7.02.2014

The Jesus Under My Porch

 
 
As you might remember from here, we've been house hunting for a while now.

Since our last search-offer-fail expedition in our coastal city, we moved our sights a couple states over and recently moved into a lovely home in a foresty suburb.

We packed up last month, piled in our car, and set off on the roughly 1000-mile trip. A few days and countless "how far is it"-'s later, we excitedly rolled up to our house. It's our first home, and it's bigger and better than we ever imagined.

We began to unpack ourselves into a slurry of surprises this said dream home had in store for us. This isn't working, that's a little off, those will need some work...

Most of it is normal home-owner stuff, I suppose. It's all new to us just the same and pouring in like the unseasonable torrential rains that welcomed us last week.

Years of scrimping and saving, of planning carefully and underspending led us to this strange place where every which way we turn we need to spend money. Actually, no, you don't even need to "turn" - just move your eyes and the dollar signs will rack up across the horizon of empty, furniture-needing rooms, golden, late 80's chandeliers, dirty white carpet, rotting deck, and leaky showers.

I won't go into all the details, partly because that would be boring and partly because I might look a little insane spending our life savings to make this purchase. Instead, I'll just say, if you come visit us, you might need to go out to the garage to answer the telephone; jiggle the door handle up, not down, if you find yourself stuck in the downstairs bathroom; and maybe do some push-ups to build-up your arm strength before you arrive, just in case you should like to open a window during your stay.

Hold on now. I'm painting a picture of a pretty dumpy place. It is not. It's a beautiful, huge home with a great floor plan and a big yard, sitting in a fabulous neighborhood.

There's just a lot of... surprises. Like the Jesus I found under the porch the other day. I crawled under the deck to turn smack into a massive hunk of wood and plastic greenery with a chipped old manger scene set into it. It's 15 feet long if it's anything. What, pray you, am I going to do with that? (Pun intended.)

 


Add it to the list.

The endless number of projects that I can not tackle immediately nor by myself, the constant outflow of money, the decisions... it's making me a little bit crazy. Crazy like I forgot to take my kids to the first two weeks of swim lessons that I had worked for two days getting them registered for. Crazy like if I have to pick out another light fixture I might point to the gilded gold monkey ones and say, "Those will do." House crazy.

But then, fortunately, by the grace of God (or the Jesus under my porch), my son's Nerf bullet hits me in the eye and I really look around. I am so blessed with this house exactly as it is. Shame on me that I should ever go a minute forgetting that. I hear my daughter's little pink, plastic heels click across the sidewalk and catch a glimpse of her out there in her underwear, following the neighbor's daughter around. Taking care of my family is bigger than any house or yard project will ever be. And then I hear my husband jiggling the bathroom handle, stuck inside and trying to get out. And I laugh. Oh yes, we're going to have some fun here.




5.01.2014

Fighting for Humility




Humility is a hard-learned lesson. Just ask any kid.

Or, ask my kid. My six year old totters in this odd place between thinking he can’t do something at all or that he is absolutely fantastic. Either he cannot read or he is the most skilled kindergarten reader that ever walked the face of the earth. Either he cannot build the Lego set himself or he is such an adept architect that surely Lego Magazine would like to feature him in their next issue.

When he is in that place of supreme confidence, the lessons often come hard that he is in fact not the savant he believes himself to be.

I rarely let those learning opportunities pass without jumping in to lecture him against boasting or false pride.  But this is a tough one to teach. Little ones’ developing senses of self naturally want to recognize any attribute they can possibly (or imaginatively) accredit themselves with. And yet, at the same time, they often possess fragile self-esteem that we certainly do not want to squash.

I am treading in the common parental paradox of teaching humility and modesty while also to have self-esteem and confidence.

And really, this is tough to do.

I don’t have to work at remembering to tell my son when he has done a good job, when I am proud of him, that he is loved by me and by the God that created him. But I do work at helping him to see the value in focusing on others and not himself. I try to teach that humility is a big fat key to opening doors of friendship and success, to living the life God brilliantly taught us will bring joy.

So... however do I convey to my children that to value humility is one of the most profound pieces of wisdom I can offer them?

I say the words over and over again. I try to find new words to say the same things.

But none of it means a whole lot to a six year old, I'm afraid. Not yet anyway. I hope over time they will mean something.

And until then, there’s also the real-world-learning creeping into his developing personhood. I watch him get wrestled to the ground and have to get back up -- literally, wrestled to the ground. His older cousins take him down easily in good natured wrestling matches, in spite of his taking martial arts lessons -  and thereby of course being a superhero fighter of Jedi-skill and strength, in the confines of his own mind. He doesn't heed my words warning against building up his fighting skills, but he does get knocked into teary humiliation on occasion. And I’m okay with that.

 
I mean, don’t get me wrong, I feel bad for my little guy every time. But I figure a little wrangle to shrink his head down to a size that suites him better is okay.

After all, it is humility that leads us to a place of honest recognition of who we really are. It is humility that brings us to acknowledge our need to trust in a God who is greater and wiser than us.

Certainly I would prefer my son didn’t have to get knocked to the ground to be reminded he can in fact be knocked to the ground. Better that we remember we are not Jedi fighters before we start fighting. But I’ll take the fight, if it must be so, over the alternative.



4.02.2014

Top 10 Ways My Toddler is Like a Homeless and/or Crazy Person

I've started to notice some things lately... some general observations about my 2-year old daughter. She, and her fellow toddler contingent in general, exhibit behavior resembling... well, a mentally unsound street person. Yes, that's right, I am comparing my precious, beautiful daughter to a insane vagrant. Here's why:
 
 

10.)  She eats her meals on the go, taking bites while hunched in a corner or while walking around talking to herself.

9.)  She talks to herself.

8.)  She occasionally growls at strangers.

7.)  Aggressive behavior may spring forth at any moment.

6.)  She carries around collected money, old bits of food, and other random small objects in a change purse.



5.)  She asks for money when she sees it.

4.)  She asks for food when she sees it.

3.)  Personal hygiene is not a priority. And she occasionally pees on herself and/or her bedding.

2.) She finds creative (and crazy) uses for objects.
"This glove is for squirting babies."  "My forks hold my shirt."



And the #1 reason my toddler is like a homeless and/or crazy person:

1.) She pushes her most prized objects around in a shopping cart.
This may include blankets, cups of water, dogs, babies, weapons, snacks, sun glasses, shoes, and so on...






I know this is potentially offensive. To the (many) rational, down-and-out folks who are homeless (and reading this blog? =none), I apologize. What can I say? Childish impulses do often resemble insanity.

3.27.2014

Zealots Have Too Much Zeal

I have discovered something about zealots – I mean, other than that they’re annoying – they have too much, well, zeal. That overflow tends to have a couple of counterproductive effects:

(1)  First, they make you feel bad about yourself and your own more moderate (and likely more rational) approach. That is, if you are sympathetic to their cause in any way; if not, skip straight to step 2.

(2)  They turn you away. Extremists generally only attract other extremists. Unreasonableness and lack of empathy never won anyone over to any cause. To the contrary, it turns people away.
I think we should stand-up for what we believe, not lacking and not hiding our conviction. But sometimes I think we also need to remember we *might* be wrong. Or partly-wrong. Or more convincing if we can sympathize with the opposition.

For example, take a few areas that commonly create extremism:
 
Religion
My religion is integrally important to who I am. However, I prefer to retain the ability to converse outside the confines of overt apologetics. This is how I maintain friendships with people who do not share my beliefs – how they can stand to be around me long enough to actually see my beliefs in action. Proselytizing to an empty room is like angrily preaching abomination to an unbeliever… Do either really accomplish anything productive?


Health

Health matters are near and dear to my heart (literally and figuratively.) Two ravaging diseases and standing on the brink of death is pretty effective at turning one’s attention to their health. Regardless of the motivation of my crusade for healthful choices, it’s an awareness I am committed to and want for everyone. Even so, sometimes moderation is the key to longevity.
My family and I still eat out occasionally. We generally eat what other people serve us, even if it’s not something we would buy/make in our own home. And I often let my kids try things they are curious about, so they’re not overly interested, not ostracized from their community of friends over a simple food experience, and to help prevent a backlash of them gorging themselves whenever given the occasion to have a forbidden item.

Frozen pizza and soda at a friends’ will not ruin my child’s organs for eternity, and store-bought breakfast cereal is perhaps not of the devil himself. (Although McDonalds might be; the jury is still out on that one.)
 
Politics

Do I even need to say anything else about this one? Did that one word conjure images of the intolerable people you know who are staunchly right or left and in your face about it? You know the ones, you try to slide past them in social situations and hide their Facebook feeds.



Ironically, if the goal of persuasion reigns over discussion, on any topic, the persuasive powers are diminished. Lectures, sermons, advice from experts, and everyone's opinions all have their place - often very important places. However, that place is not always an aggressive accusation or a mistimed, one-sided conversation with no ears to hear your opposition. 
Look, if I'm honest, sometimes tireless support (yours and mine) just, well, tires me. I want to run these races for a lifetime - not sprint and then fall away.
And sometimes, like extreme animal rights activists that would value a kitten over a human child, the credibility of fanatics is diminished by their very fanaticism.
It is possible to be gentle and still strong in your convictions. It is possible to be convinced but remain open-minded or empathetic, whichever the situation calls for.

You other people can take your zeal and shove it… in a Captain Jesus cereal box made out of kitties and American flags.

3.11.2014

Joy

Let me tell you a story...

It's my very favorite story to tell. I've told it before. I'm sure I'll tell it again.

When I recently was given the opportunity to contribute to a book in-the-works, this is the story I chose. The below is a bit longer than a normal post, but hang in there dear reader; it has a good ending.


 
  
The worn, white sheets stretch across the hospital bed beneath me. The floor is clean and cold, the window too small and doesn’t open. My limp, battered arm is attached to an IV; a taped needle in my overworked, over-prodded vein keeps me tethered to the coat rack on wheels at my side as I lay quietly in the sea of white… white walls, white bedding, white floors. 
I have been here before - so very many times in the last year and half.
I have been sicker than I previously understood existed, diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer, undergone chemotherapy, tests, blood draw after blood draw, ER trips, blood transfusions, surgeries…
Yes, I have been here before. Not this very room, but this sea of white.
This time, though, is so very different. Today, it is not trauma or brokenness that brings me here. It is light, joy, life. Today I have just given birth.
My daughter, my second child, is a tiny eight pounds of perfection sprawled across my scarred chest.
I have been to the depths of darkness and hurt on the path to bringing her to life. I was told a second child would be near bouts impossible for me. When I did shockingly conceive, it was a troublesome nine days into my radiation treatment and I was told I would likely miscarry. Or, perhaps I would birth a deformed child. Perhaps I should consider abortion.
My husband and I did not accede those perhaps’.
I carried my baby for nine shaky months, and then some. I added Obstetricians and Perinatologists to the hoard of medical practitioners whom I carried business cards for in my already-too-full wallet.
As the months of her gestation crept forward, the appointments turned to increasingly good news. I had a growing baby. And I had hope.
Then though, there were some steps backward.
I was sick and unable to take medication. I was reeling from the many dark months just over my shoulder. Nightmares of leaving my toddler son motherless were interrupting my sleep, and my thoughts. And then there was the bloody night in the ER, when I thought I was losing my baby in the miscarriage that I had been warned was so likely.
But here I am. Here we are.
They wipe her off and place her naked onto my chest for skin-to-skin contact. Between my marred and scarred breasts lays a tiny bundle of perfection. She is real and she is here.
Every other thing in the world drifts away as I feel the weight of that warm, breathing baby pressing onto my broken chest. I stare into her little, dark eyes, that are staring right back at me. I run my hands over the long, dark hair covering her flawlessly round head. I feel the length of her back.
The tears are streaming down my cheeks in one of the happiest moments I have experienced. My overjoyed husband lovingly strokes our daughter’s fingers, and then mine. We are so grateful. So happy.
*          *          *
It's a hazy, cool morning, the day after she is born. I stand in front of the shuttered windows of our momentarily quiet recovery room, holding her in my arms and looking out to the view. There's a large medical building across the street from the hospital, not your typical inspiring view, but one that I am appreciating.

The building houses my OB-GYN's office, in particular, the office location I saw the doctor during the early months of my pregnancy. I showed up there as a cancer patient with a pregnancy that wasn't likely to succeed. And here I stand, as a happy new mother in the maternity ward. It is so good to be across the street.

And, it's good to be upstairs. The precarious night where I was bleeding and fearing the baby's loss was just a few floors down in the ER. That could have so easily gone the other way and I wouldn't be standing here today. I clutch my baby closer. It didn't. She is here.

I settle back into the semi-soft bed of white for some more quality time staring at my precious girl. Nurses come and go. Doctors stop by to check on us. A breakfast tray arrives. The business of the hospital carries on around us, but I mostly just see her, taking in her every feature and movement, her smell and the feel of her soft skin.
A woman on the housekeeping staff pushes her cart and mop into the room. She has a long braid down her back and a thick Hispanic accent; she clearly loves to chat and finds me a willing listener. My trash cans get emptied, counters wiped and floors moped and, meanwhile, I learn about her life: how she loves to stay busy to pass the workday, how she has two children at home, and how she recently lost her husband to cancer.
Oh that evil cancer! I relate and tell her briefly how I am familiar with the cancer battle. She looks at me, halfway squinting in surprise. Maybe then she sees my ultra-short hair, newly grown-in since the last round of chemo. Maybe she sees my bruised, weak arms. Maybe she sees my uneven, implant breasts beneath the thin hospital gown. …Or maybe she just sees a young mom, holding her new baby.
Whatever she sees, she is full of empathy and even more advice. Her eyes dart around the room, searching out more things to clean to prolong her visit with me.
Later, when I'm wheeled out the door to the discharge area, I'll look down the hall and see her and her coworkers having a chat as they lean on their carts and mops. I'll raise my arm up over a sleeping baby and give a wave goodbye. A small flood of cheers of congratulations and encouragement will follow me down the hallway in a quite perfect send-off from my new friends: the hospital cleaning staff.

Home we will go, my daughter and I. …Home to a precious big brother and loving daddy awaiting us. Home to a life set back on the track of normal. I step outside the maternity wing with her in my arms and I have just stepped out of the wilderness and back onto a path of life that is comprehensible, pleasant, beautiful.

I am beaming with a gratitude that is so deep, it will never leave me.
*          *          *
 
My struggles with treatment and medication side effects, body image, and life expectancy will continue to parade their ugly selves across my every day for the rest of my life, but will grow weaker in intensity. I will have to fight to work through the pervasive trauma of the last two years of horrible, but the dark memories will eventually dim into a life rebalanced with light.
My daughter is a gift from God that will help me move forward, not begrudging the cancer that stole so much from me, but being grateful that I have been so blessed as to forge back into a life that knows joy.
Joy… my daughter’s middle name.
 

2.20.2014

Shout Out



 An important method of coping during the worst of times for me, was to embrace the positive.

I don't want that to sound overly simple. If you are hearing birds chirping or seeing Pollyanna's bright smile, let me mute the tone a shade. When I was pushing a walker painfully down my hallway, when I couldn't lift Little H and certainly couldn't run and play with him, when I was lying in the bathtub bleeding through the night, when I was cleaning bags of dangling puss from my surgical drains... there was no positive. Or certainly not that I could see. 

But there was always a next morning. That's when I would get up again, lift my eyes to a God I hoped would sustain me, push back my shoulders, and ask myself what I was going to do that day.

When I was coping with Spondylitis alone, this was more difficult. I simply put a whole lot of hope in fixing the problem, in being cured of the debilitation ripping through my normal. When cancer joined the ugly picture, I had much more help with attempting to cope, heal, and find joy in the present. Organizations and opportunities arose to offer aid.
I found - and continue to find - myself embracing all manner of positive opportunities. Be it retreats or classes, lectures or conferences, photo shoots or outlandish seize-the-day-activities, I appreciate taking part. It's important to me to bring benefit into the picture where I can - to be able to look up on occasion and say, If I didn't have cancer, I wouldn't be here right now - and that's a good thing.

There are so many foundations, organizations, groups, and people out there extending bits of peace and joy to those in trying times. People make a difference, of course in our individual relationships, and also in our organized efforts. So this one goes out to you, the nonprofits that profit so many of us.

Here are the cancer support organizations that have been of exceptional benefit to me:




Cancer Support Community - for all people with or supporting someone with cancer




Foundation for Living Beauty - for women with cancer


 
First Descents - for young people with cancer

 

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.