Wednesday, April 25, 2012

a time to dance

it is early monday morning,  the sun not up yet, nor this mama out of bed.  asleep, i feel his kiss gentle on my cheek and hear his whisper in my ear, "have a good week sweetheart." and then he is gone.  the sound of his carry-on luggage and him moving down the front staircase.  quiet steps before dawn.  he leaves early every monday and returns late every friday.  home now just for the weekends. kind of like a sweet country love song.  except he returns to five children, saturday sports and yard work.  often when he rolls in late on these friday nights, the fridge is empty and the house is wild and the woman is just plain worn out. i am pretty sure we're in the middle of some crazy dance, but a slow country ballad it is not.

early on in all this weekly travel we made his homecoming an event.  in typical sarah elizabeth fashion, our middle daughter one friday night created a welcome home banner, complete with plugged in christmas lights.  "i want to make sure he can see it when he drives up to our house in the dark," she explained.  she knows her daddy returns tired too.  his week is long. his days are longer. the distance from his family grows greater each week. how many more months of this long distance living?

dinnertime without dad is another thing.  clearly we need his steady presence at the end of our oval shaped table.  it has been strange these past months eating our weekday meals without him.  i suppose the silver lining is now we all fit comfortably around the kitchen table intended to seat six. with rick gone, and one less body, it works.  but not really.  i'd much rather be smooshed together with one child perched on a pulled up stool, than have the extra space from a father on furlow. but it is the dance we are doing right now.  this tricky dance of transition where we attempt to balance what we are leaving and where we are heading.  we all feel it in some way. it is different for my husband who comes and goes, then it is for me.  not easier, not harder, just different.  then there's our teenage daughter. oh,  how my heart breaks for her.  people keep telling me how resilient and adaptable children are.  and i have to agree, they are.  but teenagers aren't really children and they aren't really adults and no matter what anyone says right now it's painful. it's just a plain old hard dance for her these days.

so we move on through our weeks in the whirlwind clash of closing down and gearing up.  all of this as we approach the month of may -- the busiest season of all for those with school aged children, mind you.  and when i peek into my calendar something in me wants to shut it back tightly and sneak it fast into the bottom drawer of my desk. something in me wants to pull those covers back over my head and pretend i have nothing to do and nowhere to go. how do i open my hands wide and willingly accept the long list of items in need of attention?  mom's attention. my attention.  how do i look across the breakfast table and meet the eyes of all five kids in need of me, one woman. how do i step into the dance and embrace this season of change.  this season of mondays and fridays, of comings and goings, of the comfortably well-known and the utterly unknown. i'm not sure. if i'm being honest, i'm just not sure how to do it somedays.

but how about you? what's the dance you're doing right now? we all have them.  mine might be unique to me, but the dance of life is intended for each one of us.  we all have some kind of  swaying which takes place in the midst of our given number of days.  God hasn't left any of us to be perfectly still and sluggishly at ease. He wants movement in our life.  it is part of the dynamic way He has created us.  sometimes the dance is about living in the moment and wrapping ourselves fully around the present...and sometimes the dance moves us forward, faster than we'd maybe like to go, madder than we'd like to be, headlong into the future.

i don't know when i will get to it all. somedays i stare at the pile and realize i have no plan and begin to feel discouraged and clumsy.  spinning. twirling. dipping. it all seems too much, feels too fast for my simple steps.  it is at these weary moments though when i am most reminded about the reason we dance.  
"let them praise HIS name in the dance; let them sing praises unto HIM with the timbrel and harp."  (psalm 149:3) 
i am reminded that it is not about dancing gracefully, but dancing gratefully.  i don't dance for myself or even for my family, i dance to bring Him praise.  and even a stumbling, clumsy gal like myself can do that when i keep my eyes on my partner...on Him.  and my weary, overwhelmed self can rest in His arms when i stop trying to direct the steps and allow Him to lead.   it may not be a slow country ballad...but even this wild dance can be a sweet song...a love song...when He leads.

there is a time for everything, 
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
  a time to be born and a time to die,
   a time to plant and a time to uproot,
  a time to kill and a time to heal,
   a time to tear down and a time to build,
  a time to weep and a time to laugh,  
a time to mourn 
            and a time to dance.
         ecclesiastes 3:1

 (okay, i'll admit, shameless sharing of my girls and their ballerina photos...
emily and sarah - both in 2nd grade.  bella's first recital is next monday!)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

april 19th: the act of forgetting and the art of remembering

it was april 19th, one year ago today, when i sat beneath a giant tree in my friend's front yard and heard "jody, i'm sorry, but the tumor is malignant."  was that really only a year ago? it seems just yesterday and yet, in a strange way, it also seems somehow a lifetime ago.  i won't quickly forget that sunny april day.  those blue skies.  that giant oak.  the feel of the phone hot on my ear. the tears hot on my cheeks.  the breath leaving my body hard and the friends sitting close by, holding my hand tight.  

that day marked me. seared something. changed a lot.

but now a year later, after surgery and medicine and too many doctor appointments to count, life has gone on.  i have plenty of days where i wake and don't even think about the ugly C word.  somedays i make it all the way to lunchtime with hardly a glance in its hideous direction.  sure, when i pop that tiny white tamoxifen pill in my mouth each afternoon i am reminded. but we've moved away from the gut wrenching fear of last spring, from the all consuming cancer.

there are absolutely still things i worry about.  my friend, beverly (also diagnosed), and i text back and forth at times about the "what ifs" and the worries.  we probably shouldn't do that.  as grown women, we know better...but we have found a little bit of shared comfort in each other's affirming words, "yeah, i think about that too..." we say to each other.  even a good prognosis has its share of concerns and anxieties.  it just does.

this year may have been physically altering for me, but even more so, it has been emotionally, mentally and spiritually altering.  it was a year which taught me the importance of clinging to truth...not just positive thoughts and good wishes, but truth.  in situations like this, boy is the difference crystal clear.   and how thankful i was throughout this journey to know i had a God who was completely in charge...absolutely in control.

just last week our 12 year old, sarah, had surgery -- tonsils and adenoids removed. and as we were driving to her surgery, she was sharing some of her fears about the day ahead.  at age 12 she verbalized the fact that trusting God was in control meant knowing He could even choose to take her life at any time.  wow.  where do you go with that conversation on an early monday morning in rush hour traffic?  but we continued to flush out her thinking.  "yes, that's exactly what it means. God is in control of each and every breath.  He knows the number of hairs on our head and the number of days in our life."   i get why that can be a little scary.  but let's talk about the alternative:  He doesn't know. no one is in charge.  life just happens.  everything is random.  there is no plan.  we have no purpose.  i don't know about you, but to me, that seems infinitely worse.

i've written a lot this year.  more than ever before.  the stuff just keeps coming, but i'm not surprised.  a year ago, early in the days of first diagnosis, one morning in my devotions, i stumbled across a verse from the psalms:  "i will not die but live, and will proclaim what the LORD has done." ~ psalm 118:17

i'm not sure i had ever seen that verse before. but on that morning,  it felt like a special message from God.  this verse sort of became my banner.  my battle cry. it became my lifeline.  i clung to it often.  repeated it to myself frequently and relied on it heavily. my oldest daughter, emily, painted that verse for me on mother's day last year, a week before my surgery.  it rested on the armoire in my bedroom and in those days of recovery where i had to lie still and behave myself, i kept my eyes fixed on that verse. soon after,  i began writing more than ever before. post after post came pouring out.  part of my healing-soul.  part of my proclaiming-God.

perhaps some of you are tired of hearing from me.  "oh, it's her again. for heaven's sake, doesn't she have five children to feed or something to clean?"  but my dark dance with cancer somehow ripped wide open in me the need for words and a desire to proclaim what God has done... is doing... and will do.  honestly, i think one of the things i am most frightened by is the potential to stop talking and writing and then to forget.  because we are like that.  we are forgetters.  like the israelites in the desert cursing God, stiff-necked and scrambling for their manna, they forgot this God of their exile was the very same God of their exodus. they forgot this was the God who had parted waters and defeated pharaoh and lit the night sky with a pillar of fire -- this was the God of their rescue.  and just like them, we, too, forget what God has already done.  though there are parts about the cancer i'd like to put behind me, i don't ever want to completely forget.  i don't want to forget God's great rescue in my life. i want to move on from my cancer, but not forget what it gave me.  i want to move away from the fear, but hold tight to the lessons i learned.  i want to stay soft to the sweetness of His presence. 

when we were going through that valley, our family began to treat life dearer, closer, kinder.  my kids stopped bickering for awhile.  i'd really like that to continue. (especially the kid thing). i don't want to go back to that place where we take things for granted or treat each other as if we'll always be here.  but it's hard.  life returns and so does the nonchalance of hurried living.  i snap at my husband and snip at my children and race through the grocery store.  i grumble over grass stains and get huffy when i have too much to do. forgetting that even grass stains are a gift.  and i find myself wading knee deep, again, in the ugly ungratefulness of a woman stretched thin. sometimes it seems i am almost drowning in my failure to remember.

but God remains faithful and patient with me.  and often, just on the brink of blurry living, i am reminded again of God's goodness when He gently tilts my head and turns my eyes in the direction of blessing.

the april blue sky.
a giant oak tree.
hot tears.
soft touches.
kind words.

the glimpses of loving.  the gift of learning.  the art of seeing.  the blessing of remembering.  the beauty of living.  

and a year full of healing.

april 19th.

my blessings

Monday, April 16, 2012

a life well lived

in a post a few weeks back i told you about a friend of ours who has been battling cancer for 16 years. defying all medical odds, he endured four separate stage 4 cancer diagnoses, multiple surgeries and 16 years of different treatments. today was tom's funeral. the battle is over, the pain is gone, the needles, tubes and treatment all behind him now.  and this morning his life was celebrated well.

my oldest three children were in attendance.  as a mother, how grateful i am for them to have a chance to hear the words and thoughts shared in this morning's service. how blessed i was to listen to the beauty of his story. tom maiwald's body may have been taken by cancer, but his life was lived for Christ and everything, absolutely everything shared today, pointed to that end -- pointed to that victory.  in a day where there seem to be few role models and even fewer heroes, i am thankful that tom maiwald and his family have intersected briefly with mine.

for 16 years tom battled cancer hard, but proclaimed Christ even harder.  tom was an exceptionally articulate writer.  his caringbridge site has blessed and encouraged thousands of people over these years -- me included.  a year ago when i was dealing with my own diagnosis, tom's words and fighting spirit were an incredible inspiration to me. in post after post, he declared God's purpose and plan.  he declared peace. even in the midst of his excruciating pain and bitter disappointment, tom and his authentic words pointed always to Jesus.  though our world tries to come up with flimsy alternatives, there is no other answer.

i remember the day he stopped over to return a bike he had borrowed from rick.  it was just a week or so after my diagnosis.  he stood in our driveway, a medical mess himself, and asked me,  "jody, how are you doing?  i mean, how are you really doing?"  i almost felt foolish with him asking me.  my diagnosis paled in comparison to what tom had been through and was going through.  my prognosis was clearly a thousand times better.  but something about the authentic way in which he asked and the sincerity clear in this man's eyes, wiped away all feelings of foolishness.  he genuinely cared and he absolutely empathized.   both rick and i were blown away by that exchange over a borrowed bicycle.

but that is tom.  from all that has been shared in the past few days of remembering him, these are the stories of tom maiwald.  a man who, because of his deep love relationship with Christ, has been able to love others deeply even in the midst of his own incredible and intense suffering.  really, my words cannot do justice to this man's life and testimony. but because i know so many of your stories and know the encouragement so many of my readers seek, i am taking this opportunity to point you in the direction of tom's caringbridge: ( there's little doubt in any of our minds that his site will someday be published in book form.  be prepared.  it is deep and driven with the passion only Christ can inspire.

to give you a taste, i'll share a tiny piece from one of his posts last month.  tom writes about hardship.  and who in in this world doesn't understand at least something about hardship?  few of us grasp it as well as tom, but all of us have suffered in some degree and each one of us stand in need of encouragement when we struggle in this place of earthly pain. 

tom's words:
What if this hardship we call life today is just a pause between the original perfection of Eden and the ultimate restoration of heaven on earth?
It is. It’s as if a beautiful fabric of infinite value were torn in half, leaving loose strands hanging with no hope for repair. Perfection seems lost. But alas, the God of living hope steps in and the tattered fabric of our lives is repaired. God is up to something, even if we don’t experience it until after we die. But what is amazing is that God doesn’t just patch up the fabric of our lives leaving seams and stitch marks. He makes us beautiful.  No holes. No seams. Perfect.  That is the picture of peace that I hold on to. Although I’m far, far from it today, the Bible’s description of God making all things new encourages me and gives perspective on the bigger, more glorious work of His grand plan that I’m unable to fully see now.

this from a man who knew his days were numbered.  a man who rejoiced even in this knowledge.  a man who continued to live life fully and joyfully to the very end.  what a treasure for those who knew a man who so deeply knew God.  tom's funeral service this morning was beyond inspiring.  i was told he planned and wrote much of it himself.  i know i will not be the only one forever changed having attended such a celebration of a life well lived.  tyler's entire 8th grade class sat a few rows behind me.  they were there in support of their classmate, nate, tom's son.   i couldn't help but think of the impact on these 14 year olds sitting in these rows, sitting on the edge of their future. 

a couple of tom's friends shared the story of how tom walked around always with a packet of seeds in his pocket. these seeds were his reminder of his life's mission. he believed in something called the "harvest principle."  you reap what you sow.  you reap more than you sow. and you reap much later than you sow.  i looked around our sanctuary at the large number in attendance... a harvest indeed.

tom leaves behind his sweet wife amy and two children, abby and nate.  please keep this precious family in your prayers.

one of the verses tom chose for today.
"therefore we do not lose heart.  though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  for our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands."  ~ 2 corinthians 4:16 - 5:1

Sunday, April 8, 2012

the rusty purple one

"i'll take the rusty one."  i heard the words tumble out of her mouth.  cheerfully.  willingly. "what?" i thought to myself.  perplexed. confused. amazed. did my 12 year old daughter really just agree to ride the rusty bike to the beach?  it was our final morning of vacation.  for six days straight there had been a battle brewing over this outcast bicycle, this pedaling pariah. we were spoiled with just enough bikes for everyone at the beach house --  two families worth. what more could we ask for?  except one was purple and rusted and kind of ugly...the seat cover torn and the gear shift cranky.  as the children began to line up with who would ride what, the bike sat unattended.  undesirable.  unwanted.  one girl would get the pretty white and turquoise bike bearing hardly a scratch and the other daughter would be left to ride the unappealing rusty purple.  you can imagine the conversations each morning as the slew of kids would finish bowls of cereal, hop on bikes and ride wildly to the beach. towels flapping and flip flops pedaling.  oh you can imagine.

but this morning, this final morning, as i stood packing snacks into the cooler, i heard what every mother is dying to hear.  i heard what every parent dreams of hearing from their child:  sacrifice...willingness...agreement.  i heard my daughter offer to take the rusty one.  i heard my girl choose to take the high road.  she put someone ahead of herself and it about knocked this mama right off her sunburnt feet.  and it only took six days.

it's hard to take the rusty one, isn't it?  we're supposed to.  we're supposed to put others first.  Christ couldn't be clearer.  "do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves."  ~ philippians 2:3  we are supposed to, but we're not wired to. our God says consider others;  our human nature says consider me.  let me be first! give me the best! i want the biggest! and we claw and clamor to have our say and get our way and the greed swells and the contagion spreads and, ultimately, no one feels especially happy.

i had grown up hearing about how we are all born sinful.  even small children.  even babies.  theoretically, i got that.  but i think the first time i clearly understood what the natural, sinful state of man looked like was at a child's birthday party.  it was emily's 4th birthday and we had some kind of butterfly theme going that year.  the children were all wearing wings. i remember those wings. they stood around the table as i sliced the purple and pink cake and almost every one of them began asking me for the big piece with the butterfly.  the biggest one.  the most icing.  the best slice.  cute as buttons they all were in their curls and bows and butterfly wings.  but each one of them demanding to be first...desiring the lion's share.  i stood there with cake knife in hand feeling flustered, certain i was in over my head with this parenting thing.  i had managed large classes of unruly high school students for years, but these four year olds were a whole different thing.  greedy mutiny was at hand.  for a split second i considered climbing onto the dining room chair and pointing my frosted fingers at these bellicose butterflies, a battle cry at my lips.   thankfully, i regained my composure, set down the knife, and in a very low voice told them i had a special secret:  only patient and quiet butterflies would get a slice of cake. it wasn't eloquent or brilliant, but it helped to restore order....that is until we had to decide who would sit next to the birthday butterfly and then the clamoring and positioning began once again.

that was long ago.  emily is 16 now and no longer wearing wings.  and though she still loves cake, she would probably pass on the piece with the most frosting.  but there are other things.  i thought i was in over my head with those wing-wearing four year with five children from toddler to teen, i am drowning some days.  drowning and still desiring to climb up on a chair and annihilate that sneaky selfishness which is an ever present undercurrent in our home.

but i'm the real problem.  the kids may, on occasion, act out of selfish ambition, but so does their mama.  there are plenty of days when she, too, wants to stomp her foot and raise high her hand and yell, me first, me first!   i've heard about some women who after becoming mothers just naturally turn all sacrificial and sweet. who willingly give up their seats and their soup and their solitude. but not me.  that isn't natural.  it may be spiritual, but it has to be worked at.  i heard one woman say she hasn't bought herself a new outfit in over a year because she is so busy buying for her kids. personally,  i think that's a bit extreme.  i am pretty sure that's not what is being asked of us mothers.  but i kind of get it.  if i make eggs and divvy them up to five plates in front of five hungry kids, a lot of times there isn't anything left over for me.  i sip my coffee and take pleasure in watching my children eat something warm.  and it is fine and natural and easy.  but there are other times in my motherhood where i want my way and am willing to fight for it.

so we pray for softer hearts in our house.  that's it.  that's almost every night.  Lord would you give us soft hearts and gentle words?  Lord would you help us to put others first? Lord would you teach us better, "the first shall be last and the last shall be first."  it isn't easy, but it is how Jesus modeled life for us and we know it is right.

the children raced to the shoreline on bikes that last morning of vacation. hair flapping out behind them, the sun just in front of them and a touch of sweetness between them.  someone had sacrificed just a little.  what would life look like if we truly lived this way in our homes and in our hearts.  what if we could every day embrace these words of Jesus.  what if we were more willing to ride the rusty purple bike?

softer. gentler. kinder.  sweeter.

as i jot down this little piece, easter evening, i can't help but think my bike story a bit trite.  i was all impressed with my daughter's willingness to ride the undesirable...i even called it sacrifice.  and yet you and i both know, that is nothing compared to the sacrifice Christ gave at the cross.  it is nothing compared to what He willingly chose to do for all of us.  He wasn't a slightly spoilt child at the seashore, He was the perfect son of God.  yet still, He chose the unwanted and undesirable and unappealing. 

 He chose the ultimate ugly rusty purple...for undeserving and unworthy us. 

 He chose the cross.

so as not to confuse you...this is NOT the rusty purple bike.  just a sweet picture of sarah and her friend.