when your friend has leukemia

I first met Jen at Myrtle Beach when we were part of a college ministry summer project. She was as joy-filled and gracious then as she has proved to be in the 18 years since. We later were roommates while we were both at seminary. She was a co-conspirator with my husband when we got engaged, leading me into New York City despite my initial resistance and saving my engagement pictures from the gaudy St-Patricks-Day-themed outfit I’d first chosen. She was a bridesmaid in my wedding. We were in Philadelphia for several years together. And then she got married, and they moved to a farm in New Hampshire to pursue their dream when Seth and I moved to Virginia. We were pregnant with our first babies at the same time, their due dates only days apart. After years of living states apart with sporadic phone calls and emails to connect us, reconnecting in person last year was as if no time had passed. When we caught up over lunch, she listened empathetically as I spilled out my heart that was on the verge of burnout. Just like she always does.

Then cancer came along into this beautiful mother-of-three-kids’ life. A diagnosis of chronic myeloid leukemia in March. It came out of the blue, one of those fear-inducing stories of going to the doctor because her back hurt and finding out that in fact the major problem were the bruises that didn’t go away. She pursued treatment, and it seemed to be working well until an unexpected turn into blast phase happened a few months ago.

Today she undergoes a bone marrow transplant thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor. (Did you know that you, too, could register to help another in this way? Go to “Be the Match” for more information.)  And the many, many of us who love her are praying for her today, day 0 as it’s termed in the transplant world, that this would be the rebirth of new, healed blood cells for this friend.

If you’re reading this, and you want to join along, we would all be honored if you lifted her up and asked for healing with us.

a-prayer-for-healing

 

 

Five Minute “Friday”: help

I love this weekly writing exercise/community, and I return after a few months’ absence. Because it’s always there waiting. And it’s *only* five minutes.

Five Minute Friday is my favorite of writing link-ups hosted by Kate Motaung. Her description draws me back every week, and the community of FMF keeps me writing – “This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation. Just write.”

helpIt’s a word that can save a life. But I find it almost impossible to utter. It feels so, well, helpless. Who needs help in my self-sufficient world? I’m doing just fine, thank you.

Except when I’m not. Like tonight when one of my 5-year-olds defied me in front of her grandparents, and I messed it up. I was angry and frustrated and overwhelmed and out of my league. I was also ashamed for my daughter’s behavior in front of her grandparents and my response in front of them, too. Why couldn’t I just have said, “help, please”?

It’s a lie that as a parent I can do it all and be it all for my kids. But it’s a lie we all deceive ourselves into living by more often than not.

I wonder if this false stigma with the word “help” is what contributed to the tragic death in our church community of a mother and daughter two years ago today. Afterwards, we all expressed the sentiment – “If only she’d asked for help …” We all wished we could have jumped in. But how many of us would have been willing to ask for that help if we had been in her shoes? On my hardest, darkest day of parenting, it took all I had in me to finally, finally text my trusted friend and neighbor with the simplest of requests – “Will you help? I need a hug and I can’t deal with bedtime tonight.” She was over within minutes, and I felt simultaneously grateful and humbled. 

It’s the hardest, best thing in the world to ask for help. Because we know there’s One eager to help us when we ask. And He’s sent people into our lives who are as eager to assist us as we are to give them a hand when needed.

So do you need to ask for help? Don’t delay. Help is on its way.

***

If you find yourself to be entertaining thoughts or ideas of suicide in particular do not hesitate to ask for help. If you’re not sure where to turn, contact the crisis text line by texting “GO” to 741741 or call the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255. 

 

 

 

 

A Lenten prayer: prone to wander

This prayer is from a favorite book that I “happened” to be gifted with by dear friends just as Lent was beginning: Prone to Wander, by mother-son co-authors Barbara Duguid and Wayne Houk. I have found its call to worship, specific gospel-saturated prayers of confession, and then assurance of pardon to be spot on for my heart this Lenten season (and really any time!). I also love that there are suggested songs listed at the end of each entry. It’s been a personal worship guide – although written to be for a church, there are multiple uses to be sure.

And having some bit of personal interaction with both Barbara and Wayne through CCEF courses we’ve been a part of together makes the writing sing even more so. They are both tremendously gracious, and incredibly gifted at putting gospel truth to words.

 

devotional thoughts at a long-awaited baby shower

photo credit: Linda Carreira

photo credit: Linda Carreira

Last Saturday we gathered at the beautiful home of a friend, surrounded by floral arrangements and soft blues and yellows and joy as abundant as the women joining to celebrate her baby boy. All baby showers are reminders of God’s miracle of life, but this one was a particular celebration as we had cried and prayed with her as she waited months that became years. And now – she is weeks away from delivering this miracle baby.

Words were in order. A combination of celebratory thanksgiving and thoughts from a mom four years into the lovely, hard journey of motherhood. And so I wrote a devotional for her, part of which I’ll share with you here:

May you never forget that as long awaited as this son is, even more so is the Son’s birth that gives you and your husband and son life, hope, and salvation.

As joy has come in the morning, let it remind you to wait for morning’s light even after the longest, darkest nights. Not only metaphorically referring to times when parenting feels exhausting, or you’re at a loss of what to do next, or struggles unique to motherhood (or related to it!) arise. But not just metaphoric long nights is it important to remember the surety of sunrise, but especially after sleepless nights of endless crying or feedings or illness! Let each sunrise be a reminder that it will get better and mercies are new every morning.

Motherhood will be wonderful, using all of your gifts in so many ways. And yet … there will be times when even you and your capable husband will feel at your wit’s end. Be quick to ask for help – to remember that Jesus is there, and so are all of us. As much as you’ve been showered with gifts, you are even more so showered with love and with friends who would delight to jump in and help at any point in time. Pick up the phone and call or text or email. Those of us who are moms have been there – guaranteed – and those who aren’t yet might have extra energy to help out (just as you’ve done so many times for me!). And sometimes it may simply be the act of reaching out that will help you to remember you’re not alone. Many days, a phone call with an adult was just what my heart needed to get through a particularly challenging moment.

Finally, use each of the abundant beautiful moments with your son – of peering into his face, making eye contact, catching his first smile, discovering what makes him laugh, snuggling him tight as he drifts to sleep – let all of these moments be a reflection of the love God has for you. James 1:17 says – “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights …” I pray you will be closely tuned into the music of motherhood. I’ll close with words from a motherhood memoir I’m currently reading by Lisa-Jo Baker:

On our quietest, least interesting days, I got better at hearing the music of motherhood. Because I know what typically plays in the background is the chaos of squabbles and coats never put away in the right place or muddy boot tracks across the carpet. There are the to-do lists that never get done … In the dark and the tired and the everydayness of those moments, I started to feel it – the weight of glory, the glorious ordinary that is a gift to us who are knee deep in a world where it can sometimes feel like we have lost all the parts of ourselves we used to know like the back of our hands, our favorite jeans, our own names. A gift from God who names every part of who we are and what we do significant. Because “he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” There is no part of our everyday, wash-and-repeat routine of kids and laundry and life and fights and worries and playdates and aching budgets and preschool orientations and work and marriage and love and new life and bedtime marathons that Jesus doesn’t look deep into and say, “That is Mine.” In Him all things hold together.

a prayer for potty training

There is advice aplenty about potty training, but very little written about the spiritual challenges of potty training. Yes, you heard me right. The spiritual challenges of potty training. Anything that opens our hearts wide up to see the frustrations hidden beneath; the expectations for life to act according to our plans; the desire demand to be in control – well, this becomes ripe fodder for growth. Or repentance. Or sanctification. Or all of the above.

Maybe you approached potty training much differently from me (and I am sure some of you are out there!), but for me it’s been an exercise in surrender. Surrendering my expectations and realizing the limits of my control over my daughters. I cannot control when (or if) they will use the toilet. I can nudge them in the right direction; provide incentives to make it more attractive for the desired behavior; set up an environment that is conducive in pottying. Yet if she decides she isn’t ready – or if her physical development isn’t there yet – it just won’t happen.

There are spiritual analogies here as well. As I seek to nurture my daughters’ faith, it’s much the same way. I can nudge them in the right direction (towards faith and wisdom and away from unbelief and foolishness); provide incentives to make it more attractive for them to walk in the path of life; set up an environment that is conducive for faith. But at the end of the day, it is up to God and her whether she will take hold of this Life or not. And when. I can’t force her into a prayer of belief or into steps of faith that may be beyond her spiritual development.

How do I fill this gap between where I want my child to be (re: pottying and spiritual development) and where she is? Deal with my own heart, and P.R.A.Y.

So with this round of potty training, I was clued in a bit more to potential frustrations and disappointments and challenges, and I penned the following as we set out to “launch” potty training a few days ago. I humbly offer it to you if you, like me, need it.

Father, I ask that you’d give us discernment to know/evaluate whether L. and A. are ready, and to lovingly encourage them to do what we think they’re ready to do. If one of them isn’t, give us wisdom and restraint to back off if needed. Give us perseverance and endurance because even if it goes really well, it’s a process. Help me to expect the best but not force them into my will. Help me to know how to gently nudge them and when to step away to foster their independence.

Restrain my anger and frustration. Give me the long view, both for potty training and even more so for how You’re using this process to expose my own heart and make me more aware of my own need for grace. Give me wisdom to walk away and regroup when it’s overwhelming.

Above all else, let everything I do be done in love — in Christ’s love that dwells in me. Love that is patient, kind, not boastful or rude, doesn’t insist on its own way, isn’t irritable or resentful, bears all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13) I don’t have love on my own nor can I muster it up. I come to You needy of it, and confident that You delight to make your people loving.

When sin is revealed in my own heart, let me quickly repent and ask for forgiveness — not cover it up/try to hide it/make excuses. When the waywardness of my daughters’ hearts is revealed, let me be quick to show them the grace You shower upon me as well as any correction appropriate for the situation.

I do ask for minimal messes, but even more than that, I ask for longsuffering and the attitude of Christ when they happen. He who made himself nothing … taking the very nature of a servant … (Philippians 2). Do guard and protect us from causing any hurt in what could be trying days. And give us joy, laughter, and fun! Bond us closer to you and one another through this process.

In Jesus’ Name,
Amen

A prayer for Easter life

“I am the resurrection and the life.”  I need some of this life. My friends who are grieving the loss of their friend to cancer need the resurrection. Death is so foreign to life – its opposite, isn’t it? We need resurrection hope this Easter.

And I need the hope of life as I grieve the separation from family and feel like there are too many places that are dead within me. I need Your life to awaken me. To remind me of the joy of this calling of being a mother. I feel an absence of life when there is truly an abundance of it. The abundance of lives has made my life feel weary. Mundane. Monotonous. Even (especially?) on Easter.

Lord, who is alive, give me life. Joy. Hope. Lift my eyes from my self-imposed misery to the miraculous empty tomb. Empty of my sin because it died with Jesus at the cross. Empty of my misery because the living Redeemer is pushing back the darkness. Empty of death because my Savior vanquished it on the third day …

Worrying or watching?

Since I seem to be in a season of reading (v. writing – see this post), you will be the recipient of yet another quote. My mom actually sent this to me. As a perpetual worry-er, I find this such a sweet reminder of the God in whom I trust:

When you stop trying to control your life and instead allow your anxieties and problems to bring you to God in prayer, you shift from worrying to watching. You watch God weave His patterns in the story of your life. Instead of trying to be out front, designing your life, you realize you are inside God’s drama. As you wait, you begin to see Him work, and your life begins to sparkle with wonder. You are learning to trust again.

(from Paul Miller’s excellent book on prayer, “A Praying Life“)

So how do I know if I am worrying or watching? I am anxiously trying to manage every detail of my out-of-control life when I am worrying, in contrast to working diligently on what’s set before me today and praying about the details that concern me. And then restfully waiting (watching) to see how God will work out the details that I am tempted to obsess about. [The obsession itself is quite fruitless — as Jesus speaks about in Luke’s gospel: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?”]

When I am worrying, I am more concerned about me and less concerned about others. When I am watchful, I am eager to see God write my own story as well as weave together my friends’ stories. Worry shrinks my world to the size of me; being watchful expands my vision in proportion to the world-wide scope of God’s Kingdom. Worry means I am reading the Bible with unbelief and cynicism (if I am reading the Bible at all). When I am watchful with wonder, I read the Bible believing that these words and these stories and these promises are extremely relevant to my life today — and will actually assist me in making sense of the present and trusting God for the future.

And, as Paul Miller highlights in this quote, when I am worrying I am almost never praying. When I am praying, I will be watchful – trusting my Father who is good and faithful to take care of what concerns me.

a cure for February blues: God’s faithfulness

I will admit that I have a bit of the February blues. And it’s not the first time (see a post from February 18, 2007). The fun wintry holidays (Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day) are over. I’ve already experienced the magic of the first snowfall (or two or ten …). The “cozy winter image” of curling up beside a fireplace with a good book and cup of tea has lost its appeal. I want warmth. Sunshine you can feel. Enjoying the great outdoors without bundling up in my coat, scarf, and gloves. The 50+ degree days we had a couple weeks ago left me longing for spring, imagining that winter could truly be over (maybe the groundhog didn’t see his shadow after all?). But it’s only mid-February. Spring won’t be here for awhile.

All of that to say, my restlessness/blues led me back to an old journal to see what I wrote and how God met me in another February. And what I found was quite encouraging. I prayed two years ago today: “Lead us [Seth and I] to a place [church] of vibrant worship, service we can both enter into, and sweet fellowship with like-minded couples.” God has answered that request abundantly through our church home, Cresheim Valley Church, that found us a few short weeks after that prayer. John and Christy Leonard took us out to lunch and asked us to consider the possibility of coming on staff with the church plant in Chestnut Hill that had just begun meeting in January 2007. We joined the church as charter members in the summer of 2007. It has been all of what I prayed for two years ago, and more. We’ve enjoyed vibrant worship, an unimaginable array of service opportunities that have included a mission trip to New Orleans and late night chats with people in need, and fellowship with other brothers and sisters in Christ who have truly become like family to us.

It’s this reminder of God’s faithfulness (1) to hear my request (2) to answer abundantly and clearly and (3) to provide for His people that has lifted my eyes above the mundane experience of February. It spurs me on to pray and to pour out the desires of my heart to a God who is there. Two questions for you: (1) what lifts your “February blues”? and (2) how have you seen God answer prayers?