Sunday, October 13, 2019

DEAR HEARTS

I am not a painter, sculptor, or musician.

I am not a dancer, baker, or poet.

So, for want of greater skill, I took a pinch of my heart, tucked it into a dab of clay, and rolled it into a ball.

I did this again, and again, and again, until I reached into my chest with sticky red fingers to discover I had used my heart all up.

I sat and contemplated why I had thought that was a good idea in the first place – tucking pieces of my heart into pockets of mud, until my heart was spent. Oh, I have been such a silly fool, I thought, and now I am undone! For, silly as I’d been, I did know I could not live long without a heart.

I had not grieved this revelation for very long when one of the clay balls began to tremble. It sprouted a head, grew arms and legs. The smidgen of mud and blood stood up and walked. And then it danced! The clay danced a story so incredibly sweet that my chest ached, and my tears flowed like springtime streams.

When I thought I could no longer stand the ache of that beautiful dance, the second clay ball sprouted a head, grew arms and legs. It stood, spread wide its arms, threw back its head, and sang a song about pearl white moonlight on sleeping fields, about soft spring breezes sweet with the smell of clover and the sad lament of the mourning dove. I wept again and was certain now that my chest would soon be crushed by the weight of the beauty of that song.

Then the third ball – a daub of brown mud, swirled red with my heart’s blood - sprouted a head, grew arms and legs. It stood, grasped a great brush, and painted light and fire across the sky. It wetted the brush again, and stroked swirls of poetry and birdsong, apple blush and sunset gold, baby laughter and lover’s tears across life’s canvas. I looked, and I could not breathe because of the beauty of that painting.

One by one, each of the clay balls stood. They danced and sang, painted and baked, loved and laughed, cried and cried out, made light and new life in the world around them. Each time, the great hole in my chest – the place where my heart had once rested, before I had pinched it into tiny pieces to be tucked inside balls of clay – each time, that great hole in my chest ached with a mixture of wonder and joy and indescribable longing. Ached until, finally, my frail chest – that hollow place where my heart had once rested - could bear no more.

Oh, the cracking and tearing! All that was the Outside side of me quivered, screamed, shivered into a thousand-thousand pieces. A pain the size of eternity shattered my whole being.

And then…

Quiet.

How long have I lain pulseless, bled out by that great rending?

How many times has the moon sailed across the night sky?

How often have the trees changed gowns for the autumn dance?

One

Deep

Slow

Breath.

I wake.

I find that I was not crushed after all.

Rather, I was turned inside out.

Another deep breath. A pulse, so tentative, so faint...

What is this? A new heart?!

I did NOT die when I gave my heart away. I was born again.

And I am just beginning to live.
---
My dear hearts,
Thank you.




Wednesday, May 22, 2019

NURSING SCHOOL, PART 8 (HE DID IT AGAIN...)

He did it again.

He met me in a dark valley - got there before I did - and He was holding a light.

It was incredibly hard and I ended the term exhausted, but I truly enjoyed my first semester of school. My teachers were excellent; the material we covered was interesting; and I enjoyed meeting new people and making new friends.

However, it has been very nice the past couple of weeks to NOT: get up before 5:00 every morning; stay up late reviewing Micro and Zoology notes; stress over math homework and lab quizzes; juggle work and school and all the things I should be doing at home.

The dark circles under my eyes are gone. The knotted cables in my shoulders and neck have relaxed. Ahhhhh....

But...

A tremendous obstacle looms like Mount Doom between me and nursing classes in the fall: Anatomy & Physiology 2.

A&P1 in four months felt like a runaway train, from the first day of class until the last. I cannot imagine an entire semester's worth of A&P2 crammed into four weeks.

While I have been catching up on sleep and household chores, I have been trying very hard to NOT think about the approach of June and A&P2. Like hearing footsteps behind you in a dark alley, and they're getting closer, and you know you can't outrun whatever-it-is but you're too terrified to look over you shoulder. Or, like the frightened child who thinks that if he closes his eyes, because he can't see the bogey, the bogey isn't really there.

Yeah, that's kinda how I've been feeling.

But God reminded me again this week that I did not initiate this nursing-school journey - HE did - and He is perfectly capable of finishing what He has purposed for me. I don't have to be afraid of the bogey.

Last weekend, I looked at the calendar and realized that A&P2 is only two weeks away. My stomach knotted. Those familiar steel cables tensed across my shoulders and up my neck. "How on earth am I ever going to get through this?" I thought. "There's no way! I must be out of my ever-loving mind." And then the questioning: "God, is this really what you want me to do? Are you sure?!"

I ran into a friend I hadn't seen in months on Monday morning. She had no idea doubt and anxiety had the upper hand in my mind that morning, that I was second-guessing this whole going-back-to-school thing.

"It's so good to see you!" We chatted a few minutes, then my friend smiled and said, "I am so proud of you for going back to school, Camille. You're going to do great. Hang in there, girl...you've got this!"

And there was an encouraging note from my step-mom, tacked onto the end of an short email about an upcoming family dinner.

And an impromptu visit from my sister and nephew, who live three hours away. And not just a visit, but they actually brought me a car. Yes, you read that correctly: my brother-in-law sent me wheels for getting back and forth to campus.

And then, when I mentioned an expensive piece of technology I needed class, complaining that professors are sometimes insensitive to the financial situations of many students, another friend volunteered: "Oh! I have one of those! You can borrow mine!"

Last week, I was in a dark place, wondering why on earth I was doing this whole school thing, thinking maybe I had misunderstood and that I should throw in the towel.

This week, I am confident God has me exactly where He wants me.

He met me with a light - multiple lights - and said to me: "This way, my child..."

God got me through spring semester; He can get me through A&P2 in June.


Thursday, May 16, 2019

THE LIES THAT BIND

It's been nice sleeping in later than 5:00 most mornings the past couple of weeks. Eighteen more days until June classes begin...

The women at FPC began a study of 1 Peter last night. Our hope is that this time together in God's Word will help us to know him better, and that by knowing God better, we will understand ourselves better and will be transformed more into his likeness.

And yet, there is this thin line of tension some of us feel as we begin...

Some of us know from experience that when we commit to spending more time in diligent study of God's Word, Satan will create opposition. He will try to distract us or knock us out.

Peter begins his letter by writing about "living hope" and the power of God that keeps us, and then he jumps quickly to the topic of trials.

While it is a very good thing to be in God's Word, it is a very hard thing to be the target of the enemy's malice. We should earnestly desire to know God better, but we would be naive to think that pursuit of God comes without cost.

I am thankful Peter anticipates difficulties and trials and offers encouragement at the outset.

And I am thankful to be in this study of 1 Peter, in this place, at this time.

* * *

My mom once told me I was very "black and white," "all or nothing." I tended to see things as entirely one way or the other: good, or bad; sweet, or sour; happy, or sad; right, or wrong; love, or hate. No gray area in between.

For the most part, Mom was right.

However, I have been learning over the past several years - and it has not been an easy learning - I have been learning that life is so much more complicated than simple black and white, that it is possible to feel very contrary emotions - all at the same time - about a particular person, event, or situation.

This enormous complexity has not been easy for me to wrap my brain around. It has been even more challenging for my heart.

I have learned that...

It is possible to genuinely love someone, and yet acknowledge deep hurt at their hands; that thick scars and buried anger interlace sweet memories and a genuine desire for good.

Difference of opinion does not equal disrespect.

The things that give me the greatest delight often cause me the greatest pain.

I can be genuinely happy and thankful about something, and yet also feel sadness and remorse.

A simple example...

I am truly thankful for my job: I love my work; I enjoy my co-workers; I appreciate the income and am thankful it pays for school.

- AND -

Sometimes, my job makes me very sad: I will not get to worship with my church family this Sunday; I missed time with my son when he was home last month; some patient encounters bring me to tears.

I love my job and I love being back in school, but there are some things about work and school that I hate, particularly the constraints on my time. Love and hate, tangled up together inside my straining heart.

To claim the good and not the bad, to pretend that one is true and not the other, that would be dishonest. It would be lying to myself and to the people around me.

And we know who is the author of lies.

Peter says the living out of our faith will not be without trials. My mind and my heart are a battleground.

Satan would convince me that life's battles are won by affirming only the happy and denying the sad, by insisting - to myself and others - that "I am fine," when in fact I am struggling.

Satan is the father of lies.

God is a God of truth - all truth - both happy, pretty truth AND sad, ugly truth.

Today, I want to live honestly - to appreciate all that is good, lovely, joyful and sweet - AND - to grieve all that is less-than, broken, painful and bitter.

Both.

* * *

I think many of us tend to err on one of two sides: "It's all good!" or "It's all bad (frown emoji)."

What I am trying to say today is...whatever our personal tendencies, we must endeavor to be honest, and to tell the whole truth - not just our favorite side of the truth - first to ourselves and then to others.

Lies bind us; truth sets us free.

I will run in the way of your commandments for you set my heart free. Psalm 119:32

Sunday, May 12, 2019

PORCH SWING

When the sun drops behind newly-leafed trees on the western horizon, day shifts hard from almost-too-hot to a-bit-too-cool. Shivering, I retrieve a sweater and a cup of hot tea. Evening chill, you may NOT drive me inside!

I am reluctant to abandon my spot on the porch swing.

God is present everywhere - barnyard, highway, grocery check-out line, woodland walk, hospital room, laundry mat, dental chair, church sanctuary...

But on the porch swing on a cool evening, with the birds singing riotous praise as sunlight fades to softer gold across the hay field, the veil is so thin I can almost hear Him breathe.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

WHEN WEEPING GIVES WAY TO JOY

Weeping may endure for a night...

Thinking this week about grief, broken relationships, and disappointed expectations, and came across these quotes:

These words by Ann VosKamp, discovered by my daughter a couple of years ago during the throes of a broken heart; we were both grieving, and she shared this with me - I have often reread it since:

"Make us humble people who are never afraid of broken things...because Christ is always doing a new thing."

Rosaria Butterfield, posted on Facebook this week by a sweet friend:

"All affliction is meant to direct us to the fountain of life, Jesus Christ Himself."

This, from Tim Keller:

"God is confident we will look back and be lost in wonder at the spectacular love that planned even our darkest moments."

If you know anything about VosKamp, Butterfield, or Keller, you know that these individuals are intimately acquainted with deep grief and disappointment. And yet their words on the topic of suffering speak of Christ, satisfaction, and hope.

Psalm 56:8 tells us that God has "stored my tears in [his] bottle and counted each one of them."

2 Corinthians 4:17 tells us that our present afflictions "are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all."

In Matthew 5:4, our Savior tells us: "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

Psalm 136:5 says that "those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy!"

I have been thinking about grief, heartache, and disappointment this week, because someone I love dearly was deeply, deeply hurt a couple of years ago; and she spent many months in tears and heaviness of heart; and yet she did not once blame God or accuse Him of abandoning her, although others did abandon her and did blaspheme God...

I have been thinking about those many past tears, because this week...

That dear, sweet someone is all smiles. And gratitude. And joy. And sunshine. (And a little bit of sunburn, too.)

She has testified, too many times to count: "God has been so incredibly good to me."

...but joy comes in the morning.

My heart overflows with gratitude and praise.

God is SO very good indeed.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

NURSING SCHOOL, PART 7

I haven't written anything here at the blog in over two months.

You know that feeling you get when you're driving across North Alabama on Highway 78 and you really need to pee and you realize you just whizzed past the last exit with facilities for the next 100 miles? And by the time you finally reach the exit this side of Birmingham that has the giant Love's gas station, your eyes are watering and the pressure on your bladder is so great that it hurts to get out of the car? So you walk into the Love's kinda hunched over, taking little baby steps, praying, "Jesus, PLEASE don't let me trip or sneeze before I reach the bathroom"?

You know THAT feeling?

That's kinda how my chest feels when I haven't been able to write for a long time.

It's good to be back.

I'll try not to pee all over you, I promise.

So, about that nursing school thing...

I AM ALIVE!!! I just survived my first semester back at school in over three decades. Loved my teachers, made new friends, enjoyed my classes, made good grades, but, MAN, am I exhausted. As one of my classmates put it, "We've been ridden hard and put back in the barn wet."

DANG, that was rough.

I am happy to report I have been officially accepted into the nursing program at UTM for fall 2019. If I survive Anatomy & Physiology 2 in June, it's all GO with the nursing classes in August. (Right now, I am trying to not stress too much about A&P2 in June. How on earth is a professor going to cram four months worth of material into one month of classes? And how on earth will I LEARN that information so quickly? Don't panicBreathe!!!)

But first, a few short weeks to catch my breath, rest my weary old bones, and catch up on chores around the house. I haven't mopped my floors in longer than it's been since I've posted here at the blog. I want to plant the flower boxes on my porch...I guess so everything can die when I don't have time to water the plants in June. I want to visit family.

And I want to write.

I'll start today with this:

10 Things I Learned (or relearned) My First Semester Back at School:

  • There are so many beautiful people in the world.
  • The "different" people are the most interesting people.
  • Excellent teachers work way harder than any of their students.
  • God is AMAZING. (Don't believe me? Study the human body.)
  • Climbing four flights of stairs in Humanities didn't really get any easier over the course of the semester.
  • My daughter is a great driver, and she's really good at remembering where the car is parked.
  • Coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee.
  • It's way too late in the game too be squeamish about talking about human genitalia in a mixed classroom full of late teens and early-20-somethings. (Just say the word, folks. Trust me: sitting there in a stare-off with Dr. Gathers and NOT saying the word is ten times more awkward.)
  • School is HARD WORK and it is stressful, even for people who make good grades.
  • The campus where I study is a certified arboretum. The trees are gorgeous.

Whew! I feel better already. I think I can inhale deeply and stand up straight again now.

Thank you, Loves!

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

NURSING SCHOOL, PART 6

No classes or work today, so I've been catching up on chores around the house. The past two months, I have learned there are certain things that simply do NOT happen when Mom goes back to school/work:

No one cleans the cat's litter box. Checked that chore off the list today. Wow. All I can say is: I am so sorry, Kitty!

No one tidies the refrigerator. I threw out several weeks' worth of bits-&-pieces of unidentifiable leftovers today. Now that I've taken the trash out, I'm thinking maybe I should have saved a few "specimens" to take to school tomorrow for Micro lab show-&-tell.

Sweeping. With only three people living here now, you'd think there would not be a lot of dirt, hair, dust bunnies, and nastioferous "drift" floating around at floor level. But you'd be wrong. Secretly, I was trying to hold out on this one...see if someone else would notice the filth and pick up a broom. But nasty floors really aren't that big a deal to anyone else in my family...just me. Today, I cracked. The floors still need a good mopping, but at least now they are no longer crunchy.

Planned menus and bought and put away groceries. Washed and folded three loads of laundry. Took out two bags of trash. Washed and put away a sink full of dishes.

Now, time to tackle homework, prep for tomorrow's labs, and study for Friday's tests. If I can stay awake and concentrate, that is.

As I was folding a load of laundry this afternoon, I got to thinking: "I need a wife!" You know, someone to do the laundry, clean the bathrooms, mop the floors, and cook a hot meal while I'm away at work and school, so I can focus on more important things when I'm at home on my "off" time.

That one silly thought woke an enormous sleeping dragon.

When I was a full-time stay-at-home mom, my work day began when my feet hit the floor in the morning, and it didn't end until long after last little one was snuggled in bed for the night. No "wife" to make sure I had clean underwear or to have a hot meal on the table for me at the end of every day. No time clock on the wall where I could check out after a long, difficult shift. It was exhausting work, but I LOVED my job.

Now that I'm "out," my work/school day begins well before the sun peeps over the eastern horizon, and it doesn't end until my engine putters completely out of steam and I crash into bed, long after the sun has set. Still no "wife" to sweep my floors or buy my groceries, and "a day off" translates into "try to cram a weeks' worth of my old job into my new schedule." This is an exhausting season of life, but you know what? I LOVE what I am doing.

So, I am thankful for time to catch up on chores around the house today, and I am praying I'll be able to stay awake enough and alert enough the rest of this day to get some serious studying done.

And, to all my sisters out there who go hard, day in and day out, with no weekends off, no paid vacations, and no wife -

You

Are

Amazing.

Now, time to make another pot of coffee and tackle Micro.