Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Stuff Gold Medals are Made Of

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Image courtesy of CNN
"We dream of using extravagant wealth to do extravagant good . . . 
[because] it feels like those extravagant deeds count for more.
So many of our good deeds are so small.
They seem paltry.

Instead of handing over the keys to a brand new car,
we hand over a slightly over-cooked casserole.

Instead of funding an extreme makeover for that person's home,
we show up on Saturday morning to help apply a new coat of paint.

Instead of giving them a check to pay off their mortgage,
we give them a few hours of our time to listen and counsel.

Instead of funding a wonderful vacation,
we take their children for a couple of hours so they can escape for a date.

It is hardly the stuff dreams are made of. . . "

Challies' whole piece left me nostalgic as I thought about friend after friend who sacrificed their time, energy, and time spent with their family to come meet our family's desperate needs amidst our crisis more than seven years ago.

Their great sacrifices were seen by no other eyes but ours. 

There was no big stage, no grand audience, not even any applause.
And it was far from glamorous.
All I could offer was a genuine thank you from the bottom of the heart of a desperate girl with an ash grey countenance whose body tied her to the couch.

The piece came to me in a timing that was a bit poetic as I was in a minor set back that left me limited and unable to drive. So once again, my husband and dad were filling in my road gaps.

Little did I know that within 24 hours of that grateful reminiscing about God's countless provisions during those arduous days that our family would find ourselves right back in them.

Because alas, last Sunday morning, my system once again went into hyper drive, I was physically fading, and needing to ask friends to come at the drop of a hat because my husband was out of town. My husband flew across the country on Monday to get home as soon as he could, and pushed me in a wheelchair into my doctor's office on Tuesday.

And so here we are in crisis mode.
Round 2.

We'd been watching the winter Olympics since it began. Our son's been really geared up for it, so we've DVRed every broadcast and watched it over dinner. We don't usually do a lot of TV in our house, but these are the Olympics.
Athletes demonstrating tremendous virtues worth aspiring to -- hard work, dedication, sacrifice, winning, losing.

After being bed ridden for six days now, I was finally able to manage going to the couch to watch the Olympics together as a family again for a bit.  Our son has been wide eyed through this whole thing. And for good cause. Extraordinary athlete after extraordinary athlete performing feats of skill far beyond what our eyes are used to seeing. Like Simen Hegstad Krueger from Norway. What a story.

I find it quite fitting that I am down for the count right in the middle of the Olympics. Because the other night, our son was starting to go down the path of figuring out how to get from point A in the present to point B, the Olympics.

And I shared with him that we have been watching sisters in Christ get gold medals right before our eyes all week. 
Like Thori, who came at the drop of a hat to help me when I was fading. And came again late that night after work to spend the night at our house, getting a crummy 5 hours of sleep --  interrupted at that.  
And like Buffy, who also came at the drop of a hat to make herself at home in our kitchen and do things I couldn't do. And then take me to my doctor's for an IV the following day, coordinating rides for me, her kids, and my kid in the process.  
And April -- the woman just had a baby three weeks ago! Yet she came to my aid with basically no notice, let me hand her a recipe, and went to town in my kitchen. And then stayed with me late into the night until the next shift came.
And him, too! I wouldn't be able to count the amount of laps my son walked around our house on Sunday, in particular. My needs were constant, and so was his love and compassion.

All four of them literally waited on me hand and foot those 48 hours (and then some since!) until my husband returned back to the east coast -- walking me to the restroom, getting me my food and water, doing all those seemingly ordinary things we all take for granted every day.

But they weren't ordinary to me.

This is the stuff gold medals are made of, folks. This is precisely what Challies' article is saying and I can't amen loudly enough. "The ministry of burden-bearing," he calls it, "will earn you very few accolades. It will gain you very few awards. . . But every bit of it will matter . . . and bring glory to God.
So look for those who are burdened. Develop the habit and the skill of spotting those burdens, and determine that you will meet them, one casserole or one hug or one visit or one prayer at a time."

Challies says that "the majority of what you do will be unnoticed by other and forgotten even by those who benefit most." And I agree with him on the first part, but I gotta tell ya --
seven and a half years later, there is a long, LONG list of faces and names and the sacrificial gifts of time and service they gave our family that I still remember clear as day.

And I know that's not what matters most. But I share that to tell you just how deeply those simple acts of service land in the hearts of a family experiencing suffering.

So to all those who helped our family seven and a half years ago, and to my faithful few who have lent a gigantic hand and then some this time around (which you better believe includes my amazing husband and son!),
thank you for your gold medal giving.

For demonstrating those tremendous virtues worth aspiring to -- right here in our humble home.
May the blessing return to you and your families a hundred fold.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Story of Hard Trust

7 months. That’s how much time I had to decide, to see which way my body would take me, for better or for worse. 7 months to see what God might do. Because that was the only way it was gonna happen.
What would have historically been a no brainer for me was an incredibly weighty decision in present circumstances. My niece was getting married, and to be there for the wedding, I’d have to travel. Which is where the weight came in.
Travel used to be a hobby, a joy. A delight-filled experience my husband and I enjoyed with each other and with close friends. But since the onset of my health problems, it has become an obstacle – either inhibiting me from partaking by staying home, or inhibiting me from functioning when I’ve gone. The prospect of travel used to be filled with fun and excitement. But lately, it’s become a bitter choice of choosing one hard loss over another.
We received the exciting news from my niece in October, just a week before my husband and I went away for our anniversary. He and I just went down the road for our get away, and even though I crawled in bed at my usual time, I couldn’t fall asleep until 5am . . .

My mind wasn’t racing. There wasn’t any caffeine or sugar to blame. And I didn’t feel stressed. And that’s how it’s always gone the past 7 years when I travel. For some unknown reason, my cortisol goes into high emergency mode the first night away (without offering me any notice except the memory of history repeating itself in previous travels).
And it takes a long time for my cortisol to return to normal. So naturally, those sleepless nights combined with the long process of recovery take a significant toll on my ability to function for a while. When we went away as a family last May, I paid for it the entire summer.
With my niece’s wedding a May occasion, I felt like I was looking at the same prospect all over again. Do I go to the wedding and risk being somewhat out of commission as a mom all summer like last year? Or do I play it safe and miss being a part of one of the most monumental days in my niece’s life?
As the wedding approached, my body hadn't given me any help in the decision. No clues for better or for worse, and certainly no writing in the sky. My son helped me get over the hump when he reminded me that “she only gets married once . . . ” So I decided to trust, come what may. At least in my head. But whew, was it ever a big one to trust Him with. A really big one.
We hit the road, and my trust muscle was feeling awfully stiff. Minutes later, Hold me Jesus came on the radio, and the floodgates of tears let loose. Tears of hard trust, tears of wanting to let go and surrender to His loving care come what may. Essentially, the lyrics rising up to Heaven as a prayer through the tears that were flowing down:

". . . when the mountains look so big
and my faith just seems so small.
So hold me Jesus,
'cause I'm shakin' like a leaf.
You have been king of my glory,
won't you be my Prince of peace"

And He most certainly was . . .

My writing in the sky during our drive north: God always keeps His promises.
I had a very difficult night that first night, but it was NOT sleepless! (BIG difference when it comes to functioning and recovery.) I had a ton of people praying for me, and I am over-the-moon grateful that God said yes! That was by far the best trip I’ve had since the onset of my health problems. It genuinely felt too good to be true.

Rather than spend all day in bed our first day there (like usual), I got to spend time with my sister and part of her family whom I haven't seen in 5 1/2 YEARS! Such a milestone, such a high.

And rather than receive pictures from my husband from this grand occasion, I was PRESENT!

My view! In person!!

Here I raise my Ebenezer,
Here there by Thy great help I've come . . .

My adorable flower girl turned beautiful bride

I know there are many of you out there who have been praying for change in one way, shape, or form or another. And I know it can be scary to hope. It's easier to slide into protecting our hearts from yet another disappointment. Yet this trip reminded me in a very tangible and very personal way that God still moves mountains. And so even when it is to-the-core hard to trust Him with your desires, trust Him anyway, friend. Trust Him anyway.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Want to Help Your Sick Friend but Don’t Know How? DO THIS!

And THAT, my friend, is what it looks like to love on a friend or relative (or wife!) with chronic illness. That picture right there. I know it’s hard to get past the adorableness of it to have your attention for any type of explanation, and I’m totally distracted WITH you. But let me try to steal your eyes away for just a minute (meanwhile mine admittedly remain fixated on the ones in the front right).
We’ll be joyfully distracted together.

You see, this picture (providentially) came when I was incredibly heartbroken. Because I had just discovered that I was going to fully miss out on a monumental event.
Yet again.

Let me back it up a bit for you to give you a little context.

Since my health crashed six years ago, missing out has unfortunately become a way of life to somewhat varying degrees. Some years more than others and praise God this year hasn’t been one of the “more” years. But one of the hardest parts about chronic illness is that you can’t do everything you want to do. Sometimes you can’t do ANYthing you want to do.
And painfully, that includes relationally.

When my husband and I were first married, travel was a way of life.
We traveled to see family in NJ, friends in Chicago, friends in Florida and Washington state, family in PA and VA, traveled to friends' weddings in Ohio & Iowa, you name it. There are some incredible people in those places, and it was always a joy for us to go the distance to spend time with them.

That way of life unfortunately came to a complete halt six years ago.
For me entirely, and largely for my husband as well. It felt like one of our greatest joys in life, being with our friends and family, got swept out from under us.
And that’s been incredibly painful.

The loss hasn’t only been felt at great distances.
The same togetherness loss has been felt on the home front even more. When our son started Kindergarten right before I crashed, I assumed I’d be going on all the fun field trips. And be there for all the special programs, competitions, family pumpkin picking. You know, all the usual mom stuff.

My assumption was wrong.

I’ve missed out on a lot as a mom.
And wife.
And friend,
church member.
I’ve wrestled hard with feeling like a crummy friend and family member.

Last year, for example, our niece was graduating from college in PA. First time for us to have a niece or nephew graduate college. Oh, how I wanted to be there. To join in on the party, hand her our gift in person, give our sweet flower girl a big hug of congratulations.
Fortunately, at least there’s technology.

Through tears of nostalgia, I hooted and hollered in my family room as I watched across the miles, and even snagged this great shot thanks to my virtual front row view.

A similar scene occurred last weekend when our nephew graduated from JMU in VA, which meant both a university ceremony plus individual ceremonies for each of the colleges of study. Fortunately, at least my husband was able to go to this one. I’m so glad.

Like with our niece’s graduation, I watched the first ceremony by live stream, heart swelling with pride and nostalgia. (I’m a total sap with a capital S.) The following morning, I rushed to get ready and be in front of the screen by the start of the second ceremony. Yet it wasn’t coming on. After fussing with it for the first five minutes of the ceremony, I discovered that one wasn’t going to be live streamed.
My heart sank lower than low.

This was the ceremony where he would be giving his speech as valedictorian of the entire graduating class!

This was the one where he would be leading the entire processional carrying the large regal performing arts banner. The only banner!

This was a once-in-a-lifetime moment in his life, and I wasn’t going to be a part of it even virtually.

I hopped over to my e-mail, and had a new message from my husband.
This picture is all it said. 

Exactly what I needed.
My sweet family on the way to the ceremony.
He even sent me a picture of my sister’s van in view in front of them, the van of honor with my sister, the graduate, and the rest of the family.
Suddenly, I felt somewhat present again, even in my absence. 

Shortly thereafter, I received a text from my sister (in the back seat above). I told her my heart-breaking discovery, and suddenly my little flip phone started beeping with non-stop messages like a relentless alarm clock.
Blow by blows of what was happening when.
Who was speaking,
when our nephew was recognized,
dictation from the main speaker,
practically notes on when anyone moved or breathed. 

I LOVED it. 

I was desperate to somehow be a part of this experience,
and her texts were a lifeline.

Meanwhile, my husband continued to e-mail me pictures. And I didn’t even care what he captured. Because even his random candids of my bro-in-law setting up his camera and my mom looking at her phone were exactly what I needed to transport me there.

So lean in close as I let you in on a little secret. 
As you think about your friend with chronic illness, or even an elderly relative who’s largely home-bound, want to know the best and easiest way to make a gigantic difference in their life when they’re missing out on a special event? Gigantic?

Take them with you.

Real Time!

Take them with you! 

By camera, by phone, by text. However!

Give them an opportunity to taste the sweetness of the occasion real time by including them on the experience.

All these and more (much more!) were pictures my husband sent me real time during our nephew's graduation. And these graduations, of course, aren't about me. Yet my family found ways to take me along. And each contact made -- each text, each picture, each call -- was a sacred gift they placed in my heart.
Real time. Real easy.

One final thought.
A super fun way to pull it off? 

Let ‘em eavesdrop! 

That’s right. Dial them in and put them on mute!
My always-thoughtful mom did this for my other sister one time. My sister's son was having a concert but my sister’s chronic illness kept her home. So when my folks went to the concert, my mom pulled out her cell phone and dialed my sister so she could listen in. It was second-hand audio, so I'm sure it was low quality. My mom knew that didn't matter. She knew it would be the most beautiful music to my sister’s longing ears. 

It’s really that simple. And I can tell you from the receiving end,
it is really that profound of a gift.

So please, think about some special occasions coming up. 
Who might you take along real time? 

Congratulations again, Abigail and Ryan.
Your Proud Aunt Tanya

Thursday, March 31, 2016

I matter.

One word. That's all it took.
All it took to reach a deep and distant need I didn't even know I had. One two-syllable word to sooth a throbbing place in my soul.

If words are ever music to the ears then this was a symphony. A long and pleasing ballad played by an exquisite hundred-piece orchestra in the round. My heart seated right in the center, embracing all the depth and richness of a myriad of notes all infused into two simple syllables. The healing word he spoke?
Simply, my first name.

Called across a crowd.
Called out, despite my back to him.

I was walking down the row to make my way out of the worship center, so he had to call out to me if he wanted to speak with me. And he did. He could have dismissed it, but apparently it was important enough for him to pursue.
I was important enough.

With an about face I was greeted by the warm smile of an old friend. Yep, that old Young Marrieds class strikes again. We'd started that class with good friends many years ago, with hearts anxious to serve, anxious to encourage, and anxious to provide a nourishing place for these couples to call home during their new season of life. 13 years later that's exactly what God is offering MY heart through many of them.

He called out to me because he wanted to celebrate with me. Apparently, every time he and his wife see me in church, they are so encouraged with and for us. Six years since my initial health crash and they still recognize that it remains a monumental victory for me to be at church on a Sunday morning. Life moves pretty quickly and people lose track, but somehow they've remained in tune with our ongoing reality.

Which is pretty amazing in and of itself because how DO you stay in tune when you only see somebody sporadically at best, let alone rarely have a conversation opportunity to stay current?

You guys, it felt like somebody had just drenched refreshing, cool water on my parched and weary soul living in a hot, dry desert. Drenched. You know, like when NFL players pour the drink cooler over the coach in celebration of victory. That drenched.

The part that soaked me most was simply when he initially called out to me from across the aisles. It's been so long since another adult called out my name to get my attention that I can't even recall the last time it happened. I hear my name, Mommy, called out plenty. Sacred music to my ears.
But Tanya? No, that's not one I hear.

Amidst a long season of feeling isolated from our church family, and therefore, wrestling with my value in the Body of Christ, this friend's simple choice to reach out to me that Sunday morning was a profound gift from God.

And God's a generous God, isn't He?

Because after our church's Christmas program days later, I was talking to somebody in the lobby and heard my name again! A friend actually came back in specifically to seek me out and hug me. (Me!!)
Christmas hadn't even arrived, and my heart was tearin' into the presents like no tomorrow.

A month or two prior, a different friend made her way across the worship center to say hi and catch up. You guys (yes, I'm from Chicago), that may sound like an incredibly ordinary scene and sentence:
"My friend made her way across the worship center to say hi and catch up."

Likely doesn't sound terribly significant, does it? I understand. So here's a little excerpt from Accepting the Sidelines to give you some context:
Whenever you haven’t seen somebody for a considerably long time, there’s an enthusiastic reunion, right? And the typical catch-up questions come naturally. Then on the opposite side of the spectrum, when you see somebody frequently, like every Sunday morning, you get to go beyond those surface questions to dig into the day-to-day grind, and walk through life with them.

But my husband and I, we’re in this awkward frequency of the in between.
We’re not seeing these folks regularly. But it’s not like it’s been 5-10 years since we’ve seen them, either.

It's awkward for most. Understandably. Yet those friends I just mentioned?
They came

And THAT's what's significant.
Their genuine interest in our friendship prevented awkward from cultivating, which let love grow instead of distance.

Remember the women's gathering I told you about recently? Boy was that night ever tangible evidence that joy and sorrow aren't mutually exclusive. Because while it ended on a sobering note, it began with much sweet celebration in my soul.

When I arrived and entered the room, I spotted another old friend from that Young Marrieds class. She was in the middle of a conversation, but her eyes about popped out of her head when she saw me. In other words, she got it. She got that it was a big deal for me to show up.

Shortly after bumping into her, another dear friend had the same reaction, only add to it her hands over her mouth in shock. (Truly, I wish I could share the awesome picture of her in my mind. Hands over her mouth and all. The cutie above's the best I could do.)
Between the two of them, I felt like a celebrity. I really did.

And it's not about feeling like a celebrity, of course. But let me tell ya, where there is pain and isolation and doubts about your value, there is great need for healing and grace. Lots of it. The Lord blessed me with both that evening. And each of the other times the other friends called out to me.

It was as if the Lord was saying through Bob when he called out to me across the church aisles,
"Tanya, you still matter here."

As if He were saying through Sandy when she made her way over to me that Sunday morning,
"Tanya, you don't have to contribute to be enjoyed."

And saying through Shannon over Christmastime,
"Tanya, Who I am IN you is ministry. You DO minister."

And through Kristen's wide eyes,
"Don't ever minimize 'simply' showing up, Tanya. It is NOT trivial for your journey. Your presence alone is enough."

And through Melissa's hand over gaping mouth, I believe He wanted me to hear,
"THIS, Child. This is how beyond delighted I am every. single. time. you draw near."

Each a gift I unwrapped from the Lord, reminding me that I am still consequential,
That I still matter at church,
That although we have not been involved,
we also have not been forgotten.

We are still valued,
still loved.
And even celebrated!

Healing salve for my soul.

Monday, February 15, 2016

When Healing Hurts

Her words of kindness, they cut like a knife.
Pain has a way of taking your heart to peculiar places like that.

They’d passed a pad of paper around the table, and when it came to me, I read the headings at the top of each column I was supposed to fill in:
Name. E-mail address. Small Group.

Sounds like a simple sign in. But that last column, it came as a punch in the gut. It’s so loaded for me. Because we’re not in a small group, and we long to be a part of one again like we used to be, but we can’t right now. Haven’t been able to for six years. Six years . . . And we feel the loss. We grieve it deeply, as I shared in Accepting the Sidelines.

I’ll spare you the details except to say that since my health crash, simple things have become monumental achievements for me, including going to church. In fact, at a dentist appointment last month, I needed the hygienist to help me simply walk down the hall. My body’s not what it used to be. And sadly, neither is our church involvement.

Seeing the list of every name with a small group home for their heart listed, I deliberated as to what to write. Nope, not N/A. And no, I didn’t want to leave it blank. So I wrote my honest answer just like everybody else did. Only mine looked quite different:
Can’t wait to be able to be a part of one again!

We continued to hear the hearts of the women from the panel, and attempted to make our way around the table to share our own stories. We listened, we encouraged, we, uh, accidentally started a fire when a piece of paper got too close to the tea light so our quick-on-her-feet table hostess quickly put it out while our table disrupted those around us with all our loud snickering from the corner of the room.

[Note: Peaceful picture above pre-pyromania]

It’s the stuff memories are made of. I only spent two hours with these women, but I felt as if we’d been hangin’ out together for a long, long time. There was just something about that table in the corner.

Shortly thereafter, the evening came to a close. And the sweetest table hostess you’ll ever meet offered me a brochure listing all our church’s small groups. Assuming she offered it in response to my sign-in comment, she was likely confused when I declined, but I told her I knew all the info was online, and that I had an invisible illness that limited me. Not always my favorite ice-breaker when meeting new people, but my strange reality is that it's not a lack of information that stands between me and a small group.

Amidst all the dismissal activity, a sweet new gal two seats down likely didn’t hear my response because she followed up by sharing which small group she’s a part of and how much she loves it. (The friend sitting between the two of us had been in that young marrieds group we led a while ago, so she was the only one at the table familiar with our family’s journey.) I turned to the new gal and replied,
“We LOVE small groups. But we don’t have one.
Because I have illness instead.”

I turned to my friend next to me, said how much we’ve missed it, and unexpectedly, the flood gates of tears opened and opened wide. And let me tell ya, they weren’t closin’ anytime soon.

A thoughtful invitation to be part of community unearthed my deep pain of not having been able to be a part of one for a long, long time. So there I sat, a sobbing mess in my friend’s arm while everybody got their coats on and exchanged pleasant good-byes.

This friend, she wasn’t intimidated by my pain. Her tender heart spoke words of comfort and words of hope into my hurting soul. The freedom she offered me to freely grieve was a rare gift. Thank You, God. For Your hands and feet through her.

Truth be told, amidst the pain, there was likely a heaping portion of pride in the mix as well. Because I wrestle constantly with thinking that my value is in what I do, rather than in Who He is in me. And that includes my part in the body of Christ. So since I’m not able to be involved in formalized ministry, I constantly battle voices that question my worth – because I’m not contributing. I may be a leg in the body of Christ, but I feel like a broken one that’s not doing its part. I get loving Jesus mixed up with performance so easily and so often.

And small groups that meet on Sunday mornings? Well I’ve been going to Sunday School since before I was born, so to have somebody “reach out to me,” well, my pride felt on the wrong end of that conversation. I’m used to being the reacher outer, not the one being reached out to. So I felt misunderstood. Because deep down, I wanted to be thought of more highly. I want to be perceived as the active, valuable member of the Body, not the uninvolved one who needs reaching out to. I guess not all that different from wanting to be one of the cool kids in school, huh?

It’s a humbling journey these nuances of chronic, invisible illness. Quite an awakening to all that lurks in the heart. And I wrestled with whether or not to even publicize this pain. Reliving the pain by getting it on paper made for another difficult day emotionally, and it left me asking, “What’s the point? Why not just talk about the good stuff? The joy?”
I was tempted, yet again, to stuff.

Then I went back and read the comments on Accepting the Sidelines. And I rediscovered several comments from folks saying I was describing their struggle, that they were facing the same pain. I remembered my mission here, and realized I needed to write it for them. For Tina, for Lizzy, for the rest of you who are facing the same painful isolation. This piece is for you – to remind you that there is somebody out there who truly understands. Who cares. And who feels your pain with you.
You are not alone, my fellow sojourners. You are not alone.

The other reason I struggled with whether or not to share this was because I’m concerned about the prospect of those sweet new friends stumbling across this piece and feeling badly when they have nothing to feel badly about, nothing they did wrong.

What those two precious souls don’t know is that the Lord has been lovingly leading me along a journey the past couple months as it relates to my pain on the sidelines of church. I’ve discovered that during this long journey, I’ve primarily been stuffing my pain the entire time with the intent of protecting my beloved church family. Or rather, protecting myself. Protecting myself from the relational temptations that can accompany pain. In other words, I love my church family far too much to open a door to a temptation to be bitter, and so I’ve pretty much closed the door to my feelings in that arena of life.

Not necessarily the best way to manage pain. So God’s giving me permission. Permission to acknowledge my pain in that context even though it doesn’t feel pretty or churchy or appropriate. The freedom to grieve our relational losses because I’m (finally!) learning that it’s healthier even to grieve than to stuff.

Our pastor reminded us just yesterday morning that Jesus has the authority to change our identity, and I believe that’s exactly what He’s doing in my emotional being these days. I believe He’s changing my identity from that of a stuffer to that of one who lets her heart feel, who lets her heart beat. Because even in the painful feelings like grief and loss, it’s in our allowing ourselves to feel that keeps our feelings alive, keeps our souls alive.

There's a strange sense of encouragement hidden in my grieving the other night. Evidence of emotional health and healing. That night, God offered me the opportunity to tell my heart to beat again.
With heavy tears, I said yes. 

Image complements of
Women of Providence Baptist Church
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