Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Six times I have tried

Every day for the past month since Bill's accident, my heart has been overloaded with thoughts and scripture and blog postings that never made it to the computer screen.

Even this morning, six times I have tried to write, and six times I have reversed my direction with the backspace button.  I cleaned the pantry.  (Who organizes their pantry?  A reluctant writer, of course). I mopped the kitchen floor.  I even read a review of a book just published about procrastination.  The one glaring difference between me and the author is that he actually sat down and wrote something.

Life has been very different here in the past four weeks, patterns rearranged, life turned upside down, my energies focused on taking care of Bill and his recuperation from what is still not explainable but for God's intervention..  We are grateful to God for his life.  He is recovering.  And it will take time.

The first two weeks home from the hospital, he was sleeping in spurts up to sixteen hours a day.  He loved visits from friends, but often had to lay down for hours afterward to rest his brain.  It was quiet here.  It was dark.  But even when I was unloading the dishwasher, he would have to go into another room because of the continual noise in his head, so constant that he was able to identify the sound as a high E.

It is hard for a cyclist who is used to riding 40-60 miles a day, a man engaged in a number of ministries and organizations, an active grandpa, to sit quietly in a chair, unable to do anything more than keep his eyes closed. No screens.  No reading. At first, not even music.  He sat on the deck one sunny day, eyes closed and with sunglasses on.  An airplane passed over.  The noise set off fireworks in his head.

But every day he moves a little closer to better.  Two good days were almost always followed by a tough one or two.  The headaches continued, the pain in his jaw woke him in the night.  Because of his jaw surgery, his nourishment is still limited to soup and smoothies for at least another two weeks.  Outings consisted of doctor appointments, which were followups for each impacted body part.  The first weekday we were home, I was put on hold for an hour and 15 minutes just to confirm an already existing appointment.

"So with Bill home, what are you doing all day?"  a friend asked.  "Has it interrupted your life at all?"  I couldn't answer that for a minute or two.  Thinking, praying, thanking God for life and for protection from what might have been, making appointments, driving to appointments, coming up with new soup recipes, inventing Nutella smoothies, filling in the gaps of all the things that Bill takes care of.  I ceased writing.  My brain was moving too fast.  I ceased reading books, other than reading to Bill.  I just couldn't settle on a book.  Someone cheerfully suggested a Netflix account for when Bill goes to bed early.  I smiled and said thank you very much for the idea, not revealing that when he went to bed, I dropped exhausted beside him.  I haven't slept through the night for years, but I have dozed deep every night since he came home.  Even when getting up at night multiple times a night to administer his meds,  I would get up and then fall right back to sleep, previously unknown in my galaxy.

I can tell that he is improving, because he has become so restless.  That is a good sign.  He now kicks me out of the house to go to a meeting, Bible study, for a walk, or to help with the grandkids.  Physical therapy begins tomorrow.  Cognitive therapy scheduled for next week.  And then, more surgeries on his mouth.

Today, he said, "Go write."  I almost forgot how.  Six times I started and tried and erased and then the words came.

It is not that we are getting back to normal, or even a new definition of that word.  But we are seizing God's faithfulness placed ahead of us, grateful for one day at a time.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The God who is here

It was a sunny mild afternoon last week, on February 13, when I received the phone call that I was always afraid I would get. My husband Bill was out cycling, enjoying the warm mid-February weather. I was home, reading, writing, and posting a blog about Valentine's Day.  He was expected back home within a half hour or so, when my cell phone rang.  Caller ID showed that it was Bill's phone.  I answered, anticipating that he had a flat and needed me to pick him up. That has happened before.  But in his three decades of cycling, this had not.

Life changes radically in a millisecond. 

It was not Bill on the other end of the line, but an Emergency Medical Technician who said that Bill had been hit by a truck, and that they were transporting him to a local hospital.  "Meet us at the ER,"  the first responder directed me.

I pulled on a pair of jeans and headed to the hospital, not knowing anything more about what had happened and what to expect.  I felt strangely calm, heading not just to an emergency room, but into what was unknown and unexpected.  I had no idea what was ahead in the next few minutes, but there was a calmness around me, a palpable embracing as I navigated through traffic.  It was far beyond what could be identified as a feeling, nor an emotion, but a presence -- not just the God who is there, but the God who is here.  I didn't even know what to think, what to pray, or what was unfolding before me.  But God's faithfulness filled in all the gaps.

Bits of scripture floated to the surface of my thoughts, not in words memorized decades ago, but as  profound truth, deep and sure.

Even though I walk through the valley of death,
I fear no evil,
for You are with me.
Your rod and Your staff,
        they comfort me.

                      Psalm 23. 4

When I was almost to the hospital, the EMT called again to say that they were taking Bill instead to Vanderbilt, because of trauma.  Reality began to set in.  The traffic seemed to flow even slower.  I called our daughter Kat who is a doctor, unsure what she could do with a house full of preschoolers and toddlers.  Little did I know, but our son-in-law was home to take their four year old to a karate lesson.  He took the whole clan with him to the lesson, including the twin babies in a stroller.  Kat was on her way to meet me in the ER to help. 

And as I drove the last couple of miles, I heard an ambulance coming up behind me, the heavy traffic pulling over to the curb to let it through, the lights flashing, the siren calling out its warning, the noise resounding even as the emergency vehicle pulled out of sight.  Bill is in there, I realized.  O LORD, have mercy.

Bill lay on a gurney in triage, prone, quiet, covered with a white cotton blanket, his hands splattered in blood. He was alive.  He recognized me.  He mumbled questions, "Where am I?  Why am I here?  What happened?"  We answered him.  Two minutes later, he would ask the same questions again.  That repeated for about an hour, over and over again.  Our other daughter Hannah who lives nearby arrived at the ER full of grace and compassion and comfort spilling over.  Late that evening, she and her boyfriend Eric drove back to our house to retrieve clothes for Bill and things that I would need if I had to stay the night in the hospital.

As the hours passed in the ER, Kat helped me navigate through so many unknowns.  In addition to Bill's fractured wrist, two broken ribs, a jaw broken in two places, a small laceration to his liver, ripped ear, and deep puncture wound to his knee, there was brain trauma in the form of a serious concussion. 

He has no recollection from the time he left on his ride about 2.30 to when they moved him onto a bed in the trauma unit at 10.30 that night.  I hope that he never remembers it.  From what we heard from others, an oncoming pickup truck turned left immediately in front of him.  Bill's head went through the truck's windshield.  A divinely appointed ER doctor and an attorney were running the same road, a short bit behind Bill, witnessed the accident and utilized their emergency expertise to care for him until the ambulance could get there.

After learning from others what had unfolded, Kat remarked that the laws of physics cannot explain why he was not even more seriously injured.  Indeed, we were told the ER doctor at the scene didn't think Bill was going to make it.  He was totally unresponsive for more than two minutes.

We are grateful to God for sparing his life.

After four days in the trauma unit, Bill is home recuperating.  He is in pain.  He is resting and staying quiet, no screens, no noise, pretty much keeping his eyes closed.  It's going to be a long road.  His workout now is moving the fifteen feet between the bed and a cushioned chair in the living room. Today he even ventured out on the porch. Although he is tired, he looks forward to visits from so many faithful friends and cycling buddies. He is on a diet basically of soup and smoothies for at least another four weeks, because of  jaw surgery.  His body is healing.  His brain is slowly recovering. But as a friend texted me, he gets to recover.  For that we are still astonished.

Sometimes we live in mystery for that which runs deeper and in infinite God-appointed layers, world without end.   But we are not alone.

Fear not, for I am with you,
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you,
I will help you,
I will strengthen you
     with My victorious right hand.

                          Isaiah 41. 10

Very early the morning of the accident, I prayed, not knowing what was ahead that day.  The very last thing I wrote down in my prayer journal was:
              Fill us, O LORD, with Your grace,
              strength and wisdom for the tasks ahead today,
              and Your purposes seamlessly woven.

I had no idea how much I would need that.

Many thanks for those who have been praying
and continue to pray to the LORD
who is healer, redeemer,
                            and the God who is here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Love you more

Today is a repeat of a Nightly Tea posting from Valentine's Day 2011.

For the record:  St. Valentine is not the patron saint of greeting cards, Dove chocolates, or restaurant dinners.  Indeed, there are probably very few young people who even associate Valentines Day with a  saint, let alone a “religious” holiday.

Valentine, known as Valentinus, was a priest who lived in Rome in the mid-200s AD when being a Christian meant certain death.  He aided Christian martyrs during their persecution, and as a result was arrested and imprisoned.  He survived in jail for a year before he was brought before the emperor  Claudius the Second who offered Valentinus to save his life if he worshiped the Roman gods.  Valentinus refused.   He was condemned and martyred on February 14, 270 AD, beaten by clubs, stoned and beheaded.  Hardly a Hallmark moment.

Legend tells that before his death, Valentinus fell in love with the blind daughter of the jailer, who along with her father had converted to Christianity.  As a way of saying good-bye on the eve of his death, he wrote her a message and signed it, “From Your Valentine.”  The jailer and his daughter were also later sentenced to death by the emperor.  Chocolate and soft music did not enter the picture until centuries later.

And it seems very appropriate that a holiday that is associated with love is also associated with God.  Valentinus risked his life and died a martyr’s death not to earn God’s favor or gain points with God.  Valentinus did it because he loved God.  He knew what God’s love meant.  It was not something he deserved or earned, but because that is how God revealed Himself to us.

But God shows His love for us
in that while we were yet sinners
Christ died for us.
                          Romans 5.8

Red is the color of sacrifice.  And there is no one who loves you more.

Recently I read about a family who fostered a little boy who had come from a horrific background.  Not knowing how long they would be able to nurture and love this little one, they cared for him deeply.  Every night when they tucked him in bed, they would ask him, “What does God say when He sees you?”  They taught him to say, “I sure do love that little boy!”

God loves you that much too.  Don’t ever forget it.

Happy Valentines Day, sweet friends.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Stewards of the mysteries

I love to run because it allows my brain to iron out wrinkles in my thoughts. I wander from one trail of thought to another. I think.  I pray a lot.  And out on the paths through the woods, I often talk with God outloud about things on my mind and heart.  Sometimes there is no obvious answer at all, but yet another question.

Sometimes my runs shift deeper into the forest.  With so many pressing needs on my heart and overwhelming situations that friends are facing right now, this week I was thinking about the big question of pain and suffering in the world.

That mystery was not about to be solved on a five mile run in the park.

But even in what seems to make no sense to us, or cannot be verbalized in 140 characters or less, God urges us to continue to ask questions about the improbable, impossible, unexplainable, and unexpected.  God nudges us to seek understanding in what we can know, to not be swayed by the popular opinions of the internet moment, but pursue what is consistent with truth and sustainable with life.  What cannot be explained easily means there is a deeper explanation.

How can God allow pain and suffering?  Suddenly I thought, What if...that is the wrong question? 

Maybe the question is not How can God allow pain and suffering?  
But maybe the real question is....
                 How can WE allow pain and suffering?

Are we blaming God for what is our own lack of compassion?
What's wrong with the world is not God.  In his book Crazy Love, Francis Chan points out, "[God] has more of a right to ask us why so many people are starving.

The answer to this age-old question is not a singular "fill in the blank" solution at all, nor in focusing on the blame, but in determining our response to pain and suffering as Christ-followers.

"God has commissioned us as agents of intervention in the midst of a hostile and broken world," says author Philip Yancey in his book Why...The Question that Never Goes Away.

It is easy to justify ourselves.  "I have no control over that."  Or in light of the monumental needs around us, "What little good would my measly effort do?"   Those are the words of despair and meaninglessness.

Pain and suffering are a mystery, but we are not left without the reality of hope...or compassion, which means to suffer alongside.  Not to throw money at a  problem, or leave it to a government program, or blame someone else.  These are people we are talking about, not impersonal problems to be solved.  As healer and redeemer, Jesus always showed us, compassion is a personal action verb.

As author Steven Garber reminds us in his book Visions of Vocation:  Common Grace for the Common Good:

                        "I can't do everything, but I can do something."

The point is not answering a profound mystery, but intervening in light of God's redeeming love.

This is how one should regard us,
as servants of Christ
and stewards of the mysteries of God.

                     1 Corinthians 4. 1


Friday, February 9, 2018

An Olympic gold medalist is not who I am

The 2018 Winter Olympics begins tonight with all of its pomp and pageantry as a prelude to the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

The incredible skill and speed and agility do not necessarily draw me to these events, but as a writer, by the stories behind these athletes.  Because we are all storytellers by how we live our lives.

Everyone struggles with something.  And so, these are not stories of natural born victors, but those who are overcoming their own sometimes insurmountable difficulties in getting to the Olympics.  These athletes don't just suddenly one day show up for competition.  Like anything in life, it doesn't just happen. It's the sweat and long hard days when no one is looking...or cares.  It's injuries and tears, falling, failing and trying again, sacrificing time and money and life.  As one particular athlete said, "Training four years for a 30 second run."

That particular athlete is Kelly Clark, who started training for snowboarding as a 14 year old, competing in the Olympics at 18.  This is her fifth Olympics this season, a gold medal and two bronze medals already under her belt.

Image result for kelly clark images

But even with an extraordinary career and success, "I am not defined by it," she says.  What determines her identity are not her competitive victories, but how God began changing her heart as a 20-year-old.  God did not snatch her out of the free-wheeling crazy snowboard culture, but divinely appointed her there.  People ask her constantly, "How can you be a Christian in that culture?"  Because who she is is not based on circumstances, or on winning or losing.  "I am there to change and not be changed by it."

"I want to live a life of consistency that disarms people," Kelly says. "How can I love other people well today?" 

So when you are watching snowboarding, look for Kelly Clark and remember what she says:
                "I get to do what I love 
                              with the One I love." 

Click here for a short video of her story.

Where has God strategically placed you today?  As Kelly says, "When we have a firm grasp of who we are," it's not based on circumstances.  It's all significant.  It all matters.  Because you matter to Him.  There is never a mediocre day.  There is never a dead end job.  It's all for His glory.

Never say, "but I am only a _______."  Because that is not who you are.  That is just what you do.  God wants to use you to love people well, no matter where you are, no matter what.