Focus: Choosing where to Gaze (3/19/2016)

I recently heard a Christian speaker and writer, Karen Ehman, say that you can choose where you glance and where you gaze.  This really resonated with me, this description of choosing your focus in life. So let me share a story.

I used to hike.  A lot.  My husband and I went on some grand and somewhat hard-core adventures a few years back.  We enjoyed many beautiful high-altitude day hikes/climbs together in Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe and in Yosemite, eventually ascending the top of Half Dome.  Yep.  I did that.  Wasn’t my natural habitat, but it was glorious to be out in nature and doing something out of my comfort zone with my beloved.

However, I as recently recalled, when I first started doing some of these more challenging hikes, my tendency was to keep my eyes glued to the trail.  The rocky, unpredictable, steeply ascending path was fraught with potential rolled ankles and falls (in my then-inexperienced hiker brain), so I would spend literally hours looking down.  Making sure I was stepping where I needed to, fueled by fear of a misstep or of hurting myself in some way or hurtling off a cliff.

In all of these excursions I followed my more-experienced hiker/Eagle Scout husband and watched where he was stepping, doing my best to do what he was doing.  All the while asking myself why was this something people did with their time.

On one of many quick breathers/water breaks on one particularly hot California-in-July afternoon, I took a moment to look up.  And I was amazed.  The scenery around me was truly breathtaking.  Soaring pine trees, sheer granite, brilliant sunshine in lacy patterns filtered through tree branches.  None of which I had seen while staring intently at dirt and rocks.

All day I had I followed my guide, but didn’t see the beauty around me.  I labored along, without the joy of the journey.  I chose to gaze where I should have glanced. I don’t mean I should NEVER look at where I’m putting my feet, that would be dangerous and foolhardy, but neither should I do that exclusively and miss all the grandeur of my surroundings.

Glance at the dirt, gaze at the majesty of God’s creation: the lesson allowed me to truly LOVE hiking.

But isn’t it easy to do that in life?  We slog through our days, doing our best to follow Jesus, but our gaze is fixed on the ground, on the hard things in life, rather than the beautiful things with which God surrounds us.  But we have a choice.  We just have to choose to look up. And be amazed.

Even on the rockiest path, there is beauty and blessing to be found.   Glance at the hard things,  as we have to keep moving on, and gaze at the splendor God is putting in your life.

Sometimes, though, we don’t feel like we have a choice, that we are forced into our focus.  My sweet 87-year-old mom shared an experience with me recently.  She described a very elderly woman who came into a restaurant with a couple of her friends helping her.  She said this poor woman’s spine was so bent that her shoulders and head were practically a right angle from her torso, forcing her to look at the floor at all times.  The woman was not able to raise her head to look around her, and had to rely on her friends to get her to the table.

Have you ever felt stuck in your focus, unable to see anything but the dirt, the hard things in life?  Let me tell you, I have felt EXACTLY that way.  The woman in the restaurant physically had no choice but to gaze at her feet, at the ground, but sometimes I can feel so trapped in the overwhelming nature of the tough things of life, of my disappointment, of my pain, of my sadness, that I feel unable to look up, without a choice of where to focus, as though I can’t even begin to glance and see the good.

Psalm 121: 1-2 says “I lift up my eyes to the hills- where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

When you are oh-so-stuck, can’t seem to get your eyes off the dirt and rocks, don’t miss it.  Don’t miss the opportunity for the Maker of heaven and earth to show you more.  There is so much more that He has for you than the path, rocky as it is.  He is your help.  He surrounds us with beauty in the pain, we just have to look up.

Lift up your eyes; don’t give up.  Choose, as Karen Ehman writes, where to glance and where to gaze.

Taking the Leap: A February 29 Challenge

Waking up predawn today I found a train of thought lurching around my brain that I knew I’d have to let out today.  So here goes.  Leap year has always fascinated me on a couple of fronts.  First, it extended my birthday month by a whole day, so as a kid I thought that was cool.  Second,  I felt so sorry for people who were born on February 29, because they only got to have a birthday once every four years and couldn’t grow up very fast.  Until I met someone who was born on February 29 who patiently explained the got a year older EVERY year, had a birthday party EVERY year, and usually had an extra special celebration on leap years.  Again, I was a kid.

And I digress, this isn’t the topic of my blog or my insistent train of thought that pulled me out of sleep.

I have passed much of my adult life wishing I had more time, thinking that if only I had more hours in the day I would…you fill in in the blank.  I am certain, in the busy times that envelop us all, that most of those who are good enough to read my words experience the same thoughts.  So I ask myself (and you), what would you do with an extra day, with one day more, with a bonus 24 hours, with a true extra Leap Year Day?  Imagine you had 24 hours with no one else’s expectations, schedules, or any responsibilities.  What would you do?

Would you rest your body, mind, and soul, and pamper yourself, weary from life and all its demands?  Would you work on something that is your heart’s passion, losing all track of time because you are fully immersed in what gives your soul joy?  Would you spend every moment with someone dear to you, in conversation or just companionship, having that time to simply be with them that you never get because of life’s crazy pace?  Would you lose yourself in a great book?  Would you organize every space and thing in your home, clean out the old to prepare for a fresh start?  These are some of the things that came to my mind.  If I had 24 hours I would…

But you have 24 hours.  Every day.  Granted, it’s NOT free of commitments, work, and demands, but you get the same allotment every day.  So I challenge myself here, what am I spending my precious days on, this time I will never get back?  If I would do XYZ with 24 free hours, why aren’t I spending my days (and therefore my life) doing it right now?   If a relationship is important, I need to make it a priority, even if it just means shooting a quick text or email to the person I love.  If my heart’s passion is important, why don’t I carve out time to sit and write every day?  If caring for my body is important, why wouldn’t I do that in order to continue to make the most of my health?  If growing in my relationship with God is important to me, why wouldn’t I set aside even some small time every day to sit with Him and be quiet?

Simple answer: the tyranny of the urgent often trumps the truly important in our lives.  I’m as guilty as anyone else of this.  This condition of being bossed around by the urgent things in life conspires with the trivialities that can crowd every open second, the sheer noise of technology that permeates our society and every inch of our homes (mine included).  And so our days are not spent as we want our lives to be spent.

A movie scene shimmers in the back of my mind as I ruminate on these things.  Robin Williams leaning into a group of fresh faced 1950’s prep school boys looking at pictures of the past, whispering “Carpe diem!  Seize the day, boys!”  This still gives me chills.  He’s urging his young students to realize that today is the only guarantee we have, truly, and this sentiment, this Carpe Diem clarion, resonated deeply with my college student heart when I first saw the film in theaters.  (Disclaimer: if you have negative opinions of Dead Poet’s Society, you are free as an American citizen to have them, but please don’t share them with me as that’s what inspired me to be an English teacher.  Please and thank you). Williams’ character, Mr. Keating, urged his students to truly live life to the fullest, referencing one of my favorite quotes from Walden by Henry David Thoreau:

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die Discover that I had not lived.”

Focusing on the important over the urgent is hard.  Really hard.  Urgent is loud and shiny and often necessary, but it shouldn’t completely rule our lives.  If I let days, weeks, years slip by, what will I regret?  What will I feel as though I missed?  I am determined not to live a life of regret and am working hard to focus on what I can do, small steps every day, to use my 24 hours fully, to NOT get to death only to discover I haven’t lived. If we want to live deeply, as we would in that “extra day” promise of leap year, we must choose to do so in the here and now.  It is intentional and daily, this choice.  I’m getting better at some of these things.   Do I still watch reruns of The Good Wife while knitting on the couch?  Yep.  Is that “sucking the marrow out of life?”  Nope.  But I am getting better at choosing, “putting to rout all that is not life,” filling this limited precious time, this 24 hours I get every day with the things that matter most.

I invite you to join me in Taking the Leap, in choosing the journey to seizing the day, and intentionally living to the full.

“How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives,” -Annie Dillard

“Teach us to realize the brevity of life that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12, NLT

My Spot (2/15/2016)

Here it is.


This is where the bulk of the past 9 ½ months of my life have been spent.  Not a bad place at all.  There has typically been a water or tea cup on the shelf next to me, my iPad and phone close at hand, occasionally my laptop.  Since August I’ve almost always had knitting in my hands or at least within easy reach (there’s my knitting bag, right at the foot of the couch, and the blanket on the couch is my handiwork).  And yes, it reclines.  There are remotes for the home theater (which this lovely red lap of luxury faces) next to me, and I’ve enjoyed lots of Netflix.  And Jane Austen movies.  And naps during both.  It’s darkish (blackout curtains since it’s the home theater zone), cocoon-like and cozy.  A wonderful place for my “hibernation” as I’ve come to think of it.  I’ve guarded my spot with a Sheldon Cooper-like ferocity, as this was one of the places in my home where I felt most comfortable.  Truly my comfort zone.

But things are shifting.  I am so grateful to see improvement in my energy and pain levels as a result of my complete diet overhaul and the pounds of supplements my specialist has me taking, and I now begin to realize my spot no longer suits me.  It wouldn’t be best to stay in this spot, this comfort zone.  I am ready to move on; my spot on the couch seems counterproductive in my recovery.

Spurring me on is my current Online Bible Study, which gave me some interesting insight.  Lysa TerKeurst (my writer girl crush, you need to read her if you don’t already) writes about how the fields of everyday life provide the perfect preparation for God to have me perfectly positioned within his will.  She uses the example of David being anointed king (no, that’s not my plan for the next gig, thank you very much) but then returning to the fields of a shepherd’s life, not moving immediately into the palace.  The time in the fields were the perfect preparation for David to meet and defeat Goliath, building his physical strength (he killed a lion AND a bear) and his reliance and communion with God.

So.  As I was reading this I began to recall all the eclectic array of daily life training grounds God has used to prepare me, perfectly and very uniquely, for each role to which He has led me.  Every change was a radical, jolting-me-out-of-my-spot, very unplanned (by me), tire-squealing left turn.  I truly didn’t know what was coming but could feel a restlessness in  my soul each time, and then God revealed the left turn, which always happened to be nowhere near my comfort zone.  Women’s ministry, substitute teaching, full time teaching, the finance industry.  And then my current situation.

What an odd place of quite these months have been after the left turn of chronic illness that came without the previously mentioned restlessness and completely without warning. And being still was all I COULD be for so long.  But now, as I am praising God for my slow but steady recovery, my mind is clear enough to wonder what is next.  I am actually feeling like I can DO something and I want to think through and plan and prepare and…

But I am reminded that my everyday life was the preparation ground for all the left turn life changes that came before.  Not the things I decided to do, but the ways God honed my gifts for the upcoming left turn that He was aware of, were what positioned me perfectly for what He had next.  All I needed to do was show up and obey.

So I will stay in the stillness of preparation.  And I have a new spot.

desk one desk two

My new spot is sun washed, light-drenched, rather than a cozy dark cocoon, and has me upright rather than reclined.  It is not a place of hibernation, but of waking up, facing the sun.  It has me thinking and using the stillness to pour out of myself.  I still need to go back to the couch some days (slow recovery, keep in mind), but more often than not I can be found upstairs in my pretty home office corner of our bedroom, looking out on the backyard.

I don’t feel the crush of restlessness as I did in the past.  I do feel a pull to write, to meditate on His word, to heal my body, to listen, and to bless my family.  This is preparation, too, I’m confident, for His divine Purpose, for the next left turn.

Art Imitates Life (2/10/2016)

One of the perks of my current chronic-illness life is tied closely to my lack of schedule. This has enabled me to tag along on several occasions with my awesome husband when he travels for business.  Which is what brought me to Seattle in January, not a typical time for tourists to flock to the Emerald City.  However, I loved every minute.  I was enjoying my second day of moderate sight-seeing (Uber saves my life, seriously) with a turn through the Chihuly Glass Museum, which features the most remarkable, enormous sculptures and installations, created by the native Northwestern artist, Dale Chihuly, all from blown glass.  I had wandered through many of the rooms filled with these exquisite creations, ready for some time off of my feet, when I happened upon this astonishing place.


I sat in this beautiful glass house, custom made to showcase this incredible art installation.  I stopped to sit, taking time to drink this in (let’s be honest, I was tired, really needed to sit down, and needed to charge my phone almost as much as I wanted to enjoy the art), sheltered from a chilly Seattle afternoon, grey-skied and wintry.  As I gazed up at this 100-foot-long, 25-foot-high installation, I marveled at the size, but as I looked longer, looked closer, I began to notice the individual intricacy of each and every piece.  No two (of hundreds!) were exactly the same- different shapes, patterns, colors, gradations of clear and opaque- but the effect was stunning, harmonious.  Each piece was created to fit perfectly in its place and seamlessly complement the pieces around it.  Hand crafted and curated, crimson, marigold, tangerine, lovingly placed by the designer and creator.  Again, stunning.  Each shape and arc was unique, they bent and curved in their own way, not detracting from the beauty of their neighboring pieces, not minimizing, but enhancing.  They didn’t compete to be the center of attention, but in concert together each played an incredible role; the impact of the piece would be diminished with the lack of one.

Then.  A bolt of pure sunlight pierced the January clouds and shone through these glass pieces, setting them ablaze and they were transformed.  And my breath taken.   Liquid illumination infused the sculpture and it became even more, so much more, than it was.

We, my sweet friends who are good enough to read my ramblings, are these pieces of art.  Uniquely and intentionally formed, without duplication, precisely situated to serve a specific purpose, fill a hand-selected role.  Perfectly placed to enhance and magnify those around us and the One who formed and placed us.  Not to detract, not to compete, not to be the individual center, but gloriously beautiful on our own because of the care taken to individually craft us all with our own bent, our own color, our own gradations.  The whole suffers when one is not there; we are only called to be the unique, crazy-amazing piece we are without responsibility for the placement and beauty of the other pieces.  And we are all transformed when filled with the light of our Creator, making more from what was already there.  You are a masterpiece ready to be filled with light.  Be the beauty you were placed there to be, individually and as part of your whole.

Clouds covered the sun, and the Seattle sky washed over again steel grey.  I smile still at the memory of glass aglow.

Control (1/20/2016)

I am a girl who likes to steer the ship.  I like to have some say (okay a LOT of say) in what’s going on and I like to day-planner/project manage/to-do list/timeline my way through things.  So 2015 was a bit of an upending of every part of my nature.  I have learned, in no uncertain terms, that I am not in control.

My ship hit an enormous “perfect storm” this year, highlighting on every front how much I am not in control.  My chronic illness was beyond my control, unwilling to cooperate with my plans, timeline or agenda.  My dad’s health (and eventual passing) was out of my control, people’s behavior, choices, and decisions about their future were out of my control, the necessity of stepping away from a job I loved was out of my control.  Not okay with me.  But as I’ve gained some perspective that can only come with a bit of time and a lot of reflection and prayer, it’s okay that I’m not in control.

I still have that primal urge to grab the steering wheel back and try to determine direction, but I’m learning.  My best ideas aren’t nearly as good as His perfect ones.  This nearly puts me into a panic at times, worrying about the outcome of some of these things, but I have learned in multiple devotions I’ve encountered just since the beginning of this year (it takes me a while to catch on, so God has to keep pounding the message home for me) that it is on me to be obedient, and the outcome is up to God.  Again, his plans and timing are so much better than mine.  I’m not called to understand the “why” of each move, I am called upon to honor Him in the midst.  And sail on with a surrendered and grateful heart.

2015 was a storm for me, to say the least, a storm that frequently wrenched control of my ship from my hands, leaving me to feel rudderless and battered.  But I’m reminded of the chorus of a worship song from probably 15 years ago and am so grateful for the anchor that holds me solidly safe in the midst of the storm:

Sometimes He holds us close And lets the wind and waves go wild Sometimes He calms the storm And other times He calms His child

Hospitals and Rainbows (1/4/2016)

Oh, how one phone call can change everything.  We were up in the Tahoe/Carson City area, just our family of four, enjoying some time away after our college student and high school student finished finals and my dad was home from skilled nursing as he was recovering from a broken hip.  The weather was snowy and beautiful, we were loving our time together in one of our favorite places, and had enjoyed a wonderful dinner the night before with one of our most favorite people.  I slept in for the first time in months.  Then I looked at my cell phone upon waking.  Three missed calls from my Texan brother who had arrived at my parents’ house for Christmastime just 36 hours before.  I felt my stomach drop.  I called back.  I could hear it in his voice before he said anything concrete.  We had to come and come now.  Dad was in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.

We were four hours away by car in the best of weather.  It was December and anything but the best of weather and road conditions.  We woke the kids and pulled out of the hotel we were planning to make our home for the next day and a half.  As we drove, I kept trying to talk myself into being ok.  I had passed many, many hours in hospitals with my dad these past few months, but every time, against the odds, he rallied and went home sooner than expected.  He would rally again, right?  I looked toward the mountains on our left and saw an amazing rainbow.  Nice, I thought.  Not something I see every day, but I could hear the edge of a whisper to my anxious heart: “I’m here, I’m faithful, and I’ve got this.”  Good reminder, but quickly forgotten in my distraction and fear.

We kept driving and I kept trying not to think too much.  We labored through snow and rain over the I-80 pass and started back down through the mountains, toward the hospital where my parents and now all of my siblings were keeping watch together.  I was kept up to date through texts and calls from my sister in law.  It didn’t look good.  One last ditch effort treatment, she said.  That set my mind spinning, pulling me into the space I was not prepared to go.  No.  Not how this was supposed to be…and then Grace said, “Hey, look!”  I turned in the direction she was pointing and saw it:  piercing through clouds in an unlikely patch of rain streaked sunlight was a full double rainbow.  Really?  Twice in one day?   He reminded my heart again, a little louder, “I’m here, I’m faithful, and I’ve got this.”

With my husband’s efforts to drive as quickly and safely as possible getting us closer and closer to the hospital where my dad was fighting for his life, I prayed that I wouldn’t get anymore texts or calls until we were there.  And then.  “The treatment didn’t work.  He’s not going to make it” showed up on my phone.  And all the oxygen left the car.  I looked up again, not knowing what to say.  And again He spoke.  Another full double rainbow outside my window.  “I’m here, I’m faithful, and I’ve got this.”  I knew then (because the other two times weren’t quite enough for me) that “I’ve got this” might not look like I wanted it to, but it would ultimately be ok.  Truly.  Just because it wasn’t the outcome I wanted, with my Dad once again rallying and coming home in time for Christmas, didn’t mean God didn’t have this in His hands.  Because He has me.  And He has my family.  And He has my dad.

About 45 minutes away from the hospital I got the message “He’s gone.”  My heart broke. There were no words.  But as we walked into that ER private room where all my family surrounded the physical form that carried my dad for 88 years, I could still hear the whisper in my heart: “I’m here.  I’m faithful.  I’ve got him.”

In the nearly two weeks since this happened we have mourned, cried, and buried my Dad.  We have grieved together and experienced the kindness and sympathy of so many around us.  And through all this I have held close to my heart these words:

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

-Psalm  34:18

I know He will be present, faithful, and hold us close as we walk into these next days and years.  It doesn’t always look the way I think it should, but as long as He is close by, I will walk in confidence.

Unraveled: A Six Month Reflection (10/24/2015)

It’s been a few weeks since I posted.  Actually several weeks.  This is solely (or almost solely) due to the new hobby/obsession imparted upon me by my sweet cousin, Sherie Wells.  She taught me how to knit.  She and her mom/my cousin Norma came down one sunny day and sat with me at my kitchen table, chatting and showing me the basics.  After that very enjoyable visit, I couldn’t stop.  This fills so many needs for me, I can’t even begin to tell you.  With such a prodigious list of “can’ts” in my life, I can knit on even my worst days.  I can lean back in my recliner/couch with Downton Abbey to keep me company and work through something exceedingly simple, then see a finished product.  On a “better” day I can create a more complex project and in the end I have a gift to hand to a loved one.  I can actually accomplish something.  Who knew?

Well, let me back up.  My first project wasn’t just whipped out in an afternoon.  It took me 2 days.  To knit a wash cloth.  Seriously.  I kept making a mistake, dropping a stitch, leaving a hole, or losing where I was, so I would pull the WHOLE THING out, completely unravel, and start all over again.  I had to go back and watch YouTube videos to remind me of what to do.  I had to learn how to finish the project off from a YouTube video.  And still it wasn’t at all pretty.  But I made it through and learned a lot.

It’s misshapen and full of holes, but I do actually use it.  When I finished I thought of scrapping it or unraveling it again, but wanted to keep it as a reminder of where I started.  And I smile as I use it to wipe down my kitchen counters.

This whole experience of learning to knit is so representative of the past six months, six months in which my life has changed so very profoundly.  Six months ago today was the last day I worked in my lovely office at Wells Fargo.  I left that Friday afternoon not feeling well, but had no idea that day would be my last in my job that I loved ever so much.  In the intervening months I have tried to do life in so many ways, all of which had to be ripped out and restarted.  I tried to fit my self-decided recovery timeline into my life.  Unravel, start over.  I tried to decide ahead of time what my diagnosis and treatment would be.  Unravel, back to the drawing board.  I tried to schedule and control things.  Unravel, begin again.  I tried to make things in my world look like they did before.  Unravel, take three.  I tried to find any remedy to make myself feel like I used to.  Unravel, start again.   I tried to push myself physically like I used to, in hope that it would fix me.  Unravel, rest for two weeks, reboot.

Six months later I look back on a hole-filled, misshapen new life, those flaws marking the days I struggled the most, deepest disappointments, days of grief, days of frustration with debilitating limitations, pushing back so hard and wanting things to be like they were, countless tears spilling over during the unraveling, mourning my losses, setting aside my pride in so many ways.  Looking back there has been a lot of “not pretty,” but I have learned so much.  Here at the end of it I am content.  I have found joy and peace in this new pace, this new phase.  It’s not what I would have chosen, but the blessings are great.  I am learning much in my slowed-down life.  Years and years have seen me on someone else’s time frame, able to push through and do whatever is necessary.  But I am learning that life’s rhythm can have a very different time frame.  I am learning to listen to my body, to my energy level, to what I truly can and can’t do.

Do I feel any better?  Physically, no.  But in my heart and my head, definitely.

Will I have to unravel and start again?  Absolutely.  But I will continue to learn every time I do.

As I knit projects for people, I pray over them.  As I watch God knit this new life, this new pace, this new way together for me, I sit in gratitude, trusting His pattern is better than any other.

Identification, please… (9/3/2015)

I am staring down the barrel of my and my husband’s 30 year high school class reunion.  In my experience, reunions, while very fun, are fraught with myriad pressures.  Some are admittedly superficial in nature: What will I find to wear that strikes the right balance between classy, cool, and not trying too hard?  Can I lose 20 lbs. before then?   Do I look that old, really?  Am I as cute as those “popular” girls are now?  And some are slightly less superficial: What do I even say when people ask what I DO?  Since I’ve been home with my illness, my kids’ response when asked what I do has been something like this: “Well, she watches a lot of Netflix, she knits, and she cooks.”  Doesn’t sound so very prestigious or impressive when you frame it in those words, does it?  Not that it’s entirely inaccurate.

It’s a strange thing, taking time to consider one’s identity at this age.  I’ve identified myself in many different ways during the course of my life: Ken & Bonnie’s daughter, student, Tim’s/Ken’s/Rickey’s little sister, James’ wife, musician, weight loss counselor, marketing director, stay at home mom, women’s ministry director, freelance interior designer, teacher, student council advisor, executive assistant.  Lots of identities.  Isn’t it interesting, though, that so many of the ways I’ve identified myself (and, I suspect, others identify themselves) are based on what one does, one’s vocation, or what fills one’s time.  Is that really who we ARE?

In this peculiar time of my life there’s not that much doing in my world.  Yes, I’m still a mom and I stay at home.  However my kids are 20 and 17 ½, so being a stay at home mom carries a bit of a different vibe than 15 years ago.  Or even 10 years ago.  As with many other parts of my life, this radical change in lifestyle because of my illness has changed the way I see myself.  I DON’T want to be identified based on my illness, although it is part of me.

But I am now finding my identity more and more in my relationships, who I AM, whose I am, rather than in what I do.  Being over doing.  Character over activity.  Based on that view, I am finding a new way to identify myself.  I am a forgiven and blessed child of God.  I am a wife to a wonderful man, one with whom I share an amazing love and this incredible adventure called married life.  I am a mom to two kids I adore, people I would love even if they weren’t mine.  I am a daughter, a sister, a friend, a cousin, blessed with incredible people who walk with me through all the beautiful and difficult things.  I am one who is ready to listen and to laugh.  I am one who finds the humor in hard things and tries to extend grace.  I am a student of life and a reader of books.

I still don’t know what I’ll say at the reunion when asked what I do, but I think I won’t care as much about that as I once would have.   Maybe, instead, I think I ‘ll smile, remember who I AM and whose I am, and turn the conversation to ask what THEY do.

Planner (8/8/2015)

That’s what I am.  A planner.  I like to lay things out, set my goals, make a plan, execute, and succeed.  This is how I roll.  I’ve been like this my whole life.  I am a girl who is giddy at the sight of a new day planner or calendar at the beginning of a new year.  A blank canvas, waiting to be filled.  This is not to say I can’t roll with the punches, get creative, and adjust with circumstances, those left turns that life throws at me.  Not at all, I can TOTALLY do that.  But I always have an end result I’m shooting for and a sense of control over the process and (sometimes) outcome.  Or so I thought.

In my years of teaching, this was the time of year to lay out a year-long plan, a glorious frenzy, setting up classrooms, getting my world organized, laying out plans for my next newly improved unit/technique/ideas (many fueled by my awesome department head/friend/partner in crime Ric Reyes).  I was buying supplies, making my surroundings adorable AND efficient.  I was so enthralled with my empty lesson planning book, nothing but potential for creativity there!  When I was in my glory as an executive assistant, I was always planning for something the office/my boss/the region needed, working on the next steps, the next seasons, planning the next meetings and events.  Loved the whole process and the satisfaction of seeing my carefully laid and executed plans come to fruition.

I walked through Target with my soon-to-be-a-high-school-senior daughter today as she bought school supplies.  Out of the blue I totally choked up.  (Strange how Target is mentioned so often in my blog.  I should get a royalty.)  Not choked up (like any rational mother)  because I was getting school supplies for my youngest child for the last time in high school, but because it hit me full force that I wasn’t planning anything myself.  Nothing.  How oddly out of character and unexpectedly disconcerting.  It threw into sharp relief how drastically my world has changed since April, when I was a woman with a plan whose plans were suddenly turned upside down.  I saw the beautiful classroom supplies I would not need to set up.  The adorable office supplies with no office to go to.  The cute day planners (I DO still use a paper planner, one of the few of my kind) I would not need to fill.  I am without a plan.  And I, like so many with chronic conditions, am learning/struggling to deal with this.

No plan.  From the perspective of one who has walked through some insanely busy seasons of life, this sounds glorious.  And it can be.  And it was.  For a week or two.  Then I realized this lack-of-plan season wasn’t going to be short-lived.  And I started to feel a bit adrift.  I’m now in this strange state of limbo; it sometimes feels like I am without a purpose.  After all, I can’t DO very much at all these days.  I’m not sure at all what to plan for.  Or if I can actually plan for anything concrete.

No amount of planning, or much of anything I do, can control how I will feel when I wake up.  If I overdo one day, yes I do reap those consequences the next day (or two, or three), however the inverse is not always true.  I can spend a day on the couch “being good” and resting for an event/errand/plan in the future and STILL feel like I was hit by a Mack truck the next day.

One of my dear friends, whose sweet daughter has a chronic condition that limits their activities, gave me great words of wisdom:  “We don’t make plans, Kathleen. We have ideas.  And sometimes they work out.”

I am learning more and more that even when I HAD a plan, that didn’t/doesn’t mean I have control.  And I have far less control now.  Not easy for the planner in me.  I was very tempted to buy a label maker during this morning’s retail festivities to start labeling storage areas in my house, file folders, anything that would stay still long enough to be labeled!  But I actually laughed out loud at myself and put said label maker back on the shelf.  I recognized that was truly just another bid for controlling SOMETHING in my life.

No part of where I am with my health and uncertain future was part of my plan.  But who among us REALLY knows what the future will hold?  Who REALLY has control of their circumstances?  We all have ideas, but they don’t always work out.  I was reminded of this passage as I was thinking about this today:

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

James 4:13-15

Setting aside my plans.  I’m getting better at that.  Learning to live in the present with a looser hold on what the future will look like isn’t a simple thing for a planner like me.  But it is making me more open and more vigilant to see His will, what is needed, where I’m being led, and what plans really don’t matter very much.

This scripture, while often quoted, rings truer than ever to me in this season:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Jeremiah 29:11

He’s got the planning covered.

“But you look great!” (8/2/2015)

Ah, that phrase.  Meant by those who say it to complement.  And taken that way, generally.  But it is a hallmark of an “invisible” illness.  I have heard it many times in recent months.  I look perfectly normal, if a bit tired, my general appearance not revealing how I feel or what’s going on under the surface with my health and well-being.  My demeanor, unless you know me and observe me for a while, would not show that I am in pain or dealing with debilitating fatigue that drastically limits my activities.  I’ve had strangers give me a second, quizzical look when using my seat/cane (now called “Sit-izen Cane” for those who were wondering) in the middle of Target.  The question in their eyes: “She looks fine, why is she using that?”  No scars, no injury, no hair loss or major medical paraphernalia.  Looking great. Hair and makeup done, dressed cute, even somewhat accessorized.  However, what doesn’t show is that it took me most of the morning to get that way and this is my one outing of the day.

I have talked about this recently with several friends who have similar experiences.  My dear friend and prayer partner for the past 11 years has MS and recently had the worst flare-up of her adult life (back under control, thank God).  So many have told her “But you look great!” throughout the years, not understanding why she couldn’t always do what it seemed she should be able to do based on her physical appearance and age.  Another dear friend’s beautiful pre-teen daughter struggles with a chronic disease that limits her activities in ways you can’t imagine.  But she looks great.  Two other life-long friends, now precious online-far-away-friends, have dealt with the same phrase, the same situation, the same feelings, because of their ongoing “invisible” health issues.  But they look great.

Sometimes it’s hard to hear “that phrase.”  Those words can carry (though not intentionally) into the heart of the hearer a question about the validity of their experience and condition.  Can make the hearer feel as if they aren’t really…understood.  Not fully seen.

A couple of weeks ago, as I was pondering this phrase after spending time with some friends who hadn’t seen me for a few months, another thought came crashing in on me.  That difficult-to-hear, kindly-meant phrase is true for all of us, not necessarily in the realm of physical health, but in our hearts, our minds, our souls.  Those around me who “look great” may be carrying burdens I can’t fathom or imagine.  Those who seem from the outside to have it all together may suffer from incredible pain they never show.  Behind their smiles can be a heaviness, a weight in their hearts they’ve dealt with their whole lives that is beyond my experience or understanding.  We are so accustomed to stopping at the surface, just glossing over the outward appearance of a situation or a person and making a judgment from that, not taking the time to look deeper.  Like a thunderbolt, the question: Just as I crave compassion, grace, and understanding for my physical condition as I am learning to navigate all of this, shouldn’t I extend the same compassion, grace, and understanding to all of those around me?  Shouldn’t my experience make me more sensitive to the fact that appearances can hide such pain and struggle?

All of this is NOT to say I don’t want people to tell me I look great (who doesn’t need to hear that??).  And it’s NOT to say that I wish to be defined by my health condition, because I really don’t.

What I DO want is this:

I pray for God’s eyes to truly see people’s hearts, past the “great looking” surface in all of those around me, and to discern the need for my kindness and grace.   I pray for a softened and understanding heart, so I can know where people’s experiences that so differ from mine are affecting them, and therefore extend compassion where they need it most.