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Life Hacks

You uproot me from ruin and You plant me to blossom – A. Geddert/A. Ellsworth

There are the rare and beautiful treasures that grow when it’s coldest, when nobody’s watching – Christy Nockels

 

A little-known Meredith-fam fact:

We reaaaalllllly like crazy road trips.

Wait –

Most of you know that.

But what you might not know is that we do them because

we

mostly –

like the gobs of time together.

Once our girls were old enough to survive long hours in the car, these kinds of climbing-mountains-while-crossing-a-megametre (ask Dr. Dave about that one) in-a-day sorts of trips became our favourites.

And it used to be that, yeah, we’d be those parents.

You know, the ones where the car DVD player reallly does the parenting.

And it used to be that, yeah, with the girls tuned out, or tuned in, or whatever iGen is calling it these days,

their parents

would listen to podcasts

or audiobooks

or music

or one of us would sleep while the other drove,

and all of those were good things.

But lately, that’s not how its gone.

Lately, we’ve done some of our best creative work – quite literally – on the road.

Take last year, for example.

We drove to Disney in record time (and with record frugality),

and I can barely remember a podcast we listened to.

Sure, there were bouts of rocking-out-via-air-bass-guitar to crazy playlists of eclectic music

because who doesn’t like doing THAT?!?

Come on. You know you love it.

Also. If you do do this, have any of you figured out the bass line to Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off”? If so, please teach us. It seems to be in its own time signature.

But back to the long road trip hours.

Mostly, we spent them just … talking.

Sometimes it was only David and I; other times, the four of us; other times, a combination of the two.

And the conversations that happened were incredible.

I guess in some seasons, life happens while you’re driving.

Take the first road trip of this summer.

We were headed to a family wedding through the Rockies. I was feeling a bit…. erhm…

Overwhelmed.

There were situations external to me that somehow involved me yet didn’t truly impact me but still roped me in. All of them ramped up and weighed a little heavier leading up to the big day.

By the time we pulled in to a little hole-in-the-wall burger joint we found just off the Crows Nest,

My stress level was nearing epic proportions.

My intuitive husband sensed the shift and asked what he could do for me.

And in the interest of being more honest, because real friends deserve real answers,

and, if anyone is – even in the years we were ‘not-dating-but-arguing-in-the-cafeteria-over-whose-country-of-origin-is-best,’

or when I confidently asserted that I could safely promise ‘never to marry David Meredith,’

(you can see why one of our friends fell over when she found out we were dating)

he is a real friend.

So he got a real answer:

And as one who’s witnessed more than his fair share of labour stories and prenatal class prep-and-debriefs,

he knew exactly what to do:

Distract, distract, distract.

– Have you ever watched those Life Hack channels on YouTube?

I hadn’t.

– I’ve always thought someone should do a parody of them. You know, like a channel of really, really terrible advice,

from someone who’s completely clueless,

but acting like an expert,

with really … erhm… creative logic.

I paused and turned the thought over in my head.

I stopped thinking about all the things that were causing me to hyperventilate.

And asked for more.

Like, I don’t know, using Peppermint oil for eye drops – because it keeps them… moist.

He gives me a deadpan sideways glance to guage my reaction.

I double over.

You’ve used peppermint oil, right?

It makes everything burn. Or go numb. Or both, at the same time.

Achieving his goal, he keeps going:

– Or, like, using sriracha sauce for lip balm, because, it like, mimics blood or something.

All of a sudden I notice the girls have turned off their movie.

The little one pipes in first.

Ohhhhhhhhh. Can I be your fashion consultant? You need a realllly terrible outfit.

The almost-four-teen-ager has a more serious goal:

I am sooooo helping you write those scripts.

And, before we know it, Life Hacks with Dr. Dave is born.

If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to know that it is

literally

the

craziest. thing.

we have evvvvvvvverrrrrr come up with.

So, of course, we did what anyone would do:

We tell our friends.

We must have realllllly great friends,

or maybe? a really great idea,

or – here’s hoping? – a combination of the two,

because they love it.

And immediately want in.

So, on a dreary, rainy, greyest-of-summer-Sundays-you-can-imagine, we shoot the first two episodes.

And, on the week before his 40th birthday,

YouTube gets to see

what I have always known:

My husband is one of the goofiest men alive.

For the rest of our car trip, Dr-Dave-brainstorming does what it’s supposed to:

Distract me from the real-life crazy.

The problem is, as I’ve been learning lately:

distraction only takes you so far.

Anyone who’s heard me talk about labour and delivery for longer than five minutes will probably have heard me explain the brain-chemistry-theory that shows us that

distraction

(aka. refocusing our attention)

might be the most powerful labour support tool we have.

And – for the first stage – the stage where we are getting ready to push the baby out –

it is.

But different stages of labour demand different things from us.

The first stage requires us to learn to let the pain come and do its thing.

And the best way to do that is to think about anything but the pain.

Allllllll the things that make us happy are preferable.

But once its time to push, distraction no longer cuts it.

I remember this moment verrrry clearly with my second.

I knew it was time to push.

I turned over from my hanging-over-the-top-of-the-bed-with-laughing-gas-in-hand-thank-you-very-much-position

and told my co-worker-nurse:

It’s time.

She checked me and confirmed my suspicion.

The problem was – I wouldn’t let go of the laughing gas.

My nurse tugged gently at the cord I was gripping with the strength of ten-thousand Amazonian armies to release it,

and – through gritted teeth – I told her:

no. don’t. even. think. about. it.

I wasn’t ready to let go of the thing that got me through the first stage.

A couple of years ago, I was in a similar place:

Not in labour, but in life.

Around that time, I wrote about how the labour pains in our lives seemed to be lasting longer, feeling stronger, and coming closer together.

Paul warned us that’s how it would be:

For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth until now.

And we know that because we see that, yes?

This week alone, the weight of sheer tragedies and joys-amidst-tragedies that I’ve witnessed in family, friends, acquaintances, our city and community,

-not to mention the ones our own family lives day-to-day-

is staggering.

The depth of pain hitting those who seem to have everything to live for astounds me.

Suffering is no respecter of persons, friends.

It hits the young, the healthy, the bold, the prosperous.

Those who’ve done everything right

and

those who’ve done very little right.

It hits those of us who think we’ve already been hit more than our fair share, too.

And it often seems to be horribly, frustratingly random.

We’d love for it to be cause-and-effect; for bad things to happen to bad people, for pain to come only from stupid choices or ill intents.

We’d love that because we’d all like to think that we are good people who don’t deserve bad things and that those who get bad things somehow earned them.

Of course, if that’s true, then as long as we do all the right things, we can escape tragedy.

But it doesn’t work like that.

I was in the best shape of my life when I got leukemia.

Once our family learned to adjust to the new normal, though we didn’t realize it at the time,  we each made an unspoken, unconscious deal with God:

Fine, we’ll do this. But no more.

And there was so, so, so much more to come.

Longer trials, each feeling stronger than the one before, and coming much closer together.

Each were heartbreaks of a different sort that made the little white pills I have (get!) to take every day seem like child’s play.

The biggest ones have come in the last five years.

I remember the first hitting like a ton of bricks.

At the beginning, my eyes could only see the things I’d lost.

It shook some of the unconscious fundamental beliefs of my life:

at least I know _____ will never happen

only holds up as long as

that thing doesn’t happen.

If and when it actually does,

(and its usually when)

we are left to find firm ground in the earthquake.

Sometimes – many times – we reach out and grab whatever seems to not be moving around us.

Those early days of 2015, that’s what I did.

I see it now for the poor choice it was, but at the time it was all I knew to do.

Of course, it slipped through my fingers.

I didn’t see my mistake right away, though.

I reached out for the next firmest thing and hung on.

It, too, slid away.

And so on, and so on, one thing after another.

Until about two years ago.

The summer of 2017 something else started to shift.

Deep within me, I knew these labour supports I’d previously reached out for were no longer cutting it.

I no longer wanted to be distracted.

Instead, I wanted to know what the pain was for.

I wanted to use it,

somehow.

I didn’t know how.

I just knew change was coming, and I didn’t want to start it.

So – I fought it. I told myself it didn’t have to happen, that I could keep things the way they always had been and still press on to new ground.

And then it came anyways:

Ugly and

horrible and

leaving a gaping hole in its wake.

And for the rest of that year, I was left to wonder how it all happened.

While 2018 is sometimes jokingly referred to in our house as ‘The Lana Sleep,’ in reality, I didn’t do so much sleeping as feeling.

And while it didn’t feel good, the beauty of that horrible gaping hole was that

there was really no way to fully distract myself from the pain.

I didn’t need distraction.

I needed to feel. it.

So I did.

Like that moment when my co-worker-nurse-friend tried to tug the laughing gas away from me, so I could meet my second daughter,

I didn’t want to.

I tried to hang on to my gas.

Even if I couldn’t use it, I just held on.

And I pushed.

Or, so I thought.

Fifteen minutes later, I asked my nurse how I was doing.

Her face said it all:

I hadn’t done much of anything.

I’d been too afraid of the pain.

But then one of my co-worker-friends got in my face and said,

come on, now. let’s be done with this.

Push.

I knew she was right.

It’s just that the closer you get to the finish line, the more it hurts.

The closer you are to delivery, the more your body stretches to make room for the new life coming.

But it doesn’t feel like stretching.

It feels like burning.

Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of us pull back when we feel the burn.

And that’s what I’d been doing.

With Elliana’s labour.

And – before the gaping hole.

Of course, after the hole came anyways –

as we knew, deep down, it would –

I had nowhere to go but to sit in it.

To push into the burn.

And for the rest of 2018, I did.

I didn’t know what birth was coming.

Truthfully, I didn’t expect a birth at all.

It just seemed like death, and more death.

It wasn’t until the waning daylight hours of the first day of the new year that I realized

maybe death was not all there was.

Funnily enough, it was in the midst of sharing gut-wrenching pieces of the pressing-through-the-burn journey with some of those who’d witnessed it and asked to be invited in,

that the tears were interrupted

with the spark of new life.

It was about my kids, of course.

And for the next eight weeks, I mulled over all the things that happened in the first twenty-four hours of the year

and let my head swim

with possibility.

I started to pay attention.

In some ways, I saw my children for the first time.

I saw their wounds, gaps, and vulnerabilities: places I could step into and help them heal.

But I also saw, in each of them,

New Life.

Beauty.

Joy.

Laughter.

And I thought, seriously.

Where have I been?

Though I didn’t really know what I was doing at the time, or why, I pulled each of them in closer, one day at a time.

Layers began to fall off.

There was so much I’d missed out on.

They could feel it too.

Some where around mid-May, my oldest said to me:

you know, Mom, I really liked you when I was little.

Like, really liked you.

I would have loved it if you had played Barbies with me more.

I get why you didn‘t.

But that’s what I wished you’d done.

A wave of … something … washed over me – regret, sure.

Repentance for being distracted by my own stuff, that, in light of her gentle truth, seemed so insignificant.

And after that, something like … hope.

I could still play Barbies with her.

It wasn’t about the Barbies, after all.

It was about stepping into her life and being present.

So, I did.

And. Wow.

She’s in a labour of sorts too. The tension between child and adult pulls at her in ten thousand directions and I hardly know which one is going to pull harder or when the other side will show up.

But she doesn’t need me to have all the answers.

She just needs me to be there.

She needs to know that even if all the things that make her happy right now come crashing down, I’ll still be there.

Laughing,

crying,

grieving,

rejoicing.

Doesn’t matter.

She just wants me to be there.

At least for now.

So as long as she wants that,

I don’t want to miss it.

And while I’m far from figuring this all out,

this is the most fun I’ve ever had as a parent.

It’s why I went into labour and delivery to begin with. The privilege of witnessing a woman’s transformation to motherhood is, frankly, breathtaking.

Its not always pleasant, of course.

I’ve been yelled at, sworn at, kicked, pressured, lashed out at, and blamed for all sorts of things that had nothing to do with me.

I’ve seen things most people would never even imagine could be a part of my job.

But I also get to be there for a baby’s first cry.

I get to tell women, yes, they’re real and yes, they’re here.

And while I flirt with other job opportunities from time to time, I can’t imagine missing out on those moments.

They really are breathtaking.

The problem is, I think we, as a community – even as a culture – are so afraid of the pain involved, that not only are we afraid to go through labour ourselves,

we’re even more afraid to walk through it with others.

Which is heart-breaking,

because we all know the labours of life tend to come when we least expect it

and we also all know

that women in labour shouldn’t be left alone.

I mean – I get it.

Stepping into the mess is risky.

Sometimes we have great reasons for our hesitance. Sometimes we’ve been in unhealthy spaces not-too-long before, places where boundaries blurred and hearts broke and our minds and hearts lost the ability to tell real connection from a pretend closeness.

Or sometimes we have so much of our own things to carry that we think we have nothing left over or nothing worthwhile to offer.

I’ve been there.

A few years ago, my youngest tugged on my shirt sleeves

– and on my heart strings –

and begged me to have over her new friend and her family.

And I remember thinking at the time,

I don’t have time for this. I don’t have the gift of hospitality. I don’t have a big house. I’m not that much of a cook and my living room is never as clean as I’d like it to be.

I’m not really someone who knows how to make new people feel comfortable.

This is gonna be awkward

and oh my, what if they bring their boys?

I don’t know what to do with boys!

Over the next few weeks, of course, it became absolutely clear this inviting this new family over was what we were supposed to do.

So.

I squeezed my eyes shut,

asked for Help,

and sent the text.

Set the table.

Made the food.

Opened the door.

And said, hey there.

And.

Just.

Wow.

A little more than two years later, I can’t imagine if we hadn’t.

We all would have missed out on so, so much

not the least of which

is a lights-out,

tear-inducing,

mic-dropping,

fist-pumping,

testimony to the Writer of all great stories

Who heals the brokenness of anyone who realizes the mess they’re in and asks.

I tell you this

because

it was something I almost didn‘t do,

and I think there might be a few of you

in the same place I was.

Someone around you might be in labour,

and they’re willing to let you in,

and while you have a stirring to be in it with them

you’re afraid to take the risk.

Friends, please.

For your sake and theirs,

Do. It.

As our pastor said this morning –

if you do, you’ll see strangers become family.

And praise God, we have.

See,

In the middle of a season where our life was far from what we wished it was,

we more clearly saw the gaps in the lives of those around us.

Some of those brave souls invited us in.

Without even really knowing what we were doing,

fumbling and guessing as we went,

we managed to step into their stuff and say,

you’re not a stranger here.

We’ll walk with you.

Of course,

when we first sent that text,

we had no idea

that they’d step into our stuff too.

And I guess that’s the real life hack.

We have very little control over making our life the way we want it to be.

But experiencing the gap between what we have and what we wish was

enables us

to see with a little more clarity

others

who are also walking in that gap.

And, sometimes, we have a bit of what they need

to make the gap a bit smaller.

Or less traumatic.

Or less… lonely.

Regardless,

that’s what people who have known what its like to be on the outside do.

They welcome in.

Even – especially –

when it feels awkward, unpleasant, or impossible.

And that doesn’t depend on how clean our houses are, or what kind of food we’re making, or

how big our house is.

But I’ll say more about that –

later.

I’ve got people coming over who haven’t been here before.

Because that’s what we do now.

We send the invite.

We set the table.

We open the door, ask for Help, and say

hey there.

We press right into the burn

and know now

we will see new life.

Friends – I hope you’ll try it.

I think – no, I know – you’ll be blown away.

After all, it’s the only Life Hack I know.

For the rest, there’s Dr. Dave.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hidden

God does some of His best work in the unseen – Lysa Terkeurst

There is nothing concealed that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. – Matthew 10:26

You’re the best song I’ll ever write. – Bethany Dillon

 

I’m considering re-naming this blog Christmas Mishaps with the Merediths.

Earlier this month, our youngest performed with her choir

at an classical venue downtown.

We heard about the concert in late September.

We discovered the lengthy practice times in early October.

Since the better part of Elliana’s first weekend in December would be spent in the city, we thought it best tag along and have a fun family weekend downtown.

Everything seemed to be clicking:

I found a great deal at a fancy hotel. Concert tickets were affordable. Our other daughter was into the idea.

It would be a perfect kick-off to the holiday season.

But based on the bodies that jammed around us as we shuffled the streets, everyone else thought it a great idea too.

And by everyone,

I mean literally every single person in the Greater Vancouver area.

You know what else happens the first weekend in December?

The Santa Claus Parade.

Americans, let me give you a brief Canadian Christmas lesson here:

We don’t start decorating for Christmas on Black Friday.

We’re still learning what Black Friday IS, because we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in November.

I know.

Its the only time, you think.

How else would we know when to start the Christmas season? 

When would you have your Macy’s Day Parade?

Well, there’s the hitch.

Anytime in the first weekend of December is acceptable.

But because we’re not fixed on a particular day, its hard to know when to plan for, or in our case, plan around.

Annnd our hotel was on the parade route.

We had noticed signs the night before, something to the effect that

these two streets will be closed from 11-4.

We were going the opposite direction, so we didn’t give it much thought.

But Vancouver did.

Vancouver gave it so much thought, in fact, that they didn’t just close those two streets.

They didn’t close a line, or a cross-section.

They closed an ever-growing, unwieldy rectangle subject to the crowd’s ever-growing madness.

We drove in a square at least three times before my husband jumped out at the fifteenth intersection we were redirected at

to ask the traffic director how in the name of

my-daughter’s-in-a-performance-in-Kitsilano

that we could cross an ever-loving bridge out of the downtown core to where she would have (already begun) singing.

His answer:

oh yeah, you gotta go waaaaaayy east.

It was ten minutes to showtime. We had left our hotel an hour and ten minutes before, certain it would be enough time to cross the normal twenty minute drive and find parking.

Instead, we arrived a half-hour late.

By this time, there were tears. And by tears, I mean mine.

I know these classical concerts. If you’re late, you get the judgy-mc-judgers look from every one you see. And not even the melodramatic, first-world-sob-story of

it took two hours to get here from downtown

would be enough to quell the scrutiny.

Fast forward to the three of us being shoved in the door in the middle of a break to discover we were facing the entire venue, because the tickets I bought were in literally front and centre.

I wasn’t planning on being late, of course. I was going to stay downtown, for crying out loud.

That meant I would be less stressed.

And yet, it took me longer to get there than the people who came from where we live.

HA.

HA.

HA.

It’s so funny.

Of course, once we saw the incredibly awkward position of our seats, when we asked the people at the end of our row to let us in, they just raised an eyebrow, glanced at the seats, turned to me and shook their heads.

I went back to the usher, tears spilling over.

So, they’re not letting us in, and currently the conductor is directly addressing the audience not two and a half feet in front of those seats. 

Can we sneak into the back?

After a dramatic lesson on the importance of assigned seating and being on time, the clearly uncomfortable but resolute usher march over to our row and direct everyone in our way to get up.

About half of them do.

The other half just turn their knees semi-sideways and give us a very pointed once-over.

Since the rows were extremely tight, we accidentally stepped on several toes, in more ways than one, while the whole venue looked on.

See, it’s not always the best thing to stand out.

Another weekend, another recital – this one very much on time, thank you very much – we watched our youngest muster all her courage to introduce herself with a microphone in front of an audience before she played her new instrument in public.

The older ladies behind us called out complements and corrections in joyful-but-emphatic voices far too loud for the setting.

oh, isnt this lovely!

Too bad the piano’s too loud to hear her.

I leaned over to Noelle: You have full permission to shush me when I get like that. She giggled.

I’ve been terrified of growing older for awhile now. I thought that chronic leukemia bit had beaten it out of me – after all, every birthday is a victory of sorts – but there’s a fear lurking still.

A few years ago I asked some older friends for advice.

They told me the future all depends on what happens right now, that growing older was not so much about changing as it was about shedding our covers.

We don’t become someone different; we just reveal who we always were.

But if that’s true, there’s hope. All it takes is ruthlessly weeding, pruning, plucking, and planting the seeds we want to sow today, tomorrow, and the day after that.

This thought came rushing back to me in the middle of a long drive with a friend several weeks ago. Somewhere in the middle of laughing about the latest escapades of our kids, one of us said out loud,

How do we even do this?

A mother’s job is often indefinable.

I see it every day I go to work. I’m not one who chooses to work because I get some sense of personal satisfaction from it. It’s what my family needs me to do. But every time I come home, I remember that I can’t fully relax just because my shift is over.

The second shift has just started.

Those first few moments in the door are so crucial.

My family knows this. They are often so understanding of where my mind and heart are at post twelve-and-a-half-hours of ER-esque maternity madness. But there are other times I come home to a post-tornado-appearing kitchen and hear nothing but complaints of all the things they’ve stored up to tell me. I see sniffles instead of smiles and discover projects that have yet to be done within the hour of when I’m first home.

Its those moments that the idea of cultivating a home seems insurmountable.

How do I even do this?

But in the weeks that have passed since my friend and I mulled over the question, a light has emerged.

I cultivate my home by cultivating my heart.

And when I don’t know where to begin, I start scanning for weeds.

Take this weekend, for example.

My techie-talented husband discovered an out-of-the-blue problem in our newer laptop. All his usual genius tricks failed to save it, so we took it to the repair shop.

Halfway through the depressing conversation with the less-than-helpful repairman, my newly-antibiotic-charged brain came to life.

I know why its not working.

The techie turned towards me, suspicious.

There was a … root beer incident yesterday, I said, and nodded towards our kids.

Immediately the repairman jumped in with the most depressing news to date.

Yeah, that’s going to be at least (insert astronomical sum here). You’re better off buying a new one.

Imagine a zoom-in on my heart.

Fear that we won’t be able to afford it.

Anger that the money can’t go somewhere more productive.

Bitterness that my children have failed to listen to the millions of warnings about liquids and electronics.

Envy of those for whom this would be no big deal.

Frustration that I was in this place at all.

Old, weedy, unkempt Lana would give into those emotions and let them drive her, all without being aware that they were. She would think the weeds were necessary parts of her sprawling mush of a garden – either simply unavoidable or too difficult to yank out. 

New, sharper-pruned, routinely-gardened Lana paused, recognized those reactions for what they were:

Weed… yep, weed, and my goodness, totally-overgrown and outdated weed.

Pluck, pluck, pluck.

The tweezers’ work stings. My heart recoils from the surprise absence of things I once considered necessary.

But I know now that the prick that accompanies the pluck isn’t my enemy.

And while I know this quiet, diligent hard work over a long period of time is rarely ever seen for what it is while its going on, any well-tended garden reminds me that the current invisibility of my efforts will one day be worth it.

Not for what it looks like.

But for the space it provides others to come, sit, and breathe.

Gardening – physical or otherwise – is not my strength; but I’m ultimately governed by a Master Gardener Who’s not content until each heart that’s His is a masterpiece.

He directs the work; He provides the power; He shows us our part.

On January 1, 2019, it will have been ten years I have had chronic leukemia.

That’s a quarter of my life that, ten years ago, I didn’t think I’d have.

Even my oncologist smiled when he realized it’d been that long.

Usually this guy doesn’t smile, but this past November, as he did his exam and looked at my numbers he (almost) grinned.

It’s amazing what happens when my patients follow directions, he said.

– You told me to take a pill every day. That’s easy.

– Oh, you’d be surprised.

He laughed for a moment, and continued.

We’ll need to arrange different follow-up for you – I’m retiring in January.

I hid the tears that day and chose to grin right back.

It was a genuine smile, for all of the years he’d been provided to watch over a very rare condition, over an unusually young patient, from the time I left my three-year-old and eight-month-old at home,

to this last visit, where my now thirteen and ten year old sit in the office with us and laugh as we realize how far we’ve all come.

While there have been frustrations, tears, fears, and questions, including why have You let me stay within a hair’s breath of remission but not quite in remission for five years?

-for that is where I still am –

I learned that day that my oncologist was the only current practitioner who treated my very rare condition

between New Westminster and Kelowna.

He says he’s found a colleague who will take on my case at RCH, but it will be a definite shift.

And yet, I’m not afraid.

The unforeseen isn’t a weed to be plucked, after all. Just a tool to be wielded.

I wish I could impress this on the hearts of first time mothers.

Each year that passes I witness a growing number of women who, out of fear, plan and analyze and read every book and take every class, or worse, just let Google do it for them,

all with the hope of experiencing childbirth without pain or the unexpected.

While I empathize with them, I wish I could give them a lens into the next five, ten, fifteen, twenty years of their lives.

Labour’s just a trial run to prepare you for what’s coming.

I know its terrifying to think your life might get completely upended by this little creature, and the prospect of your only tool being adapting seems too shaky to step into.

But, if you’ll go with me for a moment:

I attended a funeral recently.

It was standing room only.

With each minute that passed, I became more sure that the number present wasn’t representative of the dramatic way in which the woman whose life we were celebrating passed.

Rather it was the number of lives she touched

and the relationships she nurtured

with all those hidden things.

She was a talented professional, yes, but her resume wouldn’t make the world take notice.

She knew a lot of people well, but she didn’t have a lot of titles.

Unless you count friend.

Co-worker.

Sister.

Daughter.

Aunt.

Wife. 

Mom.

But that room was so packed even the overflow was full.

So I’m starting to think that maybe the things we consider visible herearen’t really.

I asked my husband about this last week, and he shoved a thin little book in my hands.

Read this, he said.

In the final pages of C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, the narrator finds himself observing the entrance into heaven of a stunningly beautiful woman with a rather large entourage.

‘Is it?… is it?’ I whispered to my guide.

‘Not at all,’ said he. ‘It’s someone ye’ll never have heard of. Her name on Earth was Sarah Smith and she lived at Golders Green.’

‘She seems to be… well, a person of particular importance?’

‘Aye. She is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things.’

When we pass, friends, all the things that were considered ‘important’ about us here will be confined to about two hundred words. 

And I’m starting to think that maybe we’re spending far too much time on things that will make up two or three of those words,

instead of the things that can’t be expressed in words at all.

My unorthodox advice to you this Christmas:

Pursue the hidden things.

I know.

It sounds backwards.

It seems fruitless.

Many of you may already be in a position where you’re frustratingly forced into having your best efforts held far back from the eyes you hoped would see them,

or where you wish that what was hidden was more public and what was public was more hidden.

I get that.

But what if we lived as though each of those hidden things would one day be made oh-so-public?

Because I think they will.

As a wise friend recently told us,

There’s nothing truly private. At some point, all things become known. In some way, all the moments of our lives are carried out before an audience.

He’s right.

Ultimately, someday,

through a turn of circumstance here,

or a veil-removal there,

all of those things we thought were done in secret

will be shown for what they were –

good,

bad,

or ugly.

It shouldn’t really surprise us this time of year. Each time we run across a nativity scene, it should remind us that the long-awaited Baby in a manger

was first seen by

animals,

outcasts,

the lowly,

and foreigners;

a constant reminder that some of the best Things are at first hidden.

So.

If your next week includes visits with those you dearly love, soak them up.

If it includes moments with those more difficult to love, embrace those too.

And if it includes space to rest and hunker down, don’t let a single moment go wasted.

Live each one as if one day they’ll be shown before millions.

You might never see the results here.

But they will be seen.

Much like the way we were seen when we shuffled in late to Elliana’s concert.

In the end,

the two hours of traffic

and the failed plans to eliminate inconvenience

allowed our daughter to see us the exact moment we arrived.

She said it gave her courage.

At intermission, the people sitting on the other side of us empathized with laughter and compassion about our unfortunate day.

We already had a lot in common with them and just hadn’t figured it out yet.

In light of things like these,

the guilt-ridden looks fade away

to something far more lasting.

I don’t have a word for it yet.

But that’s okay.

All the best things are first hidden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hairspray

You take my eyes off of the future, You lead my heart out of the past – Matt Maher

Hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it – Paul, to the church at Rome

Here I raise my Eben-Ezer – Robert Robinson

 

Growing up, I was not a girly-girl.

I was the one playing hockey with the boys at recess.

And, when I say playing, I mean begging to the point of tears, at which point one of them eventually took pity on me

and let me be the goalie.

Didn’t matter to me, as long as

I could steer clear

of the little girl drama

on the other side of the playground.

You know the kind, right?

Stifled snickers and whispers interspersed with incredulous glares at whomever they were currently discussing,

or who was currently friends with whom

and who used to be friends but now won’t talk to each other

because can you believe what so-and-so did?

See, boys.

When boys argue,

they hit each other

or yell

or something

and then its over.

They’re friends again,

or at least they go on to function together in a measure of harmony.

Girls, we’re different.

Necessary, good-different, even;

but to someone who hates speaking in code,

at times we can be altogether frustrating.

Not to mention that sports have always made more sense to me than, well, hair.

Which is why, in my mid-30s, I’ve had to seek out help with…. yep.

Hair.

I could tell you all sorts of excuses:

1) I’m on medication that makes my hair weak and brittle (true).

2) I don’t have enough time to care about it (also true, in a certain context).

3) I don’t know how (true, but fixable).

So, a few summers ago,

I took a friend’s advice

and sought out a hair style class.

I brought my girls with me.

Some of you will remember these little girls as the same ones whose blonde-brown hair could be seen bopping along the gym at lunchtime,

playing hockey with the boys

in pink sequin skirts and sparkling headbands.

Yes. I know.

I’ve always found it… strange… that I’ve been given girls to raise.

I mean, seriously.

I have next to no idea on how to do this.

I know what women have been

and what some say they should be

and all the ways that the shoulds have been twisted

to keep both genders in air-tight boxes

that are so far away from what both were meant to be.

But I’ve found it difficult to locate a consistent, true example of exactly what we should – or could – look like.

And that’s a hard space to raise young women from,

especially in a culture where

there are literally thousands of competing ideas on it.

So it shouldn’t be surprising

that most of the conversations I’ve had with my girlfriends in the last month

have been all around the idea of not feeling

that we didn’t really fit anywhere.

There was always something

too much or

not enough in us,

something we couldn’t put our finger on,

something that means

we don’t quite get

what everyone else is talking about

or maybe

that we don’t think its really a big deal.

Take one day this May.

I was running out the door to a meeting.

The things they taught us in hair class that long ago summer have become almost autopilot.

So my prep for that meeting was all progressing as it should,

until I looked in the drawer underneath my sink

and saw that I was out of hairspray.

Eek.

I’d just gotten my hair to where I wanted it to be.

No doubt the British-Columbian-Unpredictably-Wet-Yet-Also-Inexplicably-Too-Dry-In-The-Summers-Coast would mess with it at some point,

and now I had nothing that would protect it

from the uncertainty of the elements

that would certainly come.

I was already three minutes late to leave,

so I had no choice.

I could only leave my hair as it was

and trust that it would be what it should –

without hairspray.

In the same way,

2018 came in with a bang.

And no, not the good kind of surprise.

And no, not just one at a time.

Week after week went by with new little bumps and twists,

until we realized –

a few months in –

that they weren’t going to stop anytime soon.

So.

We did what any rational family would do,

and

began a major home renovation.

Some would say they’ve never not known us to be renovating,

(you know who you are 😉

and in some senses that’s true.

We’ve never been those people who had the option of gutting and doing all we wanted to do at once. We’ve always had to live in the things we were reconstructing,

which meant

we’ve had to live

in the middle of a mess.

So, we’ve picked at things over the years –

whatever seemed manageable,

and whatever our finances allowed.

And somewhere along the way, I found out I liked making old things,

things that might be on their last legs,

look beautiful.

But it usually took letting something I loved – die.

Take my dining room hutch, for example.

Inherited from my fastidious paternal grandmother,

the woman who never left the house without making sure each glass figurine or crystal vase was in its exact place,

the woman whose multiple Royal Conservatory of Music accomplishments sit next to my baby grand piano,

the woman who insisted I learn to play said piano –

and paid for every single lesson –

all because she was one of those gifted and talented enough to play for the silent movies back in the 1930s,

this beautiful antique sat in our main room for ten years

and looked stunning

and special,

but … dark.

Truthfully, I’d wanted it to change for a long time.

But I didn’t know how,

and I was scared to damage something valuable

that I wouldn’t know how to get back

if I messed it up beyond repair.

And then I discovered chalk paint.

That one summer five years ago, we gutted our living and dining room, and in the process completely overhauled this antique that was no longer working for us but we still had no desire to give away.

And it became amazing.

So, I tackled something else.

Each time, I got a little bit more brave.

And I realized that those of you who do this on a regular basis, or even professionally, must be very courageous indeed,

because creating something new

always requires

letting go of the fear

that you’ll lose what you had to begin with.

So it’s no surprise, really, that we saved the thing we wanted to do the most for last.

There was so much at stake, after all.

We weren’t sure we could do it –

logistically,

financially,

or realistically,

so we tested ourselves

by starting small.

First, the half-bathroom on the main floor.

Next, the extra bathroom we’d always needed downstairs.

All in a lead up to chipping out the 1992 pink and blue tile of our main bathroom upstairs.

And oh, what a feeling.

We were so motivated, the room was gutted to its bones in 24 hours.

But a funny thing happened.

As we chipped

and pulled

and yanked

out the old

and planned the new,

we talked about our long,

stop-start,

off-and-on renovation journey.

And what came to the surface were two almost competing realities:

1) whatever we carefully completed to the end looked amazing, and

2) the dimness of whatever we’d left as it always was became oh-so-obvious,

to the point that it stood out.

And not in a good way.

They say its one of the big downsides to updating any portion of your home –

whatever you leave the same starts to look old and drabby

and the thing you used to be happy with

becomes the thing you need to change.

Like, right now.

This can be addictive, of course.

Not to mention dangerous.

Too much at change once breaks homes and structures and bank accounts and marriages and all the people who have to live through the middle of the renovation process.

But it can also be good.

Last summer I gathered with a group of ladies to discuss the building of Solomon’s temple. The detail given in those few chapters of Kings and Chronicles is staggering. The sheer cost of everything is overwhelming.

Solomon wasn’t working with much of a budget – cedar wood, bronze altars, gold-overlays, and intricately-carved pomegranates.

And yet what surprised me

was that the greatest detail

and most expensive materials

were given to the section of the temple that only one person would see, and only one day a year.

One guy.

One day out of every three-hundred-and-sixty-five.

And it struck me how opposite it was

of how you and I usually make renovation decisions.

Don’t we tend to put the most detail –

and effort

on the parts we know everyone will see,

and tend to cut corners

on the parts only we will see?

There’s a practicality to this in home-building.

But I wonder if Solomon was on to something –

at least when it comes to who we are.

So it caused me to wonder, off and on for the rest of the year,

how many of my decisions were based on

what I wanted everyone else to see of me,

and how much of my time and effort

were spent

making the spaces and places

only ever seen in secret,

in the inner room,

in private,

with those

and particularly the One

who knows me best,

look like the gold that Solomon used for the same space?

Turns out, that’s kind of a scary question to ask.

Here’s what I discovered:

I’m not so good at change.

My mom tells me that when I was two days old, on the ride home from the hospital, I crossed my arms over my body and frowned at every bump we went over.

Change, after all, can be scary.

Which is probably why I’m not an early adapter to things.

I take forever to update my phone to the newest iOS.

Who knows if they’ve got that thing figured out yet?

(They usually haven’t).

Which is why, Apple, your latest phone and operating system will have to prove itself to me. And also why, Kombucha, its taken years for me to like you.

Juice cleanses, I’m still skeptical about you.

Quick-fixes,

fad-diets,

and fast,

dramatic changes

have never sat well with me.

I like slow, steady, predictable progress.

And I’m sure there’s something in that cautious nature that’s rooted in wisdom.

Things that we jump into quickly don’t tend to work out in the healthiest of ways.

But I’ve also learned that if don’t reign it in,

caution can become rigidity

and hesitance can become full-blown fear.

The last five years have proved that.

You’d think that after a daily wrestle with cancer drugs and all the mental games that come with knowing there’s something that lives inside you – in even a small way – that could and is trying to kill you –

would put to death

any notion

of expecting my life to be predictable.

I should  – in theory – be more flexible about life change,

knowing in and out that

there are really no guarantees.

But while that has happened to a certain extent,

something else has grown alongside it,

and it was this desire

to have something in the middle of this unpredictability

to reach out

and grab onto

when everything else won’t settle into place.

And so I looked for those things.

I thought I’d found some. I thought I’d made good choices.

Turns out, not so much.

So, as each of these good things gave way to

the scariest feeling of free-falling into the unknown,

I had these repeated, mini-crises-of-faith.

And I really should have,

because somewhere along the way

I’d put my faith in things that had no business being believed in.

I’d mistaken props for fixtures.

So if there’s anything I’ve learned in the last five years,

its that

The Real Thing won’t let us settle for props.

In fact, He will steadily, persistently remove them

if we mistake them for the One True Fixture.

And that’s a good thing.

We don’t need props, after all.

They’re nice, and they make the stage a little more believable, but they’re not meant to stay.

Kind of like hairspray.

That day in May that I ran out of it, I panicked, because

it was something I thought I needed.

And yet, as I did my business that day,

without hairspray,

almost every. single. person. I. saw. said,

Hey, your hair looks great.

Or,

it’s different – what did you change?

And at first I was shocked.

You shouldn’t, I thought. I didn’t do it right.

By the third time someone mentioned it, I started to laugh.

I could almost hear Him say,

It’s like you weren’t meant to fix everything in place.

So, while I still have a bottle of hairspray in the bottom drawer of my bathroom,

I’m reaching for it far less.

Holding it farther out from my head.

Sliding my fingers through the pieces of hair

so they have room to breathe,

and so

a Bigger Finger doesn’t have to pry them apart.

The good news?

The Same Finger who pries our frozen hands open

is also the One that men of old knew as

Unchangeable,

Immovable,

Faithful,

an Eben-Ezer – The Rock of help.

So don’t despair, friends.

If the Rock of Help has gotten between you

and a prop that you wanted to stay,

that very act

shows that He cares enough

to give you something far better –

Himself.

The One to Whom we can hold fast and never be disappointed.

Can you imagine?

If you can’t, remember this girl, who by nature digs in her heels at any foreseeable change,

and think on how she can get to a place of knowing

That it’s allllll going to change

and we’re all going to be okay.

Change, after all, is essential to hope.

Because who hopes for what he already has?

So if you find yourself in a season

where all your begging and pleading and wishing and hoping

that your circumstances will change

don’t pan out the way you want it to,

know that maybe its an invitation to let the circumstances change you.

To put down the hairspray

and let your hair move a bit.

You might find –

like I did –

that that‘s the beginning of all good things.

It’s not in Hairspray we trust, after all.

And I promise,

He’s not going anywhere.

 

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast – To the Hebrews, 6:19

 

Longer, Stronger, Closer Together

So here I wait in hope of You, oh my soul’s longing through and through – Christy Nockels, ‘Advent Hymn’

But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. – Jesus, to His disciples, Matthew 24:8

 

It’s 2 am on Christmas Eve and I am writing.

Before you think I’m completely nuts – I think we’re all already on board with the mostly genuinely crazy bit – just hear me out.

I meant to get this out much sooner.

I mean, I really meant to get this out much, much sooner.

So if any of you still actually follow this blog,

first of all, congratulations on being the MOST PATIENT PEOPLE on the planet,

and second,

you might notice that I’ve not blogged in a luxuriant oh, say, three-hundred-and-sixty-nine days,

give or take a day or so,

and you might be wondering why.

For those two or three of you, please know I tried really hard to blog about twenty times this year.

None of those posts made it to publication.

I’d write a few things, and Life would pull me away.

And while I wish I could say that I let it because I’d like my children to remember their mother and not just what she did all the time,

and that would be somewhat true,

the deeper truth is,

I didn’t really have a choice.

Some of these attempted posts were happy. Cheerful. Whimsical, even.

Those ones always got interrupted.

So in case you’re slightly nervous that I’m about to write about pain again, please know that I’m just as nervous and probably more irritated than some of you might be.

But, frankly, this is what I’ve been given. From labour nurse to life experience, pain might be what I know best.

And I’m starting to wonder if that’s not a bad thing.

This week we received several Family Christmas letters in the mail, and they each filled even this distrustful, suspicious, fearful little heart with so much warmth.

These were the best kind of Christmas letters – funny, honest, and to the point. Letters that reminded me that friends in far-away places knew some of the same struggles we walked through ourselves.

So while we didn’t get to family pictures this year, I really wanted this post to be something like the following:

Merry Christmas 2017 from the Merediths!

2017 has been a good year for the Meredith family. Here are some of the highlights:

Noelle

This year, Noelle has split her time between her HGTV show about turning eggshell cartons into valuable word art, and her preparations to enter Harvard in their pre-law and pre-med programs, after skipping grades 8-12. This year, she has also picked up a couple instruments, including the flugelhorn, banjo, theremin, and triangle.

Elliana

What a great year for Elliana! Her synth-pop single, “Chi Chi Ya Ya” became a runaway hit in South Korea, and her YouTube channel now has over 10 million followers! One down side to this, however, is that she hasn’t had time to work on her line of activewear for elderly people, WearSoft. Hopefully, she can pick that back up again in 2018!

Lana

2017 brought significant change for Lana’s life, as it saw her move into the role of Premier of British Columbia. As a homeschool mom, she divides her time between governing the province, teaching her beautiful children, playing piano with the VSO, and writing novels. Her 2017 novel, The Girl Who Went with the Train Tattoo (click on the link to purchase it on Amazon), was on the New York Times bestseller list, and is up for a Nobel prize.

David

2017 was a banner year for David, as he was finally able to fulfill his lifelong dream of creating the AI singularity. Fortunately, he was able to keep the AI contained to an air-gapped supercomputer so that it couldn’t run amok, and he was able to harness it to achieve a few things:

  • Curing cancer in all forms
  • Generating several thousand Bitcoins, single-handedly raising the price a thousand-fold

Family highlights included a trip to lower earth orbit aboard Richard Branson’s private space plane, and a trip to Antarctica to help hatch baby penguins.

– The Merediths

Okay, first: if any of you took any of that seriously, I refer you to:

  1. any news website on the internet,
  2. a cursory check of youtube for the not-so-viral presence of “Chi Chi Ya Ya,” or
  3. the common sense we know you all have.

(You do have it, right?)

But in case that doesn’t solve your confusion, please know that absolutely NONE of that happened this year. And what did happen, well, you probably don’t want to know.

2017 was yucky.

In fact, a better summary of our year would be Paul’s description of his time apart from his Corinthian friends in 2 Corinthians 7:5: our flesh had no rest… we were afflicted… conflicts without, fears within.

Or, to put it differently, it was twelve months of things I did not see coming. Each one revealed murky waters I didn’t know I still had inside, muck I wish other people didn’t ever have to witness in me, and the overwhelming reality that things are just not as they should be.

There were periods of rest, for sure. Moments, weeks, even a stretch of a few months where all was peaceful and content and at rest.

But the beginning and end and several points in between were punctuated by waves of pain that came, intensified, died down, left,

then came again.

One day a month I get to spend a morning or afternoon with a several couples expecting their first babies.

They all want to know the same thing.

How will I know when I’m in labour?

I tell them it’s hard to say for sure, since every birth is slightly different. That being said, there are some patterns to watch for.

For one thing, they need to know the difference between true and false labour.

False labour is often called Braxton-hicks, but I don’t particularly like that phrase, because we’ve all learned to believe that Braxton-Hicks, tightenings that produce no physical change,

are painless.

Here’s the thing: they’re not.

Sometimes they hurt like the worst thing you can imagine.

So while I can give these couples times and lengths and frequencies of contractions to watch for,

its not really the most helpful way to look at it,

because the biggest difference between true and false labour

is that one produces change

and the other doesn’t.

And while a pregnant woman can come to the hospital in excrutiating pain, there’s no guarantee that the pain she is going through is actually bringing her baby – yet.

What makes the difference is if the pain she’s experiencing is changing her body

and if the pains themselves are changing.

A very common call I get when I work in triage is something along the lines of

I had contractions every five minutes for an hour that lasted fifty seconds each, and then I sat down and they stopped. Should I go for another walk?

My answer is always no, because true labour contractions don’t stop.

One of the biggest tell-tale signs of real, true, you-better-believe-this-kid-is-finally-coming labour is that the waves of pain become longer and stronger and closer together.

Before I helped bring babies into the world, I took care of people who trusted other humans to cut things out of them that didn’t belong. Each time the process was horrendous, but each one of these people were willing to go to a surgeon and let them cut them open because they knew that things were growing inside them

that crowded out life.

Here’s the thing:

You and I are willing to trust other humans with scalpels to fix what is broken in our physical bodies, and yet we’re not so surewe can trust the Head Surgeon to operate properly on our hearts.

I’m not sure if its because we’ve convinced ourselves that

things we can see are more reliable than things we can’t,

or if its just that

we find it easier to believe there is something wrong with our limbs than with our hearts.

Because, let’s be honest:

Most of us think our hearts are in pretty good shape.

For the last nine years,

I’ve gotten reports that say there is something inside me that shouldn’t be there,

but they can’t cut it out of me,

because its in my blood.

So, they give me medicine to take every day and keep it to a small amount.

And the medicine has done something unusual:

it’s caused the cancer gene levels to be low enough to believe it won’t cause damage to the rest of my body, but not low enough to say its completely gone.

I won’t lie to you: This year, more than ever, I was really really ready to be done with this thing. Surely nine years is enough to do the thing it was supposed to do in me. Can’t I move on to something else? Haven’t I “earned” remission?

(I cringe even as I write that)

So almost six weeks ago, as I sat in my oncologist’s office, waiting to hear the results of those tests, I warred between this expectant anger and lurking anxiety.

In my desperation I frantically texted friends to ask them for support, and what I heard back was not only far more gracious than I deserved, but also an echo of my own desire: for good news.

But as I sat in that office and wondered if

today was the day I’d find out it’s all gone or it’d all come back,

my eyes started to blur a little bit as I heard almost audibly the echo of my own thoughts, followed by this answer:

Good News?

Haven’t I already given you that?

Good News

of Great Joy

That shall be

for all people?

And it settled on me that it didn’t really matter what I heard that day.

Either way, it would have been good news: either I get to spend more time here with my kids, or I get to go and be in a place that promises we will all look back and say alll of THIS was light and momentary.

And SERIOUSLY. What kind of glory must it be to cause that?

It’s curious that Paul compares all of us to labouring women. Its even more curious that he says the process of labour should bring hope.

But after these last forty-eight hours, I think I understand a little more.

Let me explain.

Friday morning, I came off one of the most stressful night shifts I’d ever worked and prepared to drive six hours to see family and friends.

As I rallied myself to stay awake on that crazy shift, I stalked the weather app on my phone for updates on what we could expect. Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland all showed varying degrees of snow, accumulated snow, freezing rain, and winter weather advisories.

Only, of course, on the two days we were set to drive anywhere.

Still my optimist husband told me it’d be just fine.

So…. I went, headachey, whinily, and very unhappily. Not because I didn’t want to see these people, but because I was afraid of all that could happen.

All the while I kept thinking

this is not what Christmas should be.

But I’m starting to wonder if that’s just plain wrong.

What if  this angsty stuff is just part of it?

And what if that’s actually the point?

What if its okay that Christmas can be wonderful and awful all at the same time?

I was in Fred Meyer in Tigard today – er, yesterday – and I could hear it all around me.

First off, I’ve never seen that many people in one place, EVER.

Second, they all seemed to be surprised at how busy that – or any – store was.

On the day before Christmas Eve.

Me, I was just grumbling under my breath: yes this is actually the line up for the self-checkout. No you can’t budge in front of me because you just can’t believe how busy it is. No I don’t really need to hear about how you can’t believe how many people are here and how you really don’t have time to wait this long, because, frankly,

I JUST BOUGHT NEW TIRES IN A FOREIGN LAND AND TECHNICALLY DON’T HAVE A CAR RIGHT NOW. YOU ALL HAVE MORE FOOD THAN COULD FEED THE ORC-ARMIES OF SARUMAN IN EACH OF YOUR CARTS AND FOR THE LOVE, HAVE WE REALLY NOT NOTICED HOW INSANE THAT IS?!

Yes. You read that right.

New.

Tires.

But that wasn’t the only misadventure of the last forty-eight hours.

Friday night, just after the sun went down, as I woke from a brief nap to find myself in Olympia and not Lynnwood, David turned to me and said,

See? We are making great time! Such an easy trip so far.

Then, a windshield wiper flew off our car. 

And it started to snow.

Heavily.

I looked at David with the most withering look I could muster

(and I can muster pretty severe withering looks)

and said,

Right.

What I wanted to say was

I knew something like this would happen.

See,

every year its the same.

I eagerly await the music and the lights and the cozy winter atmosphere. I sip tea and imagine how warm and life-giving all the gatherings will be and I think things like

its the most wonderful time of the year,

maybe because a song told me to think that way,

but also because I secretly hope every year it will be more wonderful than its ever been before.

And then I look at all the parts I don’t love so much and try to manage them so they don’t blow up or throw me for a loop in what’s really the busiest time of the year, knowing my defenses are already down.

But every year, two things seem to happen:

1.It’s more work than I remember, and

2. We find ourselves on a treacherous journey in the days leading up to Christmas Eve.

This year was no different.

After a deeply encouraging visit with people we’ve known more than fifteen years (and grown to love more the longer we know them), we got in the car to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s, and just as I was asking if we could stop somewhere for a snack,

David started peppering me with questions I had no answer to.

Can you feel that?

Here, look at the steering wheel. That’s not normal.

I sighed and pulled out Apple maps, which found us a Les Schwab about three minutes away.

The verdict:

Our tires were starting to separate and dangerously close to blowing.

All. four.

Thing is, they said, we’re pretty busy today and you really shouldn’t drive back home with those. We can fit you in on Tuesday or you can sit here for three hours.

Right.

After some gentle pleading and a lot of silent praying, David talked them into calling the store closest to Grandma and Grandpa’s and made an appointment for us there, while I called Grandma to come get us.

The whole drive over I was irritated.

This is exactly what I knew would happen.

We got to our family’s house a bit more weary than we expected to be.

Of course, after they graciously fed and gifted and visited with us, someone made a comment about there being freezing rain tomorrow (today).

I looked back at the forecast.

It was legit.

Freezing rain in Portland.

Snow in Seattle.

Freezing conditions at home.

And I looked at David and said,

I think I’ve had enough car trouble for one trip.

To his credit, he nodded and said yep, let’s go,

pretty much immediately.

So we said goodbye to all our people and left for home at 8:45 pm.

We got here at 1:45 am.

But the ride home was not like I thought it would be.

For the first time, I thought through all the misadventures and saw things I didn’t before.

The windshield wiper blade that blew off was the passenger side.

There was a store in Kelso still open at night that specialized in these kinds of emergencies, which apparently, happen a lot.

(I didn’t even know it could happen until yester-Fri-day).

(FYI: We now travel with a complete spare set of wiper blades in our car).

Not to mention, David noticed the tire problem right as we happened to pass a Les Schwab.

After we got to the Tigard store, with our prearranged appointment, I started to notice the people coming into the store were getting turned away.

We got the last appointment of the day.

In fact, they stayed late just to finish our tires.

And then there’s the fact that the drive back tonight was as smooth and as swift as could be.

We listened to the album with the song I quoted at the beginning of this blog, and I looked at my sleepy-but-fairly-happy husband

(he’s always like that when we have one of these misadventures)

and said

I wonder if this is how it’s supposed to be.

I mean, it’s obviously not.

Be honest: have your hopes and dreams for this season ever panned out, fully, in the way you wanted them? Have you ever had a Christmas without some sort of stress or angst? Without conflict? With only warm and fuzzies?

If you have, you are obviously doing something right that I’m not.

But I’m starting to wonder of all of this – the work and the preparation and the angst and the hopes and the let downs – are all the way He meant it to be.

Because if Christmas here on earth fulfilled all our hopes and dreams

then we might forget why we celebrate it in the first place:

the ages-long anticipation

of the birth of a Saviour

we all desperately need.

I realize I might be talking in ways that surprise or even anger you, and I hope you can believe me that its not at all my intent.

It’s just that I wonder now if this stuff we complain about

stuff we even philosophize against

and try to manage

and wish away

is all part of a grand plan to teach us how to long for what we really need

and freshly remind us

every year

that we’re not going to see it here, just yet.

We might get a shadow of it, but that’s all it is: a shadow.

What’s really crazy:

We got a shadow of that tonight.

Because an hour into our epic journey home in the wee hours before the snow started in Seattle, that same misadventure that multiple times walked the line of certain catastrophe

echoed a tiny shred

of the original Christmas road trip

on a donkey

over treacherous road

with something happening that felt like really shouldn’t be happening yet

all because

earthly kings said they had to go back to their home town

and see the people they came from.

And while some of us might risk the rejection of the people who gave birth to or raised us, or those-who-knew-us-when,

each time we go ‘home’ for Christmas,

these two received certain rejection

at every door they knocked,

and who knows if the inns were really full

or if they just had no room for a couple infamous for their apparently shameful condition?

It might even have been those who knew them best who were turning them away.

And while that didn’t happen to us in the LEAST this weekend – each home hosted with such graciousness that it made the traveling difficulties truly seem light and momentary

and even funny,

I wonder if Mary had any warning that what was about to happen to her was going to change everything.

Was there anyone there telling her

Don’t worry, one day they’ll see you for who you are

or

Don’t worry, the baby’s almost here

or

Don’t worry, the One you’re about to birth will make it all worth it?

Or did she doubt

if it was all so necessary

or

if it should really hurt this much

or even

if He really knew what He was doing?

Friends,

I am not in remission.

Nor has the cancer gene increased dramatically.

In fact, its right where its been for the past five years.

And for some reason I can’t yet fathom,

my Primary Care Provider

has deemed it necessary,

even productive for me,

that it stay with me for now,

at that same irritatingly glorious level its been at for half a decade.

So, while I spent 2017 frustrated that my own pain waves seemed to be getting

longer

and stronger

and closer together,

I look back now and see that the spaces between were seasons of freedom and joy,

each one less encumbered

by the weights that so easily entangle,

which are the things that will truly kill me.

And if I discipline myself to remember,

I can do what I tell all my labouring patients to do: sink in and trust the process.

Because I’m not being operated on by a human, and this Master Surgeon NEVER gets it wrong.

So, friends,

whether this Christmas finds you

in the middle of a contraction

or in the lull between,

know you are not alone,

and that the King is coming.

Rest assured.

The labour He put Himself through was far worse than anything you or I will ever taste.

And if that doesn’t cause us to trust Him,

I’m not sure what will.

 

Sing

Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes (Matt Redman)

Return to the scene of the crime – the day I let the music die – and rewrite the final line, and this time…. (Sara Bareilles)

There’s a picture in my head of a lady I once knew.

She loved to sing.

In the photo I remember, she rests in a hospital bed.

Singing.

Waiting.

Left arm raised, eyes closed.

Singing, waiting.

There’s another picture in my head of a girl I once was.

She too loved to sing.

And for the better part of a decade, it seemed that wherever she went, people wanted her to sing. Not so much because she was good at it, but because she put her whole self in it.

There’s something powerful about a song that demands all of you.

It’s the kind of song that transcends both lyrics and music to something else altogether.

It’s the kind of song I used to sing.

Used to.

Two months ago, a group of leaders I know were asked to share the people who’d had the biggest impact on who they’ve become.

I volunteered to go first, but by the time I’d heard from the rest of the room, I wished I could take my answer back, or at the very least, edit it.

The maturity of the ladies in that room humbled me.

See, in my early years I’d learned that the sweet spot of growth is when we’ve got the input of those wiser and further along the journey than us, and when we turn what we’ve received from those wise people to invest in those just a few steps behind us.

Except I’m learning now that the sweet spot is less traveled than many of us would wish.

In a season where I’ve been navigating loss on a few different levels, I was now faced with the newfound realization of just how much abundance I’d been given

in those I deeply respect

who’d bothered to take the time

to patiently,

persistently,

and

gently

not only know me and all of my weaknesses,

but also to

experience the

full-blown immaturity

of those weaknesses,

while not going anywhere.

You know those moments where people describe their lives flashing before their eyes?

I had one this week.

Only it wasn’t a near-death experience.

Pulling ourselves together in some of the coldest stretch of weather us weak-willed, easily-chilled,  west-coasters have ever seen,

our family pressed through the remaining achy-ness of the flu

and trekked our way to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre

only to find out that most of Abbotsford

and Langley

had come along with us.

It was a night like no other,

filled with reunions

of all those who knew us when

and songs we all used to sing

led by those who’d inspired many of us to sing in the first place.

And that night I went back to this moment I’d had a few months ago.

It turns out that many of those who’d had the greatest impact on my growing up years

also taught me to sing.

When I woke up this morning I read a story about two men who were singing in the middle of the night –

in prison.

Jailed, shackled to each other, and shivering, they led those around them in songs of

joy,

even through an earthquake.

I mean, what kind of insanity is that?

What reason did they have to sing?

Fourteen years ago this February,

I stood in an old barn-turned-gymnasium

on a Sunday night

with hundreds of others

who’d dedicated their time

to capturing a glimpse of what our songs were like back then.

It’s not a recording I listen to often.

Not only is it strange to hear your own voice,

the memories are so fresh I don’t need to consciously remember them.

And it’s not a coincidence that the lyrics assigned to me were ones of certainty amid trouble.

As I opened my mouth to sing the last song, I looked up at the crowd around us.

Thirty feet in front of me stood my dad.

He would die in the next six months.

And while I didn’t know that then, I still had this sense of a moment happening.

I remember saying something right before we sang that last, oh-so-well-known-song,

something to the effect of

Some of us here need to sing this even though we don’t feel it.

It’s when things are least well that we need to remind ourselves that we are well.

And if there’s anything I’ve learned in the decade and a half since,

it’s that

it’s the things we don’t feel like singing

that we need to sing the most.

Which is why is surprises me to think that within half a decade of that Sunday night

I wasn’t singing much of anything.

I could point to a thousand different circumstances

or the sins of a hundred different people

to explain that.

But that’s not the truth.

The truth is,

I just. stopped. singing.

Then came January of 2009.

Drives to the chemo clinic replaced treks to the grocery store. Plans for vacation became plans for getting through each day.

Feeding my babies.

Making meals.

Wrestling with the worst pain of my life.

Until one day, coming off the Patullo Bridge, a tiny sign in a corner of a strip mall caught my eye:

Pianos.

Pull over, I told my husband.

I needed to see my old instrument.

And in this warehouse of more pianos than I could count, it was a shiny black one off to the side that tugged me towards it.

Perhaps it was the lack of audience, perhaps it was the fresh knowledge that there are no guarantees,

but for the first time in six years

I let myself sit down

and play.

After about twenty minutes, I startled to find an older man a few feet behind me.

He introduced himself as the owner of the store.

Sorry for taking over your instrument, I quickly apologized.

Don’t, he said. You can come and play anytime you like.

It’s like he knew we didn’t have a piano at home, or that something far more serious was going on.

I thanked him and got up to leave.

Halfway out the door, I heard him call,

You have great taste, by the way.

I turned back.

Sarah McLachlan bought that piano last week.

And a little smile grew in my heart.

I turned to David:

I think its time we get a piano.

He nodded. I know.

It’s been too long since I sang.

He nodded again.

Months later, as my cancer levels dropped and my hair thinned out, we found a fallen-off-the-truck baby grand that fit our price range.

It barely made the stairs to our house. Two inches longer and it wouldn’t have made the turn into our piano room, a half-level above our main floor.

But as I sat down to play, something else was different.

The song was different.

It fell … flat.

I don’t like talking about this with people who know me.

These years, the era of singing, feels silly and foolish and

over.

The written and spoken word has somehow become an easier, less vulnerable way to work through the unfinished pieces of my heart.

And so I moved on from that Lana.

I told myself I’d matured.

Evolved.

One season was over and another had begun.

It never occurred to me that in doing so I was being inconsistent with myself.

See, my favorite books to read are books of history.

My favorite stories are stories of history.

Not just stories of who-did-what-and-when, but why and how and because of this.

These are the layers that most of us never see or fully understand in those around us.

And its these untold histories that I find the most fascinating.

You know when you witness a reaction from another person that seems disproportionate to the situation and an observer says, there’s some history there,

That’s where you know the interesting stuff is.

It’s also when you know to stop asking questions. These aren’t details everyone needs to – or should – know. Because the places where there’s history there are

often the most personal,

vulnerable,

and less-shiny places.

Not everyone needs to know them,

nor should we constantly let our minds speculate about them

if we’ve not been invited in to them.

But it is curious to me that while these moments that a handful of others sometimes graciously allow me to see are the same moments I’m so reluctant to show.

Perhaps we’re all just a little bit ashamed of our own histories.

And if we’re honest with ourselves, we all have reason to be.

Two years ago this week I wrote about the need to allow those we’ve known the longest become a new version of themselves. True friends – and healthy families – don’t just try to stuff each other back into the same old boxes they’ve always filled out, but genuinely allow each other to grow.

Except now I wonder if that’s only part of it.

Because while we’ve all done things to be ashamed about, knowing our own histories – the ins and outs and where we went wrong and where we turned a right corner – might be essential to our survival.

It all depends on the lens we choose.

We can choose the rose-colored lens, editing out the bad, remembering only the good.

Most people call this nostalgia.

But wistful sentimentality rarely helps us move forward.

If left unchecked, it can inspire a melancholic lust of the good ol’ days that will never be found again.

On the other hand, there is the ashen lens, editing out the good and remembering only the terrible.

Only the terrible swallows us up.

We have no choice but to build a wall between ourselves and the selves we used to be.

We might not call it as it is, but those around us will hear it for what its produced:

Cold-hearted,

ascerbic,

destructive,

bitterness.

And while nostalgia will leave us naively vulnerable to unhealthy repeats of ours – and others – worst mistakes, bitterness will cut us off from any real community, making us allergic to healthy, long-term relationships.

Which is actually what most of us want.

So if looking back both too often and too little will leave us bereft, what’s left in this season of remembrance, reflection, and endless gatherings of those you don’t always know so well and those who know you all too well?

This fall hit our family with a bang on so many levels. School, work, and relationships collided for one of the most intense periods of loss I’ve ever known.

There were moments – many of them – where I didn’t know what was good anymore.

And while they were just a series of really horrible days, they seemed that they would last forever,

that this was our new normal.

And it felt. just. awful.

Somewhere along the way I stumbled on a book called Choosing Gratitude.

It promised I’d find joy no matter what my circumstances were.

Yes, please, and yeah, right warred back and forth in my mind.

Yes, please, must have won out, because I read the book.

I think because I just didn’t know what else to do.

And slowly, over those next sixty days, my stiff, chilly heart started to thaw.

It wasn’t rose-colored or grey lenses I needed at all.

It was the crystal-clear ones

the kind like my oldest daughter puts on each morning,

those that allow her farsightedness to come into perfect alignment,

the kind that permits all colors and lines and shades into her vision for a

more complete picture.

So at the end of a month of challenging myself to a gratitude challenge, I had a blog all ready to go.

I read it now and realize it for the sanctimonious awfulness it would have been.

But it seemed like everything was building to this moment where I, on the heels of my thirty-day gratitude challenge, could march into my oncologist’s office and finally hear those magical words of

in remission.

Back in March, we were so close.

It seemed it was only a matter of time.

We’d even started to make plans as if it were true.

Think positive, our world always tells us, right?

But all the positive thinking in the world can’t change things that are beyond our control.

No superfood or naturopath or magic bullet theory of health and wellness

guarantees any of us an abundance of next breaths and endless days

living exactly as we wish for.

(That requires Someone outside of us.)

So when I learned that instead of my levels of the cancer gene being not findable or in complete molecular response or even closer to that magical level of remission,

but instead a little bit worsenot a lot worse, still good, still okay, just not what I wanted –

I came home and cried.

I was so, so ready for this to be over. For the era of cancer to be complete.

What use was gratitude in this?

It took a week or so, plus the firm words of those who know better than me –

to climb the seven steps to the half-level above our living room

where our slightly-dented, too-often-under-used, shiny black baby grand sits.

And I sat.

And I opened the books of the songs I used to sing.

When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, whatever my lot, You have taught me to say

It is well with my soul.

Friends,

the complete picture of our lives

is not the tiny little fragment we can see right now.

Its the snapshots from all the moments that make us who we are today

and all the moments left to come

even though we have no idea what they will be.

If I’ve learned one thing this fall, its that on the mornings I wake and see nothing to be thankful for,

I can dip into my history.

And it turns out there’s plenty of reasons to sing.

Not the least of which is,

I’m still here.

Eight years later.

The thing is,

There’s so much responsibility that goes with it.

How many get an unusual extension on their lives and use it on themselves, cultivating selfishness and greed in the name of carpe diem, or worse, take it as a sign that God-loves-them-better-than-others or that they-had-more-faith or took-better-care-of-themselves and then develop a five-step plan for how the rest of the world can be awesome like them?

It’s nauseating, really.

What my children would remember of me if I’d died when the disease said I should have, back in the wee moments of 2009, would have been, well,

nothing.

There’s the great responsibility: I’ve lived long enough for them to remember me.

Oh dear.

I asked Noelle the other day if it was better that she remember her mom or that she didn’t? What would be easier?

Ever so thoughtfully, she spoke with her usual conviction.

Definitely that I would remember you.

It was the end of a truly horrible parenting day, one in which at least two apologies were required of me if my children were going to have any sort of compassion for the nastiness they saw in their mother. So I’m not sure if its bravery or an insane need to know the whole truth about myself that prompted me to ask them at the end of this kind of day

what they would remember about me.

Elliana said:

that you stayed in your pyjamas every day until you had to go somewhere.

(Truth).

Noelle said:

that you taught us… everything. You teach us everything, Mom.

That’s the thing – I do.

Good, bad, ugly. Everything I do and say teaches them something.

And if I’ve not taught them how to sing in the fiercest storm, I haven’t done my job.

So, self.

So, friends.

It’s time. Old songs, new songs, and everything in between.

It’s time to sing.

I warn you,

It’s the kind of song that will demand all of us.

But I think we’ll find

that at the end of it

the words will be a little more true,

things will be a little more right

and our eyes will see a little more clearly

just how well it is.

 

Tenacity

 

Tenacity is the ability to hang on when letting go appears most attractive – Anonymous

Let us hold fast our confession, for He who promised is faithful – Hebrews

 

Yesterday I stumbled on a podcast of two of my favorite

writer-people-who-I-love-to-listen-to-but-have-never-met

(and-maybe-if-I-did-we’d-be-best-friends)

and perched on my lawn chair amazed

as they described the sense of anxiety

that accompanies an idea they don’t fully understand,

and won’t fully get

until they sit down and write it out.

Because if we writers are honest with ourselves,

most of us try not to write.

Confession: When a deadline looms

(even a self-imposed one)

I come up with 150 projects around the house

that need my

desperate attention

right this second,

or any other remotely plausible potential distraction.

When that stops working,

I argue with the not-quite concrete thought

and tell it

since you’re not actually fleshed out,

I have no business writing about you.

But what’s really going on,

and what I hate to admit,

is that the actual act of writing is far from enjoyable.

Some of you just online-high-fived me.

Others have yet to experience what I just described, but if you asked me to detail it for you,

I’d say writing a blog

like this one

is like extracting a tapeworm

that has infected your whole body

and captured all of your attention

and not always in a good way.

If that description is too graphic for you, I apologize. #nursebrain

And while I am grateful these women were able to flesh out this painstaking process on the podcast I listened to,

I also kinda hate them for it,

because they were expressing what had been happening to me the past few weeks,

the thing I was trying to ignore

and knew I couldn’t anymore.

I’ll be reallly honest with you:

I didn’t want to sit down and write this.

So I ask for your patience

as I try to be patient with the thing

I don’t fully understand yet.

Let me back up a bit.

Last Monday, I woke to run and found glass in my running shoes.

I didn’t realize it was glass at first – I assumed it was some Houdini pebbles I’d collected along the road in my trail runs of the previous week.

But they didn’t shake out well.

Glass doesn’t, usually. But its also not the usual suspect when digging through your shoes for the thing that makes you say ‘ouch’ with each step.

But that Monday, I wasn’t entirely surprised.

The day before, I’d risen to temperate sunshine over the gentle blue waters. Fourteen years and four days after our first trip to the island as a married couple, the blog star (aka. my husband) surprised our little family with a spontaneous night away.

It couldn’t have come at a better time.

We drank coffee, we read, we ate good food, we laughed with our kids.

In short, we did all the normal things we normally do on a vacation.

Except on this one, I turned thirty-six.

I can hear some of you scoffing – just a baby.

And in many ways you’d be right to do so.

Yet from where I sit, thirty-six feels old.

But then,

I sit in a rather unusual place.

Not every twenty-eight-year-old mother of two is told she has cancer. Not every thirty-something is forced to wrestle every day the fear that this year might be her last. Not every family knows that part of how we live well is to live moment-to-moment, because, really, there are no guarantees.

(I actually wish we did all know that).

But while some would call this living lightly,

I’m starting to see it differently.

The day of my birthday was an otherwise glorious day: We ate brunch at a favorite restaurant. We wandered the surprisingly sparse streets of Vancouver’s downtown core. My husband patiently waited for me while I tried on clothes,

(if you call patient testing out the newest noise-cancelling wireless headphones at the Bose store)

and we went to a Broadway show

I had always wanted to see

but was finally in the area.

Good day, right?

Yet somehow I couldn’t shake the feeling

all day

that something was just a little bit… off.

I’m not sure if David felt it, but something just outside my awareness kept gnawing at me.

I tried to shrug it off

– as we all do-

and pretend I was cool

and not, you know, the other thing.

And yet halfway through our night at the Q.E.,

– just as I’d convinced myself  I wasn’t going to be paranoid –

an usher approached us

with the kind of expression

that usually accompanies

a terrible World War II telegram

or

any other sorts of news of something terrible happening to someone you love.

Fortunately, in our case, it was just something we love.

My girlies started to cry as they heard the words of the Vancouver policeman over the phone: a repeat smash-n-grab offender had broken into our car and taken all of our luggage.

Elliana shook

as she realized

the broken window

was right next to her booster seat.

Did they take Brutus, Mommy?  she managed through a quivering lower lip.

(Brutus is the current favorite of her stuffies).

I don’t know, I said, because I didn’t.

We didn’t really know much at that point,

except that four of our backpacks were taken

from the now windowless-backseat of our miraculously-provided van.

Wanting to keep the rest of the evening as normal as possible, David insisted the three of us finish the show while he went to figure out the rest.

And as we traipsed back to our seats, Noelle tugged on my hand.

I don’t understand, she said.

I thought nothing bad would ever happen to us.

Huh.

That’s a pretty incredible thought for a girl who’s been praying since she was two for her mom’s blood not to be… confused.

And yet, she kinda nailed it.

Don’t we all believe that bad things only happen to other people?

Don’t we tell ourselves:

That’s never going to happen.

Don’t be paranoid.

Everything will be fine.

Those kinds of things only happen to people who make mistakes,

people who deserve it?

We might even call ourselves mentally healthy for thinking this way. Or better yet, optimists.

We chalk happy thoughts up to our sunny personalities or fundamental beliefs in

hope

and the goodness of other people.

I hate to tell you this, but none of that is even remotely true.

While we’d love to believe the opposite,

all of us are just so far from good.

I know.

I’m uncomfortable with that too.

The most powerful time I was confronted with this was eighteen months ago.

Calamity often comes in threes, as it did then: my world turned upside down in the course of three separate, fractious, events

that all threatened the core of what I believed in.

Not so much that bad things don’t happen to us,

because that lie has been dying for a long time now.

But there were other things I thought I could cling to

in the middle of that bad thing,

things that

in the end

showed just how much I’d built my

fragile little house

on nothing but sand;

things like

These people will never betray me

Or

This thing would never happen to me

Or

At least I know I can rely on ­­­­_____

And so I’m not off in the corner navel-gazing by myself, I urge you to ask yourself how you would answer those questions.

What would be your fill-in-the-blank?

If you’re brave enough, write it down.

(somewhere no one else will see, of course)

Now stare realllllly hard at what you’ve written.

Do you still believe it?

Or does it look a little… weak?

I know what you’re going to say: I don’t have any of those things I believe in.

And you probably think you’ve found the solution:

believe in nothing,

bank on no one,

trust only yourself.

I understand the temptation.

After a certain number of pain points, each of us are tugged that direction.

We think we’re protecting ourselves,

but really, we’re just drowning in a sea that tastes oh so bitter

so we keep our mouths shut

and hope we don’t take in

any of our own water.

Our culture loves this option, and they love to offer the fix for it, too – just find the right person.

Think of how many fictional romances begin with the protagonist who’s been hurt too much to trust again.

Enter the solution: the perfect person.

I’m not sure if I want to laugh or cry at that.

But we all know its bogus, right?

There’s just no such person.

And even if there were, we wouldn’t deserve them.

But before you accuse me of being a Debbie Downer, I want you to know I get it.

Off and on these past few years, I’ve been living this protective way.

But there’s another Force that tugs at me and

suggests another option:

something both

in between

and so much better than 

care about nothing

or

care about everything.

The truth is, most of the freedoms Western individualism was built on were entirely dependent on  passionate people who let themselves care about things.

The show we watched the night our car was broken into was based on a true story of some of these people.

And we really need so much more of them.

Friends,

it’s only a little over a hundred years ago

that most poor families

were forced to pull their children from school

and put them to work in factories

where they were underpaid, abused, and targeted

by those who had more than enough.

In many ways this thread has continued throughout our history. Those who have will always be tempted to take advantage of those who have not so the haves can have even more.

They convince themselves they deserve what they’ve been given

and the afflicted deserve all they’ve not been given

leave the oppressed two options:

accept it

or

change it.

I’ve tried my hand at both, and I’m not sure that one is better than the other.

Both sides have pitfalls,

yet the stability of the world we see today

is so largely dependent

on those who chose the second option,

that we really can’t ignore it.

What’s even more powerful though,

and what I believe the world is waiting for,

is that third option.

I believe it has two parts.

The first: a liberator from outside the people needing liberation.

Take William Wilberforce, for example.

He was a man of influence, even a bit of money. An excellent orator, Wilberforce could have spent his days in reclined debates at the highest of privileged institutions, but chose instead to use his passion and eloquence

to abolish slavery in England

while fighting physical and emotional maladies himself.

Wilberforce’s American counterpart, Mr. Abraham Lincoln, went to physical war to accomplish the same.

I don’t think he intended to. But the passionate plea of his first inaugural address declared war on the South and their entire way of life:

a life built

of haves

abusing the have nots

so they could have even more.

Those of you who know this story know that Abe spent every day in office following that address – and the rest of his life – in pursuit of liberty for the oppressed.

He didn’t do it to become a hero.

He did it because he couldn’t not.

I can’t imagine how he stomached some of the injustices he saw.

How does one live with,

for example,

the knowledge

that a country built on revolution from oppression

a group of people who prided themselves on ‘liberty and justice for all’

used slaves

to make the very flag

they declared represented freedom.

But then there is some insidious darkness that tends to follow us when we throw off our own shackles.

Freedom can soon become indulgence.

Take the history of the last one hundred and fifty years or so.

As Susan Wise Bauer has said in her children’s history series The Story of the World:

Violence is not random. It is alarming, but not random. You will see, again and again, the same pattern acted out: A person or group of people rejects injustice by rebelling and seizing the reins of power. As soon as those reins are in the hands of the rebels, the rebels become the establishment, the victims become the tyrants, the freedom-fighters become the dictators.

And isn’t that what The Hunger Games was really all about?

That, without check, the abused become the abusers

given the right amount of power?

Take Adolf Hitler, for example.

Here is a man who knew power, even if only for a brief period of time. Many would still call him one of the greatest and most inspirational speakers of all history. It was likely this very ability to bind his audience in a spell of sorts that persuaded an entire country to back the biggest mass genocide in history

and call it good.

See, Hitler thought he was throwing off his own shackles.

He thought he was standing up for the rights of his country.

And yet even the most cold hearted of us can see that he went much further than that.

Friends,

It’s not tenacity itself that is the problem.

It’s what we’re holding onto that counts.

This past winter, our family hit another season of crisis.

What I thought were merely bad shin splints from a particularly long run was really the beginnings of septic cellulitis.

I know, I’m a pro at finding the old-lady diseases.

But it was this very fact that I got this at 35 and not 75

that made those who were taking care of me

wonder what else might be going on.

And so Pandora’s box was opened once again:

Blood clot, stress fracture, leukemia blast crisis, these were all things we were looking dead in the eyes.

Again.

Except this time, I really thought so too.

I’ve never experienced pain like that – pain that takes your breath away, that none of the normal medicines touch, none of the regular strategies begin to relieve

Pain that left me rocking on my bathroom floor at 4:30 in the morning, with nothing else to say but help me get through this, help me get through this.

In those days and weeks I gave myself IV antibiotics at home, rested with my foot up while I stared at house messes I didn’t have the strength to even begin to think about cleaning, taught my girls school with one foot always in an ice pack and often waiting in a doctor’s office.

And while David and I learned how to kill some of those hours when the pain was at its worst, we encountered one of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever seen.

I don’t want to name it for fear I trash your favorite of all time.

But if its your favorite of all time, we really should have a chat.

Because really, I left that movie with not only a bad taste in my mouth, but in my whole being. It wasn’t just the plethora of tired tropes (see the lighting of the candles for a special dinner? Cue the disappointing phone call), it was more the diluted definition of faith it not-quite-enthusiastically embraced:

All your dreams will come true if you just believe.

Cue every Disney movie ever made.

This is the problem with the whole world, I told my almost-asleep husband.

He peered his eyes open at me. This man is used to dramatic bedtime statements like this one. He’s even learned to fall asleep in some of them.

(That makes him sound worse than he is.)

I mean to highlight the number of so-called-epiphanies I think I get in the wee hours, and not his overwhelming call to the land of Nod.

I also knew I might have something when he woke up to hear this one.

What do you mean? he asked curiously.

I mean, this is what is wrong with the world. Even those who call themselves people of faith have somehow begun to believe its nothing more or less than

wishing for things we don’t know will come true.

And really, that doesn’t pack much of a punch, does it?

All it does is leave me asking

why

should I choose to believe things like hope does not disappoint us

when the only hope my culture has ever taught me

is the kind that shows nothing but disappointment

because its grip is so fiercely tied to family, football and The American Dream?

Let’s be honest, friends.

When we’ve grabbed onto a rotten branch –

or ten –

in a row –

our option isn’t only to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results

(by definition, that’s called insanity)

nor is it only letting ourselves fall into oblivion

and hope we fall on something soft.

It’s grabbing on to a branch with roots

or better yet

grabbing the hand of One anchored to firm ground.

It was this image that hit me as I considered Noelle’s oh so important question.

But it wasn’t until

I grabbed my biggest girl,

who gets bigger by the minute,

and looked her square in the eyes

and said:

Our safety doesn’t depend on the absence of bad things happening to us, girlie.

It depends

entirely

on the One in charge of all of those things –

good and bad

that I knew I even believed that.

Just like I wasn’t sure I believed that a minor malady often cures us of an underlying cancer

until my oncologist told me

that somehow

while my entire body was septic

there was, in fact, no leukemia blast crisis

but instead,

the cancer gene dropped to the lowest its. ever. been.

So low, in fact, I can see that tiny elusive horizon of

the amazing world called

Remission.

We aren’t there, and there’s no guarantees we will ever be

but that’s okay

because my safety doesn’t depend on it.

It depends on Something much firmer than that.

Take what David found when he returned to our damaged van:

two plainclothes Vancouver policemen

planted in plain sight of our vehicle

who

saw the whole thing,

arrested the ones who stole from us,

and

returned to us all of our belongings – unharmed.

(plus a really gross orange sequined purse that I don’t really want to think about right now)

I looked at Noelle and asked her:

Girlie, what are the chances of any of this happening?

She gave me a faint smile.

Not many, she admitted.

It was almost as if it had been designed just like that.

There were still hardships to deal with, of course.

You try driving home late at night on the Trans-Canada highway with no window and two children.

(there was lots of laughing about that)

And when I think of all the things we chose to do that day, where we should not have parked, what we should not have left in our car, what we should have perhaps not spent our money on,

I wouldn’t go back and make it not happen.

Or as Steve Saint, the son of murdered missionary pilot Nate Saint, says:

If I could go back now and rewrite the script, I would not change a single scene. I have come to understand that life is too complex and much too short to let amateurs direct the story. I would rather let the Master Storyteller do the writing.

What makes Steve’s words more powerful is knowing he wrote them as he developed a familial-type relationship with the man and the tribe who speared his father and four other missionary fathers who were only trying to establish the first friendly contact between white people and the dangerous Waodoni ‘Aucas.’

Friends, that’s tenacity

the kind that holds onto

the Thing that just doesn’t give out

no matter what kind of storm comes.

Its that same kind of tenacity I’m willing to bank on,

the kind that sees the tiny shards of glass in my shoes as a reminder that One so much bigger than me

was looking out for me,

yet again.

It’s the kind of tenacity that knows hope that doesn’t disappoint.

Its the second part of the third option.

Find the One Whose feet are on firm ground

and hold on with all your might.

I promise you

You won’t be the only one holding on.

 

 

Joy

I call it Joy, which must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted Joy would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures of the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is. – C. S. Lewis

Joy is the best makeup. – Anne Lamott

 

Oh, what a difference three years can make.

Three years ago, I declared a mental manifesto about the upcoming Holiday season.

I will not send Christmas cards. I will not buy presents. I will not spend THREE days decorating my house for a season that lasts TWO WEEKS only to spend another TWO DAYS to take it allll down in January.

I will not travel on Christmas.

I will not go to ten thousand holiday parties with people I don’t spend any time with any other time of the year.

Christmas wasn’t about any of those things, after all.

(That’s what I told myself, anyhow.)

The truth was, I wasn’t entirely sure what Christmas was about.

There were some things that stuck with me, of course, like tiny pieces of lint refuse to get brushed from a wool coat:

My kids’ choir production.

Hot chocolate and a cozy fire after a winter run.

The soothing click of knitting needles.

The Charlie Brown Christmas Album.

And of course, The Story.

The Baby.

The reason.

That I was trying to rewrite the holidays – or at least how we went about them – might surprise some of you who knew-me-when.

After all, I was the girl with six strands of white lights in her dorm room – all year long.

I was the psycho who started listening to Christmas music on Thanksgiving weekend. (And lest you think that normal, I’m talking Canadian Thanksgiving. In October.)

I was the weirdo who tried to pretend I didn’t have White Christmas almost memorized.

I even wished for a sister so I’d have a partner for that ridiculous dance Rosemary Clooney and the-other-one does.

(Though I probably prefer the Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye spoof.)

Bereft of such a partner in crime, I learned the “Sisters” routine by myself, rewinding the VCR enough times to perform it for an imaginary audience in my grandparents spare bedroom.

Elliana does this kind of thing now, when she doesn’t think I’m watching.

As an adult, the shine of presents-under-the-tree and imagining-every-thing-my-heart-desires fortunately transitioned into the more generous sparkle of good winter meals and giant puzzles with those I love most.

But every year those smiles-around-the-turkey felt a little more forced and a little less real.

What is happening to me?

I would say to David.

He would tell me something simple and true, like you’re growing up or life isn’t a movie or its okay, next year will be better because (x) will happen.

I would smile and say, of course.

But the restlessness stayed.

Grew.

Ballooned.

Until somewhere around the middle of 2009, the thought of Christmas filled me with dread instead of delight.

It wasn’t that it was going to be the first Christmas (knowing) I had cancer.

It wasn’t that I was taking chemotherapy instead of breastfeeding my baby girl.

It wasn’t that I stopped believing in anything.

I just. Didn’t. Want. It. Anymore.

I didn’t want the trimmings. I didn’t want the shiny baubles. I didn’t want the handsomely wrapped gifts or the charmingly baked cookies. I didn’t want A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life or anything else that reminded me of all that wasn’t anymore.

I didn’t want to keep pretending to be happy in a season that for years had only made me sad.

So I pulled out.

Sort of.

I volunteered to work Christmas Day.

Stat pay.

Quiet shift.

Distraction.

It worked for me.

It became kind of a tradition.

These work people became another family.

And my kids loved it.

They would make the turkey or the pie or the stuffing and bring it in with Dad for a 2 pm Christmas dinner, around the team room tables covered with white tablecloths and Christmas crackers and a smorgasbord of food made by people who care about Christmas

and each other

and helping those who need help

even on the holidays.

We minimized presents.

We emphasized time, people, and quiet.

And it was glorious.

I loved the message this sent to my kids: Christmas is about more than just you.

In fact, Christmas isn’t really even about you.

Of course, it was also handy to tell myself the same thing.

If its not about me, then I don’t need to think too deeply about me.

I went to get my every-three-months blood work done yesterday.

I got the nicest, sweetest girl you could ever meet. She listened to me as I rattled off my complicated story and thanked me for knowing more about the test than she did and for waiting close to 90 minutes to take a test that tells me if I’m living or dying –

The test that

should be normal by now

but somehow still isn’t.

A couple of hours later I had two missed calls on my phone.

These were from the sweet girl.

‘Sorry, I’m SO sorry, but we need to do this again.’

Oy.

It wasn’t that I had to go back and do all of this again today.

It wasn’t that I was already running a time deficit this week.

What built inside of me had nothing to do with the lab’s mess-up

and everything to do with something I’d almost forgotten.

I have a friend who I see maybe once every three years. In classic long-distance friend style, every time I see her we pick up exactly where we left off.

I love this girl.

I love the way her mind works. I love the questions she asks. I love the thoughtful, gentle way she asks me how I’m doing with things like music, Christmas, and my dad.

She asks about music because she knows its my outlet.

She asks about Christmas because

it was Christmas music I was listening to

as I studied for a Nursing exam

the last day my dad was alive.

It was Christmas music I was playing as my mom came downstairs

and told me that

Dad had vomited something … black.

It was Christmas lyrics I had stuck in my head

as I walked into Dad’s room,

saw the mess,

noticed him smile,

heard his weak voice say,

oh, you came to see me!’

and told Mom to call my brother.

I’d forgotten that till just now.

So yesterday,

as I hung up the phone

after talking to the sweetest-lab-tech-on-the-planet,

I struggled to recognize the emotion rising in me.

I think it was something like anger.

Yet it was so long since it had visited

or threatened to take over

that acknowledging it only made me smile.

Let me explain:

That I felt anger yesterday and yet spoke words of grace to this girl who already knew she’d messed up,

that I almost laughed in the face of a simple lab test taking up two whole days of my life,

as it does every time I take it,

every three months

for the last seven years,

That I spoke words of truth and understanding to her and gently said I would see her in the morning,

That my husband was more angry about it than I was,

That my first thought was,

okay, I guess that’s what I’m doing tomorrow

instead of a diatribe on why my time is way more valuable than this

means

I’m not who I used to be.

Oh, I am so not who I used to be.

And it took the Worst Christmas Ever to do it.

Yep, you read that right.

Just as I was starting to make my peace with the cheery season, Christmas 2014 hit me with a sledge hammer.

The biggest problem is that I shouldn’t have been blind to it all.

I mean, I’d even walked into last Christmas with a plan. 

I’d had this one, guys.

But never did I ever

imagine what was to come.

Guys.

The plan didn’t work.

At all.

Instead, Last Christmas became a season of breaking. A mirthless day of melancholy mess, triggered by some of the worst words I’d ever heard spoken, let alone spoken to me,

that I couldn’t even breathe.

For months,

my soul, my heart was crushed,

torn beyond repair.

The vast emotional unknown ahead of me,

jagged edges of torn flesh

and broken bones

sticking out at every edge,

it was the last place I expected to find the pieces,

the people,

the Light

of astonishing grace.

But there they were.

Somehow the best part of being broken to the point where you can’t put yourself back together, is that when you decide to move on,

you have to start with entirely different pieces.

So this summer, I went hunting for some good ones.

Humility – the underused gem. Most of us aren’t too familiar with this one.

(It’s hard to be when there’s so much ME clamoring for attention.)

Imagine my shock to find

that thinking of everyone else and

all the really important things

freed me from the prisons of

self-pity,

jealousy,

and greed.

Which is really idolatry.

Friends, these jails are so over-populated, they look like concentration camps;

wasting away the essence of all that once was humanity,

they could all use another storming (or two, or ten) of the Bastille –

the kind of storming that won’t be accomplished by the songs of angry men.

Fortunately, I found an escape route.

It led right through the tunnel of –

Forgiveness – a shockingly light but warm coat of grace that reminded me of all I’d been forgiven and all I used to be,

while covering all the exposed and recently-wounded places

as I learned to extend mercy

in the face of offense.

And after grasping how to use it, I’ve learned that Forgiveness is the sparkling accessory that must be put on every morning in order for my wardrobe to be complete.

Its the piece I am most complimented on,

the perfect outfit-maker my friends think I’ve only just gotten

when its been hiding in my closet for decades.

Every time I put it on

it wraps me in a gentle blanket of

Peace – the unshakable, unbendable, unmistakable warmth in the coldest winter.

Peace was the reminder that spring would come,

that I was not alone in the darkness,

and that I could be okay even when nothing else was okay.

Slowly but surely I have learned to pick these three essentials up with more ease.

They are becoming a part of me.

And it turns out they have quite the company:

Compassion.

Kindness.

Gentleness.

Patience.

Love.

Ladies, what if we could see these virtues for what they are? What if we valued them more than the most trendy clothes and the newest of new in-crowds and the best of all feelings?

What if we eagerly pursued these precious stones for friends?

I think there would be a lot more beautiful in the world.

I’ve found that the best part of having these values as part of my wardrobe is that,

like the best of friends,

even the worst circumstances

and the hardest days

do not prevent us from wearing them

-nay, showing them off –

like the royal robes that they are.

Only our hearts do.

Let me explain.

Ten days ago I went to store something in the crawl space and came back with the box of Christmas lights.

The year you were born,

I told Noelle,

I put these lights everywhere. You couldn’t stop looking at them. When your dad and I couldn’t get you to stop crying, we’d put you in front of the tree and you would stare at the lights for hours.

She smiled that full-hearted smile that only Noelle can.

-Why did you stop, Mom?

Instead of answering her, I got out the stool and started hanging them on the ceiling.

One

by

one

the girls handed me hooks and held the rest of the string

as the house transformed.

Then came the tree.

And another little one.

And stockings.

And the Silent Night sign I found at a Vintage Market last year.

Mom, you’re really going for it this year! Elliana cried in delight.

I really am.

Last Sunday, as I lay on the couch with my puke bucket handy

(Because, you know, the flu shot and me really get along)

My family put together a puzzle as we watched Elf.

Guys.

I used to hate that movie.

I don’t really remember why.

Buddy the Elf, what’s your favorite color?’

Made me almost pee myself laughing.

My husband could barely contain himself.

You really are different, he said. Old Lana was too good for this kind of thing.

What, laughing?

Last week I listened to a woman I love and dearly respect shared some of the pain of having a husband with Alzheimers. She has the wearying job of patiently staying the same as the man she loves steadily drifts away.

Yet in the middle of this poignant moment, she smiled.

Put her hands on her hips, and exclaimed:

Ladies, I’ve made a decision to laugh with my husband.

Huh.

Last weekend, our brothers and sisters in Paris were sitting in coffee shops, watching sports games, and listening to concert music as

paraders of hate

tore through their exquisite city of light

and painted it all black.

World leaders offered their country’s sympathy and pledges of support, but it was the response of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi that stuck with me most:

“More than a hundred people lost their lives while they were doing what they loved, or spending time with their loved ones.”

They were doing what they loved,

With whom they loved,

When terror struck.

They were laughing, smiling, enjoying good food and soaking up beautiful night sky as the air got littered with bullets and bombs.

This kind of thing has happened to many of us, in a sense.

Just as we were tempted to think all is right with the world we had the rug pulled out from us.

And it makes us scared to sink in,

breathe,

pause,

or let ourselves enjoy anything.

And isn’t that what all terrorists are after?

To make us nervous to leave our houses,

terrified to cross the streets,

afraid to go places,

scared to smile, laugh, or have fun,

without looking over our shoulder for the guy with the mask and a sniper rifle.

Or the guy with the heavily packed coat.

Or the swastika-bearing Gestapo whose rule so symbolized death they had a skull and crossbones on the lapel of their black leather coats.

Friends,

The threat of terror reigns in every generation. The lurk of loss is present in every situation.

Our job is not to let it.

See, there was one virtue I’d forgotten.

Overlooked, maybe.

Joy.

It isn’t pleasure, or happiness, or fun.

It’s not feel-good movies, ignorance, passivism, or only dwelling on pleasant things.

This is gutteral, trench warfare,

staring-death-in-the-face,

running-free-in-wide-open-spaces

explosions of

breath

and

life

that pulsate the blackest spots of our highlight reels and start to turn them

sepia,

then

soft pink

until there’s a tiny peek of

bright

orange,

the color of my girls Thanksgiving slipper boots.

And one way our family will choose Joy this year

is by choosing Christmas.

It won’t be about lights.

It won’t be about presents.

It won’t be about music

or toys

or movies

or time off

or decorations

or trees

or even the people we like the best.

Joy doesn’t depend on any of that.

It only depends on us.

On a decision

-a belief, really-

that light can come to the darkness

and shine

even though the darkness does not understand it.

So while this holiday season will certainly have work and tears and difficulty and all of the things that go with the reunions of those who don’t know or love each other as well as they used to

– or wished to.,

There will also be Joy.

I’ve decided it.

And this time, the Joy won’t be pretend. It will be a celebration of all that is good and every gift that has been given in a season that at first seemed to be covered in sooty ash.

It will be a recount of all

the tiny blessings

and little miracles

and provisions

and serendipities

and transcendent life-changes.

It will be the laughter of my children as they beat me at Dutch Blitz.

It will be the childlike glee of my husband as he restrains himself from opening the girls Lego ahead of them.

It will be all the little moments that are stored up and joyed up to be played up

for all the Christmases yet to come.

Oh, what a difference three years has made.

I have learned the secret of being content in every situation. – Paul, to the Philippians

Find the Joy. Joy will burn out the pain. – Joseph Campbell

Welcome, Christmas.

We’ve been waiting for you.

 

 

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