Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Gift of Time

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. 
Ecclesiastes 3:1
  
I loved my friend, fellow worship team vocalist and previous doula client, Jenna. Our lives connected in so many areas, we'd become accustomed to spending lots of time together. Yet for months, it had been hard to get together, mostly due to scheduling conflicts on my part. She'd invited me to come over since the kids were in school, and it just hadn't worked. We hadn't even been scheduled to sing together since her youngest daughter was born. Texting, Facebook messages and quick hugs on Sunday morning had been our only interaction until Thursday, December 5, 2013, when we met at practice. We were scheduled to sing together on Sunday at last! When I arrived that evening, I knew I wouldn't have to tell her I wanted to share a music stand. Our piles of music were all set, with "Amy and Jenna-Pie" (my nickname for her) written on our practice notes. 

I had planned to steal her away for a quick coffee date after practice, but she left before I could ask her.  

Thursday was the last time I saw her awake.

Jenna and I had been in hospital rooms together more than once, but Saturday was unlike any other time we'd spent together. Her beautiful hair was disheveled from paramedics restarting her heart. Her skin was cold, because they had to cool her body down in an attempt to decrease brain swelling. Tubes contorted her lifeless face, breathing for her. I clutched my friend's hand, trying to feel if she was still with us. I couldn't tell.  An avid dancer, her toes were pointed, even in a coma. When her mother-in-law arrived on a red-eye flight and cracked a loving joke, her heart rate went up slightly. Those moments, however involuntary or inconsequential, felt like precious gifts.

As a small group of loved ones surrounded her, we prayed for a miracle. We begged for her to open her eyes. We sang to her. We spoke to her. This continued for days. We changed clothes, slept a little and returned, keeping vigil for Jenna. Any blip on her heart monitor or twitch of her body was reason enough to hope, to plead with God to keep her with us, if it that was His will. I knew we should seek His will, knowing God knew so much better than short-sighted mortals, but it was SO hard. We waited on the doctor's final word on whether or not any brain activity was present.

At last, the report came in: there was no hope. We came to see her one last time- this time to say goodbye.

Our final visit was very ritualistic. It was Lisa, Alyssa and I-- three friends preparing Jenna for her final resting place. We took handprints and locks of hair for her daughters. We painted her fingernails and toenails, because, for some reason, we couldn't bear the thought of her being laid to rest with chipped polish. It felt so unnatural to leave her there, knowing they would be harvesting her organs to donate soon. I wanted to protect her. I didn't want her to be alone. I knew she was gone, but I wasn't ready to say goodbye. When we knew it was time to say our final farewell, our sobbing was so heavy, we practically carried each other out of the hospital. Snowflakes softly fell as we drove home, heavy hearted and exhausted. Her memorial would be on Saturday, one week after this awful nightmare had begun.

Saturday came, and we celebrated her life together. Family, friends, church members, dance colleagues and more laughed, cried and sang in her memory. It was painful and healing at the same time. I missed her then; I miss her still.

That week was, without a doubt, the most gut-wrenching 7 days I have ever endured, but I am thankful for them.  While it was void of the joy birth brings, being Jenna's "death doula" was every bit as much of a privilege. That time was a gift. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Selah

Wow, it's been a long time since I've written! So much has changed in the last year (ish), but most of my absence can be summed up in my Jan 2015 diagnosis of stage 3 (chronic) Lyme Disease. It's hard to think clearly or move well much of the time, so writing beyond Facebook statuses and tweets hasn't happened. Today, however, I had a hard day, which is often where the urge to write comes out in me. It might not be profound or Pulitzer- worthy, but I feel compelled to share with you, just the same.

Since my diagnosis, I've had a lot of prescriptions, supplements and topical doodads on, in, or  around my short and sassy self. It's been a physical, emotional and spiritual roller coaster ride (complete with screaming and throwing up), so I should be pretty savvy to change eight months in, right? Not entirely ...

I hit a bump in my treatment this week, which at first looked like a reaction to Bicillin, the antibiotic injection we're using to (God willing) put the Lyme in remission by 2017 (ish). It wasn't. just an inflamatory response to treatment, which my specialist is very experienced in treating. I'm growing resistant to my current preventative meds, but we have other options. That's good, right? Yes, that's good. One more pill isn't that big of a deal, but then we come to a super-touchy subject: CHANGING MY DIET. Noooooo!  Come on, you're going to pick on allergy-girl and make her drink unsweetened alternative milks and no syrups in her lattes? You're denying me the amazing allergen-free baguettes I just found? I can't have my "natural" sweetners, like raw honey or Grade B maple syrup? I'm going to feel like puking all day and I can't have carbs to calm my grumpy belly?  Toddleresque, uber-diva tantrum brewing in 3,2,1 ...

KABOOM. Into the ear of my BFF went some rather impressive ranting, complaining and creative wording, preventing the swear jar from robbing me of coffee funds. I was done sacrificing. I was tired of suffering. And NOBODY messes with my food. I wanted my mommy, a monstrous order of bottomless fries and permission to spend copious amounts of money on kitchen gadgets and Pentatonix merchandise. None of this, of course, was in the control of my precious companion, but she got to hear all of it. After venting turned to verbal vomiting, I knew it was time to let poor Jillian rest her ringing ears and take a time out.

I knew I needed time with God, but prayer wasn't going to be the avenue I'd use. No, speaking was clearly just getting me more worked up. I needed to rest in God and simply be ministered to, as the groans of my soul were understood by my Father. This is when music is usually my comfort. I didn't even know what song I needed, so I just asked Siri to play music from a group named for my current need: Selah.

This is a word you see frequently in the book of Psalms, and while we are not certain the exact meaning, many believe it means "pause." That's what I needed-- to stop, be still and just rest in Him. As the familiar hymns washed over me, I was reminded of the same source of comfort I've felt since I was a little girl: I am loved, I am safe, I am forgiven. I am not promised an easy road, but I am assured of a constant companion, rest when I am weary, insight when I'm confused and mercy when I fail. I'm not strong enough to do this, and I don't have to be.

I'm still fighting panic, and heaven help you if you decide to call me today, because when I open my mouth, all my feelings come flying out, but I know where to turn when that happens. My sabbath comes early this week.  Also, if anyone in the house asks, Selah is expanded to dinner. I will rest in the truth that God loves me the same when I feed my family hot dogs. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Why I can't "Imagine"

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
1Corinthians 15:19

I know I'm about to ruffle some Beatle fan-feathers out there with this post.  To be fair, I am not a huge lover of the Beatles-- especially their early work. *dodges rotten tomatoes*  I find their later work to be much more musically appealing, and with better lyrical imagery.  "In my Life," for example, is wonderful.  "Blackbird" is one of my favorite lulabies to sing to Wyatt.  But a song that seems to hit every telethon, American Idol season, etc., is the infamous song, "Imagine."

This is a song loved by so many, but honestly, I find it depressing for the most part.  The very thought that unity, peace and happiness can only come by stripping the world of God just frankly, doesn't work for me.  Here's why: 

Imagine there's no heaven?  Um, no.  No, I'm not doing that.  I find such comfort in knowing that I will see my departed loved ones again.  My heart is a little less heavy in knowing that the children in our family who left us before we could ever hold them are bouncing on the knee of my Grandma Howard.  To know that healing in my body will take place someday, be it here or in the afterlife, gives me strength to push on for another day.  

There is a stanza within this beginning theme that reads as follows: "Imagine all the people living for today."  This implies two falsehoods, I believe: one, that people of faith only look to the afterlife, and two, that your actions don't affect others for generations to come.  Knowing that I will answer to how I lived my life makes me want to do more, not less, in the here and now.  Not because I fear judgement, but because I am so thankful for the love of Christ, I want to share it by loving and serving as many people as I can.  If we're only living for today, why choose environmentalism?  Why have communities?  Why bother loving anyone beyond yourself?  Truly, a balance between living exclusively in the present and "being so heavenly-minded that we are of no earthly good," is in order. 

"Imagine there's no countries ... and no religion, too."-- Yeah, this one doesn't jive with me, either.  While fighting and strife among peoples is something that I believe breaks the heart of God, I don't think diversity does.  Differing opinions, cultures, personalities and expressions of faith bring so much to our world.  Living side-by-side doesn't necessarily mean overlapping.  Peace doesn't necessarily mean homogenizing the planet.  True peace involves, I believe, a philosophy best summed up in the words of my buddy Pastor Paul: "Diversity without division, and unity without uniformity."  When I think of all the differing styles of worship that will take place in heaven, I get excited!  Christ urged his disciples to go into all the earth and spread the gospel, not to bring forth universal sameness, but the joy and freedom that comes from knowing Him.  While the church, as an entity of flawed human beings, has often confused her mission, that's on us, guys.  Not God.  Faith didn't divide, man did.

It is not in spite of my faith that I love and serve people who don't agree with me, but because of it.  It is my job to shine His light in love, service and sharing His gospel, but it is not my job to change hearts and minds.  The gospel is a means of loving out loud, not a rod to beat over the head of others who don't agree.  If you decide Jesus isn't for you, I'm not going to hound and harp at you.  If God himself doesn't see fit to force people to love Him, it would be pretty arrogant of me to attempt to!  If you think I'm a complete idiot for believing in God, I'm okay with that, too.  But it is my hope and prayer that perhaps those of you who have been hurt by others in the name of religion can see that the true practice of Christianity longs for peace-- just as John Lennon did.  However, in stead of taking God out of the picture entirely, we choose to make the Prince of Peace our focus.  Like the attempts at harmony in the chorus of "I wanna Hold Your Hand," I fail often, but clinging to Jesus, I will press on. 



Sunday, March 2, 2014

Popcorn and Puptents: A Movie Metaphor for Transfiguration Sunday

There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Matthew 17:2

There are many amazing parents out there who find great joy in taking young children to the movies.  I take my hat off to those parents.  I am NOT one of those parents.  In fact, dear parents whose kids are friends with mine, if you are in camp "Cinematic Enthusiasm" and would like to take one of my children along, not only will I pay my kid's way, but I will happily treat you to gas money, a large popcorn, a box of Sour Patch Kids and a Sprite so immense, you will sprint to the restroom afterward.  I am not kidding.  I may throw in a car wash.  

It's not that I don't like going to the movies, it's just that such an event requires a great deal of planning, attentiveness and spending from the "entertainment fund."  None of these factors seemed to mesh well with my children before age 8.  While their behavior is worlds better now, I'm still reeling from those years.  I'm overreacting, you say?  This has nothing to do with Transfiguration Sunday, you assume?  Well, you may have a point about the first one, but I promise, I will tie my past moments of parental exasperation into the lesson.  Since we're using cinematic metaphors, allow me to set the scene for you ... 

The tickets are printed, the car is fueled up, my husband has taken the day off and I'm actually wearing makeup before we get into the car.  If we leave now, we will have plenty of time to find good seats and grab a small snack before the movie starts. And then, it begins.  One child can't find their shoes.  Another decides at the last minute that a different shirt is required for sitting in a dark room with strangers.  Both children seem to forget the frequency of rain in the Seattle area and begin to step out the front door without coats.  What should have been a two minute exit has somehow taken twenty minutes, and we haven't even left the house! Oh well, we'll just miss the previews and sit in the back.  It will be fine ... until it's not. 

When we arrive at the theater, our children, seemingly oblivious to the cost of the movie tickets, are hoping for multiple snacking options.  When I calmly inform them that one box of Swedish Fish costs more than four of the same boxes at the store, they solemly order a single item, as though they did not just eat before leaving the house (which, of course, they did).  Dad grabs a popcorn (after gluten free status is confirmed) and into the theater we march.

As we file into the back of plaza 14B, I ponder how much it would cost to eat two boxes of candy and a bowl of popcorn at home.  "It's a special treat,"  I tell myself.  "The children will appreciate it." 

 As the opening credits roll, I hear the tell-tale sign of Mike and Ikes spilling on the floor.  The children clammer for a turn holding the popcorn (which inevitably also spills).  In stead of paying attention to the film's plot, they frequently ask, "What's going on?"  I am officially paying good money for episodes of insanity that could be acquired at home, free of charge.  Just then, we share a moment.  It might be funny or touching, but it does a mother's heart good.  Soon after, the movie is over.  As we head toward the car, one of the children utters, "Billie's dad took him to see the new *insert cool name here* movie last weekend, in 3D!  He's LUCKY!" 

And with that, I would vow to never take my children to another movie ... until next time.  

It's hard enough to deal with children who don't "get" the privilege of an experience, but how would you feel if this happened time after time with GROWN MEN?  Jesus had his hands full with his disciples, for sure.  They had seen countless miracles, wonders and signs, yet they continued to doubt, argue, complain and even interrupt Jesus.  This pivotal moment on the mountain was no exception. 

What Peter, James and John were about to witness was incredible, especially in a time without so much as a lightbulb, let alone cinematography.  They followed Jesus up a mountain.  Suddenly, Jesus starts glowing.  Next, Moses and Elijah (prophets from the Old Testament) appear and are talking with Jesus.  The Son of God and the two greatest prophets in biblical history are on a mountaintop, having a discussion about Jesus' coming death and resurrection.  Pretty important to the plot of His ministry and life as a whole.  While this would be a great time to quietly listen, loudmoth Peter interrupts with a brilliant plan to build 3 tents; one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah.  (Seriously, Peter?)  Graciously, God did not snuff him out for being annoying, but He did put the verbose fellow in his place by audibly speaking, "This is my son, whom I love.  Listen to him!"  

When God finished speaking, Only Jesus remained, and He told the disciples (who were understandably freaked out) to not speak of this vision until after the resurrection had occured. 

It never stood out to me before that Jesus asked this of His disciples until this morning.  I've heard this story countless times, but I caught something new today: Jesus took Peter to the mountain knowing he would be his usual, impulsive self.  Jesus didn't treck up the mountain thinking, "Man, I hope Peter doesn't make a fool of me in front of my Dad!" He knew what would happen, and he brought Peter anyway.  More than that, He knew Peter would boast of his devotion, cut off a soldier's ear (again with the impulsivity) and deny three times that he even knew Jesus.  He knew this, in fact, at their first meeting, and yet He still called Peter to follow Him.  

Unlike my wariness with the movie theater, Jesus never shys away from moments where His followers can spend time with Him and learn from Him, even though He knows in advance that we're going to screw up.  As I've written before, I relate more to Peter than any other disciple.  Sometimes I can be a raging fan of Jesus, but a lousy follower.  I interrupt Him, listen when I like what I'm hearing from Him and ignore the stuff I don't want to hear. I'm sooooooo easily distracted.  And yet, knowing all this, He called me, too.  Though my faith wavers, I am still granted incredible "mountaintop experiences," as well as the promise of His presence in the darker valleys of life.  I'm glad God is a more patient parent than I am. ;) 

The next time you grab a bucket of popcorn, I hope you're reminded of the second, third and fourth chances God gives His kids-- both for incredible experiences and fresh starts.  

Have a wonderful week, and I'll see you at the movies-- if I find a sitter ... 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Desert Cries Part 1: The Exodus of Shame

When Pharaoh heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in Midian, where he sat down by a well.
Exodus 2:15

In Exodus 2, we learn that Moses’ first trip to the desert was not a groovy vacay, but a means to stay alive.  Pharaoh had a price on his head.  While he had been raised predominately as a prince in the palace, one rash decision changed his entire life. 

He had undoubtedly seen the mistreatment of Hebrew slaves before, but the witnessing of a fellow descendant being beaten on that fateful day was enough.  Anger consumed him, and he killed the offending Egyptian.  His plans to cover up the crime (literally) had been thwarted by witnesses.  Word spread.  He knew this damaged his reputation with both Egypt and his biological line.  In spite of his intent to come to the aid of those oppressed, he had just made their lives harder.  No longer an adopted child of privilege and not accepted by his fellow Israelites, he ran to a place where no one knew him. 

I don’t know about you, but nothing sends panic through me quite like knowing I’ve botched something up badly, and it seems extremely difficult, if not impossible, to repair.  From reckless spending in the name of “cash back rewards” to thoughtless, impulsive words that sever a relationship, I’ve done my share of screwing up.  The moment I begin to realize the magnitude of my actions, the pit in my stomach becomes a gaping hole of fear.  Frantic, shame-laden thoughts swirl through my mind, robbing me of sleep and appetite.  Unable to continue in this maddening state of “if only,” the goal of escaping becomes my number one priority.

When Moses fled to the desert, he truly thought no one would know him there, but he forgot something, or rather Someone.  While in hiding, God kept him safe, brought caring people into his life and, when the time was right, God addressed Moses regarding his purpose. 

Hiding is not new to God.  Adam and Eve did it.  Jonah did it.  I am no surprise to Him.  When I run from responsibilities, relationships or even from God Himself, He does not leave me.  He provides me with material needs, emotional support and, when I am ready to stop running and face my problems, he forgives me, loves me and reminds me of my calling. 

Shame is powerful.  Shame is crippling.  Shame is not God’s will for my life.  Satan knows that the longer he can keep me in a cycle of justification, guilt and self-loathing, the harder it becomes for me to approach the Throne of Grace. 


It’s not easy to come out of the desert and face your past.  God’s forgiveness does not remove all natural consequences.  Healing and moving forward is not instantaneous.  It wasn’t for Moses, either.  But the Same God who did a mighty work in a quick-tempered, conflict-avoiding and anxious dude wants to do the same in us.  He will meet us in our place of guilt and shame, and more importantly, will guide us to a place of restoration and healing, if only we let him.   

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Desert Cries: An Introduction

My sweet auntie has called me "Moset" (think Moses sans beard and perhaps an earth-toned lip gloss in lieu of a staff) for a few years now-- I suppose most people would find that quite curious.  After all, didn't Moses have trouble speaking up?  Clearly, I'm not known for being quiet by anyone who has known me for longer than five minutes.  In fact, when we have group activities at church and split off into numbered teams, my husband has been known to jokingly complain to our pastor, "No fair-- you took my mouthpiece!"

If speech alone were criteria, I'd say the dear matriarch who has known me since the womb was off-base, but girlfriend knows her scripture and she knows me, too.  She knows that "The Big M" and I have both experienced our share of learning, leading, wandering and, at times, hiding, in the desert.  While he trudged through sand dunes by foot, I have found myself traveling through my spiritual Sahara for surprisingly similar reasons.  I know some of you really dig the arid wastelands, but nothing about the desert sounds remotely appealing to me.  Dry.  Hot.  Desolate.  Beige.  Ick!  Add another "S" to the subject matter, and I'm all over it, but I can't even handle stopping in Yakima, Washington, unless I REALLY need coffee!  That said, I know that I've learned far more bumbling through the badlands than anywhere else.  Throughout the next week, with some scriptural help from the book of Exodus, I will unpack some of my wilderness wanderings with you.  When I first began to write this, I thought I could cover it in a single post, but I quickly found the subject matters to be many and the length of just one point to be a potential cause for eye strain!

I hope you'll strap on your sandals and take this walk with me.  Perhaps you'll find there's a fair amount of Moses in you, too!  

Pack Sunscreen!
~Amy 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

For Miriam Project: My PPMD Story

Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and body with grief.
Psalm 31:9

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About Me

I'm not your average housewife; but then, neither is any other housewife I've met! My life is a constant blur of kids, animals, hunting down and testing allergy-friendly recipes, shopping, LOTS of coffee, yarn crafting, nannying, singing and writing. I married my highschool sweetheart (the introvert who is a type-A, shy, organized, loves hunting, hiking and mountain climbing. He lives for pizza, burgers and cookies and doesn't like coffee). We are polar opposites, but Love, grace and a whole lotta Jesus can overcome anything! :) We have two boys who fill this house with lots of excitement, love, laughter and lunacy! Alan (9) is a happy-go-lucky, inventive, dramatic, eager-to-please kid who loves being dad's shadow and mom's shopping companion. He's the snuggliest kid I've ever met! Wyatt is extremely bright, inquisitive, entertaining and endearing. He lives for routine, Wii games, pixar films and writing stories. Alan is typically-developing, Wyatt has high-functioning autism. We live on an acre in the Pacific Northwest with our two aussies and 5 chickens. It's not the Waltons, but it works! :)