Little things matter. Along the way you discover they weren't so little after all.

Five Minute Friday: Encouragement

Someone close to me brought me a meal.

I hadn’t had a baby, broken a leg or been in a car accident.

But she brought me a meal.

So did another friend, and she was the one who had just delivered. I was supposed to bring her a meal.

Words sent to someone else and passed on to me — kind, affirming, validating.

These things breathed air into my floppy balloon, the one that was in danger of settling on the floor, a puckered, withered, sandy shadow of the party favor it had once been. Their words, their phone calls, their messages, buoyed me up and let me float in a more proper balloon-y place.

Maybe I’m not floating on an airstream across the world with a special note hanging from my string, but

I’m more in that middle air of the hallway, at the level that makes you think there’s a person walking towards you,

the kind that makes you jump and if someone’s watching they laugh to see your surprise. That moment that gives freedom from worry and concern, hope that there will be laughter again.

The encouragement of friends who hold you up when it is hard to get off the floor — this is a precious thing indeed.

*****

Join a great group of people for Five Minute Friday to write without editing for the sheer joy of it. Find out more at http://lisa-jobaker.com.

Are you facing challenges or a hard time? This is a safe place to share about it. I genuinely hope you have people in your life who can help breath air into your life. Maybe in the comments we should name names. Who is an encourager in your life?

Living in negative expectancy with the Unknown

In a very real sense, living alongside someone with a serious illness feels like an echo of pregnancy,

Just with the potential of an outcome that is the antithesis of pregnancy.

Having lived through and around pregnancy, it is the only physical comparison I have to use for a changing body, a body that morphs because of and to accommodate the presence of something internal.

This makes sense to me because my dad has cancer,

and he’s the one with the morphing body.

Things were at a critical point a few weeks ago, with dad in the hospital and full diagnosis still pending.

Now we have the diagnosis, and while it is helpful to know what we’re dealing with (I say ‘we’ as if I am somehow able to help carry the burden he now has, as if the people who love him can do anything about the physical impact the cancer or the treatment have on him), I’m finding that I don’t have the capacity to fully hold in my head the severity of the situation.

He’s doing better.

He’s back at home.

His speech is clearer (he had a stroke and was hospitalized during that critical period).

The things that were causing him physical pain have ebbed.

It is easy to pretend everything is back to normal.

I’m a big fan of the way things were before this all started up. I’d prefer to go back there.

As with all of us, we don’t know what will happen to Dad. Will the chemo work? Will it work enough that the tumors in his lungs, lymph nodes and shoulder will go away entirely? Will we have him with us in five years? In two years? According to the doctors, the chances decrease as more time passes.

On a different scale, that’s true for all of us, serious illness or not.

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Now we wait.

We take internal inventories, monitor what our hearts and bodies crave and take special care with each other. It feels like that period after the baby’s been delivered and we’re just starting to remember we can once again do the things we did pre-pregnancy. There’s a collective sigh in my family because we’re through the immediacy of the initial run of hospitalization and meeting with doctors.

I feel like I go through days holding my breath, waiting for an undetermined signal that may never come, the signal that indicates it is safe to relax, safe to unclench my jaw and my heart.

Is the signal the fact that my dad can get around their tiny house without help from a cane or someone’s arm?

Is the signal that Dad and Mom are planning, with doctor’s permission, to go back down to Costa Rica in a couple weeks?

The reality is that there isn’t a signal, and not one person can offer us one. We’re stuck taking things day by day, living in the unknown, trying to be positive but realistic, preparing for the worst but hoping for the best.  There are moments, full days even, when I forget the illness and its severity. I have that luxury because I don’t live with my parents, don’t have to administer the medicines his body requires multiple times every day, don’t help with the chores of daily living and monthly trips to get chemo. I don’t see everyday the way my dad’s clothes look baggy on him, as if he lost his luggage and had to borrow them from a friend in a pinch.

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Instagram: writermama1999

Instagram: writermama1999

I can live with a lot of mystery.

I don’t want God to be explainable —

I want there to be supernatural, divine moments when no scientific device can detect or dissect what just happened.

Living in this unknown, however, is different. It doesn’t feel like a holy mystery. It’s not something I enter into with reverence and positive expectancy.

This current unknown is full of life-threatening danger, slow decline and potential devastation.

For a while, I was in a state of constant fight-or-flight. I snapped at my family, exploded over piles of clothes on the floor, cried because a thought of illness entered my head. I stockpiled instant dinners and travel snacks, and kept my physical and emotional overnight bag at the ready. For instant reaction, I was your gal. The rational, nuanced part of my brain was shut down by something more primal, more reactive. Time passed unnoticed, sounds were muted, every movement required triple the effort.

Now the unknown continues, a slow march towards an unclear destination.

We’ve returned to the familiarity and comfort of our routines, except they’re all laced with added weight, the way some cloth is now laced with copper. There’s a feeling of negative expectancy, a bracing for the next hard thing, an assumption, maybe in self-protection, that the unknown will probably not be something welcome. It’s like being on guard for a cat to pounce.

Will the cat of cancer merely bat Dad around, like him a few times, toss him in the air but get bored and move on?

How long can one live in this state of heightened awareness, the shadow lurking around the edges?

Is it possible that this is our new normal?

I’m sorry this is so all over the place. It is as erratic as I feel some days. If you’ve got advice  or resources for handling illness or stress, please feel free to share. We are all stronger together.  

November Book Club: Chapter Three (Part One)

Corcovado jesus

Corcovado jesus (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Yes yes, I do realize that it is the end of DECEMBER and here I am working on a book club from November. That’s just the way things go sometimes, right? If I should retitle this “December Book Club” that would only work for like a few more hours, so that’s a dead end.

Peter Enn’s book, Telling God’s Story: A Parents’ Guide to Teaching the Bible, is what we’re working through and chapter three is when the author starts giving specifics about what to teach to whom and when.

In most Sunday School settings, there are lots of lessons about Old Testament characters, in addition to stories about Jesus. Enns argues that “the proper foundation is now what it has been since the first Christmas: Jesus.” He makes the point that “the Bible as a whole is going somewhere, and that “somewhere” is actually a “someone”.”

Before you think Enns is suggesting that we focus only on the New Testament, as was done to the exclusion of the Old Testament in church circles for many years, he is making the case that for our youngest children, we begin with and focus on the person of Jesus. He says “the apostles didn’t start with the background stuff. They got right to the point and talked about Jesus.” As children get older and more mature, then it is time to address the Old Testament and larger context of the New Testament.

This resonates for me because of my years as a volunteer in various churches’ children’s and youth ministries, as well as my time developing curriculum and leading children’s and junior high/senior high ministry. Kids in the earliest grades see things in black and white, and understand concrete ideas most readily. This changes as they get older, but in terms of the focus for grade 1-5, Enns stresses the validity of building a foundation of Jesus and worrying about Old Testament historical context yada yada as children get older.

One thing that makes me bristle is the focus on depravity in children in evangelical circles. We are so concerned that children “come to Jesus” that we sometimes resort to scare tactics rather than focusing on the freedom, direction, purpose and fulfillment Christ brings while here on earth. The focus is so heavily weighed towards the hereafter that it’s no wonder why people tend towards “fire insurance” (a terribly crude term) and a once-and-done mentality rather than seeing how a commitment to following Jesus plays out in our every day decisions. That’s probably why I love this line so much:

What should not be emphasized is the child’s miserable state of sin and need for a savior. …We must remember that our children’s salvation is not our work, it is the work of the Spirit. …To introduce children to the wrath of God right at the beginning of their lives, without the requisite biblical foundation and before the years of emotional maturity, can actually distort their view of God.

That’s not to say that even within the life of Jesus there aren’t many intense, adult-rated moments. Using common sense, it should be obvious that age-appropriateness is of the upmost importance. However, in my experience, common sense and age-appropriate sensitivity isn’t always used when approaching the Bible. People often fear they’ll be “watering down the Word of God” by leaving out certain parts or focusing on some things over others (although I wonder if they’d be so cavalier with the things in Bible of a sexual nature). People think they should start with Genesis and work their way through the Bible, book by book. Have you ever tried doing that? Let’s just say that most folks find their eyes glazing over by the time they get a chapter or two into the books of the law.

Enns takes a logical approach that considers child development and the overarching movement of the Bible narrative. It is the person of Jesus that draws people, it is the stories of how He treated children, how He related to women, how He reached out to outcasts and misfits — these are the stories that draw us to Him. By letting the life of Jesus speak for itself, and by studying the impact He had on the lives of the Apostles, we set a solid foundation on which they can delve into the depths of the Old Testament, historical background and prophetic fulfillment of Jesus’ life.

This chapter has two more sections, one that deals with middle grades and one that deals with high school ages. I think these areas need their own review, so I’m going to lump them together into a future post.

What is your take on this different way of teaching the Bible to our youngest children? Does it seem like a good approach to you? What objections do you have to it? 

British Library Add. MS 59874 Ethiopian Bible ...

British Library Add. MS 59874 Ethiopian Bible – Matthew’s Gospel (Ge’ez script) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Priorities, Holidays and Motivation

Rizinus

Rizinus (Photo credit: flöschen)

This will be brief.

Mostly it will be brief because I don’t know how to talk about what is going on in my family.

That may cause some confusion, because I actually mean “family of origin” but I ain’t that fancy and family’s family. My family by marriage is my family. My siblings and their spouses and my parents are my family. My husband and my children are my family. When something impacts one of them, it impacts us all.

My dad is sick. He was in the hospital for a week. We just brought him back to his house (with my mom) last night.

He has cancer. It is lung cancer. No, he is not a smoker, but if you think it matters or somehow a person who did smoke who develops cancer somehow deserved it, then you’ve never seen someone get sick. You don’t wish this on anyone, unless you’re a real dink.

There are many complicating medical factors that I won’t go into here.

I’ve stepped away from blogging, mostly because I’ve been busy trying to stay out of bed. Everything takes a monumental amount of effort, and I’m not the one who’s sick. I’m just on the sidelines and I find it challenging to keep moving.

As of today I’ve bought one Christmas present.

To blog about this, about this journey or the unfolding (or collapsing) of this could be a good thing.

It could also be getting personal gain from a difficult situation. I’m not talking “make lemonade from lemons” here. I’m talking about ambulance chasing, zero-ing in on that elusive “niche” that writers are supposed to find:

“How’d you become such a popular blogger?”

“I cashed in on the fact that my dad developed lung cancer at 67. It worked out pretty sweet for me. Sucks to be him.”

No thank you.

Photoglob AG Zürich

Photoglob AG Zürich (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The thing for me is that writing has always been a way of processing things going on, whether that’s in my head or things around me. There’s that so-called “curse of self-awareness” that even as something is happening we’re aware of it, observing it. So as my dad positions on his shoulders a prayer shawl knitted by some kind people at a church in Colorado, I observe the way it clings to him, stretches and shapes to his body, how the yarn is bumpy and multifaceted with color, how I hope it covers him in prayers and envelops him with God’s peace. And as a person who writes and has been training myself to look for these stamp-sized images, I feel guilty for noticing.

It’s as if by observing, I remove myself from experiencing the situation in real time. And the one thing I can do for my dad is to walk through this with him, in real time, no self-preservation of distance or clinical observation. It is awful. But it is also infused with holy moments when all artifice is stripped away, all distance between presentation and reality is removed and we all are ourselves at our most raw, terrified, vulnerable and helpless. But we are together. And there is beauty in that.

*****

Because of all this, and even though it snuck up on me and I’m not ready for it, it is also Christmas, and because I need to analyze why I would be writing about my life right now, I’m going to step away from blogging for a while. I may check in every so often with a quick hello, but I think it best to put it on hold for now.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for commenting. Thanks for being a really fun part of my days. I like y’all a lot. I hope to be back before too long. Have a wonderful Christmas, New Years, and any other holidays in December and January. Blessings. ~TC Larson

An Apology: I was Petty but You Didn’t Know It

Today’s prompt is REFLECT.

*****

I thought you’d be around more often once you moved to the same area, but you arranged things so you’d be gone for months at a time.

You continued on with your own life, your own dreams, and I was left behind.

When you returned I was conflicted: excited to see you but resentful that you’d receive such a reception after choosing to leave in the first place.

I constructed a moat in my mind, a separation between us so I could hold you loosely, not care if you were nearby, not rely on you since I felt you’d become unreliable, despite your ideals or desires. I didn’t understand your need to do it, your need to pursue an independent life of adventure away from the rest of us. You tried to explain it was something you had to do for your own health. I didn’t understand that, probably can’t understand until I’m in the same position and life station.

January

January (Photo credit: Deadly Tedly)

Then when you wanted a voice, wanted a say in the plans we’d make, I resented it, felt you had abdicated that right by being far away.

I’m sorry.

I was petty.

I was small.

I was cowardly, holding my thoughts and feelings inside. I lacked the bravery required to have the hard conversations. Leaving things unsaid was my attempt to allow the sediment to settle back into place, let the murky water clear so I could see the relationship for its beauty instead of the small irritants or unintentional, momentary offenses. In the midst of trying to let things roll off my back, I collected some of them along my spine and they became a residue
that tainted my internal attitude.

I’m sorry.

Those things were petty and unimportant. I was wrong, even if you didn’t know I was being wrong.

Costa Rica

(Photo credit: dotpitch)

*****

Today I’m linking up with Lisa-jo Baker and the crew who join her to do Five Minute Friday. She gives a word prompt and people write for five minutes. No second guessing, no censoring, just writing for the fun of writing. Silence your inner critic and write. It is open to anyone who is interested, but there won’t be any more link-ups until January.

When something is bothering you, do you keep it to yourself or talk it out? How do you handle it when you’ve been wrong? In what relationships do you find it most difficult to admit fault…and why?

November Book Club, Chapter Two

The title of this post is not a typo.

The Book Club I joined with began in November, so I’m sticking with that as a name, even if it doesn’t quite fit anymore. Go with me on this, okay?

****

Have you ever had someone else complete your thought? Or maybe someone said the exact thing you had felt but never could articulate? Maybe someone was able to succinctly sum up a series of ideas you had? It is a bizarre feeling, to have the sense that someone tapped into your brainwaves and put them out into the world. When it happens, all at once I can feel elated, overwhelmed, dejected and as if I’ve found a like-minded friend.

  • Elated because finally someone else said what needed to be said. How wonderful to feel like you’ve been heard.
  • Overwhelmed because sometimes that person is able to take your thought to its logical conclusion or application and the implications require a paradigm shift I might not be ready to implement.
  • Dejected because why couldn’t I communicate that complex thought so eloquently?

This has been a year of reading books by brave, creative people who have put into words the stirrings I’ve felt for many years, a discontent with simple answers and an unwillingness to engage with questions.

Peter Enns‘ Telling God’s Story is becoming one of those books.

Yes, I know that I’m only supposed to be writing about the second chapter (which is long overdue by any standard — I was supposed to be doing this through November and here we are in December!) but that doesn’t mean I haven’t read ahead a bit. Even though my reading took a hit in November, this is the one I’m ready to come back to. Like any good book, I’m finding it hard to put this down.

Chapter Two: What the Bible Actually Is (and Isn’t)

The chapter starts with an seemingly simplistic question: what is the Bible? This is followed by a series of other questions: what do we expect to happen when we read it? What is the Bible there for?

The author goes on to ask us to step back from that question which is most often applied to Bible reading: how does this apply to me?

Instead we are asked to look at the Bible with a different question in our minds:

“What do we have the right to expect from God’s word as a book written in an ancient world?”

Enns asks us to consider how Jesus’ existence as a human does not detract from his being the Son of God. He then goes on to assert that the Bible does exactly what God wanted it to do, even using expressions and ideas of the ancient world. The anchoring of the Bible in ancient times does not take away from the inerrancy of it, nor does it keep it from “doing exactly what God wants it to do.”

The Bible is Not an Owner’s Manual

Bummer, huh?

In some ways it would be so easy if the Bible did spell out every little thing for us. Some people believe it does — seriously, there are a lot of people out there who have been taught that the Bible IS an owner’s manual and that on every single thing that we should do or not do, every attitude, every current issue, examples of applicable/transferable rules, attitudes, and lessons can be found.

I tend to lean this way, even though I know there are limits.

Enns suggests that “we need to learn the kinds of issues the Bible addresses so we can learn to ask the questions of the Bible that the Bible is meant to answer.” He then gives us the disappointing news that “what is not being addressed are specifically modern situations.” He says that when we read the New Testament in particular, we see “a portrait being painted for us of what a life in Christ looks like.”

We’re getting near the end of the chapter at this point and Enns uses a personal example to illustrate his statement that “…I want to introduce you to what I think is the single most important biblical concept for living a Christian life, not only today, but during any era: wisdom.” Because the Bible doesn’t say specifically DON’T EVER GO TO ANY R-RATED MOVIES Enns must use wisdom when parenting his son and when deciding what to say when his son asks if he can watch the movie Saving Private Ryan. His answer must be based on wisdom; wisdom from knowing his son, knowing about the movie, knowing Biblical admonishments and exhortations, and wisdom from learning to trust the Holy Spirit’s voice.

This is the paragraph that stood out to me most from the chapter:

…if we learn to hear what the Spirit is saying through these ancient yet transcendent writings, we will see that the Bible is much more than we bargained for. The Bible is not a book primarily devoted to what we should do. Instead it is devoted to telling us who we are and how our behaviors should reflect that reality.

Rather than just having a religion or a faith-by-rote, isn’t it true that we all wish to have a faith that is an identity? I’d want my family to live out our faith in actions, attitudes and self-worth even if we can’t name all the books of the Bible in order.

Some people get so hampered by wanting to do exactly the letter of the law of what they think the Bible spells out that they forget the spirit of the law, the reason guidelines exist and what they were originally put there to accomplish. The result from this is often a rigid, fear based faith that is spindly and brittle. I believe God has something more for us, something much more robust, verdant and lush, filled with joy and courage. I think that’s where Enns is headed in this book, and I’m excited to see where he takes us.

Do you expect to find every answer to every question you have in the Bible? Do you think it is dangerous to consider the idea that every answer might not be there? What expectations do you have of the Bible?

Learning An Unwanted Life Skill

In the past few days, I have nearly stapled by thumb, sliced off the tip of my finger and vegetable peeled a stipe of skin into the potatoes I was preparing.

I find myself staring at nothing, blink and force myself back to reality.

Do you know how it feels to be lonesome? (Explore)

(Explore) (Photo credit: geezaweezer)

Sometimes it feels like I’m wearing noise-blocking headphones.

Sometimes it feels like I’m half asleep.

Either I’m not hungry at all, food doesn’t taste like anything, or I just want ice cream since it is easy and actually has a flavor I can taste.

Sometimes my stomach feels nauseous or like I’m carrying a rock in there.

These are all unpleasant new experiences, things I’d rather avoid.

_____________________________________________

There are sweet people around me who want to help me feel better, who are sincerely sorry that my dad was just diagnosed with cancer and who wish they could do something, anything to make the situation more tolerable.

I haven’t told many people. I don’t know how to tell them, don’t know how to deal with their sympathy.

Before I can tell others, I feel like I have to be ready to allow them to be sad. The problem with that is that I don’t have any help or support to offer them.

Last week a friend of mine left at home her husband, her seven kids, her job working at least 20 hours a week and drove an hour and a half to meet me. She gave up six hours of her Sunday afternoon to help shoulder the diagnosis my family is trying to absorb. This is a gift I don’t know how to repay.

Maybe that’s part of my learning curve, learning how to accept help rather than being the one to offer it.

I have to learn how to respond when people say, “I’m sorry” about my dad’s cancer.

I have to learn that it’s not up to me to live up to anyone else’s expectation of my reaction. If I’m numb, I’m numb. If I’m teary, I’m teary. If the roles were reversed I suppose I would be prepared for any number of reactions. But in my mind I wonder if people wish I would break down and cry so they could feel like they’d helped get something off my chest, like I trusted them enough to bare that part of myself.

It comes down to the fact that I don’t know how to be the recipient of sympathy.

Who wants to learn how to do that? It’s a skill I don’t desire, like learning how to shoe a horse. I’m not interested in being in a situation that would require me to have that knowledge.

However, situations are not always chosen. More frequently they are thrust upon us.

That’s the other thing. I’m worried that it can come across as me making a big deal out of something small, or milking a situation for personal gain (although I’m not sure what I would gain by my dad being sick). I’d rather not have to admit I can’t help with that thing, or that I’m too unsure of my ability to compartmentalize that I can’t trust myself doing that event because I get choked up at the most inopportune times.

Maybe as time passes and we’re further away from the initial diagnosis this will get better. Maybe it will become the new reality rather than feeling like a bad dream that we’ll wake up from. Things will start being more manageable, they’ll feel like less effort.

Until then, I’m stuck in a class I hate learning something I don’t even want to know.

Do you have any websites or blogs that can offer some perspective or tips on how to learn this life skill? Have you ever dealt with illness and do you have any helpful suggestions for how to get through it?


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