An Unlikely Victory

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The gentle flutter within her was the reminder she needed that life would go on, even after this day. Her hand instinctively went to her abdomen, as if the small life within her held the strength she needed to keep moving, to keep walking.

nature-3244120_1920A smile wearied itself on her face, but not one of happiness, realizing then that she was a walking oxymoron–an equal blend of life and death. Her eyes flickered to what had been a shrub next to the cracked front step, the leaves dried and shriveled, but still clinging to the once strong branches. The vivid teal and red welcome mat was another blinding oxymoron.

She took one last deep breath, a vain attempt to steady herself, and walked across the threshold.

Her eyes instinctively searched for her brother. She knew he would be the voice of reason–the calm one– he was always the calm one. She had no desire to look into her mom’s eyes, or worse, her dad’s, but they were both rushing toward her now, desperate to hear what she had to tell them.

She continued looking at the floor as if the answers to their questions had fallen at her feet.

Breathe, Claire. Just breathe.

“Okay, guys. I really need you to back off a little and have a seat. I will tell you everything if you just give me some space,” she struggled to keep her voice from quivering.

When she did finally look up from the floor, her mom’s deep green eyes were imploring her so profoundly, Claire was sure she was staring through her, instead of at her.

That’s when her brother walked into the room.

“Claire! Did you find anything out?” he asked as he sat down next to their parents, taking his mom’s hand.

“Yes,” her gaze immediately hit the floor again. “It’s…not good news.”hallway-867226_1920

Her mom was already sobbing and her dad began to visibly tremble.

Now she was speaking like a computer program, like the information she received from the doctor had been programmed into her, so she could spout it off with the press of a button. It is stage 4. Inoperable. Begin first round of chemo early next week. Three rounds to start with. Probably more. Side effects would be very damaging. Hoping to stop the spread, to extend life, but unlikely it will ever go away.

Except for her mother’s hysterical sobs, a suffocating silence enveloped the room.

Claire felt the room begin to move, the ground heaved beneath her, and then her brother’s arms were around her, leading her decaying body to the couch.  

As Claire’s parents collected themselves in the kitchen, Grant sat with Claire, holding her hand, saying nothing.

“Claire, you need to tell mom and dad about the baby. What did the doctor say to do about the baby?”

She tried to speak, but nothing would come. You are dying. You are dying. You are dying. This fact was the only one she could comprehend, the only one that currently mattered.

“Claire. I will support any decision you make. You know that.”

She did know that. You are dying. You are dying. You are dying.

After an hour of this oppressive silence, Claire’s parents finally came into the room. Her dad knelt in front of her, while her mom stood motionless behind him.

“Claire, we are going to fight this. We are going to trust God’s plan. This is not going to defeat you, do you understand me?” Claire found it ironic that her dad’s words were so confident, when his voice sounded like that of a little boy’s.flower-316437_1280

Claire raised her eyes to his. The words she said next came from a different atmosphere; they were heavy and felt strange inside her throat, “Dad. I am not going to do treatment. I am pregnant, and I am going to let this baby live. After I am gone, he will still be here. My baby.”

You are dying. You are dying. You are dying. After these words were out of Claire’s mouth, she finally had the power to answer this torturous voice within her. But the life inside me is not.

Claire hardly noticed her mother fall to the floor, or her dad begin to curse into the air as he crawled from the room.

Grant just sat there; his facial expression impossible to read.

The strength that flooded into Claire after she pronounced her decision left her feeling a strange sense calm, a peace she had never experienced.

Grant knelt down to help their mother into a chair, where she sat motionless for many minutes, no doubt wrestling with losing her daughter and becoming a grandmother in the same day.

“Grant,” Claire still didn’t recognize her own voice, “I need you to be behind me on this. I need you to tell me this is the right thing.”

That’s when the expression on his face changed, becoming one of unmistakable admiration, similar to the look he had when his little sister hit her first home run, but that was when life was simpler. 

“I have never been more proud of you in my life. We were raised to believe that life always defeats death, and I don’t think there is a better way to tell death to screw itself than to continue to allow that baby inside of you to grow,” tears were streaming down his face now, “and besides, I am gonna be the world’s coolest uncle!”

When Claire left her parents’ house that evening, neither of them had spoken to her. She didn’t know if they were angry, confused, or grief-stricken. Grant had begged her to stay, trying to convince her she shouldn’t be alone.

beach-1822598_1920What Grant hadn’t realized, however, is that Claire was not alone. Her child grew within her, and her Lord walked beside her. She did not know what the future held, and when she allowed her mind to think on it, it was nearly unbearable–fear viciously stopping her breath inside her chest. The only thing that Claire knew for sure is that she’d made the right decision–she had chosen life, when death threatened to consume every corner of her existence.

Now she knew that what she’d learned in church all these years was true: death never wins.

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When God Asks you a Question

My kid was sick today.

I haaaaaattttteeeeeee when my kids are sick.

Since I suffer quite considerably from emetophobia, I try desperately to avoid all types of sickness. Fevers-yuck. Coughs-yuck. Sniffles-yuck. Sore throats-yuck. Vomit-double yuck.

20180625_195043Today was no different. Since my little one was suffering from a fever, I had a pretty serious case of the yucks. I didn’t realize until the sun was setting that I spent my entire day sulking about because my plans went on the fritz.

It’s summer. No one should be sick in the summer. Ever. This should really be written somewhere in the Bible. I seem to have spent last winter dealing with a sick kid at least every other week, so I firmly believe I should get to take the summer off.

On my way home from McDonald’s today (this is our go-to meal when mom’s day goes on the fritz) I am pretty sure I audibly heard God say, “Why aren’t you talking to me?”

And that’s when it hit me…

Despite my bad attitude, I had not spoken to God the entire day. In my weak defense, my little one was fussing all day long: It doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for in-depth Bible reading. However, talking to my Father about my frustrating day is the best antidote for a frustrating day, and yet, I avoided Him.

His question didn’t exactly melt away my bad mood:20180624_132711 (1)

“Gee God, I don’t know. Maybe I’m not talking to you because I got nothing done today, or I spent money I didn’t want to spend on fast food I don’t want to eat, or my little boy is hurting and there’s nothing I can do. Or maybe I’m simply not talking to you because you have allowed sickness into this world, and that is not cool.”

I wish I could say that an unexpected sickness puts me in a bad mood because I struggle to see my kids suffering. Although that is a huge part of it, that is not the main reason I sulked around today.

I really just cannot handle when I am not in control, when the day I had planned becomes the day God planned instead. It’s selfishness: nothing more.

Uffda. That is not easy to admit.

I also have dealt with sick children so often in my 3 years of motherhood that I have decided to grit my teeth and just get through it, instead of falling to my knees and asking God to walk with me.

When one of our boys spikes a fever, I often say something like this to my husband: “I just wish I knew how sick he was going to get and what kind of sickness it is and how long it is going to last.”

It is so much easier for me to turn to the Lord when I have some measure of what I am dealing with. It is when I am left in the dark with a day I do not want to face that I suffer from the temptation to deal with it on my own. I will turn to God when it’s all over and offer Him a polite “thank you” for carrying me through until the sickness was over.

20180620_143347I don’t see this kind of weak faith very often in other areas of my life. When our finances explode and I end up shuffling money so we can eat, I have no trouble turning to the Lord. When I am at a loss for how to help my child overcome his fear and anxiety at swimming lessons, I seek help and guidance from God. It is only when sickness hits my house that I decide to muddle it out on my own.

Tonight I am humbled because I serve a God who fiercely loves me–a God who will chase after me on a day like today, and reveal my sin so that I might be transformed by it. I am a sinner. He knows it; I know it. It is when I am faced with my most difficult challenge, like a sick child, that I can truly become eternally grateful for His grace and mercy.

So tonight, despite having a difficult day and being faced with an even tougher night with my feverish little boy, I get to go to bed in peace, because I know that God goes before me–even when I am trying to shove Him out of the way.

An Unlikely Calling

Following God is hard. Just plain hard.

My pride often tricks me into believing I want to follow Christ, until I am asked to do something rather uncomfortable, then I am able to talk myself out of it with minimal effort.

walk-2635038_1280Until I receive a direct call, text, or email from the Man himself, there is no way to know for sure that I am hearing His requests accurately. Right?

I like to believe the heroes of the Bible had it easier. Even though they were asked to do some rather unlikely things, God always sent His own voice, or at least an angel, to encourage His followers. If an angel appeared before me right now, I guarantee you I would jump out of my chair and immediately do whatever is asked of me. Right?

But alas, I am reminded of Philip. Even though he did encounter an angel, this angel’s request was so far-fetched, so out of left field, it would have been wildly difficult to obey.

Philip does not get a whole lot of credit for spreading the news of Christ, but he deserves abundant recognition. Peter is usually the one credited for starting the Christian church, but the facts are pretty clear: Peter was a racist. Yes, you heard me correctly. You see, in Acts, Philip was the first evangelist to spread the news of Jesus’ salvation to the Gentiles. Philip was the one who revealed to the rest of the apostles that the Holy Spirit was for all people, not just for the Jews. He did this by visiting one of the most condemned and filthy cities of his day, where Jews and Gentiles created a vile mixed race of humans, Samaria.

Philip had a shockingly successful ministry among the Samaritans. It says in Acts 8:6, “And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.”

It would appear to the modern-day reader, and no doubt also appeared to Philip, that he had found his place. The success he was having in Samaria would certainly cause any believer to assume that this was God’s will for him, this was where he belonged.

Not likely.

Just a few verses after Philip arrives in Samaria an angel appears to him and commands him to leave Samaria and walk along a desert road.monks-1077839_1280

Hold up. Philip is converting Samaritans to Christianity left and right and God decides he needs to go walk on a desert road, instead? That can’t be right.

Despite God’s unlikely calling, Philip goes immediately. On this road he finds an Ethiopian eunuch, shows him Jesus, and baptizes him. Because Philip did not hesitate to follow God’s call, Christianity was spread to a new continent, a new government, and a new people who would have been otherwise kept in the dark about the Good News.

Let us never hesitate to follow the Lord to the ends of the earth. For sometimes it is at the end of the earth that we will find His miracles.

Briefness in Time

lightning-399853_1280When I was a little girl, I was entirely convinced that when the sky would burst forth with zig-zag patterns of light, it was made especially for me. Each time I stared in awe at a lightning show, I imagined the Lord saying to me, “Here you go, Tara. Here is my gift to you.” I often sat in the darkness of my bedroom, darting my eyes in every direction across the night sky, trying to ensure that I would not miss one bolt of uninhibited light. This is when my mom usually walked in and turned on the light to tell me it was time to get to bed, and I would beg God to give me one more good strike before I had to close my shades, before the only proof of the lightning outside was the shocks of thunder, heard from my bed.

“Just one more, God. I just need to see one more.”

My eyes seemed to always be diverted just slightly away from the exact location of the strike, causing me to excitedly look in the direction of the lighting, only to have missed it and find myself disappointed. I just could never have my eyes in the perfect position to fully appreciate a good strike. I would think to myself that if only the sky sent forth some sort of warning each time lightning was coming, giving all its spectators a chance to snuggle in and become completely absorbed in the precise direction the strike was to come. There would be no disappointment, and I would never miss a strike again. Sadly, my mind and my eyes could not move fast enough to catch every bolt of power; for one brief second it was there, and the next it was as if it never existed and my eyes were stuck staring at total darkness.

The college I attended sits upon a hill where the wind is fierce and the sunsets are heart stopping. Throughout my years there, I would regularly perch myself upon one of the many benches sprinkled on the edge of the hill, and s10400843_39671055375_5563_ntare into the valley below. Usually surrounded by friends, we would revel in the beauty of the day’s last minutes, as the sun said its goodbye. When I would begin to notice God’s colors fading, with the sun no longer visible, I would plead, “God, just a few more minutes. Just a few more minutes of this beauty.” To my dismay, He never answered this prayer—my friends and I always walked back to our dorm in partial darkness, only the dim light of the horizon guiding us home. Opening the heavy dorm door, I would look back one last time at the Western sky and a twinge of familiar disappointment would settle into my stomach. Another sunset—gone.

My husband and I had our first Fall in our new house last year. Everything in our lives was new—our marriage, our son, our jobs, our house—and this made everything, even the mundane, a bit of a thrill. As the days grew colder, God tucked each of the trees in our neighborhood to bed. One by one the colors would change and the leaves would fall. Each morning, another tree would not resemble its former self—without its leaves, it looked harsher somehow, less full of life. Each tree resigned itself to the cold, but the perfectly shaped Maple in our front yard held on. As the dead and Fall-stained leaves blew through the grass below it, our Maple refused to embrace the winter cold, clutching the green pigment in its leaves like a vice. It held on so long my husband and I began to wonder if it would ever give up.

20151107_082926.jpgOn a frosty, November morning, everything eerily still beneath the cold, I rushed out the door to a church retreat and stopped midway down my front stoop: the Maple had finally succumbed to Winter’s brutality. Almost overnight the leaves had turned a golden yellow, and with the morning sun gazing at the tree with an oblong look, the tree glowed like it was made of gold. The leaves that had already let go littered the ground beneath, forming a perfect circle around the trunk. With the green pigment gone, the Maple had no strength left, and the leaves fell in rapid succession like a summer drizzle. Despite my hurry, I looked in wonder at the sight before me. The pitter patter of the frost laden leaves knocking against twigs, branches, and the unwelcoming cold of the ground sent a shiver down my spine as I snapped a couple pictures, trying to capture the simplistic complexity of a single moment in nature.

I hopped in my car and drove away reluctantly, saying to my Father, “Please, God. Don’t let it be over when I get home. Just let me see it one more time.” As I arrived home that night, a familiar disappointment crept along my spine when the Maple matched the barrenness of every tree on the block.

It wasn’t until I was older that I realized perhaps the very thing that made lightning such a gift was its unpredictably, my anticipation, and its briefness in time. Perhaps God’s strokes with His paint brush, a perfect blend of colors—pastel and bright—never mimicking a former painting and filling the evening sky for just a few minutes is the very reason I cannot take my eyes off of a sunset. Perhaps my first ever Winter goodbye to my Maple would not be a thing to retell, had it not been so rare, so brief, like a whisper in a long period of raucous conversation.

If life were the sun always setting, always sitting upon the horizon waiting to take its 10400843_39671075375_7128_nlast leap from daylight, always stretching its glowing fingers across the land, basking us all in a warm glow, a sunset would be no more noticed than the cars along the street. It would be an ordinary sight, no matter how unique and beautiful. If lightning was more considerate to my human limitations, more willing to lend its beauty whenever I desired, I would, very soon, stop asking to see it, stop begging it to show its face one last time.

It is the briefness of a beautiful, perhaps flawless, moment that distinguishes it as beautiful in the first place. God’s unwillingness to answer a prayer that begs for more is His gift to us. This is why it is such a treasure. He wants us to let go and put Him in control–He desires for us to thrive in the midst of answered and unanswered prayers, in the midst of the mundane and big changes; whether He gives or takes away, He will create beauty. When a moment of beauty ends, fades, or is taken away from us, God’s plan continues to reign in the midst of our disappointment and He will work in this loss to establish one of His most perfect pieces of creation.

When God Changes your Dream

Let them see You in me. Let them hear You when I speak. Let them feel You when I teach.

          ~JJ Weeks Band

 

Sun streaming in through the cracked shades, the heat of August enveloping my small, rented house, this song played on repeat as I sat on my couch praying for each of my students. As I prepared for year three, I was feeling a strong mixture of terror and excitement.

 

Most were stunned when I chose to continue teaching at the small, rural school that had been my first job out of college. To say that my first two years had not been easy would be quite an understatement. My second year contained many thrills and accomplishments, littered with discouragement and tussles with parents. However, my first year had almost ended my teaching career before it even started.

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Each day was torturous as I walked into a minefield. Dreadfully unaccepted by the students, the parents, and the school board, what started out as a passion for a new career in August ended with me crumpled in a heap underneath the pressures and negativity that bogged down my efforts on a daily basis.

 

However, I persevered into my second year, and then my third, unwilling to let a small town set in its ways rule over me. I found myself slowly winning the hearts of those I worked with. My students revealed their pleasant sides, which actually contained some respect, a fact I seriously doubted in my first year. The parents came around even slower, but eventually, recognized my deep passion to help their children.

 

By the end of my third year, I was no longer burdened with stress and worry, just a large, 9-month pregnant belly. My career had become everything I hoped it might in my first year. As the days before my son would be born passed, I felt as though I did more laughing with my students than teaching. When I would walk through the door in the morning, unable to believe my swollen feet would carry me through another day, I remembered why I was still coming to work and why I chose to stay in an impossible situation–it was the students.

 

I needed them to believe they were smart enough to learn, a fact that many of them had been trained to reject. I needed them to believe, so badly, that they could achieve more. I needed them to accept that a challenge is not always a bad thing.

 

20160701_123417I sat down to write this today because it has been over a year since I stepped into a classroom. Now as my fuzzy-headed boy sleeps through the afternoon, I am in my basement weeding through three totes of books, lesson plans, flashcards, and parts-of-speech games. I do not know if I will ever go back, but if I do, I need to decide what I will want and what will be worthless to me. I would rather not keep a 10-pound book on differentiated instruction if it will be useless in ten years when I am, once again, called Mrs. Kranz.

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I finally walked away from the calling that God seemed to have forced upon me for another calling. It seemed, as though, God finally said three years was long enough and He had a much different plan in mind. The weeks before my son was born were the best weeks I ever had as a teacher. I left my classroom for the final time knowing I had done all I could, knowing God was in control, knowing I did not give up.

 

Throughout my first year as a stay-at-home mom, God has reminded me consistently that this is His plan. As my husband and I grapple with the finances of a single-income household, God says, “This is My plan.” As I struggle to maintain my composure when it has been three days since I’ve spoken to an adult, God says, “This is My plan.” As I listen to my best friends, who all happen to be teachers, longing for those days, God says, “This is My plan.”

 

Following God is like reading a mystery novel: you can’t force yourself to read any faster, constantly being interrupted by the real-world whizzing by, but you are desperate for the answers to reveal themselves. The questions whirling through your naive mind keep you up at night, almost haunting you. Finding a good book sometimes feels more like a curse than it does a blessing. The decision to walk with God is not much different. He, also, does not work faster–no matter how much we wish it.

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The option to not follow Him is constantly beckoning me, putting on the facade of the most delectable treat, because walking away from a calling you were sure you were meant for is not easy. I feel more blessed than most for the opportunity to stay home with my children (soon to be two for my faithful readers that don’t know). However, there are days that I would give anything and everything to be back in the classroom, away from the unrestrained ball of mischief, whom I call my son.

 
However, when these doubts become too loud for me to handle, perhaps when I find myself staring at a heap of teaching supplies I am reluctant to get rid of, God once again reminds me, “This is My plan.”