a big patch of weeds that very likely contain poison ivy and THEN runs right into the parking lot.  Days when you take 3 young children to the zoo without a stroller.  Days when you have lots of errands to run and a million places to go and it's hot out and everyone is tired.  Days when the almost-3-year-old can't quite make it to the bathroom in time and poops all over the carpet just outside the bathroom door and you clean him up only to find he's no where near clean and you go to put him in the bathtub only to find that it's full of the clothes that you left soaking there last night after they got washed with muddy shoes. Those kinds of days are exhausting.  Those are the days when I feel all used up - like there just isn't any more of me left to give.  Those are the days that I just need to stop and rest.  And yet, they still need and so often there isn't rest.  The 5-year-old puts the flip flops  back on your feet because he wants you to take him outside and that 3-year-old soaking in the bathtub is going to need to be scrubbed and then they'll need attention and dinner and very likely more baths and eventually bedtime will come. 

Right now it all brings to mind just how exhausted Jesus was and yet he saw the crowds and had compassion on them.  He put off his own rest and lovingly met the needs of those who surrounded him.  Oh, Lord.  Give me compassion.  When I just want to scream (or when I actually do scream) remind me that you continually take such breathtaking compassion on me and give me the grace to lovingly look at the mess and put aside my own rest and have the compassion to meet their needs.


What About Grace?

It struck me right away as I was reading: the grace.  The blog post I had read was a little unsettling: a mixture of humor, brutal honesty, some poetic embellishment and lots of vulgarity.  I started reading the comments at the bottom of the post.  They contained a pretty polarized set of accolades and condemnations, interspersed with replies from the blogger.  They were stunningly grace-filled replies, acknowledging the worth and honoring the opinions of people who were basically calling her one of the worst people to ever walk the earth.  These people were angry with her.  Deriding her for her honesty and scolding her for her actions and calling her ignorant.  Most of them didn't get the point of what she had written and some understood, but disagreed.  The comments were nasty.  She could have ignored them.  She could have deleted them.  She could have stood up to them in self-defense.  She could have mocked them for completely missing the  point she was trying to convey.  But she didn't.  She responded to each of these comments with humility, admitting her opinions could be wrong and gently saying that she was just trying to be honest.  She responded with grace, speaking politely and kindly to every person who belittled her. 

It bothered me to read the screen names.  People who were claiming the name of Christ in their online identity were visciously attacking this woman and she, an avowed seeker, was the one offering them grace.  I couldn't get it out of my head.  And that Sunday we sang "They'll Know We Are Christians By Our Love."  And I wanted so badly to get on my knees and confess that what we are doing is so wrong.  Because, honestly, where is the love?

I really get it.  It's complicated.  And I'm so guilty of it too.  My convictions are strong.  I know right from wrong.  And it's hard to live in a culture that keeps turning things upside down and saying that wrong is right and right is wrong.  It's difficult to watch as cultural Christianity gets washed away and our world seems to set up shop against the cores of my belief.  All of a sudden we're not the majority any more and, instead, we're the weird ones.  There's an impulse to fight, to get angry, to lash out, to guard our territory.  And maybe there's some validity in that.  It can terrify to consider the reality of living and raising children in such a mixed up world and I wonder if sometimes it isn't fear that drives us.  And it's a lesson we have to keep relearning - that fear is the wrong motivator; that there is no room for fear.  At any rate,  I'm pretty sure we're using the wrong weapons of war.

Our culture changes and sin becomes more and more blatant and mixed up people in a mixed up world are unrepentant.  And in our eagerness to stand up against what we know to be wrong, I'm afraid that we dehumanize.  It's like all we can see is the sin.  And we react with disgust to what is wrong in our world and we lash out against it.  And who wants to be drawn in to something that seems to be always attacking, always disgusted, always condemning?

Our vision is so poor without aid.  Don't we know that we once were a people who could not see and our God stepped in to give us sight when we were blind?  He has offered us these lenses that allow us to see the reality of our world.  And we are so very fond of the side of the specs that makes clear what is righteous.  We have the ability to see with such clarity the right contrasted with the wrong, the sin in opposition to the holy.  But, so often, we seem to close our eyes to grace and to love.  We can see that people are doing wrong, but what we seem unable to see is that they are people.  The truth is, whether we acknowledge it or not, we are all created by God and we are all loved by God.  We were all made good and we all fell so, so short.  Not only is my unChristian neighbor unrighteous, I'm unrighteous too.  And every good thing I ever did, every good thing I ever am is only by God's grace.

What is it that attracts us to Jesus?  What made the Samaritan woman at the well go running?  Yes, he knows our sin (Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! John 4:29a).  Yet, still he looks on us with love, offering us this unspeakable gift of life that overcomes death.  In all his righteousness, he doesn't turn his eyes from our filth in disgust.  He opens his arms to gather us in, sin-stained and broken as we are, and he promises to re-make us, new and fresh and perfect.  It's his overwhelming righteousness mixed with his overwhelming love for us that makes Jesus so hard to resist.  It's grace that draws us in and sends us running out to tell.  Here is a man who can tell me everything I've ever done and who loves me anyway.  Here is a man who knows exactly how depraved I am and he offers me freedom and friendship and even kinship.  We know from a young age that if we let our real selves show, we open ourselves up to shame and a whole lot of loneliness. Who could love us if they really knew who we are?  But this man who knows it all, this man who has seen every secret sin, who knows the real state of our heart, who has such a better picture of our true identity- he is willing to put his arm on our shoulder and offer to take us home, make us part of his family.  Knowing all, he offers the antidote to shame and lonliness. It's grace that draws us out of the dark corner we've been trying to hide in.  It's grace that makes it ok to admit that we're broken.  It's grace that leads us on the road to who we were meant to be all along.

How can we, who are so dependent on grace, forget to show it to the people around us?  How can we get so wrapped up in the sin we see around us that we forget that the people underneath that sin are no different from us?  Isn't sin the robe we wore of our own choice before we encountered grace and let Jesus change our clothes? And aren't those clothes supposed to include compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience and love? (Colossians 3:12)   How can we not show them grace?  Why is it that our first response is to stand up and point fingers and deride and attack and name-call when we see sin in the world? 

He has shown you, O man what is good. 
He gave us vision when we were blind.
And what does the Lord require of you? 
To act justly...
yes, but also
...to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. 
bold print from Micah 6:8

The truth is that God had mercy on us.  The God, for whom nothing is impossible, saw us, who are unlovable, and loved us anyway.  Grace.  We cannot forget that.  We cannot get so wrapped up in holiness that is given to us freely, a new robe to replace the old one,  that we forget that we are only good with God's help.  How wrong is it for us, children born new of grace, to let our actions towards others be so full of hatred, so ungraceful?

It's not to say the we let sin go unchecked, that we never stand up to wrong.  Justice is a part of the package and it is not grace-full to let wrong present itself as right.  But I think our response has to be different.  If we have been given eyes to see the reality, don't we know that hatred and disgust and shame and ridicule don't win the day?  Love does.  Grace does.  Grace that sees the wrong and still finds a way to love. ("True love invites and helps the beloved to become the best the beloved can be. Anything less is selfish affection."- the words of my  husband, Jeff) The truth is, we all know we're not quite right.  What we need to know is that, somehow, someone can love us even when they really know us.  That's what changes things and that is exactly what we have to offer.  Grace.