Thursday, December 29, 2011

11 Lessons from 2011~

I'm wrapping up more than a week of being off from work, of not setting an alarm each morning, and staying in my bathrobe until who knows when. The time has been enjoyable, restful, and much needed. The days have been filled with lots of rest, good food, time with friends and family (my dad was even in town last weekend!), and catching up on some quality reading and crocheting.
With all the extra time afforded me this week, I've thought much about what all has happened over the course of the year. How will I label or define 2011 in the years to come? What has marked this past year, and what do I see when I look back? Do I praise the Lord and see evidence of, "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope..." (Jer. 29:11)?
As I reflected on these questions, I came up with this "11 from 11" list, a list of lessons learned over the past twelve months:


1. I have so much more than I deserve, and so much more than I acknowledge.
2. With each passing year, I am increasingly more aware of the Lord's grace and care for me through my husband.
3. Value the friendships you have; don't force those that simply are not going to happen (or have had their season).
4. The fear of disappointment can be utterly crippling.
5. I am not in control, from the minutest of details to significant, life-altering events.
6. I long for somewhere to call "home," and yet, wherever I am with my husband is home.
7. Opportunities for counseling may be scarce, but my desire has not diminished.
8. Reading books, both fiction and not, is good for the soul.
9. My tendency is to want my 20s over and done with, but the reality of 30 drawing near is a bit overwhelming.
10. When you think you are dependent on the Lord, He reveals to you just how much you are still relying on yourself.
11. 'The Lord is my portion', says my soul, 'therefore I will hope in Him.' (Lamentations 3:24)


The Lord is good, the Lord is faithful, the Lord is our Provider and Sustainer. I'm eager for what lies ahead as we close this chapter and turn the page to a new year.

Now it's your turn: what have you learned over the course of 2011?

Friday, December 09, 2011

Favorite Photo(s) Friday ~ The Holidays at Our House

I'm not the only one who gets giddy this time of year ~ The minute that familiar green bin is pulled down from the closet (and believe me, they remember!), and I pull the lid off to start unpacking ornaments and Christmas decor galore, these girls start prancing around with an extra skip in their step. They really are the cutest dogs in the world, aren't they? (As I type, Big Dog is sacked out with half her body under the tree.)

This was the year to finally purchase a new tree! After six years of dreading the pitiful tree I had before, sifting through the color-coded branches and hoping those branches didn't fall off while tediously stringing lights around, it was time to invest in bigger and better. I adore the new tree - pre-lit, pinecones, and snow-tipped branches~

A little tradition we've kept up is purchasing a new ornament each year~

I'm not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way I began hoarding snowmen. Can you blame me? Look at this fun guy!

My dear, cherished Christmas village. The decor in our home is not complete without setting it out, and having it on display always reminds me of family~

Although simple, our Christmas decor always puts a smile on my face and makes my heart happy. "Oh, there's no place like home for the holidays..."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

1,000 Gifts~

Is Thanksgiving merely one holiday out of the year...or is thanksgiving an indicator of how we live?

Thus the reason why I have launched into this experiment of keeping a thanksgiving journal.

The select few people who know me well, on an extremely intimate and kindred level, know that my general perspective on life can lean towards being rather glum. While I kid that I'm a "glass half-empty" kinda girl...there's more to that than I am often willing and ready to confront. The fact of the matter is, I can be quite overcome with all that is wrong in the world, all that is wrong in relationships, all the things I think should be in my life yet seem to be missing. The effects of this can be downright paralyzing at times. Just this weekend, I was so overcome and so down that I wasn't even up for attending our small group gathering (if you are reading this and part of our small group, I hope you won't take offense). I have come to know this more and more about myself, and my hope is that this will be an opportunity for emptying myself before God, for a complete shift in focus where I have failed to see His continual work and outpouring of grace in my life.

While in the aforementioned slump last week and into this previous weekend, one of those "kindred-level" friends suggested a book to me. My natural tendency would be to add the title to my ever-growing list of books that I have every intention of reading...someday. But for whatever reason, I got in my car the very next day during lunch, and purchased the book from the nearest bookstore. I won't give away the title just yet as I'm still working through it, taking my time to really reflect on what the author is conveying. I would summarize the premise of the book by something she recently posted on her own blog: "No one receives the peace of God without giving thanks to God." often do we emotionally, and in our daily practical living, attempt to switch the order around? How often do I spin my wheels, looking around at the world, striving after peace as if striving after wind, and all the while failing to the acknowledge the One who has given everything--and given gladly and freely?

I know that I am in desperate need of a focus shift, a significant change in perspective, and that kind of transformation can only happen by way of God's grace penetrating the very core of who I am. He has proven faithful time and again, and promises to complete the good work He has begun (Philippians 1:6). As a very practical means of working toward a perspective shift, I have opted to put an exquisite, handmade journal to good use. My youth pastor made the journal for me (and one for my husband as well) as a graduation gift two years ago. Since his wife is the one who recommended the book on thanksgiving in the first place, I thought it rather appropriate to use the journal he made for this purpose. The journal is small enough to carry with me, so that I can have it nearby to pull out at a moment's notice; very practically speaking, it helps to have something easy to tuck away so that it's always nearby.

Seeing as this is the night before the holiday, I thought it an appropriate time to begin my thanksgiving journal (and to finally respond to the conviction that had been weighing on me). To give you a small taste of how both minute and grandiose the notes of thanks can be, my first day's thanks includes gratitude for a roof over my head, two four-legged friends, a sparkly Christmas tree, and eating graham crackers with my husband.

If you are someone who struggles with a perspective like mine, one so often marked by a lack of real gratitude, may this be of encouragement to you for adopting a similar habit. Here's another snippet from the author's blog:
"The life that counts blessings discovers it's yielding more than it seems."

Friday, October 28, 2011

Favorite Photo(s) Friday ~ Nali's 8th Birthday

“Through my relationship with [my dog] I’ve come to see my relationship with God in a new way. At this point, non-dog-lovers may be rolling their eyes. But stay with me a moment. Scripture makes it clear that God’s creation helps explain who God is.… Is it surprising that God would choose to teach me about Himself through a dog? God the Creator chooses to reveal Himself – to show who He is, what He is like – through what He has made. In fact, His choice to teach me about Himself through a dog manifests the specificity of His love for me. He knew exactly how to reach me and did so lovingly.” ~R. McRae

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Where I'll Be This Weekend~

Thanks to an anonymous donation by a dear soul at our church, and to my husband who has graciously agreed to part with me for the majority of the weekend, I am pumped to be attending the national conference for the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation! (And I'm grateful that the conference is being held here in the 'Ville to save the stress of travel and lodging expenses!)
Beginning tomorrow morning, the sessions/topics are as follows:

~Making Sense of Complex Problems - David Powlison
~What is Going on Inside? Understanding the Human Experience - Ed Welch
~What's in a Name? Understand Labels and Diagnoses - Mike Emlet
~Psychiatric Disorders in Children - Julie Lowe
~What You Can Do to Help - Ed Welch

~Understanding Depression: Weakness, Willfullness, or Wisdom? - Eric Johnson
~Pastoral Care for Fearful, Needy People - Tim Lane
~Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall: Body Image Distortions - David Powlison & Julie Lowe

~Listening to Prozac? Understand Psychiatric Treatments - Mike Emlet
~The Local Church: A Safe Place to Struggle? - Tim Lane

May I learn much, receiving both insight and encouragement, from men and women who display such godly wisdom. The leaders at the conference are ones committed to teaching, writing, and counseling in their local churches. Now that I have been out of the counseling program for almost two years, not only will it be good to see professors whose classes I took at Southern, but to learn from those whose books and articles I have gleaned so much wisdom from. It will certainly be a jam-packed weekend, but I'm so thrilled to be going!

(Photo courtesy of CCEF)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

On the Bedside Table~

Do you have favorite spots in your house? Spots where you sit that evoke certain emotions or tasks? The chair closest to the window where you sip coffee and welcome in the morning sun? The corner of the couch where you read or watch a movie in the evenings, complete with your favorite soft blanket and the dog curled up at your feet? A place designated as your spot for journaling, reflection, reading Scripture? Well, I have such spots in our modest townhome. When you give certain rooms their own distinct purpose/personality, it makes the place feel more like home. Whether you're in the same house for thirty years, or in a transitional apartment for a matter of months, anywhere you are can feel like home. That has been one of my intentions during this season. For however much longer we are here, I want this townhome to be a place of comfort and rest. I want this place to feel like our home.
I have my favorite spot on the couch where I drink my morning coffee, bleary-eyed as I catch up on the morning news show. I have a spot just two feet away in the corner of the other couch where I crochet by lamplight (usually watching my favorite chic flick while I work the hook). The dining room table sometimes serves as my craft table, and I love it most when there is an abundance of sunshine and I can open the blinds. Something about the warmth of the sun pouring in through the window makes my soul happy. When I think of a place to read, to write, to pray and reflect, there is no other place I would rather be than upstairs in our bed. Since I was a young girl, my bedroom was a place of respite away from people and noise, a quiet haven with no distractions around. I've carried that into adulthood, and still savor the late-night hours as my time to spend with the Lord, studying, reading or writing.
In these years following seminary (it's still strange to me that I can measure the time in years now), that desire in me to always be a student has been renewed. Not only do I want to continue learning, but I want to take full advantage of the time I have been afforded to soak up and reflect on all I am learning and reading. I'm still working on renewing the discipline of journaling (and I am a believer that it is a discipline - a good discipline, but a discipline nonetheless), but I think that will come with more time and commitment. I have always been a voracious reader and writer, and I am thankful for the opportunity to dive back into all of that. Seminary certainly taught me that just because you are reading ten books at one time by no means ensures that your heart and mind are taking it all in. I have almost had to re-learn how to read for personal challenge and edification. Another benefit of now being out of the seminary context is that I am no longer pressured to read something to have it completed by a certain due date. While it would have been wonderful to glean encouragement and thorough instruction from all of the fantastic books I was tasked with reading for my masters degree, it just was not possible on most occasions.
Some people read one book at a time, while others read several spread out over a longer span. I have adopted a method of reading that allows for a variety of genres, but not one that is overwhelming. I make room for always reading something in three main categories: fiction, instruction/teaching, and reflection/devotion. All three are good for the soul, and having something to read in these areas is more important than the number of books I am reading. (I gave up being concerned with the number awhile ago, after I realized I was more focused on marking things off a list than gleaning anything of real value from what I was reading.) Having those three areas represented gives me more freedom to read just one book, or four, all depending on what I feel I am needing (or lacking) during a particular day or week. With that said, here are the books currently taking up residence on my bedside table:

Foundations for Soul Care: A Christian Psychology Proposal ~ Dr. Eric L. Johnson
I hold a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling. The Christian psychology school of thought has some overlaps to that of biblical counseling, and Southern has professors who hold to both views. While studying, I was surrounded by students and faculty alike who strongly encouraged the biblical counseling method, yet I am now in a local church where Christian psychology is the more widely held perspective. I find it important familiarize myself with Christian psychology, not only as a challenge, but as a means of knowing the different views more thoroughly, knowing where they both differ and overlap, and to be better equipped in engaging others in conversation.

Emma ~ Jane Austen
Oh, Jane Austen, how do I love thee! One of these days I will be able to articulate why Jane Austen, and authors of similar style, are good for a woman's soul. More broadly speaking, fiction is good for the soul, expanding not only our imaginations, but broadening our minds to the beauty and glory of God. In very particular ways, authors of fiction reveal to us the dynamics of relationships, allow us to see life through the eyes of different characters, and expand our perspective on nobility, honor, family, and beauty. Novels can be an effective and unique means of pointing us to right versus wrong, displaying how good ultimately prevails over evil. The magic and wonder of fiction is welcomed into my heart and mind as it points me to the Creator of all things good and beautiful in this world.

A Severe Mercy - With 18 Letters by C.S. Lewis ~ Sheldon Vanauken
We have so very much to learn from the lives of others. Whether written from a personal account, or by an author who has done ample research for a biographical piece, I firmly believe that we have so much to learn from those who have gone before us. This is a book I have been eyeing on our bookshelf for a few years now. Vanauken knew C.S. Lewis personally, and the two gentlemen communicated during what was perhaps the darkest season in both of their lives. Both men knew true conversion, pierced by the irresistible grace of the Savior. Both also knew the great loss of their wives, women who embodied such joy in their life journeys. Reading of the life and loss, joy and tragedy, of others is a crucial reminder that "hope is the constant companion of perseverance" (E. Welch).

Depression: A Stubborn Darkness--A Light for the Path ~ Edward T. Welch
"Hope is the constant companion of perseverance." We were assigned this book to read during one of my courses at Southern, and I wanted to read back through it for personal reflection. At some point in life, every Christian will struggle with one form or another of depression. Whether from great suffering or loss, difficulty coping with an event or season in life, struggling for faith during a time of uncertainty or confusion, the struggle with depression is almost assuredly inevitable. If it weren't so, I don't think we would have so many psalms and passages of lament in Scripture. How often do we read of David asking the Lord to cleanse and examine his heart? Can we fathom those moments when Job cried out after everything was removed from his life, and in all of his questioning never sinned? What is good for us is to acknowledge that the struggle will come; doubt, confusion, anxiety, and fear will rear their ugly heads. Where will we turn when there is no end in sight, when we find ourselves in the valley of shadow? Welch first establishes that there are many causes of depression, one of which can be related to real medical issues. Once he has established that, he then devotes the rest of the book to what we would consider spiritual depression. He deals with both the internal and external factors that can cause us to find ourselves in this very real battle for the soul.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

Friday, October 07, 2011

Back to Posting After a Brief Hiatus~

I know plenty of others who have faced the "What do I write about after a long hiatus?" ordeal when returning to their blogs after time away. And that is where you find me today - wondering what to write about since my last post three months ago. A dear friend (and a clever one at that!) asked where I had run off to since my last post (which, if you scroll down, had to do with running and pretty new shoes). Well, the reality is that I haven't really run off anywhere. Other than our long-anticipated and much-enjoyed time visiting family in Texas, we are back in the 'Ville with no definite end in sight to this season. We thought with near certainty that we would be heading further north shortly after arriving back here in July, but life can take a sudden turn at a moment's notice. Rather than go into the long explanation of the events leading to us not ending up in Ohio, I will let you read my husband's personal account of the very difficult and confusing situation we found ourselves in (and in doing so give a shameless plug for his new blog): "What Happened With Ohio."

In the days - and now months - that followed, I feel that he took the shock much better than I did. Maybe we handled it differently because of how it affected us. He took the brunt of it since he was the one who would have been that church's pastor. He is the one leading our family, and is making concerted efforts to move us beyond this transitional season. Here is how I processed things initially; I liken it to a memory from my job working at the hospital during our senior year in college. Families would come in with the patient being admitted, and while the patient was calm yet nervous, the families were often an utter nervous wreck. In the aftermath of Ohio not happening, I was a real mess of emotion some days, bouncing around from angry to relieved to confused to sad, with a lot more confused thrown in the mix than the others. I just didn't understand what had happened, what had gone wrong, even after we received a very gracious and heartbreaking explanation from the gentleman who led the pastor search committee at this church. Even in the moments of relief, I didn't understand. Why would God bring us so very close to launching into the church ministry our hearts have longed for, only to have the door slammed in our faces, and from a church very likely heading towards complete failure? Why was the one real hope for my husband finally stepping into a pastoral role in the context of a church barely making ends meet? Why, after two years of simply trying to get his foot in the door is my husband continually faced with churches whose criteria he just doesn't quite meet? Why are search committees even the ones given such a great and serious responsibility anyway? The questions continue to come on those days when I find myself more reserved and caught up in my own thoughts. I don't understand, I may not ever understand. And perhaps the most scary question of them all: Is all of this church searching worth the effort, worth the pain and waiting and wondering? Scary, but honest...

Once the initial impact passed and the reality of an unknown timeline set in, I was made keenly aware of the truth that I have a choice to make. I can sit idly by, waiting for tomorrow, not investing my time or energy or heart into anything while we anticipate when and where the next chapter may occur...or I can taste and see that the Lord is good. The verse goes on to say, "Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!" (Psalm 34:8) I can embrace this season as one of rest granted by the only One who knows my weary and confused heart completely (Psalm 139:23-24). I can direct my thoughts toward being grateful for what my husband and I have been given: my wonderful job where I continue to grow and excel, a place to live with a fridge that's (usually) full, a good small group at church who collectively desires to encourage one another, family to support us even from hundreds of miles away (and who I miss now perhaps more than ever), two dogs that bring us such simply joy and lots of laughs, and we have each other. I have never known my husband more, known his daily joys and deepest struggles more deeply, and I have never loved him more than in recent months.

On those days when idleness is the easiest temptation to slide into, I want those to be the times when I fix my attention and affections on the Lord:

Still my soul be still, and do not fear though winds of change may rage tomorrow.
God is at your side, no longer dread the fires of unexpected sorrow.
Chorus: God You are my God, and I will trust in You and not be shaken.
Lord of peace renew a steadfast spirit within me to rest in You alone.
Still my soul be still, do not be moved by lesser lights and fleeting shadows.
Hold onto His ways with shield of faith against temptations flaming arrows...
Still my soul be still, do not forsake the Truth you learned in the beginning.
Wait upon the Lord and hope will rise as stars appear when day is dimming...
(Keith & Kristyn Getty)

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
"The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in Him."
The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
to the soul who seeks Him. (Lamentations 3:21-25)

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Running? Me?

Never have I ever ever ever had the desire to take part in rigorous excercise of any sort. Never. Ever. I remember as a child my parents having to practically throw me outdoors to get my nose out of books, prying pens and markers out of my hands, just do something active. Then during my silly-girl teen years, I dreaded the idea of sweating. I wanted to *glisten* but not sweat...Gross. Marching band was about as far as I got in regard to any kind of real activity, and that unfortunately lasted just two short seasons. As we grew through high school and college, I admired my best friend in her efforts to run, and for her overall diligence in making time for exercise in her busy schedule. For me, though, my tagline has always been, "Yeah, I do better just walking, you know, the lighter aerobic kinds of activity." Don't get me wrong - I do love walking. I love walking outdoors with no time limit, taking in the sights around me, soaking up the sun, listening to the otherwise missed sounds of creation around me. But in all honesty, the easy fallback of claiming to do better with lighter activity has been a total excuse. I have rarely been inclined to push myself beyond my comfort level, and often give up before I really even get going. The lack of discipline has been an issue as well, thinking up reasons as to why I just don't have time and can't fit one more thing into my week.

So why now? Why did I decide just a couple of weeks ago that I would start running? Not purchase a new workout DVD, not go to the fitness center and hop on the elliptical - no, the decision was to run. (For a day or two there I thought I was having a brief mental break, but the feeling soon passed.) After days and weeks and months of feeling completely blah after long workdays, only to come home and sit my tail on the couch in my pj's as soon as humanly possible, I was done. I was tired of being tired, tired of feeling awful, and wanted to do something that made me feel better physically (and emotionally and mentally). My husband was also a significant encouragement; after watching me become increasingly more lethargic and generally feeling more down, he encouraged me to get out and start running with one of the dogs. He knew I would feel better, and knew I could do it as long as I applied myself. And was he ever right!

The first evening I went out to our neighborhood was merely a test. I wanted to get out and just see how my body would respond to higher impact, how long I could run before needing to walk again, and just learn how I responded to high activity level. I didn't get very far - at all - but I wasn't discouraged and had a good idea of how far I could push myself and then hopefully increase over time. My dad was in town last weekend and, being the avid runner he is, he went with me to a running store to buy the bee-a-utiful kicks pictured above. Those shoes have made such a difference in how my feet and legs feel when I run, and I'm all the more motivated to keep up this new challenge!

The commitment to running has helped me enjoy life more. As I noted above, I have a bad habit of coming straight home from work, complaining that I'm tired, and using that as my justification for doing absolutely nothing for the rest of the evening. Similar to walking, it gets me outdoors to enjoy the world around me. The neighborhood is often quiet when I go, but my best friend also suggested that I try listening to music. I never understood why some claim that running is like a spiritual discipline to them, but even in my brief introductory attempts I'm beginning to understand. There is something simultaneously freeing and challenging about getting out there, feeling my heart beat strong in my chest, feeling the wind against my face as I press on, feeling the very breath the Lord has given course through my system. It's an intriguing experience. I'm contemplating keeping a journal for this journey - nothing fancy, but at least a log of my progress, as well as notes on what setbacks I experience and personal growth along the way. I'm eager for this experience, and in no rush to run a 5k in three days~

Tuesday, May 03, 2011


My husband and I never really knew Chip Stam, but he was one of those rare individuals who knew no stranger. Chip was a professor at Southern Seminary, pastor and worship leader at Clifton Baptist Church, and a man who radiated the love and joy of Christ. Absolutely radiated. Through testimonies from those closer to him, and even through my own limited interactions, it was evident to all that he was a man whose love for Jesus was infectious and who sincerely delighted in worshipping our King. Even after his initial diagnosis in 2007, Chip faced his battle with cancer smiling and knowing that the victory was already won. He was diligent in keeping friends near and far updated through an online journal, and his wife posted the letter yesterday informing loved ones of his passing on Sunday: In her letter, she references his favorite passage from the Heidelberg Catechism:

Q. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.


My clearest memory of Chip was from three years ago, roughly a year after his diagnosis. One of mine and my husband's favorite worship groups, Indelible Grace, was in Louisville and had a concert at Clifton Baptist. We happened to sit in the pew right next to Chip and his lovely wife. At this time in his cancer journey, Chip was wearing a brace which wrapped around his entire torso and was held in place by velcro. I will never hear "Come Ye Sinners" without thinking of Chip keeping in time with the music as if he was a one-man band: tapping his foot and drumming the beat on his brace. (I'm pretty sure I heard him messing with the velcro straps a few times, too!) Such a memory really holds in my mind who he was and how others saw him: a man who loved to worship, no matter the trial, and did so with overwhelming joy.


In following the news of his passing yesterday, several songs from Keith and Kristyn Getty were running through my mind throughout the day. Chip was always one of their biggest fans, and they were huge fans of his in return. One of the last memories of him being out in public was at the Christmas concert they held at Southern's Alumni Chapel just this past December. We were in the balcony, and Chip had situated himself on the front row. The Gettys made it a special point to acknowledge his presence there, and to honor him as a man who had so richly encouraged and supported them over the years.


The man with the infectious joy, the one who absolutely radiated the joy and love of Christ, is now with the King. While his family and close friends are sorrowful over such a great loss, those of us who are in Christ rejoice, and at times even weep, to think of him beholding the One whom He so fervently loved and honored with his life. Glory and praise to God for giving us such an example even if for a brief time. Chip has entered that eternal rest, and is now worshipping in perfect song:

There is a higher throne than all this world has known,

Where faithful ones from ev'ry tongue will one day come.

Before the Son we'll stand, made faultless through the Lamb;

Believing hearts find promised grace—Salvation comes.

Hear heaven's voices sing; their thund'rous anthem rings

Through em'rald courts and sapphire skies, their praises rise.

All glory, wisdom, pow'r, strength, thanks, and honor are

To God our King, who reigns on high forevermore.

And there we'll find our home, our life before the throne;

We'll honor Him in perfect song where we belong.

He'll wipe each tear-stained eye as thirst and hunger die.

The Lamb becomes our Shepherd King; we'll reign with Him.

(Keith & Kristyn Getty)

Monday, April 04, 2011

Going Under the Laser

While I was called brave for going out in public so soon after, I can't say that I'm brave enough to post pictures of the procedure. Maybe I'll be brave enough one of these days, but not today! In the meantime, I decided to post this picture that one of my best friend's tweaked just a few days ago (and because it's one of my current favorites of my adorable husband!):

So what exactly was this procedure I had just over three weeks ago?

First, a little back story that led up to this big decision:

Almost two years ago, my husband accompanied me to my bi-annual appointment at the Tuberous Sclerosis Clinic. Upon entering the waiting area and signing, we couldn't help but notice a woman sitting in one of the chairs. She was there alone. This isn't the type of clinic where I have seen patients there by themselves, so this woman and the absence of a friend or family member struck me. Not only was she at the clinic alone, but I also momentarily observed her complexion. If you're one who knows me well enough, you would see the large red areas on my jawline and cheek. It's an area that gets more puffy in the heat of summertime, and hurts considerably if I have even the slightest breakout on the skin there. Well...that red is what covered this woman's entire face. It made me sad to see her in the waiting room by herself...

In comparison to testimonies I have read and people whom I have met personally, I have it easy. Considering the common symptoms and how much more painful (emotionally and physically) things could be, I count myself fortunate to only have some of the more mild manifestations of TS. I go every five years to have an MRI of my brain, and a scan of my chest and kidneys to ensure that all is okay internally. Externally speaking, I have the primary skin manifestations which have gradually worsened over time. With each passing year, I notice the overall condition of my skin worsening ever so slightly, and the redness becomes more noticeable (and painful depending on where it's located).

While some claim to hardly notice the imperfections, I see my skin in the mirror every morning and night. Some days I would consider myself fairly content, but most days I look and wonder what if. What if I had a more smooth complexion, areas that weren't so sensitive to the slightest irritation...what if my face wasn't so red and textured...what if I had some guarantee that my skin would not continue to worsen over time? If I'm not hearing the Gospel, if I'm not hearing that I was beautifully and wonderfully created, I'm prone to the downward spiral of self-pity. And this is where my husband comes in - my nurturing, comforting, truth-speaking husband. My husband calls me beautiful not to merely make me feel better about myself, but because he believes it. He believes that beauty is more than skin-deep and that, even with imperfections I can do little to nothing about, I am lovely. I struggle to hear that on the days when I'm not clinging to the Truth that I am created in the image of God. My husband desires that I see myself as he sees me (and as HE sees me), and that my imperfections are not cause for me to think less of myself. With all of this at the foundation of his encouragement, he has continued to support any decision I make regarding treatment options. He knows that anything considered "cosmetic" would be a leap for me, a step of faith both physically and emotionally. After many months of thinking through my options (and often over-analyzing all that "cosmetic" means in my head), I decided to schedule a consultation with the plastic surgeon affiliated with my dermatologist's practice.

After a very comfortable discussion with the doctor, I was even more certain that this particular procedure would be a good option. Not only was she understanding of my concern that it wouldn't work, that I would not see the change I was hoping for, but she also understood my concerns regarding the cost and frustration of dealing with insurance. She gave me plenty of information upfront so that I would know all the facts about what I was going to have done. So just a couple of weeks after the consultation, I scheduled the procedure date. The doctor performed what is referred to as a CO2 laser procedure, one of the primary treatment options for those who experience the skin manifestations of Tuberous Sclerosis. The laser literally vaporizes the skin, as well as collapsing blood vessels. I will spare all the details, but she went layer by layer on my skin for the larger areas, some of which were much more deep than others. While I was awake during the procedure, I was far from coherent! We laugh now that I don't remember all that much from the first two days following the procedure (and that I scared two little boys while walking out to the parking garage!), what with the medications they gave me, the exhaustion I had from anxiety leading up to the procedure, and the simple fact of my body healing after something so intense.

Leading up to the day, we were a little overwhelmed by all of the post-op instructions we were given. There were very set steps, especially during the first week, for healing fully. From cold gauze treatments every three hours to applying two different ointments to my face (affectionately referred to as "the goopies") to elevating my head when I slept to not being in even indirect sunlight...we were overwhelmed. But little did we know just how tiring those first couple of days would be. Because I was so helpless during those first 48 hours or so, I was all the more overwhelmed and grateful for my husband's care. He slept a total of three hours during the first three days, all for the sake of ensuring that I was comfortable and that we were following the post-op instructions. He handled all of the cold gauze treatments, applied the ointments on my face, and served me the food that was brought to us from our dear church friends. Once I began feeling more like myself, I realized the impact of how much my husband had done. I was amazed and moved to tears numerous times during the week following the procedure as I thought of all he had to done for the sake of my comfort as I slowly began to heal.

I continue to heal and wonder about the end result. I see small steps, but I'm also a near-sighted individual who lacks patience. At my followup appointments to come I will have a better idea of how the doctor thinks things are going and if I will possibly need additional spot treatments down the road. The resurfacing of my skin is already noticeable, but the other more intense areas will simply take longer. This procedure has taught me alot about myself and where my heart is. I wouldn't recommend this kind of thing to just anyone, simply because there is an internal struggle with whether or not an individual puts misplaced value in the results. I know that I won't be a better person because my skin is pretty. I know that I won't be more valuable as a person or to others because of a "flawless" complexion. What I do know is that I am at a place where I was able to take advantage of a wonderful opportunity. More than anything, this process of healing provided a time for real and sweet rest, as well as growing even closer to my husband. The first time I shed a tear wondering if this procedure would be worth it, his response was, "Nothing ventured, nothing gained." He has always faithfully encouraged and pointed my heart towards Christ, and this experience has been no exception. He makes me want to be brave~

Monday, March 21, 2011

Crocheting & a Little Lesson in Sanctification

I finally finished it! After months of work, setting it aside, coming back, working some more, setting it aside, etc., I finished my very first crochet project. I knew back in...August that I wanted to make this baby blanket for my best friend in celebration of her daughter's birth. October rolled around, and the blanket I planned to completely surprise her with when I visited remained unfinished. After six long months, the blanket was taken to the post office for delivery (and I still managed to pull off the surprise!).

Much to my own surprise, this little endeavor wasn't just another experiment with a new craft in my hands. I learned more than I would have ever anticipated.
Do you want to know a secret about me...? The secret is this: I am not a disciplined person... At all. I have a natural tendency to do just enough to get by when faced with a task or new project. I know my natural strengths, put forth that much effort, and set it aside the minute I'm faced with the next big step of moving beyond my initial strength and diving into a new challenge. This has happened at some point with virtually every subject or art I have set my mind to: certain spiritual disciplines, piano, vocal training, schoolwork, and various other crafts I have attempted. When faced with a challenge, I simply set it aside and return to that which I'm more comfortable with and naturally inclined toward. (And this is why I will forever strive to encourage young people to press on when faced with new challenges beyond their natural abilities - this advice coming from a woman who regularly kicks herself in the pants for not persevering when I studied piano all those years ago!)

When I began working the very first row of this baby blanket pattern, I simply was not getting it. I couldn't see the difference in a single vs. double crochet, my hands fumbled all over the yarn and hook, and I found very little enjoyment in the project before me. On a number of occasions, I was tempted to pack it all up and redirect my creativity back to scrapbooking. However, through much prayer, I kept pushing through. I knew I had to finish this blanket: not just for my best friend and her precious baby girl (although they were, of course, of utmost importance!!), but for myself as well. I learned anew the very rich benefit there is to be discovered when we push ourselves beyond our natural talents or abilities. To this day, I regret not possessing the discipline within to continue studying piano. What do I have to show for it now? An early-intermediate understanding of how to play that was stopped short all because of my lack of perseverance. This blanket was GOOD for me, and a completely unanticipated time of growth in my relationship with the Lord. Even crafts as simple as crocheting a baby blanket for a friend can serve as a means for real growth. Thank You, Lord!


Friday, February 04, 2011

Join Me in Prayer!

"In adopting we model for children and others the mercy and the justice of God.
We model mercy because we freely choose to love this child, no matter what. Many adoptions happen sight unseen. The child passes no test. He is loved freely without meeting conditions. We don’t base our choice on what we see. We love because we have been loved. This is mercy."

(Photo courtesy of Pandaleidoscope)

(Photo courtesy of Pandaleidoscope)

Please pray with me this weekend for this precious family. They have been caring for the priceless little girl whose hand is pictured above off and on for the past year. Her presence has renewed their hope in the adoption process, and their daughter (in the above picture with me) has already come to see her as a little sister. If all goes accordingly, this chubby, joyful, beautiful toddler will be placed in their home on Tuesday - as in four days from now. This has been a long and painful process. They long to finally have her home, and I long for her to finally be in her forever home as well. I cannot help but reflect on the greater picture and meaning of adoption when I think of my husband and when I think of this "Panda Family." They have meant more to me than words can express, and I have witnessed this journey they have been on with both tears and eager expectation!
To the Panda Family: I was reading articles and sermons this morning, and came across this excerpt from a letter John Piper wrote to his wife just prior to adopting their daughter. I wanted to share it with you as it resonates with all of our prayers for you personally, for the future of your family, and for this little life that will soon come into your home:
"With this common conviction we will, God willing, embrace our new daughter and give ourselves, with all the might that God inspires in us, to love her into the kingdom. May the Lord establish the plans of our hearts, and bring [her] (and the future husband God already knows) into deep and lasting fellowship with Christ. May she be an ebony broach of beauty around your neck, and a crown of purity and joy on your head..."

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Three Years In

"'I do' are the two most famous last words, the beginning of the end
But to lose your life for another I've heard is a good place to begin
'Cause the only way to find your life is to lay your own life down
And I believe it's an easy price for the life that we have found
And we're dancing in the minefields
We're sailing in the storm
This is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that's what the promise is for
So when I lose my way, find me
When I loose love's chains, bind me
At the end of all my faith, till the end of all my days
When I forget my name, remind me
'Cause we bear the light of the Son of Man, so there's nothing left to fear
So I'll walk with you in the shadowlands 'til the shadows disappear
'Cause he promised not to leave us and his promises are true
So in the face of all this chaos, baby, I can dance with you
Let's going dancing in the minefields
Let's going sailing in the storm
This is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that's what the promise is for"
(from Andrew Peterson's "Dancing in the Minefields")
Our wedding anniversary falls just after everyone is ringing in the New Year, January 5th, and for that I am glad. I'm glad because the two celebrations lend themselves to much time spent reflecting on our how our marriage has been over the course of the previous year: where we've been, where we are, and where we desire to be as the journey continues on. This year is no exception as we've found ourselves having long conversations into the wee hours of the night, both reminiscing on good memories and also doing the hard work of examining our own hearts. Where I'm certain our culture - and really the whole of this fallen world apart from our Savior's redeeming work - has things wrong is centered around this truth: entering into marriage means entering into something that isn't about you. How much of what we do - the contexts we place ourselves in, the people we choose to surround ourselves with, etc. - is about what fills our selfish wants? How much of what we do and want and think has our own self-promotion (acceptance, pleasing others) or self-preservation (security, removal from the potential of people finding out who you really are) as the end goal? The mind-boggling, counter-cultural reality of Christian marriage is that you're making a promise to put another human being above your own wants and needs, all the while seeking your ultimate satisfaction together and individually in Christ alone. Embracing that and running hard after Christ together involves much heart work, the kind I would so often prefer to avoid, and many of those late-night talks. And they're all worth it. Those talks are worth lack of sleep, worth realizing that you don't have it all figured out, worth acknowledging that you were wrong and are in constant need of grace.
In the note I left for him on Wednesday morning, I thanked my husband for saying "I do" on that day three years ago and for saying it everyday since then. He has loved me and led me in ways I could not have hoped for, and in ways I would have never imagined were for my good. Thank you, my husband - my groom, for leading and loving me well. You love me as I am, yet continually challenge me to press into Christ all the more. Thank you for the journey thus far, and for leading me in the dance even when I stumble ~ All my love ~