The chase

I’ve had my dog, Waylon, since she was about eight weeks old. She’s now eight years old, and I can’t begin to tell you how much she fills my life with joy and entertainment.

But she’s a Beagle, which means she’s also (often) the source of great consternation. If she’s not eating the cat’s food, she’s begging for mine. She hogs the bed, and gets sassy when I try to move her over. I can’t have a bread box or a cookie jar – or any food at all – on the counter, because she’s Super Pooch and can jump up there and steal every last morsel. Walks around the neighborhood are a hysterical and humiliating sight, as this 30-pound powerhouse drags her owner down the sidewalks, sniffing and grunting and baying that signature Beagle howl.

One of Waylon’s favorite tricks is the art of escape. It’s not an exaggeration to say she’s busted out of every crate, kennel, or fence she’s ever been in. My girl is a crazy mixture of smart, stubborn, and strong, and it gets her into quite a bit of trouble.

I thought we’d turned a corner on the escaping. I made some adjustments to the backyard fence about 10 months ago, and she hadn’t gotten out since. (I admit to feeling pretty proud of myself.) But last night, it happened again. She went outside to potty at about 1:45 a.m., but didn’t return when I called for her.

I stepped out onto the deck and called her name again. Nothing. Repeat. Silence. I couldn’t see well in the darkness, but at that point I realized she must have figured out a way to push through the gate and venture out into freedom.  It was time for search and rescue. I slipped on a pair of shoes, grabbed her leash, and got into my car. (Waylon, you see, prefers to be driven home after her bandit adventures.) By the time I drove down the street and back through the next alley (her usual path), she was chasing me back to the driveway. And almost as quickly as this ordeal began, we were home again, fighting over the bedcovers.

Light of day revealed that she’d found a patch of dirt beneath the fence juuuussstt big enough to dig at, which allowed her to push through some loose boards on the backyard gate. As I drove to work I was thinking about what I needed to do to make a repair, and kind of laughing at myself for being the kind of person who would just throw on a pair of shoes and drive around the neighborhood like a crazy woman at 2 o’clock in the morning whisper-shouting for her rotten dog.

And then it hit me.

That’s what God does.

Pajamas and crazy hair and all, He chases. There’s nowhere we can go where He won’t follow – no place we can hide where His love can’t reach.

The parallels here are too much. How I must seem to God like my ornery little dog. I get muddy. I dig holes. There have been times when I’ve run away. But you know what? He never just waits on the porch. He gets in the car. He searches the neighborhood. He goes beyond city limits, if necessary. And soon, we’re back home again.

WaylonMe

Advertisements

Today

Today, I:

* Walked to church to join a church family I love to worship a Savior I love even more

* Had breakfast with a good friend

* Talked to my mom on the phone

* Breathed in nature during a hike on a river island

* Ate a hot dog and an ice cream cone along that same river

* Mowed my lawn

* Walked my dog

* Shared a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with that dog — and the cat, too

* Drove my car in the sunshine — hat on, windows down, music way up, smiling and singing the whole way

August 2 2015

Today, I:

Felt like me again

And today, I:

Am so very grateful for this life.

Itch

It’s summer, and that should mean sunshine, sand, water, and fun. Here in the Mid-Ohio Valley, it just means water. It seems like it’s been raining for months. Oh, wait, it has been raining for months. There have been only a few days of sunshine sprinkled between the showers, and they typically last just long enough to allow the grass and weeds to grow. And grow they do — it’s almost like they’re straining for the light.

Do you know what else will grow quickly if given ample amounts of moisture and a little bit of sun? Poison ivy. Go ahead, ask me how I know. I’ve had a nasty rash on the side of my neck and face for about a week now. I’ve had poison ivy before, but this one wins the prize for worst ever. It was so bad that the pharmacy tech and pharmacist at Rite Aid both kind of recoiled in horror when I asked what over-the-counter treatment they recommended. The suggestion? Get thyself to a doctor, woman. Stat. So I did. I received a steroid shot, a steroid prescription, and some strong antihistamines, and fortunately they began working immediately. My neck still looks like I spilled boiling water on it, but the discomfort has been greatly reduced.

It’s been kind of a weird week. Actually, it’s been kind of a weird season. And I mean that in regard to the weather, yes, but also about some things I’m working through in my personal life. My dad continues to struggle with his health. The radiation treatment he received for the colorectal cancer last fall caused some pretty serious damage to his bladder, and consequently, his kidneys, too. It’s been really hard on him, and my mom, too, but I’m so proud of the way they’ve been able to weather this storm. I absolutely hate that they’re dealing with this, but am grateful for the ways it has pulled our family closer together. He’s having a procedure next Wednesday that we’re hoping provides some answers and relief, and any prayers you can offer would be appreciated.

I’m also a little sad that a dear friend and neighbor will soon be moving away. (Okay, she’s only moving like six miles away, but in a short while she won’t be just two doors down and I’m having some feeeeelings about that.) She came into my life in the weirdest and best of ways right when I needed her, and she’s helped pull me through some of the toughest moments of my life. I’m going to miss being able to just pop over when I need a hug, a laugh, or to borrow her carpet shampooer. I keep threatening to move into one of the closets at her new house (if Harry Potter can live in a cupboard so can I), but we can’t figure out how I’m also going to keep a dog and cat in there with me, so I guess I have to stay at my house. For now.

The weirdest part of this summer (so far) happened late last week when I received word that my ex-husband is moving out of state. I was startled but not surprised as he’s always had a bit of wanderlust, and I have to admit that it’s something that I had hoped would happen. I’ve come quite a long way in healing from the divorce, but this is a small town and I was always anxious about running into him or his new wife at the grocery store or the mall. That happened twice, and while everything was fine, those situations are never comfortable — for anyone. It’s a relief to know that I can move about town without flinching at every passing motorcycle or having to scan every store and restaurant I enter.

Last week I wrote about how fear has held me back in many aspects of my life. I also said I’m working to move beyond fear, which is why I’m writing about this at all. The details of that phone conversation didn’t quite add up, but that story is not mine to share. I wish them peace and happiness as they begin a new chapter of their lives in a new place. I can’t say, however, that I haven’t been rattled by this news. At first, as I mentioned, I was relieved, and maybe even a little proud of how I handled the conversation. The more I thought about it, though, the more I felt. I felt all sorts of things, and that’s why I’m talking about it. It helps to write and to share, and most of all I hope that by doing so I can help someone else who may be going through the same thing.

As you would imagine, hearing from someone from the past brings back a lot of memories, good and bad. I did my best to let myself just embrace the emotions as they came — my face was already a hideous mess from the poison ivy, what’s a few tears, right? I finally let myself listen to a few old favorite songs from that era that I’d previously always skipped over when they popped up on iTunes. And I processed the feelings of sadness, guilt and regret that anyone — regardless of blame, regardless of circumstance — experiences when they go through things like this. I remarked to my friend (same one mentioned above) that somehow I felt like I’d been left all over again. Logically, I know that isn’t the case. Once the judge signed the paperwork, our ties to each other were severed. But he was the one who brought me here, to this place I now call home, and I have to admit that it feels really strange to be here by myself. Not alone, because I was given the best friends and support system in the entire world, but still sort of on my own.

Fortunately, my friend is very wise, and she reminded me that divorce is a loss, and losses have a way of making you grieve. If this had been a death, there would be pain and sorrow, joyful memories, and growth toward the future. A divorce is no different, really, except for that element of choice. There will be grief, and while the magnitude definitely lessens over time, there will still be moments of heartache. Am I sad that my marriage ended? Of course I am. Can I see now that it was for the best? Absolutely. But even the best things can hurt sometimes.

I’ve written a lot of words already, so bless you if you’re still reading. I promise I’m getting to my point. Through this experience of the past few days, there’s been one thing that keeps surfacing in my mind and in my heart:

Do not look back.

These are the words God spoke to Lot and his family as they were fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah. They are the words He spoke through Isaiah, telling Israel to “remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:18-19). And they also describe the message Jesus gave the rich young ruler in Matthew 19, who went away sad because he was unwilling to put aside his wealth — I’d also say identity — in order to follow Christ. It was his unwillingness to let go that prevented him from receiving more than he could have ever imagined.

What is it that makes us want to cling so tightly to the past? Recent events have what seems like half this country ready to suit up in blue and gray uniforms, grab the nearest musket and re-fight a battle that should have been — and was — settled more than a century ago. There have been entire books written on workplace dynamics and how to push beyond the “that’s how we’ve always done it” attitude. Look at the story of God’s deliverance of the Hebrews. He rescued them from captivity, but the moment things got tough, they grumbled and wished they could go back to being slaves.

Why do we do this?

Because it’s familiar, and we are comfortable with familiar even when it hurts. Even when it’s not right. Even when we know that more, better, is just around the corner. And sometimes it just feels good to wallow for a little bit.

I think we are afraid of letting go of the past because it means letting go of who we think we are. We hang onto old symbols because, we say, they represent our heritage, and we should honor our heritage. And that’s true – we need to remember where we came from, because doing so allows us to appreciate the work it takes to change. Remembering the past makes us thankful for the present and gives us hope for the future. But who we are now is far more important that who we were then. Time doesn’t exist so we can simply remain the same. Time moves forward and gives us experiences so we can grow and become better. Our memories and history are there to remind us of how far we’ve come.

I’ve allowed myself to visit the past during these last few days, but it’s time now to set my gaze again on the road ahead. Just like the poison ivy rash, I have to stop scratching the itch. Scratching offers temporary relief, but it doesn’t help or expedite the healing. Over time, the redness will fade, the stares will cease, and I’ll feel normal again. In the meantime, I aim to destroy that vine in my yard. Gasoline, RoundUp, whatever it takes. It has to go.

Maybe I’ll plant something new in its place.

Renewal

A few weeks ago I received a notice that my domain name for this site would be expiring soon and to keep it I needed to update my credit card information.

I didn’t immediately jump to action. I haven’t written much here lately, and wasn’t sure I wanted to continue. The nagging voices of self doubt penetrated my mind, making me wonder if I really had anything of value to say, or if anyone other than the loyal few would even be interested. I write about my life (boring!), and my opinion on current events (minefield!) and topics related to faith and spirituality. On the latter, I often have viewpoints that contradict what those in the mainstream believe, and it’s often a very lonely place. Social media has demonstrated that it’s difficult to have constructive conversation with people with whom you disagree, and I have always wanted this to be a place where people could thoughtfully and safely discuss a variety of issues. My hesitance to provide yet another space on the web for people to sling hurtful words has kept me from writing about a lot of things — and that’s sad. Not because I think my opinions are better or that the world desperately needs to hear my voice (lol), but because no one should be silenced by fear.

The more I considered what to do about that renewal notice, the more I thought about fear and the effect it’s had on my life. Fear (and a touch of ye olde inferiority complex) prevented me from taking chances as a kid. I didn’t play Little League baseball because I was afraid of being laughed at if I wasn’t good at it. I skipped the fourth grade county spelling bee because I was afraid of standing in front of all those people. I didn’t date in high school because my fragile heart was afraid of rejection. I avoided many of the nightlife and social scenes in college, smugly telling myself it was because I wanted to focus on my studies and keep my morality in tact — but really I feared not fitting in, not knowing how to navigate that world. I could have traveled the world, worked at awesome internships, made more friends … but that silly, self-righteous girl I was was terrified of stretching beyond the limits of comfort. Don’t misunderstand — those years brought memories and friendships I deeply cherish, and I wouldn’t trade those for anything. I just wonder what my life would have been like had I challenged myself more — or at all.

I’ve had a lot of catching up to do in the past couple of years. If you’ve read here before or know me in real life, you know that I got divorced two and a half years ago. It probably sounds cliche, but that event has so far been the most defining experience of my life. Through it, I learned what it meant to push beyond the limits (not because I wanted to, but because I had to). I learned that no matter what happens, I’m going to be okay. That whatever challenge is before me, I can overcome it. And that sometimes, the worst things that happen to us can also be the best.

I know these things, and yet still find myself battling against fear, and doubting God’s perfect provision. It’s always been my dream to have a family, and each passing day is a reminder that neither time nor age ever slow down. I worry myself to sleep sometimes wondering if the choices I made in the past have prevented me from having a happy future. Lately I’ve been working really hard to accept that perhaps God has a different plan for me, and to discern what that may be. Don’t let the televangelists fool you — it’s exhausting, confusing, difficult work. I have no idea of the outcome, but I do believe it’s worth the effort.

But the biggest fear that’s kept me from writing? Being labeled a hypocrite. There are people from my past who may — or may not, who knows, I don’t keep track of that stuff — read the words I post here. Some of them have seen me at my absolute worst, and have been on the receiving end of some extremely hurtful words and actions. There were many awful things that happened to me during my marriage and its demise and though I do not acknowledge them as “okay,” I have forgiven them and accepted them as part of my story.

But part of my story is also acknowledging the things I did wrong, too, and believe me, there were plenty. Mostly reactionary and founded upon fear, insecurity and immaturity, but wrong nonetheless. I know my words caused harm. I was scared senseless back in those days, and like a wounded dog lashes out at those even trying to help, many times hurt people … well, they hurt people. I do not wish for present circumstances to change, but if there’s one thing I do wish it’s that I could go back and handle some of those situations differently, and with a head held higher. And I sincerely hope that those I hurt have been able to move on in happiness, have grown through their own self-reflection, and have experienced the freedom that comes from forgiveness — not for my sake, but for their own.

I’ve been afraid to talk about forgiveness. I’ve been afraid to share my thoughts about God and about the ways in which Jesus completely wrecks and saves my life every. single. day. Just a few years ago, none of these things really mattered to me. I kept God at arm’s length because his expectations of me didn’t fit with my plan and frankly, I didn’t see much good in a lot of the people proclaiming his name. Christians got on my nerves (spoiler alert: they still do). This journey into deeper faith has often been a struggle, but at every turn I am reminded that I am not who I once was. My past, my pain, my scars — they are still with me, but they do not define me. I am a new creation.

I don’t think that makes me a hypocrite.

I think that makes me transformed.

Last month, blogger Micah J. Murray wrote a piece that’s been on my mind ever since I read it. I encourage you to check it out for yourself, but I wanted to share a section that I particularly loved. Micah describes a video of a dog on a boat in a river. He writes:

A wave crashed over the front of the boat, and the terrified dog landed in the water — whether he jumped or was swept over, I’m not sure. Probably both. But the moment he splashed to the surface, his human reached into the water, fished him out of danger, and set him back in the front of the boat.

I am that dog. This is my relationship with faith, with church, with Jesus. Every time I am swept overboard, every time I leave the church, every time I lose my faith, God grabs me and puts me back in the boat.

All my fear and flailing and honest searching and hopeless swearing ultimately have very little to do with my staying.

Jesus can’t seem to lose me.

I’ll make more mistakes; you can bet on that. I’ll have more sleepless nights, more questions, more doubts. I’ll probably even hurt more feelings, though I’d really like to avoid that one. People past and present may look at my life and my words and judge what they think doesn’t measure up. That’s okay. Faith is messy and hard, and none of us is perfect.

But I can tell you one thing — I’m in the boat.

And there is zero room left for fear.

Clean sweep fever!

bags

The de-clutter bug is catching! Last night I dropped six bags of clothing off at my church’s community clothes closet. Two were mine, and four were from a dear friend who is also working on reducing the number of items in her home. She and I agree that it feels aahhh-maz-ing to get this unwanted, unused and unnecessary clutter out of our way!

Interestingly, today I attended a professional women’s luncheon where the topic was dealing with difficult people. I expected the discussion to focus on how to handle difficult people in the workplace, but the speakers were from the local hospital’s geriatric psychiatric and community education departments who presented information about dealing with adults (aging and otherwise) who suffer from ailments that lead to conduct such as hoarding and inappropriate sexual behavior. It was a good presentation, and it was interesting to see how many women identified with statements regarding having too many possessions, or ways in which possessions prevented them from easily performing everyday tasks like being able to eat a meal at the dinner table, or even sit on the couch to watch television.

I think there’s a big difference between being a hoarder and having too much stuff, but in many ways I can see the correlation between possessions and emotion. A lot of us hang onto things because we feel getting rid of them would dishonor someone’s memory, or cause us to lose attachments to people we love. I’m guilty of it, too. I have a few stuffed animals from my childhood sitting in a small box in a spare bedroom. They were toys I loved as a child, and I’m having a hard time letting go. I also held onto a few things from my previous marriage a little longer than I should have, until I figured out that having those things physically present in my home also allowed them to have a presence in my brain. Who needs that kind of emotional baggage when you can toss it in the garbage and literally kick it to the curb? (And, oh, the satisfaction I got out of that!)

I know it’s not always that easy. I’m really fortunate to be in a place now where it’s easier to separate myself from my possessions. The trip to Haiti last year, seeing so many people living with so little —  well, it left a lasting impression. I only spent nine days there, but it didn’t take long to realize that many of us in the United States suffer from overabundance. We have so stinkin’ much, and yet we’re so stinkin’ unhappy, selling our souls to make a buck when none of our earthly riches can follow us into heaven.

I’m really curious about what other people think about this topic. It’s been on my mind for weeks (obviously!), and I’m finding tons of great blogs and articles online (plus some pretty great sermons from my pastor) on minimalism, what a truly happy/successful life looks like, and the type of legacy we’re building for future generations. If anybody reading (hi, Mom!) has thoughts, leave a comment here or on Facebook, or drop me an e-mail to jennifer greene 09 at gmail dot com (spelled that out so the spambots don’t find me!). I’d love to hear from you!

Shedding

Have you thought about how much time you spend at your trash can?

I admit it’s a strange question. But today at work, after muttering under my breath yet again about the amount of unnecessary paper that crosses my desk only to end up in the recycling bin, it struck me that I spend a lot of time throwing things away.  Paper, food wrappings, junk mail, boxes, unwanted items … all sorts of “stuff” that clutters my workspace, my home and my mind. It feels like I’m constantly sorting, stacking, organizing, or purging.

And I’ve had enough.

One of my goals for the upcoming year is to simplify my life as much as possible. My values have changed over the past few years, so while “old” me was mostly preoccupied with accumulating material success and possessions, “new” me is more interested in achieving peace.

The first step toward that goal is clearing my physical space of all its clutter so that my mental space has more room to breathe. It’s been a giant purge party at my house for the past few weeks as I’ve sorted through clothes, shoes, toiletries, books, movies, junk drawers, and spare rooms, eliminating everything that doesn’t make me happy or add value to my life. Do I really need eight coffee mugs? Will I ever use those picture frames from that vacation I took six years ago with people who are no longer my family? Is the Twilight series a literary masterpiece that should remain in my home so people think I’m smart?

No, nope, and definitely not.

I’ve been de-cluttering slowly over the past couple of weeks, and it’s actually been kind of fun. I’ve got at least two garbage bags full of clothes to donate to my church’s community clothes closet, and a small pile of things I’m saving to donate to the church yard sale in April, which raises funds for mission work. Everything else goes to friends, gets recycled, or is thrown away.

Throughout the process I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on how and why we accumulate so much stuff. I have a lot of theories, but at the root of each one is that we’ve somehow come to equate success with wealth and possessions. We think that the more we accumulate, the better off we are. I might have believed that at one point in my life, but now I simply don’t buy it (pardon the pun). I think I’ve reached an age where I have just enough time and experience under my belt that my attitude has shifted toward a different way of thinking.

In a famous quote from the movie Fight Club, character Tyler Durden declares, “ … an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy s*** we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war. Our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.

That hits me right in the heart, because I find a lot of truth in those words. I don’t want to live a life trying to climb a ladder whose rungs keep being sawed off just above my head. I want different. I want better.

And I really do believe that pursuing less .. will lead to more.

Restart

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the new year. I wasn’t around on this blog much in 2014, but if you read the few posts I made or are my friend on Facebook, you know that it was a bumpy ride.

The low, of course, was my dad’s cancer diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. He’s doing great now, and I’m so thankful not only for his survival but also the many ways the experience changed and blessed our family.

Speaking of family, we gained a new member last year, which was easily the highest of the highs. My nephew Carter has brought smiles, snuggles, laughter and a whirlwind of photo sharing like you wouldn’t believe. All of us are working to make sure he’s spoiled rotten (much to his dad’s dismay!).

There were other bright spots in 2014. I had an unforgettable experience serving on a mission trip to Haiti, where I met people who left deep, deep marks on my heart. I completed my first 5k race, lost about 15 pounds, and started on a (winding) path to better health. I dated a bit – and lived to tell about it.

It was a pretty good year. I find myself surrounded by a loving family, wonderful friends, the light and love of Christ, and, of course, my stinker dog Waylon. There are occasional dark moments, of course, because this is life and it’s not always roses and sunshine. But I have to say that right now? Life is pretty sweet.

So what could I possibly wish for 2015? Continuity, for starters. If the coming year ends like 2014 did, I’ll have no complaints. I learned a lot, and loved a lot, and grew a lot. TV fashion guru Stacy London said in a commercial several years ago something to the effect of really enjoying being in her 30s because she was finally aware of what she loves and who she loves. I have to agree with her. Now that I’m a few years older, I have a much better sense of value and priority. The things I’m longing for in 2015 are related that new understanding. I want quiet. Simplicity. Authenticity. I want less … but also more.

I stumbled onto a website a few weeks ago that has been really helpful in helping me think of ways to achieve those goals. Zen Habits author Leo Babauta’s A Brief Guide to Life pretty accurately sums up what I want for my life:

less TV, more reading

less shopping, more outdoors

less clutter, more space

less rush, more slowness

less consuming, more creating

less junk, more real food

less busywork, more impact

less driving, more walking

less noise, more solitude

less focus on the future, more on the present

less work, more play

less worry, more smiles

breathe

These are my goals. I know the path ahead won’t be easy. It seldom is. But I’m so looking forward to it.

Here we go!

Pic

That Summer

You’ve heard the saying “in like a lion, out like a lamb” to describe the arrival and departure of winter. Since we don’t seem to have much of a spring here anymore, I think we ought to come up with a similar phrase for summer. Something like, in like a golden retriever puppy and out like a ticked off hippopotamus, with the middle being comparable to a chimpanzee. It’s cute and all, but it can still rip off your face.

 

That’s how my family experienced the month of June.

 

Following months of anticipation, my brother and sister-in-law welcomed little Carter into the world on June 9. His arrival was rather dramatic for his mama, but other than the sleep deprivation that comes with having a newborn, she has recovered and is doing well. Carter is the first grandchild on both sides of his family, and every last one of us is smitten with him. Living two hours away from them means we live for texted photos and keep one eye on the calendar for the chance at sneaking away for a visit. It’s been years since there’s been a small child in our family, and we’re already looking forward to Christmas even if he’s only interested in wrapping paper and boxes. I’m pretty sure he’s going to end up on the spoiled nice list.

 

The end of the month wasn’t as joyous. For about a year, my dad had displayed signs that something was wrong with his digestive system. Frequent bowel movements, bloody stool, fatigue and rapid weight loss were among the symptoms that led his doctor to encourage him to have a colonoscopy. I don’t know exactly how much time elapsed between her saying it the first time and the date he actually had it done, but it was longer than it should have been. Dad has spent the majority of his life avoiding doctors, so talking him into having this kind of procedure proved to be a rather Herculean task. I’m still not sure how she did it or what she threatened, but she’d be a very wealthy woman if she could bottle and sell that kind of persuasive ability.

 

The colonoscopy and an endoscopy were scheduled for June 26. His specialist practices at a hospital located almost exactly at the half-way point between my hometown and where I live now, so I was there when the doctor delivered the news. Stomach ulcers, diverticulosis, multiple polyps in the colon, and a rectal tumor that he was nearly certain, even without a biopsy, was malignant.

 

Cancer isn’t an uncommon diagnosis. I don’t think there’s a person in this country – perhaps even the world – who hasn’t been affected by it in some way or another, whether it’s personally or through relative or friend. And although we hoped and prayed otherwise, it honestly was the diagnosis we expected to hear. Cancer has become so commonplace that we wonder if that second headache last week could be a brain tumor. It’s the reason doctors tell us to make appointments, not consult doctor Google, if we notice something amiss with our bodies. Our minds immediately go to the worst possible scenario: The Big C. It’s just how it is these days.

 

And so you think you’re prepared, if only just a little, when the doctor finally gives voice to that echo in your head. You find out quickly that you were wrong. And you admit that you knew you were wrong the moment you walked through the door and saw your father – the man with hands the size of baseball mitts whose voice could make you stand at full attention – looking so small and frail beneath the thin white hospital blanket. It’s hard to watch it happen to someone you love. I can’t imagine what it’s like to live it.

 

The 15 days between the first and second appointments were a mixed bag. When you’re worried your mind drifts to a million what ifs, and as hard as we all try to remain optimistic it’s human nature to dwell on the worst possible outcome. But there were some really wonderful moments, too. My dad’s health had prevented him from traveling when Carter was born, so the two of them got to meet each other and, from what I can tell from the pictures, instantly became best buddies. This year’s Fourth of July weekend became one of my favorite family memories, even if it did leave me feeling homesick for an entire week. Some say it’s a shame that tragedy or illness is what often brings families together, but I don’t know. I think it’s a blessing no matter the circumstances. We aren’t meant to walk alone.

 

I’m so proud of my family. We’ve seen our share of challenges through the years. There have been rough times. But never – not one single time – have I seen any of them break. Both of my parents possess this quiet, incredible strength that I can only hope somehow also made its way into my DNA. 

 

That strength had to be what propelled them into the doctor’s office on July 10 to hear the results of the CT scan and biopsies. Truthfully, we were all expecting the worst — just because they’re strong doesn’t mean they aren’t realists – and we were eager to hear the doctor’s plan of attack.

 

The walls in that examining room had to have swelled beyond the framing, because there couldn’t have been any air left in our bodies when the doctor announced that the polyps are benign. The CT scan shows no evidence that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or any surrounding organs. The stomach issues are being corrected with medication. The tumor will be addressed with radiation, chemotherapy and surgery.

 

Nothing’s ever certain, but for this situation … you guys, he’s going to make it.

 

Clearly he’s not out of the woods yet. The tumor is located very low in the rectum, and the doctor is concerned about how much of the surrounding tissue will need to be removed along with it. If the chemotherapy and radiation shrink it enough, then that’s all that will need taken out. If not, there’s a chance he will lose a portion of the rectum and have to have a colostomy. Obviously, we’re praying hard for scenario one. We need that tumor to shrivel! But we’re relieved in knowing that, although not ideal, a colostomy is manageable.

 

We are grateful. So grateful. We’ve kept the news relatively quiet, because we wanted to better understand what we are dealing with. We thank those of you in the know for your prayers, phone calls and cards, and we ask everyone to continue praying – not only for dad as he endures treatment, but also for my mom as she keeps track of medication and appointments, and acts as nurse/cook/chauffeur/etc. Please also pray that God will see them through the financial concerns, as we all know cancer isn’t cheap. Travel expenses, medication and missed work add up quickly.

 

The night before the most recent appointment, I was reading through some of the Psalms. I’m certainly no Biblical expert, and perhaps this stood out to me because of the circumstances, but the theme that appeared through the passages I read was give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His steadfast love endures forever. And so many of the Psalms begin and/or end with the phrase “Praise the Lord.” I used to think the word praise, especially in this context, meant heaping adoration and compliments upon someone. I suppose it does – and who deserves praise more than the Most High? Doesn’t get much bigger or mightier than He.

 

But I think the psalmists wrapped another message into those words.

 

Praise the Lord.

 

Praise you, Lord.

 

Thank you, Lord.

 

Yes, sweet Father. Thank you.

Haiti, Part II

(Read Part I here)

Our little mission team of five sat clustered at our gate in Miami, waiting for the flight that would bring us back to Ohio. Touchdown in Columbus would get us one step closer in the journey home from Haiti, closer to our own beds, familiar food, and our families. We were tired, and more than a little anxious for a hot shower. But our minds still swirled with thoughts and memories of the previous eight days. The five-hour layover offered us time to talk about our experiences, and how they would carry over into our daily lives and the work of our church.

I think all five of us would agree that Haiti is wonderful. But Haiti is hard. I don’t know what it’s like in other seasons, but my winter experience was hot, sticky, and stinky. And when I say stinky, I’m talking about myself, not the air. The weather was no sweat – literally — for the Haitians, but it didn’t take long for me to start feeling quite … soupy. Over the course of nine days, I think I took four showers. I slept in the same long-sleeved shirt and yoga pants each night. Long sleeves and full pants seem crazy considering the heat, but nights in Haiti are actually pretty breezy, and the gentle wind also helps keep away mosquitoes.

Or so they claim. I awoke every morning with fresh bite welts on my hands, feet, legs, arms, and face, despite the breeze, clothing, and copious amounts of bug repellant. Pastor Steve woke up one morning with a mysteriously fat lip, which of course called for a duck joke or two. He got his revenge a few days later, however, when I woke up with a fat lip of my own and a largely swollen eyelid. We still don’t know what caused them.

I shaved my legs exactly once, and not well. I grew hair like it was my job, people, and will never leave home without tweezers ever again. My digestive system was out of whack (but not in the way you’d think.) I had a small breakout on my chest. I peed twice a day, if lucky, which really wasn’t such a bad thing after viewing the restroom facilities in some of the remote places we visited.

We had to get up and carry our beds down to the second-floor covered porch twice because of rain. One night, we slept on sheets on the dirt floor of a church we visited in the mountains. The day we hiked up to the church at Bethel was probably the most difficult for me. You can only access this community by following a narrow path (what we’d call a cow path), which was steep and covered with large rocks. I’m able-bodied but not in optimal shape, so that hour walk under a blazing sun was pretty hard. I had to take several breaks, and at one point thought I would vomit from the stress on my body. I’m a West Virginia mountain girl and have done my fair share of hiking, but at least we have the luxury of trees and shade in these hills. Thanks to the charcoal industry, there aren’t many trees in Haiti.

1912265_10203167298324173_1089937250_n

The church at John-Charles, where we slept and then shared in worship the next day.

The food in Haiti was different, but pretty good. We ate a lot of rice and beans, and the fresh juice was delicious. I’d say my favorite dish was probably the spaghetti noodles and peanut butter (yes, you read that correctly) that we had for breakfast a few days. Such a strange combination, but tasty. One evening Erin, Abbie and I were sitting under a tree in the front yard of the orphanage. All of a sudden Abbie says, “Whoops, dead goat. Dead goat.” A glance toward the outdoor kitchen told us all we needed to know. Claudette (the orphanage cook) and Gina (the wife of Bato, who runs the orphanage) had slit the throat of a goat and were holding it up by its legs to allow the blood to drain. Sure enough, that goat ended up on our plates the following evening. I would have tried it – really – but the piece I got still had some skin attached and I just couldn’t do it. I understand where meat comes from, and I’m very much a carnivore. But I didn’t grow up on a farm, I prefer to purchase my meat already dead and wrapped, and I make it a policy to never eat anything I’ve met.

I’m sort of embarrassed to talk about these things, because I knew the risks and certainly didn’t expect the trip to be anything like a tropical vacation. I don’t shy away from dirt or hard work. But when you’re accustomed to daily showers, neatly styled hair, and being able to drive to church in a car, such dramatic differences all at once can sort of come as a shock to the body and the spirit. Haiti is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It is impossible to look away from the poverty. It’s everywhere. As is the garbage. In nearly every yard, along every road, in every ditch, there’s trash. Sometimes it’s on fire.

The streets are crammed with vehicles and people. Lanes mean nothing, and there are few stop signs or traffic lights. Each side of the roads are lined with makeshift vendor booths where people sell produce, toiletries, auto parts and clothing. Livestock roams freely.

And my goodness, the noise. Honking horns, rumbling motorcycles, crowing roosters, bleating goats, machete hacking, crying babies, and a 4 a.m. performance of what I’m convinced must be the Haitian version of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir somewhere in the neighborhood of the orphanage. This cacophony lasted all day and night.

Minutes in Haiti feel like hours. The people there do not hurry, and they do not adhere to schedules. I often felt as if I were moving in slow motion. I am so used to coming and going as I please that it was strange to not only have to depend on others for food, transportation, etc., but also to be completely at their mercy. We ate what was presented to us when it was presented. If we made plans to leave by 3 p.m. to visit another church? Well, we’d probably be on the road by 5 or 6.

With the exception of poverty (and the trash), none of these differences are bad. However, when you pile them on all at once, well, there’s a reason why it’s called culture shock. It was uncomfortable. Which, I’d guess, is exactly how God intended it to be.

Sometimes I could just fall on my face in thankfulness to God for the gift of grace. Without it, how could we ever look beyond the mess, beyond the hardship and pain and struggle this life is so apt to deliver? A few days into our stay I sat on the front porch of the orphanage and thought, “I don’t think I can come back here. This is too much, too different. Too chaotic. Too hard. Hot. Hopeless.”

That’s why, sitting at that gate in Miami, I was surprised by my answer to Pastor Steve’s question. “Would you come back?”

“Yes. Yes, I would.”

Haiti, Part I

It’s been about two weeks since I returned, and I’m still having trouble figuring out how to describe my experience in Haiti. So many people have asked, and while the responses I’ve given – Awesome! Challenging! Eye-opening! – are accurate, they’re also insufficient.
The thing is, I’m not sure there *is* a way to explain everything we saw, felt or did during our nine-day stay. I’ll do my best, though, because so many people supported this trip with their prayers and gifts. Five people comprised the team, but we were merely representatives of a much larger body of people who care about our friends in Haiti and want to help improve their lives.

I use the word friends because that’s what the Haitians are. We know their names, their stories, and where they live. About five years ago (I think), my church became involved with the Haiti Mission Society. HMS is a non-profit organization based near Cincinnati that built and operates a boys orphanage in the Port-au-Prince suburb of Bon Repos. Through this organization and its supporters, 17 Haitian boys receive housing, food, clothing, education, and a Christian upbringing. The society’s founders, Barb and Jim Richter, also help support several Haitian pastors who tend to churches and communities in both Haitian cities and remote villages.

10004026_10203167233922563_1315339503_n

(Phone pic; sorry it’s so small)

It’s important to note that the work performed by and through HMS is built on relationships. “Mom Barb,” as she is known in Haiti, has been a missionary since 1997. She has followed the footsteps of her father, Emmett Gilbert, who began his mission ministry in 1960. Through their combined years of service, they met and built friendships with the Haitian people they served. Though “Big Papa” passed away in 2005, Barb has been able to maintain many of these relationships as well as new connections made through her own work.

I didn’t know this history when I agreed to participate in the trip. I knew only of my own church’s involvement with the orphanage, and that we’d been connected with it for a couple of years. I listened to stories from my pastor and church members who went in previous years, and was struck by how they spoke of the children and others as real people. Not a bunch of abstract foreigners, but members of our extended family.

That’s really what convinced me to go. I have always viewed international missions from under a raised eyebrow because there’s quite a fine line between mission work and poverty tourism. It just doesn’t make sense, to me, for privileged people to spend thousands of dollars on airfare and accommodations to visit a poor country, hold a few babies, dig a well, and then return to their comfortable lives. I’m not saying that loving on children or helping to provide a clean water source are bad things – certainly not. But what happens when the trip is over? We missionaries get to feel really good about ourselves, while those we served short-term still face lives of poverty and uncertainty. Doesn’t that seem a bit unbalanced?

The point of mission work isn’t to feel good about ourselves, or even to feel grateful for what we have. Many of you are probably familiar with Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 28:19, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Christians are called to share the faith with others, and I think many believers feel that it’s especially important to take their knowledge of – and experiences with – God to people in the world who many not have been exposed to the message. But talking about God isn’t enough. Christians are also called to step beyond simple evangelism. Consider these words from the half-brother of Jesus Christ:

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith, by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

I would guess this is why lot of mission projects also involve humanitarian work. Christians (and many non-Christians) are dedicated to efforts to provide clean drinking water, food, shelter, and security for underprivileged people throughout the world. These are noble, life-changing causes. But again, are they enough? I don’t have the knowledge or authority to answer that question, but instinct tells me that it’s a victory any time a community receives access to clean water or a reliable food supply, or someone is rescued from slavery. That’s kind of a no-brainer. However, neglecting to take an extra step means we miss out on an opportunity to really live out the gospel in the way God intended: in relationship.

To make a long story (sorry) short, the fact that my church had an established, ongoing relationship with this organization and the children at the orphanage was a key factor in my participation on this trip. Over the years I’ve been invited by dear friends to join them on their missions, but until this opportunity arose I’d never felt any type of confirmation from God that it was the right time for me. This connection with Haiti was different, and I believe it’s because of my church’s commitment to these people. I strongly feel that if I’m going to do something like this, I need to be in it for the long haul. Even if I’m not able to ever physically return to Haiti, I can still be part of the relationship and any ongoing efforts to provide support. I could have done this with my friends’ organizations too – of course – but I think doing this through my own church makes me more accountable.

Because honestly? After a few days there, I didn’t think I would ever go back to Haiti.