Monday, January 5, 2015

Tiny Seeds

Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seeds to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him. -Psalm 126:5-6 
tiny mustard seed
     I have a picture of tiny mustard seeds in my hand. I'm clutching to them because that's all I have. The year 2015 that lay before me seems entirely daunting; finishing nursing school, getting a job, seeing Camille graduate from high school, sending her off to college - or having her stay home, deciding where Leanne will attend high school, Elena possibly leaving for the entire summer, Dad's cancer recovery, Julia's learning challenges - so many significant endings, beginnings, comings and goings.....I'm weary already.
     It's such a contrast to last year where I pictured myself standing in great faith and praying bold prayers. I have done that this last year. But as 2014 wound down, I felt wound down by a brutal 3rd semester, a cruel and unpredictable instructor, painful friendship challenges and my dad's cancer diagnosis. I stumbled through the holidays emotionally numb and muted.
     At this juncture, right after the new year, as our family schedule is about to reset into predictability, I'm having a hard time knowing where to begin praying. So, I've had tearful, desperate moments of feeble prayers. I have scolded myself for not believing that God wants to hear and answer. I've had this mindset that I must work very hard at praying and pouring my heart out to God, writing all my detailed prayers down and having pages and pages of requests to bring to him. Because you see, the needs are so great, so specific, so important....
     But all I have are these tiny little seeds of prayers to plant in the garden of time where I go to him as I am. Here I am....and scripture tells me that he takes all seeds of prayerful faith and does with them what he will. I do trust him. I do believe he wants to help me with each concern, worry, fear, need.
     I suppose the best prayers are prayed as I go along. And so I will. Moment by moment, day by day.
In faith, I'm looking forward to the harvest.
massive mustard tree

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

I want to make an arrangement
from my garden like this.
   Today is one of the last days of 2013 and I am reflective. So indulge me a bit, won't you?

I love ranunculus flowers!
I planted 18 of these.
     Last night I attended Elena's church and as I was standing and worshipping, moved by the music and the Spirit, I saw a picture of me standing and raising my arms like I was at that moment, but instead of singing, I was praying. I had this clear picture that this next year was to be a year of fervent intercession with a very proactive stance - literally standing and asking God for mighty and bold things, powerful and obvious displays of his nearness, and definitive answers to prayers for deliverance for the people he would bring my way...
     ...As I was kneeling forward in the balmy, breezy intoxicating sunlight this morning and digging dirt out of holes to plant my bulbs, I was pondering how prayer is so much like planting. The intentional times and thoughtfulness required to bring people and circumstances before the Lord often takes effort., much like planting does as well. When I planted my bulbs I had to clear and level the ground, lay out fertile soil, lay out the bulbs, dig the holes, add fertilizer and the bulbs, fill the holes back up, water and clean the whole area up afterwards. I soaked in a hot bath after I was done and took a well-deserved, needed nap. Ahhh...that was delightful! And as I placed those ugly bulbs in the ground it was with the hope that they will blossom into beautiful flowers that are fragrant and lovely to behold, displayed on my dining room table or given away to others.I thought about how so often times of intense, fervent,  passionate prayers this last year were accompanied with tears, pleas - desperate at times. Prayer can look so ugly, like those bulbs I wedged  6 inches into the ground this morning. And yet, there is God, in the midst of it, summoning forth my honesty, my heart, the truth of the matter. Somehow, in the midst of all that sowing of tears and words, God hears my prayers.
   And he answered so many of them.
Daffodils are delightful!
I planted about 20 of these.
  He answered this year in surprising, delightful and unbelievable ways. Why am I surprised? This is the God who created the Heavens and the Earth! It is no difficulty for him to move people's hearts, their circumstances, their attitudes...
     Of all the things that I have delighted in the most with a depth of soul-satisfaction, it is the answered prayers on behalf of others. I recall those precious moments where God exposed the heart of the matter and brought forth love, kindness, healing, understanding....
     I discovered something astonishing and so fun! It can be only A FEW WORDS spoken in truthful, loving sincerity that can totally change EVERYTHING. Now, I am not a person given to just a few words, and it is an area that I can grow in. But in this matter of prayer before my Savior, many words are just fine. So, I am listing my goals and desires below. We shall see how this year plays out!

1) I want to get down to the weight on my driver's license (!) which is about 12 pounds lighter than I am now and maintain that weight consistently by September.
2) I want to work up to consistently running 3 miles in 35 minutes at the gym by June.
3)I want to get help developing several good weight workouts and build upper and lower body strength consistently.
4) I want to get straight A's in nursing school 2nd semester.
5) I want to get a 3.5 GPA in nursing school 3rd semester.
6) I want to work this summer as a student nurse in labor and delivery at Huntington memorial hospital.
7) I want to wipe out all credit card debt and stick to a monthly cash budget.
8) I want to give regularly to at least one charity.
9) I want to take each of my daughters out once a month, talk and pray with them and keep a notebook of issues they are dealing with and how they've progressed.
10) I want to visit at least 5 very beautiful, luxurious, architecturally spectacular buildings this year; hotels, houses, stores, office buildings, etc.
11) I want to hear a live, full string orchestra in a large music venue.
12) I want to see a professional ballet at the Music Center this year.
13) I want to go snorkeling with Tim in Laguna Beach this summer.
14) I want to go camping and rock climbing at Joshua Tree this spring.
15) I want to spend focused time (at least 5 minutes - this takes real discipline for me!) before the Lord each day quiet, still and waiting on God.
16) I want to hear God speak hope into my heart everyday and remind myself that he has promised to help me in all circumstances. I want to write down at least weekly what he speaks to me.
17) I want to be committed to hug each of my children and husband everyday.
18) I want to listen twice more than I talk in everyday conversations.
19) I want to host an all-out, over-the-top tea to bless some very special people. I have no idea who these special people would be, but God does!
20)I want to go sailing! This is a long shot. I have never been sailing before, but I really want to learn.


Saturday, June 8, 2013

On White Robes and a Mother's Private Boast

          Commencement exercises for Elena's high school graduation were rapidly approaching. She was studying for her final exams as talk about graduation ceremonies was making its way to my awareness: location, tickets, letters and official calls from school about the details regarding time, clothing requirements, seating specifics, etc. And this announcement from Elena: "So, I was chosen to wear a white robe because I'm in the top 10 of my class, but I'm not going to." Then she elaborated about how she didn't feel she deserved that special designation because in her words she "hadn't earned it." My reaction:

Tim and I so proud of our graduate

     "Mom, they don't weight the grades."
     (That is, a student earning a "B" in an Advanced Placement college level English class would have the same GPA as a student earning a "B" in a regular English class. No acknowledgement would be given that the AP English "B" is a significantly larger amount of work than the regular English B. Other schools do weight grades to acknowledge the rigorous nature of AP classes. So, for example, all things being equal between two hypothetical students, one with the AP English "B" might have a 4.0 and the one with the regular English "B" would have a 3.8. Furthermore, GPA's are what determine your class rank.)
     "So?" I argued. "If the school determines that you have earned a special academic designation according to their guidelines, then take it!"
     "But I know students," she countered, "that have worked really hard in AP classes who are not in that category and other students who took regular classes all throughout high school and they are. It's not fair that they don't weight the grades. I really don't think I earned that distinction. I've only been at that school for a year and I only had one AP class." On and on the impassioned discussions proceeded with not just me, but her friends and classmates. When the time finally came to pick up her cap and gown, she approached the counter to speak with the gown attendant. "So, it says here that you get a white robe?"
      "I spoke with my counselor about it last week. I don't want the robe because I really don't think I earned it. You really should weight the grades." She began a strong, but respectful appeal for a more fair grading system that accurately represented student effort and achievement. In the end, the bewildered administrator looked at her and said, "So you don't want the white robe?" Elena politely declined and was handed her red robe and mortar board.
     Graduation at the grand and impressive Pasadena Civic Auditorium arrived. As I walked into the facility I noticed all the graduates lined up and ready to proceed into the auditorium. But I especially noticed the white robed graduates at the front of the line. I winced in a small heartbreaking moment of reality: my daughter was not among them. I had accepted her decision and was supportive of her convictions. I had told her earlier in the week that if she felt strongly about not wearing the white robe, then she should stick to her conviction. After all, her Dad and I knew the truth. Still, seeing all the students lined up and not seeing my daughter among them was rather painful in a surprising way. Furthermore, as all 474 graduates filled the seating area on the stage, complete with the requisite brass band playing "Pomp and Circumstance," Elena came in almost last because of her last name starting with a "T."
     In an ironic twist, she and her fellow friend and choir member sang a duet that not even they knew they would be singing. She and her friend were the only ones who had shown up for the rehearsal, and now they both were singing a fun, celebratory duet in front of about 3, 000 people. Here was the catch for me: her friend had a white robe.
     Her friend had been number 11 in the line up. How proud her parents must've been.
     My private boast is this: my daughter had earned that special designation. She had worked tremendously hard in very rigorous writing and physics classes taught at her home school academy classes. She had also taught herself algebra and geometry with excellent textbooks during her sophomore and junior years. Her score on the CAHSEE  in mathematics was a perfect score. More importantly, though, is that my daughter cared about fairness and justice and was willing to forego the outward appearance of success in order to stand up for principles that she felt strongly about. I was very, very proud of her. Even if no one would see it from the outside.
Elena's duet with her friend

Friday, March 8, 2013

"Woosh woosh" goes the heart...

     It was one of the most engaging topics I studied in last semester's Anatomy and Physiology course: the pathway of blood through the heart. Unlike the daunting nervous system with different pathways and mechanisms for making my muscles move, with that complex brain and all of its centers added in, the heart has a predictable, (sort of)simple path. We won't talk about reading EKG's with their QRST pattern. I'm not so looking forward to that in nursing school, but I'll get through it. I have to. But I digress.
     Additionally, one of the more unique aspects of my volunteer work on different units at various hospitals is the ob/triage unit at my downtown hospital. I've been on telemetry, couplet (postpartum) care, and the emergency department. But on OB triage as I walk through the halls to the resident's lounge to assemble patients charts, I hear that distinct whoosh whoosh whoosh sound by the nurse's station. I see the monitors with their blue and red squiggly lines and I know that somewhere, a baby's heartbeat is being recorded and monitored for safety and informational purposes. If that heart rate changes and the line tracing becomes concerning, information can be gained about how that baby is tolerating labor. (Although, Electronic Fetal Monitoring is not an exact science and is rather subjective in the "gray areas.") If a baby does not appear to be tolerating labor well, various things like re-positioning the mother can be done to improve the baby's heart rate. Sometimes a cautious "wait and see" approach is appropriate. At other times, a c-section is performed to avoid what could be a deteriorating, life-threatening situation.
     It's the baby's heart beat that indicates these decisions.
A fetal monitor "strip" that records a baby heart beats
 and  the mother's contractions.
     A baby's first heart beat begins about day 22 after fertilization. That's about three weeks from an egg and sperm meeting to that first historic, significant, tiny  whoosh whoosh whoosh sound. I have begun to ponder this incredible event. God starts that heart beat and programs exactly how many times that heart will beat until it does not beat any longer. This is an incredible thing to ponder. It sounds so simple - the opening and closing of heart valves that gives that whooshing sound is pre-programmed with a distinct beginning and end. Of course, some people's hearts do stop and they are revived. Eventually, though, every dead person had that last, pre-determined whoosh.
     Oh....the reality of this is soo painful. It seems most painful when that apportionment of heartbeats is much smaller than the average. I looked up some information and did some calculations. The "average" person has about 42, 075, 840 heart beats per year. If someone lives to age 70, which is young compared to the increased average life span in the U.S. being in the early 80's, then that heart will beat approximately 3 billion times. If this is a hard number to wrap your brain around, imagine being given $3 billion dollars to spend however you wanted. That's a lot of money! Those are a lot of heartbeats.
     Sadly, though, with my two miscarriages that number was much smaller. My first miscarriage ended at about 11 1/2 weeks. I don't know when that baby's heart stopped beating, but at around 6 1/2 weeks pregnant we saw her (I'm sure it was a girl - what else?!) heart beating. I don't know the exact number of beats, but at 9 weeks gestation her little heart would have beaten about 4,320  times. And there was a moment when it didn't. When the obstetrician (not my regular doctor) did the ultrasound she keep pressing the transducer around my belly and stated, "Are you sure you saw a heart beat? I don't see any heart beat now. Are you sure?" This woman was seriously lacking sensitivity and compassion  - UGH! With my next baby the pregnancy ended shortly after it began and there might only have been a heart beating for a couple of days. Everyday  however, was precious to me and to God. For whatever reason, God gave me a little life and then He took it. I do have much peace about those losses. It is particularly helpful that God generously gave me so many more healthy and happy babies after those two that departed before they saw the light of day. Now, they see the glorious light of their Creator and my sweet Savior, Jesus. But I digress.
     Several weeks ago a young man in our community shockingly died of complications from a sudden heart attack. It has devastated our little town. He was a popular, well-liked young man. I remember him serving me coffee on a study outing one evening in late fall. He seemed very sweet. He was 23. And he is gone. I calculated the average heart beats he was given and it was around 967, 744, 320. Being so young, he didn't even hit the 1 billion mark.
     I'm not exactly sure where I am going with this post, only that I am trying to tie some strings together and find comfort in this young man's premature demise. As I proceed with my nursing career, eventually working on labor and delivery, I will have the pleasure of hearing that trademark whoosh sound many times. In fact, I will go through rigorous training to view those heart and contraction patterns to detect any possible problems that will require me to consult with an obstetrician to promote the best outcome for mother and baby. What a weighty calling! And I feel like I am being primed for it - one heart beat - WHOOSH - at a time.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Compensation and Craftsmanship

Me and my crazy crew in early July (and my crazy hair!Yikes!).
     When I was in grade school, I was taller than all the other girls. I had a nervous, dry-lip licking habit that created chapped, red, ugly lips. I had an embarrassing sssttutter, too. I was just weird. And I knew it. I was treated accordingly so. The other girls and boys at school used to tease me, call me names, and exclude me from their birthday parties. It was very painful.
     Don't feel sorry for me, though. The reason I bring up this painful part of my childhood is to magnify a beautiful display of God's kindness and handiwork in my life.
     You see, I have many, many friends who love me, cherish me, and laugh with me now. And how we laugh! The silly, funny, goofy jokes that have me laughing at 5:00 am the next  morning (my current wake up time), hours after the joke was told because it was that funny, are priceless to me. When my friends say, "Oooh! I have you all to myself!" Or, "I don't care where we go, I just want to be with you," can I tell you what that does to my soul? What those comments do to those memories that are still sort of tucked down in my "CHILDHOOD MEMORY BANK OF SNOTTY GRADE-SCHOOL TEASERS"? It washes over those memories like crashing waves on rocks that have been smoothed down over the years and made available for eager little children to traipse across near the water to simply explore and have fun. Yes, like that.
     Isn't it God's marvelous craftsmanship in my life to take what was so painful and turn it into something so pleasurable? Yes it is. That is what God does. He compensates us in that what was such a source of pain and loss he makes such a source of abundantly more joy and gain than what we lost in the first place. I'd much rather have all these wonderful, loyal, kind friends during this season of life than when I was younger. These friendships are just that much more precious to me because I know what it's like to not be wanted or included.
     I see other evidences of God's lavish and loving handiwork in my life, too. When I was twenty, my mother died of breast cancer. I was half way through college. I had never suffered the death of any one close to me before, other than our beloved family dogs. Oh, my, was it p--a--i--n--f--u--l. When I graduated from college two years later, she wasn't there. When I married 2 years later, she still wasn't there. When I had my first baby 5 years later, she wasn't there, either. And then there was baby number 2, and 3, and then 4, 5 and then the last one, 6. Yep, still not there. Ouch from the bottom of my heart. The fact that she had been a labor and delivery nurse and loved every minute of it made it a much, much bigger OUCH in my heart.
     But don't feel sorry for me. You know why? Because even though God took my mother from me at a fairly young age, he made me a mother 6 times over! God graciously, generously and humorously gave me 6 delightful daughters. I am lucky, blessed, and all those great adjectives for someone who is very, very happy with her maternal treasures.What was such a loss for me, my mother, he created me to be many times over. God is g--o--o--d. And the compassion and insight and comfort I can offer to others is, well, appreciated by those whom I've cried with and reached out to when their loved ones have passed on. I get it. I really, really get it. "Grief can be tormenting, " I've been known to say. "But you'll get through it. The hole in your heart will never really close, but life fills in around it and you will find your grief manageable in time. You will feel joy again."
     I see this tendency of God's to redeem and compensate, in an extraordinarily beautiful way, in Scripture, too. Just recently I re-read the biography of Paul: A Man of Grit and Grace by Charles Swindoll. The author was describing the letters he had written to his "son in the faith," Timothy. The books I and II Timothy are those letters. The fond affection and love that Paul uses to communicate with his "son" had me in tears when I realized something very profound. I remembered that Scripture described Timothy as having been raised by his God-fearing mother and grandmother. Timothy's father is not mentioned at all. I assume his father was not around, as in dead or gone, or simply not a God-fearing man. But God, in his kindness, gave Timothy this affectionate, loving father figure in his later years who was perfectly fit for what Timothy needed. How Timothy must have loved and cherished Paul's care and instruction. And how painful Paul's execution in Rome must have been for him. How good and kind of God to have given Timothy those words of love, exhortation and comfort that have been preserved in the Holy Scriptures forever. This is the father heart of God.
     I see the beginnings of more areas where God's compensation and craftsmanship are being displayed in my life. It gives me faith to trust my heavenly father for more evidences of his kindness. I also trust more readily that my present sufferings, deficiencies and pain are being worked out for a greater good someday, too. It also helps me to see that as my children suffer for things that are beyond their parents' control, I can point to the hope we have in God's redemptive and wise kindness through it all. God is "ahh..some." Thank you, Lord.

Thursday, October 11, 2012


     I'm almost at the midway point in my Anatomy and Physiology class. Phew! It's been intense, although I have a strong A currently. This has been the most challenging semester so far, but it's also been interesting. I am so encouraged that I have a professor that is helpful, fair, and excellent at communicating difficult information well. She is a truly gifted teacher and I am so grateful! These topics, especially physiology, are quite challenging. So, onto the rest of the semester where I am aiming to finish with a strong A.
No more of these for awhile...
     In the meantime, my oven has broken down. My stove top works, thank God! I also have two crock pots that have been in use a lot lately. I'm also trying new dessert recipes in my crock pots and bread recipes in my bread maker. It's been an adventurous culinary challenge, to say the least. Goodbye homemade pizza, cinnamon rolls, bread bowls for chili, granola, bread sticks, chocolate chip cookies and brownies and all sorts of other yummy baked delights. Oh well, it's just food.
...or this!
Maybe we should get a dog! (JUST KIDDING)
     However, the truth of the matter is, we don't have the money for repairs or new appliances. Both appliances are fairly big ticket items, and we can live without them. However, Elena needs a choir dress, car registration is due as well as broken brake lights that need to be fixed, we haven't broken our kids of that pesky eating habit and, of course, our property tax bill is due in several short months. If we're careful, we will pay for everything we need without too much debt incurred.
      On the school front, my girls have had several challenges as well. Math classes have been difficult for some of our girls, requiring extra tutoring time with Tim and their teachers. My younger girls require hands-on homework help as well. I enjoy doing homework with my younger girls, but I need to be disciplined to make sure we do it after school in a timely manner. Then there's the evening routine of reading, chores, toy and clothing pick up, and school lunch prep. Did I forget to mention the logistical challenges of managing two teenagers' social, sports, work  and academic schedules, too? And, oh, the fact that they both have lots of friends in several different social networks, including some "cute and really nice" boys?...!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That being said, their conversations about school, classmates, and teachers are always entertaining and the highlight of my evening. Those oldest two of mine are funny girls!
     I won't lie to you, though. At the end of the evening, I am e#x#h#a#u#s#t#e#d. Even when I get into bed, I don't find sleep particularly gratifying. I've been able to go back to the gym, though, and slowly get back into my fitness routine. I'm not running yet, and even rigorous extended walking is painful to my still-tender toe, but cycling is ok. It's just helpful to get back to lifting weights and doing some sustained cardio workout. When I start running again, I should sleep much better. Soon, hopefully soon....
     And then there's that charming and handsome man I live with. Hmmm....what was his name?!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I'm Procrastinating on Studying...So Why Not Update My Blog?!

     The Fall semester is in full swing for everyone. I'm in school 4 mornings a week and on Fridays I get to clean my house! (Do you feel my joy at this end-of-the-week activity?!) Elena is a Senior at Pasadena High School where she has met entertaining and wholesome-seeming friends (phew!) and is adjusting to her classes slowly but surely. Camille is in 10th grade and really enjoying AP European History. She's gearing up for water polo season and overseeing Elena's social contacts at school (what's a little sister for, huh?). Leanne started middle school with a - rip! Her plaid madras shorts ripped at the back pocket, exposing her monkey underwear - (they were on sale! What can I say?!) about two hours after she arrived at school. Her friend loaned her her sweater - despite the 100 degree weather - and all was good. And then the carefully laid out plans to walk home with friends ended with her being stranded ALL BY HERSELF at the front of the school. After a misguided wild goose chase, she burst into tears when I finally arrived to pick her up. I felt soooo bad for her! I told her, "Oh, honey, you got all the yucky middle school stuff out of the way on the first day of school! It just gets better from here on out!" After making copious jokes of a monkeying sort, Leanne was all giggles shortly after.
     Daisy started first grade "with the prettiest teacher in school." Chloe is all about the serious business of being a third grader and making detailed plans to work on her miso soup Halloween costume with soon-to-be lawfully legitimate uncle, David. And that brings me to other happy news - my sister Ann is getting married in December sometime. We are all very excited and, although I've been reassured it will be a very small wedding affair, I'm preparing for something of the medium-ish size. It will be a fun party!
     My anatomy and physiology class has been challenging in the best sort of way. I have an exceptional teacher and I have made some nice acquaintances in my classes, too. The amount of studying I have to do for this class is super intense, prompting me to take a leave of absence from volunteering at both of my hospitals. I was sad, but had to make cuts in time expenditures where I could.
     And speaking of cuts, Tim's paycheck keeps getting smaller and smaller. The cuts to his teacher salary are increasing with very few extra job prospects available like he's had in the past. It was a rough few weeks of realizing that I had to be very careful and disciplined in every penny I spent, but it is a beneficial discipline. I'm amazed at how little money I now spend and how little I miss quite a few things. The challenge, in some good ways, is that to save money on food, our largest "negotiable" expense, I bake and cook many things from scratch to save money. But, the dishes I do! The prep and clean up and hours upon hours of time I spend in the kitchen is unbelievable. My girls do help me, but they are so busy with their school work that I simply do quite a bit, while training my middle girls to do more.
     And then there is Julia, who is at pre-school. Just this morning I heard her at around 6:00 am padding through the house towards the kitchen where I was, giggling in anticipation of seeing me. I waited near the corner that she rounded and jumped out and scared her. She giggled all the more and I hugged and kissed her good morning. Ahh, yes, the best things in life are truly free!