Sunday, November 4, 2018

Everything happens for a reason (and other dumb sayings)

Toward the beginning of October, I'd said that I would write when little things prompted. Apparently, for the last three weeks, I've not been prompted by much. ;) Or, rather...the words didn't just flood my mind. 

This morning, though, the words came with this little headline: "Dear Christians, please stop saying everything happens for a reason...."

Yes, please do. 

Sometimes the reason things happen is because they are the consequences of a series of stupid decisions. Sometimes the reason things happen is because they are the consequences of a series of sacrificial choices in the moment in the hopes of a better outcome down the road - and then, they are. Sometimes the reason things happen is because of sin, brokenness, hurt, and death. Sometimes the reason things happen is because in this life, we will have trouble. (because of those aforementioned)

In this life, you will have trouble....

Jesus himself told us so. In this life, we will have trouble. For some reason, I thought that if God was really good, though, He would exempt me from this. If God were really good, if God really loved me - then, He would demonstrate his love for me in this: Jessica would not know suffering. 

So, when Dan would repeatedly get sick, and after every single judging trip come home sick and be sick for a week...and doctors just kept saying it was a sinus infection because he "worked in a petri dish" trust in God waivered. ...and by waiver, I mean, I put a strong-arm up to keep God from getting too close. I still practiced my faith, still sought him...but at a reasonable distance. 

Why? Why would I do that? was a natural response to fear. 

When we are afraid, we put up a defense. We build a wall. We hunker down. 

...but why were you afraid of God, Jessica? I thought you loved him. 

I thought I did, too. ...but, I think I was more in love with the idea of God than the reality. ...and, I put parameters on God's goodness. 

(and, to be honest, I'd been doing this since I was in college. My response to someone challenging my prayer request for a farmer-husband: 'what if God doesn't want that for you?' "Well, of course, he does - God loves me!" ...eventually, I worked through that one) 
Because I'd worked through one parameter, I thought I was done. I thought I'd entered into the pasture of my rest.

As we neared closer and closer to Dan's diagnosis, the fear was overwhelming. Not only were we about to have breakthrough - we were also moving 2000 miles - "home". The day that we received Dan's official diagnosis, the same day that our house was loaded onto a moving truck, I finally broke. In the car, driving to Dan's appointment (where we were late because of the whole house being packed up, thing), I broke. 

At Mayo, you can't be more than 10 minutes late. If you are, then, you are rescheduled. Well, we couldn't be rescheduled. We were leaving the state - that day - (by original plans) - and it was literally impossible that we would make it anywhere near a 10-minute mark. It would be at least 30. 

We were screwed. At that realization, (while driving), I yelled and remember hitting an empty, plastic water bottle against the steering wheel at the injustice of it all.

But - 

In that moment of sheer anger and fear, I yelled to God that HE ALONE had to fix this. He HAD to do something. This was absolutely impossible for us to remedy. I could do nothing else. Nothing. I could do nothing. I was powerless...He alone was the only one who could open a door - a window - anything. He alone was the only one who could take the wheel, and lead us forward.

take heart! I have overcome the world. 

Miraculously, when Dan called Mayo back (he had already called once when he was told about the ten-minute rule leading to Jessica's breakdown)...they told him that the doctor would see us whenever we arrived. Whenever - we - arrived. Whenever.

(Maybe I should have taken that as a sign things were serious?) 

In that moment, I knew that I had crossed over the threshold. The walls were broken down. The Light had come. God heard my prayer. God saw me. God was not distance. He was here. 
He was really for us. 

That was the moment that my life changed. Yes, I had been walking with God my whole life, really. Yes, at the age of 20, the Holy Spirit "turned on the light" and I knew that Jesus loved me - and I understood what it meant to "be in relationship" with him; to love him meant to live for him. I understood it. I lived it to the best of my ability. ...but, I had only let God in so far. 

There was still so much about him that I didn't understand - but could only be learned through entering more fully into His presence...which meant allowing Him to enter more fully into my heart. To come into the rooms that I didn't really want him to know about; to shine light into the corners. 
Being accepted has always been the deepest cry of my heart, and I was convinced that if Jesus were to really see the depths, there'd be no hope for me.

But, in that moment, I knew: Jesus was is my only hope.

In this world you will have trouble, but take heart! I have overcome the world.  (John 16:33)

It would be absolutely ridiculous at this point to say, "Well, Jessica, there is your reason. Dan got cancer so that you could come closer to Jesus. See? Everything does happen for a reason." What sort of backward world do you live in? What sort of cruel God is this? Who causes cancer just so we can get outside our petty selves for a moment to see the bigger picture? 


Cancer, evil, sickness, disease, death - these are not created by God who because of His nature of goodness can only create what aligns with himself. 

Instead, when we allow God into a situation, He can work those events together for good. (Romans 8:28) 

When we allow God into a situation, He can bring good from it - because He is all Goodness. 

When we allow God into the darkness, He always brings light - because He is Light. When we allow God in, He brings His full nature. 

When God enters into a situation, He redeems it. Because Jesus himself suffered, suffering can be redemptive for us...but, it is dependent upon us. We have been given free will, and we can choose in our moments of suffering, doubt, darkness, temptation, fear, grief - if we are going to allow God to cross the threshold or not. Even when He has entered, it is still entirely dependent upon us whether we show him around the place and let ourselves be seen, known, and accepted as we truly are - or whether we just keep him to the safe spaces.

God will not push you. He will wait in the sitting room for you. He will wait in the alley. He will throw rocks at your window. He will hold a boombox over his shoulders. He will let you rail against him and hit a water bottle on the steering wheel: but when you lift up your tearful eyes, and give him permission to come close - he will. 

While he might be thinking, "what took you so long?" He'll wait to say it until you know that you are loved, cared for, and held. ...and then whisper with a twinkle in his eyes, "I've always been here. I've just been waiting for your, 'yes.'" 

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Remembering - what grief feels like

Hindsight is 20/20. Only in the rear view can we really see what we just lived through. When we have emerged from the fog, we can begin to see the crisp lines, the hard edges become clearer - for before they were just blurred edges. The reality dulled by the grief and disbelief. 

Two years ago today, I posted this: 

At that time, I was nearing the 3-month mark. Three months of learning that Dan was dying, and then Dan dying, and then...walking through a fog trying to find life.

Last week, a friend and mentor celebrated her "retirement" from the university. Two years ago, our other full-time advisor announced his sudden retirement - and I was the only one for 500 undergrads. I was the only one for 500 undergrads with only a year at this place under my belt. I was the only one for 500 undergrads with only a year at this place, teaching 3 classes (one had 2 sections). I was the only one for 500 undergrads with only a year at this place, teaching 3 classes, and drowning in grief.

I didn't know I was drowning in grief. I thought I was doing pretty well, really. ...and I was. But I was also drowning. 

You don't know how exhausting just living is until you have had the life drained out of you...and no one to replenish. That's what that first year was like for me. I was in the deep end, treading water, doing my best to shout encouraging words to everybody else, holding the hands of the students who needed it, trying to keep them afloat...while slowing going down.

I didn't realize how much Dan's presence and his love had buoyed me. He helped anchor me. He rooted me. ...and now, where was I? who was I? 

Image may contain: textThese were the questions that sat at the back of my mind - though I didn't acknowledge them. I'm not even sure I heard them. If I did, I did my best to ignore them - to just get through this day - because dang it, I CAN. Susan didn't know how much just her presence in the office gave me a lift. It was a reminder that someone else was helping. Someone else could shoulder what I couldn't carry. I didn't actually have to do it alone.

If you know someone grieving, just be their community. Listen to them when they start to share their heart about what is burdening them. We, the grieving, each have "an impossible task" - the one thing that seems impossible to us. Listen to us describe it to you. Don't give us advice. Don't offer to carry it for us. Just listen. That's the thing - we who are grieving and have lost our person - we are far emptier than you can begin to fathom. 

We don't need advice. We need you to listen. Hear us - because we feel a bit like no one does. (Even when we know God hears us; we need a human, too) We need you to tell us that it is okay for us to take a grief day (if we are the type who need both permission and are trying to manage it all on our own)...and, we might just need you to say, "Let's go sit outside in the sunshine." "Let's go for a walk," if we haven't left the house in a while. 

Let's be still, together. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Thankful Thursday: lessons in the midst of illness

Well, I think it's about Day 11. Here are thoughts I've had over the last several days:

God did not cause this illness - but He is allowing it to happen. If he is allowing it, then it must be for my overall good. If it is for my good, I will accept it and seek Him to (understand) it, through it, and for it.

1) I am so glad that I took ANS 270 19 years ago and learned proper handwashing technique. Get the water nice and hot (but not scalding), wet your hands, lather up while singing Happy Birthday - or the ABCs - or counting to 20 (the long way "one-one thousand, two one-thousand"), rinse.

Since the only way to effectively prevent the spread of crypto is good hygiene practices, I'm glad that FC made this part of his class. ...and also that our group did such a horrible job in putting together or presentation on it that the shame for doing so poorly really engrained the concept to my long-term knowledge.

2) Fasting improves my spiritual faculties.
Huh. You'd think that might be part of a good spiritual practice or something....

See that? It's the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the clouds...

3) Spend as much time as you can in the sunshine.
Starting last Tuesday, I have spent time nearly every day just being in the sun. It's the one thing I miss when I'm in the office all day long.

4) Nigel is wise; listen to him.

5) If it is to be - it is not necessarily up to me. I do not have to do it all; I do not have to be it all.
It's okay for me to say no and disappoint others. Those who care about me will understand, and those who don't understand need to learn some adaptability lessons, and I get to teach them! :)

6) You can let others pick the grapes so the birds don't eat them.

At the start of last week, I still had 25% of my arbor abundant with grapes. I intended to pick them for a couple friends. ...finally by Friday, I had to recognize that I wasn't going to have the strength to do it - nor was it probably a good idea for me to pick them for other people. A friend and her mom did come pick grapes - but they had been mostly picked over by the birds. (this lesson also relates to #5)

7) Getting stressed about not being at work is not going to help me get better.
This relates back to #5.
Last week and this week was supposed to be "resume review" week for my class of 60 students. I honestly love this time, but it takes a lot out of me - even when healthy - because it's 15 minute appointments x 60. This year, I thought I'd be smart and spread it out over 2 weeks. It was smart...but, then crypto.  On Monday, I was really getting worried about how I could implement this part of the course without being there.

8) My best ideas come from prayer. 
So, on Monday, as I was upset about still being sick, and concerned about "how to do it all without being there" - I prayed about it. ...and God showed me this great idea to share the burden, but also empower students to be critical and support each other. While I miss out on the opportunity of getting to know my students individually, they can still get the support they need and we can still progress forward.

9) I am basically a cat.
AKA - give your body the rest it needs. See post #3 (being in the sunshine) plus I have taken a nap every day. Each afternoon, I have taken a nap. I'm a napper that needs to be covered up. I love wrapping up in a blanket and sleeping.

10) Essential oils are amazing. Valor, Lavender, Peace & Calming, Stress Away, DiGize...they are really helping buoy me.

11) My circle! 
Leslie (my roommate) has ran errands for the past two weeks picking up loaves of bread, rice, bottled water, coconut water, bananas. Tuesday, I was reaching a breaking point - running out of foods, tired of the BRAT diet for the past week...yesterday, Leslie went to Kroger and bought me some exotic foods: Gingerberry Kombucha (from Synergy - I cannot get enough of the BUBBBLES), English muffins instead of bread, Refresh tea (because Zen was out) and even though it's $4.69: Sweet & Spicy GoodEarth tea (my favorite!). 

I replaced my toothbrush. Well, Leslie did and she picked out a FANCY one. This is the old one. Take no chances.

Dean & Linda have delivered homemade applesauce (I only had one bag from my mom) and chicken noodle soup. ...and some saltines and Vernor's ginger ale yesterday (again, I needed to "spice it up"). ...and maybe some chicken & dumplings soon....

Alex & Charles mowed my lawn on Tuesday in less than 45 minutes. It takes me 2 hours to push mow it; they brought in their rider and took care of business. SO thankful that I no longer have to worry about being the blight in the neighborhood.

Tim fixed my sink and garbage disposal. ...I knew that the disposal wasn't working well...but I didn't realize that the sink was leaking. Saturday morning I discovered that the sink had leaked, water was sitting in a bag of replacement towels - which were now covered in mold...and promptly disposed of.
But now it's all better.

12) Video chats:  My dad helped me fix my toilet on Saturday night (seriously, how many plumbing issues can you discover in a day?) using Facebook video messenger. I think that sucker had been running for a month (resulting in a larger water bill) - and now it's not. Plus, having a broken toilet and cryptosporidium do NOT go together.

13) Joy is a non-negotiable. You can find it every day in every place in every circumstance.
Do not stop until you find it. It's your birthright.

This is my favorite view. My backyard is huge...but I just love the REST that this picture evokes.

Monday, September 17, 2018

How to get a week off in the middle of the semester (without even trying)

I've enjoyed a restful week-off from work.

Of course, I have spent that week dehydrated, chilled, fevered, with body aches and other things (to be discreet). A week ago at this time, I had my first sign of illness. Three hours later, I was sick again. Two hours later, again. This was on repeat for the next 2 days. Next, bring in the nausea. Then the abdominal pain and cramps.

Monday night, my mom asked if I had a fever. I hadn't thought to check, but I wouldn't be surprised since my body was wracked with chills. I took my temperature on Monday night, and it read 100.1. Ok. I had a fever.

After Monday night repeated Sunday night, I googled "diarrhea + fever." The first thing that came up was salmonella. I remembered my aunt Nancy spending time in the hospital with that. I called my doctor's office and had an appointment at 10:30. After ordering a stool sample (ugh. I die.), she gave me a prescription for salmonella - Ciproflaxicin. (or something like that)

I seem to remember hearing about that drug being in a class of drugs with nasty side effects. I google it. Sure enough, this is in a class of drugs (one which Dan took when he had pneumonia) that can cause spontaneous tendon rupture. in the Achilles tendon. I already have some tendinitis in my Achilles, so...I think I'll hold off on that till I get a positive test result.

By Wednesday morning, I'm starting to feel just a bit better. I take a shower - but have to sit down 3 times as I nearly black-out. But my whole back aches, my neck hurts. I'm finally able to check email. I spend the afternoon sitting in the sun, and that seemed to help.

Thursday, I'm feeling better enough to think that I should probably go teach my class. I get to work and feel a bit of a tightness in my chest. I walk to my classroom - on the far end of Engineering (which is connected to Anthony), and I can barely make it. I realize I've got to shorten the day back. I do not have the strength. (However, I end up spending the whole day at the office trying to finish up all those nagging to do's - like write 2 vet school recommendation letters and read through some VMCAS essays). While in the office, I get a phone call.

It's the Ingham County Public Health Nurse. I've tested positive for cryptosporidium. I spend the next 45 minutes learning just what in the world cryptosporidium is. Then, I have to recount all the places I have shopped for groceries, purchased food, eaten food in the last 2 weeks. For the restaurants, I have to remember what I ordered. For the 3 days prior to Sunday, I have to recount what I ate for each meal. I learn that I need at least a 48-hours "incident free" before I return to work. Oops.

So. Cryptosporidium is a parasite/protozoa that happens to be resistant to bleach...and can be quite a little nasty bugger. I'll let you do your own research about it. Turns out 98% of cases go it's quite easy to get sick with it when people don't know they're sick!

Remember that antibiotic I was prescribed? Well, it doesn't touch crypto - so, good thing I didn't start taking it. ...even when the medical assistant at the doctor's office tried to cajole me into taking it after the crypto test came back positive. Thank God I have a brain.

Each day, I continue to feel more improvements. I still have yet to get 24-hours d-free, let alone 48.
Let me tell you, I have been learning A LOT in my down time about rest, God, my own abilities...and the writing part of me has been back in action. It's amazing what a lack of food in your body does for clarity! ;)

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Today my dad turns 62. In normal fashion, I have not put his card in the mail yet. So, he gets something even better: a blog in his honor!

Going through my pictures, I realized that my dad and I don't take selfies very often. Instead, I'll share some pictures of my dad's handiwork. My dad is one of the hardest working people I know. I would imagine that "Achiever" is one of his CliftonStrengths because he is one of the most productive people. He is always working on a project. He exhausts me. :)

When he comes to visit, he works tirelessly on projects. Don't mishear me - I LOVE that he does all of these things for me because...otherwise they wouldn't get done. But once in a while I think, wouldn't it be fun if you came to Michigan and we just went somewhere? Like, we actually vacationed? :)

When I moved into my new house, he spent the entire weekend learning to install flooring. Blog about Dad :)

When I had a small surgery this summer, he spent the entire weekend cleaning up my yard.
Friday: he cut down a veritable forest growing in the backyard and destroyed the whistlepigs' portal to Narnia

Bye-bye whistle pigs! or as Leslie would say, "Get outta here, whistlepigs!"

Saturday: he repaired my grape arbor

Sunday: he built shelves in my little storage shed and then cleaned out my gutters

The man is a work-horse, and I love him for it.

My dad is also the champion of bringing my ideas to life. When I said that I wanted to have  make my wine-bottle/candle-holder centerpieces, he didn't say, "That'll be a lot of work. What a dumb idea. Why don't you just use regular votive cups?" He found out how to cut glass and places that sold glass cutters in Michigan. (Every time I drive by Delphi Glass on Jolly Road, I think - 'Hey! That's where Dad bought our glass cutter!') THEN, he and I spent the entire weekend making the candle-holders. ...and it is one of my most cherished memories from the wedding-planning process.

The other idea my dad brought to life was our dance floor for the wedding. I didn't want to spend precious time during the reception tearing down tables for a dance floor. Instead, why not use the stage as the dance floor? The stage is better for dancing anyway. Then, I said, I would like there to be twinkle lights up over the dance floor. My mother immediately dismissed the idea and tried to talk me into something new. But not my dad!

I think my dad must also have the Restorative talent - because he so great at meeting a challenge. Rather than think a thing impossible, he brainstorms ideas and ways to bring it to reality. I know that if my dad says a thing cannot be done - then, it probably really can't be done.

Image may contain: 2 people, people dancing, people standing and wedding

There are so many other times that I have spoken of the gift that my dad is to me. He speaks truth to my heart when I need it most. There was that one time he ran for office, and I wrote about his character and impact upon me.

Dad, I just love you so much. I am eternally grateful that you have been my dad, and I am your daughter. Your efforts in life bear much fruit in the lives of those you love and serve. May you be filled to overflowing by the Holy Spirit so that grace, peace, and good works abound to the glory of our Heavenly Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Here's some earthly bounty wrought by your arbor:

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Back to School...

I'm being reminded from various factions that I haven't posted in quite awhile. To be honest, while I have some things to share, sure...I haven't quite felt the push to write - or to share it on this blog. I think part of this is influenced by the fact that while I have always been the sole writer, this was our space...and I feel as though in my life I am emerging from the shadow of death, ready to embrace "the next."

For the first school year since Dan died, I am ready. Sure, my syllabus is still "under construction" and the D2L site isn't as pretty as I want it. But, I am ready. I am excited. Genuinely excited and looking forward to this year. Ready to build connections with students and see them soar.

During my first lecture of each year, I give a little personal background to my students by answering the question "how did I get here?" Then, I have them share with a partner their story of getting here. During those first three semesters, this has been my little plea to say, "please be gentle with me, students," my reason for being here is a little muddled right now. I am here because Dan was, and thus, I know of no other place to be.

As I have emerged from the shadow of death and grief, I can say that I am choosing to be here - because Dan was, yes; because of everything this department and school and place meant to him, yes - but also now because of what it means to me. I am excited to work with the people in my office suite and department. They inspire me. I am excited to work with my students to see them grow in the way that they have been designed and encourage that.

So, in the last two days, I've toyed with the fact that maybe I don't have to drop the "widow bomb" on the first day of class. Maybe I can just be ... me. Just be a bubbly, effervescent Jessica whose excited.

The swing of life as a widow doesn't mean that not wanting to share with students means I'm leaving behind Dan, or shamed of that part of my life, or I have forgotten. These are impossible things. It just means the death isn't the prominent thing - the death of Dan doesn't define me; I no longer have to be defined by the separation.

Instead...maybe, I can focus on the presence of Dan that has always been my comfort.

As I drove into work today, I listened to some praise and worship. There was a common theme in those songs: death. The destruction of death.

As I drove, I thought about the new school year. Wow! Three years are completed already? That doesn't seem possible. Starting year 4? Wow. That doesn't seem possible. ...and then, I thought that I have now had twice as many years at MSU without Dan than I had with him.

...and that doesn't seem possible, either.

Two years?

Two years that he hasn't been here.

How can that be?

Sometimes our life together feels like a dream. Like it was so long ago...and that must be some type of a grace God gives us, so we can focus on today. But, sometimes - I am given the grace to remember those school days together. Our drives into work along Grand River - and how can that have been three years ago, now? How have I survived two years without him, and am now starting my third?

So, I wept.

and wept.

and wept.

I can grieve for the life that I do not have, so that I am ready to embrace the life that I do have.

MSU, we love thy shadows....

Ah, Daniel Dean...pray for us.

DK Forever.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Coming full circle...

Eight years ago, June 30, 2010, my grandfather, Joseph M. Kremer breathed his last. My grandpa was my hero, an idol, one of the greats...and I couldn't imagine life without him. ...and without knowing it, eight years ago, I entered into this tug-of-war in my heart - this niggling question of doubt: how can God be good if we die?

I didn't realize it at the time because I knew the answer. I knew the right answer based on my years of study and attentiveness: God is good. Period. End of statement. What is there to question?

Because, up until that point in my life I had known no other reality than goodness. I hadn't really endured suffering or hardship. Nor had I experienced love, really. I mean, yes, I knew the unconditional love of my parents and family; I knew phileo love - the constancy of friends... but not the depth of love that causes you to realize that you can't imagine a moment where you didn't love this person...where your soul knew a level of completion that it hadn't before.

When Grandpa Joe (affectionately known as Grandpa McGillicuddy to his grandkids) died...his was the first loss that I really felt. My grandpa had been sick for a while; his kidneys first started to fail three years earlier. For three years, his body battled the slow process of shutting down - and my grandmother, the angel that she is, allowed no one else to care for him. (eventually of course there were nurses that had to come in, but up until the last few weeks, she was adamant that he would be home)

He had a stroke (I think; now the details are becoming fuzzy to me) a few weeks before he died. At that point, he moved into a nursing home. I visited him with my aunt Mary, cousin Amy, and Grandma, after my cousin Cynthia's wedding. He was alert and attentive. Like he was. ...and I think it was that week that the reality of losing him started to sink in for me. I remember sobbing in Dan's basement as the reality that a man like this was a gem; a rare treasure; and that this earth would lose something profound when we lost him.

To live such a life, right?

To live such a life that the world notices.
...that a void is left not only in the lives of those that loved you - but in the world itself.
...that a space is created asking another to take up the cross of courage and compassion, to step into this life of truly living and serving and loving others.

I wouldn't say that he loved with abandon - but rather, with reason. He considered. He contemplated. He sorted through a complex issue with logic - and compassion. He then communicated through wit and humor, endearing those to his side - or, at least to listen and to consider. His faith was the foundation of his life, creating an ordered discipline and understanding of the world. His love of family was placed securely upon that foundation: ordering his choices and tempering justice with compassion.

It is through reflecting on his life that I start to see the lesson he modeled to me: love justice, seek mercy, and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8) I think of his last letter to me where he said, "we were put into this world to help one another." He taught me to not only believe in the good of the other person, but more importantly to be the good.


So, yes, his loss was profound, but at the time, I didn't realize the question planted in my heart. For as he left this world, then Dan left Iowa for Arizona - and my life speed started to ramp up. I decided to join the Catholic church, and during that year of formation sensed my grandpa's pleasure at this new path I was embarking on my mountainous journey toward God.

During RCIA, I remember doing a visioning prayer exercise where we were envisioning a wall around a palace...and the palace was supposed to be heaven and what we were picturing was where we were, in our hearts/belief, at that moment in relation to God/our understanding of death, etc. (I obviously am not remembering all the details perfectly) BUT - I do remember that for me, it was like a bright, autumn day, the fields surrounding the place were golden, ready for harvest...but there was no entrance. I was on the outside of that wall, with no way to get in.

For; if-she-is-anything-she-is-a-good-Christian - that was a really startling revelation. And, like any good respondent, upon realizing this, I promptly threw it away - paying it no mind - it wasn't in line with the truth. ...and I am in line with the truth.

So, I went on with my life. Joining the church. Getting married. Moving to Arizona. Starting my married life. Moving forward.

...but that seed...that fear of death...that separation...continued to grow/fester.

...and then Dan was diagnosed with cancer.

In a way, the diagnosis amplified the fear, yes. ...but, it also steeled my resistance to believing that cancer would win. The barrier that fear had created was melting in my heart with every Rosary that I prayed - as I focused on the truth of who Jesus is, and focused on His works. I am sure that Mary was fervently praying for me to not only know, but to fully love her son not only through this trial, but beyond.

I have said it before that I never thought Dan could die. I mean it. I was afraid, of course, that he would - but I truly believed that if God was good, Dan would not die. How could he? How could He? How could He bring me to this man, and cause him to love me, and give us this life together - only for it to be snatched away? How could that be good? How, in a thousand lifetimes, could that be considered good?

It would seem, of course, that God had more lessons to teach me.

A lesson that, I think, both my grandpa and Dan knew to be true, through their years of suffering in the body: God's goodness is bigger - than death - than life - than our present circumstance (no matter how good or bad). God's goodness is more than we can even start to comprehend. His goodness is LIFE. His goodness is LOVE.  His goodness is the very reality of His presence to us - even in our present suffering.

In those weeks after Dan's death, as I attended Mass and prayed the Rosary, God so simply laid it out there: our dying defeats death. It completes the one circle, while starting another.

Most authors/grief counselors will impress upon the truth that grief is not linear. You do not progress in stages - like ascending or descending stairs: instead, it is a spiral. You are experiencing many things as you progress upward (or downward depending on whether you are healing or festering) - and you will circle back to different stages and emotions - and even memories - as you progress. ...and, I think this is also true of our life: we are spiral. Moving upward or downward...and our dying is not the end of our spiral, but a gateway to the next.

Now, let me say this: Jesus' death is the ultimate dying that has defeated death. I am not saying that we are mini-Christs or anything like that. His death is what defeated sin, and therefore eternal death - while opening up the gateway to eternal life. Only Jesus. Likewise, through Him, through our living of this life and carrying our cross: doing the right, loving goodness, and walking humbly with our God, does our dying defeat the cycle of sin/death.

Early on after Dan's death, I remember coming to Mass with the question: "but why death, Lord?" As I prayed the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary that day, the 4th mystery - where Mary is assumed into heaven (thereby not dying), I knew why we, though Christians and thus "saved" from death, experienced death. Because of sin. Although, we have been washed in the waters of baptism, as we walk through this life, we are still battling sin and temptation. Though we are safe in the grasp of our Father, the enemy is still prowling about like a roaring lion trying to ensnare us, to entrap us, to get us to throw up our hands and not do the right, love goodness, or walk humbly with our God - anything to get us to be ineffective and not bear fruit.  ...and our death is actually like a final thrust of the sword into his heart. A reminder to him that he cannot - and will not - win...and though a void be left, by the grace of God, more will be coming to fill our place.

If you have never read the Book of Wisdom, I highly encourage you to set aside some time and read the first 5 chapters. You will be blest.

Reading 1WISDOM 1:13-15; 2:23-24; 3:1-4

God did not make death,
nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.
For he fashioned all things that they might have being;
and the creatures of the world are wholesome,
and there is not a destructive drug among them
nor any domain of the netherworld on earth,
for justice is undying.
For God formed man to be imperishable;
the image of his own nature he made him.
But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world,
and they who belong to his company experience it.
But the souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; 
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Power of Yes

The greatest story of my life began with a fairly simply response: "Sure, why not?"

Or, in the words of the great Molly Reel/Jessica Rohrig Costa Rica Spring Break Study Abroad theme: Porque no?

About a week-ish prior to April 29, 2008, my favorite student from my student teaching experience sent me a Facebook chat: was I interested in coming to his graduation party? 

Um...sure! Why not? 

He was graduating from Iowa State now and a member of the Alpha Gamma Ro fraternity. The brothers were having their graduation party at Outlaws, the country bar of Ames. I knew a couple of the guys from student teaching, and it's true - they were my favorites. 

Only I had never been to a college graduation party. Really. For whatever reason, I had never been to one when I was an undergrad...and hadn't since. Besides wanting to see Matt Ramaeker, I was excited to go spend some time with my brother's girlfriend, Jessica. (Yes, there are 2 Jessicas in this story and also 2 Matts. Try to keep up.) In fact, knowing that I could go with Jessica and that she was a popular person made me feel comfortable with going to my first graduation party, first fraternity graduation party - as a 28-year-old.

As the days came closer, it became clear that another reason for attending the party was that I could finally meet this guy that Jessica wanted to set me up with. This friend of my brother's had befriended me on Facebook a few months earlier, and since that point, he became the go-to "well, we could see what this guy is up to tonight" if ever I lamented my singleness. A bit exasperated with the teasing, I reached the, "I haven't even met the guy!" point - and we decided this party could be the opportune time. Kyle was a fraternity brother, a first-year grad student, and would no doubt be at the party. 

Great. Let's finally get this over with.

The night of the party, Jessica contacted me to find out if I really wanted to go. "Yes!" 
She had started to come down with a bit of a cold...but was willing to go if I really wanted. I said, "Yes!" and compromised with a "we can go early and leave early - so you won't be out late - plus I have a campus visit tomorrow, so I can't be out late anyway." After all, I was 28 and had a real job now for 5 years. 

I conveniently lived within walking distance of Outlaws and the two Jessicas set out. As we neared Outlaws, Jessica turned to me and asked if I had the invites. 


Yeah, we need invites to get it.

Well, Matt invited me. 

But, do you have invites?'ll be fine, I said with this air of confidence that had I possessed 7 years earlier this wouldn't have been my first college-graduation party. 

We walked right up to those "bouncers" who checked IDs and asked for our invites, and I smiled and said, "We don't have invites, but Matt Ramaeker invited me. I'm his former teacher," and we just walked on by. Jedi-mind trick complete. 

The first "Fiat" of this story has been locked into place. Eternal thanks to Jessica for being willing to go out on a Tuesday night with a bit of a cold and to Matt Ramaeker for that invitation, and thinking me cool enough to keep me updated on his life.

Since we were early, the party hadn't really gotten into full swing - which may have helped that Jedi-mind trick thing. Matt was nowhere to be seen, so now is where Jessica as wing-woman became helpful because girl knew people. I got to stand around near her and jump into conversation.

Cue Dan Kiesling's entrance. 

About 10 pm, a guy walks up to Jessica (not me) and starts chatting. This Jessica (me) listens and chimes in with a clever anecdote. Dan Kiesling turns to me, initiates a handshake, and says, "I'm sorry; have we met?" 

Only in one of your better dreams.

No, I obviously didn't say that - girlfriend is not that clever. I introduced myself - Dan discovered I was Matt Rohrig's sister - then that I was Matt Rohrig's older sister - and then kept pressing to discover when I graduated high school (like I wasn't already conscious of being 6 years older than most of these "kids") - and when I finally admitted my age ("her ladyship can hardly expect me to own it what with three younger sisters all out in society") - he responded with, "I graduated in 2000! You're 28! I'm 26." 

Oh. Someone my age. Okay...

The rest, as they say, is history. 

Dan had come to the party that night with the friend Jessica had wanted me to meet. I never met him that night. When we learned that Dan had come with Kyle, Jessica suggested that Dan go get him and bring him over. Dan, not one to share the spotlight, or lose the chance to stop talking with this girl with a pretty smile (me), said, "If you want to talk to him, go get him!" (SO Dan)

Ten years ago tonight. Ten years ago tonight at this very hour. Ten years ago tonight at this very hour I was engaged in one of my favorite conversations of my life. I remembered every detail, every word for days - months - years. I loved talking to him. I didn't want to our conversation to end...and neither did he - since he asked me out on a date that very night. The first time that a guy had asked me out that immediately. 

I love to live in the light of possibility. That is what I think is so beautiful in the "Fiat" - Mary's yes - the yes of faith. "Let it be done to be according to your Word" indicates not just a trust but a firm belief in the creative, life-giving, loving kindness, purpose-fulfilling power that infuses God's will. This belief that God is for us. That God's intention for us is the discovery of our full-self, fully infused with himself - is our best life. 

At the moment in my life when I met Dan, I was entering that place. Walking in faith - knowing that God created me for a purpose and that the desire of my heart was a good desire - one He'd placed in me - and that the One who calls me is faithful, that he would do it. This "knowing" gave me that confidence to "Jedi mind trick" the bouncers...not that I knew that I'd meet my husband that night..but I knew that eventually I would. ...and I knew there was potential for something that night.

Ten years have passed since I met Dan Kiesling and my life is far different that I would have imagined it to be. ...and I am glad. I am SO. GLAD. that I met Dan Kiesling that night. I am so glad that I said, "sure why not?" I am so glad that he, too, had to give a fiat - to step out in faith to enter into a committed relationship with a girl like me. Different from any girl he'd dated before, and the fulfillment of prayers. Just like he was for me. 

To me, Dan was the embodiment of the willingness to say yes. Sure, why not? Yes, get the shoes, honey. :) 

The song, "So Will I" (Hillsong United) has been on repeat in my mind/heart's playlist lately. This song is the essence of "Fiat" - as you speak, if creation sings your praises: so will I. I love how each stanza emphasizes the importance of God speaking life into being, His purpose in each aspect of creation, and our natural response to this wonder and awe. So will I - echoes a thought of "who am I to not?" 

I am writing this memory today not to rehash old memories nor to cling to the past...but to honor this moment that changed my life - to honor the God who willed it to existence. 

If you left the grave behind you, so will I
I can see your heart in everything you've done,
Every part designed in a work of art called love,
If you gladly chose surrender, so will I.

I don't know what my future holds, but I know that I live in the light of possibilities - because I choose to surrender to the God of the Universe who fills all things in every way. Life lived in Him is full of the infinite in every ordinary moment. If Mary lived in Fiat, so will I. 

...and so today, on the tenth anniversary of meeting Dan Kiesling, we celebrated the next generation of Kiesling Fiats: Henry's first communion. 

Tim (Dan's brother), Henry and me

Remember: at the heart of every Fiat is love. 
Let us live in love, walk in love, and be in love. 

If we can learn anything from Dan Kiesling, it is this: life is worth living each moment. So say Yes! Do the thing you long to do. Do the thing you don't normally do. Go out on a weeknight. Go to the graduation party. Ask the girl out. Kiss her. You don't know the outcome? Who cares? Do the thing! Live in this moment - because this is what you have, right now! Stay in the castle. Buy the shoes. Starch your jeans. Go to work. Do your best job. Eat the dessert. Lick the beaters. Enjoy the whiskey.

Clear eyes; full hearts; can't lose.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Healing a Wounded Heart: the lie of less than

A week ago, God brought about an awesome healing in my heart. He brought up a wound that I have been sheltering for years - and brought me through the steps to finally forgive.

I've always been "a bigger kid." For those of you that don't know the code, that means overweight. I've pretty much always been overweight. The first time that someone called me "fat" was in first grade (two times, actually) - once by Todd Killion who said that "I needed to lose my baby fat," and once by Sarah Reidel, who was fat herself, so when she said, "You're fat, you know that?" I thought, "So are you - so, what's your point?" (I think I was more indignant than wounded - like what kind of logic is that?)

Unfortunately, I never did grow out of my baby fat. I guess it goes back to that prophecy I uttered to my aunt Barbara at the age of 3.5: "My mom doesn't make me eat broccoli. My mom lets me eat peanut butter."
(please read that with every ounce of dramatic emphasis you know 3-year-old - and yes, 38-year-old Jessica would have announced that decree. More emphasis on the My than the mom - like my mom is better than yours) forward to those ever-formative middle school years. Those years when we girls so desperately need words of Truth spoken over us...when we seek our identities more in what our peers think of us than the rest of the world...when "nobody knows anything" except our peers - who in reality don't know anything. :)

In middle school, there was one person in particular who made it his mission to let me know just how undesirable I was. ...and I believed him. I distinctly remember the first time he called me "Fat Ass." We were in line at the lunchroom, and I think we'd actually just the weekend before been at this county-wide dance and for the first time had a fun time together (the group of us) it's like that moment where you have this glimmer of hope that, like, things can be different now. We can be friends. ...and then, he looked at me, and said, "You're a real fat ass, you know that?"


No? I don't know. Am I? I mean, I'm afraid that I am and if you're saying that I am, then I guess so.
...and it continued. That wasn't the only time he called me that.

...and then there was the time that he made fun of my jeans being too short in 8th grade - but they were my only pair of black jeans and I knew when I put them on that they were really short, but I didn't have any other jeans to wear, so I had to wear them, and maybe no one would notice anyway.
...nope. not the case. of course the person who knows right where to sling those flaming arrows wasn't going to miss this opportunity for ridicule.

(and of course, I wore those jeans again. and of course, I got the arrow again)

And I've never liked that person since.

Until last Wednesday, I didn't really think this was an issue. I thought I'd "gotten over it." Over the years, I've really grown to be grounded in my worth in Christ, and in who I am. ...I thought.... :)

...but what I didn't realize was how much I ingested those words and took them to heart. I bought the lie that I was "less than." Less than desirable. Less than pretty. Less than popular. Less than him - and all the people in his circle.

And for 25 years that wound has been festering: This "less than" mindset causing me to feel a need to prove myself "better than" in those realms that I could control. If I can't be pretty, then I can be smart. If I can't be popular, then I can be involved. If I can't be in the circle, then I can create my own. If I was ever to be desirable, then a man would have to tell me - because I just wasn't - and I couldn't be...

...and until last Wednesday, I didn't even realize the full extent of the poison. I knew I struggled with my body image. I knew I struggled with loving myself - even when I did "lose all my weight" three years ago. I could never see myself differently, even 50 pounds lighter. I knew that I can a bit judge-y. I didn't know why; I just thought something was wrong with me.

Something was wrong with me. I was entangled by a lie. A lie that I was, and would forever be, "less than."

Wednesday morning, God just tapped me on my heart - asking, remember that time? That's where this started. Let's go back there.

I knelt down on my knees (which I never do at home), and God took me back to that time in the lunchroom hallway. I heard those words again, piercing my heart. ...and in that moment frozen in time, I said to God, "I don't know what to say here. I don't know how to make this better. I don't know what the Truth is. You have to tell me. I don't know it."

And I began to hear God describe me, my body - "you know, those are your Grandma Georgia's hips and thighs...your Grandma Ellen's short-waist.... I know you love your heritage; these I gave to you. If I gave these to you, who are you - who is anyone? - to say that they are not good. I gave them to you. ...and I have set my Spirit upon you; I have chosen this body as my temple. Your body, I have chosen as a temple. My temple. You are my temple. I chose you. I chose you. You are enough. You. are. enough."

I just let those words wash over me; my tears washing over that wounded heart.

...and as I allowed that wound to be bound up by the Spirit of God, the only Healer...I realized that wound kept me from being a true friend to some people...that I had felt "less than" a number of people from high school, and I needed to confess that spirit of insecurity that kept me in a battle of less than/better than comparison.

I also didn't realize how much I hated him. ...and I mean it; I hated him. The way he made me feel...I let that wound poison my heart and mind.
...and suddenly, I could forgive him. I don't hate him, anymore. I forgive him. I forgive him. I forgive him for all of the words he spoke and the way he made me feel. I don't want to be bound by those things anymore.

I just....I had no idea how much that incident had wounded me - and how much that wound tainted the way I viewed myself and others. ...that I was keeping this silent tally of "the pretty people" vs. me. ...that I had accepted somewhere deep down that one of my defining characteristics is being fat.

One of the things I feel freed from is that now I can actually choose to be healthy. I can actually choose to do what is best for my body. I think that somewhere, deep down, I felt bound to be destined to self-loathing forever...always keeping that tally sheet of "less than/better than" columns - hoping I come out ahead in the better than - finally proving my worth.

...and that's just it. "finally proving my worth" has been driving me for a long time. Won't it be interesting if I can allow myself to live in my God-given dignity and realize it's not about proving anything? What sort of freedom might I find myself in, then?

What if I can allow people to just be people - not "pretty people" or "my people"? Just people? Who have a God-given dignity - and that in his column there's no less than/better than columns? What sort of freedom might I find myself in, then?

I don't know - but I sure look forward to finding out!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

What healing looks like: honest questions

This Lent, I decided to get back to basics: back to simply immersing myself in the Word of God, my first love. Looking longingly, lovingly into the words of Jesus to return to his heart, my heart. It has been such a gift. I can get so fixated on the doing of life that I mistakenly think that it's the doing that God cares about most. I forget the gift in being in His presence and adoring who He is...and somehow, reading & writing is how I meditate best, cultivating thoughts on Him - and me - and life springs up inside me.

I've been reading through the book of John - slowly, chewing, cherishing each section. I've wanted to share some thoughts I've had - and it just so happens that yesterday's Gospel reading and today's reading fit right in with what I was meditating on last week. (...and this one was a hard one for me, took a couple of days of honest prayer)

Without further ado, my thoughts on John 4:43-54, the healing of the Royal Official's son.

What isn't said that is necessary for understanding?

The Royal Official comes to Jesus in Cana:

Sir, I hear that at your word, water becomes wine.
Sir, I hear that you have performed many signs and wonders -
my son, my son whom I love...
he is sick - near death - please come and heal him.

I wonder, I picture him, bowed low, cap in hand,
humbling himself in spite of his position -
out of respect for authority and deep love for his son -

How could Jesus' heart be indifferent?
unmoved to compassion?
He is not like me. He does not grow tired or weary.
He will.

...but my heart has experienced this loss.
My heart cried out; I humbled myself - didn't I?
Didn't I?
Was it not enough?
Surely if not me, then his own parents -
was it not enough?
Were we not enough?
Was our faith too small for healing?
Did we accept that dying is just part of life?
That you, God, didn't will it for Dan?

I don't understand, to be honest. Why did you heal this man's son - and not Dan?
God, forgive me for my unbelief - for my questions,
but I need you to show me.
It feels too much like indifference, sometimes.
Forgive me for thinking your ways are mine, but I ask you -
with a contrite heart, please come into this part of my heart
and heal my hurt. Help me know how much you delight in healing -
in our wholeness.

There are no notes on John 4:45-54.
a son healed and not one word...
Jesus knew that the generation needed to believe;
this man believed that Jesus alone could heal his son.
he did.
~only say the Word~
He did: you may go; your son will live.
he believed -
and then -
he heard; he saw: at the very hour He spoke -
and a household believed.

Your words are LIFE.
You give Life.
You are Life.
You are more than a teacher.
You are God.

In February 2016, Jesus told me that Dan would be healed. Clearly, as Father Mark prayed for him and I prayed, begging for his healing: I knew it. I felt it. I "heard" it.

It can be hard to explain this - because 6 months later, he died. But Jesus told me something about healing that day:
Healing is about wholeness - 
and a person is only whole in Jesus.

Miraculous healings - these are signs to accompany faith -
to produce, affirm, confirm, strengthen faith...
so that a person may experience greater wholeness with Jesus.
or even a community of people.

The thing is - this Royal Official's Son, he still died...eventually.
For me, that is what I must accept:
that in the goodness of God,
in His providence -
Dan's death, leading to ultimate unity: wholeness with Jesus -
this could lead more to faith in Jesus than his life could.
It seems impossible -
but with God all things are possible -
even life from death.