Tuesday
Apr222014

TV shows and pillars of salt

I love TV, movies, Entertainment Weekly, People Magazine, YA novel series (I said that one in a whisper), and awards shows.  Ever since my much younger days when my brothers and I religiously watched Rugrats, I have had 3-5 shows that I loyally watch, and I’m definitely prone to binge reading a series of books in a few days that prove teenage girls are our only hope if the world falls apart (just finished the Divergent trilogy).  Just like my mama before me, I can tell you all about the social lives of celebrities and their movie resumes as well as a movie’s behind-the-scenes trivia.  I’m not sure where this fascination comes from, but I admit it—the entertainment business really entertains me.  

Two months into my stint as a mostly single mama, though, I am finding that I simply don’t have time for all of this.  The detectives of Law & Order: SVU have had to struggle on without me, and I have a mountain of unread magazines by my bed.  Not to mention that I haven’t even watched one single episode of this round of The Voice!  My TV thrills have come solely from wondering if Doc McStuffins will save her toys, as Disney Junior has become a very handy assistant in helping me distract my sons when I need to get something done. 

Therefore I have gone through an unintentional entertainment detox that I’m starting to think I may have desperately needed.  That coupled with reading three life-changing books (Love Does, More or Less, and Forgotten God) over the last few months has challenged me to ask myself in what ways I need to purify my life.  This has led me to then ask the even harder question: does my life look any different from the lives of those without Christ? 

I believe that, yes, overall it does.  But I do not think I have been as diligent or intentional as I need to be.  Recently, in a delayed-New-Year’s-resolution fury, I started reading the Bible from the very beginning.  I realized that pretty much ever since I had children, my Bible reading had become very sporadic and nonsensical.  I opened the Word and read it wherever my finger landed.  This isn’t necessarily bad, but it also meant that I was forgetting a lot of the stuff in there.  Many sermons or other people’s blog posts would make me wonder, “That’s in the Bible?!” I felt convinced I needed to figure that out for myself. 

Honestly, it has been one surprise after another, and I’m only in Genesis.  I was a lot younger the last time I read through Genesis, and I definitely don’t remember ever thinking that many of the stories applied to me.  I didn’t feel in danger of pretending Ryan was my brother in order to save my life or offering up my children to the horny men in my village in order to save my angel houseguests (Genesis 12:14-20 & 19:6-8).  The people in the beginning of the Bible were two-dimensional “heroes of faith” or “villains”, and their actions were puzzling. 

Lot’s story in particular always struck me as plain weird (Genesis 19).  God decides to destroy the evil cities, Sodom and Gomorrah.  Abraham pleads with God to spare the city if as many as ten righteous men can be found.  God agrees, but unfortunately, not even ten remain in the city walls.  But God does show mercy by sending two angels to go fetch Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and his family.  Lot tries to convince his daughter’s fiancés to escape with them, but the men laugh at Lot and remain in the city.  Right as Lot and his family walk out of the city walls, everything and everyone is destroyed.  Oh, and Lot’s wife looks back at the destruction and is turned into a pillar of salt.  Like I said—weird. 

Many thoughts clung to me this time through.  First of all, Lot did not seem all that righteous or worthy of saving.  I mean, I’m pretty sure it’s never been an admirable thing to offer your daughters up as sex slaves.  Realizing this helps me to recognize that it is not about Lot’s righteousness, but God’s mercy.  Also, the people in Lot’s life were not at all convinced by his pleas to save them.  They laughed at him and thought he was joking.  This shows me that Lot had not led a life that moved others to trust him.  Even though God chose to save him, perhaps for Abraham’s sake, Lot had let his surroundings mold him instead of the other way around. 

I recognize myself more often than I would like in this and other Genesis stories.  The themes of the people’s lives resonate with my own struggles and triumphs.  I, too, have daily opportunities to act out of fear or trust in God; I, too, need to choose to show my allegiance to God and not the world; and I, too, need to recognize that even in my “heroic” moments, God is the true hero of my story.  It really is never about my righteousness; it is always about his mercy. 

I am truly not sure how this will affect my choices about what I watch and read once I have more time to conscientiously make those choices (or maybe I won’t have “more time” until the boys leave the house and this will all be a non-issue for awhileJ), but I do know that I am feeling very convicted that I want my life to point to the Holy Spirit’s work in me, from the entertainment I pursue to the way I spend my money.  I want to live a life that so clearly points to God as my hero that if I told you all to leave your city and save yourselves, you would believe me. 

And yet, I know that I am very much a work in progress.  Because even as I am seeking to figure out what actionable changes this will mean for my life, I am a lot like Lot’s wife, looking longingly backward at The Bachelor and wondering if there’s a way to keep that around.  Perhaps I’m still just a pillar of salt. 

So, I invite your wise thoughts into this issue of being in the world and not of it.  I know I have definitely not landed on any solid conclusions, and I would love to know how you all navigate following God in a fallen world.  How does it affect what you watch? Buy? Do with your time? 

Wherever you fall on these issues, may you feel filled with the one who is truly the hero of all our stories.  May you feel rescued by a God who has pulled us from destruction.  And may you see that Jesus came in order that we “may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).   

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday
Mar112014

A letter to Grief

Sweet Grief, 

 

            I shrink from you and welcome you

            as a reminder of the beauty that once filled the hole in my heart.

            For at the start, dear Grief, you were my only connection to the life I had before

            I was torn apart.

 

            On that day, when she went away—never to play again on earthly piano keys—

            My heart’s cry became, “Please, Lord, please: peace, release, make the pain cease.”

 

            But it doesn’t stop; instead there’s a change

            and a surprising range of forms and shapes you take.

            And honestly, your fluidity, the way you rake across and shake my soul,

            makes me wish I could toss you to oblivion

            and close this hole

            for good.

 

            But would I really want you gone?

            You know, move on?

            Like some books say I should?

 

            What would forgetting be like?

            Setting my mind free from the spike of loss

            might actually be nice.

 

            But immediately I know the price would slice away too much of

            my life.

            I am the wife, mama, sister, friend I am because of her;

            every truth would start to blur without the anchor of her hand in writing my

            story:

            God’s glory in the face of pain would dim for me if I pushed you away

            just to allay this season of aching.

 

            So with quaking spirit, I accept it: here we are. 

            You pound on my scar, and yet—oh Grief—I will not deny your place.

 

For you stay

because she lived with grace.

 

Sincerely,

Caitlyn

Friday
Mar072014

To-do lists are saving my life

I know that most people I know have very full and busy lives, and my life is no fuller or busier than anyone elses...BUT...life have been CRAZY the last two months!!!  I feel as though the only way I get through the day is to make a zillion to-do lists, check tasks off as I go, and then add everything else I did to the list at the end of the day and check those off too in order to feel more accomplished.  A few things that have made it on the lists lately: move out of our house, put our house up for rent and for sale, recover from stupid-unsuccessful surgery, say good-bye to Ryan, be patient with my boys, tackle some school work, go to San Francisco to help Ryan find us a place to live, move into Gramma's house (she's an angel), get taxes ready to go, give up mochas (again), exercise, breath.

So, to stay true to the way life is right now, I am going to do this blog post in list form.  This means it is random, unorganized, and just a feeble attempt to let you all know that I love blogging and I miss it and I have had a few thoughts lately.

- I am going to a writing conference today at George Fox University.

- I am so excited about the writing conference, but it also makes me feel super guilty about not blogging.

- This blog, though not my most thought-out, is assuaging that guilt and making me super happy...because I really do love writing!

- I miss my husband desperately.  I have realized that I use him as a defense against the sadness that creeps in when I'm left to my thoughts for too long.  March is a particularly hard month for me, and not having him near has made it harder.  Also, I really like him.

- God is good and present even in the mundane and the busy stretches of life.  After eighteen months of super dramatic twists and turns, sometimes I find myself despairing more over having to prepare my taxes than I did over having to do chemo.  When I was in the fight for my life, I was much better at turning my worries over to God.  I am learning that he still wants me to hand over each step of my day.  I want to look at each worry as an opportunity to trust, each anxiety as an opportunity to banish fear from my way of thinking.

- I should put that last one on a to-do list:-)

- God is a fabulous story teller.  Not all of you know this, but my family has been crazy about Disney since I was a little girl.  This spring break, we are going on our 10th family Disneyland trip!  While I am daily conflicted about leaving my community in Klamath, I am so touched by God's thoughtfulness in placing Ryan in a job at Disney.  Any job would have been a blessing, but this is such a beautiful next step in the plot of my family's lives.  

- Once again, I am so thankful for healing and for wrapping up more and more of the cancer chapter. This last Monday, I finished my last herceptin treatment.  No more infusions in this girl's future!  God has sustained me through regular infusions since August 2012...Wow!

- I am truly thankful for my life.  It is busy right now and there are things I would change if it were up to me.  But ultimately, I am so glad that it is not up to me.  My life is heavy with blessings, and I wouldn't want to risk loosing any of those blessings in order to have a little less stress.  Because one thing that has proven true over and over and over and OVER in my life, is that the blessings, stress, sadness, joy, peace, fun, excitement, adventure, grief, and to-do lists always happen all at once.

May the jumble of your lives be blessed.  May your blessings far outweigh your struggles.  And may to-do lists save your sanity:-)

P.S. I can now cross off "write blog" of my to-do list!

Wednesday
Feb052014

Trying to regain perspective

I have very emotional little boys, and I love it.  They love, laugh, clench their fists in anger, and cry really big and really often.  They are compassionate, and they are selfish; they are forgiving, and they hold grudges; they are grateful, and they are spoiled.  All three of them experience the gamut of human emotion and temptation at different levels of maturity, and (most of the time) I am so thankful for their passion—even when it’s misdirected.

Ryan and I have the privilege of guiding them through their emotional maturity.  We try to find the balance between encouraging and not squashing how deeply they feel everything while still offering perspective and tools to handle their reactions.  Example: crying over hurt feelings, grief, pain, and disappointment is fine; a total meltdown because your mama won’t buy you another Skylander because you have a thousand at home and we’re just here to buy milk…might not be necessary.  As they get older, they see this more clearly on their own.

One way that I have truly seen God’s work in my life through the mix of joys and trials these last eighteen months is my own emotional maturity when it comes to perspective.  Losing my mom and fighting for my life has helped me to see the things I encounter each day with new perspective.  I readily admit that sometimes I still have the knee-jerk reaction to freak out over laundry mountains, little boy chaos, or unwritten lesson plans.  But I’ve been so thankful that now I more often react with trust and gratefulness to life’s adventures.  I can more easily see what is a big deal and what is truly not.  My definition of tragedy or even disappointment has been shifted.  Changes in plans, failures, and unmet expectations are not tragedies.  I am seeing them as opportunities to trust God to keep his promises and stay true to his character—which he ALWAYS does.  The evidence in the Bible and the story of my life show his faithfulness.  This perspective is supernatural, and I do not take credit for it.  I am by nature a worrier who can turn a molehill into a mountain in less than one sleepless night.  My being able to move forward with confidence in God’s control and provision is a new and beautiful gift he’s given me, formed by my battle with cancer and grief.

The greatest example of this has been Ryan’s work situation.  His company, Creo Agency, closed around the holidays, and he started a job search.  A few years ago I would have felt that this was tragic and would have worried and toiled until I made myself sick.  But over the last month, I have felt peace, comfort, and even excitement about what lies ahead.  I have also felt sadness over how much our life is going to change, but the lack of worry is evidence of God’s work in me.

This is why this last week has surprised me so much and showed me that my walk with God is never a finished product.  I went into a day surgery to finish up my reconstruction process two weeks ago with no worries at all.  I was not thrilled about being out of commission for a few days, but I was very relieved that this was the last surgery on my plate.  My plastic surgeon worked his magic, and I left his office ready to begin life without so much medical intervention.  Even through the pain over the next few days, I knew God had gotten me through much worse. I did not fret.

Last Wednesday I went to Medford to have my bandages removed, and all that changed.  Nothing tragic happened, but it was instantly clear that something was wrong.  My six weeks of radiation last year had made the damaged skin respond badly to the surgery.  I looked burned and marred.  With a dismaying swiftness, I lost my supernatural perspective. 

Even though I knew in my head it did not matter what I looked like and God could get me through any more surgeries that may now be necessary, I felt ugly, worried, weary, weak, fragile, mangled, and oh so damaged.  These feelings overwhelmed my trust and the foundation of what I had learned about perspective.  I felt I was failing some kind of test; I was frustrated that I couldn’t let the history of God’s faithfulness in my life give me comfort.  As I cried over my disappointment, I worried that I was hurting God by not being more thankful for his blessings.  Why was I so devastated by this setback when I was able to respond with gratitude to bigger hurts?

Now this blog post isn’t going to wrap up with how I’ve come to the other side, because I cried as I bandaged my wound this morning.  I keep chastising myself for not being able to see that this isn’t that big of a deal, especially in light of what so many people are going through right now.  But as I move forward, I feel God giving me more peace as each moment passes.  Hopefully peace will lead to acceptance and acceptance to gratitude and godly perspective again.

His peace comes through his reminders of truths that are beginning to win the battle against my feelings.  He’s reminding me that even when I hurt him, he loves and forgives me.  He’s reminding me that while Satan can capitalize on my weakness (self-image), God is stronger than Satan and real Kingdom-building work can be done in that same weakness.  And the most healing truth is his reminder that no matter how scarred my outer appearance is, no matter how many surgeries are ahead, he has healed and redeemed my soul.  By his wounds I have been healed; through my wounds, he is rescuing my body.

No matter where you are on your journey to gain godly perspective—throwing a tantrum over not getting a toy at Walmart or accepting whatever comes your way with grace—please be encouraged that God is working in you.  Whether it is the big stuff or the small stuff that is tripping you up, “cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).  Freely feel your emotions--your hurt, and even your doubt (for our emotions are a reflection of an emotional God)--but embrace and rest in the truth of Christ: "neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans8:38-39).

Wednesday
Jan152014

Just because I love you

The big boys trying to comfort Everett as he cries. He wasn't in the mood for the matching sweatshirt pic.

After dashing to the copy machine early this morning, I sprinted into my classroom where I was hoping Liam and Sawyer hadn’t done anything destructive.  I needed to hurry them to their classrooms before my 10th graders showed up for class.

And there was Sawyer squatting down with a dustpan in his hand while Liam swept my floor.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Sweeping,” Liam responded in a bit of a duh-mom tone.

“Why?” (I hate to admit it, but I figured they were cleaning up some mess they had just made.)

With much stronger you’re-missing-the-obvious-silly-mama-exasperation, Liam said, “Because we love you!”

They learned this from their father.  Ryan has already instilled in our young sons that they do things for their mama simply because they love her.  In the last few months I have discovered an emptied dishwasher, folded laundry, vacuumed carpets and even scrubbed toilets (!!) with “just because we love you” as my boys’ motivation.

My boys aren’t perfect.  They fight, they break stuff, they become a little too obsessed with whatever electronics are in their lives.  But they understand this supernatural concept much earlier than I ever did, and—at times—better than I do now.

One of the hardest parts of accepting Jesus’ salvation gift is that we have complicated sacrifice and what it looks like to love someone, so we have a difficult time understanding Jesus’ motivation.  All you have to do is watch TV for a half an hour to see that our world views love as something they feel, and something that MUST be reciprocated to be real.  People say and show love in order to reach the outcome they are hoping for.

Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).  Jesus loved his friends (us), so he died for them (us), because if he didn’t they (we) would have to die.  It truly is as simple as that. 

So my sons show me their love by doing stuff for me, not to earn a gold star or more allowance, or even to please me.  They learned this from their father who learned it from his heavenly father, and I am learning it from them.  I see their innocent demonstration of love and am challenged to find ways to show my love better to those around me.

My most treasured moment with Liam is the day I had surgery to place my port right before my first chemo treatment.  He wanted to be with me after I got home, but I was in a lot of pain, so he just wrapped his little five-year-old arms around my waist and clung gently and motionlessly to me in bed for 2 HOURS!  His poor little heart did not know how to comfort me, so out of love he denied his wiggles and his desire to go watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse with his brothers and demonstrated love with his embrace and his presence. 

This is how I want to love.  I want to love a love that has no other motivation than to love…to choose others’ lives above my own.

I can’t take away the pain the people I love feel, but I can cling to their sides while they feel it.  I can’t make life simpler when it’s just truly nuts, but I can sweep some floors.