This is the Day

exploring the soul's quest for joy

Through a Child’s Eyes

 

This photo has stood sentry on my dressing table for as long as I can remember. It’s one of those cheesy shopping mall photos – the Christmas tree isn’t real, but the smiles on my boys’ faces certainly are. In the eyes of the one, I see the strength and assurance that comes with being the first-born. In the eyes of the other, I see the twinkle of mischief, and a giggle forming on the lips and I am reminded how good life is when you’re only two years old.

 

When I gaze into these two sweet faces, I remember a time long ago, a time of innocence and unbridled laughter. A time when each day was met with a smile and with expectation over what untold adventure the day might hold. These were the carefree days.

 

These were the days before they knew disease would knock on our front door and settle itself right in.

 

These were the days before they learned the sting of disappointment and betrayal.

 

These were the days before they experienced the loss and uncertainty that comes with moving far from the home they loved to live in a state or a country they had never experienced before.

 

These were the days before life got messy and complicated and they began to understand it in all its complexity.

 

These were the days of chubby hands and pinchable cheeks, and glimmers, always glimmers in the eyes.

 

Life has its way of taking some of the glimmer out of our eyes, doesn’t it? Experience the shock and gravity of disease, the weight of the burden of caregiving, the sting of betrayal, the fear of another failure or disappointment, for that matter, just experience grown-up life at all, and it’s understandable why our glimmer fades.

Last night, on a balmy August evening, I had the privilege of taking my sister’s family to the ballpark. All four of my niece’s children, ages 2 to 9, were there as well to watch the Phillies take on the Nationals. I saw the glimmer again – in their eyes. In every pair of eyes that looked back at me across the ballpark hot dogs and the cheesesteaks (we are in Philly after all!) I saw that glimmer of light.

 

 

Even in our Tyler’s eyes. Diagnosed with retinoblastoma at 2 months of age, and wearing a prosthetic eye since he was 18 months old, even Tyler, my niece’s son, was all a glimmer and a glow at the prospect of the joy of the evening before him. His life has been hard. Harder than most of us can imagine. And yet, even through all the surgeries and chemo and treatments and the discomfort that has accompanied all of it, Tyler’s joy is irrepressible.

 

And I remember my own son in the years after his diagnosis with type 1 diabetes at age 5. His joy was also irrepressible. Shots of insulin, multiple finger stick blood tests a day, food restrictions, soaring or plummeting blood sugars, a hovering mother – nothing seemed to phase him. I was the one who was a mess. I was the one who had lost the glimmer.

 

This morning, Tyler’s parents and my sister took Tyler for his now semi-annual appointment at Will’s Eye Hospital. They can speak casually about the complexity of the visit: removing Tyler’s prosthetic eye, inserting eye drops, and examining everything for signs of health or disease. And they make it sound so easy, so commonplace. But make no mistake about it; what they endure as caregivers is also hard. Harder than most of us can imagine.

 

Tyler will one day feel the weight of the lifetime effects of retinoblastoma on his life, even as my Austin feels the weight of living 24/7 with type 1 diabetes. But what always strikes me about children who suffer from chronic illness is their irrepressible joy. It is as though they have entered this world with a sense of the holiness of life, of the sanctity of life, of the joy of life, despite the trials that come their way that try to steal their hope. Although they experience such hardship at such a tender age, they refuse to yield to the fear of what might be and instead rest in the beauty of the moment that is.

 

They carry within them the solemn truth that life is sacred.

 

I love who my children have become, but, I’ll just admit it, I also miss who they once were in all their innocence and glimmer, because through their eyes, I could see that yes, life may be hard, but life is also beautiful. We will all walk through pain and hard seasons, but there will also be sweet times ahead. Life is short, and not a single day is guaranteed to us, so it is essential we seek out the sweetness in life and press in there.

 

Even with only one glimmering eye, we can see more of life’s beauty than we could ever see with two eyes that have lost their sparkle.

 

 

God, Improv, and the Art of Living

 

When we cry out to God in the moments of our deepest desperation, who do we envision staring back at us? An all-knowing, all-powerful God who should act in our best interests, but sometimes doesn’t? When faced with a major life decision where we lay our choices before God, and are met, not with an answer, but with deafening silence, how does this shape our view of God? How can we begin to make the right choice when we’re frozen in fear over making the wrong choice? Is our view of God that of an immovable, unchangeable, immutable being who shakes his head in wonder that we can’t seem to get it together and figure out His Plan, with a capital P, for our life?

 

Spend any time with the God of scripture and we discover a God who is indeed all-knowing and all-powerful and talks about having good plans for our lives. It’s understandable then that we often hold onto the view that life holds one best Plan A and our job is to get on the train headed in its direction, lest we risk derailing and veering off track to Plan B—or, God forbid, Plan C or D or Z.

 

When we focus solely on these attributes of God, it’s fairly easy to envision a God who holds one singular Plan for our life. But, when we expand the list of God’s characteristics to include traits like God is love, God is faithful, God is spirit, God is mystery, and God is for us, a different image of God emerges.

 

This month I had the opportunity to review MaryAnn McKibben Dana’s new book God, Improv, and the Art of Living, and my review, which you can read here, has been published on ESA, Eastern University’s site for social action. In her book, McKibben Dana offers fresh insight for seeing God not so much as a static being with fixed ideas for our lives, but rather as a collaborative partner in the journey of our lives.

 

I don’t know about you, but so often I wish God would just mail me a letter, very official looking, with a gold seal and fine embossed print, that would tell me everything he wants me to do. A letter that lists everything he will bless, so I don’t waste my time and effort on things that are not a part of his Master Plan.

 

But honestly, that’s not the God I see in Jesus. Jesus’ most-asked question in scripture is not, “Did you read and follow the instructions I gave you?” but rather, “What do you want me to do for you?” He doesn’t tell us what to do; he always asks us how he can help. He doesn’t push us onto His Plan, he asks how he can help us with ours. Jesus, it seems, invites us into the mystery of the Godhead.

 

To live in the mystery is to live an improvised life. Improvising, involves taking risks and living creatively. It requires active listening and careful attention. It means failure is not a dead-end, just a step on the journey to the next step, which we must take, even if we don’t know where it will lead. To live an improvised life is to live fully present and authentic lives, embracing hope, redemption, and God’s gifts of grace.

 

I hope you read my review and that it sparks your curiosity to slip into one more summer read while the days are still long and the temperatures balmy. I think you’ll find God, Improv, and the Art of Living to be a fun and thought-provoking book.

Fear

 

I had walked underneath this tree countless times over the years. On every daily neighborhood walk with my trusted four-footed friend. Every Sunday afternoon walk with my husband. Every walk with my daughter, lacrosse stick in hand, ball bouncing.

 

Never was I even remotely suspicious of the potential danger looming overhead.

 

Every day last summer I walked beneath these limbs, never imagining that I should be walking in fear. Then the fall winds blew and carried away the nest’s protective camouflage. And on a crystal clear, blue-sky winter’s morning, my head tossed back, eyes heavenward, I caught sight, for the first time, of what had eluded my vision for all those months: the largest hornet nest I have ever seen.

 

It had been there all along, I just didn’t know it, so I didn’t know to be afraid.

 

When I held my second baby in my arms, I had no idea that there was a dangerous disease brewing within his tiny body. I knew nothing of autoimmune diseases and autoantibodies. I just knew that he was perfect, and so I didn’t know to be afraid.

 

When he was a toddler, I would hold his tiny hand in mine, unaware that soon I would be pricking each one of those precious chubby little fingers, eight times a day, to draw enough blood to check his blood glucose levels. I didn’t know any of that yet, so I didn’t know to be afraid.

 

When my son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) at age five, the leaves blew off the tree of my heart and Danger was no longer hidden; it made itself perfectly clear each and every day.

 

You’ll have to count the carbohydrates in all the food your son eats. You will calculate his insulin doses and inject him with the lifesaving liquid. Be sure to calculate carefully. Oh and make sure he doesn’t eat too much carbohydrate or fat.

 

Be aware if his blood sugar drops too low; he may become disoriented or feel shaky inside. If so, you’ll have to test his blood sugar and give him the right amount of juice to revive him.

 

Yes that’s right; it’s about 7-10 blood tests by finger prick per day and 5 or more shots of insulin per day.

 

The doctor sounded so confident.

 

I was terrified.

 

Did I mention that my son was only five years old? His body was so small, and he was so active, that the tiniest amount of insulin would send his blood sugar crashing down, low beyond low. His blood sugars seemed to have a will of their own, despite my best efforts at controlling them. I was his mother, his caregiver, and yet I was powerless against the force of this disease. Try as I might, I could not strong-arm this disease to yield to me and to my best intentions.

 

And that’s when the real fear set in.

 

Fear is an understandable response to that which we cannot control. We all have fears. Fear of the unknown. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear for our child’s future. Fear for a successful career. Fear of being all alone. Fear of dying.

 

We all experience fear. The danger lies in allowing fear to control us.

 

The real question is, what do we do with those fears? Do we face them – by which I do not mean do we rise up against them, but rather, do we turn our face, our entire body toward them, transfixed by their seeming power over us, and refuse to acknowledge fear for what it is? Fear is quite simply our emotional response to that which we cannot control and which we imagine will be our ruin. Fear is an emotional response. Fear lives in our imaginations.

 

Fear is something we choose to give mental space to.

 

And the trouble with fear is that fear takes all the truth out of the world.

 

Fear speaks lies to us. Fear makes us small and powerless. Fear exhausts us, even while it holds us captive in inertia. Fear says, there is no hope. Fear guides us to dread. Fear warns, don’t take a risk; danger lies ahead. Fear causes our eyes to see nothing but dead ends ahead.

 

Fear robs us of our hopes and dreams.

 

It’s so easy to fear what we can’t control, especially when our fears involve someone we dearly love. But when we choose to agree with fear, we block ourselves from embracing hope.

 

Jesus of Nazareth said this about fear, “Refuse to worry about tomorrow, but deal with each challenge that comes your way, one day at a time. Tomorrow will take care of itself.”

 

Perhaps instead of staring fear full in the face, being frozen by it, locking eyes with it, and in so doing, entering into agreement with it, what if we would turn 180-degrees away from fear and turn our gaze toward hope instead? What if in our 180-degree turning we discovered not the evil face of fear but the loving face of a gentle God instead? The face of a God who beckons, Come, trust in me and I will give you restEmbrace me, not fear, and I will hold you in my arms of hope and love.

 

 

Bags of Filth

 

It all began with a dare. A 40-day Lenten dare to put love into action. It was my Ash Wednesday – Valentine’s Day challenge to love deeper, truer, better. Could I practice a deeper love for forty days? For one week? For one day? And if I did, what would I learn – about me, about sacrifice, about love?

 

There is always a cost to doing good, to putting love into action. A cost to our financial resources, to our time, to our own desires, and even to our own egos. The first days were simple enough, a kind gesture to say I love you. A gift of flowers to bring beauty to a weary soul. A gift of words, in the form of a note or a card or a book, to encourage a fellow traveler.

 

I noticed the trash along the road by my house as if for the first time. Were there always so many discarded bottles and cans, so much paper and plastic rubbish, so many rejected items tainting the splendor of this lonely road that meanders through the horse country of southeastern Pennsylvania? Had it been here all along and I hadn’t even taken notice of it?

 

An idea forms. Am I willing to put love into action the hard way?

 

The large white plastic bag grows noticeably heavier with each step I take. Many of the plastic and glass bottles are not empty when I collect them from their roadside graves. A leash guiding my dog in one hand, the trash bag in the other, it is all I can do to pick up the trash and place it in the bag. So, empty or not, in they go.

 

My four-legged friend is not amused by the stop-start nature of our afternoon walk.

 

I catch sight of the top of a bottle, its body buried beneath a bed a leaves. As I bend down to claim the next captive to my assortment of rubbish, I reach into the covering of leaves and debris. The heft of the bottle surprises me. It is larger than any of the other bottles in my collection, and its weightiness reveals to me that it is nearly full.

 

I think twice about making such a weighty addition to my already burgeoning bag. Retracting my hand, I turn away.

 

Do I really want to add this heavy bottle to my bundle that has already grown far heavier than I had anticipated it becoming?

 

Turning back toward the half-hidden receptacle, I bend once again, willing my fingers to grasp it, even though I know that its weight will be significantly more than that of ten empty bottles. It is cold. I cannot stop to open bottle after bottle and pour their contents out on the ground. Nor does that quite seem the point – I’m trying to clean up the earth not add liquid pollution to it.

 

My eye registers the sight of the light tawny colored liquid and the bubbles inside, and instinctively I know this is no bottle of soda.

 

This is a bottle of urine.

 

I let the bottle drop to the ground. I’m not going to carry someone’s urine.

 

And just like that, I stand high and mighty above the bottle of human waste and declare that I am too good for this. And just like that, I have forgotten what Lent points to, what awaits at the other end of the Lenten journey – the sacrificial death offering of the holy God-man for all of broken humanity.

 

For me.

 

Who am I to say that I am above carrying human trash when my Savior willingly carried my human trash, all of my filth and sin, up Calvary’s mount? I reach for the bottle again, this time placing it gingerly in my bag of discarded things.

 

 

My load is growing steadily heavier now. I’m rethinking how aggressive my collecting was on the first half of my excavation. From time to time I feel sprinkles from my bag dance across my ankles, and I wonder which bottle is leaking.

 

When we carry trash, we’re bound to get a little messy.

 

And yet, how often do we insist on continuing to carry our own trash around with us. The trash of our guilt and shame. The debris from those we have wounded and the wounds others have inflicted on us. The trash that is ripe with the stench of festering anger and bitterness and unforgiveness. The discarded remnants of a self-esteem that is so performance-driven that it can never be satisfied.

 

On top of all this refuse we add the messes of our fears and insufficiency and anxiety.

 

And our knees fairly buckle under the weight of our broken humanness.

 

Cars pass. I’m suddenly uncomfortable knowing that others can see all the trash that I carry.

 

This bag of refuse that we carry is, after all, just that – refuse. It represents all that has been rejected, cast aside, deemed worthless and unsuitable. Is there a way for us to refuse to carry the refuse? I mean, isn’t that what Lent and Good Friday and Easter are all about? Isn’t that why Jesus said he came – to carry our burdens, to pay our price for sin?

 

He beckons, cast your burden on me and I will give you rest, and yet we insist on carrying our bag of refuse with us. He declares that it is for freedom that he has set us free, and yet we insist on clutching onto those very burdens from which he desires to free us. He longs to give us freedom from anger and bitterness and hurt feelings. Freedom from fear and pain and worry and depression. Freedom from anxiety and loneliness and doubt that we’ll ever be enough. He came and he lived and he died and rose again to give us abundant life, yes that’s right, life abundant and free.

 

And yet some days we prefer to journey alone, grasping hold of our bag of rotten things as it leaks about our ankles.

 

My load grows even heavier now. My arm aches from the awkward bulky weight. My fingers cramp from grasping the plastic so tightly. My load is nearly more than my arms can bear, but it pales in comparison to the weight of all my trash the Savior bore on his shoulders to set me free. The one who lost his life so I could find mine gently beckons me to lay it all down, and I am reminded that his unfailing love and glorious grace are more than sufficient to carry all of my burdens and all of my sin.

 

Will you let him carry your burden today?

When Light Breaks Through the Darkness

 

They called it a bomb cyclone; I call it forty-four hours without power. Forty-four winter hours with no heat. No light. And not even cell service.

 

We were all bracing for the winter nor’easter to rear its ugly head, interrupting our weekend plans with sheets of driving rain. We wondered if we would make it to our daughter’s lacrosse game in northern New York given the storm’s predicted snowfall there.

 

The storm ended up catching us all by surprise. Where my daughter was expecting 15 inches of snow, she got 3; we expected rain and instead got 50 mph winds and a 6-inch blanket of snow heavy enough to knock out power in 300,000 homes. The storm had caught us all completely by surprise.

 

Life’s storms are like that, aren’t they? Life is running along smoothly when an unexpected and devastating storm rips through our world, upending our tranquility.

 

At church yesterday, one of our pastors said, “Lent is a time to sit in the darkness and appreciate the light.” He was speaking, of course, about the darkness of our sin and the lightness of our savior, but yesterday, forty hours into my cold, dark experience, his words held greater significance for me.

 

In the dark, we discover what inconveniences us. And I have realized that it doesn’t take much! As evening fell, the darkness began to envelop us. We sat huddled together, pooling the light from flickering candles and beams from our small headlamps. We washed our hands in cold tap water to conserve what remained in the hot water tank for the next day’s brief showers. The first night wasn’t too bad; the house was still over sixty degrees and honestly it still felt a bit like a pioneering adventure. But once day one stretched into day two and the house hit fifty-five degrees, all sense of adventure had worn off! Without cell service, we were truly in the dark, literally and figuratively.

 

As I walked through these hours of darkness, I really did appreciate the moments of light with a more grateful heart. A walk in the warm sunshine the day after the storm. A lunch out in a warm place. An invitation from a friend to come to dinner and bring our dog! A place for a hot shower and a hair dryer on day three. These moments where light broke through the darkness were the sustaining moments that enabled us to persevere as the season of darkness lingered.

 

Glimpses of light are essential when we are walking in the dark.

 

 

I have experienced another type of darkness, an extended season when there were no respites of light breaking through. My son had just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and I was angry. Angry at God for allowing my son to get this devastating disease that took my brother’s life and has afflicted my sister since she was sixteen. More than being angry that this wasn’t my plan for my family, I questioned why a loving God would allow such an awful thing to happen to my son.

 

And so I pushed God out of my life. Stopped up my ears and squeezed shut my eyes and declared that I didn’t want to hear from him or see him again.

 

And the dark became very dark, indeed.

 

It settled in and lingered. What I first noticed was the silence. Like the stillness of my powerless house with no humming appliances or electronics, my mind went completely silent. Gone were the conversational prayers that would flow in and out of me throughout the day. But I was okay with that; I was angry at God. I didn’t mind the silence, at least not at first. But like the silence of the winter nor’easter, the silence eventually became deafening.

 

The darkness continued to settle in, heavy like a suffocating blanket from which I couldn’t free myself.

 

In time, my anger began to abate, and I sought once again this God I have known my entire life. I expected the light to break through in glorious fashion and end my exile. What I discovered instead was the wisdom of a God who knew there were still more lessons for me to learn in the dark.

 

And so the silence lingered.

 

And the darkness grew darker.

 

It’s in the dark that we really appreciate the light.

 

In the dark, we see what we cannot see in the light. Once our eyes adjust to the dark, we begin to really see.

 

And truthfully, I didn’t like what I saw. In the dark, questions loomed large: is God still good even when my world seems very bad? Or is he only good when things work out according to my plan, and devastation doesn’t hit too close to my home? With the faintest flicker of light illumining me, I saw the warped theology I had fashioned: God isn’t good all the time; God is only good most of the time.

 

I had tangled up the sorrow I was experiencing over my son’s life and health with the goodness of God. Before I could step back into the Light, I had to settle this matter of the goodness of God.

 

Slowly, gently, I began to see that God is always good, even when life is bad and terribly unfair. I needed to be swallowed up in the darkness and in the silence to truly grasp the beauty of the Light. This Light never goes out, even in the darkest of nights and the most ferocious of storms. We just need to keep looking into the Light.

 

A Light has shined in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. ~ Saint John

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