Watch the heart

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It’s hard to believe that my favorite heart stopped beating four Fridays ago. And then started again. And then stopped again. And then, well, for those that have been reading along, you know the ‘and then’.

I know someday will be “just another Friday”, but for now – and the foreseeable future – I’m counting. Today is Friday number FOUR from “that Friday.” Friday and I have always had a thing – but more in the abstract, the idea of Friday as a season, which emerged from the disciple Peter’s experiences on that fateful “Good Friday.” When shock, loss, and mourning collide. When the unreal becomes real. I’ve always said my “first Friday” was going through infertility – our unplanned unparenthood. Heck, even the Bible Study I wrote is called, of all things, ‘Friday’s Rain.’  Walking through my proverbial Friday is how I learned that lament is worship and what it means to praise a GOOD God in the midst of UNGOOD feels and reals.

So it’s not lost on me that “the call” came on a Friday, too. The literal and figurative Fridays colliding in a scene that is still surreal, though the flashbacks hit with shocking realism.

  
This morning I woke up thinking about all that I didn’t know four Fridays ago. ICU-Nurses-turned-friends. Campus-security-officers-turned-heroes. A hospital I didn’t know existed. Medical terms that were previously obscure and irrelevant to me. Doctors I would hug. A naivety and innocence that I didn’t know was naïve and innocent.

But also the depth of community, the power of prayer, and the LIVING nature of Scripture. Just how rich we are in friends. Just how miraculous each breath is. These are all things I knew, but now I KNOW.

This morning my guy decided that it was time to kick me out for a little beach time before I went to therapy – both some of the healthiest things for my soul. When I got down to the water, the clouds were still perfectly thick, keeping everything sleepy and just the right amount of Southern California chilly. But as it generally does, the sun started to fight off the clouds, and as I took in the sun’s warmth, I thought about how the last few weeks have felt just like that … a taking in of the sun as it slowly burns off the clouds. And makes your eyes burn if you stare right at it.

 Direct staring not recommended, but paying attention: highly recommended. Walking the beach, I thought of my hours in the ICU, where I remember wondering if there would be a day that I’d walk the beach again in full contentment. And while I don’t miss the hospital or that ICU room, there’s one thing I do miss. Okay two. Okay three.

First, the definition within its walls. Second, Nurse Nancy. And third, the breakfast burritos.

The second two I can go visit. The first, the definition, may sound like a weird thing to miss- because a hospital is full of UNdefined possibilities, more questions than answers, chaos, and is constantly ON. But one thing a hospital does just right is having a single focus: LIFE. Life has one very specific, distinct, simple meaning in a hospital, especially the cardiac floor. You watch the heart. You watch it’s rythym, it’s beat, it’s pace, it’s consistency. Life inside the hospital walls means one thing. Watch the heart, keep it beating.

Life outside the hospital walls is not so simple. And that’s SO GOOD, and so healthy, and a little tricky. Because life outside the hospital walls includes deadlines and decisions and diets and directions and dog-hair and dust and deep sighs.

And still, watching the heart. Yes the physical – low sodium, cardiac rehab, etc. But also the heart-heart. The soul-part. The one that doesn’t come with a monitor – but oh my gosh can you imagine if it did!? Yikes. Because even when everything changes, you still bring the same self to the table. You’re forever different, but you’re also not.

Watch the heart, for it is deep, and varied. It can take in wonders, and can expand beyond what you thought possible, and ache in unknown places, and echo dazzling light and love. Watch it. Watch your hot-mess heart as it LIVES. I think you’ll be surprised what you find, whether it’s a Friday or “just another Friday.” One sign of LIFE returning this week were the tears and the laughter and then the laughing-tears when a kinda rough conversation led to Jason saying to me, “You know you’re the hot mess that I WANT to do life with, right?” You better believe that I laugh-cried right then and there.

You guys, these hearts of ours. Goodness they are a sacred mystery. They need watching. They have a lot to process and prioritize and participate in. And maybe life outside the hospital walls isn’t all that different from life within: watch the heart, keep it beating.

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We are living a miracle: on time, and life-vests, and all the first week home things

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Some people cross the bridge from care-free to care-full slowly, one responsible vitamin at a time. Others get pushed off the bridge and inherit a pillbox and a bunch of ‘ologists overnight.

  
Our first week home has been a crash course in all things care-full – if you’ve ever seen a life vest, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, just think gun holster meets inspector gadget. It’s like wearing a bomb that will SAVE your life instead of end it, and it requires some quick-change action between showers.

Turns out a broken heart takes a long time to heal. There has GOT to be some amazing spiritual and emotional parallels as a physically attacked heart has to go through such intense recovery and rehab. So much I never would have known before, but it really is TIME that is needed most. Time, sleep, and quiet.

Oh the Quiet. No heart monitors. Birds instead of balloon pumps. Heck, even the occasional jet planes overhead have a soothing new rhythm because they remind me we are NOT IN A HOSPITAL.

  
I’ve never enjoyed silence like this. We sit. We read. We rest. We savor. It’s some sacred quiet. Slowly, bit by bit, we talk through all that has just been, and turn our attention to all that will be. (Because there is a will be!!!) 

And slowly, the pace of “normal life” is creeping back in, too. Which is beautiful and also not at the same time. I don’t miss the hospital at all, but I do miss some of the single-focus-clarity that two weeks in a hospital forces, and I’d like to adopt some new filters as we readjust into our new normal.

One thing that’s ever-more-evident is just how different our two experiences are, and therefore our healing journeys will be. We knew that within the first 24 hours of him leaving ICU, of course – his journey involves sleeping through some of the most vibrant, haunting, and sacred hours of my life. His journey involves disorientation and shock on a whole different level. His journey involves wearing a life-vest. His journey went from a basketball court to a hospital bed in a blink of an eye. His journey involves the emotions inherent in heart-attack recovery … everything from “glad to be alive” to “damn this hurts” to “I’m not worth all this attention” to “when can I get back to work/school?”

We’ve decided that miracles are allowed to be grumpy. 

And me, well, I’m still experiencing a layer of grace that I can’t take any credit for. I’m still being held up by a Mighty Right Hand (Psalm 63:8). That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of Deep Feels going on.

The tears – they come at surprising times. As I open a can of chicken. As we play cards. As he chokes on a cough and I feel the pain on his face.

The sighs come when the flashbacks zap me. When images flash in my mind of monitors, wide-open but un-seeing eyes, and the wail that defied words. Some say I was strong. I wasn’t strong. I was simply a girl in love with the guy on the ventilator. Some say I’m strong now. And still, I tell you, it’s love making me breathe “thank you” even as I echo “ouch” as I watch my man – my active, vibrant, strong, athletic, bold MAN – learn how to re-enter life one five-minute-walk at a time.

Hold out for that kind of love, ladies. It’s worth every high and low.

  
The deep thoughts come with classical music, haunting me with the ways it can say what my words and actions can not, just as it soothed both of us while it played in the ICU.

The chills come when I remember that I should be a widow, and I look up to receive comfort from the very man who has instead kept me a bride.
The smiles come when he reaches for my hand. 

The goosebumps when each kiss becomes just a little bit longer.

The laughter when the right pun hits at the right moment, or when Mrs Chanandeler Bong is so much funnier than before. Or when I win at the card game.

Because miracles laugh, and cry, and shudder, and go silent, and get grumpy, and dream of the future. Because miracles get a future – we just enter it slowly.

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We are living a miracle: home

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Home. We’re home! WE are home.

I’ve realized things in a hospital move super slow, like the evolution of your fashion standards into something like this:
  (You’re welcome)

or super fast, like being admitted or, as it turns out, discharged. Which is, by the way, equal parts wonderful and terrifying because you do get a bit used to nurses and doctors and life-saving equipment being a call button away. Still, after a few shared tears as we face our new and unknown normal, it was all smiles from there:

     
 

  

 Gods hand has been in
countless details. More on those later. But one of tonight’s was that our song, Out of the Woods, came on as soon as I turned on our car. For reals though. It’s the song Jason says is how he felt while pursuing my heart all those years ago. It will hold even more meaning to me now.
And we came home to the most beautiful displays of love for us – more to come on all our friends have taught us about love. I mean wow. Our home was filled with flowers, our fridge and pantry stocked with heart healthy foods, our laundry done, our sinks and floors cleaner than I can keep them, and our chalk wall declaring Jason’s LIFE verse. 

 
As we settle into our new normal, beginning with a few DAYS of sleep, we will be telling ourselves of the great things God has done as we read messages and cards and our own hearts.

“Give thanks to the LORD and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done.”‭‭ Psalms‬ ‭105:1‬ ‭

Because the world was a part of the great things He’s done – we got messages from around the U.S., Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Australia – as people stood in prayer, stormed the gates, and rejoiced over Jason in singing – I’d love your help in capturing some of those stories and moments before they’re lost. If you have a picture or video or story of prayer and praise over this man of mine or how God met you as WE ALL are living this miracle, will you get it to me? And please to be sure to include your location.

Here’s a few ways:

1) use the hashtag #teamjasonmiller and #wearelivingamiracle on Facebook or Instagram 

2) comment here

3) email me at brooke@brookemardell.com

Because living a miracle isn’t something you do alone.

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We are living a miracle: who moved my yellow brick road?

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When they said long road to recovery, I may or may not have envisioned a rather straight path through a meadow – long, yes, but it might have had a yellow-brick-tinge in my minds eye because I’d get to walk it holding my mans hand.

So when nurses raced into my husbands hospital room on the first night after being released from ICU, I may or may not have had a post-traumatic reaction (spoiler alert: that’s gonna keep happening). All of a sudden I was hearing alarms and bells that I had categorized as last weeks trauma, and I was very unready to live it again.

So no, this long road to recovery isn’t a smooth path through rolling hills. It’s got some funky detours, wide turns, caution signs and even some u-turns. And in some sections, it has two distinct footpaths, because only one of us was awake for five days of it – so our stories, our memories, our lessons from this will look and sound different from each other.

This long road will involve many more tests, some days will have more questions than answers, rehab will teach the heart and muscles to rebuild, therapy will help our souls heal, friends and family will continue to enrich our lives with selfless love, meaningless drama (here’s looking at you, Oscars 2016) will be its own form of medicine, cooking and grocery shopping and marriage will look different, and our stories will unfold. Emphasis on OUR. 

Because living a miracle takes time.

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We are living a miracle: eyes wide open 

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3am here and I just spent the last 21 hours with my husbands eyes back open, focused, and knowing me. Words can’t even begin to express the warmth that flooded me when his eyes first flickered open, I half-whispered the question “can you see me?” and his head nodded the gentlest and most powerful of all yes’s.
And so began a slow and sacred day of regaining vocal chords, motor skills, etc. I had been warned that this would be a hard day, and it was. Extremely hard. But it was also one of my most favorite of my life. 

And as I slowly fill Jason in on the past five days, I too am having a slow dawn as to the breadth of the story unfolding. So stay tuned with us … With eyes wide open. 

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We are living a miracle: The first 100 hours

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The last hundred hours have been the most unreal, surreal, and at the same time vividly raw real of my life. It will take days, months and probably years for my mind and heart to fully process it. But here’s what I know: we are living a miracle.

In the last hundred hours, a fierce, brutal, powerful tale of redemption and resurrection has unfolded in these hospital walls. One still very much being written, with many questions yet unanswered, yet infused with one miraculously answered prayer after another.

At five o’clock on Friday night, I got “the call” – the one I’ve dreaded with every story of Jenny Lee’s Alec, Mary Crawley’s Matthew, and Meredith Shepherd’s Derek. All at once, I was in my own tv drama nightmare, complete with the perfect morning together preceding it.

As a friend drove me to the hospital, I learned only bits and pieces – CPR had been performed at the scene, he was in the cardio department awaiting a “procedure”, and the procedure could not wait and needed my consent over the phone – ending with a promise they would “do everything they could.” I’d never heard words that struck more terror … I had no idea how many more terrifying words would come to my ears that very night.

When we finally arrived, we waited. In silent agony and with the ER admission nurses avoiding my direct gaze as they asked me to wait for the social worker. I met the men who had performed CPR, the men who had used an aed at the scene. I listened as one might read a newspaper – distant, cautious, as if about a country far away. 

At last I was taken back to meet a doctor – my husbands cardiologist. The words didn’t go together in my mind. He had no heart trouble, no forewarning signs, no family history. Nonetheless, I was told he’d had a heart attack, and had 100% blockage of an artery. They had put in a stint. He was in recovery. And the doctor “has seen people make full recoveries” from these types of attacks, though brain activity was a large unknown. Someone had pulled up a wheelchair; I found myself accepting it.

An hour or so later, after he was stable, they led me back to see him.

As I arrived at the door to his room, I saw the tubes, the monitors, the wires, the hospital gown. And then the monitor flashed a red zero. And the light above his door flashed blue. And nurses and doctors from every direction came running as I became an extra in my own episode of Greys Anatomy. 

Jason coded twelve times that night. I can’t put into words the terror of each one, or the ring of words like “flatline”, “paddles – clear!” being within earshot, and being about the man I love.

My prayers were fervent and clear: life, breath, life, breath. 

Yet life and breath were the most elusive things of the evening. I watched nurses work tirelessly. Doggedly. Fighting death back only to have it come running at them again. And again. And again.

At some point, I became aware that their efforts were more for me than for him – that they were doing everything in their power to show me that they had done everything in their power. I stared at the love of my life as he stared blankly ahead, while machines kept his body alive.

I knew to sing. I don’t know how or why I knew that. But I knew to sing over him. Hymns and songs of worship, praise, and a promise – to him and to me – that I would declare God is good. In the shadow. Songs that defied what the eyes could see even as it was breaking my heart in half to think what it would mean to keep worshiping in a world without my Jason.

At 5:30am on Saturday February 20, 2016, I was told that I would soon be a widow. 

That there was nothing left they could do. That he was on one hundred percent life support, and that time would make no difference. That it was time to say goodbye.

I heard a wail. A deep guttural moan filled with pain. I realized it was coming from my own mouth. From the depths of my soul. 

And even as my mouth said the words goodbye, even as my hands caressed the skin not covered in needles and wires, even as my mind recognized that I would never see him again this side of heaven, my heart refused for it to be true.

As the doctor walked in, I told him I had only one question. My tear-soaked eyes begged him to tell me why more time wouldn’t make a difference; why we weren’t giving him a chance to fight.

His eyes filled with discomfort, and he squirmed with the truth of what he had to tell me. That there was almost zero chance that time would make any difference at all.

I clung to almost.

He agreed to wait a few more hours. I knew even then that it was merely to give me the confidence that we had tried.

I took each step in a hollow fog, understanding each one was leading me to my unwanted new chapter of life as the former Mrs. Jason Miller.

One hour later, he woke up.

He. Woke. Up.

He was responsive. Answering to his name and simple commands. The doctor couldn’t explain it. The nurse grabbed my hand and said “I’ve never seen anything like this!” as she raced me down the hall to his side. 

His still unfocused eyes started searching as he heard my voice. My hand went to his forehead and my heart leapt in hope. He was awake.

He was also incredibly unstable, and I was rushed out as quickly as I was rushed in, as doctors realized that stimulation was causing his blood pressure to plummet and his heart to race erratically. 

Still, he had woken up. Against all odds. Life had returned to the room.

And so began a delicate vigil, a teetering dance around vital signs and organ failure and shallow breaths and v-tachy spikes and bodily tremors and countless medications and machines.

So continued a battle of heavenly proportions, where prayer requests went out around the world and loved ones flew in from around the world. Where we saw every odd beaten and every prayer answered. Where I have learned more about love than ever before as we’ve been surrounded these twilight and daylight hours alike. 

Where life has returned. Resurrected life.

Today ended the dependence on drugs and machines. Even now we are beginning the weaning from sedation. With it remain many unknowns, and I keep receiving warning that we have a long road ahead, to which I say “AMEN it’s long!” The short one would have ended with a funeral.

But we, we are living the long road of a miracle.

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Pray Life

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The love of my life is in the fight of his life. These are the first words I’ve penned since he had a heart attack on Friday. Someone else will post them, just as someone else has fed me, clothed me, and at times literally held me up over the last 84 hours.

This isn’t the first time we’ve fought for love – and with every hour, I pray it’s not the last time.

I know the voices of hundreds have stormed the gates with us in prayer. I know it because of the hundreds of unread texts/emails/messages – that someday I will read – but mostly I know it because I am witness to its power. The angel of death still hovers, but he has been pushed out of this room over and over and over again – only by prayer. Only by grace.

Jason’s life verse is Zephaniah 3:17. We have seen God in his midst as a warrior mighty to save. We have seen him calm Jason with his love. And we continue to rejoice over Jason with singing.

Psalm 63:7-8 is a picture of what the last four days have been for me. 

Please, continue to storm the gates with us. Pray life.

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I’m giving up Anxiety for Lent (and I’m SO ANXIOUS about it!)

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I’m not really a lent-kind-of-gal. It hasn’t really been something I’ve intentionally participated in before. Though I was most inspired a few years ago by a friend who gave up using a fork for lent. Who wouldn’t be inspired by that kind of creativity?

But this year, our lifegroup is looking for ways to be more intentional, and I figured lent could be a good way for me to be intentional – in the mantra of Kimmy Schmidt, I can do anything for ten seconds at a time, right?

So this text exchange happened this morning:

 

Husband: I’m giving up coffee for Lent.

Me: I’m not sure what to give up.

Husband: Anxiety.

Me: Lol if only I knew how.

 

I then turned to my girlfriends via text to laugh about the idea – I mean, how “cute” that my husband would come up with something like that for me to give up. I was gunning for something more along the lines of “stomach fat”. Honestly, I can imagine a lot of spiritual health and growth in my world if I gave up some of that for Lent this year.

But I couldn’t deny what husband knows: I wake up with anxiety. I go to sleep with anxiety. I call it ‘being responsible.’ When I’m feeling fancy, I call it being a ‘multipotentialite’.

So I reached out to my girls to joke … “anyone know how a girl can give up anxiety for lent?” [insert hearty chuckle or laug-til-you-cry emoji].

As soon as I hit send, I thought “oh crap, there’s totally a recipe for that in Scripture.” Phil. 4:6-7 immediately came to mind.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving make your requests known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

And not surprisingly, the first friend to respond also issued an “ah crap, I just asked God what he wanted me to give up.”

So began this whole thread of us putting our anxiety-ridden-hot-mess-selves into the text-o-sphere with statements like:

 

“Does anyone know anyone who doesn’t worry?”

“I pray and pray but seems like I just get worse and worse. Social anxieties, depression – I mean, how do I not worry about EVERYTHING?”

“It sounds impossible … but what if it’s not?”

 

And with a holy crap, I knew that my jokester-man had hit a very big nail on the head. And that I wasn’t alone. And that this year, I am giving up Anxiety for Lent.

Instantly, I was filled with anxiety ABOUT giving up anxiety. I mean, how does one DO THAT!? I know it with my head … I memorized Phil. 4 many moons ago … and I’ve experienced “the peace that passes understanding” in various and distinct moments. And it’s powerful.

But I’d be lying if I said that that kind of peace is a lifestyle.

And I’m not satisfied with treating Scripture like it’s “a nice idea”, even though that’s my very first response when I read a verse like “Don’t be anxious about tomorrow … “

OF COURSE I’M ANXIOUS ABOUT TOMORROW! I mean, has anyone missed who just won the New Hampshire primaries!?

And also … there’s these pesky things called jobs … and dreams … and new babies due any minute (not mine) … and babies just born on drugs (also not mine!) … and new businesses … and grocery shopping … and laundry … and the losing of the stomach-fat thing … and getting the dishwasher fixed … and ALL THE THINGS.

Sometimes I feel a bit like Michele Pfiefer (really, I’ve always wanted to say that – sadly, this is the only part of me that can say it honestly) … in her hot-mess-moment with George Clooney in ‘One Fine Day’ (yep, throwing it way back here). ‘Melanie’ tells ‘Jack’ that she’s got all these balls in the air … and that if she slows down, or misses a step, or relies on someone else … the balls will drop. Jack is constantly after her to just admit she can’t do it all alone. This scene always plays in my mind when I hear someone say I don’t need to worry, or don’t need to feel responsible, or don’t need to think the buck stops with me, or can let a ball drop:

 

                       JACK

         All right. Now say, “I can’t do

         everything on my own.”

         You can’t say it.

                        MELANIE

         Sure I can, just as long as you

         realize that it won’t be true.

         Okay. I can’t do everything alone.

                         JACK

         There. Great.

                         MELANIE

         Even though my daily activities, year

         after year, immediately contradict what

         I just said.

 

This idea of an anxiety-free-life … you guys, I treat it like it’s just that, an IDEA – a nice idea, but one that I can only say as long as you know it won’t be true. And I can say that I can’t do it all, that I’m not responsible for it all, but my anxiety immediately contradicts that.

Still, Scripture talks about this anxiety-free lifestyle like it’s real. And I am one of the beloved extremists who believes that Scripture is God’s word – that it is living, active, and does not return void. And I don’t believe that I need any other trick or practice or yoga-pose to unlock it’s power. So how do I reconcile these two things? This IDEAL of God’s Word saying “do not be anxious”, and my very REAL life where anxiety is pretty much a bestie, albeit an obnoxious one.

Well, I don’t know. I don’t know how to give up Anxiety for Lent. But I dug into Scripture this morning and I’m trying to hear what it has to say about it. And to hear it in such a way that I believe it. And to hear it in such a way that it translates to action. That it can be something I can ACTUALLY DO.

Maybe one of the rythyms of Lent is that it’s different to look ahead 40 days and say “I’m going to try to give THIS up for THIS long”, as opposed to feeling overwhelmed by giving something up forever … even something that’s bad for you.

So as the weeks of Lent unfold, I’ll be digging into Scripture, hearing what it has to say about anxiety, and doing my best to share here what I find without preaching to anyone (including myself) (though, side-rant, when did preaching become a bad thing?).

I’m giving up Anxiety for Lent. It sounds impossible … But what if it’s not?

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Dear 2015, Thanks for being Ridiculous

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Here’s 5 ways to make 10 resolutions to have 1 best year with 14 friends while avoiding the top 13 mistakes of 7 secret calamities that lead to 1.4% success rate … guaranteed to get you 150k followers in 3.2 minutes while losing 18 pounds.

As I slide past the 2015 finish line, I feel a bit like that girl in the corner clutching a beat-up, dog-eared, tattered and mud stained notebook while everyone else is cracking open bright new shiny pages in their 2016 composition books. Complete with cute etsy designs on the front cover.

If you can relate, read on as I pay a brief tribute to a hard, messy, and sometimes flat out ridiculous year. 2015, you will always remind me that weird is the new normal.

  1. Remembering Cupageddon

You guys, remember cupageddon?

Those red cups. The hashtags. Embarassing Christians

people who use Christ as an excuse to be petty

people who talk about people who use Christ as an excuse to be petty.

We made it. We will go on. We will hold our heads high as did the who’s of who-ville now that the coffee-company-who-stole-Christmas has been exposed.

Actually, in honor of cupageddon, I fed $6.95 into the Starbucks machine and got back this shiny red cup ornament.

IMG_0066It’s stamped “2015”, so I can always remember the year that was ridiculous. It will hang on our tree (yes yes, a pagan symbol in our Christian home) as a reminder to me about the War on Christmas, because it is very real. And very over. Thus the whole “good news to men and peace on earth” bit. When I see this red cup, I will hear the angels whose trumpet song was a cosmic call to arms because Death was about to be defeated as the greatest secret weapon of all time had just been born: God in the flesh.

Cupageddon, thanks for the reminder.

  1. Hoverboards Boards with wheels and our Presidential “candidates”.

Umm, yeah.

  1. Syria. And Paris. And San Bernardino. And Prayers.

I mean, really, the collective aches that echoed around the world this year left us all with bigger questions than answers. And 2016 will probably bring more crISIS. All while we keep manufacturing and wearing adult diapers. It’s too much, you guys. It’s really, honestly, too much. We are living in unprecedented times fighting an unprecedented enemy. You better believe that these things are gonna keep knocking me to my knees in prayer, where I believe we do our best battle.

  1. Life from Loss.

You guys, finding Life from Loss is one of the hardest, bravest things we can decide to do. Digging through loss to find the life, even though every fiber in your being wants to run the other way, means you will get even messier. And Loss is everywhere. All around us. This year has cemented for me that loss forces us to our knees, but that’s where we do our best digging in the dirt. 2015 knocked me flat in so many ways. My heart broke and ached more ways than I can count. But 2015 also brought rainbows and sunsets and snuggles with my best guy. I found wide open spaces, and realized my siblings are some of my best friends and favorite people on this planet.

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I spent money on counseling and started embracing self-care, not as a trend, but as a necessity. I left toxic places and people and breathed deep of healthier skies. I learned am learning to be inefficient. Friday’s Rain came out this year and my muddy hands got to hold others as we dug in and declared together that loss doesn’t have the last word. Life does.

  1. Go Mermaid hunting.

As a sister of the girl who farts rainbows, I guess it’s only fitting that I would be invited on a mermaid hunt this year. I learned a lot about mermaids as my niece told me what to watch for. The full moon was out (the only time they show themselves), and it was the time of night when the sea is the same color as the sky – something I’d never noticed before but now vigilantly pay attention to. And the sign, the way you know if you’ve seen them and they’ve seen you: a thumbs up. So now I call this the mermaid emoticon.

thumb

 

While as a general rule I don’t associate with mythical creatures, I realized I could probably find more magic if I was watching for it. Mermaids are rare creatures. And sometimes I think we forget – I forget – the value of being rare. I forget to watch for it. I forget to appreciate it. In myself and in others. And let’s be honest, being rare can be exhausting, costly, and even dangerous. But someone somewhere thinks you are worth searching the horizon for. So be you. It’s actually more rare than a mermaid sighting.

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—–

So, thanks 2015, for being Ridiculous. And helping me be just a bit more, too. I’ll be holding onto these tattered pages and keep drawing on them in the new year, because somehow I think they’ll be better teachers than bright and crisp new pages with 8 ways to be a better me in 13 minutes and 27 pounds lighter.

What about you? Is this a year you’re eagerly opening crisp new pages (don’t worry, we can still be friends if you are – you might even inspire me), or dragging mud-stained lessons across the finish line?

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Love Looks Like …

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Love does win. But I see a lot more questions than answers about what that means, what love looks like, and what loses when it wins. Most days I don’t have answers to most of the questions. But there are five days a year that I can tell you exactly what love looks like. And exactly how it wins.

It’s probably fair to say that the week I spend each year as a part of Royal Family Kids Camp is my favorite-worst-week of the year. You guys, it’s exhausting. And my body reminds me of that with each moment I awake in a camp-bunk-bed (notice I said moment, not morning, because someone did not exactly sleep soundly). It’s hot and dusty and endless hours without quiet. Oh and there’s that pesky little thing of confronting child abuse. I will tell you, there is nothing fiercer in this life than looking into the eyes of a ten year old who has been intentionally abandoned by his mother, or a six year old who awakes each night to the terror of her mother’s recent death, or the stiff upper lip of an eight year old who has learned how to live on defense as it seems the whole world plays against him. But I will also tell you that there is nothing more enchanting than seeing those eyes start to believe they are treasured, and those dreams beginning to feel safe, and faith that someone out there actually has your back.

It’s only five days. But it’s five days of knowing exactly what love looks like.

Love looks like … Preparation. Anticipation.

A hundred+ volunteers gather a day before a single camper sets foot on camp. To prepare. To anticipate. To color. To decorate. To set the stage.

One of my absolute favorite moments of all is when the counselors and staff gather on the lawns just as the camper buses are about to arrive. Signs with each campers’ name are held close in the hands of their counselor. The cheers and the hollers that go out as the bus rounds the corner chokes me up big time. Every. Time.

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Because love prepares. Love anticipates. Love is so dang excited to meet you.

And so it is with Jesus. He who prepares a place for us (1 John 14:3), who prepares a table before me in thIMG_9852e presence of my enemies (Ps. 23:5). This year, I got to help set up the tea party table. Anything whimsical will do. Throughout the week, I know that each camper will don a silly dress-up costume and talk with a British accent, and we will say “when in doubt, pinkies out” more times than I can count.

Their enemies – both the ones inside and the ones that are waiting for them at “home” – don’t go away. But still I set the table. And I see my God in this. Preparing tables for me in the midst of my enemies. And moreso, preparing a Kingdom. One that “no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

Love looks like … Anger. Wrath.

Surprised? Me too. See, I’ve read “the love passage”. I know that it’s patient and kind and long-suffering. But it’s also angry. Not forever (Jeremiah 3:12), but I gotta say that I kind of like a love that can get angry.

Some people express their anger towards inanimate objects. I may or may not have uttered words of scorn and hatred towards my computer, slow internet connections, bad phone reception, and general technology this week, only to realize that really I wasn’t angry about any of those things, but about the unbelievably helpless feeling one has when an eight-year-old wears a diaper to bed.

Love gets angry. Thank God. Literally. Because you know what, I like a God who says his wrath is poured out against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men. I know there are a lot of debates about what’s ungodly and unrighteous. But those debates expire in the face of child abuse.

I’m also grateful that wrath isn’t our destiny. Two years ago, I spent months and months wrapped up in anger. Deep, intense, bitter anger. Coming from deep, intense hurt. I was confused, fearful, and felt tossed away and discarded from a place that had felt safe. You guessed it: from a Church. You guys, I’ve never known such disorienting anger before.

Months later, I stepped foot back in that same Church. I would have said my anger had dissipated. A little, at least. The minute I crossed the threshold, I knew it hadn’t. And all I wanted was to be right about it. To be allowed to be angry. To hold my arms tight across my chest and say “nuh-uh, we aren’t going to be friends.” And I really didn’t want to hear one more Christian-ese-quote about getting better instead of bitter. See, I expected God to say what I had heard a lot of Christians say. He didn’t. Instead, He said, “Me too. I’m angry too.” He says that, you know, when one of His kids has been hurt. He gets real mad.

But then a Pastor took the stage and started talking about the Cross. How the wrath of God, while right, while righteous (yesssss, I’m listening … I know all about righteous wrath), was collected and poured out at the Cross. And you know, I feel real good about that when I’m shielded by that Cross as anger or frustration is cast at me. But when I’m doing the hurling, when the insults are on the tip of my tongue and the rotten fruit is in my grasp, it’s real hard to think of Christ’s cross shielding them.

Feeling that anger, giving space to all the feels, even the uncomfortable ones, is a big part of understanding God’s heart. Towards us, for us, and with us. A God who is fierce enough to get angry. But also gracious enough to collect all of the world’s wrath and let it break HIM instead of us.

Love looks like … Celebration.

One time we got a puppy. You can read more about that here. She’s taught me a lot about celebrating. Because, see, when you spend thousands of dollars on a dog’s knee surgery, and then months recovering not only from the surgery itself but also being “that girl” who sacrificed her credit card at the vet’s altar, when you’ve sat in the vet’s office judging all those that came in wearing matching scarves with their cat (not a joke) and carrying dogs on purple pillows (also not a joke) only to realize that the only thing separating you from them is one degree of crazy … well, when that becomes part of your story, so does celebration. Because dang it, every time this pup runs after a ball or chases me down the beach, I celebrate. I celebrate the heck out of every step she takes. I know how much they cost.

So at camp, there’s this thing we call “The Variety Show”. Think talent show, but intentionally substitute the word ‘variety’. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some real talent too, but mostly variety. Any camper can get up on stage and do any act they want. Tell a joke. Sing a song. Build a human-pyramid. Every camper is encouraged to participate. None is required to.

Our job is simple. To celebrate. And I’m talking scream-like-a-banchee-whoop-and-holler when someone hits the last note of their song no matter how off key it was. And we mean it. Because it’s not about the act. It’s about the actor. It’s about saying “You, YES YOU, are worth jumping up and down like a crazy person for.” If you’ve ever heard the song ‘Undignified’, you may have, like me, thought it rather ironic that most churches sing it in a very dignified manner, carefully enunciating each syllable of “I will be-come ev-en more un-dig-ni-fied than this.” My God, I sure hope so.

But at camp, we really do get undignified. Nothing makes your heart swell faster than watching grown men (most of whom wear business suits 51 weeks out of the year) get up and dance to the tunes of a ten-year-old “rock band.” Nothing.

I can’t help but wonder whether it’s what God means when He says He will “rejoice over you with gladness … and exult over you with loud singing.” (Zeph. 3:17)

Because love celebrates. Love celebrates because love knows what it costs. Love celebrates because it’s not about the talent, but the variety.

And Love looks like … more.

There’s always more. I mean, really, I can’t tell you how much I love the people who spend five days each year of their own vacation time and their own money to come and give it away here. It’s not just family for the kids. These volunteers are also my family. I would fight for them. And I don’t even know most of their last names.

Still, it’s just five days. And as much as I love what can be accomplished in that wee week, I leave every year with that tug that there’s more. And it looks so very different for everyone. I’ve shared before about the statistics that moved me out of my seat and broke my hard candy shell. Those still move me. I mean, really, I’d love to put this camp out of business. And really, that’s so very doable. Not easy, but doable. I think this generation could be the one to end the world’s orphan crisis. Or at least severely disarm it. The orphaned population is at the root of just about every social justice issue that haunts us.

At camp we give out pins, little “badges” for the kids to collect as they do activities like ziplining, swimming, hiking, etc. Little mementos to say “yeah, you did that.” One of the pins is a ‘good deed pin’, a way for their selfless good deeds to be acknowledged and rewarded, everything from showing kindness to a younger camper to busing the table for one of the senior volunteers. It’s unscripted, and the good deeds abound.

But this, this orphan care crisis is not about good deeds. It’s not about collecting badges and pins. For the Christian, it should forever and foremost be an outflow of God’s heartbeat, His DNA, because He describes Himself as an adoptive father. One who has cared for orphans. Us. You and me. God says He gives us the “spirit of adoption” so that we can call him Daddy. We are rescued in order to rescue. Anything else is just empty and dumb. And will last about as long as a good deed pin.

And “rescue” takes all kinds of shape and form. There’s no automatic prescription and there are great minds and hearts around the world debating the best ways to help without hurting. So I don’t know what it looks like for each one of us. But I know that love looks like more. There’s more to give. And there’s oh so much more to receive.

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