Joe.

When David & I got married in the spring of 2005, he said we needed to get back into a church.

I’d been hurt–really hurt–and had taken a year off before our wedding to focus on building our relationship and planning a wedding…or at least, that’s what I told myself. Really, I just took a year off to be a giant slug that spent weekends visiting my fiancée. 🙂 I didn’t want to go to church; I wanted to sleep in and go on adventures.

So, we did.

And then we got married. 🙂 He said, “We need to go to church.” I drug my feet (I really, really like to sleep). He said, “No, really–we’re going to church.”

So, we did.

He took me to a church at the corner of Lindbergh & Sappington. I don’t think I’ll ever forget my first day there. I met Felina Stevens and Lynn Renaud, and thought to myself, “there’s no way those people are really that nice.” Like I said, I’d been REALLY hurt. So, I lifted one eyebrow in skepticism, and I watched for WEEKS. Finally, I was convinced–all of these people REALLY WERE that nice. Crazy.

Pastors Joe and Sherry LoRusso welcomed us into their church like extra family members. Sherry & I had some similar parenting adventures, and she began to open up to me about how she processed, forgave, and moved forward through her hurts. She counseled me through so much healing, and she may not know this, but she’s probably the most influential reason as to why my relationship with my mother is so much better today than it was at that time. Pastor Joe–well, Pastor Joe brought me more joy and love than I probably ever expressed to him.

Pastor Joe went home to the Lord yesterday, and I’m still processing. A dear friend called me and told me directly, and protected me from discovering his passing over social media. I don’t think I will ever forget that gesture–what an amazing thing for a friend to do. Social media is not how anyone should discover that someone has passed away, so I am grateful for the personal discussion.

Pastor Joe had been through a great many physical challenges over the past year, but in my heart of hearts, I truly thought we’d see him back in the pulpit at some point. The pulpit was where he belonged.

I look back over my time at Rivers of Life church in those tender years….We started going in the spring of 2005, and just over a year later, in the fall of 2006, our daughter passed away. That congregation not only celebrated my pregnancy and Hannah’s birth with us; they carried us through her death and her funeral. Pastors Joe & Sherry were by our side for hours on end at the hospital; one of the most impactful images in my life is seeing Joe literally on the floor of the waiting room, crying out to God and interceding for our daughter. Having pastors that will get on the floor and fight your battles with you, is one of the most amazing experiences a Christian could ever hope to have. I know that sounds weird–who wants to go through those parts of life?!?!?  Going through Hell, verses going through Hell side-by-side with warriors–there’s a huge difference. I will never, ever forget the way they interceded for us. I’d never seen prayers like that, or dedication like that, and it changed my life.

People don’t know this, but Joe & Sherry jumped in and planned Hannah’s funeral for us, because we simply couldn’t. They utilized church funds to help us cover expenses (David was out of work at the time), and they rallied our community to cover meals during and after Hannah’s hospital stay. They created a network of support; they brought together other women who had been in my shoes to help me navigate the years after losing my daughter. They literally kept David & I breathing after we lost our child, and not once did they EVER make us feel like we weren’t healing or processing  or grieving inappropriately. They gave us the gift of a safe place to grieve.

In the years that followed, when every doctor in every state that I visited said I couldn’t have anymore children, Joe believed. He believed when everyone around me told me to give up and said I should get over it. I believed, and Joe believed.

JOE LORUSSO BELIEVED IN THE HEALING POWER OF A LOVING GOD, and no matter where he went, who he lost, or what illness he went through, that belief didn’t waiver.

I know that Joe & Sherry are tremendously influential in the spiritual DNA of St. Louis. Coming out of New Covenant (I think?) and then Hill Fellowship, Joe’s leadership in the church has had international influence. He is…was…a great, great man….a great family man, and an amazing father.

But to me, he is…was…my pastor.

Joe LoRusso showed me what it meant to put feet to my faith. He showed me how to be strong but also, to be true. When Rivers of Life merged with Victory Church to become Southgate, and I began to meet people and to make new friends, I’d occasionally hear that someone was “offended” at something Joe said. In fact, he misread a confidential e-mail I’d sent him and the other pastors one time (I was in a pretty dark place about the whole “can’t have kids” thing), and he had me come to the front of the church with my husband. He shared what I’d put in the letter–about my discouragement and my heartbreak–and he asked the church to pray for me. I can’t remember the details, but it got out that I’d wanted that information kept confidential. More than one person approached me in anger and said, “Aren’t you upset?!?!”  Never. Not once. Anyone that was offended by anything Joe LoRusso said didn’t know or appreciate his heart. Period.

I’ve never met another person with less pride or less self-promotion, than Joe LoRusso. I honestly do not believe he would ever/could ever intentionally insult or harm another person when it comes to wanting the best for them, or for wanting to see Jesus work in their lives. Maybe it didn’t come across in the fluffiest of ways–whatever. He loved people. He loved his church family. He loved his family with his whole heart, and I know he loved his wife.

My mother had a pastor and his wife that were like adopted parents to her. Milo & Edna were retired Baptist preachers who were married over 70 years, and passed away within months of each other. I watched them pour into my mother’s life for decades, and always appreciated the sheltering relationship they had with her. They told her the truth, in love, and they invested into her to make her love Jesus more. That’s what pastors do. That’s what shepherds do.

That’s what Joe & Sherry LoRusso have done for David & I, and for so many people, for decades.

I am so privileged to have known Joe, and to have been a part of the Rivers of Life congregation. Joe & Sherry have invested into David & I, even though it’s been 6 years since we’ve been in their congregation. They’ve made a lasting impact that has made us love Jesus more. They’ve given us truth in love, and they’ve shown us examples of being in the trenches with practical faith.

The LoRussos educated me on the beauty of the Italian family in a way that I had never really been exposed to (even though my dad is Italian). The sense of community that runs through their home extends to how they treat people in their church. Going to the LoRusso’s home was always full of laughter, hugs, amazing food, and lessons about everything from cooking, to spiritual growth, to parenting advice. Family is family, at church or at home—it’s consistent, because it’s genuine. That’s a beautiful thing to have, and to get to be a part of: Real, genuine people that genuinely love Jesus and want His will….that love people because He says to love them, and that care enough about you to give you the truth.

Joe LoRusso was a man of truth and of faith, and he lived it, 24/7. He proved that it can be done, all the way, in the valleys and on the mountains.

I know that it’s the “Christian-thing” to say—“to be absent from the body is to be home with the Lord.” I get it. And as a Christian, I know that Joe is with Jesus, and wouldn’t want it any other way. He’s a Good and Faithful Servant, and he’s in his reward–that’s amazing.

Joe’s a husband and a father. He’s a brother, an uncle, and a grandfather. He has an amazing family that is extremely, beautifully close, and his passing will leave a tremendous hole, so my heart hurts for all of them. The LoRusso legacy is strong in St. Louis, and he will be missed by so many.

Personally, I will miss seeing Joe peek into my church–which meets in that same building where everything, for The Cooleys, started–and sitting in his chair during worship. I’ll miss seeing him take over the pulpit when something would hit him just right (my former pastor would always give him due respect when he would visit, and would hand over the microphone if Joe would raise his hand. 🙂 I think anyone in our community would do the same). I’ll miss hearing his passion for Israel and for the Jewish community, and I’ll miss his jokes about soccer, red-cards, and old Westerns or military movies.

I don’t know how to conclude this…my heart hurts, and I feel like I’ve done a poor job of writing out just how much I appreciate this man. I’m so, so thankful for Joe & Sherry…I’m thankful for that day in 2005 where my bratty little feet shuffled their way into a small congregation on Lindbergh, and my life was forever changed.

Thank you, Joe LoRusso, for not being satisfied with simply becoming a Christian and then resting on your laurels. Thank you for your passionate, relentless pursuit of learning about this Jesus Who changes lives and mends hearts. Thank you for trusting Him to shape you into the man you became–the husband, father, pastor, intercessor, leader, and friend. Thank you for getting in the trenches with me and so many others over the years who were lost and embattled. Thank you for being that shepherd who isn’t just a pastor in title, but who actually lived the life and the sacrifice. Thank you for setting the example, and for giving the truth in love, even when it didn’t win you any fans. Thank you for not giving up, and for continuing to have faith and passion, even in the hardest of times. Thank you for having the strength to apologize when you made mistakes, and for being a humble leader, even when you had every reason to get prideful. Thank you for opening up your house to us (and our dog!), and for giving us a second home when we were lost in grief. Thank you for always, always taking the time to talk to me, even though I have the worst sense of timing. Thank you for never making me feel stupid, and for always treating me like I mattered.

Thank you for seeing David & I for who we really were, and for loving us as we were. We are grateful….You are so very loved.

well done

 

Cardiology Update!!!!

So, for any of y’all that don’t know, back in 2006, I delivered my daughter Hannah via emergency C-section due to severe preeclampsia.

Long story short, my physician was a third-generation OB/GYN who had basically written off my complaints of being short of breath during my second and third trimester. My daughter was delivered at 34 weeks, and the preeclampsia was “supposed” to resolve…except it got worse. I wound up in full congestive heart failure due to peripartum cardiomyopathy and pulmonary hypertension. My left ventricle blew up like a balloon–it was 3x the size of the rest of my heart, and my lungs were full of fluid. In the first night after my diagnosis, if I remember correctly, they removed 30 pounds of fluid from my body that I had retained. Dealing with that, post C-section? Not cool.

As most of you know, my daughter passed away at 29 days of age, due to Late-Onset Group B Strep and bacterial meningitis. Her cause of death was not due to my heart failure-it was a completely unrelated issue. We were told for years that due to the extent of the damage my heart had gone through, that we should never have another child….but we did not believe them. Cardiologist after cardiologist refused to see me as a patient, until Dr. Michael Paul, perinatologist at Mo-Bap, referred me to Dr. Robert Kopitsky, who did the right tests and discovered that miraculously, my heart had recovered to running at 50-55%, which was completely normal! I had no scarring, no permanent damage, and I was cleared to get pregnant with my son. It was the best news I’d ever heard!

Through my pregnancy with Jericho, my heart was closely monitored, and I was admitted to Mo-Bap at 32 weeks along. At that point, my cardiac function was already less than 30%. It continued to decline, and the decision was made to deliver early once again. I had excellent care, and my miracle baby was born! My heart was still an issue, and remained closely monitored & medicated for the next few years.

In 2016, I had an echocardiogram performed, and my cardiologist (I’d had to find a new doctor due to insurance changes) put my estimated cardiac function at 40-45%. That’s not bad, but it’s not normal; however, my cardiologist said it was acceptable and to be happy with it, “because you’re stuck there. I don’t think you’ll see those numbers improve.'”

And you know what? I was happy with that. I mean, c’mon, I almost died–twice! I’m happy with what I can get!!!! I took my regular meds and considered myself blessed!

Last month, my new PCP said it was time to check on my heart again. I’ve had some issues with stress, headaches, and back pain, so she wanted to rule anything out. My cardiologist agreed, so last week, I went in for a new echo. I got the phone call from his nurse today, as I was getting ready to leave my office.

MY HEART FUNCTION IS AT 60%!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’m completely floored–the nurse said, “We just don’t see that. We don’t see those numbers with people with your history. Someone is looking out for you, for sure.” HA!!!!! Ya’ THINK?!?!?!?

My mind is blown. Like, I wasn’t even praying about it–I just accepted 40-45% and went on my way. Subconsciously, I think I was writing off even trying to exercise or anything, because why bother if I’m “stuck?” I come from a long family history of crappy hearts, so I just took it for granted that this is my life.

BUT IT’S NOT.

God takes over and answers prayers when we don’t even ask. He works miracles that we don’t expect or anticipate. David & I are in this season of struggle, where things have been extremely stressful. Yet in this, over and over again, I keep seeing little things, and big things, and random things, that remind me that God is watching. He is PRESENT. He meets needs we didn’t even know that we had. He loves us, He works in our lives unexpectedly, AND HE STILL WORKS MIRACLES!!!

Spiritually, mentally, and now physically (multiple times!), my heart has been broken and repaired in miraculous ways. I know it may sound dramatic to say, but I will shout this testimony from the ROOFTOPS, y’all, because I know my God is in the business of healing hearts.

“My heart overflows with a good theme; I address my verses to the King! My tongue is the pen of a ready writer. You are fairer than the sons of men; Grace is poured upon Your lips; Therefore, God has blessed You forever.”–Ps. 45:1-2, NASB

“Somebody Burned Down My She-Shed!”

Oh, the “She-Shed” commercial–you know the one!! Since we don’t have “regular” TV (the downside of living in a valley), the only time I ever hear the commercial is on the radio. When I Googled it to link it here, I decided that the “She-Shed” in the commercial is kinda glorious, you know?

I mean, just the concept–A She-Shed!!!  A quiet place, all my very own, to decorate how I want, and to do with what I want—GLORIOUS.  I think the concept of a private place that is unblemished by little fingerprints or man-boots…a place with perfect lighting and ambient music, with gentle motifs and plush carpet…oooh, okay, that sounds glorious.  My She-Shed would be devoted to crafts; the thermostat would never be above or below 65; I’d have inlaid bookcases, & no one would make me watch YouTube videos about Legos or camera lenses…aaaaaahhhhhhh….Oh, and it would smell of lavender & chocolate chip cookies. Always.

And I’d never leave. 🙂

Cue the music…”in my own little corner, in my own little world.….”

We have this unrequited need to have our Very Own Space in this world, and yes, even though our HOUSE is supposed to be that place, as we grow up we find that it’s not. No, our house gets taken over by stuff, or by the people, or by The Legos, or by the whatevers. It’s hard to maintain the upkeep of keeping your home a place of peace in a world that cranks out materialist must-haves at an alarming rate. Every time I Marie-Kondo my house, I make these wonderful spaces that fill back up again in spite of my promises to myself that it’s not going to happen. I’ve pared down and pared down and pared down, and recent events mean that nope–I’m not filling ANYTHING back up again, and it’s okay.

Learning to make do, and to be okay with making do, is an adventure. It’s frustrating, but it’s something we should all be good at by the age that I’m at (I’m not). The more we pare down or get used to telling ourselves, “no,” the more resourceful we find we are. The more we miss going and doing “the things,” the more I’m appreciating the quiet weekends at home. It takes more creativity to stay busy on the weekends when you don’t have the resources to do what you want (truth be told, we’re not really doing anything on the weekends right now. The weather is crap, and blankets are awesome. It’s an issue). In this process, I’m realizing there were a lot of ruts we were stuck in; there were a lot of patterns we were set in that needed to break. It’s not a fun process, truth be told, but the longer we’re in this boat, the more I realize we’re floating. It’s rough waters, but we’re together.

Last week, we faced some scary decisions…At one point, I was laying on the couch, and David had his head on my lap. My son took the opportunity to make a “DAD SANDWICH!” and pounced on top of him; meanwhile, the dog laid at the foot of the couch so that I couldn’t have got off of the couch if I tried.

I looked down at all of my happiness…my husband, my son, my dog…I know it probably sounds cheesy, but with these decisions looming over my head, in that moment, I felt like I could physically shove the anxiety off of my shoulders. Regardless of what happens…regardless of the outcome…this little group of 4 is everything to me. Everyone in that little circle–even the dog–is an answer to prayer and a reminder of how faithful the Lord is.

I’m choosing joy.

I’m choosing contentment.

I’m choosing to Consider the Lilies, and I’m choosing to stay in the room with this tribe.

I’m not going to lie–I’d love to retreat to my mental She-Shed and just check out. But it’s not what we do. It’s not what Jesus does. He dives in and surrounds the four of us–even the dog–and He wraps us in His arms.  He holds us. He has more of a reason to mentally check out than anyone, yet He stays involved. He’s never distant.

When I was in high school, we studied a book about world views, and one of them discussed the concept of Deism. My understanding of Deism is that God basically set everything in motion in some way–the Big Bang, Intelligent Design, whatever–and then He just steps back and watches us do whatever. He doesn’t intervene; He gives us passing interest, but He lets us live our lives while He does His Own thing. This view of God always struck me as the saddest, because why should we love a Father Who’s checked out?  Why should we care about the “will” of a God Who sits back in His Celestial Man Cave while we run around in the rat traps of earth?

It’s the same kind of philosophy that inspires us to want to hide in She-Sheds or Man-Caves or under a blanket in our bedrooms until the drama subsides. It solves nothing, it helps no one, and it’s entirely narcissistic. Granted, everyone needs some time alone sometimes. I’m not saying that’s a bad idea, and if you have the means to make a She-Shed, Sheryl, BUILD THE THING, OKAY?!? 🙂

Just don’t be surprised if it gets struck by lightning.

I’m kidding!  But seriously, we’re so inundated with noise and drama–my last blog discusses the beauty of getting small, and the appreciation for the quiet. There’s a time for noise and a time for drama, but there’s also a time for being involved and for community. Families aren’t made of individuals who hide and ignore each other. They’re made in the side-by-side, day-to-day relationships we form when we work together. They’re solidified by relationships with our ever-involved God, and with each other. They take constant work, but there’s a constant reward that it so worth it–I have to remind myself of that, because as I age I get more inclined to hide under that blanket.

If I hid in my She-Shed, or under that blanket, I’d miss the peace I found in the family picture of the four of us crowded around/on the couch. I’d miss that gentle reminder from the Lord of all that He’s done and will do, and is doing. I’d miss the reminders in church on Sunday of the people He’s placed in my life, and of the people in who’s lives He’s placed me.

He surrounds us with reminders of His love in the midst of every storm. Sometimes, we don’t see them until we’re through to the other side, and that’s okay. Sometimes, though, they’re undeniably present…as long as we’re present, and don’t check out into our mental She-Sheds or Man Caves.

Stay present. I love the cheesy saying that “it’s called The Present for a reason.” It really is a gift, albeit an occasionally frightening one. Storms don’t go away just because we find a place to hide–we have to face them. But when we face them and when we get present with those storms, we know that He is present WITH us–we’re not alone.

The world tells us to hide and to isolate; it glamorizes the concept a place of our own, but Jesus tells us to Go Out Into All of the World. He tells us to be open and to engage…He tells us He will be with us. He tells us we’re never alone, and that we always have a place of our own, in His Kingdom, in His time. Now is not the time for the She Shed or the Man Cave….Now is the time to change the world, and we do that by building relationships and by celebrating the relationships that we have.

Now, if only I could convince myself to get off of this dang couch….. 🙂

 

Mary, Martha, and the Beauty in the Small…

The world is buried in a cacophony of sound and volume.

We think everything has to be “harder, better, faster, stronger” (shout-out to Kanye for that earworm); everything has to be so much more “-er,” or it’s just not good enough.  We can’t be satisfied with “basic.” In fact, the term “basic” is now an insult! We’ve completely forgotten how to be satisfied with the “bare necessities” that our dear Baloo sang about with such sweet abandon. Everything has to be “Extra,” and if it’s not, well, then it’s “basic,” and that’s BAD. J

It’s so hard to just get quiet.

It’s difficult to get low…to get completely focused…to see the Beauty in the Small.

Last Sunday, I was privileged to be on an “abbreviated” worship team of 3 people. In a church that averages around 50 people or less, we usually have a team that includes a keyboardist/singer, another keyboardist/singer, a guitarist/singer, a bassist, an acoustic guitar player, a drummer, a bongo/cajon player, and 3 background vocalists (of which I am 1). That’s a worship team that’s around 20% of the size of the congregation.

I know that sometimes, there’s a focus on the “sound” that emanates from a team of musicians and singers. Number = volume = emotional impact. I’m not really about that (and that’s not intended to be any kind of a derogatory thought or statement). I’ve been on teams of 40-50 singers, and I’ve been on teams of 2, and one thing I’ve found is that if a heart for worship is there, the Holy Spirit moves. His heart isn’t moved by numbers or volume. His heart is moved by worship, and by a willingness to put ourselves out there to focus on Him.

That’s hard to do when you’re dealing with distractions.

Distractions come in so many forms. As a singer, I struggle with technology (anyone else hate Avioms? Or at least, Avioms that seem to have been chewed up internally by rabid mice? Okay, that hasn’t LITERALLY happened, but my Aviom is constantly going in-and-out, and that is a…problem). I struggle with understanding cues, and with knowing my place. I struggle with my age—am I still relevant as a team member in worship, at 41, when more and more kids and young adults are coming up? I don’t understand click tracks and talk-backs, and I’m not a musician, so I don’t always understand the “right” chord progression. I have this terrible tendency to switch harmonies in the middle of a song if I don’t stay focused, which is a nightmare for anyone singing with me (I’d assume—most people are nice to me about it). More times than not, I find myself rolling my eyes and thinking, “Dear God, I’m a mess. I’m TERRIBLE.” I’m distracted by my own self-esteem, and every single Sunday, I have to push past that to focus on the reason why we come together as a team to worship God: He is worthy. He is so much more worthy of our praise and our attention. He is EVERYTHING, and everything else is NOTHING, so I push it aside—as does every other musician on the team—and we unify in the single focus of worshipping our Savior.

Sometimes it’s messy…but He is always glorified, and we always have the privilege of watching a congregation join us on that journey to praise Jesus.

So, last Sunday, most of our team was at the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, taking part in the final One Thing conference. The theme was, “Reset,” and David & I live-streamed as much of it as possible. So many things from the conference really resonated with me…particularly, the discussion led by Corey Russell about Mary of Bethany, and her dear sister, Martha (who is one of my favorite people in the Bible…can’t imagine why).

Martha & I have a LOT in common. Mary and my husband have a LOT in common. My sister and I are about as naturally opposite as two people can get. Mary and Martha were about as naturally opposite as two people can get. J

I identify so strongly with those two sisters.

Martha had work to do, dangit! None of this sittin’ around, listening, whatever! There’s food to make, dishes to wash, things to clean! “You got time to lean, you got time to clean,” right? All of this lounging around, listening to some Guy talk?!?! Ain’t nobody got time for that!!! DANGIT, MARY, GET YOUR REAR IN HERE AND HELP ME!!!!!!!!”  How many times have those words come out of my mouth to my husband?!?  “DAVID!!!!!!!!!!!  Put your tablet/Bible/whatever down and HELP ME!!!” “WHY can’t anyone see that I need help? Why do I always have to ASK?!? Why doesn’t anyone have INITIATIVE to come in here and do the stuff that needs to be done?!?!?!”  Oh, Martha, I love you—I’m so glad the Lord saw fit to put you in the Bible, because women like me NEED to know we’re not tyrants. We’re just the kind of people that see a need and fill it, and pour out constantly….

And we pour ourselves into exhaustion and in doing things in our own strength, because we NEVER take the time to get Small, and get focused.

We never get out of our own heads to find our rest in Him, because we’re convinced in our broken arrogance that the volume of our work, and the number of our works, will turn the heart of God and everyone else.

We break when our efforts go unacknowledged, because we strive so much, even subconsciously, to be recognized and valued.

We so often forget that when we get Small and get focused, then we can hear Him say, “I love you. Just rest.”

BUT WE CAN’T REST, RIGHT?!?!?  THERE ARE THINGS TO DOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

We are distracted, even with our good intentions.

It’s time to stop.

Last Sunday, 3 people came together in worship. It wasn’t perfect; it wasn’t bombastic or voluminous. It was simple…basic (in the best way)…and it was beautiful. It was Small, and it was intimate, and it felt like a healing balm in my heart.

When things are quieter, you have to listen harder. You have to focus more; you can’t be distracted, because then you miss the cues and there’s nothing that you can hide behind.  There isn’t a blanket of sound that covers mistakes or cushions missed cues. It’s stripped down, and it’s pure…

There is Beauty in the Small.

For us Marthas in the world, we “go big or go home.” We’re going to do what we have to do; we’re going to do it to the best of our abilities. We’re going to produce good works, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It becomes “wrong” when it becomes our focus, instead of the Jesus we say we want to serve. How can we hear what He wants when we’re so busy doing what we think needs to be done? If we don’t have those “Mary Moments” where we get quiet and focus at his feet…where we go Small and seek intimacy…how will know His heart?

We “go big,” but ultimately, in an All-Martha world, we get broken.

The Beauty of the Small is that in it, we find rest. We find focus; we find His heart in the simplicity and we are refueled and refocused to face the complicated.

The world throws volume and distraction our way….it keeps us from worship, and it keeps us from that place at His feet that He’s reserved for us.  When we reset, we find our seat with Him…where we are His, and He is ours, and the joy of the Bridegroom for His Bride is complete.

As I stated in my last blog, my husband lost his job shortly before Christmas. There’s a funny thing that happens when your finances get cut by 60%:  You stop running around. You no longer have the resources to fund things to do, so you find yourself staying home the majority of the time. Truth be told, had we done more of that prior to him losing his job, we probably wouldn’t have some of the financial troubles we’re currently struggling with. The sudden lack of income has left us reeling and has forced us to break down expenses, debts, excuses, bad decisions, and a lot of things we didn’t realize or didn’t want to deal with. Staying busy means that you can often ignore reality. Getting suddenly “unbusy” means reality comes crashing in, along with a WHOLE LOT of fear, failures, burdens, and things we hadn’t realized were quite so strong in our lives.

As a family, we’re in a bit of a “forced” Mary-Moment, and the Martha in me is FREAKING OUT. It’s a minute-by-minute process to stop, breathe, refocus, pray, and beg for peace. The conversations between my husband and I have been brutal, and outside of the death of our daughter, this is the hardest thing our marriage has been through. The anxiety is crushing, & while David tends to internalize to the point of my frustration, I am fighting to keep from exploding (to the point of HIS frustration). We don’t know how to deal with or process any of this…but we are. What else can we do?

And where else can we go? We have One place to turn with all of this.

Day by day, we look at each other…we watch our words very carefully, and sometimes, we fail. There’s a lot of unraveling…but as difficult as this is, we are taking the deep breaths and walking the path.

It’s not God’s “fault.” It’s an uncomfortable redirection, and it hurts. I don’t want to say “He has a plan,” because that phrase is so cliché. I want to say that He knows what’s happening, and what’s going to happen, so I will trust Him. We will trust Him…but to hear where He’s taking us, we have to embrace this Mary Moment, to focus, and to stay at His feet, even as everything within me wants to get up and run. “WHY ISN’T THERE ANYTHING I CAN DO TO FIX THIS?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!” It’s not in my nature to sit down and wait.

It’s time to get a new nature.

It’s time to find the Beauty in the Small…to realize the vanity of the distracting…to dull the outside noise and to take off the burden of the to-do list.  It’s time to celebrate intimacy with the Father in quiet and in worship without the vanity of volume.

It’s time to reset.

 

(BTW, if you are looking for worship songs to help you in your journey of resting in Jesus, check out my friend, Bizzy Grapperhaus. She’s written so many songs that I call, “milestone songs;” the songs are Scripture-based, and for me, have truly helped key verses get ingrained into my heart through some of my toughest times. Right now, “Drink Offering,” “Here We Are,” and “Faithful as the Son” are on repeat on my Spotify account. This is NOT a sponsored plug, if you’re wondering; it’s just truth, because she’s awesome.)

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Cinnamon Rolls, Reality TV, and a Pink Slip for the Holidays…

I’ve been baking this holiday season….a LOT. I love the “Great British Bake-Off,” “Nailed It,” and basically any baking show that Netflix will offer. I like the challenge of it, I like learning new techniques, and I like discovering things I’ve never heard of (thank you, Paul Hollywood). I’ve realized that Americans are kinda crappy at baking, embracing loud colors and crazy fillings over subtle flavors and maybe even over techniques. I’m learning to value the time-tested traditions of doing things by hand.

There is so much value in what you make with your own two hands.

So, I scour my old cookbooks (like, 1950’s), my favorite websites (Buzzfeed/Tasty), and my favorite–the old church cookbooks that I inherited from a retired pastor’s wife. You find some real gems in there that are an education! It’s always a lesson, whether it’s in the mistakes, the measuring, or in the successes.

For Christmas, I made my usual–Russian Tea Cakes, Peanut Butter Cookies, Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Sugar Cookies (which are from the pits of Hell). I also, for the very first time, made a gingerbread house THAT IS STILL STANDING!!! (Note: I am a CRAP decorator, when it comes to icing cookies. Just absolute CRAP. I accept it. Don’t judge me, Prue.)!!

The gingerbread was actually quite tasty, but the best part of all, was the fact that I got to recreate a favorite memory of mine, with my son. My mama was a single mom for a brief while, and a lady she worked with invited us over to make gingerbread houses, and I loved it. Jericho had a blast decorating the house, and a memory was made.

I also made an angel food cake from scratch; I tackled fondant for the first time; and I made a total of 4 different kinds of icing throughout the holiday season.

Man, I’m TIRED.

Baking has been therapeutic for me, for sure, although the mess has definitely increased David’s stress level!

I have some vacation time over this holiday, so I’ve been staying up a bit later than usual. Last night, I tried to watch a documentary on Netflix about memes and social media in society. It documented the hazards and the blessings of people who have made careers out of social media–Paris Hilton, some guy named Krill, The Fat Jewish–I didn’t get very far, because what they were saying was hurting my heart. They talked about “likes” being an addiction…about getting out of bed every morning, and pouring their time and attention into what was getting “likes” on social media. Paris was saying something about loving her fans just as much as she loves her family!!!! The fans are what fuels these media titans, and I just don’t understand it.

Granted, I’m HARDLY their demographic. I’m not cool, and I’m okay with that. I’ll stick to stalking my bakers on Instagram, and be on my merry way. That’s totally fine. These social media people look happy, and I guess they are? I can’t judge that. But I wonder who hugs them when the internet goes down? Who rubs their shoulders when they cry, and who plays frisbee with them on summer days? I mean, I’m sure they could post a call-out on Instagram and find 5 “friends” in 5 minutes, but who holds their hearts? “Likes” don’t fill the hole in our heart, and things sure get messy when the camera pans out.

Baking is a FANTASTIC reflection of my life right now…don’t things look pretty? Look at this gorgeous cinnamon roll! Not too bad, for my first time at this recipe! Once these babies proof tomorrow for a second time, they’re gonna rock our world!!!

I’ve posted the link to this recipe at the end of the blog. LOOK AT MY GORGEOUS PAN OF CINNAMON ROLLS!!!!!!

This recipe is COMPLICATED, to me (not to Paul Hollywood…sigh…). It takes patience, time, and some skills that I’m still working on. (BTW, if you make this, don’t use a spatula to spread out the filling. Use your hands. It makes the butter spread more evenly.)

My beautiful little pans of rolls are sitting in my fridge, and will proof for 40 minutes tomorrow before baking and icing. I’m EXCITED. And if you look at this pan, you see delectable cinnamon rolls…and that’s all you see….but here’s what’s really going on (pans the camera out):

It’s an effing disaster.

I’m a really, really messy cook…my kitchen is TINY…there were already dishes in the sink when I started…and why is my Dremel on the counter?!?!? This messy kitchen has already ruined one cake this season, when I spilled water on a 2-tiered cake and trashed the whole thing (including ganache). There’s always a mess, but we do get it cleaned up when all is said and done.

But you’d never know that, from the close-up of my beautiful cinnamon roll dough.

When we only focus on what we want to see, we are lying to ourselves. We are ignoring the mess, the process that got us to where we are, and the consequences of our actions. Social media stars only show you what they want you to see–the cinnamon rolls, which is why you love them–and never show you the mess behind the scenes. They’re succeeding based on a fictionalized, glamorized, perfect life–which we all want–and telling us we can have it all without the mess.

It’s not real.

There’s never a cinnamon roll without some flour….or without some dirty pans…or without the aching hands that come from kneading. There are messes built into our perceived perfection, and as a society, we’ve forgotten how to value that part of the process.

I’m just as guilty as the next person of only posting the “good life.” I post the cinnamon rolls–not the mess. I post the laughing–not the tears from the fight from the day before.

I just posted happy Christmas photos of my son and of my family….

I didn’t post that one month ago today, my husband lost his job, and with it, over half of our income.

I didn’t post that we’re individually and corporately gutted…that we’re in a mess, and that we don’t know what to do. I posted that God provides–He does–but not the tears and the prayers and the kindness that people have shown us privately.

I didn’t post the fears or the failures…the struggles David & I are having as we come to grips with new responsibilities and accountabilities, or the anxiety and overwhelming panic that has set in on multiple occasions.

No doubt, the hardest thing we’ve ever been through has been the loss of our daughter. This comes in second, even over cancer. We’ve looked at each other with every conceivable emotion over the past 30 days, and have struggled with keeping words in check. This is hard, and we’re struggling to regroup, even as we know God is in control and that He provides. It’s still frickin’ hard, and that’s all there is to it.

I want the cinnamon roll posts. I want to laugh, and show pictures of smiling faces. No one wants to see anyone look as awful as we feel right now, and I certainly don’t want to put that out on social media. I totally get why the social media stars paint their cinnamon-roll lives. I want to, as well..but reality is what we all deal with, so painting perfection is deceptive at best.

We serve a God of truth, not a god of entertainment. We serve a God of messy kitchens and of cinnamon rolls, a God of time-proven redemption, verses a god of microwave solutions. We serve a God that sees our messes and loves us through them. He sees our mistakes, our tears, and eventually, only He can weave them into portraits that don’t need Instagram filters or clicks.

We serve a God that is constantly reminding me that He cares about the sparrows…about the lilies of the field and the lost, the broken, the found and the repaired.

Social media, and social media stars, are visual candy in a world that is starving for steak. It’s better to take the time and effort to be the steak–to be the thing that sustains and nourishes–than to be the instant gratification of the “pretty” that we see on camera. It’s just not as easy to process or to implement.

So, that’s the truth. We paint pictures of pretty families and beautiful Christmases, and everyone “likes” it and calls themselves your “friend,” but it’s not real, and we have to understand that this faux “reality” is anything but. What’s real, is the person you call when you’re down…the person who shows up at your door, the person you stop everything to visit when they’re ill, and the face-to-face time (not the “facetime”) spent together. Real people, real prayers, real heart, and real love….even when it’s really messy.

In my last blog, I alluded to the fact that we were struggling, and now you know why. We are, though, still together, still trying to figure it out, and still dedicated to maintaining a happy household for our son. We’re so blessed that we have family, friends, and a church that is there for us–in person–to sustain us with prayer and love. We’re so, so grateful.

So grateful, in fact, that I think I’m going to have to bake another batch or two of these cinnamon rolls.

https://www.buzzfeed.com/hannahloewentheil/cinnamon-rolls-from-scratch-recipe-tips?utm_term=.rcVo9GAR9G#.rcVo9GAR9G

Mommy Bloggers & the White Women of Hope (in the Real World)

Dear Mommy Bloggers and White-Chick-Motivational-Speakers:

Hi.

I wanted to be like you, more than you could possibly know.

I wanted the Pinterest life, the 2.5 kids, the I-Can-Bake-Sugar-Cookies-And-Not-Get-Flour-Anywhere perfection that’s gorgeously-photographed-with-a-perfect-filter persona.

I wanted to have the right Bible verse at the right time, to show you and everyone that I. Am. A. Good. Christian. Wife.

I wanted the en-pointe brow, the Jenner-worthy highlight, and the Hatmaker-moxie that makes everyone love me and want to be like me…Just. Like. You.

I wanted to be Candace.

I wanted to be Jen.

I wanted to be Glennon.

 

I can’t.

 

Am I the only one that sees these “normal” women and weeps because they feel like their life is wasted in a reality that is NOTHING like what they read? Am I the only one that can’t listen to someone tell me, “Girl, Wash Your Face,’ because at this point, there aren’t any bootstraps to pull myself up by? Am I the only one that had a dream that keeps getting derailed by illness or finances or a million other obstacles that just keep coming, one after another, without a break?

 

Am I the only one that’s about to give it all up?

 

There are things in my life that I was told would never happen—my son, first and foremost—and they DID happen, so I know it’s possible. I know it CAN happen, but what does it take? Why am I not good enough, if I truly am giving my best?

 

How much more of myself do I have to pour out, before there is that promised refreshing of the Spirit? Before the “potential” is the realized present?

 

I’m not whining or indulging in defeat. These are honest questions that we as Christians need to be willing to ask with open hearts. These are questions that are very easy to slap a Bible verse and a Snapchat filter on, along with a “Cheer up, Charlie!”  response, but all that does is create impressions of a Martha-Stewart Reality. Jesus doesn’t listen to hurting hearts and say, “Girl, get yourself up and out of that funk, right now!”

Jesus says, “You’re hurting, and I know it. I feel it, and I’m here. You won’t be in this place forever, daughter, but you’re here now, and I’m here, too. Today, we rest. Rest in Me. I know you feel defeated. I know you feel like you’re at the bottom. I know you want to give up.

I know you’re broken.

I’m here to make you whole.

But it’s going to take a while.”

The Song of Solomon says, “Do not awaken Love before its time.” (Song of Solomon 2:7; 3:5; 8:4) It actually says it like, 3 times in the book, so that tells me it’s important. The dangers of focusing on the Mommy Bloggers and the White Women of Hope are that the image and the promises are instantaneous, although I do not think that’s their intention. We see the Glennons and the Jens and we see beautiful faces and gorgeous honesty…we see the aftermath, and we think our redemption and the answer to our problems is RIGHT NOW.

 

Well, I’m here to tell myself and to remind myself (and you, maybe) that we don’t want to awaken Love before its time. The statement tells us, it reminds us, that everything has a TIME—everything has a designated time and a designated process, and we (I) always hurt the most when my time frame and His time frame don’t match up.

 

He has a plan for my life.

I can’t see it, right now.

Right now, I’m an internal ball of electrified yarn, and every time I try to untangle it, I get shocked by the situation I’m in, and wounded even further.

I have to wait this out, and as I once told a friend of mine, “there is breaking in the waiting.”

 

I’m not pretty right now.

I’m not Pinterest-worthy (not that I ever was).

I don’t have pithy sayings and roll-script placards to hang in my foyer (LOL—like I have a foyer).

I want to awaken Love, and see the end of this story, because THIS CHAPTER SUCKS. (Underlined, italics, all-caps—get it?!?!?!?!?!??  I really, REALLY mean it. This chapter sucks. Completely.)

 

I am going out on a limb and saying that I need prayer right now. My family needs prayer. I hate saying that, because I feel like there’ve been so many times where we’ve had a “dramatic” thing happen and have needed prayer; it’s very hard for me to suck up my pride and just admit it right now. My little family is broken, and our hearts are hurting. We need supernatural provision and for doors to open in unforeseen ways.

 

I need peace that passes all understanding, and the physical capability to cope with the stress that we’re under. I need a refreshing in my heart that pushes past the things I see—the Jens and the Glennons and the Candaces—and seals in my heart the love and value that God sees in me, because I can’t see it right now.

 

The disappointment that is choking me is usurping my ability to find the joy in every situation, which is something I’ve always said I wanted to maintain. I can’t laugh, and that’s not like me, so this has to lift. I’m being transparent, here—the depression/anxiety that is always on the brink is threatening much more than just my sanity this time, and I’m struggling to fight through it (and yes, I’m medicated, but that only goes so far). This year is ending on the battlefield, and we’re wounded.

 

So, I can try to read the words of the Jens and the Glennons and the Candaces (and even the Voskamps), but they’re bouncing off, because all I taste is the bitterness of a sanitized presentation.

Then again, who wants to read the words written from the middle of Ground Zero?

 

Sometimes, I look back on what I wrote in the thick of it, in other times in my life.

I look back on the things I said from Ground Zero, and I remember the journey out of that valley.

 

I’ve been here before.

 

It’s different, but familiar

And I know that God is faithful,

Even when I’m broken.

 

I’m not going to awaken Love before its time.

I’m not going to read someone else’s words about how they went from nothing-to-something, or from broken-to-whole.

They’re not me, and the more I think about them, the more I sink into a pit of jealousy and frustration.

 

I’m going to read the words of eternal Life,

And I’m going to cry, and break, and be a snotty, un-Snapchattable, Pinterest-failure of a person, and I’m going to (eventually) accept that it’s okay.

 

I’m going to put one foot in front of another, and most likely, trip and fall flat on my face…again…and again….and again…

But eventually,

I’ll get back up, as will my household.

 

For right now, though, we are in yet-another valley, & there aren’t enough pithy sayings from the White Women of Hope that can pull us out.

 

We will not awaken Love before its time…we will go through this process, and we will embrace the hurting; we will learn the lessons we need to learn, and we will be as transparent as we need to be, even when it breaks our pride & makes us feel raw & exposed. We will accept the failure on our own, & we will not whitewash it in Magnolia paints or Pinterest craft boards. We will live in this moment, and maintain the hope that we have that it’s not forever. It’s a time, and there isn’t a fast-forward button on this one.

 

And someday, He will make the exchange of Beauty for Ashes, and we will see how His hand worked through it all…because He is Who He says He is, and through it all, we believe.

3am…

I don’t want to be awake right now.

Steroids do funny things. I’m on Day 4, & I know they’re doing what they need to do, but I’m tired…but jumpy…and honestly, emotional.

Her birthday is this week….it’s Tuesday. If you ask me specifically why it hits me differently every year, I couldn’t tell you. Everything was running along smoothly, except for, same as last year, when I realized that life was running along so quickly that I wouldn’t have time this week to take that “pause” to honor her….to reflect on her life….and I hate that.

I had to say the words last night out loud, “Hey, I get this. We need this. She was real, she was a person, and she is part of who we are, so even in this crazy, busy week, we make time.”

I don’t know how that is going to happen, but it IS going to happen.

We move along in life so quickly….we have our routines and schedules. We don’t take time to sit and reflect, so it feels unnatural, but it needs to be done. Pain and sadness need to be recognized, so they can be processed….so that they don’t get buried….because we all know they don’t STAY buried.

For me, if I don’t take this time now, these feelings and frustrations will manifest themselves in a couple of ways. I’ll cry or fly off of the handle about something innocuous. I’ll sulk or withdraw. I won’t sleep. I will carry around unnecessary guilt and shame. I’ll get sick. My family will suffer, & it will all be fallout from my failure to listen to that still, small voice that says, “Stop. Breathe. Remember.”

My daughter…my beautiful winter butterfly…would be 12 years old this week. We’d be going through “the change” that all of the women in my family went thru at 12, and OMG HOW WOULD WE DEAL?!?!? I imagine we’d be having arguments about social media & boys, & junior-high drama…there would be the introduction to makeup, or maybe a CCW class with Auntie, & Lord knows what else. We’d be starting the conversation about college, and I would be internally freaking out about how much information about LIFE, & HOW do parents maintain that balance? I think my Hannah & I would have a good relationship, & that I would be finding myself on my knees more than ever before as we enter the last year before TEENAGERDOME. 🙂

My little girl passed away before too much of her personality could be established, but there are some things I know for certain: She loved music. She loved songs with soul & excitement. 🙂 She smelled like Cheerios, & she knew her Daddy’s voice. She was a happy baby, which is amazing, considering the duress by which she came into the world…

And she made me into someone I’ve wanted to be, for as long as I can remember: She made me a Mom.

I will always, always be grateful to God for blessing us with her. I will always be grateful for our 29 days on this earth together, & I have absolutely no regrets. We had a gift that changed the course of our lives, our marriage, & our faith, & we are eternally impacted by 29 days with the most precious princess this world has ever seen.

I love that our journey with Hannah isn’t over. I love knowing that because of Jesus, it’s only on “pause,” until we are together in eternity. I love that He gives us that level of hope, and that He takes our despair & turns it into a beautiful anticipation of what is to come….

Happy birthday, Hannah Elizabeth Gayle Cooley. You’ve made my world more amazing and beautiful, just because I had the chance to call you mine.

3am isn’t so bad, after all.

The Inconvenience of Healthcare AKA, Making a Big Deal out of Nothing At All

*Never doubt my love of Air Supply.
**Back Story: If you’re new to the blog, I was diagnosed with metastatic thyroid cancer in 2015. I had a tumor that wrapped around my throat and went into my mediastinum; the cancer broke through the capsule of the tumor and went into my lymph nodes. I had a total thyroidectomy (TT) in 2015, and have been on thyroid replacement hormones (TRH) since then (Armour Thyroid). After firing my first set of doctors (oncology, ENT, and endocrinologist–the oncologist didn’t want to see me back for any follow-up care for a year, which my PCP didn’t appreciate; the surgeon became out of my insurance network; the endocrinologist miscommunicated a medication dosage to her staff, and almost killed me), I wound up switching all of my cancer-related care to Barnes Jewish Hospital’s Siteman Cancer Center, where I’ve remained since 2016.
Surgeon: “You need to visit the oncologist for updated testing; it’s been 2 years, so you’re due.”
Oncology Nurse: “Please come in for a consultation!”
Me: Has a day off, arranges schedule accordingly (I work 40 hours a week, and have a 45-minute commute each way. I stay busy. For this appointment, I was going to have my son with me, but whatever–we’d make it work).
Oncology Nurse (2 days before the scheduled consultation): “Oh, no, we don’t want to see you for a consultation until you get all of these tests, which will take an entire week to accomplish. Let’s get this scheduled.” This testing involves 2 days of injections, plus one day of radiation (tracer dose), plus 1 day off (because I can’t be around pregnant people), and then a day of labs and a full-body scan….which didn’t work on me, the last time I did it, and I wound up having to have a very expensive PET scan….so I was trepidatious, to say the least.
Me: Arranges appropriate time off of work; arranges childcare. Gets everything scheduled and gets everything approved through office (which couldn’t come at a worse time, given my current workload). Gets emotionally prepared to be a pincushion for a week. Informs family of process to come, and struggles with ensuing anxiety.
Oncology Nurse: “Oh, no, wait, we don’t want to do any of this testing until we have a consultation scheduled.”
Me: “ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!?!?!?!?!?!?” LOSES MY TEMPER on highly-degreed individuals who have obviously forgotten that I AM A HUMAN, and I am more than the stupid disease that has been hanging over my head for 3 years!!!!! “Could you NOT have decided to do the consultation first, like we ORIGINALLY SCHEDULED, before putting me through all of the hassle to put a very busy life on hold for a week? Could you maybe have REVIEWED A CHART and a medical history, and REMEMBERED a few key details?!?!?! Who decided this?!?  Who decided to do one thing, then another, and then the first thing, after I already rearranged my life?!?!?! The Nurse Practitioner? Can I speak to her?!?!?!” She takes a message, and says the NP will call me back.
Me (super-mad): Calls surgeon who sent me back to oncology in the first place; gets favorite nurse on the phone. “Lisa? Can you help me? Can you talk to them and figure out the why in what the heck they’re doing, since your MD sent me back to that office in the first place?!?!?” She agrees to call them; she was out of the office when I was told to make the oncology appointment, and she’s aggravated that the MD forgot to explain everything to her. She’s been amazing. She can’t help what happens next.
Oncology Nurse Practitioner (now I’ve moved up the chain of command; my phone was IN MY HAND and went to voicemail, and this is what I got): “Mrs. Cooley, the insurance company won’t cover any of the testing until you’ve had a consultation.”
THEN WHY DID THEY CANCEL THE ONE I HAD SCHEDULED IN THE FIRST PLACE!!!!!!!!!!!
I am so sick and tired of the medical BS that doctors put people through, because somehow, in all of this, they forget that we are individuals who put our actual lives on hold to deal with these things that come from out of nowhere to sideline us and our families!!!!! It’s been 12 hours since my conversation with oncology, and I’m STILL mad. It’s an endless cycle of bad communication, and it’s a small wonder that insurance companies are now basically practicing medicine without licenses in order to dictate the course of care/medical authorizations. IF THE DOCTORS THAT ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CARE THAT AFFECTS THE QUALITY OF OUR LIFE CANNOT EFFECTIVELY COMMUNICATE WITH EITHER THEMSELVES OR WITH THEIR PATIENTS, what hope do we have for our medical well-being?!?!
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I don’t think it’s too much to ask, for a doctor to review at the very least, a list of the patient’s diagnoses before they walk into a room for a consultation or order a test…but guess what? They’re so over-scheduled that they don’t have time. BUT, they’re so over-scheduled, because the insurance contracts reduce their allowed amounts to the point that in spite of popular opinion, doctors and hospitals generally make just enough money to make a profit, or even to barely meet costs. My orthopedic surgeon–you know, the woman who was responsible for cutting my feet open and rearranging the tendons so that I could relearn how to walk properly–was allowed maybe 10 minutes for each visit (actually, I think it was 4 minutes) by her overseeing medical group. 4-10 minutes, to make sure that surgery is necessary, that 4″ of incisions are healing properly (mine didn’t), to decide what steps need to be taken–she has 4-10 minutes to make decisions that will affect me for the rest of my life. Me, and the 50-90 other patients that she’ll see in a day.  Fortunately for me, my ortho was AMAZING, and her staff was phenomenal….not every MD is as dedicated, and not every MD can handle the workload they’re assigned (patients, documentation, insurance reviews–it’s more than the average patient understands).
ARE THEY KIDDING US?!?!?!? Are they kidding the doctors? They didn’t sign up for this; they signed up to help people, not to treat them like a cattle call.
But there they are, making decisions, saving lives, and leaving a trail of confusion and frustration in their wake…
At this point, I’m not sure what’s more frustrating—the doctors, the insurance companies, or the diseases that exist in the first place.
I was whining on the phone to my mother last night (God love her, for listening to me), and she pointed out (very gently) that since my thyroid was ripped out, my ability to process my emotions has been greatly affected. I detest admitting that she is correct, but it’s true. I struggle with being angrier when I’m mad, with being deeply depressed when I’m sad. There’s no happy medium with my emotions, and it makes things much more difficult. There are times when I’ve wondered if I’m straight-up bipolar, or on the spectrum, or if I’m just permanently screwed up from all of this. Maybe it’s PTSD on steroids, or maybe I’m just a terrible person. I don’t think it’s normal for people to stew on things like I do, or to have the internal (and sometimes external) monologues that I have to sort things out. I don’t want to admit that I’ve changed, but it’s true: I’m different.
I don’t know if I’m more honest, or if I’m just, frankly, more of a bitch. I don’t know if I’m more unfiltered (because I don’t have the patience to wrap things in snowflakes for the general public), or if the more choleric side to my personality has somehow mutated, but what I do know is that I am sick and tired of the hamster-wheel that a chronic illness put me on.
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I like people less. I have less patience for people. I like the fact that I sit in an office by myself, because I don’t think I can deal with the anxiety and stress that dealing with the public puts me through. I don’t like getting out of my familiar, and I don’t want to do it. When doctors lay out a course of treatment or protocol, I will latch onto that, and Type-A get it scheduled, and God-help-you if you get in the way of MY PLAN.
On the plus side, since my whole cancer debacle, at least you know when you ask me a question, you will get the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, once I’ve warmed up to you and feel like I can trust you with the unfiltered version of me. That takes a while–I’m not as easy of a person to get to know as one would think at first.
I think the thing I’m the angriest about is that I have an incredible amount of anxiety any time I have to deal with the oncology department. I can’t explain it or make it go away; just knowing I have to go back there seems to undo me, and I had just gotten it into my brain that this was actually happening again. Surely I am not the only person in the world who deals with this?!?!?  I had just made peace with it all, and had made my plans accordingly; as aforementioned, I do NOT like it when my PLAN gets messed up or taken out of order, LOL. That’s not doing me any favors in motherhood, let me tell ya’. Am I crazy for being this aggravated about this one instance of medical miscommunication?!? Or should we all get this mad, and maybe make something happen from it?
I know the “right” things to say, here: “God has a plan.” “This will all get worked out.” “Trust Him with your anger.” “Be angry, but don’t sin (stop swearing!).” “Stop ranting (that’s part of my monologue-ing)”. “It’s still the good kind of cancer, right? Be grateful!” Blahbaty-blah-blah. And yes, I’m praying about it..sort of. It’s one of those throw-up-your-hands-and-yell/pray kind of prayers. 🙂 I do that a lot lately.
Healthcare in this country has got to get figured out. I consider myself to be a pretty informed patient after almost 20 years of working in this industry, and if this kind of confusion in healthcare is “normal,” WHAT IN THE WORLD is going on? What have we come to?!? And what are we paying for?!?!?!?!?

Part 4: Redefining Family Structure in the Church, AKA, “*But it Wouldn’t Be Nothin’….Without a Woman or a Girl.”

*I couldn’t just mention that song in my last blog without finishing the line in this one, right?

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Natural-Order-of-The-Family

Hey, look at that! The Pesky Umbrella Graphic got an upgrade!!! Well, it may have brighter colors and a few changes in the wording, but hey, guess what?

It’s still missing the mark.

Before I jump into all of that, though, let’s recap:

  1. The intro: His Banner Over Me is Love (AKA, “I am NEVER on the bottom of the totem pole”)
  2. Part 2: “Married/Single: There’s a Place for You
  3. Part 3: “This is a Man’s World

And after weeks (maybe months) of sitting on it, I think I’m finally ready to write the part of this series that’s the most difficult to me: “Redefining the Role of a Woman.”

I want to state again very clearly before I tackle this topic that I am NOT a feminist. You won’t find me wearing a “P” hat, burning my bra and screaming about the patriarchy (okay, you MIGHT find me burning my bra, let’s be real here). You will find me, however, more than willing to engage in discussions about respect and expectations, and I think that’s really at the crux of it all. People want to be respected, and treated well. No one wants to be treated as “less than” for any reason, especially if it’s because of facts that are out of their control. I recently blogged about why I’m grateful for Title IX training in my place of work, and why I think Christians have failed in getting and staying educated in such matters. Sexual harassment and improprieties stem from an overall lack of respect for another individual (& from an overdeveloped sense of entitlement & lack of humility). Last January, I blogged about hoping for a day when we rise up and instead of saying, #MeToo, we say, #IAm. What if we went from being victims and from being victimized, to being a people that are aware of the great Love with which we are created? A people that recognize that greatness in each other, and respect it? It would be the death of the #TimesUp movement, because the time for improprieties and inappropriate behaviors would TRULY be “Up.”

More than just respect, however, comes a need for people to seek God and ask Him the question, “Who do You say I am?” When we start…just to start…to ask Him that question and wrap our heads and our hearts around His response, we find ourselves shell-shocked by GRACE.

A leader in our Church told us we needed to ask God that question a few weeks ago. Since he made that statement, there has been a seismic shift in our church body that we’re all reeling from. We’re all processing, and a lot of people have been deeply wounded by the actions of another…yet in the midst of that, the question remains: “We are wounded. We’re bloody on the battlefield, God, but who do You say we are?”

He looks back at all of us, and His answer is the same: “You Are My Beloved.”

His banner over us as a corporate body, and as individual people, is still, in the midst of it all, Love.

When we look at each other the way HE looks at us, what choice do we have but to treat each other with grace and forgiveness? With love and respect? And in that treatment, where is there room for inequality or hierarchies?

I’m not a feminist. I’m an equalist. We are different in our roles and our responsibilities, but we are not worth more or higher than another. The only One that’s above any of us is Jesus. He’s the only One Who is worthy!

When we look at this Pesky Umbrella Graphic, it really does defy logic. It doesn’t make any sense!! WHAT’S HOLDING UP THE UMBRELLA, PEOPLE?!? It requires a central line and support pieces. What’s that supposed to be, in this graphic? IT’S NOT DEFINED. Whoops. There’s an artist somewhere who’d flat-out failed.

When I wrote the blog on them role of the husband in the household, I didn’t have the updated version of the Pesky Umbrella Graphic (the PUG) to work off of. I am not going to tackle the role of children in thein the household at this time; that may come later. For now, I am sticking to husbands & wives.

For the man, it states that role of the husband is to:

  1. To Protect the Family
  2. To Provide for the Family
  3. To Lead the Family.

That’s similar enough to the older version of the PUG that I’m not going to recap it for the sake of comparison. You can check out the link that’s listed above if you want the breakdown. I’m focusing on women in this blog.

The PUG graphic is basing itself on Ephesians 5. The older version of the PUG states that the role of a woman is:

  1. To Be a Helper to the Husband
  2. Raise Godly Children
  3. Submit to Husband’s Authority

The newer version of the PUG states that the role of the woman is:

  1. To Comfort
  2. To Teach
  3. To Nurture

I have to say, the older version of the PUG makes the hair on my arms stand up, and in fact, by omission, so does the newer version. This kind of thinking–this hierarchical system–is what belittles women and devalues their contributions to the household. It creates a system that opens doors to abuse and to second-guessing the unique roles that God designed us as women to take on.

I did a lot of thinking and questioning regarding this topic. I mean, the Word is the Word, right?

Ephesians 5–let’s take a look at it, because it’s really what this whole hierarchical system comes from:

Wives and Husbands

21 Honor Christ and put others first. 22 A wife should put her husband first, as she does the Lord. 23 A husband is the head of his wife, as Christ is the head and the Savior of the church, which is his own body. 24 Wives should always put their husbands first, as the church puts Christ first.
25 A husband should love his wife as much as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it. 26 He made the church holy by the power of his word, and he made it pure by washing it with water. 27 Christ did this, so that he would have a glorious and holy church, without faults or spots or wrinkles or any other flaws.
28 In the same way, a husband should love his wife as much as he loves himself. A husband who loves his wife shows that he loves himself. 29 None of us hate our own bodies. We provide for them and take good care of them, just as Christ does for the church, 30 because we are each part of his body. 31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother to get married, and he becomes like one person with his wife.” 32 This is a great mystery, but I understand it to mean Christ and his church. 33 So each husband should love his wife as much as he loves himself, and each wife should respect her husband.

I can’t, and I won’t, argue with the Word of God. My issues are not with what the Bible says. My issue is how it’s been interpreted, and how that interpretation has been twisted to manipulate women in particular. I want to be very, VERY clear, once again, that I AM NOT ARGUING WITH THE WORD OF GOD. Even when it uses words that rankle me in today’s retaliatory feminist construct, I’m not disputing it. I’m disputing the misinterpretation. Women were NEVER meant to be on the bottom of anyone’s list. Period.

The old PUG states that we are to “be a helper” to our husband, while the new PUG says we’re to be a “comfort.” I am not going to deny that we have a job to be a helper to our husband….but we share that responsibility. He is our helper, we are his helper. We are co-helpmates. It may be something as simple as, “I’m going to load the dishwasher; you can put the dishes away,” or something as complex as, “I’m confused as to my role in the church and I don’t understand what God is doing right now; would you listen to me and help me sort this out and get some focus?” When you have a relationship where there are medical issues, where you can’t keep up with what you need to get done, your spouse has to jump in and help you. Marriage is not about one person leaning on the other all of the time. Marriage is about two people leaning on Jesus, and working together for His common goal, whatever that looks like. It’s not co-dependent; it’s two independent people recognizing their weaknesses and learning the strengths that God put in the other to make the family work together for His purposes!

To be honest, I’m not as bothered by the new PUG stating that it’s our role to be a “comfort” as I am by the old PUG stating that it’s our job to be “a helper,” because I can see how one would assume that we as women take on that role of being a “comforter.” I get it, even though I know it doesn’t apply to all (having a uterus does not mean one is automatically a naturally-comforting person). I’m more bothered at the inequality of the old PUG stating ONLY for the women, is it a job to be a helper. Genesis 2:18 states that from the very beginning of Creation, God recognized that Man was not meant to be alone, and that he needed a helper “fit” for him. We’re designed to work together. One piece of a puzzle does not paint a picture; it takes pieces fitting together to make the whole scene come to life!

The second part of the PUG states that the role for women is to “raise the children,” or in the new PUG, “to teach.”

Please allow me a second to get up on my soapbox, & turn up my microphone so I can Bless God’s People.

STOP. DEMEANING. FATHERS. BY. ASSIGNING. GENDER ROLES. TO PARENTING.

It is NOT the role of the woman to raise the children all by herself!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (how many exclamation points can I add without it becoming obnoxious?)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This goes back to the blog about the role of a man, and the things I said about the cyclical treatment of women by men, and of men by women.

We love our spouses. We set the example. We teach inherent sexism by making it out as though only one gender can be responsible for certain things in the household. By saying that women are responsible for raising the children, we strip men of their contributions and their value in the parenting process, thus teaching our boys how to be absentee/uninvolved dads, and our daughters to never learn to respect and value a man’s worth in the home outside of his wallet.

I married a man who is an EXCELLENT father to our son. He does it without pause or resentment; never once have I heard him say, “You do it, that’s a woman-thing”. He loves that little boy with his entire heart, & he’s proud to be for him what he didn’t have in his own life. We each contribute toward the raising of our child, for better or for worse. We don’t always succeed, but we’re trying, and we’re doing it as a joint effort.
If the role of a woman is to be a comfort, and thereby, set the stage for a child’s relationship with the Holy Spirit, than that reiterates that a father & his relationship with his child sets the stage for that child’s relationship with God the Father.

It is NOT the job of a woman alone to teach their child.

We teach our children by how we treat each other, together, and by how we individually treat them in their role in our household.

The link above is to a blog that a man wrote in the Washington Post about the whole, “It’s not babysitting if it’s your kid” movement.

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This picture infuriates me. Two people create a child. Two. Society has allowed women to take on the roles of both mother and father, and women have succeeded. We CAN do it all…but it’s at a tremendous sacrifice, and a very, very high price. It’s not the way it was designed to be. God made us to be together to raise our children…and two people can be together in a household, but only one who will raise the child. It’s a terrible imbalance that has spiritual, physical, and mental consequences.

Single mothers are amazing, strong, ferocious women that have taken on the collective responsibilities of the household. They’re the spiritual, physical, and financial leaders of their houses, and THEY ARE EXHAUSTED. But THEY. DON’T. STOP.

Because they can’t.

And in caring for their children to the best of their abilities, they sacrifice so much of their hearts and minds, only for the Church to come in and constantly remind them of why they’re just not good enough.

That’s crap.

The Church is designed to be a supply house, both physically and spiritually, for the widow and the orphan, and women that are single parents are women that have been abandoned by their helpmate (or have had to abandon their helpmate), so I believe they more than qualify. We’re to be a place of open hearts and arms for these women, yet far too often, all we are is a house of judgement. That’s junk, and we’ve missed the mark. We need to support single mothers in such a way that they are spiritually sustained to fill both roles of leadership in their household, not to drain them by pharisaical false theology.

There was a set of books that were so popular in the 90’s & early 2000’s, called Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. The book was a broad-spectrum definer of why women and men think in such different ways from each other, and I find myself referencing it when I can’t figure out the Why in David’s DO. In the book, women are considered to be the broad-spectrum thinkers, where men are the ones with a singular focus. We branch out, while they go in for the on-site kill. They’re the hunters, we’re the gatherers–caveman stuff. I see these differences in my husband and I, to perfectly answer the book’s stereotypes (and I’m normally not a huge fan of stereotypes). 🙂 I will converse about an issue for DAYS. David will make his point once, and be done with it (and be frustrated with me, because I’M NOT FINISHED!!!!!). He will go to the grocery store and get milk and bread, while I will go in and get $200 worth of food for the month, without a list, but with an entire calendar in hand. Neither of us is wrong–we both needed groceries. He’s just got a completely different way of thinking than I do, but it still works. Again, we are made to fit together, to help each other, & to balance each other. Sometimes (okay, a lot of times) our different ways of thinking frustrate us to no end, but it’s all part of the process of coming together as a team.

Single mothers have to have both sets of brains–they have to be both the hunter and the gatherer, the person of a single focus, but also the broad-spectrum thinker. That kind of duality is exhausting. The Church should be an oasis to challenge the spirit, but to also allow the mind to rest. The single mother should find no greater refuge than the church, and no greater resource to help her find her value as a woman, than in the church.

The third part of the PUG states that our role as women is to “submit to the husband’s authority” in the old graphic, or to “nurture” in the new graphic. Um…okay…..here we go….

When you nurture a plant, you feed it, you water it, you give it sunlight, and you give it the tools it needs to be healthy. “Nurture” is one of those words that evokes mental images of softness and of comfort, words that are not typically associated with men. We think of a mother nurturing their child from the womb and throughout life; our very physical body was made to nurture our children…but we weren’t made to do it alone. Mothers and Fathers work together to create a nurturing environment for their children. We need both the softness and the encouragement, as well as the firmness and the defined boundaries. I don’t think that just a mother, or just a father, should be one of those things at all times. I will say that in both of these graphics, giving the “duties” of nurturing to the woman makes the most sense to me, and it’s the least-irritating concept under the umbrella (ella. Ella. A. A. A.). I get that. It works. I’m not mad at it. The biggest, baddest, most aggravating concept on this entire umbrella (besides the fact that the old graphic puts women at the bottom of the patriarchal totem pole) is that word, “SUBMIT.”

When I hear the words, “submit!” I always hear it with an exclamation point, followed by an internal gif of an old white guy banging a judge’s gavel. The word “submission” has such a negative context; it’s because it’s been abused and misused so badly. I think it’s a word that’s been destroyed in the wake of misappropriation, and as Christians, we need to correct our interpretation and pull it back from this dictatorship-mentality that we have. If my entire series of redefining the Christian family does one thing, my hope is that it succeeds in changing perspectives on the word, “submit.”

Submission was never meant to be taken as a boot on the chest of women, holding us down or stripping us of our will. It was never meant as a constricting thing, never meant to confine us or to force us to do anything we didn’t have a desire to do or to be a part of. Submission is not abuse.

Say it again for the people in the back of the room: SUBMISSION IS NOT ABUSE.

We are not dogs, that we should roll over and expose our weaknesses for men to exploit. We are not victims, and they are not our captors.

We are not weak, that we should be parasites off of the strength of men because we lack the capacity to do it ourselves.

We are not at their beck and call, either in the boardroom or the bedroom, and we are not “less than.”

Back to Ephesians 5:24–“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husband as you do to the Lord.”

And there it is….”as you do to the Lord.”

There is quite a bit of instruction in this chapter; Paul runs through a list that’s pretty long:

  1. Do imitate God
  2. Do walk in love (some translations say, “Let Love be your Guide.” I like that.)
  3. Don’t be perverted or inappropriate
  4. Do give thanks.
  5. Don’t be deceived
  6. Do learn what is pleasing to the Lord.
  7. Do not participate in shady deals, but instead, expose them.
  8. Do make the most of your time, and walk in integrity.
  9. Do seek God’s Will
  10. Don’t waste time by being drunks
  11. Do be filled with the Holy Spirit and focus on worship
  12. Do submit to one another
  13. Wives, submit to husbands as you do unto the Lord
  14. Husbands, love your wives
  15. Church, submit to Christ
  16. Wives, respect your husbands

Of course, you can get super-exegetical and break all of this down, but that’s a volume. I’m focusing on those last 5 things. I can break down this section verse-by-verse and tell you the ways it’s been used to malign women. I think every one of us can think of a way that women have been shamed by the concept of submission. I think we can all see ways these verses have been misinterpreted….but look at the verses through the filter of that opening line. “Let Love be your guide.”

Working in optometry, I’ve learned the huge change that can come over someone when they get a properly-measured pair of eyeglasses. The entire world changes!

luna

We’re to look at the world through the love of Jesus. We’re to read the Bible through lenses of the Love of Jesus–not through lenses that are clouded by misinterpretations and oppression. When we as women read these verses in particular, we need to stop and put on those lenses of the love of the Lord. We need to read them as though He were saying them to us, to our face. How would Jesus speak these things to us?

As women, we have a responsibility to seek Jesus first and foremost. We have a responsibility to establish that relationship on our own, before we go looking to another to establish it for us. Our relationship with our husband should strengthen our relationship with Jesus, but our relationship with Him cannot be dependent on our relationship with him. Get it?

If only we could undo 2,000 years of negative connotations for that word…

When you love Jesus, you trust Him. And when you trust Him, you allow Him to direct your life. That’s submission. That’s what He wants.

He doesn’t want to bruise us, or to crush our spirits. Jesus wants the absolute best for us, which doesn’t always line up to what WE think is His best, so we have to submit our will to His. It can be a difficult process, but it’s SO worth it in the end!

Our husbands have a responsibility to love Jesus, first and foremost. They’re human; they’re flawed, and they fail. It doesn’t say they have to be perfect. They just have to maintain that heart that remains focused on Him. When they do that, they exhibit His character. When WE do that as women, WE exhibit His character.

We move in harmony with the will of God when we’re both focused on serving Him.

When we love Jesus, and we love each other, we each want God’s absolute best for the other person. We are willing to humble ourselves and to seek God’s will; we put our own egos aside and we go before God as a unified household. My husband is to love me as Christ loves the Church–that’s that Song of Solomon love, that love that goes before us and behind us. That’s the love that declares to the enemy that I am his, and he is mine, and you won’t come against our marriage or our household.

It isn’t easy for me to submit, & I can’t do it on my own. It’s not easy for me to say that word. I don’t like that word–“I am Woman, hear me roar!!–but submission is not a sign of weakness or failure.

Submission doesn’t mean that I go blindly, or that I haven’t put up an argument or asked my husband to explain himself. I’m not expected to acquiesce in obsequiousness. I’m not a blow-up doll, and God didn’t create us as women to be such. GOD MADE US AS WOMEN IN HIS IMAGE, and He loves how we think and work and function!!!! He made us to communicate the way we communicate, with reason and with intelligence for a PURPOSE! He thinks our brains are beautiful, and He loves us! He doesn’t expect us to suppress that in marriage—He expects it to improve as “iron sharpening iron!!!!!!” (Have you ever seen iron sharpen iron? It’s a really messy process.)!

It doesn’t mean that he disrespects me and doesn’t hear me out. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t miss the mark (or that I don’t miss the mark). It does mean, though, that there is grace.

Submission takes respect, grace, prayer, and support, from both parties in a marriage. We have to respect each other. We have to give each other grace. We have to pray for each other and with each other, and we have to support the decisions that are made. Without support, a structure crumbles.

When it comes down to it, though, biblically, I have to submit to the decisions my husband makes. I don’t always go quietly; in a previous blog, I discussed how during one season, it took me over a YEAR to finally get on the same page as David. In walking that out, though, I found out about the blessings that can finally come when two praying people stand together in unity. It’s still hard, but at least I can appreciate the process, & after that last experience, I’ve learned some lessons.

Before anything in Ephesians is broken down into focusing on marriage, we’re to submit to ONE ANOTHER. In the English Standard Version, it almost uses the words “respect” and “submit” interchangeably, which I love (Ephesians 5:33, “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband”). When you respect someone, you submit yourself to their expertise. You trust them, and you trust that you can learn from them–how cool is that? We trust that they have something to say, and they trust that WE have something to say, so we listen to each other! We’re to be respectful and kind to each other (I Pet. 3:15)–Remember that when these chapters were written, they weren’t separated into topics. They were letters written to people groups. We broke these things up in our English translations, and in doing so, put our own spin and focus onto key verses that may not have been intended by the original authors. So, when you read Ephesians 5, read it straight through, without pausing for sections, and think about how it goes.

Submission is a requirement for a successful family dynamic, but that doesn’t mean everything looks like that totem pole/umbrella graphic. Just the visual of that graphic–placing women on the lowest rung?!?!–causes dissonnance and the devaluing of the roles we each play in our household. We’re so beautifully meant to intertwine and to work together for the glory of God…everything is for His elevation, not for our humiliation. I want to rethink this graphic, and take it completely out of the concept of a hierarchy.

The closest thing I can liken it to is a planetary orbit. I love how God gives us the best images of His personality in nature!!!!

The planets orbit around the sun, right? And each planet has their own course, with their own moons–do you see where this is going?

These planets all have different things pulling on them. Magnetic pulls, centrifugal forces, etc., all take part in keeping the planets on the course they’re designed to be on. If one planet decided that it didn’t want to stay the course, the entire solar system would be effected, and it would be cataclysmic. I think instead of a hierarchy, perhaps we should look at biblical family design like it’s own little Solar System spinning around Jesus. When one person stops seeking God, and stops focusing on Him, it affects the paths of the other planets.

I don’t like the hierarchical illustration. It reeks of manipulation. I don’t for a second believe it was ever meant to be taken as men are over, or are more important than women, but the Church has interpreted it that way for years. It’s not to be read in arrogance, but instead, in humility and grace. When you read Ephesians 5 in context, you see that it’s a manual for a life of integrity, respect, and kindness, . There’s no pride in the entire chapter. Men set the example of submission for women, by submitting to Jesus. Women set the example of submission by respecting their husbands & by submitting to Jesus, and we all respect each other. Our kids grow up in an atmosphere of SERVICE—what?!? It sounds a little utopian, but imagine how the world would be if we all acted it out?!?

Is that crazy?

In Galatians, the Bible says there is “neither Jew, nor Gentile; nor slave, nor free; nor is there male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” I think it’s fitting that the verse comes in the middle of a chapter that focuses on deception and of being locked in custody. There is tremendous freedom that comes when we put on those lenses of grace, and understand that God sees every single one of us as equal to another, regardless of gender or societal position. We’re all on the same page, at the same level, and we all have the same goal: To love and to serve Jesus with humility and grace…to seek Him first. That is the very definition of what I mean when I say that I am not a feminist. I am an equalist. Every man has a role. Every woman has a role. Those roles together, centered around the mission that Jesus gives each and every one of us, is our entire Focus. There is no competition. There is no struggling for position. There is only focusing on the Lord, and uplifting each other for that purpose.

Ditch the umbrella graphic. Forget the totem pole concept of putting women at the bottom of the list. We all have a voice, and we all have a role in the Kingdom of God. We’ve been created by a God Who loves us so much….Who appreciates us as individuals, and as part of His Body of believers. Men and women are together the Bride of Christ, and He loves us with an immeasurable grace. As Christians, we have no other option but to love each other to the best of our abilities, with grace and with respect to the value our Creator puts on each of us.

A Time To Mourn…AKA, “Speaking Christianese Never Made A Heart Heal Faster”

You can’t slap a Bible-verse Band-Aid over a severed limb and expect the bleeding to stop.
Healing is a PROCESS–it’s not instantaneous, and it isn’t pretty. Sometimes, we have to take in the full extent of the injury or the loss before healing can even begin. Things take time to process..realizations and understandings come in phases, and we don’t get it all at once, therefore, we can’t process it all at once.
The thing about Jesus, though, is that He meets us where we are in the process. Day by day, hour by hour, He meets us, and He welcomes our honesty. We don’t have to put a smile on our faces and fake it with Him; it’s useless, anyways. No one knows us better, so why do we try to act like we’re fine? There is no weakness in the truth.
Things happen in our lives that reshape every perspective or opinion that we’ve held, but our foundation remains the same. Jesus doesn’t change. His Word says there is “a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” It doesn’t mean that we speed through one to get to the other…it means there is a TIME for each process. It doesn’t mean we avoid one and focus on the other; it means that we endure one and we know we have a hope for the other.
Autumn is always a sensitive time of the year for me. It’s not a time of falling back into those initial days of the heaviest of grieving processes, but it is a time of respecting that you know what? Certain days are going to affect me more than others.  I’ve had a few conversations lately that have reminded me that grief, for any reason, is grief, and it has a process that must be respected.  I’m reminded of a conversation that I’ve referenced  before, but I feel like I need to go back to it:
Around 2 weeks after my daughter passed away, David & I finally made our way back into church. While there, I was having a noticeably difficult time (I suck at trying not to cry), and I went to sit in the lobby. A prominent woman in the church came up to me and hugged me, and said, “Are you better, now?”
I nearly slapped her.
I don’t remember what I said back to her, but the conversation has stuck in my brain as indicative of how Christians handle the process of grieving.
We. Are. Terrible. At. Grief.
It makes sense. I mean, c’mon, every worship song we sing focuses on joy and peace and happiness and glory and awesome and blahblahblahblabityblah. It’s all true. We serve an amazing, glorious, fantastic Lord Who loves us, so what’s not to celebrate?
We have this extremely arrogant tendency to coat our sorrows in Bible Verses, like the paper they’re printed on is going to magically paper-mache a lead balloon and make it float.
You can throw Bible verses at someone all day long, and yes–there IS life in the Word. However, read the room–don’t throw Scripture at a starving man. Feed him first, then tell him about Jesus. Acknowledge the broken heart (yours or someone else’s) with compassion and empathy, not with counter-attacks and guilt-inducing Christianese.
We’re so programmed to put on that joy that we forget that true joy is there, in the grieving process itself. We don’t have to bypass grief to hang onto joy. Joy is there, in the darkest of times, providing the guiding line to lead us out of the cave of heaviness and depression. Joy doesn’t always mean that we smile and dance…joy sometimes means that we lean into the comfort of our Savior, and that we know He is PRESENT in all things.
In the darkest days of my life, I can look back and see that silver thread of joy that is woven through the tapestry. I can see it through the rage; I can see it through the tears. I can see it becoming ever brighter as I walked through the valley of the shadow of death, and I can see it with me even now as I deal with personal battles. Joy is not always expressed as laughter. Joy is sometimes a gentle strength that shows up as an anchor in the waves that want to drown you.
The Fruits of the Spirit (I’ve always thought of that as a funny way to word those characteristics. And now the song is in my head. GAH!!) work together in our lives in many, many ways, but in times of grief or crisis, they really shine the brightest if we let them. The love of Jesus pours over us, capturing every tear we cry. His joy stands firm in the face of sadness that wants to encompass us. His Peace–peace is so, so hard to come by in a crisis, but it’s there. Sometimes it comes when you’ve cried your last tear, and you’re exhausted and can do nothing but sleep. Sometimes it comes when you look at someone’s face that you know understands you, and you see their expression and that they “get you.” Their compassion and empathy give you the peace of understanding without words–that’s huge.
His patience–He is patient with our grieving process, and He gives us permission to take our time. He is kind–Jesus doesn’t get angry with us for being sad or broken. He’s good–He wants us to bring our pain to Him, and He loves our faith. He loves that we believe in Him enough to bring Him our burdens…
He is gentle…He doesn’t rush in to distract us from dealing with our crises, but He loves us like a Father.
The world takes us from drama to drama at an alarming pace. We stay in permanent crisis mode, or in a permanently-hyper-emotional state. The church tries to tell us we should focus on being frenetically joyful all the time, while the world tells us we should be in full-blown Jersey-Shore Drama Mode all of the time (I’ve never actually seen the show, but I don’t think I have to).
Life is somewhere in the middle.
The shortest verse in the Bible acknowledges that Jesus Himself cried when His friend died, even though He knew He was about to raise His friend back to life again. He still grieved, even though He had that hope and that expectation. Why?
Because He was fully God, but also fully Man, and He felt the grief and the loss, even in the eyes of Hope.
We are allowed to weep for a time (“How long?” I don’t know. Ask the person who’s had their arm cut off, how long it takes to get used to not having an arm…to using a prosthesis….to having phantom nerve pains, or physical therapy, or re-learning how to tie their shoes. That’s how long.).
We are allowed our time to mourn (“How deeply?” I don’t know. Hobart Vann once said to me that I would know I was through the healing process of losing my daughter when I could talk about it without crying. That took a while, and it took me a while to understand what he meant and why that was so important. You have to be able to tell the story and point it back to the love of Jesus. It might seem impossible, at first, but it can be done, and when you can do it and you mean it wholeheartedly, you can do it with joy. That takes a while).
And one day…maybe nearer or farther away than we can comprehend…we will see our way back to our time to dance.