June 28, 2011

What's on My Nightstand - June

Cucumber and squash plants heavy with their fruit clamor for my attention. The tomatoes will soon follow. The cool clear water of the pool beckons. The friendly fellowship of church softball games, too inviting to ignore.

Books lie nearly forlorn on my nightstand.

Since last month

I've completed:

~Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (audio). A long, but fascinating read. I admit, I probably never would have finished it if it hadn't been for the audio book. I'm glad I did.

~Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (audio) Oh, how I loved the tender story of Henry & Keiko!

~The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Mystery. Flavia de Luce is a delight!

I've tried:

~The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay. I didn't get past the first few pages. I had looked forward to this one, but I could not get past the repetitious foul language.

~Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books. This one didn't grab me, either. I may try again later.

~Mansfield Park (audio). I love the story of Fannie Price, but I'd rather read it than listen to it. I prefer to listen to narrative stories, rather than one person tackling many character's voices in dialogue.

I've picked up:

~March (audio). The story of Mr. March, the absent father in Little Women.  It's a story full of beautiful prose, heartache and humor.

~The Rural Life. Rich essays celebrating life away from the noise of the city.

I'm still reading:

~A Place for Weakness: Preparing Yourself for Suffering (Kindle). Michael Horton has caused me to think much about my view of suffering. I'm taking this one slow, because it's been very timely for me.

And soon I'll start:

~Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board.  CJ asked me to read this one with her.

~The Organized Heart: A Woman's Guide to Conquering Chaos (Kindle).

What's On Your Nightstand

Visit 5 Minutes for Books to see what others are reading this summer.

June 24, 2011

Lessons Learned - About Myself

After sharing lessons learned about our home, our girl, and my man, it's only fair that I share lessons I've learned about myself during the past year and a half.

I am more easily satisfied and resilient than I thought.

Several years ago, I wanted the newest and latest of everything. I bought shoes and purses on a whim. I was constantly feathering my nest with pillows and other decor.  If I saw something I wanted, I found a way to justify buying it. We took trips to Boston and New York. We were living the American dream. And paying for it dearly.

God, in His sovereignty, knew that some things needed to change. Nearly two years before R's employer announced the mill closure, He began convicting me of all the waste in my life.  As I began to reduce the clutter and the spending, an amazing thing happened. I realized the things I thought made my life were really choking it out of me.

I've learned to weigh the value of everything before allowing it to take valuable space in my home and in my life. I've learned I'm just more satisfied eating a meal I've prepared, watching a movie at home, and hanging out in our back yard than going out for dinner, a movie, or shopping. I've learned that the things I have and the places I go don't define the quality of my life.

I am more controlling and selfish than I thought.

I've always been a controller. Not only do I like to know what's going on, but I like to be in charge of it. It's been an exercise in patience and self-control to balance helping my husband with schoolwork and paperwork with taking over completely. It's been an exercise in humility to remind myself daily that God's ways are higher than my own.

When this path doesn't seem to make sense, or I want to just get-to-the-end-and-be-done-with-it-already-thank-you, I must tell myself yet again that having control is an illusion crafted by the enemy to draw my attention from God. When I tire of being the primary source of our family's income, wanting to slough off that responsibility along with my work clothes at the end of a long day, I have to remember that this is temporary and that I should be grateful for the provision of my job. When I'm tempted to stomp my feet at God and ask why my dreams of going back to college have not been realized, I recall the changes wrought in my dear husband's life, changes I would not have witnessed if my plans had prevailed.

In those moments, I quietly whisper prayers seeking forgiveness and the strength to let go.

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 
~John 15:5 (ESV)

June 22, 2011

Acknowledging the Miracle

I lay on the table, looking over at the IV needle ready to carry a course of dye through my abdomen.

How did I get here?

It all started with a simple bug bite on my calf, or so I thought.  The "bite" became an angry rash that would ease for a few days only to return with a vengeance. I tried lotions and creams, everything I could think of to avoid going to the doctor.

Six weeks later came other, seemingly unrelated, symptoms. I went to see my family doctor, suspecting a nuisance infection that antibiotics should have cleared up in a few days. The symptoms didn't subside. Knots formed in the lymph nodes at the top of my left thigh. Just rising from a chair sent waves of pain through my body. I went to see the doctor who delivered CJ and has seen me through numerous surgeries since. She was immediately concerned. The infection from my leg had apparently traveled through my bloodstream. She ordered a battery of tests.

I spent the remainder of the day being poked and prodded, giving blood and drinking some sweet syrup concoction to help the radiologist see my insides. And see them, he did. He asked my doctor if I'd had a trauma of some kind, because my blood vessels were so swollen. The infection was mounting a serious assault against my body.

Three antibiotics later, the infection was gone but the symptoms remained. Every day for 3 months, I'd been suffering from these miserable symptoms and was not getting any better. My attitude, my family, and my life were all seriously impacted by my health. Frustrated, I went to see yet another doctor for one last round of testing. He could find nothing, and suggested a shot of prednisone might give some temporary relief. I refused, feeling that residual internal swelling might be causing the symptoms. He agreed that waiting another six weeks might be wise.

After the appointment, I thought about a blog post I'd read, Eating to Heal the Body. I went back to Kelly's account of her healing after a kidney transplant.  I've been concentrating on eating real food for the past year, but I hadn't done any research on eating for healing.Convinced I was right in my diagnosis, I began incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods in my diet. Within two days, my symptoms began to subside.

That was two weeks ago. I still have symptoms, but they are not as frequent or as intense. I have had many days with no symptoms at all. After three long, excruciating and frustrating months, I am finally feeling better. I am slowly finding my way back to my life.

If I hadn't ignored the rash and hoped it would simply go away, I would have saved myself a lot of pain, frustration, and money. I truly needed medical attention and avoiding it was not wise. However, avoiding a steroid injection was. There are times when perhaps we know our bodies better than the doctors. Before agreeing to a treatment we're not comfortable with, we should consider if there are suitable natural alternatives available.

I am thankful for the doctors, lab technicians, and radiology technicians who worked together to diagnose my infection. I am thankful for the antibiotics that defended my body. I am thankful for pain relievers that helped me make it through some rough days.

More than that, I'm grateful for the Lord's healing. He also could have healed me immediately, yet in His sovereignty He chose not to. When the doctors didn't know what to do, He prompted me to seek other avenues. Certainly, he could have healed me with modern medicine. It would have been no less a miracle.

Why do we look for God only in the miraculous? Why do we associate God's activity in our lives with a spectacular disappearance of a medically documented tumor but are not as ready to acknowledge the same in its reduction over time through radiation or surgery? Is God not as much the healer when a wound recovers gradually through various human means as when he miraculously intervenes? ~ Michael Horton, A Place for Weakness: Preparing Yourself for Suffering (p. 91)

June 17, 2011

The Broken Heart

No day of my life has passed that has not proved me guilty in thy sight.
Prayers have been uttered from a prayerless heart;
Praise has been often praiseless sound;
My best services are filthy rags.
Blessed Jesus, let me find a covert in thy appeasing wounds.
Though my sins rise to heaven thy merits soar above them;
Though unrighteousness weighs me down to hell,
thy righteousness exalts me to thy throne.
All things in me call for my rejection,
All things in thee plead my acceptance.
I appeal from the throne of perfect justice
to thy throne of boundless grace.
Grant me to hear thy voice assuring me:
that by thy stripes I am healed,
that thou was bruised for my iniquities,
that thou hast been made sin for me
that I might be righteous in thee,
that my grievous sins, my manifold sins, are all forgiven,
buried in the ocean of they concealing blood.
I am guilty, but pardoned,
lost, but saved,
wandering, but found,
sinning, but cleansed.
Give me perpetual broken-heartedness,
Keep me always clinging to thy cross,
Flood me every moment with descending grace,
Open to me the springs of divine knowledge,
sparkling like crystal,
flowing clear and unsullied
through my wilderness of life.
~Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions (p. 83, emphasis mine)

June 16, 2011

Thankful Thursday

Today I am giving God thanks for:

~the last day of school. A year of hard work, of stretching and growing both inside and outside of the classroom. I'd forgotten how difficult middle school can be.

~my girl's desire to live differently. She's not the most popular or athletic kid, but she loves Jesus. I'll take that over earthly accolades any day.

~a summer calendar that's virtually empty. Plenty of time for family fun and games, impromptu cookouts with friends, last minute trips to the amusement park, and church softball. The stuff that great summers are made of.

~weekly Bible study with a group of 9 college-aged ladies. They sharpen and inspire me. I'm so thankful they're allowing me to invest in their lives.

~the Holy Spirit's conviction this morning. May I be broken and poured out for Him!

June 10, 2011

Lessons Learned - About My Man

I've shared lessons learned about our home and our girl. In honor of my husband's birthday this weekend, I thought I would share things I've learned about him in this past year. 

Next month brings the beginning of the third decade I have known him, the man I love. For twenty years now we've been the closest of friends and confidantes. I thought I had him pretty well figured out. Then life changed.

Through shock and grief, tension and uncertainty, anxiety and more uncertainty, I've seen the man I married transform before my very eyes.

My man is more intelligent than he realized.

Confidence has been an ill-fitting garment on his shoulders, despite my best efforts to make it more comfortable for him. My praises, and the praises of our girl, go only so far. In these past months, his confidence has been built upon the respect of his classmates and professors, the right answers on homework problems, and the satisfaction of a job well done. The man who was unsure about taking this path has grown with each passing step, and it has been a sight to see.

My man is more intelligent than I realized.

I've always known he's smart. I've long admired his talent to build and fix things, to look at a drawing (his own or someone else's) and bring it to life. I've never seen him give himself over to reading and studying like he's had to do this past year. Listening to him talk about statistical analysis, ethics and the regulatory environment, and leadership in business, I've gained a new appreciation for his intellect.

My man is finding new things comfortable.

The work jeans have been retired. The once standard ball cap hangs in the mudroom. Steel-toed boots have been replaced by sandals and tennis shoes. A new life requires a new wardrobe.

Days of coming home at the break of dawn, trying to sleep while the sun burns down hot through our bedroom window are a faint memory. Missing Sunday worship twice a month is all but forgotten. His body recovers from the years of swing shift, the snatching of sleep at odd times. His spirit recovers from portions of life missed, family gatherings and dinners with friends, ballgames and trips to the amusement park.

I am finding new things comfortable.

Hearing him greet me when I arrive home each day. The privilege of family dinner each evening. The blessing of feeling him next to me in the bed each night. They are things I don't take for granted. I never want to.

My man appreciates the little things.

A few months ago, I started leaving him short notes listing the reasons I love him. He quickly became accustomed to getting them. Who knew such a small act would mean so much?

Sending silly texts to each other throughout the day, holding hands while watching our favorite television series on DVD each night, learning Spanish with him. All little things, small investments that have yielded big dividends in our  relationship. Fires make our love stronger, more enduring.

My man loves me more than I realized.

He spends his days surrounded by classmates young enough to be our own children, his evenings immersed in books. He stretches his brain to grasp foreign concepts. He humbles himself to allow me to be the breadwinner.  He is daring to dream new dreams. All of this to make a better life for our family and to better serve the Lord. His life boldly proclaims his love for me, the depths of which I had never understood.

As we celebrate another year of my husband's life, I'm thanking the Lord

...for His goodness in knowing just how much a lost and hurt young woman needed this man who would cherish her.

...for His wisdom in bringing me to this man who is most certainly my better half. Aside from Christ, he is the best thing about me.

...for His grace in giving two selfish and sinful people these 20 years of love and friendship, a strong marriage, and a beautiful daughter. I am blessed beyond measure.

Happy birthday, my sweet man. I am so incredibly proud to be your wife!

June 3, 2011

Lessons Learned - About our Girl

A few weeks ago, I shared some lessons I've learned about our home during the past year. I'm finally getting back to this series with lessons learned about our girl.

The stretching of the past year has been tough on our girl. There are days she handles it with grace, knowing that our current state is temporary. Yet to a 12-year old, temporary can seem like an eternity.

She's watched friends' dads go back to work, their lives resuming normalcy. While her own is anything but. It must be difficult for her to understand that we are living in a new normal. Sometimes, I struggle with that reality myself.

As she's learned to adjust to having a full-time student for a dad, I've learned a few things about her.

My girl is stronger than I thought.

She admits that she first saw R losing his job as a tragedy, but she realizes now that God is in control and that He is good. She's seen Him work in our family and has proclaimed that to her friends.

Some days the weight of "No, we can't afford that." or "Not this weekend. Dad has a lot of homework to do." is too much to bear. She complains. She is, after all, 12. In those times, I tell her that this temporary sacrifice is bringing great reward for our family.  Not the reward of buying things we don't need in order to keep up with the Joneses, but the reward of a simple yet satisfying life. I remind her that R's working hard now so that (hopefully) he won't have to go back to a life of shift-work.

These reminders strengthen her resolve to persevere.

My girl is more adaptable than I thought.

She's learning to appreciate simple pleasures. In cooler months, we had family game nights and movie nights at home. We laughed. We cried. We snuggled. We enjoyed the quiet haven of our home.

She's been working alongside R to plan and plant our garden.  Her hands have gotten dirty.  Her eyes have sparkled. She is excited to watch the plants grow and produce food to sustain us.

This summer will bring homemade popsicles and ice cream, church softball, and evenings in the backyard. We'll savor our time together before the demands of school creep back into our lives.

My girl is funnier, more loving, and wiser than I thought.

As I watch her navigate the perils of middle school along with the tremendous changes in our family life, I'm amazed at some of the things she says and does. Little things, like drilling her dad for a quiz or helping with dinner, give me glimpses of the woman she's going to become. True, there are many, many times when I'm frustrated because I've had to tell her four times to do something. In those instances, I need to stop before I yell and remember occasions when she's done something without being asked. I need to remember just how hard it is to be 12. I need to give her grace.