Altars

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So we’ve heard about the Little Drummer Boy, but…

 

Good morning, everyone! It’s been a little bit since I’ve written, but between Christmas excitement and getting over all that brain testing, blogging hasn’t exactly felt like a strong point.

That’s what I want to write about today: how do strong points (or not so strong ones!) relate to our “God with us” meditations this Christmas season? Taking human form is God’s inconceivable offering to us. God gives Himself to light our darkness and lead us out of the mess we’ve created. Usually we associate the word “offering” with something we give to God, and not the other way around. Why should the living God willingly humble Himself to make His own offering? Because He loves us. 

So what happens for Him at Christmas? We celebrate God loving us, and I can’t think of a better truth to celebrate. What I do wonder is how best to celebrate it, though. In the Old Testament (the part of the Bible that covers Israel’s relationship with God before His incarnation), altars were essential to all parts of worship. Placing a sacrifice on His altar demonstrated everything: thanksgiving, repentance, and even freewill gifts. An authentic sacrifice was always the best a worshiper could give.

As I think about Christ sacrificing Himself for me, I realize I have several sacrifices that belong on my altar to His love. I don’t need to earn my salvation thanks to the totality of His redemption, but I think Christmas is a meaningful time for offerings nonetheless. Over the past two years, there are so many outcomes I’ve begged God for. Some have come true, and some haven’t, but they all belong on my altar.

Thanksgiving: walking, talking, taking care of myself, watching God care for my family as they cared for me, maintaining relationships with family and friends (often online!)…These are just a few of the items on my list. How often did I say “thank you” but then take the gift for granted later?

Repentance: This is a category I’d  prefer to leave off the World Wide Web entirely, but a “catch all” area I could grow in is humility. An extra dose of humility might cut down the times I give myself too many extra pats on the back, or those times I catch myself feeling like I deserve better than I get.

Requests: I’d love to go out again, to be strong enough to meet with people again, to not close my eyes and “listen” to movies instead of watch them, to be 100% confident I’ll make it to my parents’ condo down the road in spite of whatever headlights lurk outside our garage. God knows how loudly I cried out for my left hand last year when it still had a fighting chance. But He deserves my best on His altar, not a whiny Santa Claus list. My best is “I have so very many things I want, but if they’re not on Your list for me, I know You are still good.”

And now we get to the nitty -gritty part. The freewill offering. Can I sacrifice my favorite strength (writing!), and say “Thank you, God, but it still belongs to You. My left hand belonged to you, my music belonged to you, and this does too. Sometimes You give, and sometimes You take away. Blessed be your name.” Can I do that? I wish I was shouting YES at my laptop screen, but I’m not. And that writing/music offering is not all. Can I sacrifice my “dearest” request and say “Here’s my brain, God. If You had healed it completely, all my other requests would be fixed by now. But thank you for giving me back more skills than I should have. You’ve given me back so much! And You’ve taken away so much. But blessed be Your name no matter what.”

So there’s my Christmas altar for you, in all its glory – or lack thereof! I wish I could say all my offerings were already neatly arranged with some candlelight and tinsel and soft carols playing in the background. If I’m honest I’ll say I’m sooo not there yet. The freewill part is especially killer! But I’m trying.

What will be on your Christmas altar this year?

God with Us (And those TBI Results)

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All ready for that early morning testing!

God with us.

Most of us (religious or not) spend December counting down to the 25th. What’s not to love about all the sparkly festive magic that only comes once a year? I couldn’t wait for “permission” to crank up my Spotify, pull out our Ikea tree with its box of quirky ornaments, and douse both of us in peppermint hot cocoa – starting Black Friday at dawn. Missing out on most of the Christmas season two years in a row just about quadrupled my excitement for Christmas 2018 (!!!!)

But more importantly, I’m excited to count down to the moment God became “God with us.” I grew up with this Christmas saying like most Christian kids, but that was about what it was – a nice Christmas saying. Which is why my accident did not happen on December 3rd by mistake. My family was suddenly living “God with us” literally hour by hour in December 2016, and I lived it hour by hour with them in December 2017. (If you missed last year, you can check it out here.) “God with us” has grown real to me in a dimension I literally can’t describe, and this December promises to be no different.

As many of you know I had the final evaluation of my traumatic brain injury (TBI) about a week ago. The testing fell on the day before Thanksgiving, which is just how things would work out for me 😉 A 5 hour test (with only 5 minute breaks) left me mentally decimated the next day…and the next…and the next…but Mom was sweet enough to run us over two plates filled with all those Thanksgiving fixings so Ivan and I could still have a Thanksgiving Date. “Romantic” is not the first word that comes to mind for the last Thursday in November, but it is also a word for which I’m ALWAYS thankful 🙂 ❤

And now…drumroll please…the TBI results!

God has blessed us with so much healing since that December 2 years ago, and the tests were an excellent witness. There were several categories in which I scored normally for my age, and I even scored an exceptionally high verbal IQ compared with other healthy, graduate-level twenty-five year olds. (My competitive side was jumping for joy on that one.)  There were also some lower scores, though. I still struggle with visuospatial skills, a minor attention deficit, and a significantly impaired processing speed. “Processing speed” is the energy I use to take in information through talking or reading, make sense of it, and then respond. Hopefully that explains why I still only do very short social visits. I promise I like hanging out with you…really! 😉

God with us. God didn’t give me back a perfect brain, but He gave me back a pretty remarkable one considering how damaged it was. God was with us to preserve my life, He was with us to promote my healing, and He’s with us now to move forward with my finished picture. Considering most specialist checkups will fall in or near December each year, I think I’ll always have an extra reminder to celebrate “God with us”…

For which I am very thankful!

“Is That Your Final Answer?”

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First cup of cocoa since the accident! 🙂

Happy Saturday, everyone! Yes indeed, that is my first cup of hot chocolate since the accident. Growing up I absorbed it incessantly during the holidays, but alas, my two past Thanksgivings/Christmases have been spent either in and out of the hospital or completely in the hospital. It feels SO good to be kicking off Thanksgiving week like the good ol’ times! 🙂 ❤

I actually have a new brain update to share this weekend, as I’m scheduled to do a final analysis of my traumatic brain injury on Tuesday. My family and I were told that it takes about two years for traumatic brain injuries to heal. Not all brain injuries heal completely, but the two year mark is when doctors decide which parts have healed completely and which might have residual deficits. I’ll be in Redwood City this Tuesday to do a 4-5 hour test with a neuropsychologist. It will take a week or two for them to evaluate the exam, and then we’ll meet back with the doctor to discuss my results.

It might be an odd one, but my request for this test is that my days leading up to it would be as “typical” as possible. Seizures and fatigue cause my mental abilities to fluctuate depending on what happens on a given day (or what’s happened during the past few days) so it would be good to be neither at my best nor at my worst on the testing day. This will give us the most accurate information. Thank you all for your prayers, and we look forward to sharing our results with you when we receive them.

I may not be about to become  millionaire, but I am looking forward to a final answer!

Surviving…a Latte!

 

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At least we got those holiday cups!

 

“Fall Backward” is everyone’s favorite Daylight Savings Time. Resetting clocks might be a pain, but who doesn’t enjoy that extra hour of sleep?

Ivan and me, apparently.

It’s Sunday morning. Our trusty iPhones switched automatically and woke us up at our traditional time, but on the updated schedule…which brings us to the first lame moment in my story. Instead of popping up unusually refreshed when Ivan’s alarm went off, we both groaned and drifted back to sleep. My alarm rang a few minutes later, but produced the same effect. I dragged myself to a seated position thirty minutes later, mumbling something about breakfast.

At this point we’d gotten an extra hour and a half of sleep but still felt like we were being dragged out of bed an indecent amount of early. You might think this is just normal “weekend mode” – except that it’s not. We never sleep in. (Yay for medication schedules!) The second lame moment in this story is all me. I started feeling funny right as I mumbled “muffins..breakfast…” As providence would have it, “breakfast” is a very powerful word in the mind of Ivan. Recently-baked pumpkin muffins motivated him to open his eyes, which he did…Just in time to watch me have a seizure. Poor Ivan was now very much awake without pumpkin muffins. I was even more not awake after a second seizure, but getting up was a must at this point. No medicine could happen until after muffins, and I needed muffins. Medicine, that is. 😉

I’m often unable to walk after a seizure episode, but Ivan guided a wobbly me to the table on my own two feet since I’d “only” had two seizures. He glanced at the clock after I sat down and then grabbed his phone. They were an hour different.  We’d just missed Daylight Savings Time! This brings us to the third lame point in our story. I’d just had fatigue seizures. Any time I have a seizure that’s not triggered by light, it’s been triggered by extreme tiredness. Apparently I was that tired – after sleeping in an hour and a half!

Last week had been an experimental week. We didn’t feel like I was strong enough for in-person visitors again, but I had a couple of necessary phone calls to make to Riverside. Two phone calls shouldn’t be a big deal, right? Both calls lasted longer than I expected, and I found myself exhausted on Tuesday and Thursday. I tried to proceed with my normal activities on the other days (I’m always surprised at just how far adrenaline, will-power, and a little caffeine can take you!) but I finally burned out on Saturday. I lounged around in pajamas feeling like I had the flu, which I knew I did not. What I did have was fatigue seizures the following morning. (Side note: Ivan’s excuse for being so tired on Sunday was less medical but still justifiable. He’d spent Saturday afternoon corralling Junior High kids and their parents for a school event, and then helped me around the house after he got home.)

Salvaging our Sunday became our shot at salvaging Ivan’s only day off that weekend. We ate all the pumpkin muffins, drank multiple pots of coffee throughout the morning, but only bolstered our status to half awake. Ivan ran across the street to Starbucks a little before 3 pm. At least it was a Bonus Stars day if you ordered lattes.

The fourth lame part of my story is mostly Ivan. Ivan is from another country, and is the master of making trans-Pacific flights sans jet lag. Case in point: In  June 2015 he touched down in LAX after a music tour in China, spent the night at a friend’s house, and then drove me up to see his parents the following day…in the Bay Area! It’s a seven hour drive. For the record, I did offer to drive part of the way so he could sleep, but he said “no” like a true gentleman. My true gentleman mustered even more energy to take me into San Francisco proper and propose a mere three days after our arrival.

All this to say, a measly one-hour time change should NOT take Ivan down along with it. My going down is a bit more plausible 😉

I’m sad to admit that church was not part of the Sunday we’d planned – or the Sunday we actually lived! The Lord’s admonition to “not neglect meeting together” (Heb. 10:25) is a command Ivan and I take very seriously. On the other hand, the Lord also created the human body and calls it the temple of the Holy Spirit. He instructs us to use His temple respectfully  (1 Corinthians 6:19), and we take that command seriously as well. Our church attendance remains an ongoing conversation, but for now we feel that keeping my body (specifically my brain) safe as much as possible is the right choice. We look forward to resuming our weekly visits as soon as we are able! In the meantime, we’re trying to make the best of our extended hiatus with all the sermons, worship music, etc., that are now easily accessible online. We’re grateful for God’s provision in that regard, but still realize that God wants good community as well as good content whenever possible – hence the importance of church.

But anyway…To everyone else who missed the boat last weekend…we’re right there with ya! We just hope you didn’t have to drink three servings of coffee and two shots of espresso before 3 pm.

Rest

Daisy sleeping
Even Daisy feels overwhelmed and needs to rest sometimes!

 

Sometimes November’s busyness feels like it’s trying to keep up with December’s. Grace and I were discussing my rehearsal and concert schedule for the next two months and we felt a bit overwhelmed looking at all the blocked out dates on our calendar. It was around that time that I read Psalm 127 and a verse jumped out at me:

“It is useless for you to work so hard
    from early morning until late at night,
anxiously working for food to eat;
    for God gives rest to his loved ones.”

Wow. I don’t know about you, but most of the time I feel like I am constantly expending energy toward this worthy cause or that, and trying to rest intermittently. To be clear, this verse doesn’t recommend giving up work. Work existed before sin came into the world, as part of God’s perfect plan for mankind. But this verse does admonish us to do away with working anxiously.

Rest comes from the Lord. He reminds us of this in so many ways throughout the Scriptures, using imagery of lying down in green meadows next to peaceful waters, the unburdening of a heavy yoke in exchange for a light one, or multiple promises of peace that transcends human understanding.

If I know all of this, why do I sometimes still feel anxious and resort to working feverishly? Maybe it’s because I fall under the illusion that everything depends on me–that if I fail everything will fall apart. Well, thank God, everything doesn’t depend on me. It doesn’t depend on you. God works in all things to bring goodness out of messiness, healing out of pain, life out of death.

Now if I could just remember that…

As we enter a season focused on thanksgiving, I hope we will all pause for a moment–or longer–and give thanks for the true, deep, soul-satisfying rest that only God can give.

Tumbled from Grace…

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All’s well that ends well 🙂

The Disney princess sweeps into an ornate ballroom, her prince an elegant step behind her. She does not tumble down a flight of stairs and into the stupefied guests below. Her prince does not fall in love with a fish. I wish someone had mentioned all this before the food tasting for our wedding.

Ivan and I stepped into the lobby of the Mission Inn, both salivating for the tasting banquet that August night. The Inn is a historic landmark and boasts the stunning chapel where Ronald and Nancy Reagan said their vows so many years ago. Said chapel is also completely booked year round. We only “got in” by choosing a Wednesday morning wedding slot between Christmas and New Years! Even the wedding food tastings run on a schedule, so we were delighted when our turn for the tasting banquet finally arrived. The word “gourmet” was embossed neatly on the reminder card in the mail.

So, returning to our evening. The banquet would begin after a cocktail hour for couples to nibble hors d’oeuvres and taste various wines, marking their choices on an elegantly-scrolled index card. Ivan and I dressed appropriately – well, appropriately for 22 year-olds on limited budgets – and arrived at what I estimated to be just the right amount of late. The other bridal guests eddied around cocktail tables and a mini bar, just outside the grand ballroom and right at the foot of a magnificent staircase.

Ivan and I proceeded through the lobby (I hoped people would notice that we were headed to the coveted tasting banquet downstairs) and paused for a moment at the top of the staircase so I could absorb the scene. One glance told me that we were probably 10 years younger than the rest of the bridal couples, and that our clothing insinuated we would be the kind of couple to take that Wednesday morning slot – or some other slot of the kind. I turned around and raised my eyebrows at Ivan. He seemed completely unaffected by the discrepancy, so I grinned and decided I could at least make a graceful entrance to compensate for our other deficiencies. I was suddenly very thankful that I’d worn my dressiest set of heels.

And then I fell. Not a wobble on the top step, not a stumble through the first couple of steps, not even a brief go-down-and-then-hop-up-like-nothing-happened fall. I fell and rolled. “My Prince” reached out to rescue me, but his arm was a tenth of a second too late. Twenty heads rotated in unison to greet me at the bottom with thunderous silence. We not only looked like babies. We acted like them, too!

I grasped for some some remnant of poise as Ivan set me on my feet, but I could only stumble to a corner table. My rarely-worn, three inch heels pinched mercilessly. A waiter tactfully offered crackers swirled with goat cheese and an olive, alleviating some of  our awkwardness, and then the doors to the banquet hall swung open before we had more time to cringe at our side show…

Our side show was soon swept under the table. The most gorgeous table-for-two I’d ever seen, that is. In a vintage lounge to the ballroom’s right was a buffet laden with entrees, and I’m sure all the ladies gained five pounds just glancing at the dessert table peeping from the corner. Ivan and I may never experience such a luxurious meal again during our lifetime. We knew we’d already selected a simple roast chicken with French green beans before attending the tasting, but that didn’t deter us from tasting all that might have been. 🙂  I pretended not to notice that my leg and foot were inflating under the table. The waiter pretended not to notice that we declined each of the three champagnes he offered. We weren’t underage, even if we looked it, but I did work at a Baptist school.

What I couldn’t pretend not to notice was Ivan beginning an affair. With a salmon. I’m sure my fall from grace earned me no brownie points, but I had never seen Ivan’s face glow with the same pure, undiluted joy as it did upon his first bite. I have not seen that radiance a second time. (The day I elicit that look from his eyes is the day I add “cum laude” to my Bachelor’s in Wifing.) The salmon was superb, but I confess that I was more fascinated with this new “Ivan in love” scenario than the fish.  Part of me wished we could add it to our reception menu just on his account. Part of me rejoiced that we could not. No bride wants her thunder stollen by a fish.

The “old Ivan” returned promptly after our plates vanished into the kitchen. “Old Ivan” was also tasked with assisting his limping fiancee back to the car. He executed this chivalric duty with customary affection, but I was suddenly aware of how needy and un-succulent I was compared to the fish. Hobbling through the lobby, one arm around Ivan’s neck, the other positioning my purse so that guests couldn’t see how black my leg had turned – that was not the Disney-esque exit I had planned. Our fairytale parody heightened as Ivan swept me off my feet (out of necessity) to carry me the rest of the way to the car. I hoped he wasn’t remembering the seductive salmon as he bore me in his arms. I did not ask, and I do not know.

What I do know is that my leg and foot healed from the tumble (my self-esteem healed more slowly), we had a gorgeous wedding, the roast chicken was delicious, and Ivan appears to have a more balanced relationship with salmon. Although we can’t be completely sure of that unless he faces the Mission Inn salmon a second time…

 

 

An Answer for Papa

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My last picture with Papa ❤ He was 88 and I was 18.

“Be good now, d’ya hear?” Papa always said goodbye like that: on the phone, at the airport, even when our car pulled out of his driveway that time we hazarded the 1200-mile drive to Savannah. He wanted me – wanted all his grandchildren – to “be good.” He’d wanted Mom and her siblings to be good, too. That was his way of taking care of everyone.

And I was good. I was good at school. I was good at music. I was good at college. I remember calling Papa every couple of weeks when I lived in New York, hearing how proud he sounded on the phone. He was even proud that I remembered his admonition to “be good and don’t go dating any of those Yankee boys.” Honestly, none of those Yankee boys asked me out, but somehow I never got around to telling him that part.

I’m glad Papa didn’t live to see the day being good didn’t work for me. I’m glad he doesn’t know that I waited for my crossing signal, looked both ways twice like a good girl. And almost died. I’m glad he doesn’t know that I’ve been good at therapy and good at following doctors’ order for almost two years…and I still have to spend most of my days resting at home. No, Papa. Being a good girl doesn’t always work out. I wish I knew why.

Now what? I’m only twenty-five. I don’t have the wisdom of a man who lived eighty-nine years – including through a stint as a ski trooper in WWII. I absolutely don’t have the wisdom of a book that’s still relevant 2,000 years after it was written. One life is not enough to suggest being good is the wrong answer.

Now what? I’m not alone. It would be comfortable to call myself a unicorn and believe everyone else who is good leads a happy life. But many good people lead far worse lives than mine. Still, even thousands of lives are not enough to prove being good is the wrong answer.

I’ve told you what I am, what I’m not, and what I don’t have. But I left something out. I left out God. That 2,000 year old book I mentioned has been read by millions of people, and what does it say? God is good, and God has answers when things aren’t good. God provides a way out of our mistakes (Jesus), when we aren’t good. It’s easy to imagine all those millions of people throwing their book against a wall when they read that God was “good” but didn’t always fix their broken lives. But there are a lot of copies that never got thrown. Mine didn’t. If you read long enough, you’ll hear Him say that because He is good, His plan is good, and His good answers will more than satisfy our “why’s” when He finally reveals them. Faith is waiting for something you don’t see yet. Anyone in my family can tell you I hate waiting for things – especially for anything involving Christmas or birthday presents. 😉

An answer to our “why-ings” would be a giant present for me, for you, and absolutely for the millions of sufferers who have gone before us. As usual, I hate waiting on my answer. As usual, our good God will give us the faith to keep waiting when we ask Him for it.

And as for Papa, I’m glad he’s not waiting on his answer any more ❤

 

Q&A Video 3: Bible, Then and Now

 

It’s Friday! And it’s time for that final video in our 3 part Q&A series! We’re wrapping up with two questions:

  1. Has the accident changed the way you read the Bible?
  2. Was Ivan and/or Grace thinking about going into ministry before the accident?

Thank you so much for watching (and,) as always, walking) with us!  Check back next week for a post in our good ol’ blog-writing format 🙂

 

 

Q&A Video 2: Moving to the Music of My Life

Happy Friday! I’m so excited to post the second video in our Q&A series for y’all! A question about teaching music lessons sparked this video…but we decided to share a tad more about music than just that 😉

If any of you have more questions that you’d like to see as part of the series, feel free to comment or message to let us know!

(And yes, questions can be about anything 😉 )

 

Q&A Video 1: God’s Presence

Good morning, everyone! We’re excited to share the first video in our Q&A series with you all! This clip responds to a question about how clearly we feel God’s presence in our lives.

If any of you have more questions that you’d like to see as part of the series, feel free to comment or message to let us know!

(And yes, questions can be about anything 😉 )