The Imprint Fall Leaves

As I child, I loved collecting fall leaves. When my own children were toddlers, I remember collecting leaves with my children and then using the leaves to make leaf rubbings with unwrapped, naked crayons and computer paper around our kitchen table.

Now that my children are school aged, they are enjoying making and jumping in leaf piles, and I am sweeping up tracked-through-my-house leaf remnants and removing the imprints fall leaves all over their clothes and hair.

It is a simple joy to watch the imprint fall leaves all over our family and a privilege to kiss my children’s rosy cheeks after they come in from fully immersing themselves in the evidence of a new season. I feel gratitude in the simpleness of watching my husband mow fall leaves and burn dead tree branches in the fire pit—tangible reminders to me of God’s faithfulness and a new season.

Last fall, our family endured a challenging season. I had a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy on November 5, 2018. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was seven and passed away when I was fourteen. Through genetic testing, I have learned I carry the PALBgene mutation—and I have now learned, my mother carried this same gene mutation—the mutation and my family history together initiating the recommendation for a preventive double mastectomy.

I remember my doctor saying to me, “Rach, this is no longer a matter of if you will get breast cancer, now this is a matter of when you will get breast cancer.”

At the time I was thirty-five with four children between the ages of four and nine, a pastor’s wife, women’s ministry leader, I had just been approved by the session of my church and CDM to serve as Regional Advisor to Women’s Ministries in Mid America, and my first book was going to the formatter—the final stage of the publishing process.

I did not want to have a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy last fall.

Walking through a season of suffering, weakness, and neediness was not in my long-term plan!

My plan was to come alongside others, not need others to come alongside me. I  struggle when it comes to needing others. Independence and self-sufficiency are deeply woven in my story—humbling myself to need others is a new pattern I am learning as God is growing me in dependence upon Him.

As I prayed and sought council from trusted godly women, even though I did not want to have a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy,  three things kept coming to my mind.

One: if my mother would have had this opportunity to prevent what happened to her, I think she would have taken this option no matter the cost.

Two: as a child who grew up watching my mother suffer, I still have mental images that can easily blanket my eyes with tears, I considered the opportunity to protect my children from walking through a childhood story similar to my own—and I wanted to protect them from the pain, wounds, and burdens I have carried into adulthood.

Three: my husband is a rockstar and able to care for me and compensate for my weaknesses while I recovered from surgery.

With Christ-centered courage and faith, my husband and I decided on going through with a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy.

Four weeks before my surgery,  I received a call from my husband at 6:00 in the morning. He had gone to the gym early to play basketball with a friend, my husband fell, and tore the Lisfranc ligament in his right foot—almost a complete tear. This required immediate surgery, two screws in his foot, a 12-week non-weight bearing prescription, and no driving for at least three months.

My main man, rockstar supporter was now unable to walk, drive, wear two shoes, carry a plate, do a load of laundry, nor rake up the imprint fall was leaving all over our yard.

At first I felt anger. My husband has never broken a bone—in all of his thirty-six years—why was this God’s timing for his first broken bone? Then I went through the stages of grief because I lost my plan for recovery which included an able-bodied husband, not needy one.

But God’s plans are not our plans—and He promises He is good.

So I humbled myself and asked for help—which is inside-out and upside-down from how I normally operate, but I was at the end of myself and I needed others to come alongside my family.

After all, I couldn’t use my arms and my husband couldn’t use his legs—and we had four children under the age of ten.

As I watched, I saw it was the church who showed up for us when we were needy. Our grass was mowed, our children were transported to ballet, soccer, and birthday parties, our leaves were raked, our garden beds were mulched, our meal schedule was filled (with fifty meals within the first day), our Thanksgiving table was set,  our home was cleaned, Michael and I were driven to pre-op and post-op appointments,  the church showed up to help us with childcare when we needed it, sat with Michael during my nine hour surgery, and helped me get Michael from the car to the bedroom upstairs after his.

We had neighbors, friends, and family show up too—but mostly, in the long weeks of our recovery, we saw the church be the church and it was a beautiful picture of when we are weak, Christ’s power is perfectly displayed—and He uses His people and His church.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Just like the imprinted leaf rubbings I used to make with my young children with unwrapped, naked crayons and computer paper around my kitchen table, last fall has pressed in and left an imprint on my heart.

This imprint is a reminder of God’s faithfulness in the unknown, the Christ-like courage to humble myself to ask for help, and the beautiful picture of the church being the church to our family when we were weak and needy.

It is a simple joy to watch my family in a new season, but also a joy to look back and remember the imprint that fall leaves on my heart. I don’t remember the pain, stress, or suffering as much as I remember the selfless love we were shown by so many—and I know this is because of God’s power, His grace, His mercy, and His transforming power at work in my heart.

Breast cancer was once was a constant reminder of pain, stress, woundedness, and a powerful trigger for anxiety and fear—but after my bilateral prophylactic mastectomy and last fall pressing in and leaving an imprint on my heart—I see God redeeming the breast cancer thread in my story.

The imprint fall leaves is a reminder that God is working, and He has the power to redeem even the darkest, hardest, and most fractured pieces of my heart. Where I once felt broken and alone, I now feel healed, held up, and surrounded by many.

As I reflect on the last year, I am grateful for the imprint fall leaves—I am grateful God’s plans are far better than my plans.

He is faithful and good—and He is making all things new.

Littmus Lozenge Mother’s Day

Joy and Sorrow Mixed Together

I want to express that Mother’s Day is a day for mixed emotions—it is joy and sorrow mixed all into one—there is so much sweetness in painted handprints, ceramic planters made in STEM class, and descriptive All About My Mom worksheets, but for some—Mother’s Day brings a touch of sorrow.

This touch of sorrow is not a one size fits all—some have lost mothers, some long to be mothers and are in a season of waiting, some have lost children, some are estranged from their mothers, some mothers are estranged from their children, some are not the kind of mother they thought they would be, some are spiritual mothers who may have seen spiritual daughters go through a difficult season in their lives or walk away from the faith.

In the book, Because of Winn Dixie, Miss Franny Block is one of my favorite characters. This book is filled with many wonderful characters, Miss Franny Block is the town librarian. India Opal visits the library with her new dog Winn Dixie, and Miss Franny Block tells them elaborate stories.

One day, Miss Franny Block tells the story of the Littmus Lozenge. During the Civil War, her great-grandfather, Littmus W. Block, signed up to fight (even though he was only 14!). When the war was over, he returned home to find out that his home had been burned to the ground and his family had all died.

Littmus started walking, and eventually walked all the way to Florida. After experiencing such sorrow in his life, he decided he wanted to make something sweet. He invented a candy that he named the Littmus Lozenge, a special hard candy with a touch of sadness.

When you taste a Littmus Lozenge, you experience the sweet taste of strawberries and root beer, but then everyone tastes something that reminds them of sorrow in their life.

Littmus Lozenge Mother’s Day

For me, Mother’s Day is like a Littmus Lozenge. There is so much sweetness! I am in a sweet season of motherhood with my four school aged children, most days it is like the sweetness of strawberries and root beer—but because I lost my mother when I was fourteen, and we have lost two children to miscarriage, Mother’s Day always comes with a touch of sorrow.

Mother’s Day is joy and sorrow mixed all into one Littmus Lozenge—and I know I’m not alone in experiencing a Littmus Lozenge Mother’s Day—I know many feel both joy and sorrow on this second Sunday in May.

Transformed Joy and Sorrow

I believe faith in Christ transforms joy and sorrow—faith does not completely wipe out sorrow, but faith in Christ transforms sorrow. This transformation of sorrow is a slow process, but over time, faith sees joy and sorrow mixed together as a part of our journey on this side of heaven.

The faithful see sorrow as a reminder that life on this earth is just not the way it is supposed to be. This creates a longing for what is to come. Along the journey, there is pain, death, loss, and sorrow—but the faithful look not to what is seen, they long for what is unseen—eternal hope when all things will be renewed and restored. So we do not lose heart . . .  we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16,18).

The faithful draw closely to a God who can identify with sorrow and is near to those who are suffering. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering (Isaiah 53:4) The Lord is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18). 

Jesus tells us we will have tribulations and experience sorrow, but on the cross, Jesus overcame the permanent sting of pain, the faithful know remaining in Christ transforms our sorrow, He is our peace. I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

A Touch of Transformed Sorrow

There have been seasons when I let the sorrow of the Littmus Lozenge overshadow the sweet strawberry and root beer tastes in my life. It is important to feel sorrow, to weep, to grieve, and to mourn—but it is also important to not let sorrow overshadow joy. The Littmus Lozenge is filled with sweet and only has a touch of sorrow—and as a woman who has been changed by the gospel, that touch of sorrow should been seen rightly with the hope of God’s Greater Redemptive Story.

Touching on the sorrow keeps me wholehearted, reminding me of the love I had for my own mother. But touching on the sorrow should not steal away my joy. Both can exist together, but sorrow shouldn’t keep me from rejoicing in the love my own children will surround me with on Mother’s Day. I have experienced sorrow and that sorrow will forever linger, but I have received abundantly more than all I could ask for at the same time—which gives me great joy!

Mother’s Day is a Littmus Lozenge—sweet with a touch of transformed sorrow.

 

Threads of Grief

While my five-year old daughter sat over of a bowl of Lucky Charms,  I twisted her hair into pigtail buns and laced up her high-top sneakers for school. As I finished helping her, she asked me, “Mom, do you miss your mom?”

My mom will have been gone twenty-one years this week and my daughter’s simple and sweet words easily tugged on the threads of my grief. It was difficult for me to respond to her without feeling a heaviness in my chest and hot tears come to my eyes.

Part of me felt childish and emotionally weak to become so easily saddened over something that happened so long ago, I have lived more of my life without my mother than I lived with my mother. I felt the threads of lies in my story in that moment—threads of lies that whisper I have to grieve with a smile. Standing in front of my daughter over a bowl of Lucky Charms, I felt shame to express the brokenness I still felt in my heart.

“The memory of that moment is longer than the moment itself. Or perhaps, the memory of that moment has been stretched out and hangs onto everything about me. Each thread has been wrung out and revisited so many times like a stretched-out wool sweater left on a metal hanger to dry for much too long. That moment, less than a minute in time, and the memory, the pieces my brain has tucked and filed away, seem to have traveled around the world—through time and back again. The wrung-out and revisited threads stretch and weave into my story across years, seasons, places, and relationships.” —Slowly Unraveled

It amazes me how these lies are so easily tangled-up in my grief, the shame from my past so easily distorts my present state of Christ-confidence and shalom-peace.

Vows of self-protection as a young high school student still trickle into my present reactions as an adult. With intention, I have to discern when the threads of grief I feel in the present are tangled-up in my old patterns of fear, shame, and self-protection.

I all too easily forget the new freedom that is mine in the gospel. My threads of grief are being transformed by the Spirit that lives inside of me—behold, God makes all things new (Revelation 21:5).

In the gospel, when I mourn, I am comforted (Matthew 5:4). God is near to the broken-hearted and he binds up my wounds Psalm 147:3). Because of the new life I have in Christ, I am freed from the yoke of slavery of shame, fear, and self-protection. I can let the heaviness of my wounds, lies, and vows unravel away.

God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). There is power over fear and shame in the gospel.

This week as I fight to walk in the newness of life—a gospel that frees me from the lies that tangle-up my present threads of grief—I am fighting to remember that I am free to be childish and emotionally weak. I am free to be saddened when I feel the threads of grief.

As I little-by-little walk in transforming my grief, I desire to be intentional so I do not pass on a tangled-up gospel to my daughter. If I respond in the patterns I developed as a young high school student, I am still tangled-up in the old story.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2).”

The gospel gives me a new story to pass on and in this new story, God doesn’t require me to have it all together all of the time.

“I have so many personal requirements for how I believe I should live as a wife, mother and Christian, so many expectations that aren’t grounded in what God requires of me at all. All God requires is that when I am weak, His power is perfectly displayed. As I bravely walk in vulnerability, owning brokenness, and rejoicing over healing tears, God is slowly unraveling how I used to define strength, and I am learning to live as God defines strength.”—Slowly Unraveled

When I feel threads of grief over the every day moments of Lucky Charms, pigtail buns, and lacing up high-top sneakers—I want to pass on emotions that are deeply woven in the gospel—I don’t want to pass on the woundedness of my old self, I want my pain to be transformed—I want to pass on the freedom of the gospel to my sweet children in the every day. God really is making all things new.

Christmas Presence

My seven-year-old son made a grid-like calendar with pencil and computer paper; and he taped it to his wall next to his bed with scotch tape. This happened back in November and I believed he was counting down the days to his December birthday, or maybe even Christmas. I knew he was eagerly anticipating something to be so intentional with that pencil-drawn calendar scotch taped to his wall—each night he faithfully crossed off the day, each morning he accurately recited the date.

But then, his birthday came and went and he kept counting down—I assumed he was waiting for Christmas but I wondered . . . I finally asked him, “what is this thing that you are waiting for?”

He quickly replied, “Mom, you said I would need to wait six weeks until after your surgery before I could give you a big hug again. Every day when I used to get off of the bus, you stood in the front yard waiting for me, and I ran and jumped on you to give you a big welcome-home hug. I really miss that. I am counting down until six weeks after your surgery. I miss you standing in the front yard. I really miss those big hugs.”

My sweet son. My double mastectomy and reconstruction season has kept me from standing in the front yard with big welcome-home hugs every day. In this season, my children have been gently hugging me around my hips. I just had no idea how greatly my son missed my physical presence in the front yard. It seems like such a simple and mundane thing—standing in the front yard with a welcome home hug—but to my child, this mundane thing to me was everything to him.

This is how my children amaze me. They live with child-like excitement and wonder. They make calendars and count down to big welcome-home hugs. Children understand the importance of presence—so much so they want to be in the bathroom with you—children care about snuggles, and hugs, and books read before bedtime, and belly laughs over Apples to Apples. This is a good reminder to me in the busyness and what can feel like the mundane of the holiday season. My children teach me the importance of presence.

It’s not about what we are doing with our children during the holidays—it is about whether or not we are present with them in the moments.  Are we there just physically, or are we there wholly—seeking to enter in to the child-like excitement and wonder?

As I have grown-up, my task list has increased as well as my worries; I sometimes feel the importance of a second cup of coffee greater than the importance of Christmas Presence.

Presence is defined as existing, occurring, or being present in a place or thing. Presence is entering in and engaging with others in the front yard welcome-home hugs of every day life. Presence is wholly living and evidence of holiness—dwelling among the little ones God has given to us.

Christmas Presence is living like Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us), Matthew 1:23.

Jesus came to Earth to give the world the gift of Christmas Presence. As humans we needed a God who would dwell among us. Presence, dwelling, and wholly living are the balm to all the longings of our human hearts—even when we are grown and we all too easily forget—glory is seen in the presence and the dwelling. Glory is seen in a God who knows our humanity because He dwelt among us.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth, John 1:14.

Christmas Presence is the greatest gift. As parents, we get to show this kind of love to our children. I don’t want to been grown and forgetful, I want to be child-like with the kind of excitement that causes me to make a grid-like calendar and scotch tape it to my bedroom wall—I want to long for presence more than I long for more coffee.

I want to live like Jesus with those around me, I want to be present and live wholly. I want to see the beauty of an every day welcome-home hug. Christmas Presence is what our hearts are all longing for, it is why we need a God who would dwell among us. It is children who are sweet reminders of the gift of Christmas Presence—counting down to the simple and important things like welcome-home hugs.

If you have grown and forgotten about Christmas Presence, there is great hope in a God who fully sees you, loves you, died for you, forgives you, and longs for you to return to him. He doesn’t require you to do anything but turn to him, he is waiting with a welcome home hug.

It Takes Courage

“It’s Christmas and we are all in misery.”

A Griswold family famous line from the holiday favorite, Christmas Vacation.

I laugh at this line every time I watch the movie. I laugh because the holidays can induce misery. Unhealed grief resurfaces, we long for broken relationships to be healed, we are reminded of difficult family dynamics, and we see evidence of brokenness in the visual reminder of who is no longer sitting with us around our Christmas Trees. I can’t sing some Christmas songs without big rolling tears running down my cheeks.

It takes courage to face the holidays with a heart-attitude of joy. Human nature is bent toward letting the misery in and rolling around in it for a while—for me, I rolled in misery for decades. In the Bible, Jesus refers to us as sheep, and sheep like stink (John 10). It takes intention to see beauty among the thorns. It takes hope to look forward to the things that are unseen.

Courage

It’s Christmas and we all need some courage. Courage is defined as strength in the face of great pain or grief.

I want to zoom in here on my definition of strength before I go on with courage. Strength is not defined by marching through a hard process without stumbling. Strength is stumbling though the hard things. Strength is falling down, but a continuous forward movement—even in the weariness of life. Strength is found by leaning on God and letting him hold us, even when we can’t hold up ourselves.

Nehemiah 8:10 Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.

Courage is stumbling towards God in the face of great holiday misery. It takes courage to fight for joy.

The Intention to Live Courageously

Living courageously involves a lot of intention. It takes discipline to find the beauty among the thorns. It takes intention to focus on the beauty and not roll in the enticing stink of holiday misery.

It takes intention to not just simply make it through the holidays, but en-joy the glimpses of beauty among the thorns.

Joshua 1:9 is a verse I tell my children often: Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. This is a verse on how we should live. But Moses tells Joshua in the verse before how to live courageously, with strength. 

Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Joshua 1:8. You cannot live courageously without the spiritual eyes to see the beauty among the thorns. You cannot strengthen your spiritual eyes without knowing who God is by reading his word. This takes intention—this is the intention to live courageously and also an invitation to prosperous living. 

Courage and Hopefulness 

It’s Christmas and we are courageously living because we have hope. There is a reason why we feel the weight of misery during the holiday season. It is a reminder that this world is not the way it is supposed to be. Holiday misery is a reminder that we need the rescuing hope of the gospel. The gospel is simply the truth that we are stumbling, and we need Jesus. We are in misery, but all around us there is hope if we live courageously enough to see it.

Try singing your favorite Christmas Hymn without hearing the gospel. Now that I live intentionally and courageously, I can’t sing a single hymn without singing about the world’s brokenness, misery, and need for saving—and how that saving comes by seeing, with hopefulness, a Savior who is Christ the Lord. He is the beauty among the thorns of this world. We are stumbling, but we can be hopeful because God is making all things new in Jesus.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33)

Again, the Bible is where you find truth. We can only know what Jesus has said if we read the Bible. But in His words, there is peace—even in times of holiday misery. The world is a place of great tribulation. I miss my mother who passed twenty years ago so much during the holidays, I am estranged from my father because of difficult family dynamics, and I have had a hard season of walking through a double mastectomy and reconstruction. I want to indulge in the pain and the grief, but it takes courage to fight for joy with intention.

It’s Christmas and we may all be in misery, but it takes courage to fight for joy. The beauty among the thorns of this world is a baby found wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. In him there is great power over misery. May you see him through any amount of misery this holiday season.

Silent Night

Silent night, holy night,
All is calm all is bright,
‘Round yon virgin Mother and Child,
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth;
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Silent night, holy night,
Here at last, healing light,
From the heavenly kingdom sent,
Abundant grace for our intent.
Jesus, salvation for all.
Jesus, salvation for all.

Silent night, holy night,
Sleeps the world in peace tonight.
God sends his Son to earth below,
A Child from whom all blessings flow.
Jesus embraces mankind.
Jesus embraces mankind.

Silent night, holy night,
Mindful of mankind’s plight,
The Lord in Heav’n on high decreed,
From earthly woes we would be freed.
Jesus, God’s promise for peace.
Jesus, God’s promise for peace.

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heav’nly hosts sing Alleluia;
Christ the Savior is born. 
Christ the Savior is born.

Need a Bible for Christmas? I recommend this one: ESV Bible