2017 gift list

Christ child 2017 giftsStill and reverent, I lay in bed Christmas morning before the sun reappeared. I listened to heart-stopping versions of my favorite carol, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and enjoyed hot coffee, wrapping my extremities tightly in blankets. The piano keys and cello sang out with my spirit.

Nietzsche once said, “Everything matters. Nothing’s important.”

Each year I make a list of gifts received. This morning I reflected on the year’s gifts, Nietzsche’s words, and another key phrase.

Either Christ is everything, or He is nothing.

Charles Spurgeon and Hudson Taylor both echoed this sentiment—and both lived as if He were everything.

The entire year bore gifts.

gifts daughter father

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I held my mother’s shaking frame, soaked in tears, while she struggled to let my grandma go Home. I talked to my mentors for hours via video conferencing, on the phone, and face-to-face over the best hash browns I’ve consumed. I meditated on Truth while sipping fresh coffee every single morning, fueling my spirit and becoming better. I cradled countless kittens. I watched, panic-stricken, as my daughter barreled through a riding barn on an agitated racing horse at full speed. I rejoiced when I realized she and her little friend were holding one another in the saddle, God going before them and planning in love. I wiped away Maggie’s snot while she told me she wanted to keep riding, the bravest soul I know. I nearly skipped out of the breast specialist’s office, celebrating benign results. I applauded my tiny angel, proudly parading up the church aisle during the Christmas pageant. I walked away from my daughter’s preschool classroom for the first time and returned to find her too happy to leave. I led clients to greater joy. I shed tears. I shared silence. I waited for justice. I listened. I caressed my husband’s weathered crow’s feet, solidly at home. I stroked my cowgirl baby’s smooth forehead as she slept, whispering comfort and love in her ear, the most important part of my day.

Each night, as I tiptoed out and stumbled for my glasses atop piles of bedtime stories, I marinated in Light.

Christ shone beside me all year and carried me through.

Let me perceive You in every matter.

Platitudes

In memory of my friend Tara’s father, Jerry, who recently relocated to The High Resting Place, and in celebration of National Poetry Day (October 8), I’ll share this poem I wrote today during my lunch break. 

Platitudes

I am tired of losing
good people.

Contaminated by asbestos, you never
even lounged around, smoking Marlboro Reds,
drinking Budweiser or downing whiskey shots.

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Tara and Jerry

You built a farm
while you were young
and able-bodied. You taught and led
countless lives.

You focused.

You were relentless.

You raised your girls
with all your might,
then turned back the clock
30 years later and fathered
your grandson in lieu of
cruises and red car pursuits.

You gave every ounce of yourself.

Praying over you, soaking your
hands with tears in silent sobs,
I only asked Him
to let you go.

Enough is enough.

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Liam, Jerry, and Tara

Platitudes make me puke. But I
understand this now:

“Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

–Bethany Wallace, 10/8/15

Benign

Trying out my baby's puree cookbook while limited to a mushy diet for a week

Trying out my baby’s puree cookbook while limited to a mushy diet for a week

“Will you make me some flan?”

I scribbled this barely legible note with my left hand while nursing my daughter a few hours after having my tongue biopsied.

“Flan?” My husband looked at my curiously.

“Oh. Custard. I have no idea why I wrote ‘flan.’ We’ve never made flan.” Apparently the nitrous oxide had a longer lasting effect than I’d realized, and I’d mentally tripped into the tasty world of the Food Network.

Banned from talking for a few days, aside from mambo-jumbo baby talk with my daughter, which mostly consisted of echoing her adorable noises, I found myself in quite a predicament.

Silence is no stranger to me. I’ve learned to be quiet and still and meditate on Scripture, particularly in the mornings. I love writing, and for me, writing requires complete silence and total concentration. I’m surprisingly introverted, and I relish the lack of shallow conversation and the peaceful sound of all things at rest. I once spent an entire year without watching television or movies in my own home, partly due to budgetary necessity, and didn’t miss the din one bit.

But in my younger days, particularly prior to much spiritual reflection, step-taking in my recovery program, and relational maturation, I used silence as a weapon.

“Silence is often the loudest voice.”

It’s one of my favorite quotes. Yet, like all things, silence can be used benevolently or maliciously. I mastered the silent treatment. I pity former partners and family members who witnessed my silent-treatment skills. You might cross me, lie to me, steal from me, cheat on me, or verbally abuse me, but by golly, you would suffer as a result. I withheld myself. For days, sometimes weeks.

Silence has served me well as a means to closer communion with Christ. And it served me all too well as a survival skill and crutch, a tool by which I slowly destroyed relationships and tore away layers of others’ self-esteem. Since I no longer allow myself to wallow in self-pity for any length of time, and since I do my best to avoid the passive-aggressive tendency to resort to the silent treatment in times of relational turmoil, the prescription to be silent due to my biopsy felt like a prison sentence.

Lots of laughter with my two favorites

Lots of laughter with my two favorites

Although we live in a fairly isolated area, lovingly referred to as “The Sticks,” I relish every opportunity to communicate with my two favorite people, both of whom happen to reside in our home. We talk about everything. Well, my husband and I talk about everything. My daughter listens, I think, and attempts to respond by smiling, frowning, and creating a cacophony of amusing sounds.

Communication is the artery that keeps the soul of our family alive. If we stop communicating, which presents itself mostly in the form of verbalizing our thoughts and feelings, we cut off the flow of love and joy and laughter between us. Scribbling notes served its purpose for a few days, but it wasn’t the same as immediately sharing a joke or insight. Humming lullabies and hymns to my daughter pacified her need to hear my voice to some extent, but the puzzled look on her face spoke volumes to me.

Thankfully, the results of my biopsy were benign. My tongue has mostly healed, and I’m able to sing, chat, and pray aloud again painlessly.

I’m thankful, though, for the temporary hole in my tongue and for the silent treatment imposed upon me. Sometimes, you must lose a thing before you can fully realize its significant place in your life. Words are not simply words. They’re the glue holding the three of us together. I’m determined to choose mine wisely, to speak softly, and let nothing clog up the lifeline between us.

Setting down the bucket

Maggie at 6 weeks

Maggie at 6 weeks

Life is incredibly short.

I was reminded of this yesterday when my husband learned that a friend of his from college had passed away after battling cancer. He was in his early 30s.

As I imagined the grief his family must be experiencing, I held my tiny daughter. Less than seven weeks ago, we brought her home for the first time, and she weighed at least four pounds less than she does now. She has grown and developed right before our eyes; I marvel at the changes on a daily basis.

While praying for this man’s family, and for my husband, I also thanked God for my daughter’s little life. For my own life full of twists and turns. For my husband who God constantly uses to demonstrate His love for me.

“You do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” -James 4:14

Last year, I created a bucket list to guide me through the year and motivate me to stay focused. I started my 2013 bucket list a few days ago.

  • Make my dream to operate a cement mixer come true. This was on my list from last year and was one of two items I didn’t get to cross off the list. This year, though…. this will be the year!
  • Graduate from my Master’s in English program in May.
  • Start the tradition of doing devotions with my husband and daughter each night.
  • Hike three new trails.
  • Teach at least one class on the college level after earning my degree.

After getting this far along in the list creation process, I paused.

I am almost positive that I’ll be able to cross these items off my bucket list in 2013, Lord willing. The items on my bucket list are things I’ve wanted to do for a long time, worked toward accomplishing, and have the means to achieve.

But whether or not I finish school, and no matter how many trails I blaze in 2013, I want to live my life right here and now. I want to be where my hands are.

Right now, my hands hold my baby, pat her back to burp her, wrestle with diapers to keep her clean and dry, soothe her skin with lotion, and cradle her fragile frame to feed her. My hands massage my husband’s sore shoulders, bring him coffee, and wipe tears away from laughing at his jokes. My hands do dishes, fold laundry, and carry firewood. My hands fold themselves together in prayer repeatedly throughout each day. My hands turn pages, type encouraging words to friends, and write research papers.

???????????????????????????????My hands are full, and they’re full with what matters.

This year, I might operate that cement mixer, and I might teach a college course, and I might even find myself sitting in a brand new sunroom writing my blog. Who knows?

I know that God has given me the right things to hold onto right now. And I’m going to hold on and let everything else go.

 

An empty plate

When it rains, it pours.

I found out that two of my favorite patients have opted for hospice care after battling cancer for several months.

I am making some huge financial decisions that have been a long time coming.

I also found out that my dad is in prison.

Over the past few years, I’ve become more friendly with my emotions. Rather than stuffing them, I just feel them and face them. For me, it’s healthier. Needless to say, there have been more than a fair share of tears shed lately.

Prior to getting all this news and going through these motions, I started reading my Bible more regularly. James and I decided to work our way through it one chapter at a time together, and I also started reading it more often on my own. I’ve been working through Isaiah again. It’s one of my favorite books. One morning, I woke up two hours early and could not get back to sleep. I decided to load up on coffee and God. I came across this verse in Isaiah:

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.”

Sometimes when I’m studying Scripture, I find that one word in a verse jumps out to me or appeals to me. If I follow that trail, I typically find just what I needed to satisfy some longing or answer a question I didn’t even know I had. That day, I started digging, and I discovered that the Hebrew manuscripts define “The Lord” here as “Your God has summoned power for you.”

Your God has summoned great power for you.

I didn’t know I would need this embedded in my heart, but I did. Over the past few weeks, those verses and that definition have come to me in my most weepy moments. My prayers have been desperate.

“In the same way, the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” -Romans 8:26

What do you ask for on behalf of someone with terminal cancer?

What do you pray for when you learn that your loved one is imprisoned?

Several weeks ago, James and I spent the afternoon at Blanchard Springs, cooling off in the water and chasing down crawfish. Afterwards, we went to one of my favorite restaurants, Tommy’s Pizza in Mountain View. Every time I eat there, I get so excited about what’s to come while I’m waiting that I am elated by the time the food arrives, and it never fails to be the best pizza, the best slaw, or the best barbecue EVER.

That day, our waiter brought us four empty plates, two large and two small, and our silverware. As he sat them down, he smiled and said, “This is what hope looks like.”

So I’m waiting on the Lord, holding an empty plate.

He’ll fill it.