A Grand Adventure

IMG_065926 years ago today, everything changed for me!

That cheesy little Hallmark sentiment about being a mom means you forever have your heart walking around outside yourself, it’s gospel truth.

And that first little person God writes into your story, introduces you to yourself as a mom. It’s not that you love any of your children more than you love the others but the order in which God brings them into your life, it’s distinctive. There’s something about first-time motherhood that can’t be replicated.

JJ Heller describes it like this,

“Through your eyes this beautiful life comes into view. 

Through your eyes I didn’t see ‘til I saw it with you.

On a grand adventure, I’m along for the ride.

And I feel it all again for the very first time.

On a grand adventure with you by my side ‘cause I love to see the world through your eyes.”

(A Grand Adventure)

IMG_0646That’s how it’s been for me.

From dollyhouse, 

To stuffed animals turned “real”, 

To block towers and duplo architecture,

Questions about “Why?” And “What’s that?”

Piles of picture books,

Pretend play,

Backyard circuses, holiday programs and homemade movies,

Nature walks,

Swimming lessons,

Learning to ride a 2-wheel bike, a lawn tractor, then driving a car.

There were cottage industries, creative creations and entrepreneurial endeavors,

Music making,

Cooking, baking,

Conversations about faith and femininity, politics and people-groups,

And a voracious appetite to read, to know and to understand.

We’ve worked together, played together, learned together, worshipped together, travelled together, celebrated together, grieved together, and in recent years started hiking together.

It hasn’t always been easy between us. Growing pains have left us both nursing our own separate wounds.  But here’s the thing, neither of us ever did this gig before each other and there’s a learning curve on both sides. That, too, is part of the adventure.

Now-a-days, I mostly watch her back, from a distance. Listening. Praying. Trusting God with her unfolding story.

I marvel at 

Her courage.

Her tenderness.

Her passion.

Her beautiful soul!

She’s already lived plenty of her own epic adventures, but today, on her birthday, I celebrate the ones we’ve shared. From the simple everyday delights to the adrenalin rush thrills and all the moments in between, how kind of God to introduce me to motherhood with Angela. Being her mom has been one of my grandest adventures of all!

Starting and Ending

IMG_0882Labor Day was all different in the days when I packed my lunch, loading up my new Holly Hobbie thermos with warm Campbells’ chicken noodle soup, eager and anxious to see the list of teachers and students posted on the big picture window at school the next morning.
And in high school, somehow, I managed to spend the bulk of my holiday stressing over which outfit I should wear on the first day of class. All of my new school clothes were too warm for an Indian summer day but I had an image to present and if that required sweating, so be it.

My recollections are all fuzzy after that until the infamous Labor Day of 2002. On that afternoon, five of us and a 75-pound pooch parked out front of our new house in Dallas, Texas just before noon. The day was a scorcher–a few degrees cooler than my perception of hell. We unloaded our road weary bodies from our black Chevy Venture van, the dog especially eager for some exercise. The yard wasn’t much coming from a couple of country acres but enough to take care of her business. The house smelled like some sort of obnoxious aromatherapy blend of mildew and cat urine. I hadn’t remembered that from the showing…. Our moving truck wouldn’t arrive until the next day and already, the kids looked like somebody popped their imaginary pink Texas balloons.

“Hey, I have an idea!” Those could be the 4 words they write on my tombstone someday.
“How about if we make tonight a super fun camp out in our new house?”
“I’ll run out to the store to get a few supplies.”

Privately, the tears dripped like a leaky faucet through all eight traffic lights, and I parked in front of the nearest Target, feeling like I’d entered some sort of alter-reality. I meandered through the store like a lost puppy looking for a familiar scent. My cart half full, I checked out and headed home. We all laid down on the carpeted floor that night confirming the cat pee. The AC wouldn’t switch on and we might as well have been detoxing in a sauna. I tossed and turned uncomfortably wondering what we had done, sirens blaring in the distance. My final waking thought was straight out of The Wizard of Oz—“You’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.”

Most of my memories of the next 13 Labor Days are connected with the return to our Dallas life. Memorial Day kicked off our summers in Michigan. Labor Day launched another school year in Dallas. Mostly, I’d scramble around our house organizing schedules and gathering up textbooks to start homeschooling, except for the year we spent Labor Day weekend dodging a hurricane along the Atlantic coast instead. But, the summer of 2015, our Toyota Sienna minivan got a new license plate that read Pure Michigan and that Labor Day, we adopted an inaugural tradition. Summer starts and ends at the beach.
It was Robyn’s idea.
“That, I can do,” I told her.
And we did.
And we have.

But this year, it was just me. Closing down the summer. On the beach.
Gratefully melancholy-musing over the memories.
Like the picture perfect Spring day our beautiful girl wore a white dress and made lifelong promises to her handsome man in the blue suit.
And the sunset walk up to Maranatha’s prayer tower with Angela when we were quarantining together for 2 weeks.
Dune climbing with Lily at Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore.
Kayaking with the fam at the Mackinaw bridge.
Hiking the shoreline ridge together then swimming in our clothes in Lake Superior.
Watching the windsurfers catch air from the Grand Haven pier with the hubs.
Birthday camping at the beach with my tribe.
Dune walking to the Big Sable lighthouse with one of my besties.

Today, a red flag with a crude white graphic of a swimmer, a diagonal line across the image, blew in the breeze from the park deck. Not an invitation to swim safely.
I watched little bitties digging holes to China with their shovels,
Mamas and kiddos bouncing around on the white caps in floaties,
Daddies and children constructing magnificent castles,
Doggies paddling out into the water to get sticks.
I saw grandmas and grandpas wave jumping with their grandkids,
Insecure teenagers trying to impress each other with their bodies instead of their character,
Mature friends perched up on the dune reading novels and drinking sweet tea.

Me? I arrived heavy-eyed and like some sort of magical spell, the waves lulled me to sleep. When I woke up, the sun sparkled all diamond-like on the water. I lingered long watching seagulls soaring and diving, dodging waves as they feasted on a decomposing fish floating in the water. I found myself reluctant to leave. To check the box. Another summer complete.CCG5O+fLSwyFFP5PAj48iA

On my way home, I pulled into the Starbucks drive thru, the same one Robyn and I happily ordered our drinks from at a few years back. Hers was a peppermint mocha. Mine a double chocolaty chip frappucinno. Always. We drank to a summer full of everyday graces and anticipated fall mercies.
Honestly, I don’t feel very celebratory this year.
Maybe I need to re-frame my thinking. To repurpose a timeless truth.
The teacher in Ecclesiastes talks about an ebb and flow, like the waves crashing onto the shore then backpedaling their way into deep waters.
Starting and Ending.
Ending and Starting.
The seasons.
Life.
The Teacher in Ecclesiastes says it’s all part of God’s plan for this broken-beautiful world He made and loves.
So, I guess I need to embrace it too, cause if I don’t, I’ll miss the mercies.
That first Monday of September it’s not just the end of summer. It’s the beginning of Fall.
And To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)IMG_4161

How Do You Know When You’re Who You Are Becoming?

“Every daughter needs to see how life can wrinkle you and this is what makes you beautiful….We are connected to one another—mothers who have quietly grown the bones of their daughters’ spine so she can walk honest and brave, mothers whose own blood runs like a river through their daughter, so she can live open, fluid and willing…..What kind of lives would our daughters live because they did life with us?”     
Ann Voskamp

Last weekend, we drove across the Mackinac bridge, windows down, happy songs blaring over Spotify.
On our way to our second annual camping vacation in the UP.
I’m not a camper! Never did it growing up and didn’t like it as a twenty-something.
So much dirt.
The ground’s a terrible mattress.
Yicky bathrooms.
A bunch of junk food.
Besides, once I loaded up all those Rubbermaid bins down south, and carted them back up north for 13 summers switching it back again in August on the return trip to Texas, I felt like our little 2 bedroom apartment on a small college campus with the big hill and the apple orchard next door was camp-like enough.

But times change and I’ve learned some things..
Like how to scope out and secure a premium campsite on the DNR website thanks to my friend Lesley.
And a bunch of my camping veteran buddies, they’ve got the goods and are generous to share.
Then I discovered hiking. Sleeping Bear Dunes was my inaugural expedition and since then, I’ve climbed the wee hills of Scotland, the red rocks of Arizona, the Colorado Rockies, the Grand Canyon, the California coast, Algonquin Park in Canada and last weekend, Pictured Rocks.


We took a kind-of-hike at Tahquamenon Falls too.
I’ve been there before.
25 years ago, I carried my first little sweetheart on my hip. She was almost ready to take her first step. Now, look at her…

Since then, God’s written lots of other little people into my story. Big people too.
My wrinkles, they’re evidence I’ve put on the miles. While I’ve resisted their beauty, they prove that I’ve smiled wide, worried hard and cried all squinchy-faced. I guess I’ve lived and loved a pretty typical life.
My gig hasn’t been glamorous. There’s been a lot of peanut butter toast, after dinner dishes, bathroom cleaning, tidying up messes and read alouds.
Living open, fluid and willing, that’s part of the official “mom” job description.
The blood, sweat and tears, they’re mostly over this cluster of people that I’ve held in my arms and close to my heart.IMG_0481

I look at my tribe and see them walk brave in their stories.
I watch them try to step forward as honestly as they can on their journey of self-discovery.
I ask myself, what kind of lives will my kids, my husband, my tribe, my circle of influence live because God wrote me into their stories.IMG_6111IMG_0379

Honestly, on this birthday, I’m feeling pretty lost. I resonate with the melancholy ballad I hear playing softly on my Bluetooth speaker,
“Fast and slow we’re circling the sun,
And how do you know when you’re who you’ve been becoming?”
(Purple Horizons, Canyon City)
But this gift of life, the years, the experiences, the growth, it’s been bought and paid for, the price tag exponentially beyond my capacity to reimburse. The “debt-free” receipt serves as my compass to guide me through the forest when all I can see is trees.
So much feels uncertain on my expedition, but not this– That the mercies of God past, present and future are fresh and new every morning. Somehow, always enough.

IMG_0814And so, as I blow out the 9 candles on my Ryke’s cake, 5 for the tens and 4 for the ones,
I turn the page to chapter 54 resolved to journey well through its pages.
My compass is in hand. I’m travelling due north.IMG_0560

Sandy Pony, Mama Robin and the Velveteen Rabbit

“Due to a national coin shortage, self-check out aisles are limited to credit and debit card transactions only.” That’s what the orange signs posted near the registers said. “You’ve got to be kidding!” I mumbled under my breath. Sigh. Frown. At least nobody can see my pouty expression under the mask. I begrudgingly made my way to aisle 16, the shortest line in the store. Still, a couple of customers with overflowing carts stood in front of me.

Call me a grazer. I go to Meijer almost daily for my supply of items to sustain us through the next 24+ hours and I almost always pay with cash right out of my envelope marked “Living Expenses”.

I love Meijer! I grew up walking a mile each way with my mama for groceries. Coming home was the workout, a bag in each hand. And when the weather was cold or rainy, we’d take the bus. When I turned into a mama, we drove to Meijer instead. I buckled my littles in the cart seat and we made a bee line directly for the donuts. They munched and chattered while I shopped. Right in front of our favorite cashier, Selma’s lane, Sandy the pony was plugged into the electrical outlet waiting to be fed a penny and give little boys and girls a bouncy ride. We were religious about riding on Sandy. No Meijer trip was legit without Sandy’s bumpy blessing.let them be little 112 copy

As I impatiently waited for my turn to buy groceries, I spotted another sign, straight ahead of my lane. “Sandy is resting in her stable. She can’t wait until she can see you again.”
“Wait, not Sandy too. If you have to take away self check, fine, but don’t take away Sandy!” I conversed silently with myself. And, at that moment, I wished my mask covered my eyes too because they both started swelling like a dam about to break. You see, Sandy isn’t just a mechanical penny eater, when I walk past Sandy, somehow, for just a split second, my girls become little again. I hear their carefree giggles and watch their innocent delight. Sandy represents a time when “I Love you Mommy” cards with wobbly handwriting and stick figure artistry were as regular as the daily mail. When long cuddles in an oversized chair reading a pile of picture books together was routine. When a “bed-night” drink of cold water was always set on my night stand to make sure I didn’t ever get thirsty. When love was simply given and received without barriers.
And now, Sandy is gone.
_______________________

Just before my very own Robyn donned her white dress and spoke her forever vows, I  noticed mama Robin noisily hovering near the deck as I watered my baby annuals. I walked down the hill to the porch swing to peer up into the underside of the rafters looking for a nest. Every year, she’s built one. And sure enough, like me, she’d been busy about her work. I peeked through the deck boards right near the pot of zinnias and saw 3 blue eggs safely tucked inside mama’s carefully crafted home. After that, I kind of forgot about mama Robin until I spotted her nest, lying disheveled in a pile of stones, dislodged from its shelter after a blustery storm. There were no blue eggs and I hoped, by some miracle, her babies had hatched and fledged prematurely. Then, I found one of those eggs lying a few hundred yards away in my sunflower garden.
My sad-o-meter registered high. That mama, she did her best to provide a safe, healthy environment for her babies to thrive but failed. I’ve been there and done that too.

IMG_0314Thankfully, both robin and human mamas possess resiliency by design. And a few weeks later when I peeked up into her nesting corner, I saw a brand-spanking-new nest. And when I squinted down through the deck boards, I saw 3 new blue eggs. Inspired by her determination, I’ve followed the progress of her nurturing every day since. A little over a week ago, I saw 2 baby robins, their tiny featherless chests rapidly rising and falling like they’d just run a marathon. Most of the time, though, they sleep peacefully, laying belly up, in the most vulnerable position possible, beaks wide open waiting for mama to provide everything they need to survive, trusting her to take care of them. And she does.

They’re getting close to fledging now, their swelling bodies squeezing over the edges of the nest. So I googled what’s to be expected next in their rite of passage. Apparently, when a young robin first jumps out of its family home, it can’t actually fly so it tumbles to the ground where mama hovers close for a few more weeks helping it to stay out of harm’s way, teaching it about the dangers of life outside the nest and showing it how to forage for itself. But even with a nurturing mother, only about 25% of hatched robins make it through their first November. And once they fly off on their own, mama can’t watch over them anymore. Not that one or this one either.
They might break a wing, mastering their technique.
Fly to close to a car or a cat or straight into a closed window.
They could inadvertently ingest pesticides or chemical pollution.
Or just end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But if the young bird survives, she might be next year’s nest builder, next year’s resilient caregiver. Next year, she might even come back to the very same deck to make a home for her babies, just like her mama.
__________________________

DSCN2797DSCN0118Our family stuffed animal collection numbers in the hundreds. All the second tier friends live in the gigantic bean bag chair I sewed for them at least a decade ago, but the girls besties are Choco and Oreo, Ethan, the blue owl, and Mr. Bear and Mrs. Bear. When our biggest little girl was three, she left Mr. Bear in the dugouts at a park one summer evening while we were taking a family walk. That night, bedtime felt like a life altering catastrophe on par with COVID 19. Daddy drove back to the park with a flashlight and retrieved Mr. Bear, brought him home, and tucked him under his baby girl’s tear soaked pajama arm. Mr. Bear’s been through it all. He’s known every place she’s called home. Heard each of her bedtime stories, songs and conversations. He’s watched her smile and felt her tears. His clothes are thread bare so we dressed him in a new outfit to keep the stuffing inside, but honestly, he’s a lot like the Rabbit in Margery William’s famous children’s story. Worn down by love. And so am I.

Maybe that’s why I resonate with Christa Wells song, Velveteen. It tells my story too.
Love spoke my name and I felt life run through me.
Reborn in the flame. Nothing can undo me.

Shadow and light, I learned to let them find me.
Coming alive, feels a lot like dying.

 
So if my beauty starts to fade, well, I’ve been held in a thousand ways.
And if my heart looks broken in, then I’ve been brave enough to live.
If perfect turns to perfect mess and all Your love is all that’s left.
I’m as real as real can be.
Call me Velveteen.
________________________

Chapter 53’s had a lot of plot twists.
Transition. It’s hard.
And confusing. I don’t know if I fit or where I fit or how I fit. Into anything.
And I’m grieving what isn’t anymore. And disillusioned by what is.
It’s been a quarter of a century that the primary work experience on my resume reads mothering. I’m not even sure what else I’m good at and depending on the day, my kids’ gold star rating would rank pretty low for that.

Going into Chapter 54, feels like a plot hole. I can’t see the path to what’s next. Not yet. I don’t know if I’ve already lived through the climax of my story but I do know that where I’m at now feels a lot more like a reversal than resolution.

I read through an old journal the other night, and glimpsed another time when self-doubt derailed me. In it, I confessed to my mentor, “I don’t feel like I have what it takes.” And she responded matter-a-factly,  “You don’t.”
Then she paused, placed her hand over mine, looked at me with incredible compassion and continued, “But God does and He will help you.”
And that timeless blessing applies to every chapter.
Including each page written in 53, all of the ones still blank for 54 and right straight through to the end of my story.DSCF4955

PS: Tonight, when I got down on all fours, peered through the deck boards, derriere pointed toward heaven, mama robin’s nest was empty. The young birds are one step closer to their own great adventure and mama’s “cheerio”-ing them on.

Living the Great American Dream

It was 1986. The guy trying to win my heart took me to a quaint little donut shop for apple turnovers one Saturday morning. That was the start of our beautiful relationship with Robinette’s, a multi-generational family owned fruit farm. One turnover multiplied into many over the next few years. Poor college kids, we didn’t always have enough money to buy donuts come the weekend, but when we did, we’d cuddle into the corner picnic table near the fireplace and plan out our picture perfect future together._MG_5475

About the mid-90’s, that same guy and I, we started taking our first baby to Robinette’s for donuts. Pretty soon, the kids and donut purchases both grew exponentially.
I can’t remember the first year we climbed the ladders into the cherry trees with our metal buckets to hear ka-plink, ka-plank, ka-plunk, but it turned into a family tradition every year come 4th of July week.IMG_5455DSCF4274DSCF9390DSCF8754
When our nomadic life landed us at Kuyper College apartments for the summer, we felt giddy at the thought of living next door to Robinette’s. We unloaded our Grand Rapids or Bust Chevy Astro van, and headed over to the Apple Haus to celebrate._MG_5478

Jim and Bethel served as both the patriarch and matriarch of the family business and the host and hostess for the farm. You’d find Jim tending the flowers he planted in the whiskey barrels out front, shining up his Model A truck right next to the 1884 farmhouse they lived in on the property or chatting with customers about interesting places and people he’d met all over the world. Bethel worked behind the counter serving customers and leading school groups visiting on field trips.
For more than 100 years, and 5 generations, this farm has been a family affair. Jim and Bethel’s sons, their wives and grandkids all work the farm too. Now, they are the ones adding innovations to grow their small business and make a family friendly impact on our community.

When Jim heard we were neighbors for the summer, he invited us to be back door guests. “Why don’t you just walk through the orchard to come over for donuts?” He offered. And so we did. We marked the years, the kids growing up like the apple sapplings planted in neat rows. There were 10 summers that we meandered back and forth, through the orchard, arriving about the time the apple trees first blossomed pink and leaving just as the first crop got picked, bagged and ready for purchase. And all our friends tagged along. We could have won a popularity contest in those days. Everybody wanted to come over to the Websters’ place to walk to Robinette’s. The kids ate donuts on the porch swing while us mamas chatted at a picnic table. Then, they’d play tag on the shady lawn over and around the mammoth, mature trees. Those were the golden hours of the best summers ever!

Fast forward that decade and our oldest needed a summer job to help pay for college, so she started selling donuts behind the counter instead of buying them. A few years later, the next kid needed work too and she served food at the lunch counter. Then, the third kid was trying to boost her savings account and landed her first job supervising the bounce pillow while drinking cider slushies. Exclusive employee perks. Then last year, the baby’s first paycheck came from guess where? Robinette’s.

We’re still regulars at the Apple Haus. Always on the lookout for the day olds. Stocking up on honeycrisp apples all fall. But last year, I could tell Jim wasn’t designing the flower arrangements in the whiskey barrels anymore. I didn’t see he and Bethel around the shop. Then, this May, right around the time the apple blossoms burst into bloom, I heard the sad news of Jim’s passing and a few weeks later, Bethel too, departed this life for eternity.

4th of July week rolled around in the weirdest year ever. COVID robbed us of our time-honored traditions—parading in Ada in the morning and fireworks at Reeds Lake at night. Late spring freezes stole Robinette’s cherry crop. Record high water levels on the Lake snatched away significant portions of our beaches and there’s a constant churning of unrest. Peaked unemployment levels erode individuals and families’ financial stability. Suspicion of anybody who coughs is fueling fear and paranoia about sickness and dying. Exposed injustice has amped up racial tension to boiling over, resulting in retributive vandalism and violence. And it’s another polarizing presidential election year.

It’s easy to pick apart what’s going wrong in America about now but there’s also a bunch of stuff going right.
Which brings me back around to Robinette’s.
Robinette’s represents quintessential Americana at it’s very best! America has been and still is a place where families can work hard- real hard, extremely, perseveringly hard– to build a life, a business, and a civic impact for good.

When the donut and cider line extends down Four Mile Road come Fall, it’s not just about donuts and cider.
It’s about tradition.
It’s about the simple pleasures of food and drink and family and friends and nature.
It’s where people come to delight in the goodness of all that God makes grow.
It’s a celebration of another year that’s come and gone leaving its unique fingerprint on each of our stories.
It’s a new batch of photos marking time and memories with people we love best.DSCF9399

In this rugged individualist culture, the Robinette’s are family rugged. Year after year, decade after decade, generation after generation, they steward their land, their resources and their business with integrity. And they do it together.
So this 4th of July, as I celebrated the birthday of the good ole’ USA, I reflected on the sweet lives of Jim and Bethel Robinette. If I weren’t a tea totaler, I’d raise a glass of Barzilla’s Brew in their honor…but I am, so I guess I’ll settle for an apple cider slushy. “Here’s to Jim and Bethel and all the Robinette’s before and after them. Your great American Dream inspires me!”

Lots of Questions, Precious Few Answers

IMG_9931It felt like a scene out of the Twilight Zone, approaching the TSA checkpoint at the Grand Rapids airport. I literally walked right up to the desk, pulled out my license and boarding pass and leisurely removed my shoes for screening, not a single flier waiting in line behind me.

Flying and I, we’re frienemies. That’s why I dug up my years expired bottle of Alprazoam the night before. I’m not sure it’d even be safe to take anymore, but I appreciate the placebo affect of having it tucked into my purse in case we hit some Michigan potholes in the sky.

I felt especially anxious that particular morning. It wouldn’t be my first choice to die in a plane crash and leave my baby without a mama, especially now, when we’ve just kicked off a 3 year plan to Seize the Days.

Nobody takes a middle seat right now. I boarded, got comfy next to the window in row 5 and started to pray. “God, I’m either going to Dallas or Heaven today. Ultimately, you’re going to be the one to decide. Either way, we’re doing it together and I’m going to be fine.”

IMG_9935

The next few hours, at 36,000 feet, my mind played pinball. Thoughts bouncing off each other faster than my hand-eye coordination.
Lots of questions, precious few answers.
What a year! And it’s not even half over.
On every level, there’s chaos, grief, loss and uncertainty.
Internationally.
In our country.
Statewide.
As communities.
And in my own tiny world.

If I were one of those people who speculates about end times prophecy, I’d be making some wagers. But, I’m not. God’s the only one who knows how and when He’s going to turn the page on this chapter, bringing ultimate justice, absolute righteousness and perfect resolution to the mayhem of this cosmic story.

And, truth is, this year’s troubles aren’t necessarily worse than other year’s troubles.
Somewhere in the world there’s always War.
Famine.
Violence.
Disease.
Natural Disasters.
Hatred. Corruption. Tyranny.
It just doesn’t usually invade my personal space. Lucky me.

Starting with the infamous COVID-19—
I wonder how the brightest minds will analyze the impact of months of shut downs and sheltering in place through the lens of retrospect?
Is being required to wear a mask in a grocery store really a slippery slope to having our fundamental individual liberties undermined?
Is it necessary for Governors to enact cookie cutter orders for entire states like mine where hot and cold zones comingle?
And how about those brave business owners trying to avoid going bust after a lifetime of growing up their babies?
The astronomical unemployment rates represent individuals and families who hold mortgages and need groceries, how will they pay for them? And who’s going to foot the bill for all of the government assistance now that our pool of taxpaying income earners is significantly reduced? What about all the children and adults who have been stuck at home for months being physically, emotionally and sexually abused?
Who’s going to serve the mental health needs of those who’ve fallen into debilitating anxiety and depression due to fear over this virus?
And how do you reconcile the tragedy of a fatality count that mostly represents individuals who died alone with nobody to hold their hand? And what about the loved ones left behind devoid of the opportunity to participate in normal communal grief rituals?
And when the data’s all in, who knows whether or not this virus will actually end up being statistically significantly more dangerous than a bad flu season?

Enter—Flooding.
Ask anybody the source of our Pure Michigan pride. It’s the freshwater lakes surrounding our pleasant Penninsula. And so I wonder how can our Lake which has been our solace, turn into a threat as property owners build rock retaining walls and concrete barriers to battle erosion swallowing up their homes? River inlets and bayous burst at the seams too and right in the peak of the spring rains, dams break and empty out whole inland lakes into cities full of people just trying to shelter in place. Is there any act of human ingenuity or skill that can ultimately stop the forces of nature? I wonder, who will calm the waters and keep them where they’re meant to be?

Racial Injustice goes Viral.
And then, just like Murphy’s law, the tragic, senseless, repeated loss of life to black skinned people at the hands of police officers, ex-police officers and self-appointed neighborhood association vigilantes, like a horror movie, goes viral, resulting in nationwide grief and widespread revolt. And George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery are just the tip of the iceberg.

George Floyd
I wonder what compels a trained law enforcement agent to administer brute force on a non-resistant, unarmed person? And over a potentially counterfeit $20 bill? And how could that officer miss the cues of severe physical distress when a grown man calls out for his mother?

Breonna Taylor
And, I wonder who, being awoken in the middle of the night wouldn’t potentially shoot at a mob breaking and entering their residence without identifying themselves? Don’t we generally honor a person’s courage when they protect their home and people from intruders? And with the available technology, why wouldn’t police officers on mission carry body cameras for no-knock warrants? And are no-knock warrants worth the risk in drug raid searches? And where did the communication break down that the warrant officers weren’t aware that the criminal they were seeking had already been apprehended at another location?

Ahmaud Arbery
And, I wonder how do neighborhood association home owners justify the right to stalk, ambush and shoot a person they assume committed non-violent criminal activity in their neighborhood? And who wouldn’t potentially have an adrenaline surge of self-protective energy under threat of violence while taking a leisurely jog on a residential street?

Our police force
And what must it be like for all of the justice loving civil servants of every race who are the whipping boys for the rage against the minority of sloppy, corrupt police officers?
What about the risks law enforcement agents take every day to protect our homes? Families? Communities?
Do we have any grasp of a cop’s quandary as he or she makes instantaneous life and death judgment calls in crisis?
And how is dismantling our local law enforcement agencies a reasonable solution to our racial injustice problems? Every vocation has some bad apples. Business men embezel. Doctors malpractice. Priests and pastors sexually abuse parishioners. We don’t write off their designated role in society because some of them misuse their position. So why the disparity with cops?

Rioting
And, how do we make sense of widespread rioting? Looting? Vandalizing? Arson? If its goal is to repay white people for hurting black people, what about all those minority business owners who barely stayed afloat during months of COVID closures only to have their angry “brothers and sisters” put a nail in the coffin of their life’s investment?
And what about all of the lives of people of every skin tone that have been lost during the violent protests? Do they matter too?
Are we supposed to turn a blind eye to crimes committed during riots because they are retributive?

Trauma
And what are we going to do about all of this cumulative trauma?
Given our country’s black history, is the personal and collective chaos really surprising?
While trauma sometimes sits quiet, almost dormant, inside a person for a long, long time, when triggered, the sympathetic nervous system goes into fight, flight or freeze, by design. “Fight” really gets our attention because people power up in order to feel a sense of control over their pain. Do we notice their distress without an extreme response?  How can victims of trauma communicate the depth of their suffering in non-destructive ways?

JESUS
I ask Jesus, how do you feel about this relational mess between the image-bearers you created all across the color palette?
And his answer: John 11:35.
The shortest verse in the Bible.
Jesus Wept.
In the movie, Selma, Martin Luther King Jr. comforts a grandpa after his grandson was killed by a state trooper in a peaceful march for civil rights, saying, “There are no words. But I will tell you that God was the first to cry.

And I wonder why it’s so hard for white people to just plain grieve the hurts, injustices and losses that black people experience?
Why do we feel compelled to Justify? Explain?  And be defensive?
If Jesus cries, why don’t we?
Why are we so hesitant, resistant even, to enter the shared grief of black Amercians?
If every life is designed by the Creator and loved as long and high and wide and deep as Jesus loves me, then shouldn’t I be compelled as an image bearing sister to mourn every tragic loss of life, to call for justice for perpetrators of crimes, to advocate for fair consequences to be meted out through our justice system?

There’s a lot I don’t know, a whole bunch of questions…
But here’s what I’m sure about:
1) There isn’t any quick fix– no patch, no do-it yourself repair kit and no refurbishing solution- to the brokenness between whites and blacks. But as God’s kid, I am obliged to be soft-hearted and listen attentively to my black fellow citizens, neighbors, friends, brothers and sisters in Christ.

2) The most effective weapon in the war against racism is prayer. Jesus says to cast all our cares on Him for He cares for us. Posturing myself in the presence of Jesus with all my questions and concerns, inviting Him to lift the burdens off my small rounded shoulders onto into his strong Herculean arms, gives me the attunement to hear His voice and feel His heart. In His presence is where I find clarity about the next step.

3) I can and should hope for change, and work for it too, but my only actual guarantee about anything is that my hope for all to be made right in eternity is certain.

Back to my trip to Dallas. I went to visit someone I love. Soon, she will take her first breath of eternal life.
Every Wednesday night in room 301 for more than a decade, we were a bunch of Chatty Cathies. And we closed our favorite restaurant, who knows how many times, before moving our conversation out to one of our cars for the finish.
Not anymore. She’s quiet now. And tires easily when I talk.
For a few days, I could sit with her–offering my physical presence.
Emotional attunement.
Spiritual sensitivity.
Really, isn’t that a universal longing in all of our hardest struggles, our most crushing griefs, and our greatest hardships?

I read The Psalms aloud because they so perfectly express both lament and confidence. Yes, we’re brokenhearted and yes, God is a very present help in time of trouble.  Our gentle shepherd prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies. And there are so many enemies….
Cancer.
Coronavirus.
Death.
Flooding.
Racism.
……

We live between the Now and the Not Yet.
And right here, there’s a lot of visceral groaning, “How long, O Lord?”
Satan, our supreme enemy, he seeks to steal, kill and destroy.
And he’s doing a pretty, darn, good job of it!
And it’s been like this for a very long time. At least that’s how it feels to us.
But our Not Yet is a verified, 100% guaranteed promise from God. And He assures us that ultimate healing is coming.
Perfect peace will prevail.
And complete justice too.
And that is a Hope that does not disappoint.

So many questions…..
Ultimately, only One answer.
Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Amen.

Mama’s Brag Book

IMG_5176I don’t think it’s a thing anymore but when I was a baby, my mom had a brag book. The words were engraved right on the hard cover with square slots for pictures with white borders around them tucked inside plastic sleeves.

A brag book might sound kind of arrogant these days, but it’s not. From the moment the 2 lines on a pregnancy test turn pink until the birthday celebrating your kid’s legal emancipation and beyond, both of you, separately and together are living a seismic adventure. And if you survive with your sanity reasonably intact and a digital album of the golden-most moments to scroll through on your iphone, call it a big win.

I’m super proud of my kids. I admit it. The ones I birthed and the one God added through the bond of love. They’re in-process, for sure, but then, so am I. And, there’s lots to affirm, especially about these two. So I’m celebrating Robyn and Brennan and their May wedding–2020’s greatest adventure so far.IMG_5005IMG_4637

How did that sweet little freckle faced kid grow up to be so stunningly beautiful?
And his eyes…they’re amazing!

Robyn, she came wired a compelling communicator–speaking, writing, drawing, creating music at the keyboard. It’s all in her head, like a gift ready to be shared at any given moment.
And Brennan, he’s creative, quality minded and resourceful. Those rings they exchanged— he crafted them out of gold he unearthed metal detecting. Then he found a small town craftsman and participated in the process of melting down, casting the gold and setting the stone.


All those candles, the centerpieces on our dinner party table, the kids melted down 100 pounds of soy wax in empty Pringles cans on our kitchen counter one cylinder at a time. The orbs illumined our smiling faces as we recounted the goodness of God in their stories and toasted to their shared future.


And I just gotta say, the bridal bouquet Brennan arranged was pretty sweet too!IMG_4626

That son I love, she’s safe with him. He’s loyal. He’s committed. And he’s been intentional about building a foundation of care and trust, one solid brick at a time.
And the daughter I love, she swims out in the deep end where you can’t touch bottom but you touch the depths of God. And she caught a vision of God’s heart for her man and invited him to join her. Now, she’s his biggest cheerleader. IMG_5194IMG_5229

Their relationship, it hasn’t been a linear path but they are learning that Plan B, C or D isn’t necessarily less than Plan A, it’s just different.

They’re content with the simple gift of everyday companionship.

IMG_5426
They’re taking care of their bodies with life giving routines–Eating home cooked meals. Exercising. Resting.
Before the birds sing their dawn chorus, my kids, both frontline workers, drag themselves out of bed, pour a cup of coffee into their thermal mugs labelled “Mr.” and “Mrs.” and head out to the hospital to offer skilled, compassionate care to sick people.
They’ve checked all the boxes that apply on Dave Ramsey’s baby steps to Financial Peace and are off to a great start with their budget.
Their cozy apartment is becoming a welcoming place of hospitality.
And most importantly, they want their lives to image Jesus so they’re establishing regular rhythms to pursue that goal together.IMG_4893

COVID-19 hi-jacked their original wedding plan but God’s mercies were extravagant on May 13 and by the time our two families stood together on the dunes of Lake Michigan witnessing their vows, we all felt pretty overwhelmed with gratitude for a day that just couldn’t have been any more amazing!IMG_4834IMG_4933

So, here’s to my kids. ……..
I’m proud to be their mama.IMG_4982IMG_4944IMG_5035

COVID Quarantine Mercies

Sometimes mercies arrive in the most unlikely packages.
Usually they come like the mail, every day around 1:00, the familiar squeak of a white truck’s brakes in front of the box,
Or transported by the trademark all-in-brown UPS guy.
Occasionally they appear as a delivery from the florist’s refrigerated van, a pretty bouquet with a card saying “Just Because”.
And then, there’s the guy who pulls up your driveway with no identifiable credentials and drops off something you weren’t expecting and didn’t order and you’re not sure if you want it, especially from a stranger.IMG_9860

Mercies are like that. Unpredictably lavish, everyday reliable and unexpectedly severe.

I’m reclining under the shade of a tree this start of summer afternoon, songbirds substituting for Spotify, breeze gently dancing through the branches keeping me cool, comfy chair too. Everthing’s picture perfect except that I’m swatting at unrelenting bloodsucking mosquitoes who are making a meal out of mine.

And that’s life.

I’ve always told my girls:
People are a mixed bag—beautiful but broken image bearers of their Designer.
Nature is majestic—full of grandeur- and at the same time all creation groans.
Our bodies are miraculously resilient while also incredibly fragile.

So, too the conundrum with mercies. At times, they’re profoundly better than we hoped. Gifts greater than what we dared to ask for. But sometimes, they weren’t on our list and we’d prefer to return them but we can’t. So much of the angst in life is set to rest when we learn to trust the whole spectrum of God’s mysterious graces and this season of COVID-19 pandemonium offers us unprecedented opportunities to practice.
Here’s what that’s looked like in our story the last 14 days of this year of Coronavirus.

I’ve got 3 kids who work in health care, reporting to the hospital day after day. We figured we’d all eventually get infected through them but so far we’ve just gotten free donuts for healthcare workers instead. Thanks God and Krispie Kreme too.

Robyn’s wedding took a direct hit from COVID-19. Plan A turned into Play Y by May 13. And I won’t lie, the lead up was rough—for all of us. But the day unfolded all sunshine. And one of  the bestest fresh mercies of the morning was the family friend who rescued us from our hair emergency. One by one, right there in our living room, she spent hours curling and pinning and braiding and clipping. And just like an assembly line, we stepped out of her chair all beautiful. We rode to the beach in our borrowed Ford RV chariot. The Lake glistening all diamond-like calm and the dunes warm on our bare shoulders and toes as covenant promises were exchanged. Then we celebrated together around a cozy candlelit outdoor table for 13 with pasta and cookie cake, finishing out the festivities with sparklers, confetti poppers and long hugs.

Two mornings later, my phone went ding while I was shopping at the grocery store.
That same sweet friend, texted saying, “My sister got tested for COVID last night and the results came back positive. I’m getting her symptoms and the CDC says it’s likely our family has it. I’ll be tested today. I’m so sorry but I wanted you to know.”

So, I messaged my family with the news.
“Oh wonderful!”
“I wanted to go home this weekend!”
“You mean I can’t volunteer to serve at drive-in church on Sunday?”
“Oh dear!” came the replies.

It wasn’t long until her follow up text confirmed, “I’m positive too.”

The ones who planned on a secluded honeymoon in the mountains went anyway.
Our nurse tested negative then went back to work.
The aspiring author just cleaned her room to make her creative studio more comfortable to write in during the quarantine rest.
And the one who wanted to go home to Chicago, but couldn’t on account of her conscience, got slightly cranky—only very temporarily though. Family time is great, but in moderation. At least that’s her perspective.

We formulated a plan, the four of us sleeping under this roof anyway.
We’ve all been exposed so we’re in this together, baby! 2 whole weeks of self-quarantine.
No Meijer. No Target. No Aldi. No Flowerland.
But, Yes to the trails. Yes to the beach.  And yes to the sunshine.
And the Chicago-girl and I, we made a pact.
Let’s not squander the time together, we agreed. Let’s redeem it. And we have.

May 15:
Caring friends start texting.
Ding. “Take plenty of Vitamin C and D and sit in the sunshine. Also, drink a glass of red wine everyday.”  “Why?” I ask. “There’s something in the grape, and the alcohol is like hand sanitizer for your stomach.” OK….
Ding. “Drink a lot of hot and orange juice.”
Another Ding. “Gargle and hot tea.”
Is there a pattern here?….

May 16:
Today’s best quotables:
“If I breathe on Teddy maybe he’ll get COVID and then I can get back at him for biting me last week.” (Lily)
“Life is really wow!” (Hope)

May 17:
Lily tested negative. We don’t know whether to laugh or cry. If we’re going to be stuck here for 2 weeks, we’d kind of like to get it over with and come out the other side with antibodies.

May 18: Got up at 10:30 today. That’s a 30 minute gain from yesterday. I’ve decided I’m going to give myself 1 full week to be entirely useless after the wedding and if I’m symptom free after that, I’m going to kick myself in the butt and get productive again.

May 19:
Daily fruit smoothie blended in the trusty Vitamix and doused in whip cream for everybody in the fam. Check.
2 mile jog. Check.
Switch out winter and summer clothes. Check.
I went to bed before midnight. Shocker.

May 20:
Second shower I’ve taken since the wedding.
Played Harry Potter Clue. Love is the only explanation.
Practiced a dance tutorial on YouTube for exercise.
Stayed up too late binge watching Netflix, heard a funny noise coming from the basement. I discovered a broken water line flooding the storage room. Caught it fast and an hour later, we’d cleaned up the mess and gone to bed. Murphy’s law mixed with fresh mercy. Isn’t that how life goes?

May 21:
My decks looks like a tulip festival. And when I peek through its floorboards I see a robin’s nest carefully constructed, strategically tucked under the wooden supports and housing 4 little blue eggs. Mama robin hovers nearby to protect her babies, hoping they’ll grow into healthy, autonomous birds. I get that.

May 22:
Watering and weeding. Every single day.
I cleaned out the room of the one who’s not coming back to it. Can’t go under it. Can’t go over it. Gotta go through it. And it’s hard….
Ruminating on the words of a new book I’m reading: “Your child has caused you pain as well, but as the parent, you do not get the freedom to bleed all over your child. You have real grief but your child is not the recipient of your grief.”  Ouch, that hurts! I’ve hemorrhaged all over my kids.

May 23:
Taking on the paperwork pile.
Started making my next T-shirt quilt.
Cancellations, refunds. No vacation to Prince Edward Island and the Lake of Shining Waters or Green Gables. Have I said it before? This year ranks low on my favorites list.
But, the kids buy me a 2 week subscription of Hello Fresh for dinner. Oh happy day!

May 24:
A quick trip to the lakeshore with Ang. First stop, the cemetery. Time for my annual meet and greet with mom and dad. Not a day goes by where I don’t wish I didn’t have to talk to a tombstone. Next stop, the beach. The lapping waves lullaby me  and I nap in the sunshine. It’s fun to be together.
Tailgating picnic for 5 at Kuyper College on the big hill. Peace. Joy.
Then, the honeymooners return with stories of their adventures.

 

May 25:
Church in our oversized chair. Angela and I share her consecrated bread.
Sorting through memories–purging, organizing, saving. This time she relinquished her dowry—a seashell collection- the brunt of our family joke about the  junk she’ll bring into a marriage someday.
Hot day. Maranatha at sunset—climbed to the prayer tower. Plenty to pray about. Not a prettier place to meet with Jesus.


The tear ducts overflowing tonight. Can’t seem to turn the faucet off. So much transition.

May 26:
Not a morning person. Tried to jog first thing. Another hot day. Fail. 1.2 miles and I quit. Well, actually I collapsed.
More sorting. This time it’s school books. 2 categories: 1) Save for the grandkids. 2) Don’t save for the grandkids.


Holiday dinner. All the kids around the table. Dragged up an old family joke from the archives. “What do we call a fairy who doesn’t take a bath?” –“A stinkerbell.” I really, really miss those days!
Watched Emma (2020) though I never could stay focused on a Jane Austen flick. Their lives are so boring.

May 27:
Tomorrow we get out of jail.
I’m starting to think about life post-quarantine.
Finding our new normal, just the 3 of us.
Dumping a colossal donation off at Goodwill.
Crossing the border into Indiana to go to Kohl’s later this week.
And now, because it’s time, Angela, she’ll load up her car, wave out the sunroof and go “Zoooom”….

These days, the ones God sovereignly surprised me with, they’ve actually been a treasure.
He protected our bodies from illness.
He provided a temporary diversion, a few weeks to rest and recharge before I face off the reality of yet another empty bedroom with all of its nostalgia.
And, He posited Angela and I in a training plan to strengthening our relational muscles through repetitions of love, respect and understanding and it turned out to be a great workout.
We stewarded our time responsibly.
We took a lot of walks.
We practiced being kind.
We gave each other space.
We listened to music. Arabic. Gaelic. German. Pop. Even CCM.
We Facetimed friends across the ocean and across town.
We watched movies– though my suggestions are always too sad, she says.
We talked about things that matter in the great big cosmos and in each of our own little worlds.
We cooked curry and baked scones and ate lots of homemade ice cream. She drank about a half dozen gallons of milk but neither of us imbibed any wine.
We went to the beach and watched the sunset together there too.
Lots of great memories to carry into a fresh, new summer. So many mercies.IMG_9644

And so, quarantine life turned into one of my favorite parts of this otherwise not-favorite year. God’s Plan B for the weeks post-wedding, turned out to be better than my plan A.
And I just feel really, really grateful.

On Sandwiches, Paper Cranes and Floatation Devices

Always start and end with gratitude.
That’s the bread in life’s best sandwich.

So, I’m grateful because
None of my kids live overseas this spring, stuck halfway around the world with second rate medical care.
Six weeks ago, I was double dosing on Naproxen to manage shoulder pain and now I’m raking my yard.
Most of my tribe is still getting their paychecks.
An early spring’s given me some elbow room outdoors during Michigan’s extended stay-at-home orders.
There’s an abundance of left over Russell Stover Easter candy available at Walgreens 50% off.
And, we have plenty of toilet paper!

But, truth is, I’m not loving this sandwich.
The stuff in the middle, it doesn’t taste very good!
And so far, this year gets a failing grade on my favorites list.
Not because of a single catastrophic event.
It’s aches and pains,
Conflict,
Disappointments,
Transitions,
And so many losses…

Which brings me to this very moment.
She’s stripped most of the decorations off the wall—the pressed leaves and calligraphy quotes, the string of Christmas lights that drapes around her window, the banner with her name on the door. The bed’s moving over to her new home tomorrow.
This space, it’s been a safe haven for my girl.
A sanctuary.

I was the one who told her, “You’re ready to fly.” And she is.
But her room feels naked with just the paper cranes, wing spans spread, hanging off fishing line from her ceiling.
And my grief’s exposed.
I’m crouched in the corner ugly-crying, wondering what happened to all that Kleenex my husband stockpiled for the pandemic.

2014 was my first launch.
And nothing prepared me for that kind of hard!
I dropped my kid off at college and drove 900 miles due South.
It felt like death though somehow, I survived.
We figured out how to live as 5 instead of 6.
And now, we’re transitioning to 4.
And in a couple of weeks, we’ll be 3.

For almost 22 years I’ve called this one to dinner every single night.
And I’m wearing at least 15 pounds worth of her famous chocolate chip cookies on my derriere.
Over these two plus decades, I’ve been a student of her expressions and moods.
I know all her favorite treats and what’s likely to bring a smile on a bad day.
I’ve prayed with her over every test.
I’ve watched her performances, applauded her accomplishments.
We’ve worked alongside each other and we’ve played together too.
I’ve hugged her and disciplined her.
Lectured and challenged her.
It’s been a long time since I laid next to her telling bedtime stories and singing lullabies as she drifted off to dreamland but it’s been comforting to know we’re sleeping under the safe roof anyway.

So, I told her today, “Try to remember the beautiful stuff most.”
I wish it was all beautiful!
Every moment of these approximately 8000 days.
But, it’s not.

I’m not a perfect parent. And her dad isn’t either.
She’s not a perfect kid. And neither are her sisters.

That reality tends to spiral me  into would-a, should-a, could-a…real fast.
To give myself a few hard swats with a 5 gallon paint stick.
And that’s the messy middle of my unappetizing sandwich.

But the bread of gratitude sustains me.
And so I intentionally recount the faithfulness of God in this kid’s story.
Last year about now, she had 50 bucks in the bank and her trusty Honda CRV named Winston. She graduated with her BSN a year early.
Then, she passed her NCLEX on her first try and God provided a full-time hospital nursing position.
She continued to live at home opting for free room and board, bedtime hugs included, so she could stockpile her savings.
And now, she bought her first home—a condo- just 11 minutes from the mama who’s crying on her bedroom floor tonight.fullsizeoutput_baab

The same loving Heavenly Father who’s written this chapter of her story, can He not be entrusted with the next one too?
And how about mine?

It sounds cliché but it’s not.
In this sink or swim world, the rhythm of gratitude, rehearsing His fresh mercies, acknowledging His faithfulness, that’s the floatation device that keeps me from drowning.

I pick up my hardcover copy of the Book, the one my Mama and Daddy gave me before I packed up my things and left an empty pink upstairs bedroom behind.
Here’s what it says:
He’s counting my tears and putting them in his bottle.
And my bottle, it matters to him.
He considers it tenderly.
It represents the love and investment I’ve made in my daughter’s life and He delights in the broken beautiful mama I’ve been to her.
He chose me for the task and celebrates that I’ve been faithful.
And he sympathizes with the loss I feel as she leaves our humble abode.
Those tears, He’ll use them to water the seeds of change and growth that are yet to be written into both of our stories.

Right outside the window where the paper cranes hang off the fishing wire, I planted a bunch of lily bulbs last Indian summer when mama’s intuition whispered the secret.
In time, they’ll bloom into an intoxicating mixture of fragrance and beauty.
I can’t see them yet.
They’re buried under the weight of the dirt. But what I have sown, He will make grow.
And with that confidence, I hope and wait with anticipation.IMG_9382

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!