Social Distancing, Ventilators, Death and the Coronavirus

I’ve crossed this date off on my calendar 15 times since the one my dad’s heart rhythm went wonky and then silent. Twenty minutes later a medical technician found him slumped over his breakfast tray and CODE BLUE blared over the intercom, a flurry of care providers compressing and jolting his chest back to beating. Afterwards, his eyebrows stood straight up like Wile E. Coyote after running through electrical wires in that old animated cartoon called the Road Runner.

They couldn’t restore the brain function though.

I’ll never forget that morning. From a thousand miles away, I called to check in on him, confident he’d be safe in a hospital, but something in his voice tipped me off  that he wasn’t. “I’ll call the airline immediately and jump on the next plane home,” I told him. Before we hung up, so I could call American Airlines, he spoke these last words. “I love you’s and the kids.”

An hour later, the rise and fall of his chest, regulated by a ventilator gave the illusion of life but his oxygen deprived brain made flat waves on the EEG monitor, because really, he was already gone.Irvin2 1

Three days later, the room in ICU was packed with some of the people he’d loved most in the world. We read Words from his favorite dog-eared, worn, leather Book, the one he’d read from on the side of his bed every night for always. We were singing to him about clinging to the Old Rugged Cross and exchanging it for a crown when the ventilator went quiet and his chest went still.Irvin10 1

All this talk of potential ventilator shortages, reading about Italy and the choices medical professionals are being asked to make regarding the value of a life based on its statistical chance of recovery feels a bit like that old ethical educational exercise about the train. In it, either one dies to protect the masses or everyone potentially dies but no one is intentionally sacrificed. I’ve always hated to grapple with that scenario even when it’s hypothetical.

I can’t imagine being denied care because of a competition for medical equipment.
To not receive the benefit of the Hippocratic oath because of scarcity.
To be cheated out of the privilege of holding my loved one’s hand and saying goodbye due to quarantines.

My daughter texted me this morning saying, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” “Neither have I,” I replied.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s the first time the government has issued policies restricting individual rights and freedoms for the benefit of the common good.

My dad contracted tuberculosis in 1946.
By mandate, he spent the next 5 years quarantined in a sanitorium.
And no, that’s not a typo.
Not 5 days or 5 months.
5 years.
5 years, he spent in isolation!Image 3-13-20 at 12.40 AM

I remember his stories of night sweats, waking up drenched and chilled.
The relentless coughing.
I remember scratching his back and tracing the c-shaped scar lines all the way up to his shoulder blades. “That’s where they opened me up and packed my lungs so they wouldn’t collapse,” he’d tell me.
“I laid in bed day after day wondering if I was going to die. I couldn’t see my family because I was contagious, so we wrote letters to each other.”
“The nurses, some of them were nice, but I didn’t like some of them, God forgive me. They were mean!”
“The other patients, they became family. It was awful hard to lose somebody.” His voice broke when he spoke those words.
“God knew what He was doing though, because that’s when I started reading my Bible. I realized I was a sinner, separated from Him and that He loved me and could save me from the consequences of my sin.”
“I remember the day I told Him, ‘God, I don’t ever want to leave here if I’m not different than when I came in. I want to love you and trust you and serve you for the rest of the days you give me no matter how many they are.’”
“After that, I learned to pray. I had plenty of time so I started talking to God and I’ve never stopped. Every day I pray for everyone I know and love by name and I learned to do that when I was sick.”

It’s true. Two hours before he got up every single morning for the next 55 years, he’d cover his tribe in prayer. The day he died, I lost my prayer blanket and nothing’s ever been the same.

In 1948, the wonder drug, Streptomycin, came on the market and it proved to be my dad’s miracle.
Eventually, his family got visitation passes and in 1951, he was released. He walked out of the hospital he’d been required to live in for the sake of public safety, a free man, ready to re-imagine his dreams and re-start his life.

Which brings us to today’s health crisis, COVID-19.

This past week takes me back to my childhood. I remember being a kid who went to bed on a February night during a winter weather advisory then woke up just as the local public school district called their first snow day of the year. Every other school in the county jumped on the bandwagon in about two seconds. These closings and cancellations feel like the same sort of  domino effect  on steroids.

Whether or not all these extreme measures for social distancing are necessary confuses me to a level beyond my pay grade and most of the articles I’ve read, loaded with charts and graphs, make my head spin. The thing is, the President, Governors, the CDC and many other local health experts are mandating and recommending extreme precautionary measures for public health.

I could choose to
Judge them,
Ignore them,
Politicize their decisions or
Accuse them of some sort of conspiracy theory.
Or, I can lean into the opportunity to be a team player.
To be quick to submit my rights for the sake of my community,
To concede my plans for the larger agenda of public health.

None of us really want to do that.
We’re not accustomed to restrictions on our personal autonomy.
We’re suspicious about submitting to our government.
We don’t like being told what to do.
Where to go (and not go).
And how to live.
We’re culturally unskilled at making personal concessions for the greater good.

That’s what makes this pandemic a monumental opportunity.
Especially for Christ followers.
We claim to be the guardians for the inalienable rights of the most vulnerable, ferociously defending the lives of the unborn.
Today, this week, this month and maybe beyond, we get an opportunity to expand our pro-life commitment to the diabetics and immuno- surpressed cancer patients, the elderly and people with other compromising health conditions.

How should we respond to the Coronavirus chaos?
For those of us who are card carrying Christ followers, we’ve already got our marching orders.
Imitate Jesus.
This isn’t the first time somebody’s been called on for no fault of their own to make life altering sacrifices for the good of others.
Such is the way of the cross.
And ‘tis the season.
I’m not exactly sure what that will look like in my little corner of the world. Maybe you’re not sure either; but, if we ask God to make us more like Jesus, He will.Screen Shot 2018-03-30 at 12.14.00 AM

None of us know how close to home this illness will impact our tribes.
But here’s what I do know.
I have this opportunity to lay down my rights, my plans and my conveniences for the sake of others.
It’s inconvenient.
It’s frustrating.
It’s anxiety producing.

But it’s also humbling.
And sacrificial.
And loving.
I get to wear some new shoes, following in His footsteps, ready to announce the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15).

My dad used to say, “I thank God for tuberculosis because without it, I don’t think I would have ever come to know His love and forgiveness because I wouldn’t have realized how much I needed it.”

Disruptions in life, they are a gift.
An invitation to take God’s hand, to let Him redirect us away from our Plan A to His plan B, C, D or Z and to trust the outcome to Him.

Nobody says it better than Ann Voskamp, “There’s a reason I am not writing the story of my life and God is. He knows how it all works out, where it all leads, what it all means. I don’t. So I will let God blow His wind, His trials, oxygen for joy’s fire. I will leave my hand open and be. Be at Peace. I will bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love. And I will whisper a surprise thanks.”

The older I get, the more I see them– the concentric circles of fresh mercies, new every morning.
Always have been.
Will be today.
And confident for tomorrow’s too.

Thanks be to God!

On Being Brave

We had so much fun apartment shopping together.
Fueled for our search with a piece of coconut cream pie from Sweetilicious, what could go wrong?Version 2

It was just like an episode out of house hunters.
First we looked at the one under budget. It was a quick 7 minute drive from work and less from her favorite library but farthest from our house and no laundry machines in the apartment.
Next came the one that felt super safe, right on budget with a garage but no pets allowed.
The last one was an old church renovated into apartments. Stained glass windows reflected prismatic rainbows onto the bedroom walls. The place was pristine but the price was steep.

First, she eliminated the church. It was perfect, but not financially realistic.
Then she applied to the other two. Thirty minutes later, her email inbox dinged and she had a lease ready to be signed for apartment number 1. At 25 Mbps, we were both shocked into reality.

This is really gonna happen!
Lily’s moving out.

I’m the one who spoke it first. “You’re ready for your own place.”
I don’t want it to be true but it is.
Thing is, I’m already losing one in May. Well, actually two, because Brennan’s been family for a long time now. I’ve been gearing up for that transition for months but, Lily, too?439BB329-7D8B-4CE7-9352-2492B796D7C7

After the email arrived, my tear ducts went leaky.
It’s all normal.
It’s healthy.
It’s even good.
But it’s just so dang hard.

It feels like I’m living that picture book, Let Me Hold You a Little Longer.Image 2-29-20 at 3.09 AM

“Long ago you came to me;
a miracle of firsts;
First smiles and teeth and baby steps,
a sunbeam on the burst.
But one day you will move away
and leave to me your past,
And I will be left thinking of
a lifetime of your lasts.”

Some things, I didn’t realize were “lasts” when I was living them.
Others have been easier to anticipate.

I miss those coffee dates at Starbucks,
Weekly beach trips,
Lying sandwiched in a twin bed between 2 little princesses telling stories, singing lullabies and saying bedtime prayers together.
The smell of their freshly baked chocolate chip cookies,
The sound of Little House on the Prairie audiobooks,
And errand buddies riding shotgun.

Times are a-changin’
We’re like the family going on a bear hunt.
We can’t go over it .
Can’t go under it.
Just gotta go through it. (We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, Rosen/Oxbury)Image 2-29-20 at 3.02 AM
I want us all to end up snuggled together in an enormous bed protected from all the bears like they do in the story, but that’s not how our adventure is going to end.
And so, I’m trying to be brave.
And so are they.

They’ll both be homesick when they leave, even if they don’t admit it; but in time, they’ll make their new place a home.
And they’ll establish fresh daily rhythms– just like their big sister did.

I’m wondering, will I?
Will home feel like home with 2 more empty bedrooms?
Will I ever adjust to dinner for 3?

I’m reminding myself that I’ve done this gig before and survived… so that makes me one for one statistically.
I’m excited for some intentional mama-daughter time with my baby and it’s long overdue.
And I’ve got to admit, I’m looking forward to finally having a clean bathroom. Just saying…

There it is, a jumpstart on my gratitude list.
Ecclesiastes says there’s a season for everything and God makes everything beautiful in its time.

It won’t be long till the ground thaws and 600+ tulip, daffodil and hyancith bulbs peek out of the garden to say hello. If the deer don’t eat them for dinner, they’ll bloom beautiful as a backdrop on the bride and groom at our celebratory feast in the yard.
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Fifty three winters, springs, summers and autumns… and fresh, new mercies in every single season of my story.
This one will be no exception.
Thanks be to God.

Mid-Winter Blues and Grays

Here’s what I know this wind whipping, snow dancing winter night. When pain stops you in your tracks and takes away your productivity, it can make you feel panicky.
I felt the nagging ache in my left shoulder a few months ago and ignored it. It amped up its annoyance the more I worked out, but what’s a girl to do when her daughter’s wedding is 4 months away and some of that flab around the midsection, it’s just gotta go.
Then, I woke up one morning and thought I was delivering a baby in my left shoulder. Seriously.
Try as I might with wedges and pain killers and ice packs and physical therapy, I just can’t make it stop.

I find myself threat forecasting again….
What if I can’t get on top of this before Spring?
How will I pull off all the preparations for Robyn’s dream wedding reception in our back yard?

And honestly, I don’t have until spring to be derailed.
More pressing questions include, how am I going to fix dinner tonight?
And do dishes?
And laundry?
And vacuum my floors?
Who’s going to drive my kid everywhere?
And how exactly do I wash my hair?

Usually, pain slinks around illusively and you wonder if it’ll be like the house guest who never leaves. But then again, here I am at 53 years old and every single physical issue I’ve struggled with eventually righted itself, so the odds are in my favor as is God’s supreme human anatomical design.

My counselor told me how he got the flu over New Years and was flat in bed for 10 days. He’d made other plans, a long to-do list with some days off work. He said he was grateful for his sickness. God knew he needed to rest and his Father chose what that rest should look like.
I needed to hear that story because it helps me to center in the storm of my own malaise.
What if this infirmity is my invitation to just walk with God more open handedly?
To rely on others to help me because I need to even if I don’t want to.
Maybe, it’s time to be reminded of how dependent I actually am on my Father’s help and presence to get me through each day.
To reconnect with Him in new ways.
Maybe I don’t get to know anything about anything.
Maybe I just need a reset—physically and spiritually.

It’s 6 weeks into a new year.
Mine started with a vacation. Sunshine. Hiking. Some drama-free moments I desperately needed but honestly, my daughter and I, we rubbed. It’s mostly growing pains but it still a bummer.IMG_8408

Then I came home and started a diet and exercise program because those mother of the bride photos, they go in the archives and that’s a lot of pressure.

One of my best buds flew up to visit me. She lives down south so I told her, “No need to bring boots or gloves or a coat or hats. You can wear mine. And for that matter, if you really want to travel light, you can borrow my bras and underwear too.” She’s that kind of friend. We spent almost 4 days together talking fast because there are more words than there is time. After we finished our Leslie Sansone total body fitness walking workout, she said she needed to send a picture of a snow angel to her baby girl and we were hot and sweaty so we opted for a pretty creative cool down routine. I kid you not. Two fifty- something women, mothers of 13 to be exact, crafted a couple of pretty sweet snow angels in our workout shorts and all I can say is, if you can, find yourself that kind of friend.IMG_8712

Wedding planning is down to double digits and even though the guest list is small, you still have to tick off the same checklist and work through the same negotiations to get the job done. And that’s been– an adventure…..IMG_0762

I started a new volunteer job for a ministry I believe in and it’s exciting to be actively supporting its purposes. I love my relationships with refugees and consider it a privilege to support them through their immigration process. I’m inspired by the young adult women in our church that I get to mentor. And, I even help out in my baby’s homeschool co-op. My husband, he’s always resourced me to serve generously and I’m super grateful.

So, here I am staring down Valentine’s Day convalescing between my bed and my chair. In “the good old days”, we did this holiday big, with super fun family traditions we called Family Love Days. We’d pick names out of a hat for secret admirers and lavish each other with love on the sly until our big reveal on Valentine’s Day. We’d celebrate God’s lavish affection for us with friends parties and heart shaped cookies and cupcakes.


I miss all that.
So very much.
Love notes days are long gone.
Most days, I’m not even sure if my family likes me.
It’s an ache, the emotional equivalent of that uncomfortable rub in my shoulder except for when it flares to a frowny face with tears on the pain scale and you wonder if it’s going to improve or how you’ll make it through.
But somehow you will and you do.Image 2-16-20 at 11.12 PM

There’ve been a lot of gray days this winter. I can hear it in these words.
Need me some Vitamin D, big time!
And the Truth.
That heavy, old, hard cover, Thompson Chain Reference Bible my mom and dad gave me when I was a teenager,
and my Bible apps,
and daily prayer liturgies,
the sermons,
my hymns and anthems playlist on Spotify,
prayer walks
and a faithful friend or two who listen to all my junk.
All of it reminds me of the Truth.
Everything God says and does is loving and good and everything He allows in my life holds redemptive potential.
Yeah, I’m feeling the burn of a Michigan winter—physically, emotionally and spiritually.
But it’s a good burn. Nowhere else I’d rather be.
And, Punxsutawney Phil predicts an early spring so that’s a mercy to anticipate.
You know,  just being my Daddy’s kid, resting in His strong and tender arms, that’s todays fresh mercy.
And it’s enough.20160128_165151

In Honor of MLK Jr.’s Dream

IMG_0333 2Ebeneezer Baptist. That’s the red brick church I walked to from downtown Atlanta one icy, cold afternoon two winters ago. In the peace plaza next to the building, there’s an eternal flame. Facing the Georgia marble tomb where MLK Jr. and his bride, Coretta, are laid to rest, we defrosted our fingers in its warmth.

It’s a national holiday. Government offices are closed. There won’t be any mail delivered to my box.
And today, I’m reflecting on MLK Jr.’s dream.
It’s a good dream.
It’s actually a great dream.
It’s God’s dream.

It’s a dream of white-skinned people and black-skinned people sitting down at a table together to share food and friendship.
It’s a dream of justice and freedom from discrimination for all Americans in every state of the union.
It’s a dream of black youth being judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin.
And it’s a dream of unified revelation of the glory of the Lord to all people.

The whole palette of colors God created are all equally beautiful to Him.
Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight.

Whenever any of His creative masterpieces are treated as inferior or demeaned, when injustice and violence is perpetrated against them, God is the first one to cry. And whatever breaks his heart, should break ours too.

So, I have a tradition. In recognition of this holiday, I always try to watch a movie that sensitizes me with the suffering of slavery, segregation and discrimination because
I don’t want to overlook the degradation that black people experience.
I don’t want to diminish the trauma in African American people’s stories.
I don’t want to forget the courage and sacrifices made for the sake of equal rights and freedoms.
Instead, I want to listen sensitively to the concerns of minority populations.
I want to contribute to peace and harmony between races.
I want to embrace a holy vision of liberty and justice for all.

The dream—it won’t be fully realized before heaven, but I look forward to the day when all God’s children join hands and sing the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, we’re free at last.”

BONUS: My top 10 impact movies on this issue.
Selma
Ruby Bridges
Harriet
The Help
Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Loving
42
Hidden Figures
Woodlawn
Just Mercy

All is Well and All Will be Well

IMG_8544I hiked solo around Bell Rock on the last clear, blue-sky winter day of this vacation adventure.
God and I needed some connect time before re-entry into my real life. You know, the one with the nagging daily grind. The chronic relational struggles. The never-ending chores. And so much drama…
I miss the rest of my family and appreciate my home but it’s been pretty sweet not to wash a single dish over the last 5 days.
I haven’t picked up after anybody either.
And absolutely no cooking. None. Whole Foods Market deli, baby. We’ve been eating fine.

Thankfully, my challenges are pretty ordinary. Minor trials. First world problems, for sure.
I’m happy to report that none of my kids is held hostage by crazy terrorists,
We’re not fleeing from our lives with only the possessions we can carry on our backs,
Not a single family member is fighting stage 4 cancer, or any cancer for that matter,
None of have been washed out into Lake Michigan by a riptide or a 12 foot wave,
And as a bonus, neither Lily or I fell off any cliffs on this vacation either.

I spent 4 blissful days willing my fears and concerns out of sight, out of mind. Until this hike. And then, I knew they had to be faced again.
8.5 miles later, God and I finished our 3 hour conversation.
I used words. He spoke through creation.
At one point, I sat on a rock along a dry creek bed for a break and a couple of old codgers passed me, asking if I was doing mindful meditation.
“I’m eating a tangerine,” I replied, but what I should have told them, instead, is that I’m praying. Because that’s what I was doing. Casting all my cares on Him–my cares about Brian and Angela and Lily and Robyn and Brennan and Starla–because He cares about us. He cares deeply about our fears, our pain, our struggles, our disappointments, our questions, our doubts, our challenges and our confusion. He cares about the barriers in our relationships too.
He counts our tears and puts them in His bottle.
He knows just how many hairs are on our head even after we’ve just brushed it.
He is slow to anger and abounding in love.
He does not treat us as our sins deserve.
He never has and never will leave or forsake us.
And nothing can separate us from His love.
His plans are to give us a future and a hope.
And His mercies are new every morning, yesterday, today and tomorrow.
We are Chosen. Rescued. Adopted. Beloved.

After Bell Rock, I had one more place to visit, the final check mark on my bucket list for this trip. All the locals said, “You can’t miss seeing Chapel of the Holy Cross.” So, I drove to the base of the hill that the church was constructed into, then walked up to its back entrance. You can see through it before you even open the doors because its designed with floor to ceiling windows on both ends. There’s an imposing 33-foot crucifix sculpture of Jesus, bronze glistening off the sun’s rays, its backdrop, the red rocks of Sedona. I knelt at the bench in the front row, right behind the 3 day candles you can light for $5 and whispered the Lord’s Prayer as Jesus looked compassionately down from the cross, right at me.

On the first hike of my vacation, I worshipped baby Jesus celebrating the mystery of the incarnation.
And on my last hike, I’m gazing at Jesus body broken for me and wondering at the miracle of redemption.
And both realities remind me anew that All is Well and All will be Well.
Breathe it in. All is Well.
Exhale. All will be Well.
Repeat. Over and over.
Maybe I am doing mindful meditation after all…IMG_8408

It’s time. I’m packing my carry on. I’ll board my plane and, Lord willing, get back to the real life God’s called me to, with the people he’s privileged me to take my journey with, in about 9 hours. Ready to serve and desiring to love a bit more like the Jesus I’ve encountered in Arizona.

Happy Epiphany

IMG_8280They saw him and they worshipped him. They opened their treasures and presented them to him. Matthew 2:11

There were 3 of them, at least that’s how it’s always depicted in nativity scenes.
This gig, it’s just mother-daughter.

I didn’t pack for a journey that would last months, maybe years.
I left with a carry on and a backpack.

I didn’t cross the desert on a camel with the night sky as my map.
I boarded a plane, then rented a Volkswagen with Bluetooth GPS guidance and a perfect Spotify playlist of choral anthems, rich in Scripture, just like the girls used to sing.

I didn’t camp under the stars.
My mother in law loaned us a Wyndham timeshare in Sedona, Arizona with a 102 degree hot tub, perfect for admiring Orion’s belt.

I didn’t hover over the baby Jesus manger today. Not like the magi did.
But I saw him, gazing out over the canyon rim. And I, too, wondered at the miracle of such mysteriously lavish mercy and grace.IMG_7254

I didn’t offer him costly perfumes or precious metals.
But I presented Him with my sincerest worship. And so did she.
Each in our own ways, because we are both unique image-bearers on our own spiritual journeys. And today, we were traveling together.
Hers was a quiet expedition, transpiring in private places deep inside her soul and tethered to her worn, blue, leather Bible, a journal and pen she carried in her backpack.
Mine was more like a spring bubbling up at unsuspecting moments, leaking out the tear ducts and babbling from the mouth. The words all nuanced versions of “What kind of amazing God created all this?”
IMG_8292
We walked the rim together for several miles then attached our Krampons to our hiking boots and headed down the canyon. The snow only added to the splendor but made the switchback ridge trail icy and dangerous. It was 101 flights down a winding path to Ooh-Aah Point, every twist and turn, a new panoramic slice of gorgeousness.

I was almost to the scenic vista when I took my first fall. The provision that kept me from slipping caused me to stumble—twice. The first time, my micro-spikes caught on a rock and I went forward on my left side right into the mud. My personal off-duty nurse checked my wrist, verified that I could move my fingers and tried to dust off some of the dirt. I was shaken for a bit. I’ve never tumbled downhill a few feet from the edge of the Grand Canyon but the angels softened and directed my blow and I continued on lavished in grace.IMG_8262

There’s a reason they call it Ooh-Aah Point but no words to explain it, so, we took pictures to try and capture the grandeur even though the scale is all wrong. They’re a dim reflection of what’s real. Then, we each sat quietly for a while just savoring. And in my head, I was hearing the deep, resonant voice of George Beverly Shea bellowing out that old hymn, How Great Thou Art, like poetry:

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder.
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur,
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.

And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in.
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
And then proclaim: “My God, how great Thou art!”

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee.
How great Thou art, how great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee.
How great Thou art, how great Thou art!

Eventually, we had to leave, to climb back up the canyon. The trek uphill was an entirely different kind of challenge. My spike snagged a stone again and this time, I went down on my right side before I reached the rim.

Worship is like that hike….
Falling on our faces, repeatedly.
Humbled by our sin and our human frailty.
It’s in the prostrate position that we best contrast our weakness to His strength.
Our dirty clothes to His pure holiness.
Our limited understanding with His omniscience.
Our finiteness to His eternality.
Our self-serving, temporal affections with His sacrificial and enduring love.

It’s exhilarating to worship in the rush of awe and wonder that comes from your first gaze on the Canyon from the edge of the rim.
But, on the ground, in the mud, we’re pillowed in His fresh mercies too.
And God celebrates both forms of honor.IMG_7304

It’s the beginning of a new decade and I got to spend my first Sabbath rest of this year in the sun-saturated, breathtaking beauty called the Grand Canyon.
And on this gift-giving holiday called Epiphany, I gave Jesus the gift of praise.
And He gave me the gift of hope.
Eternal hope.
Hope that when the curse of sin that mars the original design of creation is broken, God will restore it to its original glory.
This Canyon,
This whole world.
And even me.IMG_7326

I bow my knee to receive this gift Lord Jesus with gratitude.
Thanks Be To God.

Welcome to my World

I’m an Enneagram Six.
Self-help reading junkies like me probably know what that means. If not, the Enneagram categorizes people into 9 different personality types explaining the distinctive ways we humans are wired to conceptualize the world and manage our emotions. It’s a tool for self-understanding, relational growth and spiritual transformation.
I’m not just kinda Six, I’m textbook Six. It’s like somebody snuck inside my head, analyzed my inner world and then wrote about me.

An Enneagram Six lives with ongoing notions of concern, always on the alert to establish stability, safety and security for themselves and the people they love through threat forecasting and worst case scenario contingency planning. The looping internal monologue of a Six goes something like this. I want to take care of those I love so they’ll know they’re loved and secure and safe so I am going to go through every unsafe scenario I can imagine and if I can think these through, if I can contingency plan out of them, then I’m actually going to make them OK and I’ll make myself OK, in fact, I’ll make the world OK. (Chris Heuertz, Sleeping At Last Podcast episode 15)

Sixes are often unaware of how overactively their minds are working 24/7 and an unhealthy Six can get stuck on the hamster wheel of fear. But at their best, Sixes are loyal guardians and valiant protectors.

Webster-Thanksgiving-24Let’s get personal. This is what it’s like to be me.
As I write, I’m sitting in Chicago Midway airport waiting to board my flight to Dallas. I’m travelling the departure leg with my hubs, which means we’re both on the same airplane and if it crashes, our kids will be orphans. Maybe that’s not the first thought you have when you board a plane with your husband but it is mine.
So, last week, I sorted through our fire safe box to put our important documents in order in case we die. I googled sample wills in the state of Michigan and spent hours crafting an updated document to replace the outdated information on my previous instructions for our girls. Then, I drove to the bank to get it notarized, only to find out they don’t do that anymore, so I texted some friends a weird request for their witness signatures on my hand crafted will and got the job done by 9:30 pm last night.
Then, I talked to the grown-up kid who’ll be responsible for our minor, expounding on all the details in my document just to be sure there won’t be any confusion about my intentions, just in case.
I texted the one in Chicago and told her I love her because it’s possible that I won’t get another chance.
When they were littler, I used to write each of the girls letters every time I travelled just to be sure they’d have proof of my love in case I didn’t come back, as if decades of devotion and service, somehow, hasn’t communicated my heart.

And when I packed for this trip, or any trip, I’m always the one with the biggest suitcase. The longest packing list. The most frustrating pile of must-haves to ever be packed into and on top of an 8 passenger van. Just ask my husband.
Here’s the thing, how can I go somewhere unprepared for every possible contingency?
Warm weather? Cold weather? The forecast can change you know.
Medicines for headaches and back aches and tummy aches because who knows which kid will complain about what. And we might need the Neosporin and band-aids too because accidents are exactly that. You can’t predict that you won’t have them and you’ll want to be prepared if you do.

Then there’s my mental prayer list for air travel
and car travel
and even train travel.

Some of my requests are transferrable between modes of transportation but there are also unique potential dangers associated with each. So for air travel I ask God to oversee the TSA employees and give them success in identifying any terrorists boarding the plane.
God, Help the pilots not to be sick or hung over or distracted or inexperienced.
Bring any mechanical problems to light before this plane flies and give the mechanics the skill to fix them.
Help the air traffic controllers to be alert and accurate in their instructions for take off and landing.
Discernment, God. That’s what I’m asking for all the human decisions involved in this flight.
And those Canada geese, keep them away from flying into the propellers.
Intervene with the weather and help us to find airspace that’s not turbulent…

For a road trip, thank God there’s accuweather.com. I can and do check and recheck the hourly forecast at every major city along our route just to be prepared. Then I pray and ask God to keep everybody in their lane.
To prevent us from colliding with drivers under the influence or distracted.
That I can stay awake behind the wheel.
For roads to be free of dangerous debris or collisions with deer.
To protect us from slipping off the highway when there’s a wintry mix….

Trains, praying against derailment is definitely at the front of the line….

And just in case I didn’t think to alert God to every possible undesirable scenario, I always cover all potential oversights with an umbrella policy, requesting that He send his angels to surround us as we travel.

Truth. I’ve just given you a sneek-peak into my inner domain.
When you multiply that kind of hypervigilance exponentially over a lifetime, welcome to my world.
My personal and family issues–medical, relational, vocational, spiritual, marital and parenting- are overwhelming. Unrelenting. Exhausting. At least that’s how it often feels to me.
If mental gymnastics were an Olympic sport, I’d make a great competitor for the gold.

Take parenting, for example. I remember when loving my girls by protecting them from harm translated into baby monitors, car seats, electrical plug covers, gates at the top of the stairs and a complete kitchen reno to remove every trace of lead based paint in our kitchen cupboards.
Later, it morphed into sheltering them from the mean, bullying, bratty, other people’s children and the Christian faith undermining, hedonistic influence of traditional school. Everybody knows that homeschooling is the answer for that. Then, they started choosing friends outside the family and peer pressure came onto the radar screen so we made our home a desirable place to play and hang out because if they’re here, we have a better chance to monitor and supervise their activities, right? So, we chose a home in a convenient location, and the one before that, with a neighborhood pool. We increased the grocery budget for more snacks and extras around the dinner table, added easy care flooring and craiglist furniture for all those popcorn and movie night spills. A large screen TV hasn’t hurt either.
Then, the kids started driving. Well actually, their friends got their licenses first because a bonus birthday equals an extra year of maturing and another 100 hours of behind the wheel practice with dad too. Surely that statistically minimizes the risk of a life altering accident or at least delays the possibility. Cars with airbags and all wheel-drive moved up on the priority list too, as did the need for a carefully crafted conversation with anybody the girls buckled into the passenger seat next to.
Next came dating and there is literally no end to the threat forecasting scenarios a Six can create related to young love and its potential heartbreak. In the past six years, my nightly sleep log averages have diminished by several hours and my prayer muscles flexed to bulging buff.

There’s been shepherding our girls to understand the deep, deep love of Jesus and their need for it.
Educating them all the way through their high school diplomas.
Navigating the minefield of hormonal dramatics, depression and anxiety.
Chronic Illness.
Trauma and its aftermath.
Launching them into college and career.
Moving them into their first apartment.
Waving goodbye at the airport as they board a plane to travel and live in places that require a passport.
And now, one of them is planning a wedding. Getting married. And even though I totally love the one God’s adding to the family, the learning curve on parenting through this transition has been steep. Real steep.

Problem is, the way I’m wired to show love can also create relational barriers with the ones who mean the most to me. While projecting worse case scenarios and contingency plans to avoid undesirable consequences all happens in my contained gray space, the pre-emptive choices, the decisive resulting actions, even the subconscious but visibly apparent facial expressions I wear, can end up feeling like control rather than love. And my radar isn’t limited to tangible threats, it’s highly attuned to interpersonal communication triggers too. Expressions, tones, gestures, word choices, I’m hyper-analyzing them all for relational risk and potential breakdown. That kind of relational intensity can feel overwhelming to the people on the receiving end.

All my life it’s been like this. I just can’t turn it off.
Before you write me off as a candidate for the local psychiatric hospital, you should know that Enneagram research identifies Sixes as the most common of all types. There are a lot of us out there in society, somewhere on the continuum of growth between unhealthy and healthy. And thankfully, by God’s grace, I am moving along that path like a turtle, slowly, steadily inching closer toward greater wholeness with each passing year.

As with each of the other types, being a 6 isn’t a liability. It’s an asset.
Sixes by design are some of the most generous, self sacrificing, life givers in society. Enneagram experts say,
“Sixes are reliable, hard-working, responsible and trustworthy. They are excellent troubleshooters and the threat forecasters of humanity. They know what’s going to go wrong before it goes wrong. Yes, sometimes they can overreact and think themselves into some pretty angsty corners but if they’re grounded and have grown in self-trust, they’re usually right and you better listen to them. (Chris Heuertz, The Sleeping At Last podcast episode 15)”

And as I replay in my mind the ways my vigilance has served, contributed and protected my people, I can acknowledge it as a gift too.
My intentionality has created life giving family rhythms and traditions.
My scrupulous preplanning saves money and time and hassle.
My attention to detail helps avoid overlooking something important.
And my intuitive hypersensitivity has, at times, protected the ones I love from evil and danger.
My commitment to honest communication when relationships have small fissures can avert devastating long term relational consequences.
I ask helpful and introspective questions because I’ve already thought about a person’s backstory and the layers behind their words.
I’m a safe person for people to share their secrets with because I value the risk of trust.
I contribute a voice and perspective that balances impulsivity and its undesirable consequences.
I serve faithfully because I realize that life is a marathon and looking ahead to the end motivates me to persevere.
I live gratefully because I’m so hyper-aware of all the things that could go wrong that I have a deep appreciation for everything that goes right instead and gratitude is contagious.
And more that anything else, I pray. And not just crazy-person prayers, deep, groaning, faithful prayers because I know feel the weight of how desperately we all need Jesus as the ultimate protector.

My inner world isn’t entirely all doom and gloom. There’s a multifacetedness to each of our essences. A complimentary, secondary type that Enneagram calls a wing. Mine’s the Seven. Sevens are enthusiastic, playful and always looking for the next adventure. And that’s me too. My Seven wing serves as a balance to my Sixness and gives me tangible opportunities to express my courage. I’m leaning into it more deeply the faster my clock ticks. Last week, aging took another bite out of me. My newest official diagnosis is Osteopenia and my Six-self already threat forecasts a future broken hip. Thing is, I’m not hunkering down to try to protect myself from that possibility. Rather, I’m planning another hiking adventure with my newly financially independent daughter, who just happens to be a nurse, in case I do break my hip. We’re travelling together to the red rocks of Arizona and the south rim of the Grand Canyon in January.
And Lord knows, I need a vacation.

Here’s the thing. What a six really longs to hear from somebody in their life is,
“It must be so difficult to have those scary thoughts buzzing around in your head all the time.”
“I imagine you feel exhausted.”
“I really appreciate that you love me so much you’ve got my back in ways I wouldn’t even imagine I might need.”
But that’s not generally how this gig works.

Today, I disciplined myself to write a list. A comprehensive list of all my fears related to something important in my life. Pages and pages of fears each intervowen with threat forecasting everything from petty inconveniences to life altering consequences.
The weight of that list is crushing me except that I hear my Father say,
“I made you and I didn’t make any mistakes in the process.
There’s so much good you contribute to people’s lives by being protective. I love that about you.

You’ve also experienced a heck of a lot of relational pain because you got stuck on the hamster wheel.
I know you are completely exhausted!
Exhale deeply.
Give that list to me and come lie down in my lap.”
 
 “I’ll try,” I say, “but it’s so hard to give it up. Somehow, I’m even afraid to give up my fears.”
“I know,” Daddy responds.
“It’s OK. Just do the best you can.”

And in this moment, I am. Doing the best I can to separate myself from my list, to climb into the embrace of my Father’s strong, tender lap. Casting all my anxieties on Him because He cares for me.

My Scottish friend came to visit us one summer and didn’t bring his camera. I asked why and he said he’d decided to Savor the Moment. That’s what I’m trying to do, right now, as best as a Six can.

My Christmas tree lights are twinkling, the candles are lit and the Future of Forestry sings melodically, “Let Us Find Our Rest In Thee.” And that’s what I really need this Advent season.

In case you want to learn more about The Enneagram, here are my favorite resources.
Sleeping At Last Enneagram Series Podcasts with Ryan O’Neal and Chris Heuertz:
https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-sleeping-at-last-podcast/id1270570754
Episodes 4, 6, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17 and 18
 
The Road Back To You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
https://www.theroadbacktoyou.com
 
The Path Between Us by Suzanne Stabile
https://www.amazon.com/Path-Between-Us-Enneagram-Relationships/dp/0830846425/ref=sr_1_1_sspa?ie=UTF8&qid=1523373604&sr=8-1-spons&keywords=the+path+between+us&psc=1
 

Grateful 2019

Webster-Thanksgiving-02Leftovers are crammed in the refrigerator,
The dishwasher running its third load,
One by one, everybody’s heading to bed except for the one working all through the night at the hospital,
            And me– the night owl.

IMG_7823Our 1,000 piece puzzle lays on the coffee table fully assembled.
So many doors of opportunity today for
Teamwork
Cooperation
Flexibility
Hospitality
And most of all Gratitude.

We walked through them all together, by God’s grace.
It wasn’t just Starla’s exquisite napkin folding,
Or Robyn and Brennan’s braided challah bread,
Lily’s sweet potato casserole,
Angela’s tabouleh salad,
Grandma’s homemade stuffing,
Brian’s perfectly cooked turkey,
Or even the flawless whipped potatoes,
Not to mention the amazing homemade pecan pies.

IMG_3677I treasured the walk on the White Pine trail recounting the personal ways we experienced God’s fresh mercies all the days of the last year,
Reading Psalm 100 around the feast table in English, Arabic and Spanish,
Team charades,
A cozy fire,
And a re-run of our family classic, Love Comes Softly.

I guess the shirts say it all.
Thanks be to God.

This Is Us This Thanksgiving

IMG_6472Word on the street said I’d like NBC’s “This is Us”.
Season 1 is already buried 6 feet under the newest episodes but I’m a latecomer to all things television land. Seriously, we haven’t had TV channels at our house—ever- so if I watch something, it’s either got to be Amazon prime free, a DVD from the library or an occasional splurge on Redbox.

My kid thought I’d really connect with the relational grit of the show and my “almost kid” said his mom watched it so when clocks turned back an hour making bedtime feel like immediately after dinner, my winter hygge found the perfect vice.

I gotta be honest. So far, I have a love-hate relationship with the show and I’m only halfway through the first season. I feel myself getting attached to the characters even though it bothers me that the vibe feels kind of like a soap opera at night. Me, I have a boatload of baggage connected with daytime soaps.

When I was growing up, my mom’s TV viewing preferences can only be described as super selective.
No murder mysteries.
No violence or police drama.
Definitely no westerns.
And absolutely no night time romance dramas that might get racy.
The weird thing is that she rarely missed an episode of All My Children and General Hospital and I watched right alongside her. She’d jump up out of her comfy chair like a hot potato to stand in front of the television set during sex scenes, which happened about every 15 minutes. Honestly, now that I’m an adult, I wonder how anybody has as much time for sex in real life as the main characters in daytime television always seemed to have. Anyway, I guess my mom thought that if she told me it was wrong, according to the Bible, to have sex outside of marriage and gave me a visual cue that sex is bad by covering up the TV, she’d done her due diligence. Thing is, I must have seen hundreds if not thousands of the first few tantalizing seconds of a bedroom scene or just the tail end of a cuddling couple after their explosion of irresistible passion, people using each other to get a quick fix as modus operendi. It impacted my perceptions about what sex must be like and how it must feel. Negatively. And it wasn’t just the sex part of soaps that left an impression, the whole relational dynamic between characters can only be characterized at best as capital D dysfunctional. The communication strategies for dealing with conflict were a)contrived b)unrealistic and c)not healthy . Sadly, they provided a poor model of relating to my younger self.

So, when I say that some things about This is Us trigger my soap opera memories, that’s the back story explaining the “hate” part.

What I love about This is Us isn’t limited to the endearing characters I’ve started attaching to,  it’s the messy family story, the sincere but broken love between them, that draws me in. I really resonate with it.

Here’s the synopsis of the last couple of episodes I’ve watched. The family gathers from the four winds to celebrate Thanksgiving together, ready to repeat all of their unique, time-honored traditions. But when a bratty girlfriend accompanies an insecure adult son, a resented step father replaces a deceased dad, a long-lost, biological father with terminal cancer becomes a plus one next to the adopted kid and the obese grown up daughter announces her plans for bariatric surgery, things get, well, complicated… And here’s the most complex plot twist. Turns out that the matriarch of the story, the adoptive mom, Rebecca, actually knew who and where her son’s biological father was these past 36 years but withheld that information from him. And that is the spark that ignites a relational explosion around the Pearson family Thanksgiving dinner table.

At that moment in the show, it’s easy to judge the mom for dodging and hiding this life altering information from her curious child. But when you replay the flashbacks to her kids growing up years and take a few relaxing, deep breaths, I expect you’d also be able to spot a mama who offered her most lavish love, faithfully, over a lifetime to the 3 kids she raised, one poopy diaper, sack lunch, football game, dinner prep and laundry load at a time. You might observe a mama who proactively sought to resource each of her children according to their giftedness. You’d probably notice that she put her own aspirations on hold for the sake of nurturing her kids dreams. Maybe you’d detect how skillfully she balanced firm and gentle when navigating petty sibling squabbles and other constant drama. You might perceive her humility and teachable posture regarding raising a kid who’s race was different than hers. And you’d definitely see a woman who laughed even when she felt like crying.  A woman who offered her kids a healthy model of what it looks like for 2 married people to be on each other’s team.
That same mama, she also got afraid of losing what she loves most. Every mama’s been there. Mama love puts you right in the eye of fear’s storm and fear takes you places you don’t want to go and rarely end well. And at this point in the story, mama Rebecca finds her head on the relational chopping block as a result of responding out of fear.

It’s almost Thanksgiving in real.
This year, our family, we’ll all be together again, plus the one who’s soon to officially join the clan and the people we choose to call family even though technically, they aren’t.fullsizeoutput_b0f5

And we’ve got our own time honored traditions starting with the annual gratitude walk, including family pictures wearing our matching screen printed shirts. Then there’s a grateful jar on the coffee table, getting filled up with scribbled on pieces of paper listing random everyday blessings. We’ll read through them at our feast. We’ll eat Webster favorites like sweet potato soufflé, homemade stuffing and pecan pie with fancy folded cloth napkins followed by games, puzzles or a cozy fire and a family-friendly movie whose preview features our very own homemade music video, a visual reminder of God’s faithfulness to us since this time last year.

IMG_4837 2I wait for this day all year long because what could possibly be better that intentionally celebrating another year worth of fresh mercies while dining with the ones that God’s written into our story. When our better selves show up at the table, it’s a delight to watch the animated conversations, the dramatic facial expressions, to hear the sound of people talking over each other using lots and lots of words, telling stories, asking questions, hearing answers, all of it spilling out with a smattering of political ideology, some random theological musings and even a few corny puns.

Thing is, just like with the Pearsons, we’ll each bring our own personal and relational baggage to our table too.
Our insecurities and fears,
The roles we play with each other on autopilot,
Some misperceptions about the motives of the person sitting next to us,
A weird mixture of pride and shame,
And a few self-justified grudges for good measure.

Nobody feels how high the stakes are like mamas do. They’re profoundly aware that their whole, idyllic plan to seize the day can relationally unravel with a single tone, a condescending smirk, a particular expression. You know, the communication triggers everyone is hyper-attuned for, the ones that prompt some people to self-protectively shut down their hearts and provoke others to defensively attack. And unless God shows up at Thanksgiving, things’ll go south in a heartbeat.

The good news is that He will. The One who assigned us our families knew just who we needed to learn about love and commitment and forgiveness with and He’s going to be right there at our table cheering each of us on, challenging us to bring our honest self to dinner with humility, curiosity and a sincere desire to understand each other better.

So, mamas, resist fear because fear sabotages the impact of our best love.
Be realistic. Savor the moments and don’t expect them all to be picture perfect.
Choose to embrace your family’s unique brand of in-process, broken-beautiful.fullsizeoutput_7cff

And if your Thanksgiving holiday derails,
Thank God anyway because at least you a have a family to struggle with.
Lean hard on Jesus who extends compassion for your disappointment and a shoulder for you to cry on.
And eventually, pull yourself back up by the bootstraps and commit to try again next year.

Because, here’s the thing.
Family is the learning laboratory for incubating grace. And family loyalty never expires. And family never gives up on each other. Ever.
And besides that, tomorrow is a new day to start compiling new lists and taking new pictures and making new memories because in a blink of an eye, next year’s Thanksgiving will be the feature page on our calendars, another year of mercies fresh and new each morning.
Abundant.
Lavish.
Generous.
And always enough.

When Helping Hurts

IMG_1133Even with a fully developed frontal lobe, sometimes I can’t explain why I’ve done what I’ve done.
I have a friend who’s an addict. She drinks hard liquor. Mass consumption. And its impact on her life is as devastating as a spring tornado moving through Oklahoma.

She called me about 9:00 on a Thursday night.
“Could I get a ride to the store?,” she asked.
Not long before, she’d crashed her car under the influence so I knew she was minus a set of wheels and I’m a night owl anyway.
“Sure,” I replied. “Be there in 10 minutes.”

I’m softer than a stuffed Teddy and it gets me into trouble sometimes. This was one of those times….

I thought I had the information I needed, but I was wrong. I thought we’d agreed on a plan, but she was setting me up. I bought the bait and swallowed it hook, line and sinker. By the time I dropped her back off at her apartment, she had secured enough liquor to drink herself unconscious and I found myself taking a long look in the rearview mirror reflecting on my mistakes. Here’s what I saw through the lens of retrospect.

IT’S IMPORTANT TO PAY ATTENTION TO CLUES THAT SOMETHING IS AMISS.
I’m a tee tottler. The bottle’s caused so much devastation in my family tree, drinking’s a gamble I’m not willing to take. And since I don’t typically mingle alongside the inebriated, I’m somewhat naive, but it shouldn’t take a super sleuth to note these clues:
• An unusual request
• Uninhibited story telling
• Slow or slurred speech
• An unsteady gait
• Trouble buckling a seat belt
• Glassy Eyes
• Excessive Tears

SOMETIMES HELPING ACTUALLY HURTS. Compassion does not equal competence in complex psychological and physiological issues. related to addiction and mental health. Simplistic optimism can ultimately cause harm.

LOVE MUST BE TOUGH: Remember parenting toddlers? Their inhibitory control mehanisms are immature which results in high levels of chaos. They feel safest and healthiest with consistent, reliabile, boundaries. Same is true with addicts. While “love hopes all things” futuristically, love must also be realistic in the present, assume that patterns will likely repeat themselves with addiction and set up sound border protection.

IT TAKES A COMMUNICATING VILLAGE: The support team, which often consists of family members, close friends, counselors and justice system representatives, should be communicating. Protecting privacy is secondary to working together off the same playbook in order to provide consistent care.

ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES AND SOMETIMES THEY EFFECT INNOCENT PEOPLE. That fresh new bottle of hard liquor wrapped inside a paper bag was enough to drink herself into a oblivion or to put her at risk of going out on the road and crashing into an innocent person or family. Thankfully on my watch she did the prior, but last month, it was a car wreck minus a fatality.

I messed up big time and gave myself a well deserved proverbial spanking. Here’s the thing though, when we try to love and serve the people God puts in our lives, we’re bound to have some oopsies. The good news is that God can redeem anything, salvaging and repurposing it according to His will.

GOD CAN ACCOMPLISH GOOD EVEN AMIDST OUR MISTAKES.
• While I blew it, no one was injured.
• With her inhibitions compromised, I got to hear more of her story and that helps me to understanding her pain better.
• The Holy Spirit provided words, just as He promises and I spoke truth and love into her self-loathing like an oasis in the desert.

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF PRAYER: God loves, cares, hears, intervenes and responds. While prayer isn’t a mathematical equation and answers aren’t dispensed like a vending machine, I know that God can and does deliver us from any and every kind of bondage according to His will when we ask.

So, my text to her after I get home goes like this:
“The Lord is a very present help in trouble…. Know that I love you and I’m praying for you. And, I won’t ever resource you to buy alcohol again.”

When she gets past her hangover, she responds “Thank You”. And I know she’s grateful for all of it—the love, the prayer and the line in the sand.
The beautiful thing is that every day, on repeat, God offers you, me, her, His mercies. They’re never day old and you can’t preplan them in advance for tomorrow, but there’s plenty for today, fresh and new. Always enough.