Peace by Peace

Plenty of people in this world walk around putting on heirs.  They pretend to be so happy with where they are in their life, when in actuality, their actions tell quite a different story.  Whether it’s nasty behaviors toward most people they come in contact with for no other reason than the fact that they are miserable inside, or judgmental talk about just about everyone in their lives, the hubris seeps out through every pore until you barely recognize who you’re dealing with anymore.   They have themselves convinced they’re living under the guise of honesty, and cannot recognize that their words and actions don’t match their proclamations.  I am a firm believer that our behavior is the best reflection of our true character.  We can talk a certain way, but if our walk doesn’t match that talk, it falls on deaf ears.

I am, in no way, a perfect human being.  I have never claimed to be in my lifetime.  I fall short every.single.day.  But I know who I am – a child of the King who forgives me for my shortcomings and meets me where I am at.  His love is fresh and new for me every day, and I don’t have to every worry about disappointing Him, because His love never fails.

I also know my responsibility as His child – to love Him, and to love others and I love myself.  See that last word – myself – it’s bold and underlined for a reason.  Often times we leave off this key word.  Jesus was asked specifically by the Pharisees what the greatest commandment in the Law was, to which He answered love God, but the second portion of the answer is where we get hung up.  Matthew 22:39 says,” 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  First we are charged to love our neighbor – ALL of them – not just our white neighbor, our Christian neighbor, our young neighbor, our cool neighbor, our nice neighbor, our conservative neighbor, our straight neighbor,  our non-addict neighbor, our sober neighbor….but ALL OUR NEIBHBORS.

And the next part…here’s the deal-breaker.   To love the way God loves, I have to love me first.  This isn’t selfish or haughty, it’s just plain fact.  If I have issues with me, I can’t love like God loves.  If I don’t feel worthy, I can’t love like God loves.  If I have issues with forgiveness, or hate, or self-loathing, or identity, or relationships, or bitterness, or self-control, or selfishness…it is impossible to love like God loves.  Because God does not struggle with these issues, plain and simple.  So until we can lay these issues down at the feet of our Father, we cannot love as we are asked to do, thereby fulfilling the greatest command.

We can walk around thinking we’ve arrived all we want, talking up a good talk, telling all who will listen that we are Christians, but until we’ve laid all down all our junk, we’re nothing more than clanging cymbals in the ears of those around us.  God knows we’re not fooling Him.

My prayer is for a time when we all – us and ALL our neighbors – love ourselves and each other enough to step forward in unity.  We’ve spent far too much time looking at differences.  Far too much wasted time.

Love God ~ Love others as yourself

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Behold

Easter morning celebration at our home church is a big deal.  I’m talking hundreds of brightly colored air filled balloons held tight against the sanctuary ceiling, waiting for that precise moment of their release.  And the confetti…well, after all, we are celebrating the resurrection of our King and what kind of party would it be without confetti.  But not just little snippets of paper pieces here and there, tossed about with lackluster care.  We do confetti like it’s never been done before – from a cannon packing 120 psi showering off the pulpit into the awaiting audience as if an asteroid had just encountered a shooting star.  Meanwhile, every bright-eyed child has been given their own mini popper as the more serious confetti connoisseur brings in the 2-3 foot launching version, in a friendly competition of ‘out-pop’ your neighbor, in the name of Jesus, of course.

This Easter was no different – everyone dressed in their brightest and best, like all the colors of the rainbow has sprung forth for the first time this very morning.  Old friends and new ones gathered with their families to hear the wonderful worship songs that poured forth and God’s Word to be shared by Pastor.  Pastor’s parents were in town visiting, and took their place of pride in the front row, fully immersed in the morning’s activities.  As Pastor got up to share the message, I watched as his sweet Mama snapped 2 quick and quiet photos on her cell phone – no different as if her boy stepped up for his first at bat.  I chuckled to myself, how cute that whole interchange was, as she showed Papa how they’d turned out.   Then I thought to myself how no matter what we do, or where we go, we are always our parent’s children.  We can be playing a Little League game, landing that first million dollar deal, or preaching to the masses on Easter – we are still that love of our parent’s eye.

This is how God sees us every single day.  This…it’s so simple, and yet so complex.  God loves us…it’s easy to say and complicated to comprehend.  God LOVES us – when we hit a home run, when we land that big deal, when we preach in His name, sure…but also when we fall short and tell a lie because we’re scared of the consequence, when we steal because we’re hungry, when we make bad parenting decisions, when we don’t act in love as we should…and on and on and on.  He loves us so very much He sent Jesus – the most precious being to Him – to save us from ourselves.

And when we chose Him, He’s standing there with His camera at the ready, snapping photos for the memory albums – photos of pride and honor.  Photos to share with us for all eternity.  Look, my son…remember when you shared a meal with that stranger?  I was so very proud of you!  Oh my daughter…I remember the time you turned away from alcohol and turned to me.  I love you so!

I am so humbled by this knowledge – that I am loved by my Father in Heaven, on the good days and the bad, and He cannot wait to celebrate with balloons and confetti upon my arrival.  Shoot, if we can do this cool of a job celebrating here, I can hardly imagine what a Heavenly celebration might be like.    I do know it will be quite a sight to behold!

Gone but Not Forgotten

Four years ago today, we lost my Father.  A simple phone call 12 days prior had me packing a bag, rearranging my schedule, and booking a flight without a second thought.  I wasn’t sure what I’d find once I arrived, or how long my trip would last – I simply knew it was my obligation, and eventually my honor, to walk our this journey with my Dad.

My only outlet during this time was Facebook, and each night in the quiet and solace, I poured out the day’s events onto my page.  Looking back, I am so very grateful for the chronical of the events as they unfolded, the outpouring of support, and the opportunity to reflect back on those last days even today:

(As posted to FB October 24, 2011 through November 5, 2011)

‘Arrived in SC this afternoon to tend to my Dad…he’s not doing well at all.  Please pray for strength for the days ahead for my brother and I as we do what needs to be done for him.’  10/24/11

‘Update on Dad:  Very bad day today; morning started well with Dad on nasal cannula and talking well, but he quickly decompensated just after noon, with continuous A-Fib/tachycardia episodes that lasted into the evening and continues intermittently; severe apneic episode which was terrifying to witness as he gasped for breath.  We were informed definitively today that Dad is in the end-stage of his disease, and that this most likely is the continued course he will take – duration unknown.  If he does recover, he will never be able to return home alone again.  We continue to have a busy week ahead, regardless of the outcome.  Please continue to lift us all up in prayer for strength to submit to God’s will, and endurance to stand by our Father in the days to come.  Thank you for those who have sent your prayers along – they are felt and appreciated.’  10/25/11

‘Today’s update:  Dad was off the BIPAP all of today, but struggled for every breath.  He slept all day because of the huge toll the simple act of breathing in and out is taking on his body.  His vitals remained fairly stable, but the slightest movement or attempts to take a bite of food sent his respirations soaring, as he now cannot breathe and eat at the same time since he requires his nose and mouth to maintain breath.

As I spent my entire day caring for my Dad – feeding him when he could tolerate a few bites, wiping down his body with a cold cloth when his temperature caused breathing to be that much more of an effort, rubbing lotion on his dry and ever swollen legs, removing numerous bandages from days of blood draws, ABGs and IV attempts I was acutely aware of the comparison of infants, newly helpless to the world, and the dying…equally helpless.  And while one occasion is full of joy, the other sadness – God has allowed us the privilege to participate in both events as teachable moments.  As I spend these 8 hours per day I am allowed in as many days as Dad has left, I am learning so much – about nursing, about my Dad, about myself.  And as painful and taxing as these days are, I wouldn’t trade them – 22 years ago I missed all of this with my Mother in an instant.  When this is over, there will be peace for me, for my brother, and most of all, for my Dad.

Thank you all for your prayers and notes.  It is certainly day by day, and looks like I may be extended down here.  I will continue to post updates in the evenings as long as I can.  Love to you all.’  10/26/11

‘Today’s update:  Well, I just typed out a long update, but lost it before I could post, so I’ll leave you with this song that was playing on the radio when I got in the car to leave the hospital this evening.  God’s timing is perfect – for all things.  Hoping we can remember this in the days to come.  Love to all.’  10/27/11

‘Dad’s update:  I guess I probably say this each day, but by far today was the most emotionally draining and difficult yet.  I am typing as I sit in the ICU – thankful for the special exception that was made to allow me to sleep here tonight, but knowing at the same time these ‘privileges’ are only extended to those in their very last hours and days.

After prayer and much contemplation, we have formally changed Dad’s status to DNR, allowing only measures to keep him comfortable.  Over the night he acquired a GI bleed and was NPO (no food or liquids) until he could be scoped, which we declined.  Upon entering the room, Dad immediately gasped to me that he was tired and he wanted to be done.  Hearing those words from this stubborn, strong man gave me more than pause – it has now become my mission to honor his request with all my being.

Several rounds of strong meds were brought on board to alleviate any pain he was having and to allow him to rest, but his body’s instinct to fight kicked in – and fight he did for the next 5 hours – through hallucinations, pulling out his NG tube, removing his oxygen several time, attempting to pull his Foley…he became the 8 armed bandit who could find no peace.

By mid-afternoon it was decided to let him try the BIPAP once again, not so much for the oxygen benefit but more for the opportunity to relax and let sleep come.  Within 3 minutes he was out, with his vitals lower than they’d been in days.

As I sit here now with one of the first opportunities to reflect back on the days’ events, I realize I am reduced to death watch…a mission I missed with my mother and failed my grandmother in.  My brother and I view our responsibilities very differently – neither is wrong or right…just different.  I imagine this is quite common in the dying process…each member experiences their pain in their individual way.  Mine defaults to duty first hidden by a shroud of numbness followed by a few more bricks being added to the bunker around my heart.

The amount of pain and the number of bricks would be insurmountable by now were it not for my Heavenly Father holding me against His chest as I cried out to Him, sometimes daily.  Today when the pain washed over me like a tsunami though I tried to put on my bravest face so my dad wouldn’t be scared, I could only cling to the hope and faith I have in Him.  I am not doing this…He is in me…guiding my motion…standing beside me as I weep…stroking my dad’s hair with His hand…sharing His love through me.  I learned to love from Him…and He’s still teaching me, even today…’  10/29/11

‘Update:  Quick Dad update as I know many of you are having your own personal struggles right now trapped in a Halloween Wonderland…Friday was a really bad day…I think I posted that day.  Saturday he woke up, completely coherent and stayed stable and alert for the entire day – it was such a gift!  We had the opportunity to ask about a lot of unfinished business and make several important decisions.  Satan tried to get a foot-hold within the family, but after talking it out and getting some perspective (and much needed sleep) I am happy to report he failed miserably.

Sunday fell somewhere in the middle with a few periods of alertness but mostly sleep and pain medication.  Dad was also moved to the PCU – basically the step down unit.  He handled the move OK, and I stayed the night as the end seems to draw closer each day and I don’t want him to be alone when that moment does come.

Today included a lot of pain and the question “How much longer?” from Dad early this am.  My mission was to make sure he got his morphine every hour on the hour so that pain could not touch his frail body.

God also used today and Dad’s semi-conscious utterances to chastise me for judging his heart.  Only God knows a man’s heart, regardless of how that man presents himself to the world.  Yesterday my sister-in-law Crissy asked Dad if he had Jesus in his heart and he told her yes.  I would love to believe that was true, but I was immediately skeptical, not because of the wrongs done to me but the way he’s walked his life.  But several…and I mean several times today he came out with confirming statements that let me know that I was not only hasty but out of line in my judgment of his heart.  And all I can do is praise God for His unending forgiveness – for me, for my dad and for anyone who seeks Him.  What an awesome God we serve!’  10/31/11

‘Update:  Moved Dad to hospice about 24 hours ago – such a freeing experience in so many ways.  I cannot say enough positive things about the staff here – this environment is just what we all needed.

Dad sleeps most if not all of the time now.  He hasn’t eaten solids in 3 days.  He’s taken a few sips over the last few days and his breathing becomes more labored each hour at this point.  He is on a regular schedule of morphine and Ativan, with more available as he needs it.

The nurses and the doctors with so much more experience  seeing this process and this disease have now said we are down to days or hours – certainly by the weekend…all the signs are there.

This center is much more equipped for round the clock visitors, so I head into night 4 by his side.  Crissy and Bobby are bringing me my things as it is no longer practical to leave because of the distance – nor do I have a desire to be anywhere but here.

You who know me know I am far from a Biblical scholar…I am much better with songs.  The latest one rummaging through my head is John Weller’s ‘While I’m Waiting’…one line is particular speaks to me right now, ’I will serve You while I’m waiting…’  I cannot begin to tell you how many times a day God shows His face as I sit here waiting…I can just tell you I am so very thankful even in this quiet room with just me and my Dad.  I am never alone.’  11/2/11

‘A gift from God via Joyce and FB…thank you, Jesus…message received.’

“Know that you are not alone.  The Lord understands what you are going through and has promised to be with you in every trial in live.”

‘Afraid to sleep tonight – Jesus, please hold us both tight…’  11/2/11 late evening

‘Finally at peace – 4:45 am.  We love you, Dad.’   11/3/11

{I have purposely left out the comments due to length, but in no way am I diminishing their importance to this story.  Each night before the new post, I soaked in the love and support and it helped to drive me forward in one of the hardest tasks I’ve ever done.  The following comment, however, as I reread this transcript, brings me to tears – each and every time…with its simplicity, its timing, its truth.  I include it today for that reason.}

-Jenn Daniels “Oh Melissa…I send you much love and prayers.  You did a good job.”

On This Day…

Twenty-five years ago tonight, I thought I had met the love of my life.  We dated, I moved 1000 miles away from everything I’d ever known to join his ‘Brady Bunch’ family, and we married exactly 13 months later.  Twenty-five years ago tonight.

I was twenty-one years old; he turned twenty-four that very night.  What did we know about love?  What did we know about forever?

It’s funny how wise you become later in life.  I wonder, though, do you become wise simply with age, or from the sum total of your experiences?

I was thinking all day, if I knew then what I know now, would I have made a different choice?  Thankfully I believe fully that nothing happens by accident.  No matter how negative things seem to end up, the purpose for their existence far exceeds our understanding.  Praise Jesus!

Without this day, twenty-five years ago, I would not have my three incredible children who give me purpose each day.

Without this day, I would never have learned my worth, because I never would have questioned my value.

Without this day, I would never have found myself, because I never would have realized I was lost.

Without this day, I would never have picked myself up, because I never would have recognized I was under someone’s heel.

Without this day, I would never have been free to find real happiness, because I never knew how truly unhappy we were.

Thank God for this day.

Faith in the Darkness: Fear in the Light

Most of you know I’ve been in training for the Hartford Half Marathon, coming up on October 10.  It’s a pretty big deal, since it’s my first athletic event, and I am by no means an athlete of any shape, form or kind.

I have to say, though, I am darned impressed with myself.  From the day I decided to do this thing, I started on a path, albeit a path I had no idea to where it led, and I have not stopped moving.  I can’t say I’ve been this motivated to do anything for me – ever.  With the exception of one week, where Mama Commitments limited me to one day of walking, I have been out there no less than 3 days per week, sometimes more, with miles on my sneakers (yes, that was plural!) and the sweat to prove it when I’m done.

I recently found this great wooded path not far from my house, and I decided I wanted to conquer it.  On my 1st visit, I wasn’t exactly prepared for what I found – an offering of several paths; a few short distance ‘loop trails’ and a long distance marsh trail – and I spent more time surveying and backtracking rather than conquering anything.

Prior to my 2nd visit, I spent time online studying where the marsh trail actually traveled throughout town, and purposely decided to start at the opposite end of where I’d started a few days earlier.  After finding the access footpath, complete with cobwebs from lack of visitors, I found the first orange arrow, a sign I was headed in the right direction.  About a mile into the marsh path, however, the signs became a bit more ambiguous, and I soon found myself in a neighboring town, clear across town from my car, as darkness was beginning to fall.  The only way out, as it were, was in…into the woods.

I’m not exactly sure when this marsh path was first established, but visually you can imagine a lush forest footpath, carpeted by roots and tree limbs.  As time wears away the soil, the roots become more prevalent, making each step increasingly important, especially in the darkness.  As I continued to look for the orange markings, ever aware of the decreasing light, I wasn’t afraid; just mindful of my steps and my purpose – to get back to my car.  I started singing along to my music streaming through my headphones, consciously choosing not to remove them as the distraction helped me focus on the task at hand.

I was also mindful of the battery-life left on my cellphone…very low.  And while I’d been tracking my walk, tracing my path and streaming my music, apparently my phone was in revolt.  Again I made the conscious decision to keep those apps running – they all served a purpose at that moment, and with them I felt certain I would get to where I needed to be.  As I reached this unmistakable boulder that marked the access footpath from the marsh path, I knew I had made it back alright.  The crisp moonlight and car headlamps lit my way along the grassy terrain to my lonely car in the commuter lot.

For my 3rd visit, I set off completely prepared; I’d studied the internet map yet again to see where I’d gone wrong; I brought a flashlight in the event I made another fatal directional error; I brought water and a protein packed snack –  just in case; and most importantly…my phone was fully charged.  Off I went, determined that I had it figured out this time.  While I didn’t get lost, I got overconfident once I got close to the exit, making a wrong turn that sent me back out toward the marsh instead of toward the parking lot, essentially adding another .6 mile to my walk.  My only shallow victory was that I did not need the flashlight I had brought, as I emerged from the brush with still some daylight overhead.

Today, I woke up determined.  This marsh path was not going to outwit me.  It was a beautiful first day of fall, and I was going to make the most of the daylight.  I gathered my normal walking paraphernalia (minus the flashlight) and headed to the marsh.  But today, I sat for a minute on one of the benches at the entrance.  I stretched out, which I haven’t been doing appropriately, and could possibly be why I have a slight pull in my right calf.  Lastly, today I decided to bring my iPod instead of using my phone for music.  This proved to be the most important decision I have made all week, probably in all of my training.

I started off strong, as I usually do.  Good typical pace for me.  Passed a few single people walking, a man and his son, other than that the path was isolate as I generally find the farther out I go.  Mile 1 flew by, and the grueling steep climb of mile 2 began.  But today, something was drastically different.  One reason I keep coming back to the marsh, besides the fact that I’m so stubborn, is that it is unmistakably beautiful.  Everywhere you look little touches of nature spring out and you know God has touched this place.  From wild growing cherries and grapes, to unique trees growing intertwined upon each other, to fern outstretched toward the light, to the man-built bridges and planks peering out from nowhere – you are inspired and pulled along step by breath-taking step.

Today, though, as my eyes were pressed onward, I found myself distracted by an abundance of sights, and not in a positive way.  Light crept in where usually it did not, causing need for my sunglasses more than usual – up, down, up, down – an irritating cadence erupting.  As I observed my steps, those holes in the dirt I’d assumed were from chipmunks were now filled with mud wasps, and I scurried around them careful not to disturb their meeting.  Wood planks laid on their side revealed steep drop-offs I’d not noticed until today, causing me to shrink close to trees opposite the drops.

And just about this moment I became acutely aware of my music, streaming loudly, the most perfect of songs for that very moment.  See, my iPod has two playlists – one with pop music and one with Contemporary Christian music.  My iPod was set to ‘shuffle’ and these lyrics rang through:

 

Giver of every breath I breathe
Author of all eternity
Giver of every perfect thing
To You be the glory
Maker of Heaven and of Earth
No one can comprehend Your worth
King over all the universe
To You be the glory

I continued walking, slowly, as these words sank into my soul.   I knew I was being touched by the Holy Spirit at that moment, I was just trying to grasp the full extent.

Early on I declared I was doing this walk because I can, in fact, walk.  Because I am healthy; because I am happy; because I am free.  But I never once stopped to give the glory to GOD for all that means to me.

Then I heard Him say to me very clearly “You have excellent faith in the darkness, and yet you fear in the light.”  How on point is that?  I find it so very easy to blindly trust what I know that I know, but things I have partial vision of, I need constant reaffirmation before I can believe.

This marsh path is just like my walk.  In the darkness, I had no fear when I more than likely should have.  But in the light of day, I wouldn’t trust what I could see.  I was fumbling and stumbling, and allowing fear to creep in, making vision an obstacle rather than a support.

It was at this point on the path a very distinct fork occurs, and you can easily become disoriented.  Your inclination is to go down, but that choice leads you deeper into the woods.  You must choose up to clear the trees.  You must choose up.  Let me tell you something else – today, I didn’t get lost, not one wrong turn, and I made it out before dark…best time yet.  No coincidence there.

What are you putting blind faith in where you shouldn’t be today?  And what areas are you questioning what you can see clearly, perhaps because you don’t like the answers you see?  Lastly, are you giving glory to the One who gave you everything?

Today is a new season, the perfect time for a fresh start.  I know I’m glad for the times I chose up.

Marathon: For My Health & For Her Life

Many of you know I’ve challenged myself to participate in the Hartford Half Marathon on October 10 this year.  I decided this after my 8th heart procedure, a thus far successful cardiac ablation of a recurrent atrial fibulation and tachycardia, both of which I am hypersensitive to.  This A-Fib and A-Tach are both just co-morbid symptoms of a larger heart condition I live with, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, that I was diagnosed with back in 1993, the same heart condition that killed my Mother at age 42, and her father at age 48, essentially without warning.

Notice I say I live with cardiomyopathy – it is not killing me.  Research, medications, and treatments have come a long way in the 25 years since my Mother’s death.  The awareness of my condition makes all the difference as well.  I also consciously decided I wanted to be here for my children, and knew to do that, I needed to lose weight.  In the last few years, I have lost a current total of 110 pounds, just 22 pounds shy of my goal weight.  This was certainly not an easy feat, but most definitely a life altering and worthwhile endeavor to undertake.  The pursuit of health usually is…no matter the cost.

Which brings me to my next revelation – we can never, ever take our health, and the health of our loved ones from granted.  Even the most physically fit individual cannot predict when or if something unprecedented will happen to them.  Life is unpredictable.  Only God knows the future, every breath we will take, every decision we will make.

So as I am preparing for this marathon, this ultimate challenge of my stamina and strength, it occurred to me that this is the perfect platform for more than just my personal victory.  This is the excellent opportunity to bring light to just how fortunate we are – the healthy – those whose families are whole.  And while my family, my children have their struggles, no one is fighting for their life each day.

I have this friend, Emily, who I had the fortune to meet through her work with autism.  She does not have first-hand experience with autism other than her education and work – she is a Behavior Analyst by trade, and a mother by the grace of God.  We met through volunteerism, which was an incredible gift to us both, and as Heaven would see fit, the night before the main event, she gave birth to her second child, Kiley – the most precious fair-skinned, red-haired beauty this side of Ireland.  Thanks to a last minute substitution by her mother, our event went off unscathed, and Kiley grew into a spunky sprite…until just prior to her 5th birthday, when an unusual limp and accompanying symptoms prompted Emily to bring her into CT Children’s Hospital.  The diagnosis, just days after her landmark birthday – Stage 4 Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma, an aggressive cancer of the soft connective that impacts only about 350 children in the US per year.

For the past 18 months, Kiley has been fighting to beat this cancer with warrior strength.  She’s undergone an extensive regime of radiation and chemotherapy all in an effort to “kick cancer’s butt!”  Kiley held her own fundraiser earlier this year and raised enough money for an incredible machine housed in the Children’s Cancer Therapy Development Institute in Ft. Collins, Colorado.  There Dr. Charles Keller, scientific director, works tirelessly to research therapies for childhood cancers, including ARMS, Kiley’s type of cancer.

Working to find why the cancer cells metastasize, or develop in new locations in the body, is paramount in advancing the outcome for kids like Kiley.  But all this research takes funding.  Currently the National Cancer Institute only allots 4% of funds raised for pediatric cancer research – 4%.  This is woefully inadequate, for Kiley, for other children like her, for anyone.

That is why I have decided to challenge you, my friends, to partner with me as I participate in this Marathon.  I KNOW how fortunate I am – every day I can walk and breathe is a gift from God.  My children – their health and well-being – yet another gift.  Our safety in a country that is free from violence; gift. Freedom to worship the god we choose (or not); gift.  A roof over our heads; gift.  Food, clothing; gift, gift.  I could go on and on, but I think you get my point.

So, add up you gifts right now – just a simple list – and think about how thankful you are for what you have.  Think about that 4% and how much more your children are worth to you.  Think about anyone you know who’s been touched by cancer, anyone at all.  Think of anyone you’ve lost – the pain, the grief…now imagine burying your small child.  What might you give to avoid that unimaginable agony?

I’ve started a donation fund in honor of #TeamKiley , where 100% of your donations will go directly to the cc-TDI lab in Colorado and directly benefit Dr. Keller’s work.  I believe in the power of prayer.  I also believe God is still in the business of miracles, even today.  Kiley has lost several friends in the 18 months since her diagnosis – this disease is very real and very deadly – children who will never graduate high school, enjoy their 1st real kiss, attend college, walk down the aisle with their lover, and blossom into their parents hopes and dreams.

There are 30 days left until the Marathon.  30 days to make a difference in the life of a Warrior Princess.  Look at this child:

Kiley1 Kiley as Anna Kiley n Kelly Kiley pre C Kiley 2

4% is insulting for this beautiful child – for any child.  Let’s send a message to the NCI – our children are worth 1000% – and if you are incapable, we’ll just show you how it’s done! Heck, I’ll walk to whole 26.2 miles if I have to until my voice is heard – you’re my people…you know I will do it!

Please, please tally your ‘gifts’ and make a donation today.  I’ve set a moderate goal for us to attain, but I have faith we’ll blow that right out of the water.  Thanking you all in advance!

Here’s the link: http://www.gofundme.com/an3tjuuc

Pruning is Painful, but Glory Remains

So when we bought our house back in 2003, one of my favorite things about the yard was this gorgeous Japanese maple tree perched lovingly in the front of the Bay window.  I have no idea of its age, but if I had to speculate, I would say it’s about 20 years old or so.   Each spring I marvel at its transformation, from stark barrenness and limbs of almost charcoal with wiry cherry tips, to forked buds of deep forest green, yearning for permission to lunge forward and grasp the crisp pale yellow sun.

By this time of the summer, the leaves have begun their fall ensemble, and incredible hues of greens and reds line the tree from trunk to treetop.  The visual unveiling is an emotional undertaking, and I feel blessed to have a front row seat each season to all of God’s bounty.

For several reasons, that tree has become the focal point of the yard.  There are no other trees in our yard, and the children knew from an early age this tree was very special.  ‘We don’t play on this tree,’ you’d hear the children tell their friends.  Just about every single ‘First Day of School’ photo and every other special occasion photo centers around that tree.  It’s like a member of the family, plain and simple.

In October of 2011 we had an early and extremely severe ice storm that wreaked havoc and devastation across much of New England.  Power lines were dropped to the ground like threads; large long-standing oaks were snapped in half like twigs; roofs collapsed from the tremendous weight of this ice – the damage figures soared into the millions.

As you can imagine, my precious sole standing maple took a hit – one of its two main branches cracked under the weight of the ice it was forced to bear.  The crack did not sever the limb, however, but left it crippled and limping…in need of swift attention.  In my absence, the decision was made to sacrifice the limb in order to attempt to save the remaining tree.  When I saw what had happened, and the choice that was made, I was initially destroyed.  A flood of emotions filled me: anger at the destruction, mourning at the loss of such beauty, disappointment at the decision made.

It was a very difficult winter, and I could no longer bear to gaze out my window at my beloved tree that once held so much joy.  Cloaked in my anguish, as spring approached, I missed all the little signs that were sent for my benefit – signs of new life, rebirth.  That tree wasn’t just surviving, it was thriving.  Even with the loss of half of itself, it was shining in the face of disappointment.  It was staring its critics down, and being all that it could be, despite the odds against it.

And today, even though it remains one of the smallest trees on the block – it is missing its entire left side and it is completely devoid of leaves on its backside – it is still the most beautiful.  Other bigger, taller, seemingly stronger trees have fallen despite their best attempts to the contrary.  This tiny Japanese maple – it stands victorious – all because no one ever told it it could not.

I was looking at my dear tree this morning, and thinking just how parallel this tree is to my life lately.  I experienced an ‘amputation’ of sorts a few years back, and though it might not have been my choice at the time, looking at my standing compared to the rest of the block, I am thriving and standing the tallest I have ever stood.  I haven’t physically grown an inch, but my soul and spirit have surpassed Shaq for sure.

Pruning, though often not our first choice, many times saves the life of what is being trimmed.  The process is painful, as dead or dying parts are cut away, without the benefit of anesthesia.   We can be left bewildered, wondering why we have to experience trimming at all.  But once completed, as new growth begins, we can see why the process was necessary, even critical.

John 15:2 states “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.”  God’s goal is to make us as fruitful as possible; to bring forth our best so that we thrive; most of all, to bring Him glory.

This is a picture of my tree these days:

And this is me:

We’re both a shadow of our former selves; lean, mean fighting machines; little engines that could.  Just try and get in our way.