Today is my 43rd birthday.
Today is also the 5 year anniversary of Stefan’s stroke.
I figured those two things are good reasons for me dust off the ol’ keyboard and give myself a birthday gift–the gift of writing something.
I love to write. I always have. I love it as much as I love good food and meaningful conversation. I love it a little more than boy bands and Swedish Fish, but not as much as Jesus. I feel alive when I write.
(Except for the punctuation part of it. I apologize in advance for it. I love commas, ellipses, dashes, and semi colons. I know my posts are over accessorized with them. I’m like the grandma who wears her gloves, hat, pearls, lipstick, clip on earrings, pantyhose, and wrist corsage to McDonald’s. I get it and I own it).
So why haven’t I been writing?
That’s a great question. I’m not sure if I have one specific answer to it.
An obvious answer is life is full right now. Our kids are 22, 17, 15, almost 12. We’re navigating college graduation, a wedding (!!), driving, relationships, friendships, social media, little league–all while trying to cultivate character, integrity, and a deep affection for Jesus. You know, nbd (That’s how the youngsters and I say “no big deal.” It ups my coolness, but the fact that I had to point out that it makes me cooler, actually makes me un-cooler. It’s like one step forward, 5 steps backwards with theses teens).
In all sincerity, I have no greater honor or privilege than being mom to these kids. I am trying to soak it all in and soak it all up because my heart is having a hard time catching up to how fast they are growing up on me.
Maybe the more accurate answer for my silence is that some seasons of life, while in the midst of them, are too sacred to share. I think I needed to put down my pen so that I could submit and allow God to write my story–as He sees fit.
Here’s what I mean:
On my 10th birthday in 1984, I received the mother of all presents—a Cabbage Patch Doll. His birth certificate read Rodney Frankie and I was immediately in love with a bald-headed, blue-eyed, overall-wearing fake baby. He was perfect, right down to the Xavier Roberts signature on his butt. It was exactly what I wanted for my birthday. EXACTLY.
Even if his name was Rodney Frankie.
Fast forward to my 38th birthday in 2012. I can’t remember what was on my birthday “list” that year, but the only thing I wanted was to take a nap. True story. I certainly did NOT want my husband to have a massive stroke right in front of me. It was the exact opposite of what I wanted for my birthday. EXACT OPPOSITE.
Yet, I count both–the doll and the stroke–as treasured gifts.
I found out years later that my mom went to great lengths to buy my Cabbage Patch Doll. She drove a couple hours ONE WAY in the snow, uphill both ways, to find that doll. I’m not certain about the uphill part considering we lived in Grand Forks, North Dakota (the GREAT PLAINS) at the time. “Hill” may be loosely defined, but there definitely was snow. Legend has it she threw a couple of elbows to secure my gift. No one came forward with a law suit so we cannot confirm or deny the story. And, she’ll never tell.
The point is this: she fought for me. She was working for my benefit, behind the scenes without my knowledge of any of it.
I’ve learned much these past 5 years— too much to begin to quantify or explicate. Mostly, I learned that what feels so incredibly cruel and unwanted at the time, can be a gift God uses as one of the greatest tools of transformation in our lives. Sometimes when it feels like He’s fighting WITH us, He’s actually fighting FOR us: working for our benefit, behind the scenes without our knowledge of any of it.
I am not the same person I was 5 years ago. I’m not the same person I was a year ago. My faith is stronger, my hope intact, and I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. That’s not due to a newly found inner strength or newly acquired intelligence; it is simply a testament to a God who fights for me. He was and is working for my benefit, behind the scenes without my knowledge of any of it.
Don’t get me wrong, plenty of days I felt (and feel) like 2007 Britney, or 2006 Mel Gibson, or 1996-98 Dennis Rodman.
You get the idea.
All of that to say, the stroke was the beginning of a long season of evaluation, contemplation, and reassessment. I found that in being quiet, it was easier for me to recognize the gifts God was giving me. It was easier to notice the changes (for the better) He was making in our lives. My inactivity was necessary to see His activity.
That’s probably the most authentic answer I can give you.
Here’s my gift to you on my birthiversary: sometimes the most unusual and unwanted circumstances prove to be cherished gifts that make you stronger and gentler, wiser and more compassionate, closer to God, less like you and more like Jesus. He is working for your good even as I type these words. He is fighting for you. He is for you. However, as with all parents, He won’t force you to accept the gifts.
Best news? It doesn’t even have to be your birthday for Him to deliver.
(I spoke about all of this at a women’s event last September. Here’s a link if you’re interested in hearing more about God’s faithfulness on my journey.)
Let me wrap up by saying this, I haven’t forgotten y’all. So many of you have encouraged me to write and inquired about my writing and genuinely asked why I’m not. I am overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude thinking of all of you reaching out to me, nudging me, praying for me, encouraging me. I wish I could articulate how your care for me has been balm to my soul. Thank you.
I’m hoping to write more this year; however, I’ve also been hoping to lose 10 pounds the past year or so and that’s not gone well, so we’ll see.
Until we meet again here, I’m praying for you. I’m praying that you trust and know that He is writing your story. And, it’s better than anything you can ask for or imagine.
It’s way better than Rodney Frankie and that’s saying a lot.
And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.
Y’all know I’m not very good with small talk, right?
I ran into a couple of friends at Target yesterday and after we exchanged pleasantries, I blanked out. Seriously, I stood there smiling (I hope) and staring while my mind literally did not have one single thought except, “Do not ask them the deep questions of life. They are at Target–the Disney World for moms–they do not want to ponder all the thoughts and feelings about love, life, parenting, the Resurrection, or whether Justin and Selena will get back together and turn from their trying-to-be-rebellious-while-still-trying-to-be-innocent phase.”
So, I walked away, awkwardly, while desperately wanting to tell them everything that was going on in my head. They certainly didn’t want that, believe me. They wanted to go to Target and have the same experience that all women have, “I came in for 2 things, and spent $157.”
It’s a beautiful thing.
Now that leaves me with all these thoughts in my head that I need to get out. And, who better to share my feelings with than a captive audience.
(Notice that’s not really a question.)
Surprise! Hope you’re ready.
Let’s start with a confession. I don’t like Valentine’s Day. I never have. I definitely won’t judge you for liking it. I just don’t like the pressure of it, the idea of it, the “I have to love you today” part of it.
I never claimed to be a tender-hearted romantic. Sarcastic? Yes. Mushy-Gushy? No.
Stefan and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. Except last year we gave each other a gift. It wasn’t exactly on Valentine’s Day, but it was in February. Close enough.
We gave each other the gift of marriage counseling.
Let me try to explain a little about the last 4 years. In March 2012, at the age of 38, Stefan had a massive stroke. One that should have killed him, or left him permanently disabled. There is no handbook for how to walk that road. At the time, we had a Junior in high school, a 6th grader, a 4th grader, and a 1st grader. Their fears, understanding, and comprehension were vast and complex. They struggled to make sense of it all…as did we.
While in the hospital, we learned that “there was a spot on Stefan’s brain.” Everyone was confident that it wasn’t a factor in the stroke, but words like tumor, clot, and specialist, were thrown in the already confusing jargon.
We spent a year doing two things: trying to figure out what caused Stefan’s stroke and trying to determine what the spot on Stefan’s brain was and if it was dangerous.
We opted to not tell our kids or friends about the spot because it was already an emotional roller coaster that no one wanted to be on, so why put them on another one? Our families and closest friends knew. They didn’t get a choice in whether or not they got to ride.
Our life looked a lot like this:
We received all the best possible physical news for Stefan. The hemangioblastoma on his brain wasn’t growing or life-threatening and probably something Stefan was born with. He didn’t have Von Hippel-Lindau disease, A-Fib, cholesterol or plaque in his arteries. Nothing. He had a “spontaneous dissection of his carotid artery.”
After a year of going to cardiologists, neurologists, interventionists, and other ‘ists’ who far exceeding my intelligence and understanding, Stefan was released to resume life as normal. One of the best days was when our final stop on the hamster wheel ended in the office of an amazing Interventional Neuro-radiologist. He looked at me and said, “Stefan has no greater chance of having another stroke than you or I do.”
And all God’s people said…
Except we didn’t.
We spent more than a year considering and nurturing Stefan’s physical state that none of us regarded or evaluated our emotional or mental states.
The evaluations and assessments were discouraging.
Trauma changes people. It changed Stefan. It changed me. It changed our kids.
Maybe one day I’ll talk about all the changes, but some are still so tender and raw and too personal to share. Even for me.
See? I do have filter (praise hands emoji).
I found myself in a real season of loss. A season that lasted years.
Stefan’s frontal lobe was damaged in the stroke so aspects of his personality were different. Kaden graduated and moved SEVEN hours away. One of my children was experiencing severe anxiety. Not to mention, life kept going on. I was experiencing feelings, emotions, and insecurities that I was usually able to laugh away, but couldn’t this time.
All of that landed us on a couch in a counselor’s office last February with one of the smartest, most genuine, kindest counselors in all the land, or at least, all of Waco.
I firmly believe God uses people to advance the gospel. Simply put, God uses people to help other people see that God takes brokenness and makes beauty. He takes dead things and breathes life into them. Sometimes we just need for someone to tell us that God restores the barren places. Rod did that for us, he told us all that.
Oh, and he also told me I have PTSD. Or I did. Maybe still do. I’m not sure how it works. That’s for another day.
What I’m trying to say is this–marriage counseling was not only the best Valentine’s Day gift I ever received, but one of the best gifts I ever received. Stefan and I have done a lot of messy, heavy, hard work on our marriage this year and we are better for it. Our marriage is better for it. Our kids are better for it (and, yes, our kids know that we go to counseling. I’m determined to raise kids who understand that going to counseling is courageous and brave, not a sign of weakness, fragility, or whatever reason you believe that has kept you from going).
Maybe you just need to know that God restores the barren places. He brings to life those things you think are dead. He is working for your good. Even when everything feels not good. He makes beauty out of ruin.
Maybe that’s what Justin and Selena need to hear. I know he’s moved on to Hailey, but I will forever be pro Jelena. I’m a pretty big fan of first loves, especially since I get to spend this Valentine’s Day not celebrating with my first love.
Happy Valentine’s Day for those who celebrate!
And for those who don’t, we can talk about it when we run into each other in Target some day; but just remember, I warned you that I’m not good at small talk.
I don’t know if you are familiar with any of the parables Jesus told in the Bible (stories designed to teach a lesson). No worries, today happens to be National “don’t-throw-stones-unless-you-know-everything” day. It’s kinda like the fourth of July, but different. Anyway, our pastor is doing a series on the Parables of Jesus.
Scattered throughout the sermon series, a few of our members were asked to share their personal story as it related to a parable.
Here’s to hoping they call me for the “Good Samaritan!”
What about the parable with the lady who gives her last coins to Jesus? Isn’t there one like that?
Um…hmmm…okay (having to dig deep), is there a parable about a mom who is on the verge of crazy, a less than stellar house-keeper, but knows she’s desperate for Jesus?
By now, I’m just hoping they don’t call me. I’m mean what’s left? All the bad ones…
But, they did call.
They asked if I would share my story after the “Prodigal Son” sermon. (The parable of the two sons can be found here.)
Well, the shoe does fit. I am a recovering prodigal. I am prone to wander.
I guess I’ll do it.
As we discussed what I would say, I asked if they wanted me to share some of the same thoughts I shared on the post I guest-wrote for their blog.
After a day or two, my sweet friend on staff at our church emailed and asked if I would consider sharing my story on the week Brady (our pastor) taught on the tax collector and the Pharisee, instead of the prodigal son.
I said yes because, duh, I had no idea what that parable was about. It’s one of the obscure ones I skim over on my way to read about the other stories that pertain to me more.
So I read the parable. It’s found in Luke 18:9-14 and goes a little something like this…
The Story of the Tax Man and the Pharisee
9-12 He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’
13 “Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’”
14 Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”
Hmmm…Do I get to pick which character I want to be?
Neither one is appealing.
And, as God so often does, He reminded me that it’s not about me.
It’s not about how much good I’ve done. Or how much bad I’ve done.
It’s about Him and my recognition and acknowledgment of my need for a Rescuer.
To me, the most important verse in the whole parable is verse 14…
God gave mercy and forgiveness when asked.
God continues to give mercy and forgiveness when asked.
Jesus is the only One who can make us “right” and “justified” before God.
That’s the gospel. And, that’s the only hope I have because I am too often the Pharisee (the self-righteous, trying to be right on my own) and too often the Tax Collector (the scandalous, “bad” guy).
So, here’s my story that was shared on Sunday at church. If you’re interested in the sermon, you can find it here. I highly recommend it.
It’s like the irony of all ironies that the first full week of summer is capped off with Father’s Day. It’s like last week was “Kid’s Day er’day” and now, today, one more opportunity for me to recognize my sucky attitude and selfishness, I mean, yay! I get to serve my family. We should have Father’s Day and Kid’s Day all the live long day!
I’m not very good at selflessness. You would think that a husband, four kids, and two dogs would provide ample opportunities for me to die to self. You’re right. I have plenty of opportunity. But, opportunity doesn’t always initiate obedience. Sometimes I deny self. Sometimes I pick me. But, all of the times I have an inner struggle. It hasn’t gotten easier for me. I’ve become more wiling, familiar, and disciplined to serve others, but the initial response of “selfishness and self-preservation” are still as present and active as they were when I was a 3-year-old kid telling another kid, “Mine!”
Father’s Day always reminds me of my selfishness. Weird, right? I’m beginning to sound like a teenager who thinks everything is about them. I’ve been accused of worse.
I’ve been stewing on this post for a while (11 days). Okay, so not that long. Whatever. I’ve been writing it in my head for 19 years. And, every year around this time, I wonder if I’ll ever have the guts to publish it for all the world to see (or the tens of you who read this).
For most of you, June 4th came and went without much thought. For me, it would have been my 20 year wedding anniversary to my first husband…had I not divorced him.
When I was 19, I got pregnant. I got married. I had my oldest, Kaden, 5 months after the wedding. I moved out of the marriage exactly one year and one week after our wedding. I arrived at my parents’ home with a 7 month old son, a few kitchen gadgets I received as wedding gifts (I mean, what does one do? Give them back with an apology note “sorry for wasting your time and money”? Re-gift? Save them for Kaden?), along with boxes and boxes of shame, guilt, and embarrassment.
It has taken years to unpack those boxes. Years! Thank God for a village of people who helped usher in some semblance of spiritual, emotional, and physical health in my life. By God’s divine grace and lavish love for me, I carry scars, but no longer wounds…
Except for one or two that seem to re-open at certain times, during inevitable circumstances, dates, or triggers.
Like June 4th.
I chose me 19 years ago and that choice meant a son would grow up without his father in the same town, or under the same roof. A crucial relationship cultivated, at best, every other weekend and 42 days in the summer. And, every Father’s Day.
Well, that’s a downer.
I like the funny Real V better.
(That was the dialogue I just had with myself in my head).
I always hate when people ask me, “If you could do it over, would you do it differently?”
I don’t know how to answer that question. How does one answer that question? What benefit is there in answering that question? Please don’t ask people that question. It’s a really stupid question.
I think I have sufficiently expressed my feelings about that question.
Here’s what I do know. God has filled in the gaps of my mistakes. He has cleaned up my messes time and time again. He continues to heal me, heal Kaden, heal my first husband, and heal my younger children and Stefan. (There was quite a bit of confusion when they were little–all 3 of the younger kids, at different times, asked “when do I get to go visit my dad?”) God has orchestrated beauty (and laughter) out of my failures. He redeemed the times Kaden missed with friends and family (because he was at his dad’s). God redeemed the times Kaden missed in his dad’s life (because he was with us). God has gifted Kaden with an ability to love me, his dad, his step-dad, and his step-mom deeply, without reservation, without biological ties. We are a beautiful mess of a dysfunctional family because God has made us beautiful.
But, I’m still reminded that my sin has consequences. My sin and selfishness affect innocent (and guilty) people. Selfishness and sin have a way of manipulating a mind into thinking the cost (consequences) will be minimal, or at worst, temporal. Sin always demands a payment. And, that payment is usually some kind of broken relationship. Whether, it’s a broken relationship with God, or a broken relationship with a person.
And, sometimes, we have to sit with the reality that our choices cause brokenness.
I am more than confident that God creates beauty from brokenness. I am also living proof that sometimes the brokenness lingers. Signs of brokenness does not mean that God is not Faithful or He isn’t able to put all the pieces of our broken lives back together. The brokenness that remains in no way disproves His power or miracle-making capability.
The miracle is that He takes the brokenness and makes something completely new out of it. Anyone can put pieces back together, but only an Almighty God can take shards of failure, guilt, and pain and create victory, innocence, and peace out of the broken pieces.
Oh friend, He is not stingy with His miracles. It’s not a struggle for Him to choose us, serve us, and love us. Know that your worst mess, is an opportunity for Him to re-create something new. He not only forgives, He re-makes.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an opportunity to practice selflessness tonight with my family. I’d like to default to the Spirit this time, instead of my selfishness.
Because I did not like having to explain to my younger kids why “they don’t get to go visit their dad on the weekends.”