I Know What the Problem Is!…Right?

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A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned having a “neck injury”.  At the time, the doctors and massage therapists told me that something was causing the muscles in my neck to spasm, thereby causing a 15-day headache.  I was told that the condition was bad enough that should I move the wrong way, I could snap something I really didn’t want to snap.  

There was no denying it from my end.  I was in pain!!  I felt like someone inserted concrete into my neck and upper back during the night.  (If I ever find that guy….)  My head hurt so badly that I kept trying to quiet my children by simply placing my hand directly over their noise portal and just letting it sit there till they got the point. (Bless them; they got the point quickly.) Light hurt.  Noise hurt.  Air hurt.  And before long, my teeth hurt.  That’s when I knew I wasn’t dealing with a regular headache.

I spent the next week in and out of massage therapy, leaving the masseuse shocked every time the tension didn’t subside.  I took muscle relaxers to try to get the spasm to let up; I may as well have been taking Tic-Tacs.  They did absolutely no good.  I kept smearing Orajel all over my mouth to try to get the tooth pain to stop.

Nothing helped.

And then a strange thing happened.  During the night, I woke up to find the entire left side of my mouth in extreme pain.  I attributed it to a new mouthguard I was using, and in my oh-so-delicate manner, chucked the dumb thing across the room, finding it two days later.  I downed some Advil and was able to make it until morning without breaking every dish in the house out of “pain frustration”.  (That’s a real thing…look it up…Ok, no it isn’t.) But by the next day, it was apparent that something was definitely amiss in my mouth.

An after-hours trip to the dentist would confirm it:  I had shattered a wisdom tooth.  Great!  So on top of the neck injury, now I’ve shattered a tooth?!

“Not ‘on top of’, Jess.  This could be your problem.”

“What?!  My neck pain could be related to this tooth?”

“Yes indeed.”

“TAKE IT OUT NOW!!!!!!”

So my sweet dentist (Lord, bless the man) yanked that tooth out of my head right then and there.  No dental assistants.  No oral surgeon.  Just me, him, and a big-ole vice grip.

Instantly.  I mean, INSTANTLY, the pain in my head and neck oozed down and out of my body.  As if that tooth were the capstone holding an entire building of pressure and pain in the structure of my humanity.  Gone.

And because of a tooth.  

All this time, we thought it was my neck.  I thought it.  My doctor thought it.  My massage therapist thought it.  We had no reason not to believe so.  You could FEEL the tension in my muscles.  It just had to be my neck.

But it wasn’t.

The source of my pain wasn’t was I thought it was.

Huh.

I wonder how many other times that has happened in my life.  How many other times, and in what other ways, have I tried to fix, mend, care for, improve, or repair part of my life because it was the “source” of my pain, but it actually wasn’t?  How many times have I tried to fix, mend, care for, improve, or repair OTHER PEOPLE because they were the “source” of my pain?  How often do I assume I know that I know that I know the “source” of my pain, only to find out that I didn’t know anything at all?

Should I start to list all these mistakes, I would shock you.  I would shock me.  Then I would crawl in a hole….

Maybe it is time to start questioning my certainties about my pain.  Time to stop assuming I know what (or who) the problem is, and to lay it before God and leave it to Him to show me the source.  Even though I’m right all the time (cough, cough), I have been known to make a mistake or two.  I would hate for those mistakes to lead me, or anyone else, to even more pain.

In the old movie, “IQ”, Meg Ryan and Tim Robbins were challenged by Albert Einstein (Walter Matthau) to “question everything”.  Clearly, in this area of my life, I need to question everything.  And then to be open to the response… which sadly usually lands right in my lap.

After all, you may never know when your headache may be coming from your heart.

 

 


The Stoplight: Friend or Foe

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It is to my husband that I owe this entry  For noticing and pointing out a blessing in disguise:  the stoplight.

As is known by this point, the word “rest” is foreign to my vocabulary unless it is being used to tell Big Boy and Little Man to let their argument lie fallow.  Inasmuch as I refuse to let my body rest (after all, a body at rest tends to stay at rest, right?), my brain is far worse off.  Not only will it not rest, it seems to fight the idea of rest like a bull fights the rider off its back.  Akin to a dog determined to get that blasted tail at any cost, my brain spins and twirls with utter abandon.

Though it can spew out many a beautiful thought, most often, I just wish it would STOP.  That my brain–not my body–would REST!  It’s wearing me out!  I’m going to go ahead and say my over-active mind is the result of mommy-hood:  trying to come up with fun things for the Peanuts to do, making sure they know Jesus loves them, keeping them safe, protecting them from the world, protecting them from themselves, worrying about them, praying for them, guiding their steps, teaching them their ABC’s, and keeping track of all the errant shoes.

That would be a viable excuse for crazy brain, right?

If I stick with mommy-brain as an excuse, then I don’t have to admit that I’m worried about what other people think, if I ate enough vegetables today, if I put that note in Little Man’s backpack, that strange-looking mole, another flight, or if I’ll be forgotten.  Right?  Mommy-brain will do, won’t it? We will go with that.

So, in the midst of this brain-crazed life I lead, I am grateful that God gave me one special gift:  to see Him, to see life, in the small things. By some miracle, I am able to actually stop and smell the roses.  To notice Angel Baby’s smile.  To hear the cardinal’s happy song and light with the color of his wing.  to breathe in the salt-laced breath of the Gulf as it washes ashore and to let it fill me. To have the world come to a mental standstill.

God gives me–gives us–these gifts every day, and I am so grateful to have them.  Ann Voskamp, in her book “1000 Gifts”, displays the amazing ability to recognize these moments by creating a list of 1000 things she sees for which she is thankful.  She takes the time to revel in “eucharisteo”, celebrating joyfully the gifts God gives us by His grace. It is a frightening realization to know that if I’m not careful with this frenzied mind, I could not only miss the collective 1000 gifts, but I may actually miss every single one of them.

So I’ll start with #1:  stoplights.  The bane of my existence; it never fails that I will hit every red light possible to mankind during my trek from hither to yon.  My red light expertise is so profound that Hubby even prefers to drive if we are in a hurry, just so we can get the green lights.  No joke.  However, it dawned on me the other day that red lights are indeed the only time I STOP and REST. I have no choice!  Traffic lights are the only time I let the world come to an actual standstill. So maybe, instead of gritting my teeth and creating yet another row of nail marks in the steering wheel, maybe–just maybe–I can breathe a moment’s peace.

In my post on Resting, I mentioned that I had been considering (*gasp*) asking God to actually make me rest, if that is what I needed.  I am happy to report that, at this point, He is instilling moments of rest in my life that have not included body casts or tuberculosis (Thank You, Jesus!).  And I have been able to capture those moments as I recognize them further:  the stoplight being a perfect example.  Moments for me to breathe.  Moments to let my brain take a break.  Stoplights.  Slow-as-molasses-I-want-to-throw-my-computer-out-the-window-internet. Walking Peanuts to school and waiting for them to jump off every rock God put on the earth.

The challenge now is to see those moments as gifts (God forcing needed rest without ambulatory assistance) and not as yet another opportunity to pull every hair out of my head.

Seeing as how upon my creation, God left “patience” as one of my spare (and therefore, left out) parts, this practice of savoring the paused moments does not come naturally to me…sort of like asking Big Boy to whisper.  Yeah, right!

Would you like to practice with me?  What “stoplight” moments has God placed in your life this week?  How have you thanked Him for them? 


Frozen

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My world was electrified today by an unexpected and joyful event: the release of Disney’s “Frozen” on DVD.  Oh, the joy!  Oh, the bliss!

Now why, might you ask, would a 38-year old woman be so excited about a cartoon?  Answer: Because I have a 5-year old Angel Baby whose world became alive the moment Anna and Elsa graced the silver screen.  Since that moment this holiday season, our homes have been filled with memories and “can-be’s” of our new princess friends.  Olaf the snowman has joined in the festivities from time to time, but hasn’t lingered as long as the girls.  “Let it Go” and “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” have become the soundtrack of our lives (No surprise to us when “Let it Go” won the Oscar.  In our home, the Oscar is a mere tribute.).  Coloring pages are graced with the likes of Arendelle.  Imaginative play starts with, “Ok, I’m Anna, and you’re Elsa”.

So today, as the movie was released onto Target shelves, I found myself brimming with enthusiasm, almost feverishly.  The news of the movie’s arrival hit me in the waiting room of my doctor’s office, and suddenly, the doctor was taking too long.  The check-in was taking too long.  The visit was taking TOO LONG!  I just had to go!  I mean, what if they were gone from the shelves before my feet transversed Target’s automatic doors!  What if I missed it?!?!

I FLEW through my visit with my kindly physician, not stopping long enough to let her check a seemingly unwelcome rattling in my chest when I breathe.  Heck, I can cough it out, right?  And in what seemed like forever, but was actually only a mere 15 minutes, I was outta there and on my way to fetch the princesses!  (Reality check, Jess.  Who on EARTH has the privilege of getting in and out of the doctor in 15 minutes?  Praise the Lord for that gift!)

Off I went, winding through Executive Drive as though it was a ski slalom and the gold was at stake.  Poop!  A red light! (See my coming post on red lights for my interpretation of that one…)  “Dear God, what a trivial prayer, but please, oh please, let there be at least ONE copy of “Frozen” left at Target for me to purchase.”  Green light.  Off I go again.  Oh, thank goodness, there’s my destination! (Two blocks from where I started, but where’s the drama in that?)

Throwing the van into park, I dashed into my favorite store and made a beeline for the videos.  It’s there!  They’re here!  Oh my word!!  I can’t believe it! (Am I really this excited?)  “Thank You, Jesus!”  My enthusiasm apparently became a little too much for my body to handle and eked out in little squeaks and jumps (I swear, I’m part jumping bean).  I hadn’t realized I was putting on a display until a passer-by commented to me, “Well, I see we’re excited.”

Excited? Do you have any idea how Little One is going to react to this?!  Do you realize that she has been stock-piling gifts to give to Anna and Elsa when we visit Disney World (I hope the Disney Corporation doesn’t mind…)?  Do you have any idea what kind of bright-eyed, dimple-cheeked, wide-mouthed enthusiasm I am about to encounter?!  Do you realize this is a parent’s DREAM?!

So, yeah, I’m excited. And I don’t care if the passers-by notice.

And then I realized that THAT is exactly how God feels about all the gifts He gives to me all day, every day.  A gorgeous sunrise, the white and pink blooms popping out around town, giggling children skipping to school, little ones singing on the swings, that strange animal that makes that foreign sound every night while I try to sleep (kinda want to know what that one is), the warmth of my husband’s hands, the sweet chirp of the bird family which nests on our porch every year, and the amazing bright-eyed, dimple-cheeked, wide-mouthed enthusiasm of Angel Baby.

God bubbles with enthusiasm when He knows how I will react to these gifts.  Knowing how much He is gifting me makes me receive those little things with big arms and an open heart.  I am so grateful.  So very grateful. 

I may have to do a happy dance.

And so did Angel Baby.  Holy moly, I wish I could show you all her reaction to getting that treasured film.  

Nothing could be better.

Thank You, God, for that very special, very heart-warming gift.


The Big Race

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I had the privilege of running a couple of road races today with my little buddies:  a one-miler for Little Man and a 5K for Big Boy.  Racing has long been special to me, and I have enjoyed watching that trend carry on to my mini-humans.  Something fun that we can do together.  I just love that.

The boys have spent the last couple of months “training” for this race.  Their rigorous work includes one 45 minute “track club” once a week, many of which were rained out.  That being said, preparation was not at a maximum for this rip-roaring event.

 I tried several times to get them to practice outside of track club, offering to run and lunge hither and yon with them, but each attempt was met with such contempt that I must admit, I gave up.  Each time, I lost the battle to their whines and complaints with the self-argument of, “Why would I want to waste my time dragging them through the streets?  Let them learn the hard way!”.  Yes, I lost my battle each time…save one.  On my winning day, I did indeed do some dragging, but to my delight, Little Man met my match and ran his little heart out, earning himself a pair of new tennis shoes (don’t tell him he actually needed them…).  Big Boy, however.  Well, let’s just say he heard many a parental discourse on the importance of trying your best over the next day or two.

So today was the big day!  In times past, preparation has equaled that of this year, but Big Boy was still able to pull of a magnificent performance, probably fueled by his desire to show off in front of his classmates, many of whom were running alongside him.  This was Little Man’s first event, and his tenacity was palpable.  Maybe it was the number of times he said, “I wish this day had never been born!” that clued me in.

In order to be a good mommy, I promised each boy that I would run alongside him in his successive race.  To my utter delight, Little Man, in all his nervousness, didn’t stop one time!  He ran the entire mile like he had jets on his feet!  The pride and self-confidence he gained today was a much needed gift to this anxiety-ridden peanut.  I was so proud of him.  I’m still beaming.

Then came the 5K.  An important piece of information to share is that this particular race is a qualifier for a much larger race.  That being said, I value my personal race time for this event, and in times past, have let Daddy run with Big Boy so I could clock in properly.  This time, however, I decided to forfeit.  That’s right.  I left my own desires in the dirt to race with my boy at his pace(aren’t I amazing?!).  I knew that he wouldn’t go down without a fight on those roadways, and I wanted to cheer him on.

Only in my dreams.

That child flat out quit running by the first 1/4 mile.

I watched as all my competitors blazed by me, happily leaving me in their dust.  (Ok, truth…they all gave me that “knowing look”.)  My legs tried to LEAP off my body and run the race themselves because CLEARLY this was not what I had planned.  This is not what my LEGS had planned!  And this walking?  Well, walking was NOT on my radar (I don’t rest, remember?).

“It’s ok, Jessica.  Enjoy your time with your son.  Encourage him.  Spur him on.  Feel his pains.”

“Mom, my ankles hurt.  My knees hurt.  My chest hurts.  My stomach hurts.  I need WATER!”

REALLY, kid?  You’re WALKING!

“That’s ok, honey.  Breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth.  Let the downhills take your body with them.  Work on the uphills.  Rest on the downhills.”  (Just MOVE, kid!!)

Yeah, he wasn’t having it.  He saw through my attempts at sympathy and felt my frustration.  I wanted to be there with him, to sympathize with him, to run with him, to encourage him.  Yet my body wanted to RUN.  I was having an internal collision!

The very last stretch of the race, and the finish line, were on a steep decline.  I let him know it was coming and worked to encourage him:  “Ok, buddy, here we go!  Downhill the rest of the way! Go, go, go!!”

And “go” he did.  He totally left me!  Flew across the finish line, leaving me 50 yards behind, and, if I’m honest, leaving me to look like a total doofus crossing the finish line at a–oh, I can’t even type it–45 minute run time, 20 minutes past my average (I need to pause to cry.)  I was so humiliated that I didn’t even cross the finish.  I just couldn’t do it.

What a fool I am!  Here I was sacrificing my run to spend time with my buddy, and yet I realize; I didn’t really sacrifice anything.  My heart was still in the run, not in the boy.  How often do I do things like this?  How often do I “give something up” for someone else only to find out it was really for me after all?  Far more than I would like to admit, I’m afraid.

And now I’m even more humiliated.


A Knock At the Door

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An interesting thing happened during the night last night.  Normally, I attune my mid-night wakings to the likes of temperatures, not feeling “quite so right, mommy”, or lots of “I’m scared, can I sleep with you”‘s.  Randomly, our dog does a happy dance during the midnight hours that I can only contribute to his personal affection for the light of the moon.  A tribute by means of wagging, growling, and running (after all, isn’t that how we ALL express our enthusiasm?).

Last night took a much different tune, however, as deep into my slumber, I was awakened by a loud rasping on the door.  Waking quickly, I had NO idea what time it was, but assumed it must have been close to morning, and a neighbor had lost a dog or something of the like.  I looked at the clock:  1:00am.  What in the world?

Big boy woke with a start.  “Mommy! What’s going on?”

“I’m not sure, buddy.  There is someone at the door.”

“Who is it?  Don’t answer!  I’m SCARED!”

“That’s ok, buddy.  I’ll take care of it.”

And as I looked down the stairs through our glass-paned door, I saw the figure of a man who somewhat resembled my husband.  Him being out of town, I thought maybe he came back early to surprise us.  But why was he banging on the door?

Then a flashlight shone through the panes.

I looked again and saw a badge.

There was a policeman at my door.

Now, nothing good happens when a policeman bangs on your door in the middle of the night.  A flurry of thoughts and ideas blazed through my mind with utmost rapidity:  “Oh my goodness!  My husband’s dead!  No, he can’t be; I know he is fine in Jacksonville.  Oh my goodness!  We’ve been robbed!  No that can’t be; I’m in my house now, I would know that.  Oh my goodness! Someone ELSE has been robbed, and the perp is hiding in my crawlspace!  Oh my goodness!  My dog got out!  Naw, everything must be just fine.”

All of this brainwork happened in a span of, um, maybe .7 seconds, but that may be a little bit of a high estimate.  And in just that amount of time, I opened the door to this flashlighted stranger on my porch.

“Can I help you?”

“Yeah, your car door is open.”

What?  Seriously?  My CAR door?! That’s why you’re here?!

Brain interjection:  “Oh my goodness! We were car-robbed! Oh my goodness!  The robber planted a bomb in there!  Oh, who am I kidding?  Little buddy just left the door open.”

Self to community serviceman: “Were we robbed?”

Him to me: “It doesn’t look like it, but I just wanted to be sure.”

So off I went, policeman following me, to inspect the interior of my open-doored Sienna. And as expected, everything was just fine.  No robbing.  No bomb implant.  Just a seven-year old’s determination to get in a warm house in haste.

I thanked the kind police officer, after smacking him for scaring me like that, then went back inside to comfort my frightened 10-year old and to let him know what a good job our local law enforcement was doing.

And just that quickly, it all dawned on me:  life went from sleeping soundly, to being suddenly and frighteningly awakened, to being excited that I thought my husband was home, to being frightened when I realized it was a stranger, to being comforted when I realized it was a police officer, to being frightened again when I realized it was a police officer, to being…to being…to being…

And just as quickly, I realized that the things I take for granted (sleeping soundly during the night, the safety of traveling family members, the security of my home and vehicle) are fleeting.  It is up to God to let us know when and how they will be removed from our care.  Though concerned at the flex and flow of all that lack of control, there is some comfort and peace in the knowing that Someone bigger than I will ever be knows how and when it will all go.

I can either freak out every moment of every day about the not knowing, or I can rest assured in what I DO have and in when I have it.

I think I’ll choose the latter.  After all, ignorance is bliss.

 


My Coat

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Color has always been important to me.  Yellows and white warm me and bring friendly, welcome smiles.  Reds and oranges help me feel the life of life; encouraging my enthusiasm, fueling my anger, igniting my passion.  And my sweet blues–always a favorite–soothing and calming, just like the ocean’s waves.

For some reason, my mind’s eye views life in colorful shades.  Each person I meet becomes associated with a certain color to me.  Each situation I face meets its twin hue.  My life, my mind, is laced with color.

I would love to tell you how my tonal affinity has opened the door for artistic, creative genius to flow freely.  However, it seems that the imaginative, creative portal was stopped up somewhere around birth.  My creativity is limited to giving Rapunzel a pink dress instead of her traditional purple one when coloring with angel baby (I know; mind-blowing!).  What my color affection has done for me, however, is to allow me to see each nuance in each shade, and to appreciate those nuances wherever I see them.

My lifetime has been a landscape of colorful experiences, each with a shade of its own.  It is from here that I write.  From here that I landed on the name of my blog.

I was once asked to speak on my experience living life in an array of cultural settings, for that I have done.  I have lived in the north and the south, from America to Germany, amongst the wealthy and amongst the poor, from the suburbs to the inner city, from the humble to the famed, from conservative to liberal.  (East to west I still lack.)   And I have gleaned from each of these experiences, each clipping helping to form the colorful palette imprinted in my brain.  Each locale has both fed me and left me malnourished, and each has been fodder for contemplation.

Along with the color of locale, I have lived a life of “roles”: daughter, student, wife, mommy, social worker, fitness instructor, homemaker.  (And as many of you know, “mommy” and “homemaker” innately include so many roles that all the type-space in the world would not house enough descriptive allowance.)  Blue, red, orange, brown, black, yellow, white.  The colors of my coat continue to grow.

But the biggest array of hues and tones is found within the contours of my mind.  A mind that WILL NOT STOP.  A mind that traces and retraces every step I take, every word I speak, every word spoken to me, every thought I have, every interaction I encounter.  This color-spinning brain that sees each of life’s moments through multiple lenses.  I see–and question–the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, and the possible.  The SEEING of each view alone would provide enough color to fill a Crayola box, but when you add in the QUESTIONING, well…at that point, a whole art kit is needed.

So it is from here that these words flow; with a lifetime of faces, places, thoughts, fears, and prayers to comprise my colorful coat.  May God use them wisely.



To Rest or Not To Rest…That is the Question

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Why is this a struggle for me?  Why is this even a question I need to ask?  Rest.  An amazing gift that God gave us to refresh, rejuvenate, re-energize.  To heal, to comfort, to give hope.  Apparently, rest is so wonderful that not only did God give it to us to use as needed (and as instructed), but He also dipped into the goodie bag Himself.  “On the seventh day, He rested from all His work” (Gen. 2:2)  God tasted the soup before passing the pot!

“Mmm…this is good stuff.  I think I’ll pass it on.  My kids will LOVE this!” (Hope God doesn’t mind my personalized interpretation of His actions.)

Rest (“to make quiet” in Hebrew) was and is intended to slow us down.  To slow our thinking, to slow our hearts, to slow our minds, to slow our DOING.  If we can but slow down, then maybe we can stop doing and start being.  Slowing down allows us to be more present; to live where we are, to appreciate where we are, to enjoy where we are.

And to me, it’s the devil himself.  An enemy of the state.  

The lies scream at me! “Rest is what you do when you STOP living.  Rest is what you do when you don’t CARE where you are.  Rest is wasting time.  It’s lazy, irksome, wasteful, escapist, burdensome.  Every moment of rest is a moment spent NOT doing something you COULD be doing!”  Planting flowers, going for a walk, playing ball, creating the Eiffel Tower out of celery stalks, writing a blog.  OR, as I fill my time:  mopping the floor, folding the laundry, buying yet another cluster of bananas, picking up 41,000 Rainbow Loom bands off the ground, picking up 42,000 Legos off the ground (HA! The Legos just beat out the Rainbow Loom bands, but it is still a vicious race), cooking, throwing the cooked food down the garbage disposal, washing dishes….I could fill the whole entry with these inane tasks.  Anyone could.  

We all have our lists of the things we DO, but the list that scares me the most is that which I DON’T do.  Sit to read Mercy Watson to my five-year old…again, meet a friend for coffee, go to bed on time, get my hind end to the post office to mail a gift I’ve had for my BFF for seven months, take time in the morning to sit and pray, try yoga instead of 45 minutes of climbing Mt. Everest on the Step Mill.  And FORGET about resting (sleeping) if I’m sick!  That’s for wimps.  I remember a day a few years ago when I was responsible for making cupcakes for my son’s kindergarten class to celebrate his teacher’s birthday.  Not only did I do it, but I arranged the cupcakes in the shape of a caterpillar and distributed them to 25 hungry little caterpillars–all with a fever of 103.  Then there was the time I needed to have surgery to repair a bum toe.  It was causing an incredible amount of pain and needed to be repaired.  I figured the best way to care for it was to run a half marathon–the day before the surgery–with a sinus infection.

What the heck is wrong with me?!

I have heard that being raised in a home (or two, in my situation) where conflict was ever-present affords for an anxious child, and therefore, an anxious adult.  One who is at the ready at any moment; ready to fight or flee.  Additionally, moments of peace and tranquility are actually the highest moments of anxiety for such people (like how I’m acting like I’m not one of those people?).  The reason for the anxiety is because of unease and preparation.  It is as if we are sitting in the calm before the storm, and if we are unprepared, who knows how we will react when the storm arrives?  

The same holds true for “activity tranquility” (I just made that up…feel free to share.).  When life and action are calm, I am not.  I feel like I am letting life slip by.  Every moment of daylight that passes without me using it feels like a moment wasted.  The problem is, I am filling so many moments, that I am actually wasting the good ones.  The ones that involve reading Mercy Watson or sipping my coffee by the fire.  I’m the Martha, yet Jesus is telling me to be Mary.

I have never desired to rest, nor do I now.  However, I am also becoming aware of the fact that this lack of desire is doing me more harm than good.

I have a medical condition:  a rare genetic disorder that causes frequent joint dislocation, along with a host of other maladies.  What I refuse to give in to, however, is admitting that my body works, operates, and functions differently than most other bodies.  What some people can do in the gym, I simply cannot unless I wish to schlep a wheelbarrow with me through the Y to cart around my displaced body parts.  Yet, watching those able-bodied people, and feeling ok in my own state, I’m just sure I can do what they are doing.

So I try.

And then I have another entry for my “stupid things” page.

After my attempt, I need to rest to let my body heal.  I NEED to rest if I want to get better.  But do I?  I’ll let you figure that one out.

I’ve gotten to a point where I think I need to figure this resting thing out and am beginning to explore how to do it.  Of course, that is like telling me to communicate with you in Mandarin Chinese, but you’ve got to start somewhere.  The problem is, so far in my search for understanding, I haven’t gotten it yet.

I’m actually considering praying this prayer:  Lord, if you need me to rest, to REALLY take it easy, then please make it happen.

I know.  I’m an idiot right?  But right now, I’m coming off medical bed rest (which I observed for one day only) for a neck injury.  Did I take the time to rest?  No.  So, God gave me a cold on top of the injury.  Resting yet, Jess?  Still not.  Now tonight, I’ve had an emergency tooth extraction after shattering my wisdom tooth during one of my nighty tooth grinding sessions.  (This reminds me of the man who asked God to speak to him and ignored every word.) So here I sit: asking God to make me rest…with a neck injury, a cold, and one less tooth in my head.

Will I get the message?

I sure hope so.  But if you will excuse me, I need to go dig up the dead jasmine in our backyard.


Wants v Needs

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In August of 2005, the National Weather Service noticed a disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico. We were living in New Orleans at the time, so any rumblings in the belly of the Gulf caused us personal indigestion.

The year prior, in September of 2004, a similar disturbance was noted.  The rumblings of 2004 became the gulf shore destruction of Hurricane Ivan. A category three hurricane, the storm wreaked havoc along the Gulf Coast, tearing apart lives from Gulf Shores, AL to Destin, FL (my geographical heartbeat). As residents of the Big Easy at the time, we were warned that Ivan could destroy our city.  “Destruction! Devastation! Heartbreak! Death!” The authorities flooded our eyes and ears with pleas for protection (of property and person), prevention (of massive damage), and evacuation.

And the people listened.  Terrified of what seemed to be the end of our city as we knew it, houses were boarded, documents and photos entrusted, safety supplies stockpiled, and homes evacuated. As many citizens as could leave, did. Away from our homes, we awaited our impending doom.

But then an interesting thing happened:  the storm turned east.  What was intended to leave our city lifeless instead took its toll on the white sand beaches of Alabama and Florida.  New Orleans had been spared.

So come August of 2005, the people barely listened to the familiar warnings of the NWS.  “There’s a disturbance in the Gulf.  Destruction! Devastation! Heartbreak! Death!” The authorities did their jobs well: we were informed.  We were warned.  We were told,” this is the REAL DEAL!” But the people had wearied of such warnings.  They had heard it before; more times than once.  And accepting the drama of the forecasters was no longer on the residents’ radars.  “You say that every year! It has never actually happened.  They’re overreacting.  We were fine last time; we’re always fine!”

Nothing is going to happen!

I, however, was not so convinced.  There was something different about this storm.  Whether it was God-designed or statistically pertinent, I just had that feeling.  So, much to my husband’s chagrin, we boarded the house, grabbed the documents and a couple of boxes of pictures, and hit the road.  The first night away, we planted ourselves at a friend’s house only about 40 minutes north of New Orleans.  It seemed a fairly safe distance away.  In the morning, however, we turned on the news, and that’s when I saw IT.  The biggest, most life-like monster I had ever seen, with an eye so big I could stretch a ruler across it.  I knew at that moment; this really was the real deal.  

During that day, the gnawing feeling in my stomach grew, and I really felt we had to go farther north.  Where we currently were was still too close.  My husband, convinced we were fine where we were, spoke to the owner of the house about it.  “Hey, Jess is getting nervous being this close to the storm.  What do you think about it?”

“Well,” he said, “this house is solid.  We’ve got 6×6 beams holding up our roof (he then proceeded to show them to my husband).  We’re a brick construction with no other buildings around.  I think we’ll be ok.”

“But between you and me,” he continued, “if this wasn’t MY house, I’d leave with you.  Go.”

Then he handed us $200 cash, prayed for us, and sent us on our way.  I couldn’t believe we were leaving him behind.  By that point, there were about 20 people seeking shelter in that brick construction, so he had to stay.  A good captain stays with his ship, but my heart hurt for him.

Alas, further north we trekked, lodging ourselves with another set of friends in Natchez, MS.  In Natchez, I felt we had gotten far enough away from the storm.  From there, we just had to wait.

I don’t think I will ever forget that night.  August 28, 2005, we watched the news grippingly, waiting to see what would happen; what DID happen.  By midnight, we just couldn’t watch anymore, and decided to give it to God and go to bed.  During that night, and early morning-August 29, 2005-Hurricane Katrina devoured the city of New Orleans.  We went to bed with a storm menacing the Crescent City and awoke to something I cannot believe even now, nine years later.

New Orleans was gone.

An entire city underwater.  Homes, businesses, land, animals, and countless people sunken in the result of faulty levees, swirling winds, and torrential rain.  Lives destroyed.  Livelihoods destroyed.  Hopes destroyed.  The images flooding the screen and permanently imprinting our minds were unrecognizable landscapes of places that had been our pedestrian familiarity.  The familiar faces of locale had become complete strangers to us.

The shock of what we were seeing left us frozen in time.  What had happened?!  What about the people who hadn’t left?  What about our ministry?  What about our HOME?

The last question was answered-by the grace of God-very quickly.  There had been two main levee breaks during the storm (we would find out later that there were many others as well): the first was on the Industrial Canal in the 9th ward-the site of our ministry. The second was on the 17th Street Canal-the site of our home.  We knew instantly that we had lost everything we owned.  Within an hour and a half, photo evidence would confirm it:  a picture taken on our street corner with water to the rooftops.

When the fear that you have lost your home becomes your reality, there are myriad ways to handle it.  I, being one of a dramatic nature, would have expected to perform an Oscar-winning display of lament.  However, what God met me with instead a was an incredible peace.  “Peace that passes understanding” (Phil. 4:7)  There was simply nothing we could do to bring our house back, to undo the storm.  It was all just SO big that all I (that WE) could do was to just BE.  We had to ride this wave of uncertainty and see where God took us.  One day at a time.  One step at a time.  One breath at a time.

We quickly realized that we would not be heading back to New Orleans anytime soon, seeing as how the whole city ceased to exist.  Our next step was to pack our few remaining things back in the car and trek from Natchez, MS to Destin to move in with my husband’s parents.

As we got in the car to leave, we both just kind of sat there for a minute.  In that moment, we realized that sitting in that vehicle, we were surrounded by all of our belongings.  Everything we owned fit into that one automobile:  the two of us, our 19-month old son, our dog and his cage, about four changes of clothes each, documents, a few pictures, a little food, and a tennis racquet (you just never know when you’ll need one…).

And in that same moment, one of the biggest lessons I have ever learned smacked me in the face:  right there in that car, not only did I have everything I owned, I also had everything I needed.  Food, water, shelter, a few clothes, and a lot of love.  Instantly, nothing else mattered.  I understood all other things in life to be wants.  Needs vs wants etched themselves into my brain like a cattle brand.  All at once, all of my former “needs’ seemed trivial and, if I’m honest, embarrassing.  How had I gotten to a point in my life where I could so easily mistake “want” for “need”?  “I ‘need’ to get a new outfit for the banquet.” “I ‘need’ a new toaster oven.”

Seriously?

The only “need” I had in that moment was for soap! God had “richly supplied all of my needs according to His riches in glory” (Phil 4:19).  I don’t mean that in an uber-spiritual, transcend-the-situation way.  I knew, in that car, that I really did have everything I needed.  My house was gone.  Most of my photographs were gone.  Belongings held since childhood were gone.  The ministry building was gone (parenthetical note: by God’s grace, though displaced, every child we served in that building survived).  And yet, we had never been so fully alive.

Since that time, we have been able to attain the material belongings that fill a house.  However, I must admit, it was a struggle for  me.  There was such freedom in being reduced to scant material goods that all new items felt highly burdensome.  Additionally, I suffered from such terrible guilt about all the things I had “needed” in the past that I had a hard time justifying the purchase of anything that only took up space.  Forget about buying a knick-knack! (Ok, I still can’t do that.)

I have oft been tagged a “minimalist”, which I guess in some ways I am.  Clutter and “stuff” brings me to a place of high anxiety.  They say that once missionaries to third world countries return to the U.S., they have a very difficult time adjusting to the American way of consumerism.  Though I dare not compare myself to someone who has done such noble work as to serve those in a far-off land, this part of the missionary mindset I understand well.

My children have been taught the great difference between wants and needs since the moment they each reached for their first Duplo block.  I will hear one saying, “Mommy, I need a….”, to which another cherub barks back, “You don’t NEED it.  You WANT it!” 

I’m sure I take this too far from time to time, but regardless, I am so grateful to have learned this lesson at all.

God really does supply our needs.  Sometimes, the wrapping just looks a little different than we expected.

 

 


A Whole New World

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Golly, this is strange terrain for me.  My first post!  What do I say?  What do I present?  Do I use humor, insight, media, life lessons?

Oh, the intimidation!  I can’t take it!

And then I remember that THAT is why I started this blog in the first place and why I’ve titled it as such.  My brain, my life, and my duties just never stop.  I have never been an expert at decision-making (yes, I hear the quiet snickers from readers who know me), which leaves my brain to come up with all SORTS of lovely, frightening, amorous, conversation pieces.

And most of these get me in trouble.

However, when I find myself in “trouble”, then I get to lean on God to show me how to get out!  AHA!  Life lesson and fodder for blogging!

I certainly hope you get as much out of the things God has taught (and continues to teach) me as I have gained from learning them.

Between you and me, I would much rather learn it from your perspective; the reader.

So, I welcome you.  Thank you for joining in this journey with me.  Strap up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!!

 

P.S.  Be sure to visit my “The Stupid Thing I Did Today” page.  Sadly, it changes every day…