Testimony

Purim to Passover. Exodus and Esther

Passover ends tomorrow. I can feel a season of my life passing with it. A wintery storm dominated the last four months of our family’s life. Beginning on my daughter’s birthday, December 7th to tomorrow, April 7th, one disaster followed another.

On Clementine’s birthday, she and I went to visit her great-grandmother, my husband’s grandmother. That day we found out that Grandma Pat was not doing well. At 89 years old she was living independently, paying her own bills, had only recently stopped driving, and had control of her mental and physical faculties. But she wasn’t getting around well. And she wasn’t thinking very clearly. And she was very uncomfortable with her medical care. She had a deeply entrenched depression, and she begged her daughter to put her into hospice.

Dave and I began to visit more often and tried to take on a more helpful role. We began visiting near daily. On the 40th day of our visits, Grandma Pat had passed away. Home hospice had come in. Grandma Pat had relaxed into the care of strangers and on into eternity.

I had a very difficult time accepting this. It was maddening to me to watch her let go of her hope—literally maddening, I was worried about my mental health during this time! Later a hospital chaplain at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital told me, “It sounds like it has been difficult for you to let go of your vision for her life. You had a vision of joy and longevity for her, and that is not what happened.” This helped let go of her life and release her death.

The hospital chaplain— that’s one other story. The night after Grandma Pat’s passing, Clementine was in the emergency room. She had been vomiting frequently. We’d be back in the emergency room a few weeks later. Clementine had a golf ball sized lump on the left side of her neck. After a week of Clemmie not taking her antibiotics, and diagnoses from swollen lymph nodes to cat scratch fever to hematoma floated, her lump was inflamed and her pediatrician instructed us to rush her to Stanford’s ER and told us to pack a bag because she’d need surgery and to be admitted for a few days.

Well, she was admitted for a few days, for eight days in fact. She had a 4cm abscess that the surgeons kept calling “impressive.” That is code for “scary.” She had to go under anesthesia twice. That reduced me to a puddle of crying mommy. She had to have four different IVs put in and underwent twice daily blood draws— all under the restraining talents of seven adults, two parents, and special ultrasound tools. Whenever the lab sent just one person with a tray of tubes, we’d ask, “they didn’t tell you about her?” A sort of “you’re gunna need a bigger boat.”

After a few days, we were probably going to get to go home. They had removed the drain that had been TWO inches in her neck. Clemmie was riding around the cardiovascular unit in a red wagon when I noticed a growth on the right side of her neck. We had known there were four smaller abscesses on her right side. One could not be “needle” aspirated because it was behind her carotid artery. So we had to let it grow.

It has been growing! Clementine’s “owie lump” has taken us back up to Stanford every week since we were discharged. It is still really red and leaky sometimes, but our wonderful doctor has been needling it in her clinic and doing everything in her power to keep Clemmie out of the hospital. Dr. Ahmad is aware that Dave was recently diagnosed with testicular cancer, so she has been doing her best to help us minimize the stress of Clementine’s treatment.

When I say that Dr. Ahmad is aware Dave was diagnosed recently, I mean that he was diagnosed with cancer while we were admitted at the children’s hospital. The week after we got home from Stanford, I was back in Palo Alto for Dave to have surgery to remove the tumor. The next day I made the trek again for Clementine’s abscess to be aspirated in clinic. This means she was strapped into a straight jacket on a table in what looks like an optometrist office and stuck with a syringe. Once pus begins to come up into the syringe, the doctor hand presses out an entire vial of infection and then some.

The medical procedures are barely half of it. We took the child life specialist’s advice and bought Clemmie medical toys for play therapy. From playing with her, it seems that the most trauma has been sustained in administering her antibiotics at home. I completely agree with her! That has been quite traumatic for me as well!!

Dave has been recovering emotional and physically from his surgery. We are waiting for his follow-up appointment to find out what the next steps in his treatment will be. We also will need to take steps to treat and accommodate the degenerative arthritis in his lower back that was revealed in a CT scan that was looking for more cancer.

Talk about the angel of death! I will be happy to see him pass over! The intensity of these past four months, and the fear of loss, has completely overhauled my stress coping skills. The only coping skill I have had, is to trust God. This is not trust-fall trust, this is like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon leaping into ether trust.

That day we first took Clementine to the emergency room in Monterey was February 28th. This year that was the date of Purim. Purim is the holiday established in the book of Esther. It commemorates the uncovering of an evil plot to destroy God’s people. The result of the plot being uncovered is that God’s people were able to be armed to defend themselves against the coming attack.

Purim is a major Jewish holiday. The next major holiday in the Biblical calendar is “Pesach” or Passover. Passover lasts a week with a feast on the first sabbath and a feast on the second sabbath within that week. Tomorrow is the “2nd Passover” feast. I felt very strongly in the weeks leading up to Purim that we were in a season of exposure true to the theme of Esther.

It was! Illness that was fomenting in the dark was brought to light during Purim. It is painful to face six weeks of hospitals, anesthesia, surgeries, wage losses, fear of death! But hidden threats are far worse than those exposed. Praise God that he revealed the threat!

Physically and spiritually we are constantly under threat. You know, like, wash your hands ’cause bacteria, viruses, and parasites are basically continually plotting against us;) Passover celebrates protection. It reminds us of salvation and deliverance. My hope is that with the end of Passover coming, that I will in fact see that salvation and deliverance of the Lord.

This season between Purim and Passover has been unreal. I wouldn’t trade it though. As with all our trials, the Lord doesn’t just give us resources in tough times, He gives us Himself.

 

 

The Proverbs 31 Family

“She went into seclusion.” Luke 1:24

The highlights of the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth are undoubtedly their visitors: the angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary. With such spiritual mega-stars just dropping by, I hope Elizabeth kept her guest towels clean and pressed.

But of course, I want to look at the lowly and boring aspects of Elizabeth and Zechariah’s big moment in history– five months of seclusion and nine months of silence. Seclusion and silence.

I am a SAHM to a two year old child, so seclusion and silence are painfully familiar to me. Well– my house of course is not silent, but I do hear the deafening vacuum of my voice in the world getting sucked preemptively out of my lungs. Being at home without any agency to be in public, participate, contribute, and be measurably productive has been demoralizing for me.

The cabin fever I experience is due in part to a serious illness I suffered at age 23. It took about 7 years for me to recover. This brain illness– that I was diagnosed with just one year out of college– is scientifically studied as being triggered by “life goal achievement.” In other words, the closer I get to reaching what I’ve been working toward the more likely I am to relapse. This illness clipped my wings. It cooped me up and walled me in. Seclusion and silence have been persistent and painful themes in my adult life particularly in the areas of career and calling.

I have difficulty valuing my role as a mother and wife sometimes… or a lot of the time. There is a gap in my adult experience- working before the domesticated life- that gap aches. The heady, haughty accomplishments of a young woman in her twenties are just an imagination for me. I never got to be one of the obnoxious quasi-feminist marketing-freelance-event planning activists- from a 90’s RomCom, I guess. I often feel that I didn’t get to choose, and that as a mom my choices continue to be limited. I lack agency in my life. At least by perception, I do.

The story of Zechariah and Elizabeth is a story about how lacking agency, being secluded, and being silent can be the description of the prescription God has given you right now in preparation for what is upcoming in His kingdom and on His agenda. Luke 1-3 is the preparation period for Christ’s ministry. Those three chapters have a theme of preparation, and within that theme the atmosphere of preparation is lacking agency, being secluded, and being silent.

The first character we meet in the book of Luke is Zechariah. If there is anyone who should be prepared for a special assignment, it is Zechariah. He is a priest! We meet him in the Temple burning an incense offering on an altar. A righteous man, in ministry, ceremonially cleansed for special worship when the angel Gabriel tells him personally the assignment God has for Zechariah’s life. And he blows it. He speaks doubt. So he is put on mute until God’s work is done.

You’ll notice the other characters in this story do a lot of praising and prophesying. During this prep time for both John the Baptist and Jesus Christ negative speech was silenced and only praise and prophecy were allowed. Sometimes we need to be silenced for our own sake because if given a voice we would discredit and disqualify ourselves from the magnitude of service God is hiring us for.

Zechariah also had agency. He was the one who was given a command to do something. Elizabeth had no agency. Mary had no agency. Yet, they were able to quietly and calmly ponder what was happening, and be faithful in obedience. Sometimes having agency can be a stumbling block— particularly when the day’s mission is preparation.

That preparation was a calling unto itself. Jesus was about to be born! This was a delicate and simultaneously monumental moment. The web of political movement, spiritual warfare, and human rebellion was on a knife’s edge. There was no room for error. There was no room for disbelief. There was no room for Christians who feel the need to grandstand, or demand a well-lit platform for their spiritual giftings, or to be given a more interesting assignment in a more exotic locale. God did not need people of position for this job; or people who were eloquent, or opinionated, or understanding, wise, or insightfulful, nor did He need people who were talented, young or beautiful. He needed barren old Elizabeth because she was a believer. Sometimes it’s less about what we put out into the world and more about what we take in and “ponder in our heart” about God.

The call for that day was inaction. It was quiet receptiveness. It’s expression was praise, prayer, and prophecy. Elizabeth and Mary gathered together in seclusion to share their testimonies with each other. This built them up in faith and courage for what was to happen— their ministries would both end with the broken hearts of having martyred sons.

Now, I am definitely not proposing that the role of women in ministry is a silent, secluded submission. Zechariah was after all the one who had his speech taken away. Nor do I think “a woman’s ministry is her home, husband, and children.” I am saying, that if you feel that you do not have agency; if you feel isolated, shut down, blocked, frustrated; if you are a mom with young kids; if you are a person is who ill— or taking care of someone ill– a lack of human agency has never stopped God. You don’t need to be able-bodied for God to call you up for duty. You don’t need to build up your resume before God will call your name. If God wants you qualified, He’ll qualify you.

Women as a rule lack agency more than men do. Even powerful and wealthy women often lack agency both within and outside their homes. But in her lack of agency, Elizabeth, a faithful woman led her unbelieving husband into belief. He got in his own way—kind of like I do to myself! What he had didn’t help him. What Elizabeth didn’t have did help her, and preserved her family’s usefulness to the Lord in that appointed moment.

Our belief encourages others to believe. While we believe, the testimony we build inspires those in relationship with us to turn their eyes to the Lord also. In those moments where we feel completely imprisoned by our situation, our sickness, our disability, or our social disadvantage, we have to remember that our humble morsel of belief is the thing of value.

Our belief alone can be our gentle contribution for the colossal good of our community, our relationships, our partners, our family members, and as with Elizabeth, the world.

I don’t need to be able; I need to be willing (Luke 1:38.) Today, that willingness is honoring what I don’t have, and knowing that being busy for God is not as important as being ready for God.