Though We See Through A Glass, Darkly

th397JH4JX“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” 1 Corinthians 13:12

I stood at the sink, washing dishes. Wind and sunlight swept through the open windows. Outside, a pileated woodpecker tipped the bird feeder as he ferociously dug for seeds.

My youngest daughter was in her high chair; my oldest was in the booster, eating lunch. Both mirrored the contentment I felt. My husband came inside from the barn and began prepping his second bowl-sized cup of coffee.

He came to stand beside me and looked out the window. He touched my shoulder and said, “We’re blessed.”

I reared back from his words. My heart clenched. I immediately thought, “Don’t say that; we’re too close to your scans.”

The foundation of my faith better resembled superstition. To admit that we were blessed felt, in my mind, to entice just the opposite.

To cause God to stop and pause—to look down through the screen of clouds at our idyllic family—and say, as if a new version Job, “Have you considered my servant, Jolina?”

I continued washing dishes. I wiped down the countertop and swept the floor. All the while, I pondered why I didn’t believe God wanted good things for our family. Why I didn’t—and couldn’t—trust.

Like a father who delves out punishment, and a mother who delves out gifts, God and Jesus each had their roles, and I could not comprehend that they loved me the same.

I had no trouble believing Jesus wanted good things for our family. I had no trouble believing Jesus was one I could trust. However, the same did not go for his father.

Father God was not the one who nurtured my spirit when times got tough; instead, he was one who orchestrated the tough times as recompense for all the bad things I did.

Last night, three days after I began analyzing my unhealthy viewpoint of God, my husband and I had another young couple over for supper.

The four of us sat on the front porch after our girls were in bed. We ate peach pie for dessert and talked about our spiritual journeys as the birds returned to their nests and the windmill creaked in the dark.

Though talkative to a fault, I hesitantly told them about my own journey: about growing up on a Christian camp, my parents’ ardent faith slowly becoming my own, my dear friend’s death, my best friend’s cancer, and my husband’s emergency craniotomy eight weeks after we moved away from our families.

That is when I understood: every time I’ve walked through a hardship, I’ve also walked closer to God.

He doesn’t give me hardships out of punishment. He gives me hardships out of love, because he knows that unless I walk through hardships on this earth, I will never be ready to meet him face to face.

The revelation unclenched my heart. I knew that I could trust my father God, just as I could trust his son. And that, regardless of the outcome of my husband’s brain scans and tests, God and Jesus will walk with me every step of the journey, and one day – though I now peer through the glass darkly – I will clearly see the perfect trinity’s heart and plan.

Have you ever walked through a hardship and then later saw how God turned it for good?

Why I Write Amish Fiction

4a26f57a8ae89a90fca7cd2998c713eaI drank in the images of the Amish community, as if I were a thirsty explorer having stumbled upon an oasis: the greenhouse redolent with blooms; the sturdy grandmother in the beige kerchief watching us Englischer customers with a mixture of curiosity and censure (I was wearing cargo pants); a toddler girl, in a dark purple dress, adjusting her bonnet with prim, dimpled hands and then shyly smiling up at me; the little boy, Monroe, with the uneven bowl cut, carrying a twenty-five pound sack of potting soil out to my van with no visible effort, though it was about half his size.

Being there, breathing there, was like stepping into another world, located only fifteen miles from our solar-powered farm in Wisconsin. A world I haven’t inhabited since I was a young girl visiting a farm in Kentucky, wearing a jean skirt and pigtail braids, and playing kick ball like I really belonged amongst my Old Order Mennonite peers.

Like most things in life, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I didn’t realize how deep my love for the Plain people ran until I was away from them. Being reunited, even if with strangers, somehow made me feel like I was back home, with family.

I left Miller’s Greenhouse, stowed my girls in the van, and drove up the hill toward the bakery, which was in a building—festooned with flower baskets—toward the back of the farm. The farmhouse and the barns were all white-washed and pristine. I stared at the long-range views of the unglaciered hills as the windmill kept an even tempo above me.

Martha (one of six sisters and one brother, twenty-nine years old, unmarried, though last time I teased her that this could change very soon) came out to the store from the farmhouse once she saw she had a customer.

We said hello and made small talk, then I scanned the darkened aisles and picked up a cherry and a blackberry pie with thick, glistening crusts and hearts cut out of the centers. A pie weighting each hand, I saw someone dart past my peripheral vision. I turned my body and almost—comically—averted my gaze, because the young Amish woman’s hair was long and loose and sun-streaked brown: the first unkapped hair I’ve ever seen in a community.

That skein of hair must’ve touched the hem of her royal-blue cape dress, overlaid with an emerald apron, but it instead fluttered and swirled behind her as she moved–bare feet flitting, caught. She was beautiful, stunning in a way that must’ve made the Plain community worry, for she was anything but plain.

She smiled, somewhat sheepishly, and waved. “Hi!”

I waved back and smiled, though I was caught off-guard by her open manner when the other women I’d met that day (excluding her sister, Martha) were anything but open. Then she was gone, like a phantom heroine from a future book.

And I thought to myself—staring down at my homemade pies—that this is why I write Amish fiction. Not to tap into a niche market, but because I love historical elements (horse and buggies, lamplight, straw hats and hand-sewn dresses, pies baked from scratch in a cast-iron stove) colliding with a modern world, where the outcome of such an impact is anything but simple.

How ’bout you? Have you ever visited a Mennonite or Amish community? If so, what was your experience?

Stepping Into The Wind

And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” ~Mark 4:39-41

Worship 5My three-year-old is sitting beside me, rather than playing upstairs during quiet time, because she is scared of the wind.

She can’t see it or smell it or taste it, but somehow her little mind—-with its tiny pile of experiences—-knows that the wind is a malevolent force.

I have tried to reason with her, to explain that our home shelters her from the wind, and that she has nothing to fear. But my words go unheeded.

She has seen it scatter her paper-light, synthetic eggs all across the deck. She has seen her mother gather said eggs in the tin bucket for the second time and then stick them inside and close the door.

Is separation from leftover Easter eggs not a tragedy? Is this not proof that the wind is bad?

Today, I have no patience for scattered eggs and toddler reasoning, as I too am facing a malevolent force. Today, a neurologist told me that she would like my husband to have scans done to prove he does not have Von Hippel-Lindau: a genetic disease, which mutates the protein that prevents tumors from being created throughout the body.

The disease itself is nowhere in our family history, so that alone places the odds in our favor, but my husband’s rare, benign brain tumor–discovered at such a young age–is worrisome. I would like to say I’m not worried; that faith gives me confidence that everything will be all right.

But my tiny life experience has taught me to be pessimistic when it comes to medical testing. If I brace myself for the worst, when the worst happens, I am prepared.

Therefore, when we returned home this afternoon from Minnesota, I put our seven-month-old daughter down for a nap and sprawled across the bed in the professional clothing I wore to the Mayo Clinic, so I wouldn’t feel intimidated by a group of people with an overabundance of IQ.

My husband came upstairs with our three-year-old, and I listened to them talking quietly in her room. Heedless of my mascara, I buried my face in our white duvet and replayed the words the neurologist had said about our children having a fifty percent chance of the same disease, if my husband indeed has it.

My mind knows he might not have it. That he probably does not have it. But my heart and stomach literally ache with the possibility, so that I want to take my family in my lap and cuddle them until June 11th when my husband goes through a day long of testing.

Regardless of my husband telling me that we are sheltered here—that everything’s going to be all right—I don’t know how to believe him. I don’t know how to overcome fear with faith.

So I must do what my three-year-old daughter does each time she becomes fearful of the wind; the strange, malevolent force she cannot see, smell, or taste.

I must step outside the shelter of my knowledge and my experiences. I must step outside, into the very elements that evoke such fear in me. I must play in the proverbial wind, knowing that the shelter comes not from any medical testing or clean bill of health, but from the shelter of the Most High.

In Him alone I can find my refuge in time of trial. In Him alone I can find my rest. So that is where I am going to go. That is Who I am going to cling to when the wind picks up and the walls of my soul shake.

And then I am going to sleep. I am going to find peace again.

How do you find peace when your life becomes unsettled?

Hold Me

imagesMy daughter treated my husband like a stranger for four days after he returned from the hospital.

It was a blessing in disguise, however, because we were concerned how he would be able to recover from brain surgery with a toddler in the house who was accustomed to roughhousing with her daddy.

As the days passed and my husband started healing, our daughter continued clinging to me while watching him over my shoulder.

He would try to entice her into his presence by holding out her favorite toys or watching one of her favorite shows on his laptop.

It never worked.

She would hear his voice in the next room, and run toward the sound with her steps nimble and her face overjoyed, but as soon as she would see him—the shorn head and incisions—she would turn and run as if her beloved daddy had turned into a monster.

It was absolutely heartbreaking, and though we made light of it, I started worrying that the two of them would never have the kind of unique, storybook relationship they’d had before the surgery—the kind of relationship I admired with my heart full to brimming.

But on that fourth day, I brought our toddler downstairs and she looked around for her daddy, who was recovering in the guest bed so he could sleep without the nocturnal interruptions of our four-month-old daughter.

Our toddler spotted him on the couch, and her eyes lit up with recognition.

Then she remembered. She stuck her hand in her mouth and burrowed her face in my neck, acting shy around the one person who conjured forth all the magic in her world.

The morning passed. We ate oatmeal and drank coffee. I did dishes, and then sat down to nurse our four-month-old.

My husband was typing on his laptop on the couch when our toddler grabbed her blankie, darted across the hardwood floor, and said, “Hold you?”

He scooped her up and held her close. I bowed my head over our infant, trying not to cry so our toddler wouldn’t be startled by my emotion and bolt.

It was one of the most ordinary and most exquisite moments of my life. And, just this week, almost three months since my husband’s surgery, I started viewing my toddler’s relationship with her daddy as a picture of my relationship with God.

Whenever I go through a difficult season, like a scared child eager for a reassuring embrace, I want to run to Him.

But then I halt in my tracks, heart pounding, and shy away, wondering if I ever knew God’s heart if He would allow us—and so many others—to go through such pain.

Then, slowly, He entices me back into His presence.

He paints the firmament in the morning and pins stars to the sky at night.

He lets me see His face in the union of an elderly couple as her husband holds open the library door and she slides beneath his arm.

He lets me hear His voice in a lyrical passage from Job, or in the “Jesus, make daddy all better” faith-filled prayer of my child.

So now, whenever I’m overcome by life’s uncertainties, instead of running in the opposite direction, I remember this beckoning—this wooing of my heart—and I run as fast as I can to my Savior’s feet and say, “Hold me.”

And, like a good father, He always does.

Have you ever compared your earthly father/daughter or father/son relationship with your heavenly one?

Until We Feel The Warmth Again

images7EER10SIMy husband comes outside as I’m trying to put my fitful heart into words. He munches on a piece of dark chocolate, his work boots in hand.

“That’s funny.” He smiles. “It’s 41 degrees, and you’re sitting out here with a pile of ice at your feet. Cold is relative.”

Cold is relative.

After he puts on those boots and goes down to the barn, I open a new document and begin typing again.

This is the first week since our move that I can sense winter losing its power, so that I sit on the side porch with my back to the sun and the wind, listening to the snow thaw into streams and ice drip down the gutter.

It’s time to plant seedlings, but our tiny greenhouse is bare. It’s time to get chickens and goats, perhaps a regal Great Pyrenees to guard them, but it’s difficult to imagine this kind of pastoral ease when I use my spare time to look up the pros and cons of Gamma Knife radiosurgery.

However, I don’t want to lose these three months, holding off on life as we wait for the MRI’s outcome. Time is fleeting so that I turn on my side while my husband sleeps, studying his profile like a daguerreotype stamped against the moonlit dark.

The ice drips, the sun shifts. I recall his words, Cold is relative.

I would have never sat outside in Tennessee when it was 41 degrees and there was ice at my feet. But after a winter in Wisconsin, 41 degrees is almost sweet tea and sandals weather.

Pain, like cold, is relative to our experience.

Before my husband’s brain tumor, I felt pained if we didn’t get to go out on Friday night. I felt pained if I had to stand in line at the post office or if I got a three-star review on Amazon.

Now, I understand that this is not pain, just as I understand that 41 degrees is not cold.

Pain is what a family is going through as I type, who lost their mother to breast cancer.

Pain is what my friend is going through who is trying to build her life from the ground up after an unexpected event rocked her world’s foundation.

Pain is what a mother feels when she wakes in the mornings and understands afresh that her deceased son is never coming home.

I sit here in the relative warmth, wrestling pain into perspective, and remember my three-year-old daughter and me walking to the mailbox just last week.

We were both shivering and miserable but determined to keep taking steps.

At one point, we stopped and she huddled against me in her puffy snowsuit so my body could block the wind.

“Want to turn around?” I asked.

She shook her head and then reached for me. “Carry you,” she said.

So I picked her up and carried her to the mailbox and back to our house with the envelopes pressed between us.

She was still out in the elements; she could still feel the cold and the wind. But I was carrying her, so though the journey was the same, the experience was easier.

I believe God wants to carry us through our pain, if we’ll let him. We will, no doubt, still feel the harshness of the environment around us. We will, no doubt, still have to make the journey.

But the journey will be easier if we let him be our shield until the pain eases and we feel the warmth again.

Have you ever felt God carrying you through your pain?

The Velveteen Mama ~ The Complicated Gift of Becoming Real

rabbitOver these past three years since my daughter’s birth, I have been in the process of becoming real.

Like Velveteen Mama real.

I am sure you know the premise of The Velveteen Rabbit, either from having read the story yourself or from having it told to you at some point in your childhood: a velveteen rabbit becomes “real” to its young charge once it’s been loved to the point that its whiskers fall out, its coat becomes shabby, and its eyes become dull.

I have no whiskers (at least not that I know of), but after three pregnancies, my hair has become shabby, and glancing at the full-length mirror—stamped with my daughter’s mini handprints and slobbery kisses—I can see that my bloodshot eyes have become dull.

Motherhood is the most complicated gift I’ve ever been given.

Each day—almost without fail—I am overwhelmed by the beauty of my daughters. And I find myself wanting to hold them still so that I can capture them in my memory, knowing that—even then—they are changing as if their lives are zipping past on high shutter speed.

And each day—almost without fail—I also become overwhelmed by the ceaseless demands of these beautiful daughters of mine, the elder who sometimes attaches herself to my calves like a barnacle before I’ve had the chance to pour the breakfast cereal (not to mention the coffee).

It is this constant overwhelmed state that evokes such exhaustion; that makes me feel that my threads are starting to show, and I’m soon going to be tossed in the garden behind the fowl house (which is where the Velveteen Rabbit ends up when his young charge gets scarlet fever).

UntitledBut this exhausted state is where the magic happens—both in the story and in life.

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” ~Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

Motherhood brings out the real in us because our synthetic materials are getting worn off through the daily wear and tear of our children’s love.

Our backs and knees ache from getting down to tie shoes, wipe noses, and give horsy rides to thirty-pound toddlers; our breasts feel like they’re being loaned out to a high-demand diary operation; our knuckles, collarbones, and chins are pruned from being used as teething implements; our eyes burn from reading Little Golden Books in the dark because we hope the lack of light will entice sleep.

And then we sneak off to bed, tracing our lusterless hair and popped stitches, knowing that tomorrow the demands of love are going to be the same.

But eventually, this high shutter speed of life is going to slow down, and we are going to see that the beloved ones who brought out the gray hairs are grown.

That time, I know, will bring with it some of the most complicated gifts—freedom to sleep when we want to rock our children; freedom to go out to eat with our spouses where all we do is talk about the “good old days” when our daughters and sons were living at home.

Then we will sigh, pay the bill, and return to our darkened houses. We will climb the stairs with our knees and back aching from all those years we spent getting worn out and poured out, and we will be so grateful that through the wear and tear, our synthetic materials have been worn away, and though our arms are empty, we have become real through the ceaseless demands of love.

Has motherhood–or another relationship–changed you through its ceaseless demands of love?

The Compost Jar of The Mind

imagesBE6EVU5SI was sitting in a patch of sunlight warming the kitchen table—pumping milk, listening to classical music on Pandora, and reading an article about being a kind mama.

Garbanzo beans were cooking on the stove that I was later going to turn into hummus.

My toddler was playing quietly with natural objects—okay, a piece of wood and a toilet paper roll—while my infant strengthened her calf muscles by bouncing in her jumper.

It was a perfect moment. I felt, for once, that I was able to handle it all.

And then I went to pour the five ounce bottle of milk into another bottle I’d never used before. I didn’t realize I was missing a piece. Milk poured out of the bottle like a sieve.

All over my tablecloth, nearly on my laptop. All over my freshly mopped floor.

Whoever coined the phrase, ‘Don’t cry over spilled milk,’ has never been hooked up to a pump.

But I didn’t cry. In fact, I cussed…

Read more at Southern Belle View Daily

Time For This

UntitledA bald eagle screeched in the distance. A derelict silo broke up the horizon’s striated hues of blue, purple, and pink.

My boots sunk into the melted slush covering the dirt road. My four-month-old nestled against me, bundled between my overalls and a thick wool sweater that made me feel like a native to the cold.

But it wasn’t cold; it was a mild 43 degrees. I wore no Cuddl Duds, no gloves, no hat.

Patches of snow covered the ground that was shielded from the sun by the pines. But, beyond that, I could almost believe it was spring.

Three months ago, when we moved during Wisconsin’s harshest November since 1898, I would have rejoiced to have a respite such as this.

And yet, over the past month since my husband’s brain surgery, I have barely noticed the weather, as I’ve spent the majority of my time inside.

Instead, I have been focused on merely surviving. Putting one foot in front of the other. Counting my blessings, though that rote phrase made me want to grit my teeth.

The morning after my husband’s horrific pincushion spinal tap, which the neurosurgeon performed to check for infection, I said to my husband’s prone form, ‘There has to be a break in the clouds. It has to get better than this.’

And it has.

Today, I could have wept while walking those slush-covered dirt roads because—one month after I thought I might lose my husband—he is not only alive, but well.

His incision is healing; his hair is growing back; his energy and orneriness are simultaneously returning, so that he tells me, ‘I’m really going to tear it up today,’ just to see the alarm on my face.

I am not a widow at twenty-eight. I still have someone who can help me run this solar-powered farm, replete with its temperamental windmill and quirks.

More importantly, my daughters still have a father, and I am still a wife.

I took these factors for granted because my husband’s not the type to leave, regardless of how many sleepless nights the girls put us through — like last night — or how many items I tack on the Honey To-Do List.

I knew my husband would never leave; I never braced myself for the fact that he might be taken from me.

‘We were just trucking right along. And then this happened.’

My husband said this while lying on the guest bed downstairs. He was no doubt feeling overwhelmed because of the numerous projects that ground—or jerked—to a halt after his diagnosis.

It’s true—we were just trucking right along. Our hours were filled with projects that made us feel efficient and yet stripped the luster from our days.

We made time for everything but found no real time for each other.

Then, life and death faced off, and suddenly time was precious. Everything was precious.

I know the frailty of human nature and am aware that with the blessed return to normality, we will soon return to our more ‘efficient’ usage of time.

I viewed this frailty firsthand, as my toddler daughter stood in front of the sink, splashing in the iridescent bubbles after washing her dimpled hands.

‘I don’t have time for this,’ I said, that old impatience flaring in my voice.

And then I stopped, stared at my startled reflection in the mirror, and reminded myself that I do have time for this.

I have all the time in the world.

Has a life-altering event ever challenging your ‘efficient’ use of time?

Listening For The Lullaby

lullaby-by-the-lakeThe first time I heard the lullaby, I was getting ice from the dispenser in the nurse’s lounge.

I stared up at the white, drop-down ceiling, wondering if two days of sleep-deprivation was messing with my head.

The next time I heard it—outside my husband’s hospital room—my sister-in-law explained that the hospital played the lullaby to herald a baby’s arrival.

Soon, the lullaby’s familiar melody became an unwavering symbol of hope in a world fraught with uncertainty.

In between the neurosurgeon inspecting my husband’s sutures for infection, or orderlies bringing trays with omelets and coffee, which I drank simply for the bolstering effects of caffeine, I waited and I listened, I listened and I waited, struck by the fact that as a newborn took her first breath, someone—somewhere in that hospital—was probably taking her last.

Read more on Southern Belle View Daily

Valley of Dry Bones

imagesWe sat across from each other—our sick four-month-old in my lap, our sick toddler having a meltdown in the living room, a delicious meal before us that I had not prepared.

My shorn husband looked so unlike the fierce protector I have known and loved that I had to fight back tears. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘I am sorry life’s so hard.’

He swallowed. Our wet eyes met like hands across the table. ‘I’m sorry, too.’

By sheer willpower alone, we got our girls to bed. My husband put a pallet of blankets on our toddler’s floor, so he could be there in case she had another bad spell of the croup during the night.

‘Let me sleep there,’ I insisted. ‘You’re still recovering.’

‘I won’t be able to sleep at all if I can’t hear her.’

I nodded and tiptoed back downstairs. I pressed my fingertips to the table where we’d sat and stared through the window into the snowy darkness as if I could see directly into the face of God.

I could feel the tension coiled in my spinal column, though my shoulders were weighted with fatigue. ‘You must meet us here,’ I said. ‘You must meet us here.’

I prayed this over and over again, my voice both plea and command. I interceded for our family for a few more minutes and then stretched out across the bed in the playroom, too tired to cry.

It was no small miracle our girls didn’t have coughing spells during the night, allowing our family to get a decent night’s rest for the first time since my husband’s emergency brain surgery.

Over breakfast, I told my husband the previous night was the lowest point I’d ever reached.

He said it was the same for him. We’ve walked through trials before, but we’ve never walked through anything like this.

Then I recalled that unusual passage in Ezekiel 37, where God breathes life into an army of old bones, making them walk again:

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

These past two weeks have felt like we’re being stripped down to the very bone of who we were before my husband”s surgery.

It’s been a painful, life-changing process, and yet I pray that once this stripping has taken place, our skin—and our very breath–will be a closer representation of the heart of God.

What did God teach you during your hardest trials?