“Everything I See”; or, The Central Island: A Words Sketch

The Tour. It has become a daily tradition–most often during dinner preparation. I’m not sure whether anyone knows I do it–it tends to take place when several other things are happening simultaneously. Maybe one of these days, I will bring them with me–my readers, my loved-ones, my friends, anyone who needs a bit more zest in life…

It starts over by the kitchen table. The table is home to a few placemats, a candle holder whose metal structure spirals out into the shape of a flower, and a plethora of medical supplies. We usually sit at that table to perform my every-other-day Protein C infusion, so it’s not uncommon to see boxes of gloves (useful for handling raw meat or other distasteful substances), Tegaderm (IV tape, also known as the best lint-remover ever invented), thin pads for ensuring a sterile work surface (which, when no longer sterile, become Jacks of all trades), packages of rubbing alcohol (for cleaning iPods, cell phones, and the occasional landline), and small rolls of cloth medical tape over there. That’s just the way it is, and it’s a testament to how wonderfully the Lord has worked in our lives. Many years ago, my prognosis was not thought to be so good; the Lord answered prayer. Years ago, even when I was stable, we did not have Protein C, which meant that I had to be treated with plasma during week-long in-patient hospital stays, often treating also the severe allergic reactions that went along with plasma treatments. Our table being home to a box of supplies is a silent cry of praise, thanking the Lord for so much–that my port is working, that we have the Protein C, that I have experienced no clotting or bleeding episodes since 2007, that He has a plan and a calling and a purpose for me, that I am able to serve Him. Without opening an alcohol swab, I know that it holds the fragrance of relief, of great things done in my life, and of “Come Bless the Lord”.

But the table is only the beginning of the Tour. Facing sideways, between the table and our central island, is the chair in which I sit for the infusions. Most days, a medical mask hangs from one of the posts that make up the frame of the chair back. More memories, more thanksgiving.

The Tour proper begins on the breakfast bar. It is beauty, this countertop, and it bears much careful explanation.

First, the vaporizer. I check to see that it is plugged in, lingering momentarily on the cord’s location and contemplating the implications of it being plugged into the right vs. the left outlet. Then, I just stand there–wrapping my arms all the way around the square box of a vaporizer until my fingertips meet at the farthest end, bending over slightly until the warmth melts my heart and toasts my face, inhaling deep and exhilarating quantities of steam. This is where I ground myself for the rest of the Tour, where I come when life is stressful or when I want to remember the blessings in our lives or when I simply want to be enveloped for a few minutes. Steam. Warmth. Radiance.

Without taking my left hand off the vaporizer, I reach with my right until I encounter the first of three candles. This is always the way the Tour continues. Other facets of the Tour aren’t as structured depending on what there is to see, but the beginning is always the same. Three candles, all in glass jars, one with a wooden lid and the other two with sturdy glass lids like those produced by Yankee Candle. The lids are invariably askew; no one really cares about them except me, and they really can’t be affixed more firmly because Naomi and Hannah both have pain in their hands. I remove the top of the candle with the wooden lid. I don’t know why I do this–I always regret it. That candle smells like men’s cologne when it is unlit. The others smell of a time many years ago when we were living great, expansive, exuberant lives. All three candles feature wax remnants on the insides of the containers; these are always fun to examine. The candles tell stories, don’t you know–moments when we have wanted to eliminate the pungent reminders of eggs, broccoli, and frying taco meat from our kitchen and living room. I always place the candles very carefully and deliberately exactly where I found them. Again, no one else particularly cares whether the candles go between the Nesquick and the coffee, or whether I find a clear space to ceremoniously set them down in a joyous row–but I care. This is a landscape, an exquisite work of art, and I do not want to mar it with my meddling. That would defeat the purpose of the Tour.

If I were to take my left hand off the vaporizer, I might encounter either a rice steamer or a vegetable steamer, or both. Those are even more beautiful than the vaporizer. I have made a point of observing both steamers through their entire cycles–vegetable steamer on the right, rice steamer on the left–simply because it afforded an opportunity to rest in the moment. The art of steaming asparagus or green beans is a bath for the senses. Another story, another precious series of recollections.

Today, however, there are no steamers on the breakfast bar. Instead, there is an enormous box of what used to be minute rice. I shake the box in order to ascertain how much deliciosity we have before we will need to open a new box of equal proportions. There is about 3/8 of a serving, by my estimation. Oh, and the memories that rice pours forth! Salmon with rice and asparagus, turkey sausage with rice and broccoli, stuffed peppers without the pepper (I call this stuffified) with rice and onion rings, teriyaki chicken with rice and green beans, rice with rice and more rice… It has been transformed from a staple and now borders on a lifestyle, this unassuming food–not even Calrose or brown rice, but classic white minute rice. It has been a comfort when we were sick in body or at heart, a moment of umph when things were going well. So much in a family-sized box of rice!

Jedidiah’s candy dish… Where do I start? Well, it is a wide, shallow, glass dish whose sides slope up much like the contours of a Communion tray I own. The tray has Scriptures etched onto it and the serving dish is merely painted with a tactilely nondescript pattern, but Jedidiah’s dish reminds me of that tray—not the content or the context, but my mind enjoys carving associations where few exist, and those associations seldom deviate from connecting nonspiritual things with spiritual. Inside the dish I find one of my coconut LaraBars–How did that get there? Jedidiah? Are you now eating organically? Evidently not, for that LaraBar is nestled among a few cast-off candy bars (Snickers and Pay Days do not carry the thrill of Almond Joys and Peppermint Patty delights), some black-licorice gum drops, a packet of hot cocoa, and an inexplicable bunch of healthy but non-organic bananas. It’s like living in a diverse community and learning to appreciate and celebrate differences rather than trying to conform all people to a certain mold…

The Tour continues with an extravagant pile of general miscellany. Today, a roll of Scotch tape rests atop the whey protein that sometimes constitutes Jedidiah’s harried breakfasts. A travel coffee mug, newly scrubbed, awaits placement in the cupboard next to a stack of mail. A spiral notebook rests atop a big box of presumed knickknacks–it’s not my box, so I don’t know whether it actually contains pens, opals, or little Willow Tree carvings. We just went shopping, so several bags line part of the countertop. Drifting just outside the bags are two bottles of vanilla syrup and a jar of hot sauce. Further along is the Tabasco’s companion–a partially-full box of taco shells. I have placed a tube of arnica atop a jar of lotion in anticipation of Hannah’s hand massage, a time of worship and prayer that blesses us both. A bottle of glue does a merry dance near an unopened carbonated-beverage can. I unearth a napkin and a fork beneath a bag of egg noodles. Poor, defenseless fork–it should really have been propped up against the Nesquick for all to see, since it is one of our favorite pieces of flatware. The package that Martha recently sent tempts me to peek beneath its half-open flaps, but that box has been designated for Christmas. Gatorades for Naomi and Hannah and, for that matter, for anyone who is fasting and needs to replenish certain body systems, or for those with generalized malaise. Garlic-and-parsley salt atop a tub of butter, the better for applying both to a Bordeaux roll. I love discovering associations like these! An empty iPod case and an inexpensive iPod station should be united–they’re fraternal twins, are they not?–but my purpose is to look and listen, not to alter. Often, there’s a bag of dried cherries on the counter; when there is, I first admire the intricate fastener on the zip-lock and compare it with most of the other bags we own, then eat a handful of cherries and process every nuance of their paradoxically sweet and tart flavors. Pen cap, sugar container, bottle of vitamins, a single woolen winter glove, honey, a purse, a zip-lock bag holding the corn muffins we had with our bean soup the other night, mail, magazines, two flashlights, the cloth bag in which I keep Natasha’s dog treats. Am I overanalyzing, or did that list resemble something from 14,000 THINGS TO BE HAPPY ABOUT?

My Tour ends, at least in heart, with the Blessing Jar. This is a tallish plastic jar, empty as yet, with two grooves for easy gripping. In print, it is inscribed with the words “Blessings, 2015”; in Braille, with the title “Our Offering of Worship”. Naomi keeps encouraging us to wait until January to begin writing the things for which we’re grateful on tiny slips of paper and adding them to the jar. Now, my beloved readers, I have been known to read two months’ worth of ostensibly daily devotionals within the first thirty minutes of receiving such a book. Do you suppose the “begin-on-1-January-and-go-from-there” notion works for me? My plan: To write the blessings from this month also, cut them to size, and slip the “renegades” in as the jar begins to fill over these next few months.

Now, my beloved readers, the rest of you have what you would call an advantage over me. If you were taking the Tour, you would see all of these items at a glance. Your big-picture brains would see a collection at best and a conglomeration at worst. Perhaps you would reserve labels for such an experience. Even those nearest and dearest don’t always enjoy the situation. They use “messy”, “disorganized”, and “chaotic” to describe my special Tour.

Why?

Truly, I believe I have the advantage. I do not see these objects–hence, the Braille on the Blessing Jar. Instead, I smell the candles, listen to the rattling rice, taste the cherries, and wrap my hands around everything else. And it’s all exquisitely, unequivocally splendid–not because I don’t take it in at a glance, but because I am passionate about each detail and see pieces, patterns, and associations (sometimes, I admit, to the exclusion of the big picture). The central island may not always remain pristine, but it does illustrate quintessential home life. It’s the difference between a perfectly-decorated but highly-formal house and a lived-in, comfortable, informal home filled with the sort of love that isn’t present in a perfectly-put-together mansion. That breakfast bar is a panorama of our lives; it tells the stories of so many meals, so much reading that we’ve found noteworthy or conversely wanted to discard, so many precious times with Martha, so much laughter involving Natasha, so many snowy strolls (remember the glove!?), ideas that called for an instant writing utensil, gifts that needed to be wrapped and taped… Times of joy, laughter, contentment, consternation, boredom, and even some heartache. Glory, peace, worship, blessings, miracles, and awe. It is the indoor multi-sensory equivalent of a walk by the ocean on a rocky beach with cliffs and ledges jutting out over the water. Now, how can I possibly label that using any adjective other than “treasured”?

We view our lives as stressful, chaotic, disorganized, busy, frustrating, and overwhelming. Perhaps if we applied the Tour to our hearts, examining and resting in each wonderful detail that the Lord provides, we would gain a different perspective. Perhaps then our lives would appear to us as intricate, unique, set-apart in the Lord, individualized, special, beautiful, glorious, profound, intense, elated, worthwhile, peaceful, and restful. Perhaps we all need Tours—not of the central island, but of who we are, what we do, and the words and activities that form the juncture between the two. Our own walks along the ocean, complete with majestic waves and the kind of spray that tinges the air and the moment with ambiance.

Addendum: This song connection is a bit different. “Everything I See” is from the children’s Agapeland album GOD LOVES FUN by the Bridgestone Music Group. The singer, a child with pure joy shining through her voice, sings of beholding God’s love in everything she sees—birds, butterflies, a blue sky and the sunlight… Remember my rocky beach? Well, everything I witness in life does remind me of God’s love or another aspect of Who He is. The song is full of jubilation, and I believe it should be part of a Christian library regardless to whether my readers have children. I do believe the album, which is anointed, is newly available from the iTunes Store.

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“To God Be the Glory!”; or, Infusion Day: A Words Sketch

Practically speaking, this is the most beautiful day in our entire month. This is the day we know as Tysabri, or Infusion Day–but I call it Miracle Day, Grace Day, and Rejoicing Day.

We pack for this occasion. We bundle Natasha’s doggy-bed into the trunk, fold battery adapters and miscellaneous cords into laptop cases, and bring along Gatorades and bottled water. We remind each other not to forget iPads and iPods, speakers and digital voice recorders. And above all, we always pack Naomi’s Bible.

We drive the fifteen minutes to the hospital, harness Natasha, and make our way across the parking lot, past a musical and fragrant water fountain if it happens to be summertime, through the double doors, and toward the medical center’s coffee shop. This is a tradition, and Infusion Day sans mochas would be akin to traipsing about an amusement park all day without going on any rides. So, we deposit our fifty pounds’ worth of personal property on tables and chairs in the coffee’s dining area, then turn our attention to the business of investigating pastries–an earnest activity indeed. There is that delightful cinnamon roll, and that delicious-looking apple turnover, and an overly-sappy brownie. Over in the little refrigerator are containers of hummus and bottles of iced tea. Oh, the options! But today is a bagel day. A toasted-sesame-seed-bagel, cream-cheese, and cinnamon-infused-chai day. A mocha day for Naomi, and a latte day for Hannah. Sadly, her latte is not as delectible as our beverages… That isn’t part of our tradition! It is Hannah’s idea to infuse the steamed milk with cinnamon before adding chai, and it is the best thing she has ever done for our special custom. The only problem: I can’t request this sort of thing from any other coffee establishment, because the cinnamon-infused-chai experience now belongs to the hospital, and only to the hospital!

Between her toasting and steaming and blending, the barista banters back and forth with us. It’s not a bagel if it’s not toasted. Perhaps it will warm up soon–she certainly hopes so. Does enjoying a varietey of coffee syrups pose a problem because it encourages unhealthy consumption, or is it a blessing because it means you have a zest for life? Oh, and by the way, how is our day going? “Very well,” Hannah says just as I exclaim, “Blessed beyond measure!” It is just this sort of comment that endows the day with such exquisite joy and peace–the freedom to describe our lives as blessed beyond description, and to know in our hearts that it is true, even if our exuberance does surprise our barista a bit.

Then it’s past the outer waiting room, down a single corridor, through a large set of doors, and into the infusion center proper. Today, we have the room to the immediate left as you go down the second corridor. And on this lovely day, we are all ensconced in our own special places. The room has two infusion chairs, and I sit in the one in the corner closest to the wall–quiet, separate, isolated, perfect for writing and reflection while observing the goings-on from a distance. And praying, of course…

And those nurses! They settle Naomi in the other infusion chair, provide all three of us with warm blankets, hand us chilled bottles of water, plug in adapters when we are too encumbered to reach the electrical outlets ourselves. And it’s not out of any form of professional obligation–they really care. They ask about Jedidiah’s life, about Hannah’s CNA certification, about what I am studying in the Word, and about Naomi’s heart as well as her heart rate. It is beautiful.

Nurse Steadfast is working with us today. Nurse Song-in-Heart is usually Naomi’s nurse, but she is off-duty at the moment. Nurse Steadfast and Nurse Song-in-Heart are best friends and enjoy talking to us about the things of God. They both have such audible joy deep within, love for the Lord that shines through their voices, that I often confuse them and call one by the other’s name. They seem to take this as a compliment.

Nurse Steadfast begins the IV. As she swabs Naomi’s arm and searches for a vein, she inquires as to how Jedidiah is doing–by way of distraction, I suppose. If it were my arm she was scrubbing, I would have no patience for something like that and would insist that we all keep silence until the IV was firmly in place–distraction works only to irritate me. However, Naomi is different and I admire Nurse Steadfast’s keen ability to make an unpleasant procedure like this one less anxiety-inducing. While the two of them chat and prepare, I take this moment to pray. I pray that the IV be placed the first time and that Nurse Steadfast be given wisdom and guidance, and I ask the Lord that Naomi’s Tysabri might be used to strengthen her body and treat her MS. When I remember, I pray that the rest of the day be free of the fatigue and headache that are often side effects of this medication. Actually, prayer is the primary reason I even come to these appointments. The coffee is delicious, the family time is beautiful, and the Bible reading we do is downright joyous, but I know I can actually serve by petitioning the Lord on Naomi’s behalf. I may not be terribly adept at guiding Naomi’s IV poll through the corridors or getting everyone situated comfortably, but I can pray, and I come just to perform this little service before the Lord. Today, the IV placement goes well and Naomi is hooked up to a line within five minutes. Praise Him!

Nurse Steadfast and Naomi continue to talk. Hannah intermittently jokes with Nurse Steadfast and plays with her gidget-gadgets–you know, cell phone, iPad, electronic toys… I write, half-listening to the swirling conversation around me and jumping in to add the occasional joyful and generally unconventional comment. We drink coffee and eat bagels, while a sense of God’s presence continues to mount in me until I can scarcely contain it. If Jedidiah had been here, we would discuss his blessing of a job. Happily, he is not here, so we can discuss his birthday and the seafood restaurant to which we plan to take him. Yum!

Finally, Nurse Steadfast gets a telephone call that necessitates her going to see another patient. Then comes my favorite part of Infusion Day–not the most important part, or my reason for being there, but my favorite part all the same–for it is then that Naomi takes my digital voice recorder, opens her Bible, and begins to read. We’ve read from John and Hebrews, Genesis and Psalms, but today is almost the best of all because we are in Mark. Now, Mark is special because there is a sense of immediacy about it and because so much of Christ’s ministry is discussed in a single chapter. Today, we are in Mark II, and all that Jesus did and said is downright overwhelming. As I listen to Jesus’ healing of a paralytic, of His words on fasting and concerning the Sabbath, and of His calling of Levi, I am reminded of the absolute glory, the great and overwhelming holiness of this Savior I serve. Without ever really being able to articulate why, I find myself in tears, raising my hands before the Lord, worshiping Him with all my heart as though this is the first time I have ever heard anything about the Trinity. It is like the first day the Lord ever taught me to praise Him, and it is all I can do not to leap out of my seat and dance with all my might, crying, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”

Naomi finishes reading and a profound hush, a peace-saturated silence, fills the room. I try to explain what this has meant to me, but there are no words. Just then, Nurse Steadfast returns and we resume our conversation with her. This time, all of us are a bit more reflective. We pull her in to our Bible study, discussing Lamentations and the faithfulness of God, the initial motives of the Pharisees and Jesus’ interactions with them and, above all, God’s endless and abiding love. I remark that we sometimes do wrong because we forget to what great depths we are loved by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I then spend several moments trying to explain what God has been teaching me over the past four days–that He has been speaking to my heart through Colossians 3:3. Oh, it is marvelous!

I begin this post to the tune of several songs that Naomi and Hannah are playing on the iPod station. They’s definitely a bit more percussive than I tend to find soothing, but they do bespeak God’s mercy and somehow seem to fit this impromptu praise gathering. There’s something here, in this moment of adoring the Lord of Hosts, for every last one of us, including Nurse Steadfast.

What is the point of all this? Why am I examining what is really a rather normal day in such vivid and minute detail? Because, my beloved reader, only the Lord could have brought all of us this far. You see, Tysabri is a very intensive medication and we were all initially reluctant for Naomi to take that step. I shan’t regale you with the ins and outs, for they are not very edifying, but this was not something that any one of us was really willing to embark upon. Those first few treatments were disconcerting and somewhat bleak. There was no Bible reading, no worship, a lot less prayer. But then, two things began to happen. First, the Lord began to change our hearts–to cause us to trust in Him despite fear, pain, and anguish. Then, too, the Tysabri was working and we saw that we had less to fear–or, should I say, we saw that the Lord really did have us? So then, gradually, we began to open our hearts to what God was doing and I specifically began dedicating these infusions to His service. Then, Nurse Steadfast and Nurse Song-in-Heart entered our lives… Oh, it was all Him!

And so, this is my testimony as to what God has done–how far He has brought us, from mourning to jubilation. All glory be to our Shepherd, our Healer, our Comforter…

Addendum: “To God Be the Glory” is that exquisite hymn which proclaims the Gospel in so many perfect verses. Usually, only three verses appear in hymnals, but I have heard that Fanny Crosby actually wrote ten. If anyone has access to the other seven, please let me know, for I have been unable to find them. The best versions that I have found are by Brentwood Music and the Discovery Singers.

Tears: A Poem God Gave Us

I have not written poetry prolifically since 2006 and have penned nothing at all poetic since 2010. However, God gave this to me this afternoon, and I thought I would share it here. Initially, I was thinking of the things I keep concealed behind a vast effort to live my life in Jesus–but then, as so often happens in written worship, the Lord took this piece in an entirely different direction. Be blessed!

TEARS
Our house, how it cries:
No rain upon rooftops,
No drops cascading down glass—
But a hot-water deluge,
Leaking our pent-up pain.
We gaze upon symptoms:
Clanging doors, murmuring computer, shouting dishes, silent stove,
And yet, I see weeping.

Our family, we cry:
No sharp words or fighting,
No bitter burst of tears,
But a solemn sorrow
That blankets our smile.
We use other words to descibe:
Angry and sad, frustrated and scared—
But indeed, I hear weeping.

My heart, yes, it cries:
No drenched pillow at night,
No soaked handkerchiefs by day,
But a mind that absorbs,
That clings and that grasps,
That tries and that fails to comprehend.
Working, failing, wondering,
In all this weariness,
What is the use?
People see, hear, observe:
Happy, hopeful, honoring, holding fast—
But inside, I am weeping.

“Exceedingly great and precious promises
Are given unto us.”
“To the hungry,
Every bitter thing is sweet.”
“Love bears, believes, hopes, endures…”
“In Him, we are complete.”

My heart, it will rejoice again:
No anguish of soul,
Just singing and prayer:
“Hosanna! O save!
How I trust You, O Lord…”
And a rainbow promise in the storm:
“Do not grow weary,
Do not grow weary
In well-doing.”
If others could see, they would behold:
Tears and repentance, handkerchiefs drenched—
No… Cleansing rejoicing.

My family, we will rejoice again:
No knives in our words,
Just cherishing, always:
“I love you,
We love Him.”
Others will witness:
Openness, talking, sweet words and laughter, tears and discussion—
Agape.
Ever rejoicing.

This house—oh!—it will rejoice again:
No floods from the heater and heart,
But rain atop the roof—
Drip-drop, drip-drop!
Hail pounding on porch and patio,
Thunder shaking the walls,
Tender drizzle cascading down the Prayer-Closet Tree.
We’ll hear this rolling majesty:
Water and thunder and wind and whisper-leaves—
And join that song, rejoicing.

“Jehovah Jireh”

All day, I had felt as though someone had taken me aside and beaten me to a pulp. Someone named Influenza, perhaps? Everything ached–my knees, my arms, my neck, my shoulders, my head, my hip joints… I’m pretty sure the only muscle that wasn’t crying out in some sort of distress was my tongue. That, I used to form copious complaints about the various ways in which a professional massage would enhance my life.

Underlying all of this was the impression that something simply wasn’t right. I had gotten only four hours of sleep, so it wasn’t surprising that I should be a bit tired–but not this tired, not this exhausted, not this sluggish and weak and generally fatigued and foggy-brained. The malaise was so irreconcilable with any inclination toward activity that I readily stayed home from church this morning, resolving to have Naomi bring home a CD of the sermon. Something was amiss, and I was pretty sure I knew what it was. The last time I had felt this way, my INR had been significantly elevated. I have Protein C deficiency, a coagulation disorder that can cause severe clotting and bleeding if not controlled by limited Vitamin K intake, Coumadin, and Protein C infusions. That’s what you need to know in layman’s terms–much, much more important is what God did this evening.

The INR is one way of measuring coagulation factors in the blood. Therapeutic range for a person without a coagulation disorder is between 0.8 and 1.2. My therapeutic range has varied over the years and depending on treatment plans, but at the moment, I’m supposed to maintain that INR between 1.5 and 2.0. Mine is an extremely rare form of Protein C deficiency, and those levels can and do change more rapidly than in the average Coumadin patient. Also, more factors tend to affect my INR–stress, the onset of a cold or flu, a slight variation in Coumadin dosage, and especially my Vitamin K intake. The same broccoli that most people, even Coumadin patients, are encouraged to take for consistency of diet, may plunge my INR from 2.0 to 1.7 in a matter of three hours.

Never mind all that–my INR was likely high. I did need to be sure, though, so I mustered every bit of emotional and physical stamina to beg an INR test from Jedediah. The home monitoring machine is a bit visual to use, and no one seems to have found a way to equip the CoaguCheck device with either a Braille display or voice-guidance components. I could imagine that Jedediah wouldn’t really want to do the test, not on a lazy Sunday afternoon with the football game on. I understood the need for relaxation–even if I never will be able to understand the “necessity” of football–but I also understood that an INR test was in order, and that somewhat urgently.

While we prepared for the procedure, I speculated as to what my dinner options might be. My INR was elevated–I had already accepted that premise. Probably 2.6 when it should have hovered no higher than 2.0. With that assumption firmly in place, I determined that spinach-filled pasta shells were in order for dinner, and that they coupled with the spinach-topped pizza I had enjoyed for lunch would probably work to lower that INR right on back to 1.9. Perfect solution!

Then, my INR result appeared on the screen–1.6. Not too high at all, but just on the border of too low. And, considering that slice of spinach pizza, a number that might drop within the next few hours.

Immediately, I swung into action. A little more Coumadin, taken a bit earlier than usual. And, because I could, a dose of Xantax–a prescription that I received for indigestion, but which is contraindicated with Coumadin and which I usually have to avoid if I don’t want my INR to soar. Now, let it climb a bit!

Once the practical concerns were taken care of, I had a chance to contemplate what had really happened. Corrie ten Boom wrote that there are no “what if’s” in God’s kingdom, but that we are to trust His provision. I do trust His protection and guidance, but just this once, I think I’ll make an exception to Corrie’s advice about “what if’s”.

If Jedediah had not done the INR test…

Then, I very likely would have feasted sumptuously on spinach, pesto, broccoli, or eggplant. Those were the selections that seemed most appealing at the time–and, besides, wouldn’t they help to lower an INR that was “quite obviously too high”, sight and numbers and statistics all unseen?

If I had enjoyed such a vegetable-rich dinner rather than resorting to minute rice–the least nutritious, but safest possible food, Vitamin-K-wise, might my INR have plummeted?

And if 1.6 had turned to 1.4 or 1.3… The possibility does not merit elaboration, but I’m sure my medical readers and even those who know little about Protein C can fill in some of the blanks.

Now, I realize that God doesn’t always work this way–that sometimes, be it for our refinement or for purposes of His which we cannot, in our finite minds, begin to fathom, He allows us to go through deep and difficult suffering. Naomi, Hannah, and I are all well-acquainted with medical difficulties and the bittersweet emotions they can bring–everything from fear and anguish at our physical circumstances to joy, peace, and trust in the care of our heavenly Father. But right now, in this moment, I have only one thing to say:

Isn’t God good!? Isn’t He faithful and merciful and compassionate? And doesn’t He protect us from things that we can’t even begin to anticipate? Hallelujah!

Addendum: Title taken from the song “Jehovah Jireh” on the album GIVE THANKS by Don Moen.

“I’m So Wonderfully Made”, Part I: The Gift

I am an exceptional person.

Now, my beloved readers, before you begin chastising me for being prideful, for claiming perfection where none exists, or for failing to recognize that I have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, please note what I’m actually saying–not what modern man has determined my words mean. I am an exceptional person, meaning that I have so many exceptions in my life that it drives those around me crazy. Not a perfect person by any means, just an idiosyncratic one.

When I was a toddler young enough to have perhaps a fifty-word vocabulary, I remember begging my mother to find “The M&M Song”. Yes, I do actually remember this–just one more quirk of mine. And the memory isn’t one I must struggle through muddy mental waters to retrieve–it’s right up there with the article I read ten minutes ago, or the chocolate croissant I had for breakfast yesterday morning. But that is beside the point–back to The M&M Song. I did not then, nor have I ever since, owned a song about junk food. I was actually referring to a Christian children’s song that joyfully described the attributes of a life lived in Jesus. Why, then, the odd song title? Not out of irreverence–not by any means. It’s just that one of the instruments with which the song opened sounded, to my not-quite-developed ears, the way peanut M&Ms do when shaken in a small bag with just enough air in it to give it that little umph. But I didn’t have the words to explain all of this, so I requested The M&M Song, and my mother searched for it in vain for half an hour.

It was around that time that I discovered that no one would ever understand the M&M Songs that my mind happened to conjure up–the books in which I ignored the conflict but could focus for long durations upon that little crease at the top of page XVI, the need for Roman numerals, my ability to actually taste normal saline during the midst of medical procedures, my utter disregard for peer gossip in the eighth grade in favor of Jane Eyre, my Anglophilism that reached such heights that I began converting any dollar amount into pounds before contemplating the monetary value, my propensity to turn all dates since 17 August 2002 into anniversaries and remember those dates like precious jewels, my love as a new Christian for Leviticus and Revelation while others read Psalm XXIII and I Corinthians XIII. My nineteen-thousand-file audio collection has been organized using a systematic set of codes rather than according to song title–the better for actually finding those songs: Integrity Music with Integrity Music, Vineyard with Vineyard, sermons with sermons, etc. I’m the sort of person who moans and whimpers when she develops a migraine and who loathes all auditory, olfactory, and gustatory stimuli during said episode, but who still puts mind over matter enough to enjoy the glories of worship music and Communion and the fragrance of anointing oil even despite the throbbing headache. In Braille, Biblical references are contained at the bottom of each page of Scripture; sometimes, when reading mainstream Braille books, I catch myself looking at the bottom of the pages in hopes of finding “Ch. I, narrative section-Ch. II, description”. I flatly refuse to listen to any Christian songs that employ grammatical errors, since said miswordings affect the theology–be it ever so unintentional. If I hear someone make a reference to “rivalry”, I almost expect them to say “revival” and am disappointed when they don’t. And did you know that some people just about sing with joy–even if they’re speaking in a normal, conversational voice? A friend of mine once asked an intense question in the Lord, ending her query with a single-syllable adverb; now, any sentence that uses that structure reminds me of Sincere Sister’s question. Those of you who are familiar with French will understand when I say that I live my life in the passe simple and would almost certainly use it exclusively if I had grown up in a French-speaking country, passe compose being much too mundane for the beauty of the life God has given us. Last Sunday, I was in a new church when the person who had invited me apologized for interrupting a work session with my guide-dog, Natasha. All the situation required was a simple “that’s all right”. Was that my reaction? Never! Instead, I tried to grab hold of her heart, to make her understand: “Oh, you have no idea… I hadn’t had Christian contact in two months, don’t you know!? I don’t care how important that work session was–it can and did wait, because my prayers were answered and I finally found the companionship of someone who loved the Lord, if only for a few minutes. Thank you so much for so-called interrupting! …”

It all began, I believe, somewhere in infancy. I was born with a severe medical condition that shaped my life rather dramatically. While other young children had nice little checkups (read THE BERENSTAIN BEARS VISIT THE DOCTOR, take height and weight and temperature, all done!), I sustained countless blood draws, often involving multiple venapuncture sites since my veins were so difficult to find. Of course, other children just got a sticker, while my family and I always went out afterword to the local restaurant/gift shop/series of rides/hands-on museum. A wonderful, comprehensive place was that one eatery! Other kids complained about eating their vegetables; I couldn’t get enough of the broccoli I was served once in a blue moon. Others got colds, ate some chicken noodle soup, and got themselves sent right back to school in a day or two. I had many clotting episodes, which only plasma could fix and which chicken soup might have hindered if that soup had any parsley in it, and was sent back to school with much homework to catch up on in a week or two.

Note that I have not used the word “suffer” in the preceding paragraph. That’s because, truly, that’s not how I see things. I’m not “trying to be inspirational”–it’s just that, despite the horror of some of those medical crises, I saw the hand of God move so mightily that I could never question Him or my circumstances. Case in point: If I had been leading the typical teenage life rather than holding it all together in a hospital bed on Christmas Eve one year, I would never have met the lovely Christian nurse’s aide whose husband pastored a Pentecostal church in, of all places, Las Vegas. Or had the opportunity to pray for a young girl and her parents as that girl was taken to be with Jesus. Or been able to rejoice in good health when I finally had it restored to me. Or played Don Moen’s album THANK YOU, LORD during one of many MRIs. Or listened in rapt attention as one prayer warrior after another read the Scriptures on healing.

But medical conundrums were not the only exception in my life. There was that little difference of me being a Braille reader. And, for that matter, a cane user, a carrier of textbooks the thickness of your arm, a devotee of audio materials, and a loather of all things film-related. In short, blind. And by the time I was in first grade, I knew that this would simply be part of life–something that set me apart from my cartoon-loving, ball-playing classmates, who worked merrily away at cursive writing while I tried to master twenty, then thirty and forty words per minute using PCTyper–way off in a little corner with my own official-looking computer and office chair, you understand, and in an era in which not everyone owned a personal computer. Exceptions aplenty. Opportunities aplenty, too. For example, I was once asked what I was reading and, when I explained that I was reading the Bible, the questioner remarked condescendingly that my choice of reading material was “so cute”! What better opportunity, so long as she was letting me tell her about my “cute little life”, to proclaim the Gospel!?

Then, there was the other exception–the best, but least tangible or explainable difference between my life and that of the Joneses. In crowded public schools that often taught from an impersonal perspective, or expected us to learn evolutionary principles, or enforced reading material that I was not comfortable with, I was a five-year-old Christian with a pastor’s desire to delineate between right and wrong. Gently helped along by my parents, who had been influential in instilling this sense in me, I did not participate in the reading of any books involving magic, in certain art projects, etc. Now, before you tell me that I led a sheltered life with no fun and ask just what denomination I belonged to anyway, may I just say that this was the best parenting decision my mother or father ever made? As to your denominational question, I’m everything from Methodist to Church of God to Calvary Chapel to Charismatic–wherever people love Jesus, there I try to go to worship. Now, many of my teachers found this frustrating over the years, and several students wanted to know just what I was doing in lieu of some day’s uncomfortable story hour. Then, too, I would often be asked to do math review or other distasteful assignments if I didn’t participate in certain class activities. My reaction to this? “Holy is the Lord!” No matter what, and no matter how anyone around me felt about it, I couldn’t ignore the fact that I was doing this for Him, not conforming to the things of the world, and that this assertion made everything all right. It was the least obvious exception, but the most wondrous, by far.

What is my point in telling you all of this? Simply that I have never given up the M&M songs of life. The exceptions that shaped my life as a child continue to influence how I see and experience things today–from dates and Roman numerals to grammatical errors in worship songs to the passe simple.

And–don’t you know? It’s all been such a gift. For me, the fact that wind chimes are inextricably linked with songs of praise is so special that I wouldn’t choose to see life “conventionally” for a day, even if granted that opportunity. In many ways, being so literal yet so poetic, so detail-oriented with a theological bent, simply enables me to see God’s glory more clearly. If I were a little more conventional, I would push aside my disinterest in sports long enough to enjoy a televised game or two with friends or family–but would I then have the time that I do now for listening repeatedly to eight-minute British worship songs? If I saw the larger picture rather than focusing on details, I might be more successful as far as social and business principles are concerned, but would I enjoy the richness that comes from having compared each offering made in Leviticus and examining what they meant in the scope of repentance, love for God, etc.?

Then, too, being very different has kept me in mind of the things of God from day to day. A typical morning’s thought processes go as follows: “13 December. On this day in 2004, Naomi and I sang “Holy, Holy, Holy”. He is holy! I must get up and feed Natasha. Think on His commands when I lie down and when I rise up. Evening and morning and at noon… “Natasha! Come in!” She’s been outside for the morning long enough–but the Lord has given us dominion over the creatures He has made, that we might love and care for them… Now for her food. Metal bowl–light and flimsy, like some of us if we don’t focus on more intellectual pursuits. One cup of food. How many ephahs would that have been in Biblical times?” And so it goes. That sort of mindset, trying to stay constantly in the love and knowledge of God, changes my outlook on life. It’s rewarding, joyful, enriching.

How about you? Do you have a personality trait that lingers just outside of convention? What about one that is conventional, but thus far unuseful to you–like extreme assertiveness? Whichever camp you fall into, try to find something about the way the Lord has created you to use for His glory. In my case, it’s using a series of little quirks to associate more of my day with the things of Him. In yours, it might be redirecting the assertiveness that has given you such success in your career, and using it for evangelism. Or using all the gentleness inherent in an introverted heart to demonstrate true longsuffering patience to everyone you see. Don’t misunderstand–there are things in all of us that aren’t personality traits, but temptations that we give into and that can become sinful. Those are not gifts. But what you were born with, what sets you apart from other people–use it! Use it, because He gave it to you, and because you are fearfully and wonderfully made! Use it to glorify Him. Be different. Be set apart. “Be holy, for I AM holy” (Leviticus 20:26, I Peter 1:16).

Addenda: In keeping with the sorts of unique things I tend to remember and even cherish, I’m entitling this two-part series “Wonderfully Made” after a children’s song that seems to have first appeared on a 1986 Maranatha! Kids recording. Not the M&M Song, for the record. If I’m being truly authentic, that’s the M and M Song; ampersands should not exist in our language. Also, this is only one perspective on the traits that make me the person I am today. True, I perceive who God has made me to be a gift, but that doesn’t stop certain of these same traits from being a thorn in the flesh at times. Perhaps some of my readers can relate. If the Lord wills, that will be the subject for the second part of this series.

“Bringing in the Sheaves’

On Monday, 24 February 2010, my mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. We mourned, we prayed, and we moved on:

We moved on spiritually. We sang “Create in Me a Clean Heart” while on our knees, trusting that the Lord would be glorified even in this apparent tragedy. We attended church services and prayed with nearby brothers and sisters in Christ, rejoicing in God’s precious promises. When we couldn’t find a church that performed foot-washing ceremonies prior to Resurrection Day one year, we had our own foot-washing service at home. We endured surgeries and risky treatments and grueling medical appointments, all in His strength and by His grace. Eventually, we got to a place of reading the Word together each time my mother had an infusion.

Furthermore, I moved on spiritually. On 12 February 2010,God gave me a vision-promise of His glory; on 24 January 2011, the same presence of His Holy Spirit was given to me in a dream, with the assurance that I would soon be filled with such joy that all pain would be washed away. (If you didn’t know before that I believe in the active gifts of the Holy Spirit for today, you know it now…) And then, on 4 July 2011, that promise was fulfilled and I was so immersed in His marvelous presence that all fear, pain, and suffering were banished. At that time, I learned what it truly means to have faith as a mustard seed. My ears had been hypersensitive–likely due to stress and environmental pressures–and I was finding even worship music difficult to enjoy; then, one day as I sat at the feet of Jesus, He healed my ears and all sound became delightful to me once again. More than once, someone would discuss healing or grace or Christ’s eternal love in such a way that it could only have been a word from the Lord. I began getting up early in the morning to worship. I found that there is more joy in Communion than I had ever known before. I read Daniel and Revelation and Ezekiel–most often in conjunction with one another–and found myself understanding in the most beautiful ways possible. On 24 December 2011, I was set free from the anguish of accusations against me by other believers. On 14 January 2012, my relationship with a dear brother in Christ was completely restored. On 17 February 2012, He instilled in me a desire to get a guide-dog for His service–something I had had no inclination to do before. Although guide-dog training was strenuous, the Lord placed in my path those who needed His peace and, by His grace, I was able to give them a tiny measure of the comfort with which I myself had been filled. Although I traveled through a dark valley of depression from September 2012-February 2013, the Lord Jesus set me high upon a rock and immersed me in exquisite peace. I learned what it meant to wait on the Lord, to run to His sanctuary even during trials, to ask not for immediate answers but for peace, and to rejoice if those immediate answers came anyway in God’s own will and timing, to trust for healing but patiently ride out the journey. Gradually, “I calmed and quieted my soul … like a weaned child” (Psalm 131:2).

We moved on, at least in small measure, by developing a Christian network–a tiny support system that nevertheless staved off the loneliness that might be expected from a family who hasn’t yet found a church home. And so, because we really didn’t have anyone with whom to worship regularly each Sunday, we rejoiced in the people whom God brought to us: the family friend who invited me to join her for several hymn-sings, the CNA at the hospital who had attended a retreat with me the year before my mother’s diagnosis, the coworker who prayed with my sister each day, the brother in Christ at my father’s office who sent my mother flowers in a vase adorned with a small cross, the devout nurse whose voice sparkles and dances and sings with the joy of the Holy Spirit… And then, there were my moments–my treasured seconds with people whom the Lord brought specifically into my life. There was the student in one of my classes who, upon hearing of my mother’s diagnosis, first told me that she would be praying and then, taking me gently by the shoulders, repeated over and over again that my mother would be all right–cascading reassurances down upon me until my heart ached for the beauty of it all. And how could she have known that I was desperately terrified for my mother’s ultimate condition? Again, there was the bus driver who, upon hearing me say something about theology to another passenger, immediately turned on a Christian radio station. Another driver asked me what kind of music I might like to hear during my commute to the university and did not object when I asked to hear the soft, gentle refrains of this city’s most mellow Christian music. Somehow, I expected him to tolerate Christian rock but perhaps not praise and worship. Another blessing… There was the woman in the grocery store who, upon hearing me quietly quoting the book of Psalms to my sister, approached both of us and asked a question so intricately-related to God’s plan for my life specifically that it struck me speechless. There are ten thousand ways to ask whether someone might possibly believe in God, and this was among the least common I had ever heard. As we talked, this woman told us that she had been healed of lupus–the close cousin of MS. As we prepared to leave, I asked her why she had approached us, and why she had chosen to inquire about our spiritual lives using the wording she had. Her response: “Well… I don’t know… I really don’t–the Holy Spirit?” Yes and amen. There were people who prayed over us all–complete strangers and close, intimate friends. People who placed in our hands exactly what the Lord would have us to take in. Friends and acquaintances who, without even realizing it, would refer to some Scripture that one of us had just been studying the previous evening. Oh, ’twas glorious!

We moved on emotionally. Just before my mother was hospitalized, she left me a recorded note proclaiming her love and reminding me that our God reigns supreme. Soon, we had each bought cameras in order to capture life’s joyful and difficult moments–a digital camera for my parents, a voice-recorder for me. They serve the same purpose, don’t they? Isn’t an audio picture worth a thousand gestures? Later, we all began attaching analytical, philosophical, symbolic meanings to rather ordinary events. The chimes represented rain, which represented God’s grace, which was poured out upon us, which enabled us to love one another–AGAPE! Every piece of linen we ever owned came to represent purity and righteousness. We read more and quarreled less, hugged more and isolated ourselves less. Oh, yes, we gave in to fear and grief sometimes–but each tear was tempered with a moment of laughter and every sorrow was soon overwhelmed with gladness. We discussed medical procedures, but also more mundane matters–whether Anne Sullivan or Helen Keller actually penned The Story of My Life, the most effective way to communicate ideas in children’s books, the extraordinary need for less base and more treble in music, and the clinic and literary implications of everything from synesthesia to hyperthymesia. We walked in snow so soft and white and beautiful, yet so all-consuming, that it stopped traffic and drifted up all around us, relishing the blizzard for its sheer majestic qualities as one might a magnificent waterfall. There were swimming in a nearby pool, hiking down any trails we could find, and dancing before the Lord for pure joy at all that He had done–despite, or even in and through, the trials. I worked with Natasha, my sister made customers countless cups of coffee and tea and chai, my mother filled her heart with ideas too precious for words, and my father kept up the course of study he had begun a few years earlier. Nothing changed, except that we became closer.

We moved on by doing great, monumental things. We attended our first baseball game–not a tremendous thrill for me, as I’m not a sports fan, but a lovely family event. We went to see my pastor grandfather and were quickly immersed in the art of singing “Because He Lives”, praying about wilderness seasons, and generally praising God together. On another trip to see extended family, we were met by real prayer warriors–people who saw and knew and experienced God’s love and poured it out upon us. One woman had created a hiking trail to simulate all the stages of Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Oh, what a joy it was to leave my burdens at the foot of the cross–literally and figuratively! Shortly thereafter, I acquired a guide-dog. All such wonderful moments. On 14 April 2013, the extraordinary and ordinary circumstances of our lives merged when we all ate dinner together at a French restaurant–something my mother’s MS doesn’t generally allow her to do.

On 15 April 2013, my sister was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. We have mourned, we are praying, and we will move on.

Sometimes, sorrow overshadows the joy. In ways I can’t explain, my sister’s diagnosis diverges from my mother’s so sharply that it’s as though they were diagnosed with two separate conditions. Treatment is different, emotions are different–even faith seems different sometimes. I have never lost it; my soul will always follow hard after Him. However, sometimes it seems that I now need faith not to move mountains, but merely to look at the rolling hills in front of me before attempting to climb them. Sometimes, I feel weak and fragile and cracked. I don’t know what the next step is–how I should trust, what I should pray for, whether this request or that one is inappropriate. Sometimes, knowledge that I might not always be the best support for my sister drives me to wonder if I’ve sinned, when in fact I have made a simple mistake that requires no actual repentance. (Quiz: Is spilling some water something that requires forgiveness, or a mop?) It’s odd how many things unrelated to my life in the Lord somehow end up getting connected to it.

And this is where the Holy Spirit comes in. Oh, how I need the Comforter, the Wonderful Counselor! I knew before this that all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose, but seldom have I seen it demonstrated as clearly as I did the week before Kristin was diagnosed. It had been a trying week, filled with medical appointments and tearful moments. One evening, as I prepared for bed, I came upon Psalm 126. This has been one of my favourite passages of Scripture since 2007, when the Lord used it to sustain me through the greatest desert I have ever endured. On this day, I settled back to let those familiar yet ever-new words wash over me.

“Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.” read the narrator of my audio NKJV. “He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, … bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5-6).

“But, Lord,” I prayed from a heart too weary to silence its questions, “all I have experienced is weeping. I cannot imagine rejoicing, nor bringing any sheaves with me. I just don’t have any joy anymore…”

“But you will.”

The words were so great and resounding, yet delivered in such a still, small voice that I knew this could only be the Good Shepherd. Oh, how great it is is when Scripture is revealed to us and confirmed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit! At the time, having no notion of my sister’s impending diagnosis and believing that I might start skipping merrily on my way in the next hour, I took that promise at face value. “Thank You, Lord. I know I will rejoice, and that any pain I experience will be for Your glory. And thank You for the joy I know You will eventually bring…” And with that, I fell into a deep and dreamless sleep, entirely assured of His faithfulness.

And what now? Am I still assured of that same lovingkindness? Absolutely! What I know now is that God, in His mercy, promised that He would never leave nor forsake me, and that I would not walk through this valley alone. As yet, we have not moved on spiritually, and even I have had a difficult time returning to the peace I once knew in Jesus; sometimes we struggle to move on in finding prayer support, or emotional support, or in doing anything momentous with our time. But it will come. We will come rejoicing, and He will be glorified.

I have to remember that, for a time, I did not see the glory that the Lord was bestowing on us all. When my mother was first diagnosed, I didn’t see the kindly nurse or experience peace in the Scriptures. I remember only the negative psychology textbook I read in which MS was portrayed in a more negative light than necessary, or the one person who would not pray for me, or the times when I felt that everything I did was either a sin or displeasing to my family or both. In short, when my mother was first diagnosed, I saw only the challenges; I now remember the beauty in hindsight. May it not be that way now; may I see His goodness on every step of this journey, rejoicing in all that He does and praising Him for all that He will do. May I be drawn ever closer as I learn to rely on Him…

Bringing in the sheaves.