Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Emmett stopped listening to music when he got sick, especially new music.  I think it caused him too much grief.  I remember coming home from work about a month before he died and hearing worship music playing loudly from the bedroom.  My heart surged with joy, and I thought maybe, just maybe, he had broken through some of the sadness.   But when I got back to our room, I discovered that he was going through songs and making notes in a red spiral notebook, "you know, just in case," I remember him saying.  He was choosing the songs we would sing at his memorial service.

I still haven't brought myself to touch his computer, which contains our entire music library, so I've been limited to a few CDs in my car and the disks I've downloaded since he died with some helpful supplements from friends.  Emmett used to sort through music with ease, pulling out what I'd like and passing it along with stunning precision.  I, on the other hand, find wading through the vast realms of music to find what I like about as fun as most people find calculus.  So when I recalled a couple disks that Emmett had wanted us to get before he got sick, I figured it was a pretty easy way to find music I liked.  I downloaded a couple Snow Patrol albums, and found this little gem.
New York by Snow Patrol
If you were here beside me
Instead of in New York
If the curve of you was curved on me
I’d tell you that I loved you
Before I even knew you
Cause I loved the simple thought of you 
If our hearts are never broken
Well there’s no joy in the mending
There’s so much this hurt can teach us both
Though there’s distance and there’s silence
Your words have never left me
They’re the prayer that I say every day. 
Come on, come out, come here, come here
Come on, come out, come here, come here
Come on, come out, come here, come here
Come on, come out, come here, come here 
The long neon lights
And the eek of the ocean
And the fire that was starting to spark
I miss it all, from the love to the lightning,
And the lack of it snaps me in two 
If you were here beside me
Instead of in New York
Of the arms you said you'd never leave
I'd tell you that it's simple
And it was only ever thus
There is nowhere else that I belong 
Come on, come out, come here, come here
Come on, come out, come here, come here
Come on, come out, come here, come here
Come on, come out, come here, come here 
The lone neon lights
And the eek of the ocean
And the fire that was starting to spark
I miss it all from the love to the lightning
And the lack of it snaps, me in two 
Just give me a sign
There’s an end and a beginning
To the quiet chaos driving me mad
The lone neon lights
And the want of the ocean
And the fire that was starting to go out.
I think this song reminds me of Emmett because it captures longing and loss very well.  I particularly like the phrase, "I miss it all from the love to the lightning, and the lack of it snaps me in two."  I mean, how much more accurate could you get when you've lost the person you love most in the world?  This song is on one of my playlists, and when it popped up this morning on the way to work, I was struck by this verse:
If our hearts are never broken
Well there’s no joy in the mending
There’s so much this hurt can teach us both
Though there’s distance and there’s silence
Your words have never left me
They’re the prayer that I say every day. 
I was reminded of one of the last things Emmett said to me before he passed away, "I wish I could tell you how much I love you."  And it occurred to me that perhaps it wasn't just Emmett saying that to me.  Doesn't God scream that same thing to me in the pages of the Bible?  When I've wondered away from him in sin, doesn't my heart cry out that I miss all of God's will, even the painful parts?  Don't misunderstand me, this song is not religious at all, but if I am the beloved of God, then the aching and longing I feel for Emmett is just a small, imperfect reflection of the aching and longing that God feels for me.  In Jeremiah 31, God says:
The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying:   “I have loved you with an everlasting love;    I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. I will build you up again,    and you, Virgin Israel, will be rebuilt. 
After 30 chapters of death and punishment and destruction, you can almost taste the longing and pleading in these words.  Isn't God trying to draw us out of our wounded, sinful natures into his wild and reckless love? Doesn't he promise to overflow our mended hearts with so much joy it borders on inappropriate?

Unfortunately, like many women spend their marriage wondering if their husband really loves them, I spend too much of my life wondering if God really loves me.  One of the things Emmett and I discussed before we got married (something we read in a book somewhere I think) is how men tend to get married and think, "score, she loves me, lets move on."  Girls on the other hand tend to think every morning, "does he still love me?"  While those are broad generalizations, I found myself referring back to that discussion often, to say, "remember that discussion?  I just need you to reaffirm that you love me right now," to which Emmett would reply, "Oh, sorry, I thought that was self-evident." I often feel like I have that conversation with God.  I flat out dread the days, weeks, and months I spend mired in sin and wallowing in self-pity, where I feel separated from God by an impossibly wide ocean, completely oblivious to how much I am loved.  So this particular line resonates with me, "Though there’s distance and there’s silence, your words have never left me.  They’re the prayer that I say every day."  Now I know that the line is really about human love, but isn't this really why I memorize scripture?  Because even though I have the Spirit of God, he often feels far away and it is so hard to remember how much he loves me.  So I find myself praying scriptures, like help me run this race with perseverance Lord, or draw me to you with your unfailing kindness.

What if we cultivated this longing for God as we cultivated our first love?  You know how when you were a teenager and liked that boy or girl and everything they did was some sort of secret message with a hidden meaning.  Or maybe that was just me, but since I teach teenagers and I'm good at eavesdropping, I'm pretty sure everyone does that, even if we don't say it out loud.  What if we read into every detail of creation the very same love that God professes for us in scripture?  What if I learned to feel his absence as deeply as I feel Emmett's?  That is my prayer for tonight, to cultivate a proper sort of longing.

teaspoon by teaspoon

This post really should be called, "Where babies come from," "Say no to lunchables," and other failed conversations with my son, but that was way too long, so get ready to feel good about yourself as a parent.

So we're in the grocery store the other day, and I get the much dreaded request for a lunchable.  At the age of 4? really?  Has a shiny yellow shrink wrapped package with the very satisfying sound when you peel back the plastic already branded itself on the conscious of my sweet little boy?  Apparently so.  Well I decide to be the really good parent and not just say no, but explain why we don't eat lunchables.  Let's just say that Quinn's basic takeaway was that lunchables cause cancer and will make him sick like his daddy.

This conversation went very much like another one I had with Quinn where he asked me where babies come from at the breakfast table.  Talk about choking on my cereal.  I was completely unprepared, and what was Quinn's takeaway from that conversation?  Well, let's just say he thinks he has a baby in his tummy.

Now I know why most parents say I'll tell you when you're older.  I can't wait until these little nuggets start to come out at school and I get a phone call from the teacher who thinks I'm running some sort of strange cult. 

My new rule of thumb.  Never try to detail the nuances and delicacies of life to a four year old boy.  And while trying to tell him about babies was just funny, I started to feel guilty about giving him a genuine fear of lunchables. And then I thought, wait a minute, stop the press, (insert scratching record sound here).  Why in the world am I feeling guilty about teaching him to choose food not on its visual appeal, but on its  nutritional value?  That is exactly what he should be doing.

And then I thought about how this is exactly how I approach sin in my life.  Oh come on, you knew I was going to go there.  It was obvious.  Sin comes to me in these shiny wrapped packages that have such a satisfying sound when you open them.  But what is inside that package is poison to my body. I am meant to live on the truth of God's word, and when I take in the lies of sin, I am killing myself.  The Bible seriously knows how to speak to four year olds.  The way of sin is death.  Period.  End of story.  Man, I wish it told me how to explain where babies come from.  Lunchables may be a silly example, but when it comes to sin, we really are talking about life and death.  What if every time I saw that shiny wrapped package and started to salivate, that I had the same association that Quinn now has with lunchables?  What if I really knew how every taste of sin killed me a little bit more?  Wow.  That is one of my prayers for myself and Quinn right now, to see sin as it truly is and not how sin wants to portray itself.

The other day at Quinn's school I discovered that they serve yogurt with aspartame in it because it's nearly impossible to get yogurt without it, sometimes even organic yogurt is full of artificial sweeteners.  I didn't act like the crazy mom.  I just asked if I could bring him his own yogurts.  I was civilized, I promise.  But Quinn must have overheard the conversation because the next time they had yogurt at school he refused to eat it, even though he loves yogurt (and loves is an understatement here).  Now you should point out that I was a bad mom and didn't bring him yogurts right away.  But he gets it!  Now matter how good something tastes, it may be killing you.

But the crazy thing is that God can change our hearts just like we can change our taste buds.  When Emmett and I were first married, one thing I despised were beans of any sort.  So I set out to teach myself to eat beans because they are so ridiculously healthy and cheap.  And you know what?  We eat them several times a week around here, and I now love them so much I crave them.  And I find my heart, like my tastebuds, can change.  With constant exposure to scripture and prayer, and sometimes rebuke and shame when I've sinned, my heart now longs for truth and goodness instead of sin.  And though it's been a long, painful process, I find that my spiritual tastebuds are changing.  Read this passage from 2 Peter 1: 3-9:

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. 
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.
This passage is seriously depressing if you're caught in the cycle of sin and shame.  I'm not good, I'm not smart, I'm not self-controlled.  The first gazillion time I read this, I just hated myself.  And then one day I read the words, "in increasing measure."  You don't have to have much to be increasing, it occurred to me one day.  For someone who hates black beans, adding a teaspoon of them to my burrito is more than none, and it puts me well on your way to eating straight up black beans for dinner.  In the same way, drawing on God's divine power to be a little more self-controlled or to learn one more piece of scripture or to just listen when the Spirit tells me no - just a little bit of these things - will keep me from being ineffective and unproductive in my knowledge of Christ.  And that's really the goal, isn't it, to know Christ, our bridegroom?  And by the way, isn't bridegroom just a polite way of saying lover?  And to know him is to be in love with him.  Who doesn't secretly envy those silly people in love?

So today I'm going to add a teaspoon more of knowledge or self-control or perseverance or any of those things to my day.  Why?  Because I'm that crazy Nazi mom who wants to get you to eat right by verbally beating you into submission?  Come on, you really, secretly feel that way about people who try to get you to put down that lunchable.  It's okay.  We feel that way about ourselves too, sometimes.  No, I'm going to add that teaspoon of spiritual goodness to my day because I am unreasonably in love with someone who has changed the tastebuds of my heart.  And I probably look crazy doing the "I love Brussels sprout dance" in my kitchen, but now Quinn loves them too.  And maybe, just maybe, he'll learn to love Jesus too, teaspoon by teaspoon.

And I apologize for hopelessly mixing metaphors.  It all made sense in my head, so I hope it does in yours too.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


This morning I was wrapped up in my purple blanket when I headed into Quinn's room to wake him.  He wanted to snuggle, and knowing that my days are limited when he can even stand being in the same room with me, I happily curled up next to him.  A wrestling match ensued where he tried to steal my purple blanket, and this conversation followed:

Q: Can I have your purple blanket?
Me: No.
Q: Please?
Me: No.
Q: Why not?
Me: Because you have your own blanket and I'm warm and wrapped up like a taco.
Q:  Mmmm.  Taco.  Can we go to Blue Coast Burrito for breakfast?

At 7 am, that suggestion is just wrong on many levels, but being the mature adult that I am, I replied, "what a great idea, but unfortunately they don't open until lunch.  isn't that the silliest thing you've ever heard?"  Blame shifting is definitely a key parenting strategy of mine.  After narrowly avoiding a meltdown (this boy wakes up on the edge of crazy - it doesn't take much to set him off, just ask his preschool teachers), I vaguely assured him that we would go sometime in the sort of near future.  Deflecting his questions with intentional ambiguity is another favorite parenting strategy of mine.

I love this kid, and not just because he told me I was beautiful at least five times this morning (probably hoping I'd change my mind about tacos for breakfast).  But sometimes I look at him and wonder what age he will get cancer and what kind will it be; then for a moment I could swear my heart just stops beating.

Grief accentuates the extremes in my life.  I find myself in the same breath thanking God for something like his financial provision or Quinn's health and then wondering when he will take those blessings away.  In my worst moments, I've wondered if loving God isn't a little bit like being in an abusive relationship.  I've been reading the prophets in my quiet time, which may not be the best complement to my mental state, but they do make you wonder.  The cycle where God's people fall away and God punishes his people and then restores them again is almost dizzying.  What is God up to?

Now I'm not trying to deal with the theological question of suffering.  There are many good answers out there, but none are really satisfying on an emotional level because I have noticed that grief has the capability of leaving you a little bit crazy paranoid about when the next bad thing is going to happen.  I'm pretty sure there's a professional counseling term for that feeling, but I don't really care about it either.  Because what is relevant to me is what do I do when I'm pinned to the wall with a thousand imaginary fears about tomorrow?

And don't quote all those "do not worry" scriptures at me because I know them already, and you throwing them in my face will just make me want to slap you.  Isn't that exactly how you feel when instead of really looking at you and seeing you as a person, someone just beats you over the head with a verse like you're an idiot?  My spirit just deflates like an old balloon.  And oh how I hate myself when I feel like I've done that to someone.

Yet, by some miracle, I find that I'm not crazy paranoid.  Look at me standing in awe of God working in my heart to change me as if he were doing something impossible!  Sometimes I can be so dense.  But when fear does come charging through my mind threatening to paralyze me, I find myself praying, "Lord, if you take me there, just promise to be with me."  And you know what?  It works.  Because I've been in those places before, and He was there.  I still visit those places, and He is still there.

When Emmett would play hand drums, he would build up these massive callouses.  I would massage his hands, and he would detail to me which drums gave him which callouses, as if these signs of constant pain and beatings were old friends.  And though we often refer to people who are calloused in a negative sense, maybe there is a good kind of calloused.  Maybe, just maybe, if we embrace the pain caused by suffering rather than hiding form it, that instead of becoming calloused towards God, we will develop callouses towards fear.

And lately, despite the fact that I grieve every day, my heart is downright giddy because even though fear taunts me at every corner, and I fully expect that it will try its hardest to destroy me, it no longer has a death grip on my spirit.  And some days that just makes me want to dance.

Monday, February 20, 2012

eyeballs, please

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Hebrews 12:1-2
Let me start by dismissing any and all false impressions that the following blog post might create.  I am not a runner.  If I run on asphalt or concrete my knee swells up to the size of a pummelo (have fun googling that one).  If I run on a treadmill, I stay in constant danger of falling off, which I have done more than once. 

Now that my disclaimer leaves you no chance of you being led astray and falsely impressed, I can move on.

I was sitting in church not really paying attention to the announcements because I was watching the sky spew snow as thick as cotton balls and trying, with a great deal of irony, to take every thought captive to Christ and keep my mind from wandering into dangerous territories.  I pretty much failed, and though I'd love to blame it on the snow, that was not the real distraction.  But thinking about taking every thought captive brought to mind Hebrews 12:1-2, about fixing our eyes on Jesus.

As a parent and a teacher, I have learned not to underestimate the power of eye contact.  Emmett and I have always tried to teach Quinn to meet our gaze, and each of us could be heard multiple times a day saying, "Look at my eyeballs, please," or my personal favorite, "say that to my eyeballs," or even just, "eyeballs, please."  Just today I was in a meeting that reminded me how much I still need to work on eye contact when communicating.  I am embarrassingly bad at communicating orally anyway, so add in my general aversion to eye contact and most days I feel like the stapler dude from Office Space, except that he ends up on the beach with an umbrella in his drink and I don't even really have a stapler. 

The last week of Emmett's life I often found myself lying in bed just looking at him.  There wasn't much left to say or pray, and so I lay there trying to memorize how it felt to be near him, to touch him, smell him, hear his voice, see his smile.  When our eyes would meet, there would be so much love and sadness, mingled with peace and acceptance, that we may have used words, but they weren't really needed.

And lately, I've wondered what it will be like to look Jesus in the eyes.

I have a growing suspicion that the tenderness and passion in his gaze will be scandalously indecent.

The opening line from Phil Wickham's song Desire says, "I'm running through the gates of love, as fast as I can.  I can't wait to see you cause I'm a desperate man."  I love to listen to this song while I run, especially about the time I want to throw up or fling myself off the treadmill on purpose just so I have an excuse to stop running.  Now's the time to remember the disclaimer, don't be impressed because that point occurs approximately 37 seconds after I start running.

But I am captivated by the visual imagery of running into the arms of Christ.  I'd like to think I have Chariots of Fire music playing in the background of my life as I run with perfectly coiffed hair kicking butt and taking names.  Yeah, I just wrote that - don't judge - you know that's how you picture your life when you flex your muscles in front of the mirror and pretend you're Batman.  A more accurate picture might be that I'm dancing on a bed of coals while trying to throw off a school of piranhas that have their teeth firmly clamped in my flesh accompanied by the overdubbed sound of canned laughter as my actual soundtrack.  Yep, that's definitely more realistic.  

But it sounds so good when the writer of Hebrews says it.  And later on in Chapter 12 when it says:
 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.”  The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”  
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
I just want to get up and shout "Hallelujah, yes!" and give a fist pump and then go bench press a Volkswagen.  And then my floaties spring a leak and I realize I am drowning without the slightest idea of how to stay afloat on my own.

What is it about faith that can lead us to such extremes?  How can I be so captivated by the love of Christ but so incapable of even knowing how to begin loving others?  How can my heart be so broken for the people in my life that are hurting and I can't string together four coherent encouraging words?  How can I be so motivated to throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, yet I can't even get my arm free to throw?  How can I long to look my savior in the eyes but not find the strength to lift my head?

In the words of Paul, "Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!"  Or perhaps John, "Amen! Come Lord Jesus!"

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ooooh, shiny!

One of the many signs that Quinn will most likely grow up to be a better person than I is that, without solicitation, he freely offered to share his Valentines candy, specifically his blow pops, insisting that we each have one on the way to school this morning.  At the age of four, I'm pretty sure I would have ninja kicked anyone for even suggesting I share my candy.  In fact, one of my only memories from being really little is, one by one, eating an entire pack of purple now-and-laters that was in my sister's purse, which happened to be sitting open on the couch.  I was so self-absorbed that my only regret at the time was that they weren't the pink now-and-laters because I liked those better.  Can you believe I was amazed that they knew I had pilfered the candy just by looking at me?  I even got my feelings hurt when they wouldn't believe my stubborn insistence that I had not stolen the candy, even after they pointed out that my mouth was purple.  Sheesh.  Family.

And yet, just like my four-year-olf self, I slip little bits of sin out of the tempting purse of Satan, relishing in a daydream or indulging in thinking badly about someone or, my personal favorite, having a massive pity party, complete with streamers and little party horns.  Sure, I can usually avoid the obviously bad sins, but those little bits of colorfully wrapped, artificially flavored, joy-promising tidbits so carefully placed in my day for the sole purpose of drawing me away from God?  Well, let's just say it's a good thing they don't turn my lips purple.

Or is it?

Because if I were forced to walk around with purple lips, I might learn to obey God more quickly, especially since I look ghastly in purple.

My prayer times have gone something like this:
Me: Waaa.
God: Be holy, as I am holy
Me: Waa.  I can't
God: I can
Me: I'm not you.
God: But you have me in you.
Me: But you haven't told me what to do.
God (rolling his eyes, I'm sure): Okay smarty pants, try this one on for size: Take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.
Me:  umm... how about just the ones I don't like?
Yeah.  I'm kind of ready to slap myself too.

Last week was spiritual emphasis week at our school, and the speakers all centered around the theme of war.  And while the speakers were good, what really struck me was an illustration given by someone (I forget which particular person), that walking through this life without the Holy Spirit was like walking straight through a battlefield blindfolded.

And it occurred to me that illustration fits my emotional state perfectly.  Now don't get me wrong, I am a beloved daughter of God, and consequently, the Holy Spirit indwells me.  But man do I feel like I've thrown myself onto the battlefield completely unprepared and then wallowed in self-pity with the audacity to wonder how I got there.  And then there's 2 Corinthians 10:3-5.
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 
So I have the word of God, which is his Spirit and, if you didn't notice, it has divine power to demolish strongholds, but I can't seem to find my freaking sword because my mind keeps popping up these shiny tidbits, and like a raccoon, I find myself thinking, "Oooohhh, shiny."  And off I go, getting dragged away by my own evil desires, as James is so kind to point out without really offering a "how-do-you-get-yourself-out-of-this-plan."  But instead of really repenting, I more often think, "man I'm so glad this doesn't turn my mouth purple!"

So I find myself in a vicious cycle, unwilling to pretend I'm holy enough to have it together but unable to turn to God and let him straighten out my mess but also unwilling to just go crazy and be straight up "purple-mouthed" sinful because I really do want to love God and turn to him.  I've been thinking of Jacob wrestling with God at Peniel, and praying that God would "wrench my hip," whatever that means, because I want to submit to him and be blessed but I find myself unable to do so.  But a very small voice inside me follows that prayer by asking him to do it figuratively, not literally, because a wrenched hip sounds like purple lips to me.  Seriously, voice?

Would somebody please slap me.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Sip. Sip.

Apparently lots of good friends and a coma-inducing volume of fine chocolate (more than 14 dozen truffles made.  woot.) is not quite enough to postpone the inevitable "worst-week-of-the-year" meltdown.  To top it off, almost every night last week I had nightmares, and spent at least three nights watching Emmett die again in my sleep.  The other nights were a variety of Hunger Games-esque/concentration camp/stalker dreams approaching the level of permanently emotionally scarring.  By Friday of last week I swear I had zombie eyes.

But otherwise I'm doing well.

At least, that is if you discount the fact that I spent my quiet time this morning hiding under the covers first trying not to wake up and then sobbing.  I personally consider it a success to have attempted a quiet time at all.  

If you haven't already figured it out, let me clue you in that I've been feeling a little melodramatic lately.  Yes, it's a rough time of year, but I am strangely okay.  Maybe because I spend my nights working out my angst in dreams, I find that some days I can be down right chipper.

I'm still stuck on that verse in Romans 8:18, which I was trying (rather unsuccessfully) to recite to myself as I was hiding under the covers this morning: 
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 
 I'm just having trouble agreeing with Paul here, and I know it's a personal problem because I can intellectually assent to the truth that heaven, by definition, is much more awesome than life right now.  But I do not currently feel the need to pretend that it makes sense.

So I've been wrestling with God for weeks now, asking him to make that truth real to me, and honestly, I haven't had much to say because he hasn't really answered me.  I'm a little annoyed with him, but I keep going because I trust him, so I ended my colossal pity party this morning with a few verses from Hebrews 11: 13-16.
 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
Then I got out of bed.  And quite frankly for that I deserve a gold star, or at least a jasmine green tea from The Perch.  That'll work too.  sip. sip.