Saturday, August 24, 2013

My Lump of Faith

This is a true story of a lump and a total lack of faith: an autobiography.
It was about two months ago...on a Tuesday.  I was in the shower doing my shower-thing...lathering and what-not...when all of the sudden, there it was.  A lump.  A pretty obvious one, at that.  What?  Where did that come from?  Was that there yesterday?   My mind immediately took off in a million directions as I became the Louis and Clark of lump exploration.  Every piece of rational thought exited my brain at record breaking speeds as I stood paralyzed in a now lukewarm shower.  Wait, what am I supposed to do? 

So, being the reasonable woman that I am...I opted for the shut-up-and-pretend-I-didn’t-notice method of emergency management.  
But about 45 minutes later...after a rather harried “what the HECK” conversation with God, I decided pretending wasn’t one of my spiritual gifts.  So, on the way to work, I called my doctor and made an appointment.  But the darned thing was...I couldn’t get an appointment until the following Tuesday.  Oh boy.  Do you know how much damage a girl can do with 7 days, WebMD, and an overactive imagination? 

And yet...I still kept my mouth shut and didn’t tell a soul what I had found that morning.  I know, right?  Not my usual method of coping.  But for some reason, this particular medical condition felt really personal.  Really intimate.  Probably because it had to do with my boob.  There, I said it.  Boob.  I feel better.

Several days passed...days spent mostly on half-hearted and comical attempts to distract myself.  I’m sure I did what any woman would do under the circumstances...I tried to convince myself that I completely imagined it.   Everybody knows I am pre-disposed to extreme flights of fancy, right?   Just the other day I was convinced that a binder clip was a huge hairy spider.  Yes, mental instability was a lovely alternative to the big “c” word...and, so... I decided to ignore it.
I made it to Friday. 

Friday morning...on the way to work...I decided to call the doctor’s office back and use all my “wink and twinkle” to con my way into an appointment that day.  Apparently, I’m a wink and twinkle ninja...because an hour later I was sitting in an empty examination room trying to appear calm. 
The nurse came into the room to take my vitals.  She instructed me to strip down and put on an oversized hospital gown.  Does anyone else hate hospital gowns?  I know, right?  They rob us of all dignity.  And all I can think about is how many other stranger’s naked butts have touched it.  I asked the nurse if I could keep my pants on.  She laughed like I had told a great joke.  Of course I could keep my pants was a breast examination.  I laughed too.  Not because I thought it was funny...but because keeping my pants on felt like a small victory.  Wink and twinkle ninja wins again!  (See, I told you.  Extreme flights of fancy.)

So, there I sat.  In a cold examination room.  By myself.  Clutching the front of blue faded hospital gown.  Waiting...staring at the door....and waiting. 
I think we can learn a lot about ourselves in those moments.  The moments right before we are reminded, once again, that very little is under our control.  I learned a lot about myself in the waiting...and very little of it was flattering.

Eventually, that door did open.  And in walked a very, VERY young man wearing a white lab coat.  He was a medical student named Jake...the clean-shaven boy next door.  In a nervous, stammering voice he asked if I minded if he examined me while I waited for the doctor.  It soon became clear that I was Jake’s first breast exam.  Well, “medical” breast examine at least.  I know, right?  This is my life.  And that’s how I knew I was truly a nervous wreck.  I didn’t even try to crack a joke.  And, man-oh-man, there were so many possibilities.  I never once told Jake he had to put a ring on it.  Opportunity missed.  Instead, we just mutually agreed to weather the awkwardness through silence. 
Eventually my doctor came in and examined me.  Yes, she have lump.  I needed a mammogram.  And once again...I found myself in the waiting.

My appointment wasn’t until Monday.  It was Friday.  I got to experience a whole weekend of waiting.  Which means...of course...I got to experience a whole weekend of ignoring the big-‘ol-possibly- cancerous-elephant in my left boob. 
By this time, I was smart enough to break my silence and tell a very small group of people about the lump.  And that very small group of people were smart enough to ask a much larger group of people to pray for me. 

Monday finally arrived.  I had meticulously prepared by breaking out a brand new razor to shave my armpits...and by wearing my “nice” bra.   I grabbed a granola bar...swung by and picked up my mom...and then drove across town to be felt up by more strangers.  But the good news?  I totally got to keep my pants on the whole time. 
I was shuffled from room to room that morning...all by very nice, very happy women wearing colorful scrubs.  I learned that if a girl has to have her boob squeezed by a complete actually helps if the stranger is happy.   Nobody wants to be fondled by someone who’s not enjoying it, right?   It also helped to know that at age 36...I was the youngest woman in the waiting room by at least 20 years.  Which means I totally had the perkiest breasts.  That’s probably why those nurses were so happy.

After my mammogram, they took me in to get an ultrasound.  A very pregnant technician lubed me up and then started looking for the infamous lump.  She had the monitor turned at an, I could see the screen.  There it was.  I could totally see it.  A dark mass.  She spent several minutes taking pictures at different angles...measuring it.  Typing.  Measuring it some more.  I could see it.  A mass.  All of the sudden, ignoring it no longer became an option. 
Eventually she happily excused herself...telling me that the Radiologist would take a few minutes to look at the pictures and then he’d be in to talk to me.  I was left alone again.  In an oversized hospital gown.  Staring at the door...waiting. 

Many of you already know the ending to this story.  And many of you are only reading this story to find out the ending.  But, you see...I didn’t write this story to tell you about the ending.  I finally picked up my “pen” to tell you about the 5 minutes I spent alone in that ultra-sound room.  Left alone with the realization that I had a mass in my left breast...and I could no longer pretend otherwise. 
I said earlier that we could learn a lot about ourselves in the waiting.  What do we do?  What do we think?  What do we feel?  What do we pray?  Those moments when something is held in the balance and we have no control over the outcome...those are very telling moments.     

Those five minutes told me that I do not trust the God of the Universe to say “yes.”  Instead, I almost expect Him to say “no” or “not yet.”   And so my prayers aren’t prayers for miracles...they’re prayers for survival. 
Oh dear.  When did that happen?  When did I stop praying for a “yes” to the desires of my heart? 

I laid on that ultrasound table and prayed that God would give me the strength to survive a battle with cancer.  As if cancer was a foregone conclusion.   I could almost hear the Father say, “Oh, of little faith.”
I think my journey of physical suffering has conditioned me to expect more suffering.  And even more twisted...I almost prefer it.  You see, when I’m hanging on to my last shred of sanity...dry heaving over and over seems easy.  It’s all I have left.  There’s no possible way to rely on myself when I have absolutely nothing worth relying on.  My body is broken.  My mind is numb.  And my heart is shattered.  But what if...what if I had a “yes” to good health?  What if I had a “yes” to a loving husband?   What if I had a “yes” to a life of meaning?  Would I know what to do with that? 

So, instead of facing the profound possibility that the God of the Universe would say “yes” to something that seems so out of my reach...I’ve started carefully crafting my prayers, so that I won’t be devastated if the answer is “no.”  
The result of this lack of that I began to live life where “yes” is the more terrifying answer.  Oh dear.  When did that happen? 

Eventually, my five minutes of reckoning came to an end...and the radiologist walked through that infamous door.  He quickly and succinctly explained to me that my mass was most likely benign.  And that I have something called Fibroadenoma.   Not uncommon in women my age...and likely a 99% chance it’s not cancerous.  I’ll have to get an ultrasound every 6 months for a couple of years...but he assured me, I probably had nothing to worry about. 
Well, what do you know...God said “yes” to good health. 

It has taken me many weeks to realize the length and depth of Abba’s true gift to me.  He needed to get my attention...and He used a lump in my left breast to do it.   Admittedly, sometimes I’m a bit slow to see God’s grace...even when I’m carrying it around in my bra.    
My lump taught me that in order to experience the crazy, wild, outrageous love of Abba...I have to trust Him to say “yes” to the crazy, wild, outrageous desires of my heart. 

Brothers and sisters...if you’re reading this blog, it’s for a reason.   He wants to remind us all to pray like crazy people.  Ask Him for things that feel scandalous and presumptuous.  Don’t live a life in fear of the “yes.”  Because if I’ve learned one thing in this wild, messy life down’s that even when God says “no” to something I want...He’s ALWAYS saying “yes” to what I need. 
Today, I’m going to pray for a healthy body, a hot husband, and life lived smack dab in the middle of meaning and abundant joy...a life where wearing pants is optional and cupcakes grow on trees.

What are you going to pray for?







Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Flight of a Girl-Child

Pain.  It seems like it’s on the menu a lot these days.  It’s what’s for dinner.  And breakfast.  And afternoon snacks.  You know the kind of pain that kind of just sits like a ten ton brick in your chest...and steals your appetite for joy and fellowship?  Yeah, I’ve been swallowing a crazy amount of that kind of pain lately...and quite frankly; it’s giving me a case of chronic indigestion.  I just want to shove my plate away and politely excuse myself from the table.  

In other words, when the pain comes...I can feel myself going numb.  My inner voice starts saying things like “what’s the point?” and “I did it your way, God...and it’s not working.”  Or my personal favorite, “You deserve this entire bag of chocolate.”  These are horrifying thoughts...that cause sirens and flashing red lights to explode in my brain.  Because almost every stupid decision I’ve made in life has been a result of avoiding pain. 

Yes, I know what it’s like to live apart from Abba’s feast.  Despite claiming Christ as my Lord, I denied myself a seat at His table for years...because I believed the cost was too great.  He asked for transparency...and intimacy.  And I was terrified of both.  So, for years...I simply survived on spiritual crumbs.  Until one week in 2008, when a group of complete strangers boldly scaled the walls of my heart and laid claim to my dignity.  I can honestly say that was my first introduction to intense emotional pain...but, then again, it was also the first time I felt truly alive.     
Ezekiel 11:19 says “...I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” 
As I feel the numbness seeping into my heart, I hear a voice deep inside me...quietly asking me to fight back.  So, I’m going to do what the Spirit has asked me to do...I’m going to shove my pain into the open wide space of the internet...and let a bunch of strangers look at it. 

Today I’m going to tell you story.  A story of a heart...and its journey from stone to flesh.   

Her name was Lissy.  She was joyful, fearless, and blissfully unaware of life’s unrelenting brokenness.  And although the years of adulthood have slowly eroded my memory of her...when the pain comes, I can still hear this blonde-headed girl-child whisper through the cracks of my defenses. 

Her first encounter with terror was at a petting zoo...with vicious, man-eating billy goats (ok, not really...but in the mind of a 3-year-old, they were huge, scary monsters).  She boldly held out her hand to one of the beasts...inching ever-so-slowly toward her doom. All of the sudden, one of them responded to her offer of friendship and dared to take one little step forward.  Moved by child-like terror, her response was instantaneous...arms flew up in the universal "Pick me up!!!" gesture.  And as soon as the cry left her mouth, she was scooped up into the strong arms of safety. I remember that part, specifically...because her terror evaporated immediately.  Lissy had a Daddy, you see, and he was bigger and stronger than even the most ferocious goat.
When I consider her childlike trust in her Daddy...I get a little vaclempt.  She had a ruthless, uninhibited love of life...completely void of distrust, cynicism, or control. Her faith was beautiful in its purity. She wasn't self-consumed with her physical imperfections. She didn't try to self-medicate with worldly distractions and addictions. She wasn't glib, jaded, or cynical. She wasn't burdened with the stress and horror of disease.  She didn’t know what betrayal felt like...much less how to spell it.  She didn't try to reason with God. She didn't try to solve her own, the little girl-child named Lissy was confident that her Daddy would rescue her every...single...time.

I still remember the day she met a a 5-day club.  July 2, 1982. Every day after the lesson, the teacher would ask all the kids to close their eyes and bow their heads...and every day, she would peak around to see if her playmates were raising their hands. On the last day, driven by the child-like panic of being "left out"...Lissy quietly raised her hand. The teacher took her to the front porch and talked to her about Jesus and how He wanted to live in her heart. Well, that sounded like a fine idea to a five year old little girl-child. That way, when her real Daddy wasn't there...she would have a Jesus to protect her and love her. It was that simple.
But as the years passed, Lissy began to learn about struggle.  She became an awkward tomboy with broken glasses, ratty hair, and perpetually grass-stained clothing.   She grew a foot taller than all of her classmates.  She began to crave attention.  She discovered that humor was a great weapon.  And most of all...she learned that there were some things that her real Daddy just couldn’t fix. 

Over twenty years later, Alissa found herself sitting in a circle of strangers at a weeklong retreat called The Journey.  She’s signed up to go because she thought she could help other people find freedom by telling their stories.  Funny that...because, as it turns out, these 6 women wanted to know her story.  What?  She didn’t have a story.  She was raised by Christian parents in a godly home.  Yeah...nothing to tell there, ladies. 
Then why are you afraid of intimacy?  Why do you have to control everything and everyone around you?  Why are you sooooo angry all the time?  Why do you feel like performance is the only way to win approval?  Why do you so rarely cry?  Why don’t you feel any passion?  Essentially, these women were asking...where’s Lissy?  What have you done with her?  Question after question...brick by brick...uncovering the lost little girl-child buried under years of numbness.

But as these women looked into her childhood...Alissa finally began to feel the pain she had so cleverly avoided for so many years.  And when it came in huge, unstoppable waves.  
Which, looking back, was Abba’s mercy...because if Alissa could have stopped it...she would have. 

As the layers of stone were peeled away...and a heart of flesh began to appear, Alissa remembered a day that her little girl-child was silenced by a beloved teacher who crushed her spirit...with the very best of intentions. 

Lissy was in third grade and Mrs. Olson was her absolute favorite teacher.  She was a living, breathing angel...with long blonde hair, over-sized wool sweaters, and an easy smile.  She invited her students into daily adventures...making the simplest lessons into grand journeys of imagination.  One day, Mrs. Olson began to weave a story with lots of talking animals, plants, and objects. But, as was her habit, she wanted her class to all be part of this tale, so she began to assign them as characters...
“First we need someone to be the sun.  Bright...full of light...warm.  Who will be the sun?  Jennifer, will you be the sun? Next we need a shiny red car.  Fast.  Strong.  Colorful.  Who will be the car?  Matthew, will you be the car?”

Lissy sat in wonder as Mrs. Olson slowly breathed life into the story...she seemed to be carefully selecting each child for a role using the qualities she saw in them.  Lissy waited...and waited...with eager expectation...impatient to know what Mrs. Olson thought of her.
“Ok, now we need some flowers.  Pretty.  Smell yummy.  Delicate.  Who will be our flowers?”   

A flower.  Yes, that would be nice.  She wanted to be pretty.  Lissy held her breath...
“Samantha.  Jessica.  Will you be our flowers?  Hmmm.  Now we need a bird.  Petite. Beautiful. Happy.” 

Lissy knew this just had to be her character.  Mrs. Olson saw her!  “Who will be the bird?”  Oh please...oh please...oh please pick me, pick me!  “Elizabeth...will you be the bird?
A little heart crushed. 

“Now we need a locomotive.  Big and strong.  A Leader.  Fearless.  Who will be the locomotive?”  Oh please...oh please don’t let it be me...please don’t let it be me...”Lissy, will you be the locomotive?”
Big.  That’s how Mrs. Olson sees her?  Big? 

That moment sealed her fate on the playground and, in many ways, life.  For the rest of the year, Lissy endured relentless mocking as her classmates referred to her as Locomotive.  Some of the crueler boys even made “choo choo” sounds every time they saw her.  But even more crushing...was that her beloved Mrs. Olson couldn’t see the little girl who so desperately wanted to be a bird.  So, in an act of self-preservation and because she didn’t know what to do with the pain...Lissy made an oath on the playground that year.  She would NEVER let them see her cry.  She would fight louder and harder than even the meanest boy.  She would conquer whatever was in her path and she would do it with a misplaced sense of strength.  Screw those kids on the playground.  And screw Mrs. Olson.  If they saw her as “big”...then “big” she would become. 

This wasn't Lissy's first or last encounter with pain.  No, Mrs. Olson and the playground bullies don't get to take all the credit...or blame for her wounds.  But it was the first time she willingly and intentionally surrendered to the numbness.   
Years later, as Alissa retold this story to a group of women for the first time in her life...she wept uncontrollably.  She wept for the little golden-haired girl with a shy spirit whose little heart was broken by her childhood hero.  She wept for a precious, fragile heart that was buried beneath a mountain of lies.  And as she wept, one of the women asked in a quiet, gentle voice...

“Alissa, if you could be a bird...which bird would you be? 
Without if she waited her whole life for someone to ask...she said,  ”A Chickadee.  I would be a Chickadee.  They’re winter birds, like me...I was born in a blizzard you know.  They’re small.  But they’re survivors.  Did you know they wash themselves with snow?” 

“I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh”
Who knew such a simple question would change the course of my life?   The moment I named my bird...I felt my heart become flesh.   In fact, when I got home from the retreat one of my dear friends looked at me funny and said, “You look different?  Something’s look...softer?”   I knew then that Lissy was back...

I wish I could say that the journey back to my heart has been easy.  No, in fact, the opposite is true...I have lost many things in the process.  Important things.  And I have failed on epic levels.  Mrs. Olson wasn’t my first or only story of pain.  And there are still some left to be told.  No, I have learned that being numb is way, way easier.   But I’ve also learned through experience that if I point my feet down the narrow path...and cling to the Word with a death grip...walking through the pain is not only’s an act of obedience.  And I can only partake of the abundant feast, if I allow myself to actually feel pain. 
Bleck.  I hate even typing that...because my bag of chocolate sounds way, way more appetizing. 

But walking with my God has given me way, way more freedom.  I no longer fear the word, “Big.”   I no longer cringe when people call me a force of nature.  I see now that Abba created that to be my dignity.  I've learned that it's ok to be larger than long as I never aspire to be larger than God.

So, I cry way more often.  I delight in all things...bird.  I’m not afraid of boys anymore.  I found my passion.  But most of all...I delight in the little girl who still sings “Jesus Loves Me” in the shower.  Who still laughs too loud.  Teases her friends and family mercilessly.  Enjoys monkey noises and innapropriate jokes.  Dances silly jigs at work.  This little girl  is no longer blonde-headed, but she still loves stomping in puddles, watching Disney movies, and teaching her nieces and nephew how to annoy their parents.  Her heart is flesh.  She feels deeply. She is Lissy. She is a Chickadee. She 
It’s her voice that I hear calling me to fight the numbness.  And it’s through her eyes that I see the Kingdom of Heaven.   And when the pain comes, it’s through her simple faith that I raise my arms and say, “Daddy...up.” 

So, for those of you who are experiencing pain...(which is probably all of you), I pray that the God of the Universe will give you a heart of flesh...and that you will with find the courage to feel it...
I love you, friends...thank you for reading my story.  I like you.  High five.



Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Confessions of a New Year's Curmudgeon

It’s 10:30 pm on December 31st...only an hour and half until the new year. I’m not gonna lie...when it comes to New Year’s Eve, I’m somewhat of a curmudgeon. The only real joy that I derive from this holiday is saying “see you next year” to co-workers, friends, and family. (Just said it to my mom, in just never gets old). Nah, most of my New Year’s Eve celebrations are often spent the same way I spend most of the other 364 nights of the year... alone and in bed WELL before midnight. Don’t get me wrong...I had a brief and glorious run in the late 90’s early 2,000’s (thank you, Y2K) a general rule, I don’t make resolutions (bah humbug). And you’ll rarely find me sipping champagne and reminiscing on the highlights (or low lights) of the previous year. Weird, right? Cause I’m a reminiscer. It’s what I do. I guess I’ve never really believed in my heart-of-hearts that life hinges on one obligatory date on the calendar. When I stand back and consider the landscape of my history...January 1st has never been a pivotal date. In fact, I find that most of the dates that have played a key role in my life’s story...usually sneak up on me and punch me in the face.

Take December 15th, 2012, for example. That was the day I fell headfirst down four concrete steps. And as I lay there on the cold garage floor, contemplating whether it was possible to break one’s butt...I learned a profound eternal truth about pain.

It was a Saturday night. I was home alone...puttering around in my ratty slippers and over sized red robe. My roommates and I like to play this awesome game called “stack-the-trash.” It’s the result of all of us (passive aggressively) trying to avoid taking out the garbage by carefully stacking our trash Jenga-style. The goal is to stack it carefully enough that the next roommate has to finally pony up and take the trash out. Yeah, I totally lost the round that night...because my single balled up Kleenex caused the whole thing to crumble like a house of cards. So, after practically standing on top of the garbage can...trying to stuff it all back into the bag, I decided to just hurl the freaking bag down into the garage and deal with it in the morning. Only after a few hearty swings...I found myself airborne, tumbling head first toward my doom.
You know in the movies when they have body chalk outlines in crazy mangled the one leg over the head kinda thing? Yeah, that’s totally how I landed. And this old body is NOT that flexible. My first thought was...well, I can’t tell you my first thought because it’s not appropriate for this medium. Suffice it to say that it hurt...a lot. My second thought was, “Dangit, I haven’t shaved my legs in like 4 days.” I just knew that eventually someone would find my body and comment on my total lack of personal hygiene.

After about 5 minutes of “you-can-do-this, Owsley” self-talk, I eventually pulled myself back up the stairs and limped to my bed. I couldn’t really tell what I had done to my body...because the pain kinda just started in my butt and radiated outward. I made a quick phone call to my parents to let them know if they didn’t hear from me in a few days...they should probably be concerned. And after swallowing some ibuprofen and putting a big ‘ol ice pack on my left cheek...I finally drifted off to sleep.

The next morning was not pretty. Especially the part where I had to pee. Did you know that peeing is especially difficult to manage with only one working butt cheek? I’ll be honest...I was really, really jealous of men in that moment. But the worst part was that I had this amazingly colorful bruise the size of a grapefruit...and because of its somewhat awkward location, I was the only one that got to witness its glory.

At this point, you’re probably wondering...what does this have to do with New Years, Owsley? (Heh. In my head, you all call me by my last name. Like we’re on a team or something.)

Well, it was really the 3rd thought I had while lying on the garage floor that eventually turned my heart toward an eternal truth. Because as my face was pressed up against the cold concrete...I thought to myself, “Yes, this hurts like a son of a biscuit...but at least I’m not dry heaving into a plastic bag.”

In fact, I found myself telling people that throughout the week. The first few days were pretty brutal...I walked like a 90 year old woman and groaned like a dying bull moose every time I had to sit down or stand up. But all the while, I slapped a smile on my face and said...”Hey, I’ll take pain over nausea any day.” About a week later, as I sat on my bed puking my guts out...I actually thought, “Hey, at least I’m actually vomiting and not just dry heaving.”     Really? I mean, the "it could be worse" game is appropriate on some days...especially when I'm on the path toward self-pity.  But where's the line between trying to keep a stiff upper lip and acknowledging that sometimes life isn't ok? 

I think this a sad commentary on my heart’s predisposition to prefer one type of suffering over another. It made me think of all the people who remain in pain...because they feel that on some twisted, cosmic measuring stick...their pain could be worse. I’m not talking about hang nail kind of pain. I’m talking about the shame that we hold on to because we prefer it to the pain of revealing our shame to the world. I hate that damn measuring stick, by the way. I want to lead an angry mob of torch-bearing villagers to burn it to the ground. But, I know from personal experience that some people prefer to live with the suffering for years...or even a lifetime...because we somehow believe our story isn’t worth talking about.  We just limp through life learning how to pee with one butt cheek rather than admit that we’re living with a bruise the size of Gibraltar on our heart.

December 14th, 2012...the day before my glorious fall down those infamous steps. After years of living with cancer...this was the day my friend Markelle Dumm finally got called Home to dance with the Lover of her soul. A few months ago, Markelle sent me a note saying she was proud of me for writing this blog. She said I was able to give a voice to suffering...when so many people who are suffering can’t find their voice. It makes me cry even typing it...because anyone who knew Markelle...knew that her life was a story of dignity and glory in the midst of extreme suffering. I’m tempted...oh so disregard her words of encouragement because I feel like my story doesn’t measure up. And that I don’t have even a sliver of the nobility that she carried through life. Yeah, I’ve had a couple of really crappy years...but do I even have the right to lament grapefruit sized bruises and debilitating nausea? Shouldn’t I just suck it up...slap a smile on my face...and exchange spiritual platitudes of “this too shall pass” with well-wishers?

Throughout my years as a regular church attender, I have heard a lot of sermons on the story of Christ. But these days...when I read, “for unto us a child is born, to us a son is given...” do you know what I see? I see the ridiculously awesome love of a Father who knew that we needed more than salvation. I know, right? More than salvation? That's how much He loves us. He knew we needed a Savior who would free us from sin and death, yes...but He also knew that we’d need a Savior to be born and to live. Because He knew that living is sometimes the hardest part.

So, He sent us a Son who was born in the darkness of night...pursued by evil while He was still in the womb. He sent us a Son who felt pain...dusty feet...thirst...hunger and extreme suffering. He had friends and family. He knew betrayal. He knew how to survive the wilderness. He knew joy. And by sending us a Messiah who lived out the greatest story ever told, He gave us permission to tell our own stories. And if we believe...then our stories will not end in death, but rather death...will just be a part of our story.

Markelle knew that. Her life was a breathtaking testimony of faith in the midst of suffering. In her last note to me she said simply, “There is no good intellectual answer. I just know the inner certainty that I can trust God’s faithfulness and so must be faithful to receive from Him the path He has given me to go.” She knew that this path would include a painful death...and, yet, she was equally certain that her story wouldn’t end there...because her last words to me were: “I can’t wait to dance in heaven!”

It’s 11:41 p.m. now...just a few short minutes until a new year. I never cease to be amazed by the complexity and mystery of the good news found within the pages of the Gospels. Tonight I will celebrate another year full of opportunities to learn something new about my Savior. I will also celebrate the fact that most of those lessons will probably be in the midst of suffering. On the bottom of a staircase. At a funeral. With my head over yet another trash can. Or by my dad's hospital He greets the new year with a tube down his throat. But this year...this year...I will take with me a “knowing” that the greatest story ever told was written by the same Author of my story. And that a Messiah...sent by my God...destroyed the power of that blasted measuring stick by claiming dominion over every part of my story. And being transparent with my own life...butt bruises and all...brings glory and honor to the Father who created me.

So, to all of those reading this post...I hope 2013 is the year you find your voice...and the resolve to use it. I hope that you are faithful to receive the path He has given you to go...and that you accept the profound grace of a God that my friend Markelle found faithful to her very last breath. I hope that you daily rebuke the measuring stick...and give yourself permission to grieve or celebrate your story. And I hope against hope, that in 2013, you get so tired of carrying the pain...that you find the courage to drop your drawers and show someone you trust what you’ve been hiding. Because, man-oh-man, sometimes our bruises are so’s a crime against the Kingdom to keep them to ourselves.

Now I must go...midnight is upon me. And in order to maintain my reputation as a certified curmudgeon, I have to have the lights out, so I can huff and puff about those dang fireworks that are keeping me awake past my bedtime.

See you next year, friends! I sure do love you.