In Search of the Happiest Ending

I was writing a post titled “Why I Am Not a Food Blogger” when the phone rang.

It was Tarica’s doctor, and we talked about brain surgery.

I hung up, all my laughter gone.

Call me blind, call me naive, call me a towering monument of faith, but for the first time, I realized that our epilepsy story might not have a happy ending.

I’ve shared maybes and what ifs and questions and fears, but always, rock-solid in the back of my mind, I believed everything would come out right in the end. I’ve prayed “Thy will be done,” convinced that His will meant a seizure-free daughter.

But what if she will always have seizures?

I’m sure you thought of this possibility, from a detached distance, with the advantage of having the facts without the emotions. I’ve even said it is a possibility, said she might not ever be seizure-free, but I didn’t feel it as I did this morning, as a blow to my mother-heart.

She may never be healed this side of Glory.

I do not know if I can bear the thought.

* * *

I heard a story recently of a boy whose parents asked God to take their son Home while he was young if he would grow up to defy God when he was older. The boy died in a freak accident sometime after that. All his peers grew up and rejected God. The father professed that he never regretted his prayer.

That story hit me hard. We have three children in heaven by miscarriage, and it’s my greatest prayer that the rest of our family would someday join them. I have prayed, in a more innocent past, wincing slightly, “whatever it takes, God.”

What if it takes seizures?

What if seizures will make the difference between heaven and hell for our daughter? For our other children? For…for me?

After hearing the story of that boy, I had begun to pray, “God, if seizures help my daughter get to heaven, then help us to accept them with grace.”

But I was still convinced that God would heal her. And not just no-seizures-while-on-medication healed. I meant healed healed, as in no more seizures ever and no more medication. Ever. I hate what drugs do to her.

This is not too much to expect from a God who can do anything.

But what if He doesn’t do this?

* * *

Again and again, God has worked good in my life through hardship. Without pain, I am crusty and independent and proud. Pain turns me to God, and God turns pain to good.

What if living with this particular pain will keep us soft toward God and compassionate toward others?

It could. It might. It has.

To those of you who yearn every day for the child(ren) beyond your reach, this might sound unthinkable, but it was easier for me to grieve a miscarriage that it is to imagine my daughter living with epilepsy till death do them part. Miscarriage was only my pain, softened by the knowledge that my child is safe in Jesus’ arms. It hurts more to watch my children suffer than it does to miss them because they are with Jesus.

(And if my words hurt you, I am sorry. I’m not belittling your pain. If you’ve read the book I wrote on miscarriage, you know I know how great and terrible that grief is. Those of you who have emailed me to share your stories are daily in my prayers. I wish I could take away your pain, but I trust that God can also turn it into good.)

I hate the thought that my children need to suffer, but what’s been good for me will surely be good for them. God can do this for my children—turn their pain into good. I know this, but it feels a little like those times when the children pile into the wagon and fly down the lane.

I don’t want to watch. I don’t want to see them get hurt.

What if God knows we will be better off with seizures than without them?

Achieving seizure freedom has always been the happy ending I envisioned for us. But if that freedom would come at the expense of the happiest ending ever, then no, I do not want it.

I choose heaven over healing.

And it shatters my mother-heart.

Introducing: The Box

We have a problem with clutter.

Late winter (you know, last week), it hit a new high. (Or was it a new low?) Boots, balled-up socks, sweaters, toys, coats, shoes—just follow the trail and it was likely to lead you to one of several little people around here.

Not much can be done about the twenty-two month old right now. He’s simply at That Stage. But the girls? At five and almost-eight, they are both capable of picking up after themselves.

I was sick of reminding them. But I didn’t want to turn clutter into a huge disciplinary issue. They didn’t need me following them around doling out punishments every time they took off their socks and let them on the living room floor.

They had to be internally motivated to put their possessions away, not externally prodded by me all the time. And whatever I did to motivate them, it had to be self-sustaining.

At first, I thought maybe I would put up a chart, with stickers for clutter-free days.

But I hate charts. (There. I said it.)

Charts are great and wonderful—for mothers who remember them.

Around here, the first week of a chart is exhilarating. Everybody is excited about the new program and the neat stickers. And then, one day, we forget to put up stickers until after the girls are in bed. Or one girl remembers and the other doesn’t. Or one girl always takes the pink stickers and there’s only green ones left and I don’t want green, I want pink, but she has them all. The gloss wears off. We fall behind in keeping track and everyone stops caring.

I am too absent-minded to be trusted with charts. I stand with one foot in the real world and one foot in the world that exists inside my head. This divided attention means many details of living can completely evade me or slip through my distracted fingers.

I’ve tried to improve. I buy vitamins that are supposed to help me concentrate and remember, but (you can see where this is going, can’t you?) I forget to take them. I keep an erratic planner. I make lists. I married a man who never forgets.

None of this has helped me much. I’m a chronic thinker and daydreamer. Vitamins and husbands aren’t going to change that.

A chart for clutter? Let’s pretend that I try it and I wouldn’t forget. So what if someone lets one sock on the floor? Would that completely erase the daily sticker? I could just hear the fuss that would make. They are children, not pre-programmed robots. Besides, we all live here, and if I look around, I can see a few of my possessions here and there.

While I was kicking this problem back and forth, I stopped beside an empty cardboard box that had been used to haul groceries home from the local discount store. I looked at it, and my chart idea vanished into the ether.

I’d like to introduce you to The Box.


It’s my new best friend.

It takes care of the clutter for me.

Here’s what I told the girls: “You know how you have a problem with letting your things all over the house, like shoes and backpacks and dolly clothes?”

[Insert sheepish nods here.]

“Do you see this box?”

They did.

“Whenever I find things on the floor that shouldn’t be on the floor, I will pick them up and put them in The Box. If you want to redeem them, you will need to do a job for me. One job for every item in the box.”

“What’s redeem mean, Mom?”

“It means if you want to wear your school shoes again, you’ll need to do a job for me.” I looked at the other girl. “It means if you want to play with your dolly again, you’ll need to do a job for me. Whatever is in The Box, you can’t have it back until you work to get it.”

The best part of this program is that I don’t have to remember anything. I still pick up things that shouldn’t be on the floor, but now I just toss them into The Box. However, the girls are finding it much easier to put their possessions away immediately rather than doing jobs before redeeming their stuff to put it away. If something of theirs is in The Box, they don’t complain about the job they have to do, because they know they could have prevented the job from happening.

The Box creates internal motivation. No more nagging from me. All I do is march toward the coat on the floor, and suddenly there’s a girl diving for the coat and whisking it into the closet.

We might even graduate to a smaller box, since this one is over-qualified.

And with all this putting away clutter and redeeming clutter, the house hasn’t looked so good in a long time.

Well. Not entirely. There is still the twenty-two month old, and he’s messier than both his sisters combined.

Maybe we should put him in The Box.

And redeem him with kisses.

How To Be Not Bitter

“How do you keep from being bitter?” she asked, leaning on my kitchen counter.

This was no idle question. The woman standing in my kitchen was living a life far different from her girlish dreams. This I know, even though she has not told me. Who dreams of being a mother to a little girl with seizures? Neither of us had. Both of us were.

She and I could count our time together in mere hours, but it felt as if we had known each other for years. Our lives ran on parallel tracks in areas far deeper than the breezy connections of new friendships. On the surface, we had little in common—she is vivacious and impulsive; I am reserved and deliberate. But underneath the inconsequentials, we share two passions: the jagged-edged love for a daughter with seizures and a consoling love for our art. She writes stories in watercolor, and I paint canvases with words.

No, this was not an idle question.

When I stared down into the kettle and said nothing, she started backpedaling. “Maybe that’s too personal—”

I broke in. “No, no, it’s not. I like asking personal questions, so why would I mind answering them? It’s just that I’ve been thinking about this very thing lately.” I put down the spoon and leaned against the counter, unconsciously mimicking her pose. “Last summer, after the seizures returned, I struggled with some anger and resentfulness toward God. I don’t know if I was bitter exactly, but I was headed there.”

I stopped, aware that I was rambling, but she didn’t seem to mind, so I went on. “There have been other times in my life when I felt bitterness. The miscarriages. There was a huge property ordeal involving a right-of-way that dragged on for over two years after we moved here. And other things, like misunderstandings and injustice and good people who mean well but blindly hurt others.”

She nodded. Yes. She knew. We all have these stories.

“The turning point for me,” I said, “has always been when I started asking myself ‘What can I learn from this?’ When I began to see a situation as something that could make me a better person, it somehow took the bitterness out of it.”

* * *

I’ve come to recognize it by now, after several years of feeling the shift happen inside me each time I move from anger/pain/frustration to teachableness. I stop asking God “Why?” and start asking “What?”

What lesson do You have for me in this?

What am I forgetting that You want me to remember?

What can I learn?

What should I do with this lesson?

When pain becomes something that helps me grow, the bitterness in it fades. And eventually, the pain even becomes—dare I say it?—sweet.

Not at first. It takes time. It takes trust. It takes surrender. Over and over again.

* * *

“You know what I find the hardest to accept?” I asked my new friend. “It’s the things done by other people. With miscarriage and epilepsy, I could more easily trust that God could make good come from it, including in me. But when people hurt me or those I love, it’s hard to accept that God allows such bad things to happen. There is no redemption in the evil we do to each other. Only God can redeem that kind of pain.”

But when He redeems, the waters of Mara turn sweet.

* * *

Not long ago, my friend emailed me a copy of a painting she had just finished, a piece of representational art she titled “You Will Never Walk Alone.”

What I say in words, she says in watercolor, only better. Isn’t a picture worth a thousand words? With her permission, I share it with you.

You Will Never Walk Alone

She knows about bitter and sweet.

She knows about redemption.

She knows.

And we all tell our stories in our own ways.

* * *

P.S. It’s been a little heavy and deep around here. Look for lighter fare next time, when I introduce you to the new member of our household, The Box.

Inadvertent Lessons in Prayer

On Tuesday, Micah got sick.

On Thursday, I got sick.

So when Jenica started yelling at 2:30 on Saturday morning, I had a pretty good idea what awaited me in the girls’ bedroom.

Jenica, who has been startled awake far too many times to major and minor medical events, has developed a hair-curling method of getting help. It consists of bellowing many words, sounding something like what I was hearing right then: “MOM! MOM! Tarica’s THROWING UP! MOOOOMMMM! TARICA needs YOU! MOM! COME QUICK! TARICA’S throwing UUUPPP! MOOOMMM!”

When Tarica wants help at night, she appears like a shadow beside my bed, barely visible, barely audible in the dark. Not Jenica. She stays on the scene and shrieks.

I leaped out of bed and raced for the girls’ room.

But I shall mercifully spare you the description of what I found. If you are a mother, you need no help picturing the scene. If you are not a mother, you don’t need any reason to dread becoming one.

I’ll stick with this simple summary: What little was spared in the first round of vomiting was nailed in the second, and it took me two buckets, two sets of pajamas, a set of clean sheets, and an hour to clean up her and the room.

Finally back in bed, I didn’t fall asleep until well after 4:00, and at 4:28, Jenica started hollering again.

This time, Tarica used the bucket I had belatedly provided.

At 6:30, Tarica shuffled to my bedside and whispered for help to go to the bathroom.

At 8:00—we were unashamedly sleeping in after such a night—Jenica yelled for help again.

After a shaky Tarica was tucked back in, I returned to my bed and collapsed, but not to sleep. I was too worried to relax. Would this be a repeat of that scare in January?

I thumbed out a text and sent it to family and a few friends: Please pray. Tarica just threw up 4 the 4th time since 2:30. In an hour, I should b giving her her meds & it will take a miracle 4 her 2 keep them down. If she cant keep the meds down, we’ll have 2 take her 2 the hospital 2 get the meds thru IV.

You know those red banners that run along the bottom of a TV screen when a news channel is on? It’s a running list of updates and breaking news and…whatever. I think of those banners when a particular need weighs on me.

I got up, got dressed, got breakfast on, and despite these ordinary events, a scarlet thread of prayer ran through my mind, an unending cry for help. When the replies to my text started coming in, I steadied, felt the prayers holding us up. It happens every time, and every time, it’s as amazing as the first time.

When 9:00 came, I decided to push off the medication just a little, to give time for her stomach to settle. But at 10:00, I knew I had to do it.

I took her morning dose up to her room and climbed on the bed beside her. “Tarica, I need to give you your medicine so you don’t have seizures. But since your tummy is all mixed up, I think we should ask God to help you to not throw it up. Do you want to pray?”

“You pray,” she said and closed her eyes, and so I did.

I felt a little silly praying. Although I had big worries about the hours ahead, it was such a small thing to say aloud, hands clasped beside my daughter.

She took the medication, and my ticker tape of prayer kicked up a notch as the minutes passed. If she could just keep it down for about half an hour, we wouldn’t need to redose. If she did throw it up after that, we ran the risk of seizures. Even with the medication, she still was more likely to seize than usual, since illness can trigger seizures.

She kept the drugs down. Thirty minutes turned into an hour. I moved her to the living room sofa. When the rest of the family sat down for lunch, I gave her some ginger ale to sip.

Over lunch, out of Tarica’s hearing, Jenica said quietly to me, “God answered our prayers, didn’t He? Tarica didn’t throw up again.”

But that afternoon, Tarica ran a fever, and I ran a few worrisome scenarios through my mind. We weren’t out of the woods yet.

And then Tarica said to me, her cheeks flushed and eyes heavy, “God answered our prayers, didn’t He? I didn’t throw up again.”

It was then, finally, that I realized I was looking at this all wrong. I was like the Israelites at the Red Sea, screaming at Moses for taking them into the wilderness to die, when before them lay a not-to-be-missed opportunity for God to reveal His power.

This is what faith means: Instead of an illness, a Red Sea, I should see an opportunity. This was a chance for God to show His care for us.

This was also an opportunity for our children to see God’s power at work in ways they understood and appreciated. Sure, God rescued the children of Israel at the Red Sea, but when God answers the prayer of a twenty-first century child, that makes God more real than a dozen Sunday school lessons ever can.

And not only could God become more real to our children, but they were also learning from our response. God wasn’t the only one with opportunities in this. Every time we faced a problem out of our control, we had the chance to teach our children by our example. Did they see us respond in faith or in fear? Those simple prayers I prayed with them might be the most important prayers in their young lives.

If this illness was actually all these opportunities rolled into one event, then I should be thanking God for it.

Put this way, in black letters on a white page, it sounds a bit too much like an insipid Sunday school lesson, where everything is always tidy and spiritualized. And they prayed to God and He answered and everything was all better and they knew they would trust God the next time.

Life isn’t tidy. Life is messy and hard and full of mistakes. In my life, the main character usually forgets to trust God the next time. Forgive me if I appear to be suggesting otherwise.

But the moment of realizing that God can make good out of the bad situation I’m in right now—that moment is startling and bright, standing crystal clear in contrast to my mistake-laden life. Our epilepsy story has been crammed full of moments like these. You’d think I wouldn’t forget them, but I do.

God can be found in everything that happens to me, good or bad. God is the scarlet thread woven into my life, the blood of redemption that washes the bitterness out of the bad.

As for Tarica, she is fine. Her fever disappeared on its own. She didn’t throw up again and she didn’t seize.

God answered our prayers, didn’t He?

The Results of Phase One

The hospital finally called, five weeks and one day after Tarica was discharged.

The waiting didn’t bother me, not in the first week or the second week or the third week.

But the fourth and fifth weeks got a little long.

What with all that waiting, the phone call itself felt almost anticlimactic. After I hung up the phone, I looked at the display. In fourteen minutes and fifteen seconds, I had found out what our next step was. It wasn’t quite as satisfying as I had imagined it to be.

For one thing, the news wasn’t as positive as we had hoped.

Brynna, the physician’s assistant, made the call. This was a relief; she has always been patient with my questions and thorough in her explanations.

After she identified herself, Brynna said, “So. Tarica is a likely surgical candidate.” She said it as if there were more to the story, so I waited for her to continue. “Her case is—”

I wish I could remember the exact words Brynna used. It was something like “complicated”  or “not typical” or “not straightforward.” Words we were hoping to not hear.

So. Brynna explained what that meant.

Tarica qualifies for surgery, meaning that the approximate origin of her seizures has been located and it is in an operable area, an area not vital to speech, vision, or motor control.

But her seizures appear to be coming from fairly deep in her brain, which makes it hard to get enough information from the electrodes placed on her scalp. Her seizures also travel extremely fast. For these reasons, the doctors are not sure if the seizures are coming from her frontal lobe or her parietal lobe. They are fairly sure the seizures are coming from the right side of her brain, but are not certain. staff. "Blausen gallery 2014". Wikiversity Journal of Medicine. DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 20018762. staff. “Blausen gallery 2014”. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine.

We had been hoping Tarica has temporal lobe epilepsy, because the odds of being seizure-free can be up to 90% after surgery is done in the temporal lobe. Not so with frontal or parietal lobe epilepsy. Although we do not yet have the exact figures for Tarica’s case, I did some research and came up with discouraging numbers. We may be looking at a 50-60% chance of being seizure-free following surgery. If surgery happens.

Tarica needs one more test, a neuropsychological evaluation. The neuropsych test will measure how well Tarica remembers, reasons, concentrates, and solves problems. It’s rather like an extensive intelligence test, taking about three to four hours.

If she scores high in the evaluation, it will be one more point in favor of surgery. Ongoing seizures eat away at the brain’s ability to function and concentrate, will even damage a brain irreversibly. For a child who is intellectually limited and may never be able to live an independent life, this damage is not as life-changing as it is for a child with nothing but seizures standing between her and a “normal” life. The risk of surgery is lower than the risk of losing her intellect to out-of-control seizures.

(For those of you who love an intellectually limited child, please know that I know such children are no less precious, no less a miracle for their differences. My daughter may be intelligent, but her brain is not “normal,” not as we wish it would be. But then—what is “normal” but a crude label we slap on those we think fit into a standard-sized mold?)

We are not concerned about this test. Barring extreme fatigue or her refusal to cooperate, she will score well.

The neuropsych test will be done in the beginning of May. While we are at Children’s, we will also meet with the head of the department and the neurosurgeon. At those meetings, we will learn more details on the testing results, the specific odds we are facing, and what they recommend we do.

After that, we will have to make a choice.

Yes or no.

If we choose yes, the hospital is holding open a slot in their schedule for Tarica. Sometime in August or September, she would be admitted for Phase Two of brain surgery. Her head would be opened so that a mat of electrodes could be lain directly on her brain over the area the seizures are coming from. If the seizures are coming from deep in her brain, some electrodes may be slid down inside on probes. She would then be temporarily closed up, and we would wait for her to seize. When enough seizures are captured, which would reveal most definitely where the seizure focus is located, she would return to the OR and that section of her brain would be removed.

If this were a book I’d be writing, Tarica would wake up after the operation and smile her beautiful smile and we would go home and she would never, ever, ever seize again and we would never regret our yes.

But this is our life. No, it’s her life, and our decision.

I pray God we make the right one, for our daughter’s sake.

The Unfortunate Truth About Respect

A horrible truth dawned upon me recently.

No, the truth didn’t dawn. It sprang.

And I’m still struggling in its teeth.

You know this thing called marriage? One man, one woman, one flesh, for life? The husband in charge, as ordained by God, the wife submitted to his authority?

I understand this. It makes sense. My husband and I are a team, but someone has to lead. I’d rather it be he than me, because I certainly don’t want to shoulder his responsibilities or his accountability to God.

Except. . . I didn’t understand it. Not like I should have.

Here’s the truth that will not let me go: I do not get to define respect. That’s my husband’s job.

If I do and say things that feel disrespectful to him, then I have been disrespectful, even if it feels harmless and inconsequential to me. He is allowed to make the respect call.

I don’t know why I haven’t seen my inconsistency before. I know that parents, not children, define what is respectful and what is not. God, not humans, decides what is obedience and what is not. The courts, not criminals, declare what is law-abiding and what is not.

With authority comes the power to decide when that authority is being challenged.

I sometimes live as if a wife is the exception to this rule. When my husband says it feels like I’m challenging his decision, I brush it off and say I didn’t mean it that way at all. When my actions make him think his opinion didn’t matter, I claim he’s not being understanding enough.

I’ve been wrong.

He is allowed to decide when he feels respected and when he does not. This doesn’t suit me. I’d rather that my husband be understanding and conciliatory: Of course you didn’t mean to be disrespectful, my dear. I misunderstood you. Forgive me.

On second thought—no. I’d rather my husband be strong than weak, even if he stomps on my opinions.

To live under his definition of respect means I have to consider my actions and words from his perspective. I have to accept the truth that sometimes, even when I mean well, I am flat-out wrong.

This still doesn’t suit me.

But why do I fight it? He is a good man, better than I deserve, and he is no tyrant. He loves me, a fact I still struggle to believe. Besides, in marriage (and in everything else), God’s way works better than any other way, every time.

The unfortunate truth about respect is that I’ve been wrong about it far too long. I’ve been choosing to respect him according to my standards instead of his. But it is God’s standard that truly matters, and God who receives the glory when a husband and a wife live beautifully together. I want my husband not only to hear that I respect him, but also to feel it, to know it, and to never doubt it.


Better Than the Best Gift

When I started writing my first post about gifts, I did not intend to launch myself into a full-blown Bible study. But since I believe the Bible is the ultimate authority, I ended up reading all the verses that included a form of the word gift, as well as various chapters for context.

What I read led me to the conclusion that I am not being selfish when I find joy in using a gift or talent to serve others. God expects me to use what He has given me. However, a gift in one area does not excuse neglect in another area when I have an opportunity to serve in a less talented way.

That was clumsily worded. An example will work better: I need to show warm hospitality even though I feel neither skilled nor comfortable with it.

But then, in my reading, I found 1 Corinthians 12:31: “But covet earnestly the best gifts….”

Covet? Was that what I was doing when I eyeballed my pastor’s wife’s beautifully laid table? And it was okay?

But wait. What are the best gifts? Who gets to decide? Was making cute food one of them?

I read the previous verses. Nowhere did it say which gifts are the best.

Was I then supposed to covet those gifts I thought were the best?

Dissatisfied, I looked up covet in the original Greek. I’m no Greek scholar, but it appears to mean “to have warmth of feeling for or against,” such as desire or envy. In a word, covet.

That wasn’t helpful.

I looked up gifts in the Greek. Perhaps it was originally a different word. Perhaps the gifts I’m supposed to covet are different from the gifts mentioned throughout chapter 12.

Nope. Same gifts.

Now what?

Distractedly, I read the rest of verse 31, the last verse in the chapter: “and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way.”

What did that mean? I lifted my eyes to scan for a more excellent way in the earlier part of chapter 12. Not there.

Wait. Chapter 12. That meant the next chapter is 13. And 1 Corinthians 13 is….

I shot to my feet and started pacing—the more excellent way was—of course, why had I not made the connection before?—found in the chapter following 12.

…the love chapter.

So, this verse was saying “Go ahead and desire the best gifts, but there is a much better way than wishing you had other gifts.”

Love is the more excellent way.

The first three verses of chapter 13 started making more sense than they ever had before.

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels….”

“Though I have the gift of prophecy….”

“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor….”

Without love, gifts are nothing.

The value of my gift is measured by my love.

All this was galloping around in my brain as I paced back and forth, when Cheryl’s comment on the first post on gifts came in. I sat down to read it. She mentioned being afraid of rejection.

I shot out of my chair again. It was like that thunderstruck incident back in November, except this time, it happened at home.

Why did I fear rejection? Why did I feel threatened by the talents belonging to others? Why did I wish to assume gifts that weren’t mine? Why did I even worry about gifts in the first place?

Not because I had been rejected in the past. Not because I have super-talented friends. Not because my self-esteem is low. Not because I am insecure and neurotic.

It was because I lacked love.

The words of 1 John 4:18 marched through my head: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” (emphasis mine)

If I love people, I am not afraid of serving them to the best of my ability, whether or not I am gifted. If I love people, I will rejoice to see them using their gifts, even if those gifts overshadow mine.

When I love, it stops being about me and my gifts and my secret fear that I’m not measuring up to some unknown ideal.

When I love, I will serve without fear.

And what are gifts but extra special ways God allows us to show love?

Foolish, foolish, foolish, to think that this whole gift thing was about me.

Gifts are called gifts not because they are given to me but because I am to give them to others.

With a fearless love.

When Love Is Not Enough

A year ago today, we sat by Tarica’s bed at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, waiting for the MRI results. We did not know what was wrong with her, and we prayed for strength to face the verdict.

Today, another set of parents sit by the bedside of another little girl in another hospital. Shianna had a severe seizure last night and was airlifted because she was unresponsive. I don’t want to think about the terror her parents felt. And her story strikes closely home: She is my cousin’s daughter.

After I heard the news, I put my head down on the table and cried one big gulping sob. But no more. Tears would not help. I sat up, wiped my eyes, and reached for the words.

This one is for Shianna, for all the little ones who fight battles bigger than they are, battles that break our hearts.

* * *

When they were small and sad, I held them until they smiled. When they fell in those first toddling steps, I scooped them up and kissed away the hurt.

Our world was little and safe and predictable. I doctored scrapes and colds, and I made oatmeal and promises, and we all lived as happily as if Ever After was now. I loved my children so strong it felt as if nothing could touch us.

But reality pricked holes into my cocoon of safety. There was the burn on Jenica’s face, scars she still wears. There was Tarica’s colic, and there was Micah’s repeated bronchiolitus/asthma attacks during his first year. There was the challenge of helping our daughters negotiate broadening social worlds and the difficulties found outside our sheltering walls.

My children faced problems I could not fix. I was helpless to counteract their pain, and it hurt. I wanted nothing more than to preserve our safe little world.

And then came—not a pinprick, but a slash, a tear, a gash through my world. Epilepsy took away my safety net, and I fell and fell and fell.

I could not love her enough to protect her, to heal her, to make promises, and it was a slash, a tear, a gash through my heart.

I think all mothers face this sooner or later. Some lose that safe cocoon on the day they find the unmistakable stamp of Down’s syndrome on their precious newborn’s face. Some lose their safety net in weeks spent in the NICU or in the wreckage of an accident or in the irrevocable words of a medical diagnosis. Social rejection. Academic failure. Marital conflict. Brutal words.

My love is not enough to keep my children safe.

What does a mother do when love is not enough?

She cries. She worries. She fears. She hugs them until they squirm in protest.

She alone is the mother of these children. No one else has loved them as she has, and who else feels this pain so deeply?

But if she is to be comforted, she also prays, because who else but God can comfort?

Lord, be for my children what I cannot.

And love—His love—is enough to bring us safely home.

* * *

P.S. I talked with Shianna’s aunt this morning, and it sounds like she is doing better. They suspect it was a febrile seizure.

No matter the diagnosis, it will be a long time before her parents forget the terror. I pray they will know God’s peace and comfort in the coming days.

Having Then Gifts Differing

The other week, my pastor’s wife invited me and three other ladies over for a birthday lunch. No, it wasn’t my birthday or theirs or hers. She had decided to host several themed lunches this winter and invite several ladies from church each time as a birthday gift for us.

This lunch had a garden theme—or perhaps, considering the fact that it was February and had been February for about five months, the theme was really Hope. She made the most darling little toadstools out of hard-boiled eggs, cherry tomatoes, and dots of cream cheese, and nestled as they were next to the pile of greens on each plate, I half expected a fairy to peep out and wave at me. (Although…I don’t think fairies live at her house. Fairies like a little dust. When they’re in the area, they throw parties at my house.) The broccoli soup was delicious, and the fresh fruit salad was amazing, and the decorated table nearly fooled me into believing it was green, not white, outside. (If I were a real blogger, I’d have a picture of it, but I’m not, so I don’t.)

I had expected it would be lovely, and I had braced myself for it.

See, I don’t have her gift.

Just for the record, I do not resent her ability to lay a table that looks like it belongs in a magazine and create food that’s almost too cute to eat.

But there was a time when I might have.

I would rather go to the dentist than a Tupperware party, and I’d rather be a dentist than host any kind of party. I’ll do birthday parties, but only under duress (almost-eight-year-olds can create much duress). There is no way I’d volunteer to do what my pastor’s wife did. It boggles my mind that she actually enjoys it.


Even knowing I wouldn’t enjoy doing it, I still struggle with feeling inadequate and clumsy and uncreative when I see what wonders can be wrought with a flowerpot and some ordinary brownies.

I end up holding an internal dialogue that goes something like this:

You should do something like this, Stephanie.

You know you’d be miserable every minute of it.

But it’s so lovely.

And exhausting.

I could just Google a party theme and copy the ideas I find.

The only thing you’d enjoy about hosting a party would be the research.

But it’s such a beautiful way to make friends feel special.

And why—exactly why—do you think you need to do it?

Because…because…she’s doing it?

Here’s the truth: Intellectually, I know we all have different gifts, and this variety is a blessing, not a curse. Emotionally, however, I feel intimidated when other women use gifts I do not have, and make a success of it.

I also worry. When I see people being blessed by someone’s gift of hospitality or conversation or thoughtfulness, I worry that I’m being selfish. I’d rather write 10,000 words than host a party. Shouldn’t I be looking for more extroverted ways to serve other people, even if I am not an extrovert?

Here’s the trouble: I have this mindset that enjoyment = selfishness. If I enjoy doing something, then I am probably being selfish when I do it. If I love writing and dislike throwing a party, then I should be having that party because my dislike makes it the least selfish.

Perhaps this mindset stems from the bred-in-the-bone teaching that the Christian life is one of self-denial. We give up our own desires for another’s sake. We sacrifice, we give, we serve.

If I take self-denial far enough, it means that anything that gives me joy should be exorcised from my life. Self-denial taken far enough puts me in a hair shirt, in a bed of nails, on a diet of water and butterless bread.*

Which is perfectly ridiculous. While God expects me to suffer for Christ’s sake, He doesn’t expect me to suffer for suffering’s sake. He gave us “richly all things to enjoy.” A Christian’s life is characterized by joy in serving God and others.

My pastor’s wife said she had so much fun planning those parties. Would I say she was wrong to find joy in using her gift to bless us? Of course not.

So what is the matter with me? Why do I think I need to suffer in order to bless others? Maybe I can minister to others in my own way and be grateful I can do it with joy.

Gifts—also known as talents—are abilities and skills we are able to do well. Most of the time, if we can do something well, we enjoy doing it. It seems to me that God designed us to find joy in the gifts He gave us.

Not that I can refuse to serve just because I’m not good at something. When the signup sheet appears, I need to put my name down to host the evangelist for a meal. When guests come, we welcome them and gladly, because if our roles were switched, I’d want a warm welcome and willing host. I can do many things outside my comfort zone, and I find blessings in the doing every time.

But the idea that it’s selfish to enjoy using a particular gift? I can’t find any evidence that it’s more spiritual to deny myself the joy of using my God-given talents. In fact, Jesus condemned the servant who buried his talent.

So if my pastor’s wife wants to have fun hosting another party, she is welcome to invite me. Who I am to rob her of joy? Besides, I like her parties, because I like her.

And she doesn’t rob me of my joy, because she allows me to write about it afterwards.

* * *

*There is also the self-denial of fasting, when we deprive ourselves of physical comforts in order to draw closer to God or seek His will or intercede on someone’s behalf. That’s another subject entirely.

** The title comes from Romans 12:6: “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us….” (I love that grace is involved.) The verses that follow say we need to use the gifts we are given.

And when I keep reading, I bump into verse 13: “…given to hospitality.” In its context, this is an instruction to all Christians, not just those with a gift for hospitality.

Oops. I have work to do. Literally. The evangelist is coming for supper tomorrow night.

But what does it mean in 1 Corinthians 12:31? Covet earnestly the best gifts?

I need to do some more thinking and studying and writing.

But not now. I have food to make and floors to wash.

Bad News, Backing Up, and More Waiting

The hard drive in our almost-new laptop crashed on Sunday night, totaling the hard drive.

Yeah, you guessed it. I had been a little too careless with backing up our files. Who would have thunk a new machine would so utterly demolish itself?

The laptop has been hospitalized for tests and observation. We hope to hear the results on Monday or Tuesday.

Speaking of waiting for results: I spoke with a nurse from Children’s Hospital on Wednesday afternoon. She said that the results of Tarica’s tests will likely not be in for another two weeks.

Back to computers, since the other subject is too gloomy to dwell on.

I spent some time this week researching (on our hideously slow old computer) various methods of backing up photos and files. I had a system originally set up after we got the new laptop, but it didn’t suit me, so I changed some settings (or something—not exactly sure what happened). I thought it was backing up after that, but it wasn’t.

Researching backup methods online is a little like looking for a particular button in a barrel of buttons when you’re not exactly sure what the button looks like.

Here’s what I think the button should look like:

1. Automatic (or nearly so)

I have a brain with holes in it, through which important stuff like church services and clean work clothes fall all the time. Don’t trust me to remember to back up the computer.

2. Non-whizzy

I’m not a computer whiz. I don’t want a complicated sixteen-step process.

3. Local

The other setup saved stuff to the cloud, but then it wasn’t on the laptop (or didn’t appear to be). Although I like a cloud-based, multi-accessible backup, I also want my files saved to the computer itself, so I’m not dependent on online access to open my files. (Perhaps I require further cloud education. If so, I’m all ears.)

4. Free or very cheap

Call me a tightwad, but I would prefer not investing a lot of money into this. Besides, what money we might have spent on a backup system will now be buying a certain computer tech a week’s groceries.

Does this button even exist?

What do you use to back up your computer?

These are not rhetorical questions. I’m hoping for real-world advice.