Thursday, October 23, 2014

God's presence in the past

Today, on the occasion of Shannon's 25th birthday, I want to write about an amazing thing that God did for me when I was pregnant for her.

We had moved from Minnesota to New York so Shawn could work and go to graduate school.  I was 23 and lonely, far from all my family and friends.

When I found out I was pregnant, I was pleased, although the pregnancy had not been planned (confession: only Jonathan was "planned," although God always has a plan).  Deliberate or not, I was excited to have a child, a family.  I looked forward to being less alone, and I had always been crazy about babies, so, honestly, I was sheepishly very happy about the turn of events.

Then the morning sickness set in.  Except it was all day, and all night.  The world turned green and spun for weeks on end.  I didn't know you could feel like that for so long and not die.

One day, I woke up feeling less ill.  I went to the bathroom, and there was blood.  Blood.  Lots of blood.  My first though was, "Rats.  I have my period."  Then I remembered that I was pregnant, and pregnant ladies do not get periods.

We called the doctor.  "Are you cramping?" she asked.  We told her yes.  "Do you still feel sick?" she asked.  We told her not so much.  "Well," she said, "You are probably miscarrying.  Don't worry about it.  It isn't your fault, and you can't do anything about it, so just drink fluids and try to rest.  We'll get you in for a sonogram in a few days."

After a few days, the bleeding tapered off and I went for the sonogram.  I do not remember anything about the ultrasound technician except that he was a male, and he was kind.  He did the exam, and then he spoke to me.  "There is a nice healthy baby in there," he said, "with a strong heartbeat.  It looks good."  Then he slowed down.  "What probably happened," he told me, "is that you probably had twins and lost one."  He did not pause awkwardly, expecting me to react with grief.  He continued on without missing a beat.  "When you lose a twin and carry the remaining one, it throws tests results off later in the pregnancy.  So don't worry.  Especially about the AFP test, alpha-fetoprotein.  If you have that test, the results might show that there is something wrong with your baby, but those skewed results are common when a twin has been miscarried, so don't be afraid."

"Don't be afraid," he said.  I think he was an angel from the Lord.

I had the AFP test, and the results showed that there was something wrong with my baby.  I thought, "Well, that's what the ultrasound guy said to expect."  However, the doctors apparently had not spoken with the ultrasound guy.  They went berserk.

One day, the doctor's office called me at work.  The nurse on the other end of the line said sternly, "You need to come in for amniocentesis today.  You are getting along in your pregnancy, and if you delay, it will be too late to terminate."

I hung up the phone without saying anything.

We changed doctors, but the concern continued.  We had to go to meetings for "genetic counseling."  The baby would have Down's Syndrome, they told us.  Then it was spina bifida.  It was always something.  "But I miscarried a twin," I would tell them, and they would look at me as though I had four heads.  I could see it in their eyes, although they pursed their lips and kept silent, "Why does she keep saying that?  Why does she think that's even relevant?" They did not seem to know that mothers who miscarried a twin often had abnormal AFP results.

But I remembered.  I prayed to God, and I remembered what that ultrasound technician had told me, that ultrasound technician whom God Himself placed in my path, who probably spoke things that ultrasound technicians are not allowed to speak.  I kept my hand against the side of my stomach where my baby kicked with such vigor and constancy, I knew she had to be strong and healthy.  

It's not that I would have terminated her anyway.  Still, being young and friendless and far from home, with a husband working full time and going to graduate school, it would have been very frightening to have a special needs baby.  And God was so gracious to me.  God was so gracious.

Shannon was born, and she was perfect, absolutely perfect and beautiful beyond description, the most beautiful baby I had ever seen.  They wanted me to consider terminating her, but she was absolutely, utterly perfect.  I cannot express the joy, and the pride and the relief and satisfaction and vindication and elation that I felt.



Now she is getting a PhD in organic chemistry from Yale.  She might actually discover the next cancer cure.  Or the cure for AIDS.  Or the cure for lupus!  She is more than a mother's dream come true.

Monday, October 20, 2014

11 ways to approach a headache without NSAIDs

Things to do for a headache:

1.  Lie down in a dark room.
2.  Apply heat (like a rice bag from the microwave).
3.  Apply an ice pack.
4.  Massage your head.  (If you are lucky, get someone else to massage your head.)
5.  Drink coffee.  (I know you aren't supposed to, but it does sometimes work.)
6.  Rub lavender essential oil into your hairline.
7.  Drink water.  Drink a lot of water.
8.  Stop trying to get something done, and relax, ideally with a small, warm dog in your lap.
9.  Give up on completing something that had been bringing you tension.  Release yourself.
10. Remove yourself from the phone, the computer, the television, all screens.  Turn them off.
11.  Play some Bach, very softly.

Friday, October 17, 2014

A dud ramble

I have a suspicion that when Garrison Keillor does his monologue on "A Prairie Home Companion," he often just starts talking and sees what comes out.  Sometimes he is hilarious, and sometimes it's a dud.  (Yes, I said that.)

Trying to get up to a hundred (100!) 2014 posts by the end of the year is giving me writer's block.  I have all sorts of ideas of what to write when I can't write, when I am up the street in my neighborhood, dodging puddles in the road and mud amongst the grass blades, trying to manage my fingers between two straining dog leashes and a crinkly recycled grocery bag full of dog poo.  Or, when I am measuring out the ingredients for gluten free muffins into my blender, and I drop an egg, and the blender is too full and won't form a vortex, right then I have an inspiration (perhaps that's why the egg fell), but by the time the muffins are in the oven and the timer set, the inspiration has vaporized.  Driving, also, has a way of both bringing and stealing away ideas that I could write about, a fully developed idea crashing and burning to oblivion when an orange car from Indiana rudely forces his way in front of me at a congested intersection (and I wish like crazy I were driving an old, rusty beater car so he'd think twice about who had more to lose).

To tie two thoughts together now. . .

Since I rarely remember what I was going to say by the time I have a chance to say it, and since the end of the year is coming on us like a night train (only 80 shopping days left until Christmas, people, and I still have 23 posts to write after this one), since I'm getting desperate, I'm going to do what I call, "pull a Garrison."

To "pull a Garrison" is to ramble and see what comes out.

I haven't pulled out the annuals and planted daffodils yet.  That's a confession.  It was a rainy weekend and a rainy week.

Rain can keep you from what you need to do.  The farmers are feeling that, this year.  I don't know how those poor guys are going to get the corn harvested, let alone the soybeans.

Rain can be a good thing, at the right time and in the right amount.  The sun is the same: a lot of sun is good sometimes, but too much sun withers the earth.

Generally speaking, I think you want rain in the spring and sunshine in the autumn, but you don't get to pick, so what is the point?

I cannot imagine being a farmer, working that hard, expending all those resources for each spring planting, while being completely at the mercy of forces that you have absolutely no control over.  And yet, what would happen to us if all the farmers gave up farming because it is too risky?  What then?

I need farmers because I'm not much good at gardening.  Somebody told me today that I should have a garden and grow my own greens so I could avoid herbicides and pesticides and GMOs.  Even if I could successfully grow a bunch of greens, could I get full off them?  I have never found greens to be satisfactorily filling, and even if I were to get full, they don't hold a person very long.  They don't stick to your ribs.

I like growing flowers.  You can eat nasturtiums.  They are very spicy, but they aren't filling either.

Daffodils are poisonous, which is why I plant them instead of tulips.  Tunneling rodents love to eat tulip bulbs.  I figure with daffodil bulbs, either the little critters will leave them alone, or else, if they eat them, I'll have poisoned some tunneling rodents, so that's a win-win.

This writing exercise did not work, but I'm leaving it anyway.  If I erase it and write something else now, it will be dishonest, not a true (albeit failed) ramble.

I wonder if this is a dumb goal, trying to write 100 posts by year end?  Maybe it's just a waste of time.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

For wives: everything I know about marriage (not that much)

A few months ago, I had the honor of sharing devotions at my niece's bridal shower.  Below is what I shared, more or less.  A couple of people asked me to publish it on the blog, but I wanted to improve it before I did.  Then I forgot about it.  Then I started trying to complete 100 posts by the end of this year, and I remembered that I had a rough draft of this in Word, so I dug it up and purged the parts that were particularly personal and specific to my niece, and here is what is left.  For better or for worse.  Haha.  That's a joke.  Kind of.

______________________________________________________________________________

You know how all the fairy tales end?  The last line is always, “And they lived happily ever after.”  You follow this story about two people meeting and falling in love, but then, when they get married, it all ends.

“They lived happily ever after.”

I have to warn you, “happily ever after,” isn’t 100% realistic.  I’m just saying.

Life after the wedding is not paradise.  It isn’t the garden of Eden.  It isn’t Heaven.  Taking marriage vows doesn’t instantly transport you to heaven.  However, you will have a lot of great times together.  You will share many joys, much laughter, and multiple adventures.

In fact, “adventure” is a very good way to think about marriage.  At the end of your wedding, you won’t have reached the end of the story, the “happily ever after.”  Your wedding is the beginning, the starting line of a new era.  You will be beginning a new life, married life, and you will proceed to experience things you’ve never experienced before.  It is very much an adventure.  It will test your limits in ways you never imagined possible, but it will also give you opportunities you never imagined... opportunities to learn about love and grace and the power of God.

My husband and I have been married for nearly 27 years now.  That’s longer than the average couple stays married these days, although not nearly so long my parents or my grandparents.  Nevertheless, now and then somebody will ask us, “How do you do it?  How have you been able to stay married so long?”

The short answer is that we can do it because of Jesus.

The longer answer explains a little bit about how this works, and I think of it in four parts.  (I’ll give you the four parts, and then we’ll look at each one for a minute.)

  1. Treasure your husband and speak beautifully to him.
  2. Cut him at least as much slack as you would want him to cut for you.  Give him grace.  Forgive.
  3. Keep your promises.
  4. Let your husband be your husband.  Let Jesus be Jesus.

(1)  The first key to staying married is this:
Treasure your husband and speak beautifully to him.

I recently read that all of our marriages would be in better shape if we would make a habit of imagining that our husbands had the words: “fragile, handle with care,” written on their foreheads.

Men are bigger than we are, stronger, and they often work longer hours outside the house than we do.  We think of them as robust and indestructible and sometimes unemotional.  But inside every man is a little baby boy with feelings that can be hurt, confidence that can be shattered, and a heart that can be broken.  Speak kindly and encouragingly to your husband every day.  Tell him that you love him.  Don’t take him for granted.  Thank him for the way he provides and protects, and when he puts gas in the car.  Let him know that you are his Number One Fan on the earth. 

Give the gift of kind words to your husband.  This is an investment you can’t afford not to make.  Choose your words to him carefully, and pray that God will help him understand you in the best possible way.

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”  (Proverbs 25:11, ESV)  When you are away from your husband, think about this verse as you plan what you might say to him when you first see one another again.  Offer your words as a gift, and use your speech to bless.  You may be surprised to find out what power there is in language of blessing.


(2)  The second key to staying married is:
Cut your husband at least as much slack as you want him to cut you.  

It was hugely significant for me when I finally figured this out, and I wish I had learned it much sooner.  We are so prone to be selfish.  We are intimately aware of our own experience of life, and it is always a stretch for us to imagine what life is like in somebody else’s shoes.  We become engrossed in our own, personal experience, and we want people to cut us slack because of all the difficult things we are going through.  But we fail to stop and realize that everybody is going through difficulties every day, not just me, but all the other people too Including my husband.  If I feel like I need somebody to cut me slack, how much does he feel that he needs somebody to cut him slack?

“And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” (Luke 6:31 ESV)  Sometimes we call this The Golden Rule. 

The Golden Rule is especially important when it come to forgiving each other.  Being married will give you lots and lots of opportunities to practice forgiving.

The Bible doesn’t give us a choice about forgiving.  God doesn’t say, “It’s a nice idea to forgive, so you should try to do it most of the time.”  No.  In Matthew 18, Jesus tells us that we must forgive seventy-seven times.  He doesn’t mean that we literally keep a checklist and forgive until the 78th time; you can’t say, “This is the 78th time I have picked up your boxers off the bathroom floor and put them in the hamper, and I’m done.  I forgave you the first 77 times like the Bible said, but I’m not forgiving you a 78th time.”  That is not what God means.  He means that we keep forgiving over and over, indefinitely. just as God forgives us.  Later in Matthew 18:35, Jesus even says that God will not forgive us if we refuse to forgive one another.  In all of life, and especially in marriage, you must forgive.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”  (Ephesians 4:32 ESV)  Forgive as God in Christ forgave you.  How did God forgive us in Christ?  He paid the price for our sins with the blood of Jesus that He shed for us when He suffered and died on the cross.  We are called to do the same for one another, and especially for our spouses.  I was thinking about grace the other day, and I realized that grace is never free.  It is always very costly for the person who gives it.  Grace means that the person who should have paid for something is not the person who actually paid.  Somebody else paid the price.  Jesus did this for us, and we are called to do it for each other.  It is costly.  It is valuable.  It is beautiful.

We need to cut our husbands at least as much slack as we would want them to cut for us.  We need to be gracious and forgiving.

(3)  My third key for staying married -- don’t worry, this is a very short, simple one --
Keep your promises.

When people get married, they make vows to one another, before God and witnesses, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as they both shall live.  They have no idea what the future will hold, but they stand in front of God and a room full of witnesses, and they promise to be faithful to one another no matter what comes.  They are making a promise, a vow.

People who keep their vows stay married.  It’s as simple as that. 

To make a vow before God is a very serious thing indeed.  Ecclesiastes 5 tells us that it is better not to make any vow at all, than to make a vow and then break it.  So always remember your wedding day, and the solemn vow that you swore to each other before God.  Be true to your vow and keep your promises.  Then you will have a very long marriage.

(Many people may be offended by this bit of advice.  I realize that there are situations where one person's breaking of a vow can make it impossible for the other person to keep his or her vow.  However, if we all took our vows before God as seriously as we ought, it would clear up a host of problems.)

(4)  My fourth and final key to staying married is this:
Let your husband be your husband, but let Jesus be Jesus.

So many of us go into marriage expecting that we are embarking on a trip to heaven.  We aren’t.  We still live in a fallen world.  We are sinners who are slowly being conformed to the image of Christ as we try to grow in our faith and learn more about Him.  But at the end of the day, we are sinners in a fallen world.  You are a sinner and your spouse a sinner.  If you are believers, you have the Holy Spirit at work in you, sanctifying you day by day.  But you have not arrived.  You are not in heaven yet.  Your wedding day is not a portal to heaven.  You will not be in heaven until you die, or until Jesus returns to usher in the New Heavens and the New Earth.  Until that happens, we are all sinners living in a fallen world, and we will all struggle with sin and its effects.

I do not say this to be discouraging.  I say this because it is true.  Realism and realistic expectations are the secret to avoiding disappointment.  You will let your husband down, and your husband will let you down.  When this happens, you do not need to run to divorce court.  You need to run to Jesus. 

I don’t know if something similar happens in the secular world, but among Christians, many times wives become terribly disappointed with their husbands because they thought they were marrying Jesus.  You may be marrying a truly outstanding guy.  But you are not marrying Jesus.

  • Only Jesus can always be there for you. 
  • Only Jesus knows your every weakness. 
  • Only Jesus knows your words before you speak them and your thoughts before you think them. 
  • Only Jesus knows what you meant to say rather than what you actually said. 
  • Only Jesus knows all the things that happened to you a particular day, before you lost it and fell apart.  
  • Only Jesus can promise never to leave you nor forsake you, and also have the almighty power to keep His promise unconditionally. 
  • Only Jesus knows exactly what you need, and only Jesus has all the resources to give you exactly what you need.
  • Only Jesus can fill your heart with joy, your soul with peace and your life with meaning.

You may have a very good husband.  But don’t expect him to be to you all the things that only Jesus can ever be to you.  He will not be able to do that.

The best insurance for a successful marriage is for you to love Jesus first.  Love Jesus most.  When Jesus is your source of strength and joy, when you find your identity and your fulfillment in Him, then you will be empowered to love your husband in the best possible way.  Quench yourself on Jesus' love so that you will be able to turn around and share love freely with your husband.

"On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.   Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, "Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water."'" (John 7:37-38 ESV)

Cling to Jesus.  Remember everything you have learned since you were a little child.

  • Jesus loves me. 
  • The Lord is my shepherd.  
  • Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name.  
  • For unto you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  
  • And His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  
  • He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed.  
  • He is not here, for He has risen, as He said.

Let Jesus fill your heart with His Spirit, and then, as He promised, rivers of living water will flow from you.

First love Jesus, so you can best love your husband.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Our pain

"Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something."

             ~the Man in Black (aka Westley) to Buttercup in The Princess Bride


We all have pain.  How we view our pain, and how we handle it, says a lot about us.

As humans, sociological creatures living on a world together, we tend to view our pain in light of other people's pain.  There are a number of ways we can go with this.

(1)  The person who minimizes his pain, and minimizes the pain of others.  He says, "I do not hurt, and neither do you."  We often call this person a stoic.  Stoics are not sympathetic, but, to their credit, they do not complain, either.

(2)  The person who maximizes his pain, and maximizes the pain of others.  This person is very sympathetic, and is often a woman, so we will henceforth switch to the female pronoun.  We love her because she loves us.  She projects her feelings onto us, and cries for us whenever there is cause to cry.  She cries a great deal and always has tissues in her purse.  We are prone to be sympathetic to her when she is undergoing her own pain, since she has always been so sympathetic to others.  We might call her an empath.

(3)  The person who minimizes his own pain and maximizes the pain of others.  This person thinks little about himself and much about what others are going through.  He never complains, yet he is always ready with kindness, encouragement and good deeds for those who are suffering.  We call him a saint. He is very rare.

(4)  The person who maximizes his own pain and minimizes the pain of others.  This person is on a quest to win the "My Life is the Worst" award.  He constantly complains and is always ready to explain why his issues are much more difficult than yours.  If you open up to this person about a struggle, this person will tell you, "Oh, that's no big deal.  You're fine."  Then he will proceed to enumerate all the horrors he has gone through, himself, that far outweigh your piddly problem.  We call this person selfish and insufferable.  We are most likely to guard ourselves against becoming this person if we have suffered at his hands.

The trick is to find balance and to ask God to help us see our own problems as He would have us to see them, neither to minimize nor to maximize, but to accept and learn.

If my problem is that I've been throwing up every 20 minutes for the past 6 hours, I do not need to think that I have the worst problem in the world.  Indeed, there are people dying of cancer, people being tortured for their beliefs in China, people who just lost a child to a horrible car accident.  These are bigger problems than my stomach flu, but it does not mean that I am not suffering in my own right.

In very nearly every situation where I suffer, there are those who suffer more than I do, and those who suffer less.  But just because a political prisoner is being starved in a dirt-floored prison cell somewhere in the third world, it doesn't mean that my little toe doesn't hurt like crazy when I break it by stubbing it on a wooden crate at the local farmers' market.  At the same time, just because the lady over there thinks she's having a terrible day because she got a speeding ticket, it does not mean that you can belittle her experience because you happened to lose your job.

Expect pain.  It will come.

Acknowledge pain.  It is okay to hurt.  It is okay for you, and it is okay for others.  Be gracious to yourself and to others when pain comes along. 

Accept pain.  It will teach you something.  Learn well.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

End of summer



It's time to pull out the annuals.

This is not my favorite.

They are a tangled mess, brown leaves, and dead heads that didn't get deadheaded.  Ha.  I pinched back a hanging basket after most of it had died, and in the aftermath it threw up a bunch of struggling little blooms, not much foliage.

But.  They are still blooming.  The canna lilies are going strong, with more new blossoms than spent ones.  Loads of zinnias brighten the yard with color.

I hate to say good-bye to summer.

At the old house, I hated closing the pool for the same reason.  This is so hard for me.  I wait all year for summer, and it comes, and it is magnificent.  Then it is almost over, and I am supposed to clean it up while it still looks nice, while there is a mildness to the air, before the snow flies and yardwork becomes impossible.

After Laura's wedding, I felt the same, gazing around the room where the reception had been held, many guests gone, some lingering.  I looked at the tables with all that lay upon them, decorations, soiled napkins, partially drunk bottles of pop, burlap accents.  I saw the efforts of our hands and knew that all our work, everything, had to be torn down.

I think this transitional thing is correlated to the season of life I've hit overall right now, this time of kids coming of age and moving out.   We had the growing years, the years of Christmas pageants at church, school band concerts, birthday parties, theme parks, beach vacations, back yard campouts.  We did back-to-school shopping and piano lessons, ballet recitals and science fair projects, and then high school graduations and college applications.

It was hard work, like summer yard work, and not all of it was fun, but it was rewarding, it was productive, it was lively and vibrant and stimulating.  My instinct is to grab and hold, but of course I can't.  Time cannot be held back.  The next season will come, whether I am prepared or not.  We learned through painful experience that we needed to close the pool before the water became bitterly cold and the wind sharp and biting.

I need to allow my children to traverse this next birth into adulthood and independence, and to work ahead a little so the next time spring rolls around, there isn't difficult and painful make-up work because of the season that went before.

Spring will come.  There will be grandchildren some day, and  birthday parties and concerts and family vacations, possibly magnificent family reunions.  Seasons come around again.

I'm going to go pull up some annuals, and then... then I'm going to plant a bunch of daffodil bulbs!

Yes.  I am.


...a time to plant and a time to uproot...
from Ecclesiastes 3:2


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Resting in the Lord

Truly my soul finds rest in God;
    my salvation comes from him...
Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
    my hope comes from him.
~Psalm 62:1, 5 (NIV)

This past weekend we had the pleasure of hosting some old friends who have a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and a brand new little two-month-old whom we'd never met before.  Beautiful children!

Our living quarters are not, perhaps, as child-friendly as they once were, back in the day.  (I'll need to do some preparation before grandchildren!)  Also, it rained.  To give the little children an opportunity to blow off steam, climb, run and jump safely, we went to the mall and hung out at the play place for awhile.  While we were there, in the midst of many excited preschoolers exerting their bodies and their vocal chords, I bobbled the littlest baby on my knees, upright, sitting facing me.  Under a bright skylight that opened above us, he fell asleep.  His little body went slack, and his dear little face tipped to one side.  As his shoulders sagged, his eyelids drifted downwards, and there he was, peacefully, trustingly asleep in my hands.  I pulled him close and rested his body against mine, cradling him soft and warm.  Amazingly, he slept for a long time, surrounded by all that noise and excitement.

Over the course of the time they were here, I also saw times when the children fought sleep with all their might, eager to stay up and not miss a thing.

It put me in mind of my relationship with my Heavenly Father.

I don't think I rest in Him very well, much of the time.  I fight for control, and I exert a ridiculous amount of futile effort presenting my agenda to Him and asking Him to bring it to pass.

He has it in His hands.  He isn't going to forget. He knows what is best.  His will is perfect, and He is perfectly able to accomplish it.

I make known the end from the beginning,
    from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
    and I will do all that I please.’
~Isaiah 46:10 (NIV)

Is He trying to show me a better way to pray?

Instead of grasping, pleading, beseeching... should I try to lie back in the shelter of His wings and simply, childlike, trust Him to take care of it?  Like a little baby giving in to the peace of sleep, I need to learn to surrender my will to His, in faith, believing in His goodness, His attention, His concern, His faithfulness.

Like Jesus, I need to say, "Not my will, but Yours."  Then I need to rest in that.  I need to rest in Him.


Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty...
He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
Psalm 91:1, 4 (NIV)