Archive of ‘Book Reviews’ category

Surgery Scheduled. Steady My Heart. A Team Danica Update

by

Trust
“Then you’ll take delight in the Almighty; and will turn your face toward God. You’ll entreat Him and He’ll listen to you as you fulfill your vows. When you make a decision on something, it will be established for you, and light will brighten your way.”–Job 22:26-28

How many times have we fallen into a hotel bed in Cincinnati, Ohio? I should have been keeping a tally along the way. Our first trip was April, 2010. Danica was two and a half years old. We saw the crazy 3DCT confirming her atlas assimilation and how badly her first Chiari decompression failed her. The five months between the tragic news and her second decompression and difficult fusion were filled with second, third and fourth opinions. The surgeons threw their hat in the ring only to second guess themselves and the risk vs. benefit for our little girl and their own surgical careers. There was so little information about a case like hers. We were praying like crazy but moving forward in fits and starts. Many of you read our story as I pecked it out on our little Team Danica blogger site. You were witness to the wrestling of faith and fear. You saw the strain in our marriage and family. You saw me breaking physically and mentally as I fought for the best chance at the best life for my girl.

I’ve been reading for an online Bible study I’m doing from Suzanne Eller’s book Come With Me: Discovering the Beauty of Where He Leads. I’m seeing myself in the humanity of the disciples as we dig deeper. These men saw crazy impossible miracles and days later questioned the economics of a few loaves and fishes and thousands of people. God gave us a miracle. As time passed I thought God was punctuating Danica’s suffering so we could move on to my own bitter fight. The disciples were always forgetting, weren’t they? I don’t want to forget our first miracle. Suzie writes about her husband’s cancer diagnosis years after her own fight with breast cancer. “We beat the odds, and that was a gift. For a long time I thought that was the big miracle, but later I realized the true miracles came as we dug deep into our faith and came up with enough to make it through the day–or the hour if that was what was required.” Whether it’s been six days or six years you’d think I would forever remember the kind of healing and scandalous provision God made for us, but sometimes I don’t. There were moments leading up to our Cincinnati trip I was too blinded by what was unfolding again to turn back and SEE. My heart is fused forward, like my literal neck. Forward. Do the next thing. Do the next thing you think you cannot do. In the past few weeks I’ve been reaching through our story to remember. It aches in the deepest place. You’ve been asking. You’ve been praying. If I write it. If I say it. It’s more true. So I haven’t.

“God, I don’t think we can do this.”

Danica needs another complicated surgery. Her beautiful hardware is broken along with at least one level of fusion. She also has a piece of shunt tubing left near her brain stem. It’s dangerous and needs removed. I could write a neurosurgical and cervical spine treatise here, but it would confuse most of you. We went to Cincinnati with trepidation. After our scans and appointments in late July her case was escalated to new surgeons. We had no idea what our meeting there would look like. I approached it as an information gathering session. The surgeons were humble and kind. They patiently let me ask every detailed question. Dan and Danica mostly listened but felt comfortable in raising their own less clinical concerns. We walked away with an ambiguous scope of surgery and some warning flags. We returned home dealing with Danica’s escalating anxiety about the hows and whens of surgery. “Mom, I just want to know what’s going to happen and MOVE ON.”

While waiting for an important opinion from a surgeon at Johns Hopkins we prayed for guidance. I begged God to make the crooked path straight and help us know for sure where we needed to be. He answered. Last week I got the second call from the Johns Hopkins surgeon after he reviewed every single bit of Danica’s history, prior op notes and her imaging. All the concerns were addressed before I could even raise them. A light shone bright. There are still many details to work out, but her tentative surgery date is Wednesday, October 12th, in Baltimore. She needs an invasive myelogram to see exactly how to approach the drain tubing in such a precarious place. We will have several days of pre-op there before surgery. She will be hospitalized a week or so after surgery. Depending on how she is healing we may need to stay in the area for awhile after discharge. And she will have to wear a brace. There’s no posturing. This is a hard surgery. The brain part. The hardware removal. The new fusion including taking some of Danica’s own rib to make fusion slurry for her neck. This is harder than the prior one, but it must be done and soon and in a new city and at a new hospital.

I’ve been pushing myself to get the girls settled into their new school year. I’ve been trying to spend heart to heart time with my Laney. I finished my last big round of chemo last Tuesday. I will have a Rituxin treatment every six weeks moving forward. My C4-5 is cachunking every time I move my neck. My appointments planned with Dr. Liu at UVA for shunt post op and my scans and appointment in Chevy Chase with Dr. Henderson are the Friday and Monday before Danica’s planned surgery. I know in my heart I won’t be able to make them, but I refuse to cancel them. I need them. I can’t figure out the logistics, but I hate to be so close and not follow through. I’ve been on the phone for hours every day with hospitals, billing departments and our insurance company. It’s soul sapping work. The Virginia hospital where I had my VP shunt placed in April sent my account to judicial affairs. They are suing us. In all our crushing medical debt this is only the second time a hospital has gone to this measure to get a judgment to pursue a levy of Dan’s wages. I’m trying to understand the amount. My insurance company is helping. If I agree to make any payments then I’m accepting the amount which we think is wrong. I’ve focused on paying Danica’s bills this year to prepare for possible surgery at the hospital in Cincinnati. (The money you’ve donated has made the way for us to take those trips and pay most of those bills. Thank you. Thank you. Can you feel our hearts? Thank you.) I try to keep the stress from Dan while quietly informing him. He is working so hard. We can only do what we can do. He can’t become paralyzed by the weight. I try to carry it. I’ve hit a wall. My left eye is twitching. My jaw hurts from clenching and grinding. I ache all over. I’m out of cortisol. The adrenaline is spent.

“God, I don’t think I can do this.”

I’ve felt the needle in my spinal cord. The cut in my back to take a rib. The slicing of the back of my head and neck for a third time. The spasms from damaged nerves and cut muscles. It hurts like hell. To look in my Danica’s eyes knowing that agony is suffering multiplied.

A week ago Danica and I were driving to Paper Allure, a sweet #pentopaper shop I love, to pick up a birthday gift for a friend when the call from the Hopkin’s surgeon came. I pulled over in a parking lot, put him on speaker and jotted notes. Danica heard the entire thing including new, more scary parts of her surgery. She was quiet the few blocks from where we stopped to our destination. At the store she saw a display of bracelets hung by clothespins with one word on them. They are made of swarovski crystals and were a little pricey. She asked if she could have one. I reminded her that she had a birthday soon and maybe it would be special to get one to wear for her surgery. The young lady helping me overheard us. She went in the back room to wrap my gift, and the owner of the shop told her she could let Danica pick one. Kindness changes everything. Danica’s eyes lit up and out of all the possible words like hope and courage and believe she picked trust. The bracelet is from a beautiful project called Little Words. It has a little gold tag with a number you register online with your own story. You wear the bracelet as long as you need the word. When you meet someone who needs the word more than you it’s time to pass it on. They log on and continue the narrative of the life of the bracelet and the one word. In the car on the way home I asked her why she picked the word she did. With the simple faith of a child she said, “Because I TRUST God.” She’s asked for me to read her old entries on Team Danica. She wants me to tell her about the Gauntlet. She still believes in the gift. Oh, God, I can’t see it, but she can. As I tucked her in bed that night she asked to see ALL my scars. She said “If you can go through that many surgeries and be okay, I’ll be okay.” This weekend we worked on making a folder of photos and short video clips from her journey. I’m wanting to make a multimedia slideshow with a new fight song. I played a few I was considering on YouTube for her. She ran to her room and grabbed the first edition ipad with the shattered screen, the one someone bought her six years ago while she was in her wheelchair, and said, “This is the song we should use.” It was Kari Jobe’s “Steady My Heart.” It’s a song on her own playlist she listens to over and over again. I cried as we listened to the meaningful lyrics.

She believes.

He’s here.
He’s real.
We can trust Him.
Even when it hurts. Even when it’s hard. Even when it all just falls apart.
We can run to Him.
He is lover of our hearts.
He is healer of our scars.
We find refuge in His arms.

My Danica Jean is taking the lead. She’s grabbed my hand. She’s reminding me to lean hard. She’s showing me how to trust again.

“God, we can do this.
Through Your strength.
By Your Grace.
We can do this.
Please, steady our hearts.”

You might also like

Cliché Cringe. Celebrating Soul Bare. And a Giveaway

by

#SoulBare
“Inauthenticity, hiding and pretending to be someone we are not, leads to shame. Refusing to be vulnerable for the sake of preserving pride and self-image destroys the possibility of living in Jesus’ freedom and joy and hope.”Jennifer J. Camp

I hate bandwagons. I can love something like crazy, but if too many people start to love it too I become suspect. The road less traveled, the narrow gate, the eye of a needle…these are the things I want to be part of. I’m a fan of precise words, and I hate the cliché, especially Christian ones. Here are a few I’ve tried to weed out of my vocabulary in the past few years,

Authentic
Transparent
Vulnerable

I used to appreciate them, but then everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, started saying they were suddenly telling the whole truth about everything. And I cringed. They became fingernails on a chalkboard. I would hear them or read them, and I’d get a mini barf in the back of my throat.

I wrote Gauntlet with a Gift out of context…without the memoir that came before. And then the doubts came. Why would you believe all this suffering was a gift of scandalous love and Grace if you didn’t know what I was rescued and redeemed from? I didn’t tell you about the child who found Jesus and then lost Him. I didn’t tell you about the ugly, abusive church that keeps me from going to this day. I didn’t tell you about how being a victim of violence triggered the sudden onset of a prodigal life or how I became a self made orphan, a drunk, a slut and then a prostitute, a thief, a murderer, and an adulteress. All of you reading my old blog day after day and following our hard on social media saw me stumbling in faith but always finding my way back to Dayenu. Even this was enough. It was more than enough. It was more than I deserved. I was daring to call it good as long as He was getting the glory. None of this makes any sense unless you know the before. So I saved Gauntlet away. I took the Scrivener short cut off my desktop, and I claimed “Listen” for this year. I’ve written almost nothing. I’m less true. I’m more covered. I’m more guarded. I fear the cliché. I’m terrified of the overshare.

Part of the listening has become a Spirit led passion to read well and support other writers who are brave truth tellers. Mostly offline. Slowly God has allowed me to form authentic relationship with these transparent and vulnerable Jesus people. I am realizing their stories are layers of sin and suffering saved by Grace and faith just like mine. Sometimes their middles need told before the beginnings. Sometimes they stand alone. There are no hard, fast rules to this messy business. I’m also understanding as much as our narratives have similar chords they are also uniquely ours and, yes, each and every one has the power to help and heal, sometimes others and most of all ourselves.

A beautiful anthology of short authentic, transparent, vulnerable stories from friends I know and friends I’d like to know were born through a midwife, Cara Sexton. The book is Soul Bare. Some of the writers I’ve had the great privilege of meeting face to face. I’ve shared meals and worship and sacrament with them in sacred space. Some of the stories are from writers I’ve never heard of. They don’t have book deals or speaking obligations. They have small online places where they shed pretense and practice real. As blogging fades into podcasts and live video streaming, there are still plenty of us who wish we could stay in 2007 with our one hundred faithful readers (was “following” even a thing then?) and just lay it down day after day in words. If you miss that kind of intimacy, you will love this book.

Cara ends with this beautiful description of “what it means to be soul bare…”

…This is what it means to seek God with all our heart and mind and soul. It does not mean, as anyone who has ever lingered in Christian subculture may suspect, that we have reached a pinnacle of faith–that we have simply believed hard enough.

It is to be lost and found, over and over again. It is to recognize the upside-down nature of the things of this world. It is to know that even when we are lost, we have a finding place. It is to know the word ‘help.’

Even when we have no words, even when we have only blindness and cannot take ourselves to the Word made flesh, He comes anyhow, somehow…He comes, and against all odds, we see.

Cara isn’t one of the writers I knew. Just before this book was published one of the other writers included in the book, a mutual friend, connected us for an entirely different reason than words. Cara has been a chronic illness warrior for years with muddied diagnoses. They just found her Chiari malformation. Oh how I wish I had a printed copy of Gauntlet to mail her. Maybe, just maybe, Danica and I’s story matters just as it is.

I’m celebrating Soul Bare with a giveaway!
Here’s how to enter:

1. Share this post on social media to give your friends a chance to win this amazing book.
2. Please leave a comment here about what being authentic, vulnerable and transparent means to you.
3. Please say a prayer for my new friend Cara.

A winner will be randomly chosen from all the entries on Monday night, August 15th, and announced Tuesday morning from my chemo chair.

You might also like

Happiness. Even Here? Taking the Dare. And a Giveaway

by

TheHDare
“There’s happiness right where we are. God is daring us to stalk it. Sometimes it shows up small. But it’s important that we look, because some days the looking will save us.”—Jennifer Dukes Lee, The Happiness Dare

It’s early morning. I’m sitting at the cancer center receiving three bags of IV medicine that prepare my body for the chemotherapy to follow. Steroids, Phenergan and Benadryl along with a hefty dose of oral Tylenol pave the way for a long infusion of Rituxin. This is the first of four infusions, one a week for the next four weeks. I’ve just come through another grueling round of five plamapheresis treatments. Every time we say I can’t do it again. The access to my main ventricle is more and more dangerous. We had to go in the left side through my jugular and tuck the catheter under my clavicle and cross my heart under the skin to get it placed this time. It was even more painful than usual. The consensus between all my doctors is the Rituxin worked at suppressing the autoimmune attacks for a longer period than ever before. After this aggressive month long push I will continue to receive chemo infusions every six weeks indefinitely. I feel hopeful about the new plan.

Most cancer center infusion rooms are similar. This one has over thirty recliners lined up in rows. There is a fireplace and a large TV. When you come in early, like I do, you get to pick your spot first. Slowly the room begins to fill with patients in various stages of cancer. This particular oncologist is known as a cowboy. He does research trials on drugs in various stages of approval. Most of these patients have been told there is nothing else available in their fight, and they come here. This huge room is scattered with people, young and old, who are committed to fighting and holding on. Many of them say their lives have been prolonged years because of their chemo and care here. Still, it is not a “happy” place.

My friend Jennifer Dukes Lee gave birth to a new book today. She named it The Happiness Dare. I love Jennifer’s writing, both her last book Love Idol and her blog. Still, I have to admit I’m just not in a place to play the glad game. When her book showed up on my doorstep the week before last, I resisted the cheerful blue cover with the yellow candy font. The last thing I wanted to be challenged about was happiness. Really? How could I find happiness in all this never ending hard?

Over the last ten years of unrelenting trial in our family’s life, I’ve wrestled with God’s asking me to “Count it all joy.” Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. I understand the suffering of this short life cannot be compared to the eternal glory waiting. This is my ultimate hope. I’m not sure I’ve ever fully believed happiness is something God wants for me. The Happiness Dare blows this wide open, and it begins with Jesus.

“Jesus’ most famous sermon happened in the region of Galilee on a mount. Envision the crowds gathering to hear what the Nazarene has to say. Find a patch of grass or a comfortable rock on the hillside and listen as Jesus begins to speak.

The first word out of His mouth is not holy. It is not joyful. It is happy.

“Happy are those who…”

The word for happy in the Scriptures is Greek makarios. Some translations use the English word blessed whenever makarious appears in the New Testament, But other translators—keenly away that makarios comes from the word makar (which means happy or blessed)—translate the word to happiness instead.

It’s on that mount Jesus opens a profoundly important door into the happiness we can have in Him.”

Jennifer goes on to address the rub in the Christian tradition between joy and happiness. Mix in holy, and the waters are even muddier.

Happiness isn’t the opposite of holy. It’s part of what makes you holy.

Happiness isn’t the opposite of joy. It’s a part of Chris-inspired joy, expressed within you.

Happiness isn’t selfish, or stupid, or wrong or ridiculous.
When we seek it, we are more, not less, like Jesus.

Our happiness is hemmed directly into the heart of joy. How many truly joyful people do you know who are pinched-faced Christians? If you have to dig a mile deep to find a person’s smile, is that really joy? Or has the misery disguised itself as deep Christian joy?”

Does joy in Jesus abide and happiness come and go with our circumstances? I’m ever grateful Jennifer began her book with the theology behind her dare to be happy. I had to read chapter two several times before I could move on. I realized along with her I have never bothered to ask God for happiness. Ever.

“Maybe I had never asked because I didn’t think I deserved happiness. Maybe I’d heard too many sermons telling me that I’d be far better off aiming for the more durable virtue of joy. If I prayed for happiness, I feared I might sound like a woman who believed in a prosperity gospel, which promises happiness through prosperity and success. But I didn’t believe that kind of gospel at all. I didn’t want happiness at the expense of holiness. I wanted happiness as a part of being a human created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

I exhaled. I got down on my knees, and I dared to ask God to make me happy. Happy here in this chair with chemo slowly dripping, even knowing how utterly sick I will feel tonight and tomorrow. Happy understanding this road is one of healing but always fighting and never fully healed here on earth. Happy learning an unimaginable new surgery is needed for my Danica. Happy opening the mailbox to find the crushing medical bills I know I can’t pay. Happy watching my Delaney and my Dan experience all this as if it was happening to them. I’m seeking and asking for enduring happiness. Will you take the dare with me?

“Takers of the Happiness Dare learn that God not only cares about our happiness, He encourages us to go after it. The Happiness Dare is a challenge to enter into a holy pursuit of happiness, to boycott cynicism, to wring delight out of our ordinary days, and to hunt for happiness even when it’s hard to see…Dare to believe that our happiness actually matters to God.”

Friends, this book is good. Jennifer takes you through finding happiness in earthly pleasure through the good gifts of God. She encourages you to taste heavenly joy even now in His kingdom on earth. She lovingly takes your heart and hand to explore your unique happiness wiring or happiness personality style. (Not a big surprise mine is The Giver) She ends her book specifically addressing happiness in times of pain, loss and grief and our ultimate desire for eternal happiness in heaven. Without these chapters punctuating her dare I still might have felt this book didn’t apply to me. But it does. It is for you too!

“Let’s do this. Let’s frighten the critics and baffle the cynics.
Be like Jesus.
Take the dare.”

“I have told you this to make you completely happy as I am.”—John 15:11 CEV

Gifts are a crazy loud love language (and now I know a happiness personality) of mine. I’m so excited to invite you to join me in celebrating the launch of Jennifer’s book with a giveaway! The winner will a copy of The Happiness Dare

Here’s how to enter:
1. Share this post on social media to give your friends a chance to win this amazing book.
2. Please leave a comment here about a big or small way you’ve found happiness by really seeking it out.
3. Totally optional but highly recommended is to head over to Jennifer’s place and subscribe to her blog Jennifer Dukes Lee. SIGN UP TO TAKE THE DARE and read her post today with all kinds of fun giveaways. I had the honor of meeting Jennifer at The High Calling retreat in November, 2014 and have been truly blessed by her writing and her friendship.

A winner will be randomly chosen from all the entries on Sunday night, August 7th, and announced Monday morning!

You might also like

When I Simply Cannot Pray. Help

by

hospital

Some mornings she simply cannot
bring herself to pray. Even so, a prayer
will at times break through her clenched lips,
announcing the slow drain at her heart.
She will raise her face from its cage of fingers
and gape at the fog that has lain itself down
over the field behind her house like
a dream of erasure. Even the green trees have
lost color. No air breathes. Not a wing of sound
flies back from the highway behind the hill.

And then some midnight, when faith
has quite emptied itself, a familiar loneliness
makes itself at home under her ribs.
A ghost of God? An inkling? She holds
her breath, listens as a small draught
weathers its way through the eaves,
into her ears. The next moment she hears her child
stir in the room down the hall, calling
her name, as if (s)he names her longing and in
that naming, names a kind of answer.
–Luci Shaw, The Angles of Light

I texted a friend last night. “I’m losing my religion.” Yes, full blown, Michael Stipe singing in the background, losing it.

“Oh no, I’ve said too much.”

It was day three of a new round of plamapheresis slowly emptying the flaring infections attacking every part of my body and brain. It is always grueling. I arrive early to have labs drawn. It takes a few hours for the numbers to come back. Twice, last Thursday and today, my treatments have been cancelled because my fibrinogen is too low. The hospital where I receive treatments is in a major shift in their dialysis unit. It’s left them with only two nurses who know how to run the machine I need. My usual nurse leaves tomorrow for a long vacation and the other nurse is off all this week. We were trying to cram five treatments that should be given every other day into less than a week, and my body appropriately screamed “No way!”

As Dan was driving me back to the hospital yesterday I was on the phone with Cincinnati Children’s confirming what scans Danica will be having next Tuesday. Realizing my last pheresis will be Monday, the day before we take this oh so hard trip, I was already unhinged. The head ortho nurse looked back in the spine conference notes and said it indicated a CT angiogram that had not been ordered. Trying to get this scheduled at the last minute is nearly impossible even at the main campus much less at the Liberty location where our other scans and appointment is. She said she would work on it and call me Thursday. Yes, this is how things happen in health care. There is clinic and surgeries and other people’s children in the balance. I learned long ago how to walk the delicate line of being a strong advocate and also a compassionate patient. When my daughter is in the exam room or on the OR table I want others to respect and care for us too.

When Dan picked me up several hours later I was ashen, freezing cold in 80 degree heat, crazy nauseous and tired and never more aware of how hard all this is. Anne Lamott writes in her treasure of a book, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, “If I were going to begin practicing the presence of God for the first time today, it would help to begin admitting the three most terrible truths of our existence: that we are so ruined, and so loved, and in charge of so little.” Yes. This.

I am ruined. My body failing me over and over again in countless ways is the ultimate betrayal. It’s never been about believing God can heal me. It’s surrendering to the fact it will not fully happen in this life. There are some victories. The fight is not in vain, but I have to put out a white flag on this complete healing thing. In eternity, yes. Here, no.

I am loved. So loved. My friend who takes me to treatment and comes to get me whenever she can is love. I don’t call her. She calls me. She knows the asking is my Achilles heel. Her calling her son-in-law to help when she can’t is love. Him coming on his precious day off is love. The same friend’s husband buying our favorite Stouffer’s frozen enchiladas while he’s shopping is love. The expression on his face when he sees me and the wisdom in his words, “There’s nothing I can say,” is love. Another friend showing up with an unplanned meal on a day our family was near implosion is love. Tuna casserole can in fact be manna. A package in the mail with epsom salts, unscented lotion and herbal tea and #pentopaper encouragement is love. A friend showing up with food, pet meds and a check from a lemonade stand her sweet girls had to help with Danica’s trip is love. All your donations on our gofundme site are scandalous love. Your prayers, especially when I just cannot pray for myself, are love.

I am in charge of so little. Really, nothing. I can’t orchestrate the rest of this treatment and plan rides to and from even if I asked for help. I can’t predict exactly how our Cincinnati trip will go. Both outcomes of these scans and appointments are worse case scenarios. I can’t tell Danica it’s all going to be okay and soon she will be able to run and play. I can’t ease her very real fears about the future of this broken metal in her neck that once gave her a miracle. I can’t keep my Laney safe while we are away or heal any of the scars leaving her over and over again all these years have left on her heart and mine. I can’t pay our bills. I can’t stop the constant swirling spreadsheet of debt from cutting off my air supply and sending my body into a stress induced panic every time the phone rings or the mail truck pulls away. I can’t go back to work to try to fix all this. I want to work so badly. I want the prideful, self sufficient feeling of doing anything to make this less of a mess, but I can’t. I can’t give my husband the one thing he wants more than anything in the world–his Moni Kaye back. Worst of all, I simply cannot pray.

After my family was in bed last night I slipped into the pitch black sun room, laid on the cold floor and called the friend I texted earlier. She is always my place to tell the whole truth. I cried. I shook my fists. I told her how mad I am. I told her how I really want to give up. In the same breath I had to talk about the love. I couldn’t not mention the love. Something happened. In Anne’s same book she calls it a “divine limpness.” I was saying all the things to my friend I wanted to get on my knees at my prayer bench and say to my God.

“…In that divine limpness you’ll be able to breathe again. Then you’re halfway home. In many cases breath is all you need. Breath is holy spirit. Breath is Life. It’s oxygen. Breath might get you a little rest. You must be so exhausted…

Through prayer, we take ourselves off the hook and put God on the hook, where God belongs. When you’re on the hook, you’re thrashing, helpless, furious, like a smaller kid lifted by the seat of his pants by a mean big kid. Jesus, on the literal hook of the cross, says to God, ‘Help,’ and God enters into every second of the Passion like a labor nurse.

When you get your hooks out of something, it can roll away, down its own hill, away from you. It can breathe again. It got away from you, and your tight sweaty grip, and your stagnant dog breath, the torture of watching you do somersaults and listening to you whine ‘What if?’ and ‘Wait, wait, I have ONE more idea…’

You can go from monkey island, with endless chatter, umbrage, and poop-throwing, to what is happening in front of me. God, what a concept. It means I stop trying to figure it out, because trying to figure it out is exhausting and crazy-making. Doping it has become the problem.

So when we cry out ‘help’, or whisper it into our chests, we enter the paradox of not going limp and not feeling that we can barely walk, and we release ourselves from the absolute craziness of trying to be our own–or other people’s–higher powers.

Help.

We can be freed from a damaging insistence on forward thrust, from a commitment to running wildly down a convenient path that might actually be taking us deeper into the dark forest. Praying ‘help’ means that we ask that something give us the courage to stop us in our tracks, right where we are, and turn our fixation away from the Gordian knot of our problems. We stop the toxic peering and instead turn our eyes to something else; to our feet on the sidewalk; to the middle distance; to the hills, whence our help comes. Something else. Anything else. Maybe this is a shift of only eight degrees, but it can be a miracle.

It may be one of those miracles when your heart sinks, because you think it means you have lost. But in surrender, you have won. And if it were me, after a moment, I would say, ‘Thanks.'”

I hung up the phone, wiped my eyes and blew my nose. I peeked into my girl’s rooms on my way to bed. I remembered my Danica’s prayer, the one I was almost too jaded to hear, “Dear Jesus, Thank you for this day. HELP mommy to get her treatments and to get better. THANK YOU for my friend’s lemonade stand to raise money so I can see my doctors in Cincinnati. THANK YOU for my stuffed peas in a pod. (A gift from her friend she held tightly as she prayed.) Help grandpa and grandma to get home safely. HELP Anna Mae at her new home. THANK YOU for Jesus who died on the cross for our sins. HELP us be more like Him. Amen.” (This is a variation of her same bedtime prayer every night.) Her childlike faith and Sleep Sound in Jesus lullabies tucked her heart and mind safely in when I could not.

I crawled into my own bed, put my earbuds in and listened to R.E.M.’s old song “Losing My Religion.” I was transported back to the summer I saw them in concert at the Gund Arena. I was so far from God but wanting Him and needing Him so badly it ached. I held up my lighter during “Everybody Hurts” as tears ran down my face. Even then I know He heard my “Help.”

This morning Dan and I left our house at 6:30 am so he could drop me at the hospital for labs before he headed to work. A few miles down the highway I felt utterly sick, and we took an exit so I could run into a McDonalds and empty my stomach of the curdled worry and grief I’d ingested the night before. After the needle and the many tubes of blood I waited for hours to get the results. The director of dialysis found me in the sixth floor waiting room. She felt so badly about their staffing issues pushing me to come on days I clearly was not going to be able to proceed. She told me she called the nurse who was on vacation locally. Her daughter had a baby, and she took the week off to help her. She would come in Thursday to get another treatment in. I cried. More love. More thanks. I called my sister, Alecia, who has managed more nonsense in the past week than any one person should have to. I said, “I’m sorry. I need HELP. Can you come get me?” She rallied her girls, got them dressed and drove the twenty minutes to pick me up. I sat in the light filled atrium waiting. I turned my face towards the bright sun, and the Spirit groaned for me what I could not utter and then I said,

“Thank you.”

Amen.

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”–Romans 8:26

atrium

You might also like

Letting the Light Be

by

“If I did not like the way the light looked at a given moment, I knew it would change. If I loved the way the light looked at a given moment, I knew it would change. I could not speed it up, and I could not slow it down…the light was my life…Paying attention to it, I lost my will to control it. Watching it, I became patient. Letting it be, I became well.”–Barbara Taylor Brown, An Altar In The World

Light

I’m sitting at the Raleigh-Durham airport. Our flight should have been in the sky in time to see the sun setting from the windows. Instead we are on a several hour delay. I have traveled alone the majority of my life. I’ve flown many times for work, pleasure and health appointments. I have rarely minded settling in to people watch, read and write and listen to a favorite playlist. When I don’t have to manage other people’s emotions I can handle most anything and even find some kind of enjoyment in it. With Dan and the girls along I become acutely aware of their fatigue, their frustrations associated with boredom and waiting and their hunger and thirst. Tonight I sit with a bottle of Purell and a package of wipes. I’m anxious for them and with them. I take a Valium for my neck in spasm from carrying my bag and sitting so long in a strained position, and I pray. “God, don’t let this long day and night become an ugly ending punctuation on such a beautiful trip. Help us be kind. Help us be patient. Take us home safely. Amen.”

We’ve been in North Carolina on the shores of the Atlantic for a week now. It wasn’t a secret. It was a last minute, quiet gift from dear friends who know more than most what we’ve been through and what we are facing. It was perfect timing. The Tuesday to Tuesday slid between two tropical storm systems. We had beautiful sunny days. Every moment was Grace. Grace by definition is “undeserved merit.” People look at our hard and often say when we get a small break, “No one deserves it more than you guys do.” We don’t operate from this place.

This trip still pinches. The “cheap” flights come with baggage fees. The kennel for Twixie, the airport parking and inevitable eating out despite our many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches strain our “impossible” budget. I tried not to speak in terms of “not enough” to Dan and the girls. I live in the truth of DAYENU. Enough. This entire trip is MORE THAN ENOUGH. This is reality for me. I literally don’t take a single breath for granted. I want my family to understand this as fully as I feel it, but I’m not sure anyone can unless they’ve sat in the painful void as long as I have.

Dayenu

A little gnawing voice has whispered we shouldn’t be here at all. People donated so much money so I could go to UVA and have my latest surgery. I constantly run my fingers over the map of the winding skull incision where prickly new hair tries to grow. I feel the raised bump of my shunt and follow the tubing down the side of my head and behind my ear. I remember. This is why you’ve loved us over and over. This is what you prayed for. You’ve wanted a pain free day in the light for my family and I. God answered with a week of them.

There’s an email in my inbox from Danica’s retired orthopedic surgeon’s assistant. We are trying to schedule Danica’s new appointment in Cincinnati so we are able to see him after her scans and consult with the current head of orthopedic’s at Children’s. It’s never easy coordinating. Dan and I cannot wrap our heads around another trip with long drives on roads that hold so much dread. We can’t think about hotels, bad food, waiting and more waiting and most of all our Danica Jean’s eyes trying to be brave but spilling tears of fear about the unknown. I tried to stay in the HERE and NOW all week but sitting here tonight watching Danica hold her little neck in her hands with the pained look I know all too well I am scared of what comes next.

The light is ever changing. I’m always chasing it. I’ve come to know treasures in darkness. I thought I could write and publish a book about the gifts found in ugly packages. The more I read over my own words the more hollow they seemed. I didn’t delete them, but I hid them away. The same friend who gave us this trip asked me to pull “Gauntlet” back out and read it again. She challenged me to reconsider what I poured from my heart there…maybe not as it is written but at the very core. My vision has matured. What was myopic about Danica’s miracle and my own journey has new layers now. I was trying to write an ending that hasn’t happened yet. I was trying to speed up what could only be seen by slowing down.

I am watching.
I am paying attention.
I’m letting things be.
I’m becoming well.

“And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness–secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.”–Isaiah 45:3

You might also like

Changing Light

by

“If you live in the dark a long time and the sun comes out, you do not cross into it whistling. There’s an initial uprush of relief at first, then-for me, anyway- a profound dislocation. My old assumptions about how the world works are buried, yet my new ones aren’t yet operational. There’s been a death of sorts, but without a few days in hell, no resurrection is possible.” ― Mary Karr, Lit
Changing Light

The last time I wrote here I felt like I was dying. I wanted to die. My intracranial pressure ushered me into one of the darkest times of my entire life. The unrelenting pain felt as close to hell as possible without total separation from God. Without the “inch of daylight underneath my door” I might not be here.

I knew my third lumbar shunt had failed. In addition to the mind blowing headache I had a knife like pain where the shunt was placed under my ribs on the right side. My face carried the expression of someone being stabbed over and over again. I don’t remember smiling for months. I don’t remember laughing. When I passed by a mirror I gasped at my reflection. It’s easy to forget who you are or why you are here when it feels like the demons of pain are inhabiting every part of your mind, body and spirit. You just want release.

Our March trip to Cincinnati for critical and overdue scans and appointments for Danica showed shocking images of her broken cervical fusion and hardware. They jolted me into an even more heartbreaking reality. A close friend visited me the week we returned. She knows in an intimate way how I suffer. I texted and asked her to wait a few hours later than planned before arriving. She told me she was prepared to perhaps find me dead when she arrived. She would be the one I wanted to find me. She wouldn’t blame me. My girls would just know their mommy was very sick, and my body couldn’t survive any more. She found me crumpled in my corner chair but very much alive. Couched in her compassion she reminded me I was the only one who could advocate for my sweet girl. I needed to live, and I needed to do whatever I could to be more well for the fight.

Deciding to live meant humbling myself AGAIN and asking for your help. You can’t know how gut wrenching begging is unless you’ve had to do it. I prayed for two things at the beginning of 2016. I wanted no new surgery, and I pleaded with God I wouldn’t need resources from you. He said “No” to both. He orchestrated the details for me to get an appointment with a very skilled vascular neurosurgeon at the University of Virginia right away. YOU gave us the money I needed to travel, pay for upfront medical costs and for the long hotel stay needed for diagnostic procedures and post op. I left my family and headed to the Blue Ridge. It was fitting I would find real help with dogwoods blooming all around. In a surgery not without complications my lumbar shunt and tubing was removed. I have two large incisions on my back and my upper abdomen from the tricky extraction. The surgeon then cut a flap on the top of the right side of my skull and implanted a VP shunt. The tubing begins in a hole drilled in my skull and snakes through smaller cuts behind my ear and down through my chest all the way into my abdomen where it empties excess cerebral spinal fluid that collects around my brain and causes the pressure. This shunt is different in many ways. Most notably it is adjustable. This means as pressure situations or my body’s reaction to them change we can re-calibrate without a new surgery.

I don’t have a headache. I haven’t had a headache since my surgery a month ago.

My pain was an incarceration. Most days I felt like I’d been thrown in the dark and bitter hole of solitary confinement. I’ve been adjusting to the sudden light and the sights, sounds, tastes and even smells of good. I didn’t know if it would happen. My husband and children didn’t know if it would happen. Every surgery and treatment has been like a parole hearing. The results of this VP shunt placement are a “YOU ARE FREE.” I know I’m out “on bond.” My body will fail in new ways and commit old crimes, but today, in the light, staring at the sun, I know for sure God heals. It is a mending that will come in fits and starts until heaven. I surrender to this, but I also believe He wants my resurrection to start HERE and NOW. He’s working out His kingdom come on earth in my heart and life. This is GRACE. Dear departed Kara Tippetts wrote these words in her book The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard as she slowly died from cancer.

“Jesus didn’t have to extend His love. He didn’t have to think of me when He went up on that cross. He didn’t have to rewrite my story from one of beauty to one of brokenness and create a whole new brand of beauty. He simply didn’t have to do it, but He did. He bought me. He bought me that day He died, and He showed His power when He overcame death and rose from the grave. He overcame my death in that moment. He overcame my fear of death in that unbelievable, beautiful moment, and the fruit of that death, that resurrection, and that stunning grace is peace. It is the hardest peace, because it is brutal. Horribly brutal and ugly, and we want to look away, but it is the greatest, greatest story that ever was. And it was, and it is.”

I’m remembering He loves me. He’s always loved me. In the hellish confusion I’d lost sight, but He was there. He’s always been there.

Resurrection is mine in Jesus.

Stunning Grace.

Changing light.

You might also like

Listen. One Word. And a health update

by

Monica S. One Word 2016 (1)

“Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.”–Henri Nouwen

A decade ago I worked in marketing management for a very large builder in the Washington DC area. There were many wonderful things about this company, but one of my favorites was the intentional way they encouraged employees and departments to set yearly goals and break them down in manageable ways to ensure we could meet or exceed them. Our yearly bonuses were partly tied to the accomplishing of these goals. I have carried their model into my personal life. Even with a mostly broken body and a calendar where best laid plans fall to the wayside for health emergencies and setbacks I have felt an empowered purpose through continuing this discipline.

Another way this company poured into building up those in management was evaluating our personality types to help us better understand ourselves and those we worked along side. We also participated in what are called 360 peer reviews. These are reviews from your bosses or people in lateral positions to your own and more importantly from those you manage. I have utilized this same idea less formally in my close friendships and relationships. I regularly ask my husband and children how I can be a better wife and mother. I ask them what they are missing or needing from me.

Most of my work reviews were very complimentary, but there was one specific comment from someone I will never forget. “Monica feels the need to be insightful on every topic.” In a corporate environment entrenched in a culture of meetings I often found myself around a huge boardroom table of mostly men discussing land development, zoning and big scale financial projections. I took notes. I tried to keep up. I also felt a pressure to add something to the discussion to validate my presence. I know for sure there were entire meetings I was just waiting for the opening to say something and missed the opportunity to just be there, listen and learn.

This is the fifth year I have chosen a word in January as a guiding focus for the twelve months to follow. I began this practice in 2012 directly following my first big brain surgery and fusion. My word was “Possibility.” In 2013 it was “Restore.” In 2014 it was “Play” and last year it was “Commit.”

2016’s word came to me early on. I began to understand God was calling me to a season of more quiet last fall. In early September I wrote to you about “going away” for awhile. Without the real or imagined pressure to continue to say something I began to understand my head and my heart were being flooded with an impossible number of images, memes and calls to action. My ministry of prayer and support to an ever growing number of people in my EDS and Chiari community was creating a compassion fatigue so real I could no longer decipher between my own suffering and that of the ones I was carrying so close to my heart. Social media was smothering me. The desire to read everything my new and growing group of writer friends were publishing on the screen or on paper became an ocean that pulled me under. I was also advised to be working on building a platform for my book. Every moment of self promotion felt wrong. As the book became a finished document needing a champion, an editor, a publisher and yes, realistically, an audience, I became less committed to it. The book is a hard fought chunk of my soul, painstakingly built as an offering, and I began to doubt it would or could matter in the tsunami of stories written and published. Was I wrong about Gauntlet all along? Did I misread God’s providential leading and what I thought were blatant nudges to write and publish? I ignored and pushed off emails of industry people pursuing me. I became more ill. I had a brain shunt revision in October, another long round of plasmapheresis in December and four weeks of intensive chemotherapy that ended last week. I didn’t want to talk about any of it. As Dani Shapiro so poignantly writes, “A Memoir is Not a Status Update.” As much as I felt a responsibility to all of you who have prayed and encouraged and donated for oh so long I began to realize the little blips of sharing here or there were merely drops in a very real ocean of pain I’d been dressing up as a beautiful fight for far too long. The battle cry “Our Hope Remains” lost meaning. What if the Gauntlet has more land mines than gifts, and I’ve been selling a lie I needed to tell myself to survive?

At the very core of all this angst was the truth I had become completely overcome by a cacophony of voices other than God’s. I had forgotten the world is not waiting with baited breath for my next words. There will be others to like and comment. There will even be others who will hand write a note or send a text to encourage. There will be others praying too. Beautiful stories of courage and hope will be written and published, and I might miss their launch. My dear friends will celebrate birthdays and lose loved ones. Without the Facebook scroll I might be too late to mail the card or send the flowers. Babies will be born, and I’ll not see the vernix covered miracle within minutes of it happening. I don’t need to weigh my life against the beautiful meal you made, the new bracelet you bought for the best cause or the inspiring quote or Bible verse that got you through your day. I needed to turn it all off, and I did.

My word for this year is “Listen.”

I am reading Adam S. McHugh’s new book The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction. I am reading slowly. I am reading well. I am blown away by the over 1500 times in the Bible God asks us to stop, be still, hear, pay attention, take heed and LISTEN to His words. I’m even more struck by the amazing Grace of His willingness and desire to listen to us. I know for sure this gift of intimate relationship with my Heavenly Father, my Savior and the Holy Spirit has been hijacked by even the good, better and best “noise” of this world.

I’ve said February 1st is my January 1st. I’ve given myself the freedom to just float. When we put away the Christmas decorations I left the majority of space empty in my home. I’m learning to be still with the quiet. I’ve re-tuned my heart to the hear Grace in the fount of many blessings. I’ve returned to the comforting disciplines of first things first. Sitting at the foot of the cross is where I’ll hear Him best. The Bible is open. This is where I know for sure He speaks. “You become a disciple by hearing…This is the pattern that life commands. Listen before you speak. Learn before you teach. Hear the call before you lead. Absorb the word before you preach it.”(10) If I could bow my head I would, instead He bends His ear to me. (Psalm 31:2; 86:1) I forgot. He wants to hear me too. I find myself “at the heart of the gospel mystery–that the heavenly King not only speaks but listens…”(35) My prayers have changed. I hear Christ’s voice in Mark 10 asking blind Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” I don’t need to answer in a hurry. He knows already and still He wants to hear me ask in faith, believing. Beautiful Grace.

I will wear the word “Listen” for 365 days. I will write it on my doorposts. I will study it, and it will change me. I don’t know what this means for my book or my blog or Facebook, Twitter or Instagram except I will continue to be quiet for at least awhile longer. I’m resting. I’m waiting to hear and obey.

Do you have a word you want to claim for 2016? What do you want it to mean for your life in the coming weeks and months?

The image of my 2016 word was created by Traci Michele Little.

(Here is a quick health update: I finished four weeks of a very targeted chemotherapy drug called Rituxin following my latest round of plasmapheresis. I will have bloodwork next week to check levels. Our prayer is this drug will keep the infection that attacks my entire body, especially my brain and heart, away longer. The horrible pelvic pain and bleeding I was experiencing has completely subsided since treatment. I continue to have days of great pain, especially in my neck and spine. The winter is always hardest on my body. Thankfully my most recent shunt has been managing the changing pressures. Our financial stress grows with each new treatment and especially at the beginning of a new year when all our deductibles and out of pockets begin again. The total on my insurance explanation of benefits from December 7th through January 7th was $67,000. When we are tempted to despair we are brought back again and again to God’s faithfulness. Dayenu. Enough. Please pray for our Danica who has been complaining of frequent leg pain. Over spring break we will spend several days in Cincinnati at the Children’s hospital to have scans and see neurosurgery and orthopedic surgery. As she grows we will see how her body sustains the experimental hardware used in her fusion and watch her lower spine curvature. We are ever grateful for your prayers and especially the faithful ones who remember even when I have stopped sharing out loud. We live in a shelter built by years of love, sacrifice and generosity. Thank you.)

You might also like

Surrender Every Little Thing. And a super sparkly giveaway

by

ELT

“When we search for significance out side of surrender to God, we create our own version of God’s plan for us, and it rarely measures up.”–Deidra Riggs, Every Little Thing, Making a World of Difference Right Where You Are

It’s been more than eight years since God asked me to give up a life I thought was “significant” and become a vessel of brokenness and suffering. Three years into the journey He told me to take my Isaac, our little Danica, and surrender her completely to Him as well. October, the month of Danica’s birth, and three years later, the month of her big brain decompression and fusion, is and will always be full of gratitude and celebration of miracles and provision tempered with remembered grief and pain. My heart breaks and is healed over and over again on these and other personal anniversaries tattooed forever in my calendar brain. After twenty-one surgeries of my own there is not a safe month or even a week anymore.

I’ve seen the ram in the thicket. In every possible and literal way God has been our “Jehovah-Jireh.” He gave us the miracle healing of Danica. He showed up financially at every turn to give access to the specialized care Danica and I both needed. He gave me a clear diagnosis after years of mental and physical anguish. He moved mountains to get doctors near and far to be willing to take the risk to treat me. He’s surrounded us with the kind of love and support I never believed possible, and it hasn’t stopped.

I’ve been told by beautiful, nose wiping, carpooling, snack bringing, essential oil using moms they are in awe of our “story.” They say God has used it in their own hearts and homes to garner more gratitude for their everyday. I’ve mostly prayed God would use this hard He’s written for me however He deems to bring Himself glory, but on the worst days I feel sad and even a little mad when my nothing like I dreamed of life is a springboard for someone else’s comparative thankfulness. I want goldfish in my car seats and play dates and sleepovers at my house. I want to be cheering my daughter on at her volleyball games and to sit in the front row at her orchestra concert. I want to volunteer as a classroom helper and listen to second graders recite their Scripture verses. I want to go on even one field trip with my girl. I want a drop of frankincense diffused to somehow make me more well. I want to be tired from something other than trying to survive. I want to be tired from living. It’s not because I don’t think this struggle could matter. It’s because this isn’t what I wanted at all. None of it. I squirm at any romanticized version of the pain going on over here. It is brutal. It is one crisis to the next, and I know in my heart the supernatural healing God gave my girl is not what He has written for me at all. Until heaven I will be some measure of broken. Every day I wake up wanting something different and “better” for myself and my family. Every day I find my way back to the foot of the cross and remember even this is Grace. Every day I am called to surrender.

Deidra writes,

“Surrender to the work of the Holy Spirit and you will come alive. Exhale, and you will live. When you have spent it all and left it on the track, when you are left in silence and someone else runs all the red lights on your behalf, when you are at the end of yourself and you can barely remember the difference between up and down, choose to breathe. It is our direct reminder of the Holy Spirit at work in this world and on our behalf. It is our immediate reminder that God is always reaching toward us and lifting us to himself to breathe life into our long reach for a life that matters for something.

Breathe.

God will meet you there and receive your one, beautiful, miraculous breath as an act of worship and as a surrender of yourself into his purpose for your life.”

Much of my life is now lived in this Jacobean tapestry chair I like to call my “nest.” I am here in the early morning with numb feet, aching head and joints and too tight heart to sip the coffee my husband brings me, shake off my night time meds and snuggle my littlest. I find a Psalm here. I study here. I pray here. I write pen to paper to my family, my friends and even strangers here. I write for you to read and mostly for no one to read in this place. I am here on the computer and phone tending to a territory of people needing encouragement and prayer and light on their own difficult walks. I am sitting here when people come to visit and sink into the comfort and peace of my yellow sofa with a throw. I listen here. I am here juggling a calendar of appointments and treatment and surgeries. I am here when the bill collectors call and call and call again. I am here when I balance our checkbook and always find there is Dayenu, enough. More than enough. I am here when my girls are dropped off from school on days I cannot drive. My legs always wrapped in a blanket and dozens of books and journals and paper and pens stacked around me like a fortress. Beside me is my little dog, Twixie. She is faithfully here. I cry here. I cry a lot. I find myself back here in the dead of night when everyone else is sleeping soundly. My pain brings me to this place I’ve chosen over bed, as if being upright even on the worst days and nights will make me feel less worthless and more productive. I refuse to waste this. I plead with God to not let me waste this. Make this count. Please God. For You. I struggle here. I resist. I think there is no way this is where God could use me best, so I beat His chest and beg for something different. Anything different. I hold my breath here like a temper tantrum toddler. When I am almost unconscious from the display of lack of trust He gently helps me see my here and now, this time, this place, this body, this life, this chair is exactly where I will find my significance. He causes me to surrender EVERY LITTLE THING, and I inhale Grace and exhale praise, and I believe.

I turned forty years old last Thursday. An unplanned brain shunt revision in Maryland just a week before left my family and I weary and worn again. Surrender. I had to cancel a week long writing retreat on Lake Michigan I was sure He wanted for me and for Gauntlet. Surrender. I humbled myself to receive help once again from others to make my surgery possible. Surrender. Friday night my dear friend Janet and her husband along with my sister threw me the most fabulous birthday party ever. Janet made a toast and mentioned the illustrious “forty before forty” list I’d made and how many of those things I’d longed to accomplish were left unrealized. She then pointed out the almost forty people gathered together in celebration. They were in fact my true and important life work. I gasped at the beauty of this realization. Most of these relationships have been formed and nurtured and grown from this chair.

I am entering a new year of life and a new decade with a heart humbled. I trust you, God. I do. I know there will be moments and hours and days I will struggle, but I surrender EVERY LITTLE THING to you. I will inhale your Grace and exhale praise. I will believe this life in this chair matters in your kingdom and counts. My Hope remains.

27653(1)

Second only to words gifts are a crazy loud love language of mine. I’m so excited to invite you to join me in celebrating the launch of Deidra’s book with some awesome gifts! The winner will receive a gift set which includes a copy of Every Little Thing: Making a World of Difference Right Where You Are along with an Everlasting Light Shine necklace from DaySpring!

Here’s how to enter:

1. Share this post on social media to give your friends a chance to win this amazing book and super sparkly necklace. Maybe they will turn around and gift it to you!

2. Please leave a comment here about a way God has asked you to surrender your ideas of significance and give in to His greater plan for your life and let me know where you shared.

3. Totally optional but highly recommended is to head over to Deidra’s place and subscribe to her blog Jumping Tandem. I had the honor of meeting her at The High calling retreat last November and have been truly blessed by her writing and her life.

A winner will be randomly chosen from all the entries on Sunday night, November 15th, and announced Monday morning!

You might also like

Dear God, Please Take My Hand. A Prayer Gift. A Healing Prayer

by

Prayer Beads
“Of all spiritual disciplines prayer is the most central because it ushers us into perpetual communion with the Father.”–Richard J Foster

I have always loved holding on to something physical when I pray. I have a collection of special rocks, some painted or engraved with words, several are special gifts from friends, a cross made from olive wood gifted to me last fall from a woman I just met who is now a dear kindred sister, and a delicately embroidered handkerchief that was Dan’s grandmother’s. These objects have no power or influence over the prayers, but they keep my focus on praying.

Yesterday I received a package in the mail from a friend I met at The High Calling retreat last November. I’ve written about her before and even shared her newest book with you. She knows about physical suffering and understands the struggle to keep your mind and heart on prayer when pain overwhelms you. The gift was beautiful smooth pink prayer beads with a silver cross attached. They come from Prayerworks Studio. They are not a rosary, but Protestant (Anglican) beads. I know I will use them as I do my other objects, something to hold while I lift my heart, but they also have specific meaning as a “Full Circle Prayer.” It is described like this:

This devotion is intended to take us through a complete path to God, one that puts a “new and right spirit” within all of us: praise, confession, intercession, and thanksgiving.

Cross: In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Invitatory Bead: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)
1st Cruciform Bead: I praise you, Lord, for . . .
1st set of Week Beads: use each bead to praise God for His wondrous acts of grace.2nd Cruciform Bead: I ask, Lord, for forgiveness for . . .
2nd set of Week Beads: use each bead to confess your sins before God.
3rd Cruciform Bead: I pray, Lord, for . . .
3rd set of Week Beads: use each bead to list prayer concerns for yourself or others.
4th Cruciform Bead: I thank you, Lord, for . . .
4th set of Week Beads: use each bead to recall something for which you are thankful.
Invitatory Bead: recite The Lord’s Prayer
Cross: In the name of your Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.

Sometimes I pray like I’m a child. This is the easiest. I’m just talking to my Father. Other times I pray properly, like I’m being graded for getting all the “right” things in when I approach the throne. There are prayers when I groan and no words will come at all. This is when I believe the Holy Spirit is carrying my pleas and Christ Himself is praying for me. I spent much of last year studying prayer. I now own a shelf full of books on the subject. I’m most grateful for the wisdom from Richard J. Foster’s Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. Richard writes,

“I discovered that regular patterns of devotion form a kind of skeletal structure upon which I can build the muscle and tissue of unceasing prayer.”

I realized that much of my “pray without ceasing” life was throwing out little thoughts towards Him throughout the day and calling it prayer. After reading Richard’s book I began set times during the day to pray. I haven’t always been a knee praying person, but I knew if I was to follow the discipline of a pattern of prayer I would need a place, and it might need to be a little uncomfortable. This is when I bought my prayer bench.

Prayer Bench

The past few months I have struggled the most I think I ever have to find words. I kneel at the bench with my heart broken open, and I cry. It is during these times I am grateful for the prayers of other saints lifted up and also recorded. I read them out loud. I repeat them. I thank God they found the words for me. The following prayer is one I took to the hospital with me for my surgery, and I have prayed it over and over again since.

Dear God, please take my hand and help
me walk through this fire.
Don’t let me slip away, please hold me
in your power.
Help me see the light and to hold on
tight, to have faith.
Help me to learn what it is you want
me to learn.
Help me retain my dignity and help me
to accept what I can’t change.
Guide me … sit in my heart.
Don’t allow despair to swallow me.
Please God, show me a road out of here.
Help me find the strength to cope …
and to grow.
Help me regain my health … please God.
Carry me if I can no longer manage to
stand,
and set me under the shade of your tree
so I can heal.
Please show me the path to peace, and
mend my heart.
God, I am powerless in this valley of pain,
please lift me up and always let me know
your presence.
Please be in my heart and take my
shaking hand.
Amen

A Prayer By Sherry Larsen

Is there a written prayer you cherish? Do you find discipline aids or hinders your prayer life? I’d love to know what God has taught you about praying.

You might also like

Do you See? Gauntlet Story Feast

by

*“Our whole business, then, brethren, in this life is to heal this eye of the heart whereby God may be seen.”–St Augustine

DSC_0156

I wrote the following post December 2, 2011, having just returned home from my first neurosurgery. I’m now snuggled under the same quilt in my own light filled home recovering from my seventh neurosurgery. I am so filled with suffering I can scarcely breathe. It is not the physical hurt. I’m convinced I could win a pain endurance trophy in a suffering Olympics. I am only slightly bothered by intense post surgical pain, because I can mentally understand it. Compared to the headaches before this latest fusion and the insane burning of my hands and feet, both of which resolved instantly with the pressure removed from my spinal cord, I know this is the good kind of ache. This is skin and flesh binding to one another over additional scaffolding in my delicate spine. The suffering I face now is in my mind and my heart.

I believe I see clearer than ever, but those who have necessarily walked this Gauntlet with me seem to have cloudier vision and lost more perspective each time we’ve done this. Maybe they are just tired. My oldest daughter, Delaney, came to the foot of my bed yesterday. We were talking about upcoming school shopping and in the honesty we’ve always shared she said, “This is just hard. You are grumpy, and I know it is because you are hurting, but every summer is like this.” I am wrecked. The truth is I have one of those “on this day” apps for Facebook, and I realize how many years we have been in continuous crisis, leading up towards it or recovering from it. Dan and I had a fight last night. We don’t fight. Ever. Truly. I sometimes want to give him an out. He has to want that. All I wanted was a hug. He said I was too “brittle.” I know he wonders if he will ever have his wife back. We both know he is not cut from the cloth that cares for someone sick long term and certainly not disabled. He cannot advocate. He can barely sit in a hospital room. I don’t think his love for me is tied to this. I think it’s just too much to ask of him. I know that’s a real thing. You’re a fool if you think it’s not. My dad reminded me recently one of the most painful things I know to be true. “Most men would have left.” It is only my little Danica whose empathy seems to know no bounds. Although she cannot remember fully her own surgeries or even the months of being held in a brace which kept others from real touch she finds me and clings to me in the awkward way you must when your mommy is wearing an Aspen collar all day and night.

I see like the blind man who Jesus took outside the city and spit on earth and covered his eyes with clay and healed him. When I read this oh so old post I almost laugh at the beginning of that miracle in my life. Surely it was not only meant for me. The suffering I feel today comes from my vision being almost crystal clear and less myopic every day, and the paralyzing fear those close to me are seeing less and less. As I wade through my usual post surgery self pity I push to begin going back to work. I am finishing my book. I edit based on these new stories I’ve gathered and the added perspective they bring. I realize more than ever this book is for those of us who drag our chairs around in a circle each week and say, “Hello, My name is Monica, I have,” and we state the laundry list of conditions that are not us but that make up our bodies and have become the threads that hold together our lives. We share the things even those who love us most and try the hardest can only make out through a mist.

Nora Gallagher was presenting at a writing conference in Washington DC the weekend our family left for the beach. I desperately wanted to attend. I took her book Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic to read on our trip. I suggest anyone beginning or walking through a journey in the world of illness and medicine and sorting out their faith in the darkness and sometimes blinding light the long walk brings to read this honest and beautiful narrative. In her last chapter she writes:

Following Jesus was meant to be an ongoing movement, not a creed, not a wall of set in stone words. A place where practices, like prayer, like meditation, were taught, where stories and memories, largely about vulnerability and suffering were collected and shared. The body’s pain and suffering were meant to be a part of this whole: I don’t think Jesus had in mind a place where you had to tolerate the empty predictability of a service and stand upright at the coffee hour if you had been diagnosed with lymphoma or sarcoidosis or lung cancer. He was, at the heart of his ministry, a healer.

And the stories of his followers were meant to be taken seriously to become part of the ongoing larger Story. A river of stories, joining the sea. The living stories of a faith’s followers are what keep it alive.

I have more regard for how each of us finds a way, the man in scrubs playing the Moonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic, the girl in the wheelchair, the boy with no hair running in the wind, each of us feeling our way in the dark. “The infinite value of one human being,” a friend said, “isn’t that what it’s all about?”

This land of illness, behind the wall, is much larger than I thought, and through its lens, the world we all live in, what we call the natural world, becomes more precious. I said I would give quite a lot to have my own body back, but yesterday I saw the evening light falling on the old oak trees in our park, their bark like the skin of elephants. This world is so beautiful, and not only can I still see it, I no longer pass through it quite the same way I did before. I, at least sometimes, am in it, in its beauty, in its enchantment, in its divine life…”

I want healing in so many ways, but more than any physical restoration I want the kind of heart healing that causes me to see Him clearly. This is my work. This is my calling. This gives me purpose in my suffering this afternoon.

Do You See?
By Monica Kaye Snyder
Written December 2, 2011

I’m sitting here in bed propped on many pillows and covered with my favorite “story” quilt from home. I’m looking at the sun glistening off the peaceful lake right outside the floor to ceiling doors and windows to the left of where I rest. I watch the dancing rays on the simple colors and patterns of the soft rug covering the hardwood floor. Classic and simple furnishings comfort me and are a present wrapped in the way beautiful space has always been a gift to me. There are pictures of people I do not know smiling at me. They have a summer life here, and because they are part of this big household of faith they opened their home to me to heal. I have wanted this. I have prayed for this. I have desperately needed this time and place more than I ever could have imagined. I see.

If you have been reading this blog from the beginning you know my theology has often brought me to ask many questions to a God I believed in and trusted but still held at bay when it came to His providence and how it worked in tandem with my sin. I especially questioned Him when it came to the suffering of Danica and my family. He recently brought me to this passage from John 9:1-3.

“As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.'”

Four years ago Danica was born through months of intense physical suffering and great loss on many levels. The verse I would cling to was from Job 42:5, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You.”

I have literally a hundred amazing stories to tell about my trip to Maryland and surgery and healing. They all speak directly of a God who is always in the details and thrives in showing His Grace through people. The morning of my surgery my sweet sister-in-law Amy took me to the hospital to get registered and get my PICC line placed. I did not feel so much nervousness as I did really dreading the process that leads up to actually being wheeled into the room and getting to the real business of surgery. If you’ve been through many surgeries you know that everyone comes in and meets you and chats about certain history and reminds you of the risks and complications that could arise and then has you sign a bunch of forms. There were two people during this process who blew me away. First I had to go over and register and show my identification and insurance card, etc. When anyone finds out you are a patient of Dr. Henderson it seems there is a special kind of reverence and care surrounding all the dealings moving forward. This sweet woman saw a countenance on my face that she instantly recognized as being a “believer.” She said, “I am already praising God with you for what will happen in that operating room today and during your healing.” I see.

When Dr. Henderson came in to speak with us he had his classic blue blazer on and held my hand tightly as he prayed over Dan and I. He asked for God’s guidance of each movement of his hands and each decision he would make during the surgery and then he asked specifically for my healing so I would further be able to glorify God by doing His will in His kingdom.

Stop. Read it over again. This man who would cut open my head and neck and painstakingly move around in my brain stem and spinal cord had just prayed the desire of my heart. All I have longed for is to be doing God’s will and giving Him glory. I know these heavy burdens are not given lightly. With them come great responsibility to bear them into something beautiful and eternal. This is why Dr. Henderson does this work. I cannot be healed and go back into a life anything like what it once was. I’ve SEEN and have to tell about it.

When I came out of surgery and began to get my bearings in the recovery room all I could say over and over was, “I CAN SEE.” The black floaters I had suffered from for years, particularly in my right eye, but most severely the last months as the pressure in my head had worsened were completely gone. As I type this now I have no obstruction of my vision at all. Although I am in considerable pain from the rib harvesting and my large head and neck incision I do not have the paralyzing vice grip in the back of my head. I do have quite a bit of nerve “damage” from the screws put in my upper skull to hold it in place during surgery. I have felt like my head is numb. I know many of these post surgery pains will take patient healing and rest to make it a true success.

I am praying that all the faith being made sight will unfold in your life and mine so the power of God can and will be seen in us.

About Monica Kaye:

Monica Kaye Snyder is a voracious reader. She is a blogger, a writer and maybe even an author. She continues a long journey of chronic illness and daily physical suffering. Some of her diagnoses include Chiari malformation, Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, Tethered Spinal Cord, Craniocervical Instability, Postural Tachycardia Syndrome, Intracranial Hypertension, Mast Cell Activation Disorder and most recently PANS/PANDAS. She’s seen real miracles happen and holds on to Christ’s Hope as an anchor for her soul while living in great pain. She is wife to Dan and mother to Delaney Jayne and Danica Jean. She knows for sure if she does nothing else well in her life, this will matter and be enough.

MonicaBW

SHARE YOUR STORY. If you are walking a Gauntlet or are close to someone who is and would like to contribute to our Thursday community please email me at mkayesnyder@gmail.com, and I will send you the instructions for submitting. Share with anyone you know who might like to join our Gauntlet Story Feast. (Please use the hash tag #GauntletStoryFeast when sharing so we can find and follow one another.) Our Hope remains.

You might also like

1 2 3 4 5 6