Measuring Success

Last Thanksgiving Day I started blogging.

I wasn’t sure I’d make it this far at all. I wasn’t sure how often I wanted to post, how long I wanted my posts to be, what subjects I’d explore.

I wanted to always have a few pieces written ahead, so I could spend some time honing them before they went live.

And mostly I wanted to get into the habit of writing regularly, proving to myself that the books I feel I have in me could become a reality, that I have the stamina to work steadily at this thing that is not a chore, that I have loved since before I could read or write.

This thing I was made to do.

So I want to offer my sincere thanks to every person who has read any of my blog posts.

I’m not sure I can tell you how encouraging it is just to be read!

I started writing as soon as I could as a child. The other day I came across what my mom always said was one of my first masterpieces at about 3: a toilet lid cover on which I printed my formal name – Rebecca – with my mom’s lipstick. It never did wash out.

At about four years old I could spend hours going through school textbooks bigger kids gave me to “read” and circle every word I knew. Mostly “a”, “an”, “and”, and “the”. I recited a book to my first-grade class that my teacher thought I was reading, but I had memorized it from hearing it so much.

And by third grade I was finally published. My teacher mimeographed my story, “Sally and Her Horse”, and passed the beautiful purple pages out to the whole third grade! Thank you, Mrs. Brinker, for launching my career at the age of eight. My first book is going to be dedicated to you.

Has the blog been a success?

I feel like that’s a question some people may ask. I’m not a person who is driven by winning. I’m very competitive, but I love the doing of a thing while racing others or trying to produce the best thing I can for the excitement of the doing. I’m not focused around being the winner.

So success for me isn’t defined by how many people follow or read regularly. It’s more about, did I put forth my best effort? Did I dig deep and try to get to the heart of whatever I’m writing about? Did I say it in a way that entertained or enlightened or provoked thought in someone else?

Those aren’t things I can quantify. I can’t count the “Aha!” moments or the healing tears someone else was finally able to cry. I will probably never know if any of you have felt led to lift your face and cry out to God because something I wrote stirred a longing for more inside you.

But if I could, those would be the statistics that would bring me the most satisfaction. Because my goal is to help others not be afraid to face their own feelings by reading about some woman facing hers.

For those of you who like data, here are some of the things that can be numbered over my first year of blogging.

I’ve posted 55 times. That’s since November 22, 2018. One a week, with a double post during one week in January 2019.

So far I have 14 categories that I parcel out my thoughts into. There could have been a lot more, but I didn’t want to get too detailed.

I have 12 followers on WordPress (my blog home) and email, 83 on Facebook, and 1 on twitter.

I know, not high numbers. I sometimes get jealous when I hear of friends who launch something online and end up with a thousand followers before they know it. But I have to ask myself if large numbers are my goal, or if touching one person a week is worth it.

Speaking of that, I don’t get many comments or likes, but that’s ok with me. I don’t “like” everything I read on social media either. You’ll never find me sending along anything that requires you to type “Amen” and like, or send on to 10 of your friends.

But responses are appreciated when they happen.

My blog has been seen by 804 visitors over the past year, and they have looked at 1,220 posts. That’s an average of 22 views per post. I like that when someone comes by to read, they will browse a little and read a second post. Or more. Please feel free to do that as much as you’d like. That’s what they are there for.

My average words per post is 1,004. I don’t know if that’s a good number, but it’s about how much I need to round out a train of thought each week. No one has ever commented that they are too long or too short. And the one double issue was because I needed to tell a whole story and didn’t want to leave anyone hanging for a week. And it couldn’t be said in 1,000 words.

Most of my readers are in the United States where I live. But I have been tickled to find that 97 times people in 16 other countries have stopped by to see what’s up. As the child of very mission-minded parents, that’s something I’m proud of, that people in other countries can read my thoughts, can see what God is doing in my life.

And looking forward, I plan to keep on writing and posting once a week.

Because I didn’t run out of stories to tell. (That was a real fear at first.)

And though I am not mainly about reaching milestones of how many views and followers and likes, I am about reaching people. So I would like to ask a little favor of you who drop in from time to time and like what you read.

Please share it with others.

I’m not going to imagine all the ways you could do that. But I’ll make a couple suggestions.

If you read a blog and really like it, feel free to repost it to your friends. I make my blogs public so that they can be spread, and you have my permission to pass them on, especially if you think someone would enjoy or benefit from them.

If you’ve ever enjoyed one, take a minute to visit the site and look through the categories and maybe catch a couple more related ones that you missed. They are there to be read, anytime.

And if I quote a scripture or a song and it speaks to you, pass that on to someone else who needs it as well.

Because our stories aren’t just ours to savor and relive in our own minds. They are to share, to connect with others that we may never meet in this life.

But we weren’t made just for this life.

Thanks for being a part of faceliftbook on my site at haasmom.blog.

I wrote it just for you.

Happy Family Day!

Two days ago marked the first anniversary of my granddaughter officially joining our family.

Of course, my oldest daughter had been caring for her since she was a newborn, but the wheels move the way they move and she was 20 months old when she became a member of the Haas clan in the last way necessary.

In the legal record.

So in celebration I don’t want to write a whole lot, I just want to let you in on the life of my granddaughter, from the beginning to the present.

Enjoy!

p.s. I am frustrated with never remembering how to find and move around pictures! So after 3 hours trying to get them in order, and not being able to find more early pics, I’ve decided to leave them random.

4 days old
With only a couple hours notice, Lexi took in Baby B as a foster.
22 months old with Aunt Martha
Brooklyn enjoys her sleepover with Martha almost every week.
Bee is about 4 months with Giggy (me)
Still one of her favorite things is to climb on my lap and cuddle.
Me with both the girls – Baby A at 21 months and Baby Bee at 18 months.
My heart was bursting with love that day! So blessed to be with them both at Baby A and Big Brother’s adoption party.
Harvest from our garden barrels. Bee is 2 y 6 m. Every week this past summer she enjoyed helping me weed and water our plants, and now she’ll be eating them!
Happy Birthday 2 year old! More toys to play with at Giggy and Papa’s.
Her hair has a lot of curl! Wild hair out of her ‘do at 22 months.
At family camp, 17 months, with Nevin, Martha and Eli.

I hope wherever you are on this day of Thanksgiving that you are able to feel thankful for the love and the people in your life, no matter what circumstances you are in. Over her life we had a lot of uncertain times, but we have been greatly blessed to go through them because they led to her adoption and being a forever part of our family.

God bless you all.

Becky

I got the music in me…

One thing I’m continually thankful for is being raised in a musical family.

Dad was a preacher who promoted Southern gospel groups. He also sang, but I couldn’t tell you what part. Mom was a piano player and sang alto.

One of my first memories is of being a baby wrapped in a blanket lying on a pew in our church, and my parents on the platform practicing with their quartet.

In my early life I spent countless evenings at similar practices and then it was my turn to step up to the microphone singing a chorus as a preschooler, joining in the choir, or being part of a youth singing group.

I wondered if my dad wanted to be a professional singer. He was so supportive of the groups he scheduled for “gospel sings” in our area. Some big name groups came through, but there were many more lesser known performers he promoted by getting people to hear them live.

Those events were always exciting for me. I was shy, but still thrilled at being allowed backstage with Dad. I soon got up the courage to talk to the bands, and became a roadie of sorts, taking on the job of dismantling and carrying out the microphone stands. It was the only equipment they would trust to a scrawny kid.

One of my fondest memories of those concerts was standing onstage during a break and singing with my family. We did it at various places, but my favorite was the high school auditorium in our home town.

I have an 8×10 of the whole gang, and looking at it takes me back to manning the ticket booth by the doors, hanging out in the practice room where the bands warmed up, the smell of the curtains as I’d stand behind them watching the bands and the audience both.

I didn’t listen closely to the music then because there were so many other things to experience. But somehow it still got down inside me, and I knew that music would always be an important part of my life.

I often wondered if Dad didn’t wish he could play an instrument. Then one day I discovered a guitar case in my parents’ closet. I pieced together that it probably belonged to my Papaw, who played guitar in the honky-tonks when he was drinking.

So I think Dad could play, but he chose not to.

And that’s a shame. Because if his dad had a talent for it, I bet he would have been a good player.

And I would have loved to hear my daddy play the guitar.

My mom was a good piano player. And I have had about eight long, full, endless, mostly boring years of piano lessons in my life.

I did not inherit her skill.

Mom learned to play shape notes. Some of you may have grandmothers who can explain that to you! Apparently each note had a shape. The lines and spaces weren’t enough of a clue. But maybe that was her secret.

Because I could never make much sense of the lines and spaces and the ovals drawn upon them. Yes, every good boy deserves fudge or whatever makes him say, “Ahh!”, but theory and I never connected.

Mom could play almost anything. And transpose in a couple minutes time to suit the voice of the singer. And sing harmony with anyone.

In our little family singing group my older sister sang lead and I got harmony. Which was fine with me, because I was fascinated with my mom’s voice and how she found the right notes.

In my piano lessons I heard words like chords and keys, and I even knew that usually the second note from the top was the alto. But without a pencil to write down the letters I could not tell you what I was supposed to sing.

There are Facebook laments about how churches should go back to hymn books so people can see what they are supposed to be singing. But I know that after eight years of studying it, and my whole life singing out of a hymn book, I was no closer to knowing what I was singing.

Mom taught me that while some people are gifted with understanding theory, others are gifted with understanding the feel of music.

Guess which one I am?

I’ve often heard it said, of piano players especially, that they play by ear. In my understanding that usually means that they can’t, or don’t want to learn, to read music.

What I have also found is that those who play by ear are driven by the music, not by the notes on the page and the written instructions of how to play it.

They play with passion and feeling, and that flows through the music.

While music played exactly as written can be quite beautiful, I’d rather hear music played from the heart, full of meaning that goes beyond notes on a page.

And so I sing by ear.

I used to labor to figure out what it meant to sing specific notes. I’ve had piano players go over and over parts, and in some settings it’s necessary to toe the line and sing exactly the way every other alto sings.

But what I love most is the way learning and singing music comes to me.

It starts with lots of listening – I always say I have to hear a song 50 times before I “get” it.

The important thing for me is to feel the music inside me, to know where it is going, to feel the excitement of where I hope it goes next, to be carried along by the story it tells me before I ever take in the words.

Once I truly have the music in me, then I can add the lyrics, trying to hear them clearly on the radio before ever seeing them on paper. And layering on the meaning, the story, the message. Whatever they need to tell me.

To find my voice, I have to let the song tell me where to go.

Singing lead is great, and I love it. But there is something so satisfying about trailing a little under, giving a base, an anchor for the melody to soar above.

Depth and power and feeling.

I’m told that what I do is hear the chords and pick one of the lower notes to sing. That could be the technical explanation, but mainly what I love is to feel the music and let it bring out a response from my heart.

The same kind of response I felt as a girl, standing in the folds of a heavy curtain, hearing the same song I bet 50 times, and knowing that it was speaking to me.

And opening my mouth, and letting the music back out.

The Perfect Leather Jacket

Over the last year I’ve been slowly working my way through a book, Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. I say slowly because I’m only halfway through it!

I got the book and the accompanying workbook out of the library and dug in deep. (I’m too cheap to buy them!) I found I had a lot to learn about boundaries, but I have felt God gently showing me a lot about myself and the way I was raised, and also about my parents.

There were some things I held against them over the years, things that became my own battle cry to “never be like my parents”, until (shock) I heard their words come out of my mouth.

I can’t explain it any other way than that God supernaturally brought understanding to my mind, helping me see the way life had molded my parents based on all I know about their childhoods.

I’ve had a lot of light bulb moments in the past year. I’ve learned to see the reasons behind their inability to set good boundaries for me, to teach me how to set them for myself. And as I remember the way my world was as I grew up, I’ve had a lot of questions answered by diving into this book.

I’ve also rejoiced when answering questions showing the good sides of my parents. Though it’s necessary to examine the negative, the book really does balance it with applauding the good things I’ve learned and the people who have helped me.

This week I’ve journaled about how my parents taught me to make good decisions, and to learn the value of delayed gratification.

And it all comes down to the perfect leather jacket.

I was about 17 years old, working my first job, driving a car a family friend had donated to the preacher’s kids (my older sister and myself). It was made the year I was born.

I have to clarify. This was my first job working for a business that gave me a weekly paycheck.

Because one thing my parents excelled at was living within their means. Which meant that they didn’t splurge on lots of extras for us four kids.

I never really thought about it until I was grown and married, but we were probably poor. The thing is, it never felt that way. We had a home and food and clothes and love, and I never lacked for anything I truly needed.

And there’s the secret.

Of course when I was little I didn’t know the difference between a want and a need. But that was one of the first and best lessons I ever learned. As we got older, Dad especially impressed on us that they were taking care of our needs, but our wants were up to us to supply.

He helped out by taking us strawberry picking at a friend’s patch once school was out in June, and we set up shop in the front of our big barn. He made signs painted to show our hours, what we sold, and if we were open or closed.

We kids sat out in the barn, sold the baskets of berries, restocked the table, collected the money, and cleaned up when we sold out.

This led to getting more produce already picked later in the summer: tomatoes, squash, green beans, peppers, cucumbers, watermelon, cantaloupe, and the season ender, corn.

In this home produce stand was where I found my love of numbers and counting, handling money, calculating and distributing the profits that were left after we repaid Dad for the produce costs.

I excelled at this. I don’t remember what my siblings loved most about the stand, but next to talking to the customers and adding up their purchases, the hands-on economics class was a thrill for me.

I would keep track of how much time each person spent working the stand. Down to the minute. And once we had paid Dad, we took 10% off the top and put that in what we called the “family fund”, which was to be used for whatever we all agreed on. Maybe a trip to Cedar Point or extras during our annual trip home to North Carolina.

The rest was divided between us kids based on how many hours had been worked and what percentage of the time was spent doing the work.

We each then tithed off our profits, and the rest we could spend on whatever we wanted! My favorite was to get tart ‘n tinies, which were miniature Sweetarts in the shape of little pellets once in a while, play a few games at Cedar Point, and save the rest.

I was probably 9 or 10 when we started working the stand, and it lasted past when I started that “real” job. It was no wonder that within a year I was asked to do the weekly inventory and cash reconciliations, once they learned how good I was at handling those details of the restaurant where I worked.

And so finally, after years of socking most of my money away in a savings account, I found myself at the local mall in a trendy clothing store, smelling the rich warmth of that brown leather jacket.

It fit me perfectly! Not too baggy across the shoulders, but with enough room to move my arms. I remember the feel of the silky lining as they slipped into it the first time I tried it on. Cool and smooth and luxurious.

As my hands warmed the leather the fragrance of it teased my senses. It was similar to the musky cologne I liked.

I had to have it.

So I did what people did in the 70’s. I put it on layaway. I put a small deposit down, and then I would need to come and pay a minimum amount every week until I paid it off.

Only then could I take it home.

That first week I described it to my family and friends. I couldn’t wait to go “visit” it the first time and make my payment, trying it on again to be sure it fit as good as I remembered.

Meanwhile life was moving on, and I was looking at going to college. And starting to figure the cost, because my parents couldn’t help much.

And I had to make one more trip. To say goodbye.

Lots of “if only’s” came to mind for several months after I got my money back. The thoughts of how I would have looked walking into school or church, the envy or congratulations from my peers.

That perfect leather jacket wasn’t the only thing I’ve wanted and not gotten. But it was the first. And the lessons it has taught me have carried me safely past potentially bad financial decisions.

Because, like I eventually had to say that last time in the store, I can still hear my Dad saying, “Is this something you really need, or is it something you only want to have?”

And those are words I don’t mind hearing come out of my own mouth.

Thanks, Dad. You taught me well.

The ever-changing view

Pieces of the puzzle came together for me last week.

But I’m having trouble seeing the big picture as I’ve been searching for those missing pieces for a year now.

It’s easy to remember when it started. It was November 9, Oldest Son’s birthday last year, and we were on a college visit with Middle Son when I woke up with what seemed like a cold.

Except I didn’t get over it.

I’ve already written a lot about this, so I won’t repeat it all. But something was different about this feeling. Mostly that I lost my senses of smell and taste, and my sinuses always seemed congested. And I was often hoarse or unable to sing.

It just came to me as I was writing this, that this whole scenario happened to me before, a long time ago. Don’t you love it when one memory triggers another?

That time it also lasted about a year, from deep winter of early 1995 to late spring of 1996. The worst part for me was losing my voice. At that time we were very involved in our church, and it was like torture to not be able to sing out, or often to even talk loud enough to be heard.

I remember at the time I felt it was God pulling me back from some pride issues I was having. It may well have been his way of reining in my ego! And when I came to face it and learned to have humility about whatever gifts and talents God had given me, my voice returned to normal.

If I had documented every time I had these same symptoms I think I would find a pattern of my “normal” being limited by things I never thought to look for.

Sometimes I’ve been diagnosed with bronchitis, even pneumonia. More often with a sinus infection. For all these years, other than my long-ago original diagnosis of asthma, health care professionals have not made much of a connection between asthma and my issues.

And not one of them ever thought to test me for allergies.

Until after my near-death experience a few weeks ago.

The Monday following my most recent attack I was with my asthma and allergy doctor. So far we had been tackling asthma issues. I had participated in a couple clinical trials, and found some medications that worked better than what I had been using.

I was able to brainstorm with my doctor for a few minutes, and he was adamant that what I had experienced was not an asthma attack, but an allergic reaction.

And he was right.

I finally remembered taking Aleve an hour before I couldn’t breathe, and as I’ve looked back over the last year I realize I had been taking a lot of Aleve, especially before my worst attacks.

Yes, some of them were asthma, but some were allergic reactions. And some of my asthma triggers are turning out to be things I’m allergic to.

Which brings me up to last week, when I finally got tested for environmental sensitivities.

The worst thing I heard was that I’m allergic to trees. All the trees. All the ones I’ve loved my whole life. My beloved birch trees, that I used to climb as a girl. The willow I loved to drape around me like a beautiful dress and dance around in it.

And the maples I dug up from in front of my parent’s house and planted in our brand new freshly married yard, with dreams of my own someday children climbing and playing in their grown-up shade.

And the pieces fell into place. Why I can’t tolerate being outside for too long. Because it’s not just trees. Add grasses and weeds.

And it isn’t because I don’t want to take a walk or run around on a ball field or explore a forest.

If you could have seen me as a child you would be amazed that I could ever be happy inside four walls.

But for years it has been increasingly harder to enjoy, and I’m really sad to see the reason. Now I have to deal with it.

I’ve been referring to this whole process like it’s a puzzle and pieces have been missing. But when I started writing this post the words to one of my favorite songs as a teenager popped into my head:

“My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue
An everlasting vision of the ever-changing view
A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold
A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold” (“Tapestry”, Carole King)

That idea of my life as a tapestry has always intrigued me. I do a little needlework, and the backside of a piece often looks drastically different from the finished side. But since adolescence I’ve always been aware that at any time I may be seeing the “pretty” side of my life, or I may have emerged behind what is easily seen to get a different perspective on my situation.

I think I really want to see this as a tapestry instead of a puzzle.

And there’s more. Dust mites. All the dust mites.

I have always known I can’t stir up the dust. This is not a new thing, but I was not constantly plagued with the physical aftermath before this past year.

My way of dealing with this has been to avoid cleaning. Even as a girl I would rather deal with laundry or dishes than vacuum and dust. And as an adult I decided it was better to not kick up the dust so I wouldn’t be sneezing and blowing my nose for days.

So I’m sunk, outside or in.

When I look at this section of my tapestry, will I see God working in the background to move me into a different season of life where he has things for me to do away from the things that cause me discomfort? Or will I see only what I can’t do or be around anymore, things that used to bring me such joy?

And between the two outlooks, I think I’d rather this be about learning a lesson in obedience from God and not about the restrictions imposed by allergies.

And why can’t it be both?

Because it isn’t just funny shaped pieces that somehow fit together.

Life is so much more a moving, shifting work of art. It’s a living canvas, a cloth knit with a changing palette of elements.

And just like in the act of writing these thoughts I saw a thread that entered the scene over twenty years ago, where I am now, whatever is ahead, is no accident.

This design has a designer. And though I may not like or understand what is being woven in me over this past year, I can choose to step off.

And lift my face.

And see that it’s just a small part, a unique and necessary pattern, in a masterpiece.

Washing away the griminess

The dust hasn’t yet settled on the work, but in the middle of recent events I had some really good memories come to the surface.

The last couple of weeks have the makings of stories that will be told for years to come: when the hot water heater, water softener and clothes dryer all quit at the same time. At least we should be able to remember the year it happened!

The most important part of it was that the water heater and softener were both original to the house when we built it, and had lasted for more than 34 years.

In late March of 1985 I got engaged to a guy my dad had set me up with on a blind date. I’m not going to tell the whole story here, but it was definitely a God thing that we got together.

The important part for this story is that I had hit rock bottom, knew I was lousy at picking guys to get involved with, and asked God to show me “in so clear a way that I can’t deny it’s you picking and not me” if his will was for me to get married.

And he used my dad to show me.

Because I had not been talking to my dad about anything of substance for months. A romantic relationship had ended, I had gone through a time of depression (though no one named it back then), and I realize now I was ashamed and feeling unworthy of my dad’s love and care.

So obviously I took it out on him, put up my defenses so I didn’t have to face my feelings.

Then he suggested fixing me up with someone. And knowing my dad and the variety of people he knew, I was sure he would name someone I would just hate.

So when he said the name of a man God had been bringing to my mind for about ten years, I was unable to speak.

God had done it. Made it clear that this was his choice. He had my dad name the only guy I had any secret desire to know better.

Since my fiance was in the construction industry he had already picked a basic starter house he was planning to have built that spring anyway. Over the previous couple years he had bought land, put in a driveway, had a well dug, put in a septic system, and built a pole barn. The house was the next step.

And the wife.

We spent our date nights touring homes under construction by our builder, tweaked the design to add a family room, second bath, and a big closet, and prayed the bank would approve our plans.

Everything went through seamlessly, and on my parents’ 32nd wedding anniversary, June 6, 1985, we broke ground on the house.

And based on the estimate for construction time, we set the wedding date: September 28, 1985.

What a summer that was! We both worked at least five days a week, and spent most of those evenings cooking something simple on one of those tiny hibachi grills at the house. We took note of every change from day to day, documenting it with pictures. I hammered a nail into about every stud in the place, just so I could say I “helped” build the house.

The structure wouldn’t be huge, but it would be cozy. And of all the rooms in the house, the coziest was the laundry room.

It was small, but how much room could a washer and dryer take up? Then the furnace went in. And the water heater. In their own little alcove. Then the water softener and the big salt tank went in next to it, right in the middle of one wall.

Once the washer and dryer were in place against the other usable wall, there was almost no floor space, only enough for the door to open into the room, and a corner to lean a broom and mop.

But it was ours.

I remember the excitement when the drywall was up! Finally came the day to start painting.

So the memories returned last Saturday, after the old water heater and softener were gone, leaving holes in the room that had been occupied for 34 years. And dust that had been unreachable until last weekend.

I had a new dryer coming that morning, so I was up early scraping and scrubbing through the dirt on the floor, washing down the walls that we hadn’t seen so much of in decades.

And as clear as anything I could see my dad on those days we were painting. I think he was there every time, as he liked doing it and was always willing to pitch in when there was work to be done.

In fact, Dad was probably the hardest-working person I’ve ever known. He took on way too many projects he had no business doing – like painting the roof of our three-story farmhouse electric neon green – and pitched in to help anyone doing any kind of fix-up, no matter if he had any expertise or not.

We didn’t hire jobs done around our house. Dad tackled them all. And if he couldn’t fix it, he’d ask a neighbor who knew more to come help him get things back on track. He fixed plumbing and cars and lawn mowers. He had a boiler engineer’s license when he left the Air Force and worked in that field for many years while also preaching.

And he acted like it gave him license to fix anything he wanted to give a try. Of course he usually commandeered us kids to help, and we all knew what it was to work hard.

On those painting days I was glad for his help, but more thankful for the time we spent doing the work. I can’t remember what we said, but we talked, maybe the longest since I’d met my soon-to-be husband.

Sometimes healing comes to a relationship when I least expect it. Not because I am trying to fix things, but because the life I’ve been blessed with puts things into perspective, and suddenly whatever the issues I had with them are not as important as the person.

As I washed down the walls I was amazed that the paint was still holding, that I could still remove the grime and see the color I had picked all those years ago.

And I was full of joy that as the years have gone by I’ve also been able to let go of old hurts between my dad and I, that even though he’s been gone over 26 years, I’m finally able to face my past and let my mind focus on all the ways my dad loved me, even when I didn’t think I wanted him to.

The Common Denominator

All my friends are sinners.

Which is a relief, because so am I.

It isn’t something we get to choose. It is in our nature to want what we can’t have, and to have the audacity to think we deserve it anyways.

Way back in the beginning, Adam and Eve could eat from everything in the Garden of Eden except one tree. So what do you suppose they ended up doing? You bet. They decided, with some well-placed rationalizations by Satan in a serpent disguise, that they deserved to be like God, and they ate the fruit they believed would give them god-like qualities.

That didn’t work out so well for them. Or for us as a result.

Yet don’t we keep doing the same thing?

People don’t use the word sin as much as they used to. I think it’s a perfectly fine word, a sobering one that tells it like it is.

One that affects every single person who ever lived.

I used to have no mercy towards people who I saw reaping the consequences of the way they chose to live their lives. After all, don’t we all freely choose to do good or bad? It was as simple as that in my mind. And I felt my superior attitude was fine, because of course I wasn’t doing those things I found so objectionable in others.

That was back when I was still hiding so much of my own past, even from myself. It was easy to excuse my sins, but not those of others.

Then I walked into my first Celebrate Recovery meeting, and I met people who were sinners and weren’t afraid to admit it. Most of them openly admitted that they had all kinds of things they were struggling with.

You might think at a recovery meeting that most of those there would be dealing with an addiction of some kind, but I found then and know now that only about three out of ten people at a CR meeting have struggled with an addiction.

At my first few meetings I listened as others shared about all kinds of hurts, habits and hang-ups they were facing and finding healing from, and it gave me the courage to start facing my own issues.

My own sins.

I’m a person who has some really strong spiritual gifts. Over the last twenty years or so I’ve taken spiritual gifts inventories and consistently score very high in several areas.

And very low in one.

Yep, mercy.

One of the last times I took an inventory we discussed how the different spiritual gifts look in action, and we were challenged to develop the ones we were weak in, to ask God to help us become stronger in the qualities he’d like us to have.

I really didn’t want to improve my mercy score. I felt fine in my smugness.

Not only did I start attending CR, I also joined a Step Study right away. Like four days later.

And within a couple of weeks I was ruined for regular Bible studies.

I know it’s important and necessary to read and study the Bible, but after the experience of reaching down inside myself and pulling out wrong attitudes and actions I’d engaged in, as well as revealing the things done to me as the result of other people’s sin, I can’t stick to the surface and not go deep any more.

Life is too short to just smooth over the things God wants me to wrestle with and conquer.

In the nine months that Step Study took, everyone heard my junk and I heard everyone else’s.

And against the old me’s better judgment, I loved those sisters more than I could have imagined, even knowing their faults and failings.

Because, well, mercy blossomed. Like it was just waiting for the right conditions to grow.

We are none of us perfect, but we are being perfected by this process of recovery.

By the time my first Step Study was finished I realized I wasn’t the same person anymore. I was more real, more honest, and because of the things I’d had to face, humbled.

And I looked at other people differently. When I walked in to CR the first night, my thinking may have gone something like, “Man, these are a bunch of messed up people! I’m glad I’m not as bad as any of them. They must have really weak character to have gotten themselves into so many bad situations.”

But somewhere in the process, God did something miraculous in me. He replaced my heart of stone with a heart of flesh, and I found that I no longer thought of people as what they had done, but as how much I wanted them to fall in love with God so he could heal their hurts and give them hope that they could change with his strength.

So week after week you will find me at CR on Friday nights, because I’m a sinner and I need God’s help to place his nature in me more and more so that I no longer have any desire to try to have what I can’t. Because I am letting him show me what I need.

I want to be clear that I’m not excusing the bad things I chose to do as if they can be made right. They can’t be.

But they have been forgiven.

By God, and by me. And hopefully by those I’ve hurt.

And so now when I see the sin in others, I look at them in a different way.

I no longer see only the expected consequences of their bad choices. I see so much potential for healing. I see people who have tried to treat their own hurts by doing everything but going to the only one who can help them.

And I know that if they spend some time around people who are actively letting Jesus take the lead, they will be on their way to getting what they really need.

Which is so much better than getting what you want.

The beauty of CR is that I’m not going through this alone. I am surrounded by my forever family, people who I love deeply, who I admire and am constantly awed by, who I learn from every time I’m with them.

Because of all the ways they are letting God change them, they are some of the genuinely best people I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.

Yes, I’m a sinner. But I’m no longer stuck in my sin.

Constricted

So to give a little more information about my adventures with asthma (or what I did this summer!), let me take you back to July. I was finishing up my first clinical trial, and for some reason right at the tail end of it I had a pretty bad attack.

For me an attack usually starts with coughing, the coughing is productive and doesn’t let up, and it progresses to wheezing as my lungs get congested with mucus and at the same time the air passages swell, making the space for air to move smaller and smaller.

I lose the ability to talk.

So I have several hours of time spent focusing on my breathing.

I can’t read, play games, even concentrating on tv is too much to expect. I recline or lie down and try to slowly bring air in and out.

The place my mind goes during an attack is a new landscape for me. I’m aware of things immediately around me, but I can’t focus on any of them. Sometimes other people’s voices come through clearly, but I can’t respond.

I’m thinking about how I can’t think too deeply about anything, and I get distracted by my own wheezing, losing even that pitiful train of thought.

I know I’m getting better when the fuzziness of the world around me starts to clear, a sharpness returns like a camera lens that was a little out of adjustment. Only I thought it was clear.

I’ve had mild asthma for years, and never had to do more than use my rescue inhaler once every few months, usually after exercise or going out in very cold or humid air. My “normal” triggers.

But last November I got what I thought was a cold that I couldn’t shake. It settled in my sinuses and nothing I did seemed to help. Meanwhile I lost my sense of smell and taste, started each morning blowing my nose and using a dozen tissues, and lost my voice quite often.

In January I began my adventures with asthma attacks. It wasn’t until after the first one was over that it occurred to me what it was.

I have a really high pain tolerance, and so I was determined to just get back to normal breathing. Even though that took 2 1/2 hours with the first attack, I stubbornly didn’t consider it to be serious.

In February I had a second one. Then in March and April I got help at urgent care, finally getting two courses of antibiotics, which helped not only my sinuses to clear, but also started getting rid of junk in my lungs!

I felt so much better! I had high hopes of spending lots of time piddling in my garden areas this summer.

Then in May I had my third attack. It was on a hot day, humid air, and I had stopped at my daughter’s to plant some flowers I’d gotten her for Mother’s Day.

So much for spending time gardening.

I was very cautious in June, staying inside in air conditioning as much as possible, very aware of my activity and surroundings.

My first clinical trial began in June and it seemed to go well. I was using a better drug than my usual, and I was ready to switch when the trial ended.

But right before my last office visit in early July I had my fourth attack.

This was not part of my plans. I was set to finish the trial that Monday, and leave for five days in Nashville at CR’s Summit East on Tuesday. I had the good meds packed and ready to travel, and I was determined to not let myself get too stressed or tired, hoping to avoid more attacks.

Then a long car ride from Ohio to Tennessee, walking on hills, temps in the upper 90’s, and humidity of about 90%.

And lots of walking at Summit.

I found myself experiencing pain deep in my calves and had a toe swollen and discolored. And a strange feeling of constriction in the middle of my chest.

Despite my physical ailments, I was having a great time. I settled in that first night and started adding to my list I’m keeping of one thousand gifts from God that I can be thankful for. Over the next four days I wrote down 103 different blessings.

I was feeling such thankfulness to God for getting me to Summit, where I was immersed in an atmosphere of pure gratitude and awe of all God has done in all of our lives, me and the 3,000+ others attending, that I couldn’t do anything but give praise.

Yes, my friends were concerned. We discussed whether I should get checked out at a hospital. The words pulmonary embolism were thought and spoken, as were deep vein thrombosis and concern about the chest feeling being one of those odd woman signs of a heart attack.

I prayed about it and really felt I was going to be ok. My breathing was not bad. I carried all my meds with me and used them as needed. I let the rest of our group go off without me and stayed put close to my workshops.

It made for a lot of time with God and it was all good.

On the ride home I got a call from my husband. He and two of our kids had been in a car accident in a parking lot. They were a little banged up from being t-boned, and the van had probably received a death blow.

So no stress for the last four hours of the drive!

When I got home we headed out to get some dinner.

And even on the way there I was starting to cough.

By the time our food came I had progressed to wheezing. And nausea. My husband and I left then to head home, where the attack continued and was worse than any other, adding in vomiting and sweating and shaking.

And when my husband asked if I needed to go to the emergency room, I shook my head no. Because I couldn’t imagine being able to make the effort to walk out to the car to drive there. So I toughed it out. Again.

The next morning, Sunday, I made it until the last of three points in our pastor’s sermon before the constriction in my chest and my shallow breathing made me sure that I was headed to the hospital after service.

I got the lecture about how people actually die during asthma attacks. How the pain in my legs and chest could be the things I’d already thought of.

And I got my first nebulizer treatment.

Truly sweet relief.

Lots of really good things happened that day and into the next, as I was admitted to the hospital and they ran several different tests.

I found out I have great veins in my legs. My heart is perfect. My lungs had no nodes or nodules that would be symptomatic of lung cancer, and no embolism.

The only thing wrong was that asthma had filled my lungs with thick, sticky mucus that I needed to be able to get rid of.

Just like I’d been saying for years.

So a course of steroids and antibiotics, the nebulizer sent home with me, and otherwise a clean bill of health.

I will tell you another time how that knowledge has affected me.

Three attacks total in July, and three more in September brought the total to nine over nine months, the most serious one I wrote about a couple weeks ago.

And then a breakthrough. While brainstorming with my asthma doctor we figured out the culprit. Aleve. Which I’d taken for pain before most of my worst attacks.

So now I’m hoping to only talk about asthma attacks in retrospect.

Because I never want to feel that constricted ever again.

Exhaling

The last time I wrote about my daughter’s first foster baby it was about the day she had to hand her over to case workers to be placed in another home.

Last year this time, Baby A and Big Brother were adopted into that family, finding their forever home.

And after more than a year and a half of not seeing her, our whole family was invited to the adoption party! We were over the moon with excitement!

The day the official adoption proceedings at the courthouse happened was the day before my husband’s and my 33rd anniversary, and the party came a few days later. I don’t even remember celebrating our own milestone, I was so ecstatic that we were going to see Baby A, now almost 2 years old, with Big Brother and their new family.

We joyfully picked out presents for them all, looked back through the pictures on our phones from those brief two months we had the pleasure of helping care for this child, and ticked off the minutes until the day came.

As we drove out to their town I tried not to analyze my feelings. I was nervous (not normal for me), but I didn’t want to think about it then. I’d wait until later to dig into the reasons.

My daughter and Baby B had gone to Baby A’s first birthday party almost a year earlier, and we had been greatly reassured to hear our girl was surrounded by people who loved her and her older brother. And even more pleased to hear how Baby A remembered my daughter, the mother who cared for her in those first months.

It had certainly eased my mind.

And now I could see with my own eyes how our little girl was doing.

Then we arrived. As we expected there was a nice crowd of friends and family come to celebrate. We were welcomed in and introduced to a number of people and the names were all a blur.

I was trying not to look for her.

It was wonderful to see Big Brother, who we had the pleasure of meeting the day Baby A left our family to join with him in this one. He had made an impression on us then, and it was a delight to watch him playing and interacting with so many people. And he was still a sharp dresser!

We saw where the food was laid out, listened as our daughter and Baby A’s mom caught up on their girls’ milestones, getting our bearings.

And I knew she was there somewhere.

Then her Nana came alongside me and asked if I wanted to go see her.

I have to say one of the surprising things to me was the sense of honor I felt was being given to us as Baby A’s first family. In the grand scheme of things we were a part of her life for only two short months. This family had been dealing with the day-to-day sickness, allergies, temper tantrums, and mischief of the nineteen months that followed.

And also all the smiles and cuddles.

But even a year later I am still awed and humbled by the respect and thankfulness Baby A and Big Brother’s new family showed us all.

Nana pointed to where Baby A was eating in her high chair at the back of the garage. And all by myself I walked over to her.

I took in the same high hairline and beautiful rounded forehead I had kissed and nuzzled many times.

We were both wearing purple. I had loved to dress her in purple as it looked so good next to her rich, light brown skin.

She looked like herself, and my heart was so full I wasn’t sure I could stand it without yelling out loud or breaking down in tears, either of which would probably scare her.

I started talking in a low voice, saying some of the same things I used to say to her as an infant. I knew I was repeating myself a little, but I didn’t want to speak things unfamiliar to her, to us.

She stilled.

She was looking at her food, and she stopped moving, stopped doing anything.

Except listening.

To my voice.

She lifted her face and our eyes met.

I was bent over to be closer to her height, and that put us face to face.

I kept talking as I saw recognition come over her features.

A look of pure love.

And Nana asking if I wanted to hold her. Yes! Yes!!

I picked her up and it seemed like right away I was surrounded by my husband and kids, everyone wanting to see and touch and hold.

And it was okay to hand her over to my husband, her Papa, because it was hitting me that I had been living as if with my breath held all these long months.

I did not realize the fear until that moment. The fear that she wouldn’t remember me. Gone in the sparkle of that first look that passed between us.

There was lots of smiling and laughing, eating good food, Baby B at 18 months old toddling around clinging to my legs and wanting up in between playing with Baby A and Big Brother and the other kids.

As time got closer to when we needed to leave, Baby A’s family wanted to get some pictures of all of us with their girl, so we gathered across the street in a big grassy area. My daughter picked her up, someone else held Baby B, and we all smiled like crazy.

And when we were done, Baby A came over to me and I knelt down and let her look through newborn pictures of herself on my phone as I told her about them. She was amazed that I had pictures of us together, the same ones that are in a scrapbook she has.

Then we walked hand in hand with others back to the house, and she wrapped herself around my leg. I picked her up and she draped herself around my shoulders, this great big girl filling up my heart just like she did as a tiny infant.

As she nestled into my neck I sang the first verse of “Baby Mine” that I used to sing as I held and rocked her.

And she fell asleep.

Her family was a little surprised. They said she was hard to get down for a nap, but to me it was just like those early days.

They offered to take her off my hands. But I was willing to hold that child until I collapsed if I could! I did eventually take her into the house and sit down with her, but this knowing was like something I’d expect to feel in heaven.

She knew me. And I knew her.

And love always wins.

Not Finished with Me Yet

Last Thursday I almost died.

Literally.

I’m still gathering all the pieces of why I didn’t, and I want to capture for you my perspective on what I hope is a one-time occurrence.

(For some background you could check out my post “Inspiration” from August 8, 2019.)

I’m really big on gaining knowledge and understanding. So when my asthma and allergies (still unnamed) started ramping up and causing attacks, I went into research mode. I made an appointment with a pulmonologist, but it was almost two months away. So I responded to a Facebook post about an asthma clinical trial, and found my asthma and allergy doctors instead.

Since then I’ve participated in two clinical trials designed to test generics of an effective asthma drug that makes it more affordable to do what should come naturally.

Breathe.

So in a two week time I had already had two serious asthma attacks: one after visiting a very musty used-book store, another that woke me up coughing and choking in the wee hours of the morning.

That second one got me thinking that I needed a better strategy of how to communicate that I was having trouble. I was alone in the family room to use my nebulizer for an albuterol treatment at 4am, taking my phone in case the distress didn’t let up. But my husband’s phone charges overnight in that room, so it would be down to my teenagers or 911 if I couldn’t walk and breathe at the same time to get help.

I freely admit I have control issues. Four and a half years of Celebrate Recovery have gotten me to the point where I can clearly see my problems, but I still don’t want to admit that I need help.

I don’t want to be powerless.

Seriously, I have been in places where I had no control over what was being done to me, and as a girl I decided I would do my best to control everything I could to make sure nothing bad happened to me again.

Yet Thursday night I had almost no control over what was happening to me.

Just the day before my third attack in two weeks, I met with my mentor, who I hadn’t seen for a month, and we talked about my need to have a written and easily communicated way to let my family know what I needed. So while working Thursday, my mind was on doing this, making a list from the most drastic to least invasive things to do for me or ask me about.

In my controlling mind I never wanted to entertain the idea of needing to call 911. That was for people who couldn’t analyze their own situation and be proactive about doing for themselves all they could.

Joke’s on me.

My niece, a firefighter and EMT, will give me a look next time I see her, but on my list was to ask her what to expect if I ever needed to call for emergency help. Because I like to work it out in my head before it ever happens.

Someone else was doing the working out, way better than I ever could.

Simple things like me feeling inspired to clean the garage. Okay, boss the teenagers around to get the garage cleaned. This happened a few weeks ago after moving Middle Son into college, when I was feeling the need to clear out the staging area in the house, and do the every-ten-year garage purging. It wasn’t completely cleared, but in organized piles at least.

I just want to park inside it this winter.

And getting stocked up on my regular asthma meds for when the current trial ended, something I would normally wait to spend the money on.

Way farther back, two and half years ago, Baby Girl had taken the classes and gotten certified for adult and infant CPR training. Though she had never had occasion to use it, she wanted the knowledge and confidence it gave her to work with young children in many areas of her life.

Let’s go farther, to 8-year old me, who was learning to use a riding mower and wanted to hear herself sing over the noise. And who was almost drowned by a neighbor boy in our pool, so I decided to learn to breathe deeply and be able to hold my breath for long periods calmly. Who loved to be onstage and belt out lines or songs, no cheating with microphones. Who toughed out labor every time with no help from drugs.

Just breathing deeply.

So when very suddenly Thursday evening I went from laughing over pictures of a cake I’d had delivered to Middle Son at school, to not feeling right, to labored breathing, sweating, feeling a little nauseated, all the pieces (much more than I could ever list) from my whole life’s story came together in some of the hardest words I’ve ever said.

I need help. Call an ambulance.

I guess I’m not shocked this didn’t register. After all, I’m the one who handles these kinds of things. Because nobody else can (Ha! My deluded mind talking again.)

But as I stumbled back into the chair by my nebulizer and with shaking hands broke open a vial and poured it in, I heard my husband making the call.

My ears quit working. I couldn’t make out all the words. I could see my younger daughter trying to catch my eye, saying something I couldn’t understand. I barked out a few one-word orders on the exhales, but I couldn’t stand not having the little push of air helping with my feeble inspirations.

I was hardly breathing. In only a couple of minutes.

And several more passing while the ambulance rushed from five miles straight up the road.

There was no white light at the end of a tunnel. My whole life didn’t “flash before my eyes”. I don’t think I was that close to death. But then again, what do I know? Why do I try to minimize the seriousness of those moments?

The reality is, if the EMT’s hadn’t gotten there quickly, I probably wouldn’t be writing this.

There was a lot of activity going on around me. Kids rushing out to make sure the garage was wide open and shoving those piles farther out of the way. Moving one of the cars so vehicles could pull close to the house. Clearing laundry baskets and shoes out of the floor and away from the door so there was clear access.

Me begging wordlessly for another vial of albuterol, frustrated at how long it took me to communicate what I needed. (Should have gotten that plan down in writing.)

And the overriding need to breathe.

Out is possible. It’s a relaxing, a release, as little as it may be it didn’t take much effort.

But inspiration…

I didn’t fully understand what I was talking about until Thursday night, when every thought, every bit of my will was focused on moving that magnificent muscle, my well-developed diaphragm, and feeling a pitifully small whiff of air making it’s way into my wheezing, mucus-filled, inflamed, closed-up lungs.

There were suddenly strangers, one kneeling beside my chair talking in my ear, others carrying things, holding things up, putting things on my face and in my veins, asking questions I couldn’t answer.

The voice by my ear telling me to hold just a quick second before breathing out, to get the medicine in.

I’m just as sure as I can be that it’s like Luke described it: “Suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God…”

Not the people, don’t misunderstand me. There was a battle going on in that room that was far beyond the working of my labored lungs. There was an eternal question that was being answered:

Who is in control here?

It wasn’t me.

In fact, I fought some of the things they wanted to do. I couldn’t stand the mask (they said it was like a CPAP, so that’s out for me in the future), but I wanted the oxygen and aerosol drugs it was providing so they let me hold it as close as I could. When they couldn’t get a clear oxygen reading, I heard something like 84%, they talked about intubating, and I motioned the kids to leave the room for a bit. Thankfully they didn’t need to do that.

The hardest part was hearing them ask questions I knew the answers to, but couldn’t speak.

Yet within an hour and a half of getting to the hospital I was talking to everyone and walking out on my own two feet.

Two days later Baby Girl (who is 16 and my hero right now) shared what she had been trying to tell me. She had her CPR manual out and was preparing herself mentally to be able to break her mother’s ribs if I went unconscious before the ambulance arrived and she needed to keep my heart beating. Because she is the only one in the house trained to do that.

And in the emergency room I learned that the EMT who took charge of me is also a nurse at the hospital we wanted to go to. He knew exactly what they would do, and did all he could ahead to avoid any delays in my care.

My family rushed madly to gather things I might need if I were admitted, let our grown kids know the situation, reached out to our church, got there quickly to be with me, though I was pretty unaware of my surroundings for a while.

The next day I canceled work and appointments, let myself be chauffeured to get more meds and run necessary errands, and was able to go to Celebrate Recovery.

I got there late because I’d run off without my phone and had to turn back. Got caught by a train, and after arriving during worship had three people I needed to talk to before I paid attention to the song.

And then I looked up to the screen and I got my answer.

“From life’s first cry, til final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.”

Thank you, Jesus, that you have not yet let me reach my final breath!