How Do You Fight?

As my sister, Serenity, faces a recurrence of cancer, I think we’re all given a valuable reminder that we really have no promises in this life except the one that says, “I’ll never leave you.” And even Jesus didn’t get that promise, so it’s no small thing.

Yet, when the inevitable happens – because at some point tragedy and trial will touch us all – what do we do? How do we, as Paul encouraged us, “fight the good fight”?

In one brave example, our friend Widney Woman is using her good dishes – and not just on holidays! She is even declaring today National Use the Good Dishes Day!

Serenity herself advocates this response and offers some thoughts of her own, including watching movies she loves more than once and hugging her children for no reason.

In our corner of the world, Dan and I registered for Ben Arment’s Dream Year Weekend in Nashville this January. I don’t know of a man with more pure musical talent than my husband; too often we hear live music or televised specials or radio singles and he says, “I could have done that.” And while many of us dream of such a thing, for him it is really true. He does do it – every Sunday, several concerts a year, and for various special events. But by the time he figured out how good he was, we were rather settled into our four-kids-and-a-dog routine and didn’t quite know what to do about it.

After meeting Ben and seeing the dreams he has helped bring to fruition in other people (this year’s Dream Year participants), we are thrilled about the opportunity to explore what it might take to make Dan’s dreams a reality. There is no getting around the fact that it will be lots of work, but it is nice to have some expert guidance to keep you from exhausting yourself in the wrong directions. That’s the idea behind the Dream Year weekend: analyze the dream, give it a name, and see what stands against it. (Note that applications are being accepted through the end of this week for the whole Dream Year program. If you are ready to move on your dream today, consider this worthwhile investment.)

Knowing it would mean time off from work and, as a bigger inconvenience, might rock our routine lifestyle, we looked at one another and knew it was time to act. We have no promises for how long we have each other, how long we have our health, how long we have anything. It is time to do. So we took the little faith we had and registered for this conference as an outward sign of our inward decision to live life more intentionally.

So, besides my prayers for Serenity’s healing, these are my thoughts. What will we do in defiance of life’s uncertainties?

If I Could, I Would . . .

This morning Dan and I hosted chapel in our home for the Bible college students. We sang some of our favorite songs together and then played a gift-giving game. Each student drew the name of another student and then imagined what gift they would give to one another if money was no consideration. I was pleased with how thoughtful and creative they were and it made me want to play the same game with you. So, here you go.

If I had an unlimited source of funding, today I would buy you:

1. This ring from CRED Jewelry: “This stunning engagement ring is set with 48 Canadian ethical diamonds, surrounding a fine 7mm by 5mm Oval Ceylon Sapphire weighing just under 1ct. Made with 18ct Oro Verdeâ„¢ Eco Fair Trade White Gold. Designed by Annabel Panes.” Fair trade jewelry means the stones and metals are all traceable to their sources; you can be assured that the people who work hard to mine these materials earn a fair living under good conditions. Hopefully wearing it will remind you of the Rare Rock that you are! (Feel free to choose one of their other gorgeous selections in exchange if this one is not your style!)

2. An orchestra. I had the privilege of rehearsing Christmas carols (some of my favorite songs in the world) with the accompaniment of the Kirksville Community Orchestra last night. I think I could feel the wind from their bows at my back when we hit the really powerful parts. I may never want to sing without one again, and I’m quite sure that having one would make everyday better.

3. Work you love. Some of the students “bought” each other art studios and urban youth centers. I would buy you a business, a space, or the equipment you need to do work that you love. Everyday. I believe work is important, so I won’t buy you a vacation, but I think you should love your work if at all possible. We can fill in your particular details later.

What would be on your list for someone else today? (Or how would you like me to make out that last gift if it was going directly to you?) I know most of my readers would put “cure for cancer” at the top of that list, but for this game it has to be something you can BUY! (It’s my game, you have to play by the rules!)

Happy Veteran’s Day

To my Grandpa Regular.

Over the years, I’ve heard my maternal grandfather called by many names. His given name is Clifford. My Mom has always called him Daddy, even as a grown up woman. The large extended family and the co-workers of 30+ years called him Pap or Pappy. A neighbor family he took under his wing when their own father and grandfather died too young calls him Pee Wee (I think that was also a nickname from childhood).

The younger set of grandchildren call him Grandpa On the Farm because of the many hours they would spend helping him feed his small herd of cows or playing in the fenced in pastures behind his house.

The great-grandchildren call him Grandpa Boo because he taught them to play Peek-a-Boo.

At church, where he reads Scripture from a big black Bible before the preacher’s message, they call him Brother Clifford.

And I’m sure there are more. Several months ago he told me stories I’d never heard about how during high school he would get up at 4 a.m. every morning to make sorghum molasses. Each customer wanted a different consistency, so he had to cook it precisely according to each order. Kind of like his names.

When he was in the Army, it was as a clerk who stayed stateside. (They must have called him Private Grubbs.) But coming from rural Missouri, his post on the East Coast might as well have been Asia. The black and white photos Grandma has hanging on the wall in her paneled hallway show a trim and dapper fellow. Next to the pictures is a satin wall hanging that says Mother in pale blue calligraphy that always reminds me for some reason of how young he must have been when he sent it back home as a gift. Those who live near him now know he is not one to miss many basketball games at their local school gymnasium, from 5th grade through varsity. For years he has spent hours of the Homecoming weekend frying hamburgers in the food tent. And that kind of faithfulness, I think, is why I always called him Grandpa Regular. He was the grandpa who defined the word.

Happy Veteran’s Day to Grandpa and all the other Veterans!

Sunday’s Music on Monday

I’ve just been loving this song lately. (And I’ve been thinking about how much music shapes my attitudes and emotions, but I’ll leave that for another post. In that post I’ll probably also write about why it matters whether or not my emotions are involved in my worship music. Because it does and I’ve never been more certain of that. But that’s another post.)

From the Beautiful Exchange album from Hillsong, this is the title track. (This particular video has a few mix-ups in the lyrics – it isn’t officially sanctioned, obviously.) My favorite line: “When only love could break these chains/ You gave your life in a beautiful exchange.” Seriously, when would it be appropriate for your emotions to NOT be involved when singing that lyric? (Another post, White.)

Heart-Shaped Thoughts

Some things passing through my brain lately in heart-shaped thoughts:

1. Pray for my sis, Serenity, today. She has a lung biopsy (needle) on a suspicious spot. Procedure needs to go smoothly and that little nodule needs to be nothing. Thanks. UPDATE (3:00 p.m.): The procedure when great! Results to come.

2. I thumbed through an old book by Derek Prince on fasting. He believed the purpose of fasting is to humble ourselves before God, because fasting reminds us of how reliant we are on our flesh for our peace. Wow. That hit hard. I had always thought of fasting as a way to prove to God how strong I was, but it is a better tool to show me how weak I am. That makes a lot more sense.

3. Macy has been sick with strep throat. On Sunday night I put on another Barbie movie, arranged all her blankets and animals, refilled her water cup, and headed out of the room to do something on my list. “You OK, sis?” I asked her as an afterthought. “No. I just want sumbody to be wif me.” Yes, I got my own blankie and watched Barbie with her for the millionth time.

4. Claire got her cast off (super traumatic experience; If I was a more inventive person I would figure out a way to get those things off silently and without so many tears). I had ordered the design for her transition brace over the phone. The guy told me, “I have one called “Cool Babes” – it is hot pink with dancing dolls on it. My seven year-old loves it.” Sounds great. When they pulled it out to show us on Wednesday I noticed that those dancing dolls had bare midriffs. And prominent belly buttons. Claire noticed it, too. At home I used a Sharpie and gave them all “black undershirts.”

5. My husband made the first payment on my student loans last night. And he didn’t complain, even though it was an expense we had sort of forgotten about and spoiled our plans for some unexpected money we had recently been given. He is my favorite.

How about you? Any heart-shaped thoughts today?

Macy’s Questions and Mine

One of my favorite speakers at STORY was Dan Allender (How many times will I be able to say that and you’ll still believe me?) and last night I listened to his recent 2-part interview with Focus on the Family. He was covering topics from his book How Children Raise Parents: The Art of Listening to Your Family. I was surprised to hear Allender announced as a guest on Focus in the first place because I consider him among my “liberal” friends while Focus is among my “very, very conservative” friends. I didn’t know they hung out together! But I tuned in just in case, and it was him. Interesting. I wonder if Dr. D knows what those crazies are doing on his show these days?

During the show, Dr. Allender listed what he describes as the two questions children are born asking:

Am I loved?


Can I be in charge?

Sounds like my kids. And, if I’m honest, it sounds like me.

Allender said that our entire parenting lives are, from that point on, a precarious balance of answering both of these questions effectively. We know that our children are not in charge because we know we are not in charge. It isn’t just that we submit our lives to Christ – that is obvious – but we also submit our lives to bosses, to government authorities, to local officials, etc. We really aren’t in charge of much at all! Unfortunately, I don’t think we teach our kids this very well and they end up being rudely awakened to it when they get their first job and find out they can’t get out of work on Friday night when they would rather go to the football game. Or when they hear the terrible news that a dear friend has been killed in a car accident. Discovering you are not in charge is not fun.

In disciplining my children I’ve often used the phrase “Because I want people to like you!” when they ask why I’m forcing them to obey one of my crazy strict commands like “Please stop choking your sister.” You are not in charge.

The Am I Loved question relates to the In Charge question, though, because often we don’t feel loved when we don’t get our way. Allender described this as the balancing point. In the interview he related the story of his teenage daughter who had discovered a very large facial blemish immediately before school. He had to be honest by reminding her that she was not totally in charge of the situation (neither her body’s hormonal irregularities nor her school’s attendance policy), but that she was in charge of her attitude toward the situation. And he found a way to make her laugh and reminded her that her value as a person was much more than the flawless skin on her face. She was loved with or without that blemish. But she wasn’t in charge.

Lots of great conversations here, I’m sure. I’m anxious to read the book. What do you think?

And, do you want to tell Macy?

A STORY Principle (2)

No conference can be summed up in one thought or idea, but, for me, the most useful advice to come out of the STORY event was from David McFadzean, a Hollywood executive. There had been a couple of intellectually challenging speakers before McFadzean, and his credits in comedies like Home Improvement and Rosanne didn’t inspire much anticipation in me. But you know where this is going . . . his words are the ones that have stuck with me. And his message was every bit as intellectually challenging as anyone else. (By the way, if you check out that link, Seren, do you recognize him from one of the HI episodes or something? I don’t know, but he looks so familiar! Imdb was no help.)

So, the life changing words of wisdom were simply this: Art has a cumulative, not singular, effect on us and in us. McFadzean noted that as Christians we often think we need to cram the entire gospel message into our painting or book or song or it won’t qualify as Christian art. (I recognize that feeling!) But instead, McFadzean encourages that good art should work on us in cumulative movement toward better questions, more realistic stories, and an appreciation for the radiance of life. This radiance, he said, includes the good and the bad and especially the mystery of what it means to make the invisible visible.

For me, this advice means I can stop stressing about writing the ONE novel that will change the world, and instead put my effort into the story that is in my head right now. This story involves a lot of themes that faith speaks to, but it does not revolve around a traditionally Christian plot line. (In other words, my protagonist isn’t going to answer an altar call at the end and then see all her dreams come true!)

But if good art should have a cumulative effect, then my little novel doesn’t need to be the end-all, it just needs to be itself. It just needs to tell the story it is meant to tell and be content. As it spins around in my brain, it is quite happy just being its own little tale of loss and discovery. I’m the one who tries to make it more, tries to add characters and sub plots that might propel it into blockbuster Christian stardom. It doesn’t want to do that and neither do I.

Thank you, David McFadzean, the pressure is OFF! : )

P.S. To be fair, the pressure comes back on a bit when McFadzean emphasizes the importance of craft. He says if you don’t have the craft, drop out. (His words, not mine!) And this is good advice for Christians in any line of work. In our culture, we can’t rely on the truth of our message despite the weakness of our form. But for this post, let’s just hang out in the pressure’s off zone, okay? There’s always more . . .