Fortune Cookie Day

Love at first sight is as old as Adam and Eve. No disrespect to our ancestors, but Ivan and I were love at first bite.

Both of us were raised with a very serious view toward dating: Don’t date until you’re ready to marry, and then only date someone you’d actually consider marrying. 

Ivan and I met in our school’s music program and were friends for about six months before he got up the nerve to tell me that he liked me. We were lounging on some well-worn couches across from a vending machine one night after class. Providentially, God had been growing similar fond feelings in my own heart. But neither of us wanted to rush into anything unwisely. It was almost Christmas break, so we agreed to spend the holidays praying separately about God’s will for our lives.

We broke our “no communication” rule just enough over the following month to ensure we were on the same page: Both of us felt God leading us to be together. Nothing would be official until Ivan talked to my dad, of course, but I felt pretty good about his odds of success.

And so we arrive at January 6, 2014. Ivan and his dad were driving down to Riverside, CA from Concord, CA (about seven hours); they would pick me up and take me out for Indonesian food once they got into town. I couldn’t wait to meet my potential boyfriend’s father or try his native cuisine – although I was a bit confused that my family had lived in Riverside for a few years and never heard of such a restaurant.

Alas, there was no Indonesian restaurant. We ended up at Pick Up Stix, an Asian American restaurant that falls somewhere between Panda Express and P.F. Chang’s in regard to its level of authenticity. That is to say, not authentic. There are three things to look for when judging an Asian restaurant’s authenticity: name, amount of non-Asian staff and customers, and presence of fortune cookies. If the name is trendy and the other two are present, you’re in a restaurant designed for the masses. That night I was disappointed to be eating run-of-the-mill chow mien at a restaurant I could’ve visited with anyone.

I do have a penchant for fortune cookies.

I grabbed three cookies (one for each of us), and brought them back to the table. Maybe we could open them as an icebreaker while waiting on our order. I certainly needed an icebreaker: Neither Ivan nor his dad had said much since picking me up or referred to the obvious and only reason we were eating together. 

I opened the first cookie by right of “Ladies first.” It was one of those generic classics like finding a lost sock, or good luck being around the corner, etc. No one was prepared for what came next. Ivan opened his cookie, then turned red and folded up the fortune without reading it aloud.

“Well, aren’t you going to tell us what it is?” I prodded.

“It’s a bit awkward.”

“It’s only a fortune cookie! Come on, it’s part of the game.”

“Okay then.” He took a deep breath and unfolded the paper. “Wedding bells are in your future.

Silence.

“Oh wow. That’s, uh, very specific.”

Blood was pounding in my ears. If only someone would laugh, make a joke, anything. But no. I was having dinner with my prospective boyfriend and his father – who had not yet given his opinion of me or the potential relationship – and Wedding bells are in your future.

Ivan’s dad must have opened the third cookie. Our food must have come. I must have eaten my chow mien. But I have no idea what we talked about. Did we talk at all? Hopefully Ivan’s dad gave his blessing on our relationship, because mine would the following night. 

“It was so awful. I just wanted to die!” I recounted to my family after I got home from Pick Up Stix that night. We were roasting marshmallows over a lit burner on our gas stove. I was too shy to tell them that I really thought it was romantic. What if wedding bells were in our future? 

Back at the restaurant, nobody had seen Ivan sneak the folded fortune under the table and into his wallet. It was still there when he got down on one knee eighteen months later.

Are You Ready for the Book?

Happy December, Blogging Family! As most of you know, December is particularly significant for us. This year, we commemorated the sixth anniversary since my accident on the 3rd, then celebrated Ivan’s 30th birthday on the 7th. Up next are Christmas Eve/Christmas, our 7th wedding anniversary on the 30th, and New Year’s Eve on the 31st. I admit this might not seem too busy to those of you who are traveling for the holidays, but it’s a whole lot if you consider the life event each day represents. (For example, I was in a coma on Ivan’s twenty-fourth birthday, and he got kicked out of my hospital room at 8:30 pm on our first anniversary because visiting hours were over.)

I usually end the year with a retrospective look at how God’s worked in our lives over the past year. Don’t get me wrong – he’s continued accomplishing transformative work throughout 2022 – but today I want to focus on what he’s bringing to pass in 2023.

If you’ve followed this blog a while, you might have noticed recurring comments asking about a book. We got the highest number in 2017, when the accident was still fresh in everyone’s minds and my health status changed almost week to week. (Not fun to live, but apparently an entertaining read!) 

In 2019 I earned a BA in English and several faculty members encouraged me to apply to graduate school. I wasn’t really sure. Around that time some of my blog posts got reposted by larger bloggers like Joni Eareckson Tada, and I realized God could be preparing a way for me. What if there really was something I could write that would encourage people and witness for Christ, even if they didn’t know me directly?

After some prayer and deliberation, I applied to a few online creative writing programs. By God’s grace, I was accepted to my top choice (the Savannah College of Art and Design – aka  SCAD) and awarded the financial aid I needed to attend. I also learned an important fact during the application process: in order to graduate from SCAD’s creative writing program, I’d have to write a publishable manuscript as my thesis. It all seemed so clear: wasn’t this God’s way of telling me to write my story as a book?

I felt deliriously high after completing my thesis. It’s one thing to say you’re going to write a book – but then to go out and do it? That’s tough stuff. To top it all off, my committee chair actually thought I should try to get it published. Well, as Mom used to tell me, “If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is.” 

I began contacting literary agents right away, but no one would talk to me. (In the publishing world, most authors sign with a literary agent, who then negotiates with publishers on their behalf.) At first I brushed it off by reminding myself that all debut authors get scores of rejections before someone finally accepts them, but three months into the process I fell into the depths of despair. 

As Fall Quarter began in September, I surrendered my manuscript to the Lord. Maybe God just wanted me to have the experience of learning to write a book. Maybe seeking publication was just my pride rearing its ugly head. I spent the next couple of months investing more time in getting to know the girls at our church and studying God’s word.  Until the urge to contact “just one more” publisher struck me at the end of October. I did a little research and found one house that didn’t require an agent. I remember sending my proposal and thinking “Here goes, God. I have no idea what you want me to do after this.”

To my surprise, I got a timely response asking for the rest of the manuscript. No one had asked to see the entire manuscript before. I called Ivan, trying to sound low-key. “I mean, they could hate it.”

“But it is a big step,” Ivan countered.

“Yes – a step.”

I screwed my eyes shut as I opened the publisher’s reply. I was expecting the two- or three-sentence “Thanks but no thanks” I’d been getting all year. What I saw instead was several paragraphs. I’d expected a short correspondence before a “yes/no,” but our conversation continued via various formats for about six weeks. I was surprised to learn how many factors other than good writing go into publishing a book! God was faithful throughout the entire process. Ivan and I are extremely happy to announce I signed a publishing contract with Shepherd Press this past Monday. There will be lots of editing and revising for me to do before the book goes to print, but we hope to release it some time in 2023. And don’t worry – it is never-before-posted material. So even the most hardcore blog readers will find something new. 😊

I’m thankful the Lord made me wait all the way until the end of the year for this “Christmas present.” If I’d gotten an agent or publisher directly after I finished writing my thesis, I can just imagine how self-satisfied I would have been. I’m sure I would have said humble-ish things to other people, but I’d have secretly been congratulating myself on wowing my thesis committee and taking the publishing world by storm. This way, I’m aware of how little my manuscript interests the average person who hasn’t met me. Strangers don’t care if my writing got a good grade, they just want to be entertained, and my message about God’s grace in trials isn’t very fun. I’m very thankful God guided me to Christian colleagues who want to honor God in all they do, and who do not see as the world sees, but instead look at the heart.

Last but not least, this experience has reminded me of how precious each and every one of you are, my Blogging Family! As I’ve spent time thinking about numbers and geography over the past few weeks, I’ve been struck by how blessed I am to have readers who’ve laughed, cried, and prayed for Ivan and me over the past six years. Some of you we will meet only in heaven, but we are so thankful for your support and your willingness to keep walking with us in God’s grace. 

Six Years Ago Today

Six years ago today, I was late. If you’d looked at the clock on the wall, you’d probably argue I was early, but I’m a type-A mental gymnast. Adjusting for weekend traffic, accidents/construction, and the terrifying “unforeseen obstacles,” allowing two hours to drive from Riverside to Orange, CA, just didn’t seem like enough to guarantee I’d be early for my concert call time. (As Dad always told me growing up “Early is on time, and on time is late.”) So I did the only logical thing: take a selfie with our new kitten and set out to meet Ivan on foot. He was driving back from his own concert in Corona, another neighboring city, to take me to Orange. The rest, as they say, is history. (If you’re new to the blog, you can read the original story about how God spared my life after being hit by a car as a pedestrian here.)

I’ve told a lot of stories about God’s work in our lives over the past six years, but the one I’m going to share today is particularly special to me. Before I woke from my coma in the hospital, neurologists tried to prepare Ivan and my family that there was no way of knowing my cognitive function. Would I be able to think? Converse? Read and write? My mental age was about three years old when I finally woke up, so initial predictions weren’t fantastic. Praise God, I made it all the way to “teenager” by the time I was discharged.

Obviously, I only learned about these events much later – when I was “old” enough to process them. What I remember most from that period was God gradually revealing himself to me in ways that made sense to my mental age at the time.

It began with books. There was an inviting stack of books near the left side of my bed, including my Bible, Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (I’d been reading that with Ivan), and Homer’s Iliad (Okay, so that had been hidden in my desk at work). Ivan read the Bible to me every night, but I never asked for any of my other books even though I usually read voraciously. 

One morning the nurse came in, pushing her big grey cart like usual. But the cart read MEDS on the side by my face. It didn’t say that before! I’d noticed there were large letters stenciled on its side, but they looked like nonsense and I was too drugged to care. This discovery snapped me alert. I looked around my room – sure enough, the jumbled black and red letters just above the door spelled “EXIT.” Praise God, I could read again. 

And then my brain drifted off to sleep again and I forgot to tell anyone about this miracle moment for several years.

By the time I was transferred from a critical care hospital to a neurological rehab hospital, my reading ability was up to par, but my brain tired out so quickly that I could barely make it through half a page before I got sleepy. Even when Ivan read the Bible to me, I could only pay attention for a couple of minutes before my mind wandered off. But now I was “old” enough to suspect that there was more to following Christ than reading/listening to the Bible. Wasn’t I supposed to pray or something? There I drew a blank. I knew what prayer was – visitors or my family prayed over me several times a day. I didn’t know how to do it on my own.

“Hello, God,” I ventured one morning soon after I’d transferred to the rehab hospital. That was it. I didn’t know what else to say. Next, I tried copying the kinds of things people said when they were praying with me:

“Dear God, thank you for this day…this food…this visit…”

Some of them asked for things as well:

“Please let this appointment go well…help the pain to go away…let Grace go home soon.”

Shortly after I was discharged from the hospital, God restored my mind enough to see that these prayers were little more than painting by numbers. What now? I tried making up my own, but my mind still wandered off within seconds of closing my eyes. I’m not sure if someone suggested it to me, or if the thought was just God’s grace, but one day a couple of weeks later I finally remembered the Book of Psalms in the Bible. Weren’t psalms supposed to be prayers to God, just in poetry? I hoped that learning to pray by copying psalms wouldn’t be quite so “paint by numbers” because each psalm is also part of the inspired Word of God. That makes them perfect models for prayer!

This is the natural climax of my story, so this is the place where I have to shake my head and let out a long sigh of defeat because I don’t remember what happens next. I wish I remembered my first extemporaneous prayer, or when exactly I resumed a “normal” prayer life, but my neurological trauma has erased those memories. Nevertheless, the larger point is that I learned to pray again by studying how the Bible actually depicts us communicating with God. Many of the psalms are distressed, even depressed. Some are overwhelmingly joyful. Psalm 119 re-taught me to love the very Word of God itself. Praise God, I can pray with my eyes closed and/or for long periods of time now. But I don’t think anything can change the sweetness of opening the Psalms and using one as inspiration for personal prayer. That is a blessing I’ve treasured over the past six years, and hope can encourage you as well.

Giving Thanks for Seasons Past

I love Thanksgiving. Schedules slow – ideally pause – and we gather to give thanks with our loved ones. “Giving thanks” usually translates to NYC’s perennial Thanksgiving Day Parade providing ambient entertainment while mothers and grandmothers put the finishing touches on turkeys that have been rubbed, soaked, seasoned, fried, smoked, roasted, and manhandled any other way you can think of. (Nota Bene: These traditions aren’t necessarily cross-cultural. Ivan didn’t have his first “American Thanksgiving” until we started dating. Sadly, our turkey was a disaster that year.) After thanks has been given for the Bird of Plenty and its accoutrements, food is consumed to the bursting point and football is watched until someone tentatively mentions the idea of a snack a few hours later. 

As many of us here in the U.S. know, this is great fun. Some of us have fond memories of parents and grandparents that date back to early childhood. If we live far from extended family, perhaps this is the only time we see them every year. For those of us who are Christ-followers, we praise God for specific ways he’s blessed us over the past year, as well as for salvation by Jesus Christ.

Today I’m writing about a gift I forgot to give thanks for. If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed I don’t mention my violin very much (i.e. ever). To get us all on the same page, here are some basic facts you need to know:

  • I started violin lessons in a group class when I was six
  • I quickly transitioned to private lessons and joined a private high school orchestra when I was nine
  • By age twelve I knew I wanted to be a professional violinist and was practicing four hours a day
  • I spent high school competing in state and local competitions, preparing for the all-important college auditions
  • By God’s grace, I was accepted to study with my teacher of choice at the Eastman School of Music (rival to Juilliard) after I graduated from high school

I can tell you there are a surprising number of people who accomplished just as much – if not more – than I did at that age. But even if I ran some numbers, you’d have to admit that bio looks pretty good for an eighteen-year-old living in Wisconsin. (One of those northern Midwest states that get mixed up unless you live in one of them.)

I remember Mom and Dad sitting me down before each performance as a little girl and asking God to help me play “for his glory.” My child’s mind knew God’s glory was more important than impressing people with my music, but I had no concrete idea of what “God’s glory” was, or how I could play for it. The prayer became a pre-performance ritual; I never gave it a second thought even after I was old enough to understand the abstraction. 

I tried to remember to say “thank you” for good competition results or an especially good performance. For my parents’ part, they reminded me that my gifts came from God, especially if they noticed me receiving  too many compliments from those around me. All in all, the system seemed adequate: God would bless my playing, I would (hopefully) say thank you, and my parents would take care of the glory part. I never imagined God would take my violin away from me.

As some of you also know, I rejoined my family in California after two years at Eastman. I earned a bachelor’s of science degree, met and married Ivan, and started my first full time job. But I still played violin: university orchestra, community orchestra, choir orchestra, ringer, solo recital, worship band, weddings du jour, violin lessons. I thought I’d play until I died. 

I almost did. 

I find it darkly humorous that I was hit by a car as I was walking to my first Christmas concert of the season. Somehow both I and my nineteenth-century French instrument survived the 40 mph impact, although I really don’t know how the violin made it. Talk about the providence of God. Sadly, this story doesn’t have a happy ending: My hands didn’t fare as well as my violin, so now it lurks in a corner of our music room, a memorial to the glittering past.

I’ve spent a good part of this November wondering what happens to gifts if we can’t use them. I think of the 19+ years I assumed I would always be a violinist. Even if I thanked God for the good performances, I never thanked him for the ability itself. What happens now? Is the gift gone forever? What would playing for his glory alone have looked like? (My selfish version was zero mistakes!) At this point in my life I can only guess the answers. 

That’s why I’m thankful to have this present time to draw near to God, fully confident he will also draw near to me. Do I completely understand what doing something for God’s glory means even now? Perhaps not, but I know that God, who began the work of faith in my life, “will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day of Christ” (Phil. 1:6). I write all this to give public testimony to the fact that I am thankful I was once a violinist. I also write to challenge and encourage you: Are there gifts you’re taking for granted or have forgotten? Now’s the time to praise the Lord.

I Could Ask the Darkness to Hide Me

I’m not excited for Halloween. This has nothing to do with the sizzling annual debate: What’s wrong with kids dressing up in cute costumes and begging for candy? Everything’s wrong with a day that glorifies witches and ghosts and dark magic! Sincere Christ-followers sincerely hold both points of view, so I defer to the Apostle Paul when he mediated a similar debate two millennia ago: Was it okay for believers to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols if they only worshiped God? Paul says,

“It’s true we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do. But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.” ~ 1 Cor. 8:8-9

All that to say, the attitude behind our actions is what matters most. 

Now back to me and Halloween. I’ve fallen on both sides of the Halloween debate at different points in my walk with the Lord, and that’s not the point of this post. The point is how I’m guarding my heart this year.

Like most Americans, I take the holiday for granted. Ghoulish decorations and bargains on jumbo candy appear in grocery stores each time October rolls around, just as predictably as Christmas deals will outshine Thanksgiving in November. That’s just how it goes.

I was not a skittish child, so neighborhood Halloween decorations didn’t scare me past kindergarten, or first grade at the latest. “They’re only make believe, just like Christmas decorations,” I vaguely remember an adult telling me. This made perfect sense. After that, the only question in my child’s brain was whether or not I’d be allowed to Trick or Treat. 

Last year I was twenty-eight years old. That’s a bit old for Trick or Treating and Ivan and I don’t have any kids. Typically we don’t think much about Halloween until the day itself – and that’s only because many of Ivan’s students dress up for school. But last year was different. On October 15th, 2021, I was admitted to a locked-door mental health facility and placed on a fourteen day, involuntary psychiatric hold. Wonder of wonders, the placed was decked out in Halloween decorations.

To this day I’m not sure what kind of sense it made to have large posters of witches, ghosts, black cats and slit-eyed pumpkins leering down at us from the walls and ceiling. (Okay, so maybe the cats weren’t that bad.) Locking a group of people in a room with these dark images – especially when many of those people had “dissociated from reality” – seemed like the opposite of helping them get better.

I had been admitted to the facility because I was hearing evil voices and seeing violent visions telling me to hurt myself and other people. The doctors there diagnosed me with schizoaffective disorder, a type of schizophrenia. 

My first clue that something was off about my psychosis was when the Halloween decorations started talking to me. As I’ve pointed out, this did seem like an accident waiting to happen, especially since psychotic people may believe they’re receiving messages from an outside source. But what unnerved me about my own experience was that these decorations told me they were the same voices in my head who’d been ordering me to harm myself and others. I was confused: if those voices had just been in my head, how could they leave and go somewhere else?

The decorations eventually stopped talking to me and I was released, but with unanswered questions. Was my experience entirely schizophrenic? Or was the content and context of what was happening to me a sign of something darker?

Halloween 2021 passed without further incident, although I would be hospitalized three additional times in the next three months. We found a new equilibrium around April, which we credited to God’s healing and medicine – but mostly medicine. 

This August everything changed again. Or more correctly, resumed.

All the evil visions and voices and compulsions to obey them reappeared out of nowhere. I hadn’t altered a thing about my life; I woke up at the same time, got dressed, read my Bible, wrote, cleaned the house, you name it. I did everything the way I’d always done. But the voices were back, and far more terrifying than before. They told me God wouldn’t hear my prayers, that He couldn’t save me from them, that I had to obey their commands because I wasn’t His child anymore. Suddenly talking Halloween decorations looked like a walk in the park.

This was not one of those trials that passed in a day, or a week, or a month. The medication we’d been so cavalier with earlier in the year turned out to be a tool God could choose to use if He wanted, but not a guarantee. I had to face the fact that the voices I was hearing were in direct rebellion against God. I was not like my old roommate in the mental health facility who thought dinosaurs still existed, or the trans person across the hall convinced the CIA was out to get us. No, mine were intelligent, specific voices intent on separating me from God and commanding me to sin. 

All I could do at that point was pray, fill my mind with Scripture, and ask others to pray for me. This was a battle I had no idea how to fight, but I knew I couldn’t fight it alone. By God’s grace the voices went away again at the beginning of October. I fully believe God heard everyone’s prayers and freed me from whatever darkness was at war within me, but I do want to add here that I never stopped taking my original medication and am not giving medical advice.

As joyful and thankful as most of this October has been, I confess I’ve looked the other way or scurried past all those Halloween decorations this year. I know they can’t hurt me, that whatever was talking to me last year has no power to cause real harm. I know that I’m a child of the Lord, that He always hears my prayers, and will always come to my rescue.

I remind myself over and over again of Paul’s words in Romans 14:5:

“In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable.”

Technically, he’s addressing the question of when to worship, but the point is the same. Calendar days are just calendar days to God. 

I’m no more likely to be harmed this Monday than any other day this week. There’s no reason I should creep around the house, wondering if the voices will “come back.” I have no more reason to worry about my status before God than on any other day. Christ’s blood is always enough! The lesson for me this Halloween is not to be enslaved to bad memories from the past or fear of the future, but to cling to what is true right here in the present. I know I’ve quoted this passage from Psalm 139 before, but it encapsulates my heart very well this weekend.

“I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night – 

but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.

To you the night shines as bright as day.

Darkness and light are the same to you.”

Housewife: Curse or Calling

“What do you do?” Neither one of us can see very well in the dimly lit patient lounge.

“Lights out in fifteen minutes!” someone belts down a neighboring hallway. 

“I’m currently in grad school but my husband is a school teacher.” 

“Oh. You’re a housewife.” The label rolls off her tongue like a dirty word. 

My stomach tightens. I think about arguing that I write part-time for a magazine in Seattle, or that I’m legally disabled and therefore not required to work. I don’t. Why am I ashamed? I wonder. Since when has living as a married, dependent woman become a sin?

If you’re a woman from a middle-class family born within the past fifty years, it’s pretty likely you were expected to graduate from high school, attend some sort of trade school or college, then find a job for yourself. As a graduate student, I think education is very good. Women are just as intelligent as men and deserve equal opportunities to challenge their minds and broaden their thinking. We have an entire book of the Bible – Proverbs – devoted to developing wisdom and understanding in all readers.

What about the cultural expectation that women work? This isn’t entirely wrong either. I got my first job when I was sixteen and worked continuously until my accident at twenty-three. The model woman in Proverbs 31 trades textiles and purchases real estate, generating income for her family. 

So when we strip these concept down to the bare essentials we’ll find that our culture’s basic education and career paths for women aren’t evil. Some might even say they’re biblical!

Clearly that’s not reality, you might say. Surely God didn’t plan for families to struggle because neither parent is home, or populations to plateau because fewer adults are having kids?

You would be right. Even if our culture stumbled upon part of the truth regarding school and work, they can only see a tiny portion of it. And if we don’t shine light into their darkness, we’ll begin stumbling right along behind them.

Post-Christian thinkers teach women to idolize education and career over friends, family, romance, and sometimes even emotional and physical health. No matter how hard these women fight, the Academy will remain established, the glass ceiling just a few inches out of reach. Their most radical effort is never enough.

The Bible describes a much simpler – and more attainable – life for women in the church: 

“Similarly, teach the older women to live in a way that honors God. They must not slander others or be heavy drinkers. Instead, they should teach others what is good. These older women must train the younger women to love their husbands and their children, to live wisely and be pure, to work in their homes, to do good, and to be submissive to their husbands. Then they will not bring shame on the word of God.” ~ Titus 2:3-5

Notice the passage does NOT forbid education or work outside the home. It just reminds us that those endeavors are not what brings a godly woman true fulfilment. 

Not surprisingly, I’ve been asked my occupation by various clinicians and patients in a variety of settings over the past year. My standard answer is “writer,” which is true. But after the questioner asks a bit more about my daily activities, they realize I spend at least as much time doing chores, cleaning, and cooking as I do writing in my ivory tower. Their expression changes and I know the H word is due any second now: 

“Oh. You’re a housewife.

Sometimes I still bristle at this, as if “housewife” demoted me to some lower iteration of humanity. But as I think about it, “housewife” should actually be a great compliment for those of us who are Christ-followers. Eve was designed as Adam’s “helper suitable.” Sarah is a role model to all her daughters in the faith because she obeyed Abraham, calling him “lord.” Proverbs describes many qualities of righteous women, ending with the vivid technicolor portrait of the model woman many of us know so well.

The Old Testament is full of stories about women – bad as well as good – who risked their lives to obey God or rescue his people. So when we read the Titus passage in the New Testament, we realize God’s given modern women a different challenge. We might not be rescuing babies from rivers or hiding spies in our wells, but we can love and serve our families – even if that leaves us stereotyped or isolated.

When I think about the “housewives” I know, I’m humbled by their passion for God and their families and their competence to be good stewards of what God has given them. One homeschooling mother-of-four recently told me, “I saw we had an open day on our weekly schedule, so my husband and I thought we should start a small group for young families!”

If that’s a housewife, then I want to be like her when I grow up.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity,
    and she laughs without fear of the future.
When she speaks, her words are wise,
    and she gives instructions with kindness.
She carefully watches everything in her household
    and suffers nothing from laziness…

…Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last;
    but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised.” ~Prov. 31

The Night Shines as Bright as Day

Hi everyone! I want to share with you all an essay that I wrote recently since it explains what’s been going on in my life and why I haven’t posted here. Some of the content is mature, but my hope is that you will be blessed by reading about God’s power.

***

God’s voice is described many ways throughout Scripture. Sometimes it uproots cedars and makes the mountains dance. Other times it calls your name in a still, small whisper. Jesus describes his voice as a shepherd’s: carrying across the wilderness, summoning wayward lambs. His call is unmistakable, he says: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27). 

I am afraid of voices. Last year I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a rare type of schizophrenia. Occasionally I’m paranoid or see things that aren’t there, but my worst problem is hearing a plethora of evil voices that command me to hurt or kill myself. Last year I was so frightened that I gave in to these commands, which landed me in the hospital four separate times. It took five months to find a medication that helped, and I dreaded repeating the awful cycle ever again.

Five weeks ago, my medication stopped working. No one knows why, not even my doctors. All we know is one day I heard sinister voices saying “We’re coming back for you! We’re coming back for you!” and then they were back. Unlike last year, when only two or three of them spoke to me at once, this time there was a whole chorus. And this time they were directly attacking my faith by telling me that prayer wouldn’t drive them out, God couldn’t rescue me from them, and I was a child of Satan. 

My first thought was to go straight to the emergency room so I’d be transferred to a mental hospital for twenty-four-hour supervision and a potential medication change. That would have been the “easy” way out since it meant I wasn’t responsible for any part of the episode. But it also would have reinforced my irrational fear of these voices as well as the incorrect notion that my situation determines my actions. True, I couldn’t be held responsible in the same way a cognitively stable individual would, but I was still under obligation to read my Bible, seek God in prayer and meditation, and aspire to the fruits of the Spirit as much as I was able. After much prayer, my husband and I decided to address my new “symptoms” for what we believed they were – a spiritual attack. This would require aggressive biblical action before we reinvolved psychiatry. 

While I did not stop taking my current psychiatric medication, I also did not immediately request a higher dose or different medication. I made my three closest friends aware of the battle I was facing, and set up specific times to meet and pray with them during the week. My husband removed all the knives and sharp objects from our house because the voices were constantly ordering me to hurt myself, in addition to attacking my faith in God. 

Two weeks passed, and I was beginning to doubt I could continue standing firm against these daily attacks – some of which lasted up to eight hours – much longer. One of my friends challenged me to find a few key Bible verses to tape on my wall so I had something to look at when I felt like giving up and hurting myself. The first passage came to me almost immediately:

I could ask the darkness to hide me

and the light around me to become night –

but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.

To you the night shines as bright as day.

darkness and light are the same to you. (Psalm 139:11-12)

Giving in and cutting myself would literally be asking the darkness to hide me because I’d be doing exactly what the evil voices told me. But even in that worst case scenario, I wouldn’t be separated from God. That was the lie the voices wanted me to believe. No, God would shine his light into my darkness and rescue me no matter what happened.

I wish that marked the end of my trial. But Satan, who tempted Jesus himself by quoting Scripture, was not giving up on a frightened twenty-nine-year-old so easily. Three weeks into the battle, I found a pair of scissors that my husband had forgotten to remove from our house. Instead of turning them in like I normally would, I obeyed the voices and hid them in my nightstand “just in case” I decided to hurt myself later. I knew this was wrong and dangerous, but I told myself everything would be okay, that I didn’t really intend to go through with it.

I took a nap that afternoon, and was awakened by sinister, heretical voices. Unlike the horrible things I’d almost grown used to hearing spoken, this was worse. This time there was a chorus singing a hymn that I’d sung earlier that morning, with a much deeper voice chanting “You are a child of Satan, you are a child of Satan!” in the background. I lost my mind. I couldn’t grab the scissors fast enough: some part of me knew what I was doing was wrong, while the other part of me couldn’t work as hard or fast as I wanted. By God’s grace, my husband walked in a couple of minutes later and took me to the emergency room.

Surprisingly, the ER did not put me on a psychiatric hold, although I suspect that was because they were understaffed due to a strike. But even at home I knew I had a lot of heart work in front of me. Some might argue I was out of my mind when I woke up from my nap, but I was in full possession of my faculties when I found those scissors and chose to hide them from my husband. I’d capitulated even further to the voices’ deception when I agreed to put the scissors in my nightstand “just in case.” The truth was that I would have never ended up in the ER if I’d followed God’s command to be honest. Even if I had started by making the wrong choice, I had several opportunities to “course correct” and confess my deceit before I gave in and actually used the scissors. The truth was I was so prideful in my own strength that I couldn’t tell I’d been blinded by the evil voices. I’d set my own trap in preparation for the next level of intimidation.

I confessed my sin to God, my husband, and my accountability partners, and asked everyone to pray that the Holy Spirit would keep my eyes fixed on him. Around this time I began meditating on John 10:27: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” This reminded me of several truths about God. First, no matter how many other voices I was hearing, or how confused I was about which ones to obey, I would always recognize God’s voice. In fact, I didn’t have to do anything unless God’s voice was speaking. Second, he knows me. I’m not a child of Satan, no matter what anyone or anything tells me. I hear God’s voice and he knows me. Finally, he will give me strength to be brave and follow him. There’d been many times over the past four weeks where I’d been so frightened I’d wanted to give in and obey the voices. Now I even have purple scars climbing my left arm to prove I’m not a saint. But God knows me and I’ll follow him. 

And that’s why my story also doesn’t end with the ER incident. The following week I stayed at my parents’ house while my husband worked because I was still hearing voices and we all agreed I wasn’t ready to be alone. At first changing location helped a little bit, but the voices quickly returned to their old strength, then grew even more intimidating. That Friday, my dad decided to come stay with me at our condo so I wouldn’t have to be out of the house quite so much. But I was worried. What if I couldn’t resist the voices at home as well as I could somewhere else?

Our morning passed smoothly. We went out for coffee and then returned to our work: Dad to his sermon and me to a nonfiction piece I’d been writing. Everything was fine until I found the toolbox. I’d gotten up to use the bathroom and spotted my husband’s toolbox on the in our second bedroom. Although he’d already removed sharp objects like kitchen knives, scissors, and office supplies from our house, my husband had fixed one of our dining room chairs last night and must have forgotten to put the box where I couldn’t find it. My first reaction was to walk by the toolbox and into the bathroom. If I had really repented Sunday, I wouldn’t commit the same sin Friday, I told myself. That would mean either I had lied to God when I claimed to repent, or God wasn’t big enough to actually rescue me from temptation. I knew neither were true, so I prayed for God’s help and returned to the living room.

But the voices began eating at the back of my mind all afternoon. My husband pulled in from work just as I could no longer stand the temptation, and I rushed to the second bedroom before he’d even had time to put his briefcase down or take off his shoes. I pried open the tool kit and grabbed the first sharp object I saw – a screwdriver – then ran to the master bedroom and deposited it in my nightstand. Now for the coup de gras. “How could you leave this laying out?” I demanded as I walked back to the living room, toolbox in hand. “You know what a stumbling block this is for me!” My husband immediately began re-lacing his shoes, apologizing profusely before rushing the tools the outside.

I kissed my dad goodbye and then returned to writing, happy I’d had the good sense to obey the voices and fool my husband. But as I stared at my laptop screen, I couldn’t stop contrasting false and true repentance. If I obeyed the voices and hurt myself again after claiming to repent, what would I have to say for myself? The verse in John flashed through my mind again: My sheep hear my voice. I clearly was not listening to God’s voice right now. At this point the evil voices were screaming at me to stay silent, but by God’s grace I took a deep breath and called my husband over when he came back inside. “Honey? There’s something I need to tell you. You’ll find a screwdriver in my nightstand.” A weight lifted off my shoulders immediately; I might have begun the afternoon making the wrong choice, but God enabled me to repent before I hurt myself. 

A week has passed since I gave the screwdriver back. Nothing changed immediately, but the next day a friend challenged me to fast and pray for God to illumine toxic beliefs in my own heart that needed to change. My gut reaction was “No thanks, I’m fine!” but I decided to do it anyway since fasting is a good spiritual discipline. In the first few days, God showed me that even though I’d claimed to trust him alone, functionally I’d been fighting the voices in my own strength. It was as if I thought he couldn’t quite help me, or I was expected to do part of it on my own. Maybe a part of me was even curious to try what the voices were telling me to do. Believing these lies of pride and curiosity only strengthened the voices’ grasp on my life. 

As I continued to pray and meditate, I asked God to unmask the evil voices and to increase my faith in his healing power. I woke up to silence the next morning. While I have heard voices a handful of times since then, they’ve sounded weak and pathetic compared to God’s marvelous voice as revealed in Scripture. What’s more, I did actually hear my Shepherd speak, just as he promised. One night when the cacophony was at its worst, a still, small voice rose above the noise: “Be not afraid, little one.” 

This Journal Fought Beside Me

I threw my journal away last Friday. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an avid journaler. I’ve filled six volumes of various sizes (not counting the one I threw away) in the six years since my accident. And then there’s the blog…

Point being, I like to write, and I write a lot. Sometimes I tell a story, other times I work out a problem or process emotions. Still other times I meditate or pray.

The possibilities are endless, once you think about it.

So why was the moment on Friday so notable – and what makes my particular “college composition notebook” different from its millions of siblings circulating the planet?

First off, I didn’t buy that journal. It was given to me by a kind nurse during one of my mental hospital stays. Patients aren’t allowed to have many belongings, whether it’s a hairbrush or a hardcover book. But after learning I was a writer, this particular nurse found a softcover notebook and slipped it into my room. She also left a purple Crayola marker: Patients were not allowed pens or pencils.

That gift was a Godsend and an act of trust on her part. At that point in my illness, doctors had certified me a suicide/homicide threat. A guard was stationed at my door every night as I slept.

But in spite of those labels, that nurse saw the real me – the girl with the Spirit of God still inside her. She treated me and even my writing as valuable.

I knew exactly what to do with my new journal. I’d already memorized part of Psalm 139 before that particular hospitalization and I began to scrawl the verses in bright purple marker every time evil voices entered my head.

At first, the notebook pages filled by the hour, but my hand grew steadier and the entries less and less frequent – until I was well enough to be discharged.

By this time I was too attached to Psalm 139 and the notebook to end what God had begun at such a dark point in my life. I committed to memorizing the entire Psalm by the end of 2022, using my navy blue notebook as my trusty companion. I’m set to finish memorizing in September so my well-worn friend didn’t quite make it to the finish line. I suspect that’s because I scribbled so many pages with a giant Crayola marker.

Writer’s Block

Hello Blogging Family! I’m very sorry I’ve been absent for so much of the summer. I wrote an essay this afternoon to clear my head and want to share it with you all.

***

“Writer’s block.” There is no definition, really. It’s just what you say when someone – professor, editor, great aunt – asks “Have you written anything recently?” 

You could be honest and say “No.” 

Or you could puff out your chest, ruffle your hair in the mirror like the next Ernest Hemmingway. 

“Writer’s block,” you could say. “I’ve got writer’s block.”

This is very different from just saying no.

First of all, it establishes you are a writer. Writers use big words. Writers write important thoughts. Whoever is interrogating you – and they’re most likely a superior or you wouldn’t be having this conversation – they’d better listen to you, the writer.

Second, “block” has a lovely fatalistic ring. A block isn’t something you can control: it just is. If I, the writer, find myself standing at the bottom of Mt. Kilimanjaro the night before my magazine article goes to print, should my editor really blame me? I don’t have the kind of faith that moves mountains.

Finally, “writer’s block” is one of those phrases you can pull out and nobody gets hurt. I can (theoretically) miss a deadline without pontifications on time management. The wounded party (may) survive the incident without the sense of personal betrayal that comes from a good ol’ missed deadline.

As for writer’s block itself, it is a very real and debilitating condition that impacts hundreds of writers daily. If you or someone you love is at risk, take a mental break. Don’t wait until it’s too late!

Ivan Gets a Nose Job

A few weeks ago, Ivan had a nose job. He actually had a septoplasty with turbinate reduction. I just like saying “nose job” because it sounds dramatic. Without getting too technical, Ivan’s had trouble breathing ever since he was a child due to a number of issues. We hoped that correcting his deviated septum and reshaping part of his sinus passages would address some of his breathing problems. Hence the nose job.

I’d planned to write a funny post about the whole experience. After all, we’re familiar with broken arms and legs, even a variety of intestinal ailments, but who on earth gets nose surgery? (Outside of Hollywood, that is.) What’s more, Ivan made plenty of messes for me to write about. His nose bled for three days straight and we had to change bandages every hour. And don’t even get me started on nasal rinses… 

But as funny as that all sounds now, it wasn’t the least bit funny when it was happening. Ivan is a very forbearing patient, so he deserves much credit for putting up with my clumsiness during that recovery week. As for me, I was confronted with a new picture of what it meant to trust God on my own.

Every time I’ve had one of my own health struggles, my family has swarmed to help Ivan take care of me. This time Mom took us to and from Ivan’s surgery, but it was the first instance we’ve declined further help. Dad is also sick and, unlike Ivan, he won’t be better in a couple of weeks. I wanted Mom to have energy to help where she was needed most. Anna also grabbed us groceries on Saturday morning. The timing was providential since I’d just thrown out a casserole that made Ivan sick Friday night, and Anna couldn’t have come earlier since she works long hours during the week.

But for most of the recovery week, I was lonely and overwhelmed, wishing for human comfort yet resolved to persevere without it. How could I make Ivan feel bad for being high-maintenance? Mom shouldn’t feel like she needed to be in two places at once. Anna was giving us the best chunk of time out of her precious weekend. 

Slowly it dawned on me that this was how it must have been for Ivan during many of my health struggles. He doesn’t seek help very often since he can move me by himself and make a (limited) number of dinners. How many days had he spent by my bed completely alone? 

But neither of us was completely alone. No matter how overworked I felt, or how silent the house seemed, or how few texts pinged on my phone, God had not forgotten either of us. The same God who’d sat with Ivan by my bedside for the past six years was now watching over me as I watched over Ivan, and cleaned, and cooked, and struggled with chores I haven’t done alone in years. 

The problem was not that I was alone, but that I had narrowed my gaze until I thought I was alone. If I was only counting on human help to get me through this trial, then of course I was going to be disappointed. The Psalmist tells us, “The Lord is like a Father to his children, tender and compassionate toward those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.” ~Psalm 13:13-14. I needed to take a step back and widen my gaze to include the One who is my creator and – through Christ – my savior. He understands my weakness and loneliness and will support me in my need better than any human friend ever could. What’s more, he’s also the Great Physician. I can trust him with Ivan too.

P.S. At the time of this post Ivan is close to a full recovery. 🙂