Archive of ‘Book Reviews’ category

Dear Mom. A Letter from Delaney

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“I heard once that the average person barely knows ten stories from childhood and those are based more on photographs and retellings than memory. So even with all the videos we take, the two boxes of snapshots under my desk, and the 1,276 photos in folders on the computer, you’ll be lucky to end up with a dozen stories. You won’t remember how it started with us, the things that I know about you that you don’t even know about yourselves. We won’t come back here.

. . . I think about your futures a lot. I often want to whisper to you, when we’re tangled up together or I’m pinning your poetry to the bulletin board or repositioning the pillow under your head so you don’t get a crick. ‘Remember this. This is what love feels like. Don’t take less.’ But what I end up saying is ‘This was my dream. You were my dream.’ I’ve said it too many times though; now when I look at you all soft and gushy and say ‘Guess what?’ You say ‘This was your dream. I was your dream.’–Kelly Corrigan, Lift

Laney Trees

Every mother bears some kind of false guilt. There is no way we can live up to the expectations in our heads and hearts telling us all we are supposed to be for our children. For a sick mother, especially a chronically sick mother, the real or supposed guilt comes in constant waves. Not an hour passes that some kind of message from the world doesn’t remind us of how we are failing.

I have written privately to my girls since they were in my womb in journals I will gift them someday. Dan too keeps a journal to them. We have amazing little rituals like writing notes to one another, especially if we are mad, sad or sorry. We have a treasure box where we keep them all. I know there are so many things we share that busy “soccer moms” might never get to with their kids. We snuggle a lot. We read and talk about what we read. We collage our visions and hopes and prayers for the seasons in our lives. We pray. Since writing “Gauntlet With a Gift” I have had this fresh perspective on the gifts that are wrapped in ugly packages like chronic illness and pain. I do believe our slow life, early bedtimes and lots of talking and listening to one another has shaped us. The compassion I see growing in both my girls for me in my suffering is forming their character.

I’ve also written public letters to my girls on Team Danica. This is a little snippet of one I wrote to Laney during my brain surgery year:

I’m sorry. I ache to give you the normal ebb and flow of life. I am so sorry I can’t get out of bed so many mornings and you always have to find me lying down. I long to be the fun and energetic mom you want. I wish I wasn’t always so tired and on edge and just plain grumpy. I have felt like we are all on autopilot for so long just to get through. So many important things I want to do with you I have not. So many things I’ve said I wish I could take back. So many things I wished I had said, but I never did.

At the end of every day I crawl into bed with you. We read or watch old episodes of Andy Griffith or The Waltons. We pray and then snuggle and chat while “Sleep Sound in Jesus” plays. I see you cling to me, your mommy, no matter how many times we have tussled during the day. Tonight you looked right at me. I am so haggard and tired and broken. You asked, ‘Mom, Do you remember what you looked like before?’ It hurts me, but I understand. Danica still looks at me the way you used to, like I’m the most beautiful woman in the world. I knew this would fade and you would begin to see my flaws on the inside and the out. I want you to know this is beauty too. This taking one painful step after another to care for you is love.

And here is one I wrote her after missing another Christmas program because I was so sick:

I am so proud of you. You have worked so hard at everything you have tried. You have taken all the responsibility for your heavy school load, extra curricular program and your music. You are thriving, Delaney. Even when you come home, and I have already clocked out for the day because of pain, you remain cheerful and helpful and loving to me. You meet me where I am probably more than any other person in my life. You never make me feel guilty or manipulate this very difficult situation. You still love to be with me when I am grumpy or sad. When I look in your eyes I know I have to keep fighting so I can see what happens next.

You are everything I dreamed you would be. You are kind. You are generous. You are brave. Oh my, you are so brave. You are strong like I wish I could be. You are wise way beyond your years. You are funny. You make me laugh out loud. You are crazy creative. You are bright. I mean like the sun. You are smart too. You are tough as nails but have the most tender heart. It’s a perfect mix. You are grateful. You are a leader. You know who you are. You know who God made you to be. You are so much more. You are the most.

When I look into your piercing blue eyes and try to count the cinnamon sugar on your nose and cheeks and when I kiss you on your head and touch the gold in your hair I still catch my breath. When I see you first thing in the morning, you are a bubble floating into my day. When I tuck you in at night, you are a perfect punctuation mark to all the good and bad and in between. When I doubt why God could have put me here. When I ask Him why He is keeping me here. He answers with you.

I love you Laney. There has never been a minute in your life I wasn’t carrying the awareness of the extreme treasure you are. I worry sometimes that you won’t know how I feel. I feel afraid I can’t love you well enough because I am such a different kind of mom than most everyone else. That’s why I’m writing this now. Maybe someday I’ll be healthy again and will attend your daughter’s Christmas programs. Maybe I will be sicker or even gone, and you will have to navigate even more life without me physically present. However it goes, I need you to understand my heart for you.

It’s LOVE. Simple. True. Forever.

Last night Delaney brought me a letter. It was not a grandiose gesture. She had been asked to write a thank you letter to someone as a class assignment. She chose me. She spoke to me in my favorite love language, words. Every single reason I’ve felt sad or guilty about being a very sick mom for oh so long melted away as I read her genuine affection for me as her mama just the way I am. I never expected this from my twelve year old. Perhaps when she headed off to college or maybe on her wedding day or after she had her first child but not now. I certainly never expected her to be able to separate the wheat and the chaff from our complicated life and hold on to the good stuff like she so clearly is doing. I was blown away.

Dear Mom

One of the beautiful lines I’ve plucked from Joe Rigney’s book The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts speaks of guilt.

“False guilt kills true joy and ruins us for fruitful ministry . . . To feel guilty for something God does not regard as sin is itself a sin.”

Moms, read this again.

“False guilt kills true joy and ruins us for fruitful ministry . . . To feel guilty for something God does not regard as sin is itself a sin.”

I am the mother God chose for Delaney and Danica. As my friend Jennifer Dukes Lee would say, “I am PreApproved!”

Do you ever feel like God must have gotten it all wrong when He chose you as the mother of your children? Do you feel inadequate? Do you feel guilt? I’m here to tell you it’s just not so. You are perfectly matched with the hearts and lives of the children He wants you to love. Lean in to the fruitful ministry of motherhood. It may not look anything like your dreams for motherhood or like your best friend’s journey as a mom, but you are finding your way and your children are okay. Your children will be okay. And one day they will “Rise up and call you blessed.”–Proverbs 31:28

Photo by Grace Designs Photography

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Taste and See. And a giveaway

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“There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation.”–Madeleine L’Engle

Sometimes people ask me outright and others wonder behind me about my pursuit of any kind of better health in the face of great risk and staggering cost to my family. This fight has also begged your own love for us over and over again. I could stop. I could curl up here in suffering and not battle anymore. I am fully aware I may even live longer if I did this. The law of averages suggests something will eventually go wrong in one of my surgeries or treatments. Here’s the thing. I don’t want to live long and not well. Because of my recent plasmapheresis treatment I have the opportunity to grab a few more months of sweet moments with my family and friends and do real work on finishing my book before a relapse or another vertebrae slips into my spinal cord. I am determined. I will TASTE and SEE the Lord is good, and I will tell about it.

While waiting at the hospital for my tunneled catheter to be removed on Wednesday my dad pulled out a book he was beginning to read. He didn’t just suggest it to me in passing. He opened it up to have me read specific treasures he had underlined. My reading life is an entirely different post for another time. Suffice it to say two thirds of most my days are spent reading or writing. I typically read books twice. The first time through is for comprehension and the second for underlining, page flagging and copying beautiful or meaningful passages into a journal or a file on my computer. I also write in the margins. I know I began this practice because of my dad. For as long as I can remember he has always read with a little plastic ruler and a black pen in his hand. The book was The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts by Joe Rigney. In those few moments of his sharing a few key passages and our discussing them I knew I needed this book. Thanks to the wonders of Amazon Prime it arrived late Friday afternoon. I read late into the night.

Much of the wisdom refutes an ugly root of guilt I feel when experiencing good things and especially when producing something that might be considered good by others. I can only explain this as a seed of rogue theology planted in childhood that overemphasized self denial as an unbalanced path to godliness. Happiness need not apply. Joe talks about this uncomfortable tension between dying to self while maintaining a right relationship with the temporal world around us and the very real danger of idolatry as we approach earthly things, but he shores it up with this truth.

“Given the persistence of this threat to true worship of God, one way to address idolatry is to seek to thin out creation, to hold it loosely like a hot potato, and to be wary of its delights and pleasures. We recognize the potency of God’s gifts, so we tread lightly, sticking to the shadows and refusing to plunge into the ocean of earthly pleasures . . . Christians need to be reminded of the goodness of God’s creation and God’s approval of it for our joy.”

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Saturday I was blessed to take my Danica and my niece to see Disney’s Frozen on Ice. We bought three tickets back in September when they went on sale. It was our Christmas gift to Danica. Making any kind of future plans is a high stakes gamble for our family. One of the specific goals of my recent treatment was to be well enough to follow through on this. Originally Dan and I planned to go with Danica. The below zero temperatures and snow and ice had me doubting I could physically get ready, ride all the way to Cleveland, park and walk in the frigid cold, be exposed to all that this kind of event necessitates and then make it back to the car and home. Dan offered to drive and drop us at the door and pick us up when it was over. This enabled our niece to come along. It was something rare and special for her and Danica to share together. As I settled in our seats I pulled Danica close and kissed her on the head. I broke down in tears. I was living. I was sharing something oh so good with my girl. No guilt. This was straight from the hand of my Father who delights in lavishing us with blessings. After reading the book the night before I felt free to revel in every detail of this experience.

Sunday morning I had brunch with three beautiful friends I rarely see at The Blue Door Cafe & Bakery in Cuyahoga Falls. I am a former foodie whose love of God’s imagination when it comes to the possibilities of what we can choose as nourishment runs deep. I’ve had this recommended spot on my two year “40 before forty” list for over a year. (I turn forty in November. I have serious living to do before then.) I ordered house made spaetzle sauteed with a medley of roasted Kumbocha squash, Brussels sprouts, leeks and button mushrooms with a cave aged Gruyere cream and a poached egg. Eating this meal was like worship. Not worship of the food but immense gratitude and praise for the people, the place, the ingredients and the chef’s creativity in combining them and cooking them.

Both the pageantry of the musical ice show and the brilliant combination of ingredients God made are examples of human beings reflecting the image of God. They both inspire me to praise and a more Godward heart. Robert Farrar Capon wrote in The Supper of The Lamb: A Culinary Reflection:

Why do we marry, why take friends and lovers? Why give ourselves to music, painting, chemistry or cooking? Out of simple delight in the resident goodness of creation, of course; but out of more than that, too. Half earth’s gorgeousness lies hidden in the glimpsed city it longs to become. For all its rooted loveliness, the world has no continuing city here; it is an outlandish place, a session in via to a better version of itself–and it is our glory to see it so and thirst until Jerusalem comes home at last. We are given appetites, not to consume the world and forget it, but to taste its goodness and hunger to make it great.

Both of these pleasures would not have been possible without my recent plasmapheresis. This is why I fight over and over again. This is why my emotional response to the enjoyment of seemingly normal things borders on embarrassing. This is why my family and I humble ourselves as receivers of good things from your hearts and hands in the midst of continued suffering and loss.

As Joe ends “The Things of Earth” he writes this:

To be a creature is to be a receiver . . . So embrace your creatureliness. Don’t seek to be God. Instead embrace the glorious limitations and boundaries that God has placed on you as a character in His story. May the Father of lights, who knows how to give good gifts to His children, teach you the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need, being brought low or being raised up. May He grant you the grace to do all things, receive all good things, lose all good things and endure all hard things through Christ who gives you strength.

Do you have guilt or spiritual angst when you receive good things from God? If you lose good things or experience suffering do you equate this with a change of your Heavenly Father’s heart toward you?

I am giving away a copy of Joe’s book. To enter please comment here on the blog with some thoughts about tasting and seeing good. In your comment mention where you shared. Each social media share is an extra entry. I will randomly choose a winner at midnight Friday, January 16th.

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Leaning Toward Jesus

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“So when those bad things happen, if you lean towards Jesus–if you incline toward Jesus, if you rest in Jesus–you get the Gift of Jesus, like an ark of love, holding you, carrying you, raising you gently up through any flood of sadness that fills the world.”–Ann Voskamp, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift, Advent Day 4, “God’s Tears”

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It has been a hard day. I am sick. What began last week as a respiratory thing I thought I was fighting quickly turned into something uglier. It started with brain pressure Tuesday night and ebbed into a super deep sore throat, headache behind the eyes, neck on fire, heart that hurts along with frantic OCD behavior, insomnia and despondent thoughts. If you are new here and did not follow my old blog you may not understand this is not just an unfortunate bout of illness. This is an attack on my body from a formidable opponent. A simple infection has the power to snake slowly into my brain and settle anywhere in my connective tissue. It has been four months since my last plasmapheresis treatment.

My husband had to leave work to get my girls from school. My appointment was long. I got a first shot of antibiotics and will go back tomorrow for another shot and take my Danica who most likely has Strep as well. My incision is hot and angry. The concern is cellulitis, Strep or Staph (I’ve had MRSA multiple times) inside my incision. When I went to get my prescriptions they weren’t ready. Salty tears ran down my cheeks. I came home as it was getting dark.

There were still mom things that had to be done. Danica needed a bath and her hair washed. Her Christmas program is tomorrow night. We got her dress out and little sweater and tights. I went to find a pair of dressy shoes, and there were none that fit her. She is my hand-me-down girl. We rarely buy her anything. Between Delaney’s old clothes and her cousin Mia and friends at school passing things to us, she is well dressed. We have half a dozen pairs of cute dress shoes in the bin. Her little feet just slid right out of every pair. More tears. Add stopping at Target after the doctor tomorrow at 8:20 am to grab dress shoes to our list. My dear friend Christy, who lives in Chicago, texted to check on me. She offered to run out and buy shoes and overnight them. Seriously, in this oh so hard life God has surrounded me with the most loving people. Of course I told her that was ridiculous. I loved it because it was so insane. That’s how Jesus loves us. No matter how sick Danica and I are we both need this Christmas program; just fifteen minutes of her on a stage and me in a pew and the feeling of normal.

After the day we all had, the last thing we wanted to do was gather around for Advent. Especially me. This is exactly why the discipline of ritual is vital. We need it most when we don’t feel it at all. It was my night to read, and I did with a barely there, oh so painful throat. It is day 4, and we are face to face with a God who saw so much wickedness on the earth he cried a flood big enough to cover the entire globe. There was one man, not a perfect man, a sinner, but one who found favor, and he was saved in a wooden ark.

Already we’ve gone from the tree in the Garden of Eden to the wooden ark. We are slowly making our way to Jesse’s stump and a seed child laid in a wooden manger, our Savior who lived to die on another tree. This is beautiful; finding our way to Christmas from the very beginning.

I could lean two ways tonight. My flesh tells me to lean toward anger and fear and despair. My God says to lean hard into Him.

I think of the beautiful words penned by Octavius Winslow my friend Violet sent me early in our Danica journey.

Child of My love. Lean hard. Let Me feel the pressure of your care. I know your burden, child. I shaped it—I poised it in My own hand and made no proportion of its weight to your unaided strength. For even as I laid it on, I said I shall be near, and while she leans on Me, this burden shall be Mine, not hers. So shall I keep My child within the encircling arms of My own love. Here lay it down. Do not fear to impose it on a shoulder which upholds the government of worlds. Yet closer come. You are not near enough. I would embrace your burden, so I might feel My child reposing on My breast. You love Me. I know it. Doubt not, then. But, loving me, lean hard.

Oh how I’m leaning.

“When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown! When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.”–Isaiah 45:2 NLT

Is God asking you to “lean hard” into Him during this season? Does the discipline of liturgy help you push through days and nights when you don’t “feel” like looking to Him?

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Praying Circles. Coming Full Circle at Laity

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“Don’t let what you cannot do keep you from doing what you can. Draw the circle. Don’t let who you are not keep you from being who you are. YOU ARE A CIRCLE MAKER.”–Mark Batterson

Ebenezer

The Circle Maker. Praying Circles Around your Greatest Dreams and Biggest Failures. By Mark Batterson

I read this book once before. It made an impact, but I shelved it away under good stuff not applicable to me right now. Maybe it was my heart at the time or maybe it was because I could barely walk and would pass out on my knees so praying had to come in a less literal way. More likely it was because I was raised to be afraid of asking too much of God. Sure, in Acts He did some crazy awesome stuff and the Holy Spirit was spreading like wildfire. Now, not so much. Stay calm. Stay in your seat. Bow your head and very gingerly approach His throne.

It was before Danica’s miracle was realized. It was during a time I spoke about Hope and healing but in the deepest part of my mind and heart believed the intense suffering and loss we were walking was His will for my family and I. I didn’t think I needed to pray my way out of it. I just needed to pray to be more submissive in it.

Thankfully I had a bunch of circle warriors around me. People were up on their feet and down on their knees begging God to bring healing to my daughter and I. They were so believing in God’s power to do this thing they invested in our lives financially in a way I’ve never heard of before. They sacrificed to feed us, clothe us, give us shelter, pay for medicine, pay for gas and hotels and brain surgeries. When they couldn’t give anymore they asked their friends and family to give. One friend even drained their bank account because she wrestled with God all night about what He wanted their family to do for ours. This is crazy, right?

My sister Rochelle is one of my best circle stories. She would stay up nights begging God for salvation from the pain. She wrote ridiculous letters to people asking them to give us a place to live when my parent’s basement was making me so sick and the dark room I laid in was slowly killing what little light I had left in my heart. She came for surgeries when arranging her life to do so was short of impossible. She called me every day and talked me through hours of weeping. She listened to my despair when no one else could. She was the only one I could say out loud to, “It hurts so bad I want to die.” She didn’t flinch. She prayed.

I brought this book back out a few months ago, along with a journal I had started to make prayer circles in. I had some big praying to do for people I love. As I read back through Mark’s stories and what he calls “back stories” of the huge things he asked of God and the ways God said “No” to make room for the many ways He said “YES” I reevaluated my prayer life. Everything looked different because I had experienced first hand this kind of power.

Prayer is a tricky thing for people who believe God is sovereign, which I do. If God has every single thing planned out already then just throwing out, “According to Your will,” should do the trick in most cases, right? No. Not at all. Here’s the number one reason why. God has made really BIG promises in His Word. When we fail to circle those promises and pray for them we also forfeit the miracles. They may still happen, but because we didn’t ask, the answers are often lost in some other explanation or not recognized at all.

I love how Mark’s book talks a lot about financial prayers. Money was needed for His new ministry in Washington DC. He prayed specific prayers about these needs. He talked about them. He made the need known in many cases. Then he walked around and around these prayers in literal steps of faith until God provided. Sometimes it was the provision of taking something away to make room for something bigger and more God honoring. Oh, how we have lived this truth. He also talks about resisting the temptation to manufacture your own answer. I think my sister was definitely at that point when she was calling people and asking for a free house for us. I still love she was that brave. In one of Mark’s stories about a generous gift given their church the givers said, “We’re giving this gift because you have vision beyond your resources.” In this same spirit we have been given gifts that were seen not just by us but by the givers as LIFE. It was a currency of living and breathing. They trusted us because we kept telling our story and making our needs known. They trusted God because they were prompted by the Holy Spirit and backed up their giving with really big prayers. As our provision grew so did our faith and our willingness to tell anyone who would listen about what God was doing. Many have watched this from the sidelines in awe.

Have you ordered this book yet???

My copy is underlined, page flagged and tear stained. I am getting somewhere with all this. Mark uses lots of Biblical examples from the Old Testament as he weaves through his own story. I’m super close with Moses for many reasons. I was just up in the gaps with him the other day. After the complaining people were tired of manna Moses went back to God. I’m sure he was ashamed and embarrassed they were grumbling again. I’m sure he felt like God had done His best work with this bread from heaven that showed up outside every day. Just enough. God asks Moses this, “Is there a limit to my power?”

“The obvious answer to that question is no, God is omnipotent, which means by definition, there is nothing God cannot do. Yet many of us pray as if our problems are bigger than God. so let me remind you of this high-octane truth that should fuel your faith: God is infinitely bigger than your biggest problem or your biggest dream. . . Our biggest problem is our small view of God.”

It was only this year, after a staggeringly generous gift loosened the vice grip of hourly panic about how our family would not only survive but continue to fight, I began to ask God in earnest for healing for myself. I could ask others to pray for me all day long, but I did not ask God for myself. It was only then God began to open up understanding about how no matter how much neurosurgery I had or what pressure we removed from my brain, I was fundamentally sick ALL THE TIME. It was also in this new treatment He resurrected the original call to write “Gauntlet with a Gift.” (Please don’t freak out about the word “call.” I can see some of you coming unloose. Simmer down.)

I began to pray in circles. My sister Rochelle needed a circle around her son and their family. My sister Alecia needed a circle around her own health and their family. My dearest childhood friend has cancer for the fifth time. Ohhhh, that’s a big circle. I started to draw more and more circles. I got more specific in my prayers. I asked bigger things, because I’ve seen him do HUGE things. There is no limit to His power!

When I arrived at Laity, now almost two weeks ago, I was swimming in a sea of circles. It was all private. I began using the term when I would talk to people and add them to my book, but I didn’t share too much of the changes going on in my heart. I would write their names and their family’s names and their specific needs in circles. It felt like something HUGE shifted in my praying and also my faith. Still, I was alone in this.

I was “fresh off the boat” when I crossed the Frio into the canyon. I was like an awkward first timer. It was certainly another lifetime since I’d been at a spiritual retreat. I think I have lost much of my “Christianese” in all my time away from community. In a way I’m glad for this. Still, I don’t quite know how to act when surrounded physically by the body of Christ. So, imagine my surprise when at dinner Friday night, with a strained vocal cord I quietly shared my story to a beautiful woman sitting next to me. She was moved. I’m not sure how it happened but suddenly I was surrounded by women, and they were literally circling me in prayer. Every one of them prayed specific prayers over my healing, my purpose at the retreat, the story I have to tell and God getting the glory. I was blown away. They prayed right through the clanging bell calling us into our evening session. I opened my eyes to question them. One said, “Oh this is more important!”

We went outside after the prayers ended and one of the women shining with Jesus pulled me aside and shared this passage from Isaiah 38 with me. If you don’t know about King Hezekiah you need to run and check his story out. At the beginning of the chapter it says he was “ill to the point of death.” God told him to get his house in order because he would die. He would not recover. I’m pretty sure if God sent me a real life prophet that said I was going to die I would make some funeral plans, hug my husband and girls and submit to it as God’s will. Hezekiah did something different. He turned his face toward the wall and as he wept bitterly he prayed, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.”

Guess what? His prayer changed God’s mind. Here’s that tricky sovereignty thing again. If Hezekiah hadn’t prayed this prayer would God have taken his life then? Did God plan for this prayer to open Hezekiah’s eyes all along so He would get the glory?

Listen to these beautiful words penned by Hezekiah himself after his illness and recovery:

I said, “In the prime of my life
must I go through the gates of death
and be robbed of the rest of my years?”
I said, “I will not again see the Lord himself
in the land of the living;
no longer will I look on my fellow man,
or be with those who now dwell in this world.
Like a shepherd’s tent my house
has been pulled down and taken from me.
Like a weaver I have rolled up my life,
and he has cut me off from the loom;
day and night you made an end of me.
I waited patiently till dawn,
but like a lion he broke all my bones;
day and night you made an end of me.
I cried like a swift or thrush,
I moaned like a mourning dove.
My eyes grew weak as I looked to the heavens.
I am being threatened; Lord, come to my aid!”
But what can I say?
He has spoken to me, and he himself has done this.
I will walk humbly all my years
because of this anguish of my soul.
Lord, by such things people live;
and my spirit finds life in them too.
You restored me to health
and let me live.
Surely it was for my benefit
that I suffered such anguish.

In your love you kept me
from the pit of destruction;
you have put all my sins
behind your back.
For the grave cannot praise you,
death cannot sing your praise;
those who go down to the pit
cannot hope for your faithfulness.
The living, the living—they praise you,
as I am doing today;
parents tell their children
about your faithfulness.
The Lord will save me,
and we will sing with stringed instruments
all the days of our lives
in the temple of the Lord.

How I have studied through Isaiah twice in my life and never grabbed on to these verses before I will never understand except God had this circle intervention planned long ago, and His word became ALIVE in this setting, in this time, for a purpose I could not have lived until now.

I will tell this story hundreds of times I’m sure, because it was just one of the gentle ways God meant for me to enter back into real community as I am made more well. I wouldn’t have trusted this in a church setting. God knew this about me.

There’s another amazing story coming soon about the circle I drew around my book, and the stunning way God began to answer in the Texas Hill Country, but I will save that for another day.

Do you believe there is no limit to God’s power? If so, how should this change your prayer life? I’d encourage you to sift through your Bible for the larger than life stories of answered prayers and then look around. He is the same God. Nothing has changed. He is still doing BIG things for our good and His glory. Let’s pray some circles together!

(Thanks to Tim Miller for taking this stunning photograph of the Ebenezer I built Friday afternoon and to Cindee Re for the gift of the cross. “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” As I write tonight I have horrible intracranial pressure building. I write these believing words in a broken body made up of glitches in my DNA strands that scream in the face of long lasting relief from my pain. The difference is I am asking. I’m asking BIG. I need to be well enough to finish this book. Will you ask this for me as you pray?)

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Welcome. Another Laity Reflection

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“The essence of hospitality is a heart open to God, with room prepared for the Guestness of the Holy Spirit, that welcomes the presence of Christ. This is what we share with those to whom we open our doors. We give them Him.”–Karen Burton Mains

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From the minute I arrived at Laity Lodge I felt room prepared. Yes, there was a literal room waiting for me, but the spirit of every aspect of this place whispered, “Welcome. You will meet Him here.”

I loved how during the first evening, Tim, one of the Laity employees, briefly explained the kind of hospitality we would experience in our days there. Always beautiful pottered mugs and hot coffee and tea waiting for us in the reception area of the dining hall. Always fruit and snacks waiting. If we needed or wanted anything at all, just ask. After a clanging bell was rung, the most lovely and healthy meals were served family style. We gathered around a table of strangers and friends who were in reality brothers and sisters from the same Father.

I was perhaps one of the attendees who was most on the fringe. Never once did I feel left out of the group. Just the opposite, I experienced open arms, listening ears and sincere hearts. I use the phrase, “To know and be known by you” frequently in my close friendships. I did not coin this term. It comes from Parker Palmer’s To Know as We Are Known where he describes hospitality as a “way of receiving each other, our struggles, our newborn ideas with openness and care. It means creating an ethos in which the community of truth can form.”

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One of the things I was most anxious about in deciding to attend The High Calling retreat was sharing a room with someone I did not know. I arrived in an earlier group and settled into my space before my roommate arrived. Since deciding to attend I had prayed about who God would choose to share my space. I thoughtfully made a little tote bag of gifts to leave on their bed. Gifts. My love language. I haven’t shared a room with a stranger since college, and even then I did not do it well. When the door opened this beautiful woman came in, and her face seemed disappointed, even sad. She had come to the retreat thinking she was rooming with someone else. Someone she knew. Someone who was more important. Someone who had a large blog following and a published book. Someone who she could learn from and grow from because of knowing her. Who in the world is Monica Snyder from Uniontown, Ohio? I greeted her and told her I had been praying for her. She answered, “Oh, I haven’t!” We began to laugh. She explained how this room change turned her idea of what the retreat would be upside down. We hugged. I’m not sure who welcomed who, but it was comfortable and easy from that moment on. We told a little of our stories, a place I think everyone should start. How can I be with you if I know nothing about you? We headed out to dinner, and she welcomed me at “her” table and introduced me to the many she already knew. I silently exhaled. There was room for me. Caryn and I became very close during our time together. Except for my older sister, Rochelle, I can’t remember such late nights of sharing and laughing and “Oh, one more thing and then we HAVE to go to sleep.” I believe we will be lifelong friends and know God planned the room switcheroo for reasons we can’t even understand just yet. I am grateful for the willingness of this precious woman’s heart to open a space where our truth could meet.

I’m thinking about welcome as we begin Advent. Our Savior’s story begins with Mary making room in her heart and rearranging all notions about what her life would look like to welcome God made man into her womb. As Mary and Joseph traveled the night her labor pains began to come steady and strong they we told there was ” . . . no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7

Eugene Peterson wrote a beautiful poem about “Hospitality” from a small volume of his work titled Holy Luck. I love how he takes us from welcoming Jesus, something we think we would all heartily agree to do, to opening our hearts and homes to others who are broken angels unaware; to those who are Christ people in their messy state. Long after they are gone your sacrifice of welcome may become the story that saves and even raises you from the deadness into life.

Benedict taught us well: Receive
Each guest as Christ. The bell rings, the door
Opens. Some unexpected, and some, yes,
Unwelcome. Our guest book spills out photos.

Christ abused. Christ the fool,
Christ sullen, Christ laughing,
Christ angry, Christ envious,
Christ bewildered, Christ on crutches.

Like Gospel writers of old we pray
And reminisce over left behind guest signs–
A bra, a sock, a scribbled thank you–

And let them grow into stories. Sometimes
It takes an unhurried while. Then,
There it is: absences become Presence. Resurrection.

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Unwrapping the Greatest Gift . . . an Advent giveaway

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“If you don’t come to Christmas through Christ’s family tree and you come into the Christmas story just at the Christmas tree–this is hard, to understand the meaning of His coming.” –Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the full love story of Christmas

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I found Ann’s blog A Holy Experience in 2008. Her writing brought me daily to the foot of the cross in a way I never had before. In 2010, a Christmas season following Danica’s major brain surgery and fusion and of very little in things to give but so much in Grace to receive, we began celebrating Advent as a family every day of December instead of just weekly on Sunday. This included reading Scripture, singing songs and lighting candles on Caleb’s beautiful hand made wooden “Cradle to the Cross” wreath. I would use a collection of books to bring together our nights of worship.

Last year I was changed by Ann’s daily adult devotional The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the full love story of Christmas. I began going through the book with a friend. It convicted and encouraged me in my slow expectant journey to Bethlehem. I especially loved the questions at the end of each chapter prompting thoughtful heart searching and reflection. I gifted at least ten copies, including giving it to my girl’s teachers at the beginning of December. Giving gifts early has become a tradition for me to eliminate the rushed frenzy of thoughtless buying and enable our home and hearts to quietly focus and rest in the Advent season.

I ordered the new family style book as soon as it was released. When Danica opened the beautiful pages she immediately began reading, and her excitement grew to see we would start our journey this year in the Garden of Eden and follow it all the way to the incarnation of our Savior. No more hanging out all month at the stable and the cradle. We come to understand the intricate details of God’s plan to save us through Biblical narratives winding through several thousand years; exploring the lives of men and women who are much like you and I. Ann writes in her devotional book,

The coming of Christ was right through families of messed up monarchs and battling brothers, through affairs and adultery and more than a feud or two, through skeletons in closets and cheaters at tables . . . And Jesus claims exactly those who are wondering and wounded and worn out as His. He grafts you into His line and His story and His heart, and He gives you His name, His lineage, His righteousness. He graces you with plain grace. Is there a greater Gift you could want or need or have?

The illustrations are lovely. The suggested activities for application provide the opportunity for the stories to become real Jesus living. There is also a link to download The Jesse Tree ornaments or you will be delighted to know Dayspring is also offering a full set of ready to use ornaments to purchase. I know this book will become cemented in our family’s Christmas worship for years to come. Throughout the month of December I will be writing frequently about the long slow journey of expectation. I hope you will find still moments to join me here and also carve out space for you and your own family to quiet the noise of the world’s twisted shout of the celebration of our Savior’s birth.

How do you or your family observe Advent? Is this something new to you? What could you do this year to make Christmas a more spiritual holiday for yourself and your family?

I am giving away a copy of Ann’s special book this week. To enter answer one or all of the questions above in the comment section here on the blog and share this post on facebook with a friend or family member whose adrenaline is already rising in the sea of Black Friday ads, lists of wanting, parties and pastries. I will randomly choose a winner on Thanksgiving night so I can priority ship and have it to you by the evening of December 1.

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Playdates with God. And another giveaway

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“What if man could see Beauty Itself, pure, unalloyed, stripped of mortality and all its pollution, stains, and vanities, unchanging, divine, . . . the man becoming, in communion, the friend of God, himself immortal; . . . would that be a life to disregard?” –Plato

Playdates

Every year I choose a word. For a lover of language this is a difficult task. The green leaves I love begin to turn brilliant shades of red, yellow and orange as they loosen their grip on their life source and float to the ground. The light dims as days get shorter and cold winds blow in. I dig deep and bury heart cries of musty yearnings mixed together like a bag of bulbs never knowing what will bloom. Covered by cold earth and first snows my winter sadness always sets in. I anticipate the journey of Advent, but I long for the afterbirth, the new life that grows from the stump of Jesse’s root. I really need the Cross and the Resurrection. I need the Hope of a God who is making all things new. I ask God to show me what I should choose to shape my entire coming year around.

My word for 2014 is “PLAY”.

In May of 2009 Danica’s neck went crooked. Our lives were turned inside out and upside down. I stopped playing. Every single effort of my spirit, mind and body was for saving her and holding our family together. I worked to continue to provide day and night. In between I was driving this little girl to every doctor, specialist and therapist I could. Dan worked the 3-11 pm shift so I could try to work online in the mornings. I was alone with the girls at night. After I would get my little Delaney tucked in I would sit outside Danica’s door while she screamed in pain. My prayers were a strange and sometimes sinful bargaining with God. I would give Him anything if He would just help her. I barely ate. I couldn’t sleep. When I finished my programming list work, and she had finally cried herself to sleep, I became obsessed with internet research and making connections with anyone who might help us.

Our bodies can only withstand this level of stress for certain periods of time. They will eventually break. I found a counselor early, before we even knew what Chiari was, and she drew me a picture of my brain. She showed me simply how there are two bowls there. One is what empties us; work, stress, illness and toxic relationships mixed in with basic things we may lack like shelter, food, clothing and security. The other bowl holds good things in whatever form we most need; the basic things I mentioned above but also rest, relaxation, loving relationships and yes, PLAY.

We were created by a God who loves to give us good things. He created us to experience pleasure. Rest was so important to Him He actually made it a rule to live by and dedicated one day out of seven to it. He asks us to be like children in many ways. He wants our hearts and minds free in such a way we do not worry about what we will eat or drink or wear but choose the better part instead. We are back to the Catechism I shared in an earlier post. God wants us to spend quality time enjoying Him and glorifying Him forever.

I began 2014 determined to restore some kind of good to the almost empty bowl in my brain. After a revision of my brain shunt in February I was blessed to take a trip to Tucson. It was an amazing week of retreat and rest but also of play in every way. I wore my talisman of play the entire time. (Lisa Leonard makes the most beautiful hand stamped jewelry perfect for your word of the year.) I read spirit filling books. I laid by the pool with my face in the sun. I hiked into the Sonoran hills. I bird watched. I took lovely photos of tiny dessert details. I had a spa treatment. I fed my body healthy meals. I spent two full days of my trip with my dear sister-in-law, a relationship that sustains me. I sat on the patio every single night to watch the sun set over the mountains and the starts and city lights appear. Each evening, along with the other guests there, I drank a shot of tequila and toasted new friends around a fire that burned late into the mountain chill. It was everything I needed and wanted it to be. I was also well for the first time in years. I had the week I’d begged God for. Just seven days of feeling no pain and remembering what real life could be like. He graciously gave this to me. My only regret was my husband and girls could not see me like this.

When I returned home I began to look for ways to begin again doing things I enjoy. I made more art. I planted a perennial garden. I threw a fun outdoor party with all my friends. I went to a concert. I went shopping with a friend to putz for vintage treasures. I listened to music and watched movies I’d missed in those lost years. I was able to just be with my husband and girls, and this was the best play of all; having a relationship with them outside my bed, outside of pain, outside of sickness. Mixed in all this was some intensive plasma treatment and hospitalization, IVIG infusions with home health, Meningitis, more plasmapheresis and another surgery, but I had filled up the good bowl enough to make it through. Play saved me.

Several months ago Laura Boggess published a book titled Playdates with God. I have read it through twice now. It is all marked up and page flagged. The book is a beautiful journey through her own longing to make deliberate time in her serious and busy life to just BE with God in the purest form possible here on earth. How do we even begin this without some kind of intention turned into practice? Could we start small? Could we carve out just one hour a week for our hearts to pursue enjoying God and practicing play? Would the ritual grow to become a sturdy thread in the fabric of our lives?

Laura points us to Timothy Keller and Katherine Alsdorf’s examination of Sabbath in Every Good Endeavor. They share three main tenants of God’s gift of rest and play. The Sabbath is a celebration of our design. It is a declaration of our freedom, and it is an act of trust. Laura writes, “To be free to live as we were designed to –with the confidence afforded by trust that our Divine Parent will work out all the details for our provision—this is the beauty of Sabbath. . . Time with God. Alone, Just the two of you. This is how intimacy develops. This is how we grow the trust necessary to come to God as a little child.”

I met a dear friend for coffee on Saturday. Her heart was sad about how life is sweeping her away. Day after day of sameness turning into weeks, making months and then suddenly you see a year of life gone without much joy at all. How does this happen? I encouraged her to put first things first every single day and then start small. You can do this too. Carve out one hour a week and make it holy. Let your husband know and your children know this is an appointment with God. It’s not your quiet time or your prayer time or your Bible study. Those are the first things. This is an hour you will do something you love. You will open your eyes and your heart like a child to remember what brings you joy. This is your chief end. Glorify God. Enjoy God. Make a playdate with God.

Tomorrow morning I am heading to Laity Lodge in the hill country of Texas for The High Calling retreat. I will be beautifully out of touch from this “world” and in fellowship with saints and my God in a hallowed place.

While I’m gone think about how you would you choose to spend your first playdate with God? Share in the comments here. When I return I will randomly choose a winner of my “PLAY” chalkboard banner I have treasured this year and a copy of Laura’s book “Playdates with God.” To be entered you need to subscribe to the site on the right side of the homepage, comment on this post and share socially by clicking the links below. Keep your eyes open. You will SEE Him. Ordinary miracles are His specialty!

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The Snow Child and “Ordinary” Miracles

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“She could not fathom the hexagonal miracle of snowflakes formed from clouds, crystallized fern and feather that tumble down to light on a coat sleeve, white stars melting even as they strike. How did such force and beauty come to be in something so small and fleeting and unknowable?” ― Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child

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It’s no secret I’m not really a lover of snow. I suffer from Intracranial Hypertension, and I can predict snow before Doppler radar because of an intense pressure headache that grows from the feeling of numb fullness to a skull crushing my brain. My second brain shunt, now almost a year old, helps some. The grey skies hurt my heart and cold almost paralyzes my body. All this makes me wonder why God has me living here in Northeast Ohio.

There is still a wonder in the first snow of each year. It began falling last night as I put Twixie out for the last time before bed. Just like a child I stood in awe of the flakes falling on my eyelashes and face. I reached out to catch one and the second it touched my fleshy warmth it was gone.

Several years ago I gifted my mom with the book The Snowflake by Kenneth Libbrect. It is a stunning coffee table book with micro photographs of individual snowflakes. Not knowing I deeply desired the book for myself, my friend, Janet, gave me one for Christmas last year. There is also a smaller gift edition available. Never before had I seen or begun to understand the intricate DNA of every single crystal miracle. We all hear the adage, “There are no two alike.” I finally believed.

I’ve been keeping my eyes wide open for “ordinary” miracles. Somewhere between real life and fairy tales there is a snow child in us all. The beauty and the ugly of our stories make up remarkable narratives about the detailed design our God is revealing in each one of us. Many times these lessons are fleeting and only our for a moment. Look around you today. What may seem cold and wet and slightly inconvenient is also a gift. What other wonders are we taking for granted because we cannot slow to see?

“You did not have to understand miracles to believe in them, and in fact Mabel had begun to suspect the opposite. To believe, perhaps you had to cease looking for explanations and instead hold the little thing in your hands as long as you were able before it slipped like water between your fingers.”― Eowyn Ivey, The Snow Child

(If you haven’t read the novel The Snow Child you must! It is truly an adult fairy tale you will not be able to put down. It will shape you and stay with forever.)

And this. Sarah McLachlan singing “Ordinary Miracle.” Way back when Team Danica started I had this song play every time you opened the site. I’m listening to it on repeat today. Enjoy.

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Shine Through Me

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“Begin today! No matter how feeble the light, let it shine as best it may.  The world may need just that quality of light which you have.”–Henry C. Blinn

What is calling

I struggled for months with creating this new site and beginning to talk about the book I’m writing.

I believe God directs our paths through providence, provision and innate gifts.  He creates each one of us with a special DNA of purpose. For all of us it should include the first question and answer from the “Westminister Shorter Catechism.”  My dad kept a little blue paperback version with circles all over the cover in his Bible.  I had to be three or four years old when I began learning the foundation of what my life was made for.  It asks, “What is the chief end of man?”  It answers, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

It is that simple.

The larger question we all ponder is how our circumstances and gifts could be best used to this end.

Months ago, a childhood friend sent me a book written by Emily P. Freeman titled “A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You were Made to Live.”  I know it was a nudge from her to consider I might be stuck in my long and painful journey writing occasional posts on a little blogger site because it was safe.  She also understood any aspiration for something bigger would be plaguing my heart, because motive is something I live and die by.  Is shining the light He created in me toward Him through the story He is writing in my life something pride or selfish ambition are inevitably at the center of?  Could I ever see growing my audience and publishing a book as obedience to His call and a way to deeply glorify God and enjoy Him?

I spent ten weeks in late 2011 through early February of the next year at a beautiful lake house recovering from my brain decompression and first fusion.  My husband gifted me with the above beautiful piece of art by Kelly Rae Roberts.  I would move it around to ensure she was facing the sun as it changed positions from dawn to dusk in this cathedral of a home with a wall of windows.  I consider the time I spent there one of the holiest and most soul changing experiences God has ever given me.  I collaged a vision board for my heart’s desires.  I prayed for hours.  I read for hours.  I blogged some, and I wrote prolifically in my personal journal. I knew then I was supposed to write this book.

I returned to the dark basement in my parent’s home.  I had so many health struggles in front of me, and I felt the Shekinah glory fade away.  I began to doubt God, myself and the journey.  I wasn’t just hiding my light under a bushel.  It almost went out entirely.

Emily writes about a short essay C.S. Lewis penned called “First and Second Things.”  He said this, “Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things.” She elaborates on her own struggle about desires and calling.

Where I’ve run into the most confusion, though, is wondering what it actually means to bring glory to God as a first-things pursuit. It isn’t just me on my knees in an empty room with my hands lifted in the air.  It can be that, but it isn’t only that, and I would dare say it isn’t usually that.

How are human beings to reflect the glory of God in the world?

I have been tempted sometimes to throw every single desire I have into the “second things” pile for fear they are things I’m making up.  I tend to assume if it’s something I really want, then it isn’t something I should be allowed to have.  Am I just being selfish?  Greedy?  Crazy?

It takes courage to honestly consider desire in the presence of Jesus.  Am I brave enough to acknowledge what I most long for?  Am I willing to expose my desires in the light of the love of God?

Here’s my favorite part,

As we begin to uncover the desires we may be reluctant to face, remember the Gospel makes it possible for us to confront whatever we see.  Christ is intuitive enough to sort out the first and second desires on our behalf.

The timing is now.  I’m obeying His providence, His provision and His gift to shine.

“Let your light shine before  men in such a way they make see your good works, and glorify Your Father who is in heaven.”  Matthew 5:16 (NASB)

Goodgiveaway

Is there a desire God has placed in your heart you have been fearful to pursue?

Comment below about a way God could shine through you to accomplish good works and glorify Himself. Share this post or invite someone to join this journey.  I am giving away three books I love.  “The Lemonade Ripple” is a children’s book by Paul Reichert about how small acts of kindness ripple into big waves of love. “One Good Deed A Day” is a journal with simple suggestions every day on how to reach outside our little worlds and do good.  “Shine Through Me” is a journal full of Scripture and beautiful quotes with lots of room to write about what is calling you.  The winner will be chosen randomly from all comments.  The giveaway will close midnight on Saturday, 11/15/14, and the goodies shipped Monday morning.

Look for a post tomorrow about creating good through our specific gifts.

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