A Magic Eraser for Life

I had a dark spot on my bathroom. It had been there for a long time. I tried every type of cleaner to remove it with no success. I’m sure the spot is from dirt being trapped in the overspray of my hairspray. I kept trying different things, but nothing took it away. Then one day I was using a Magic Eraser to get a scuff off a wall and thought, I wonder if this would work on the bathroom floor.

I marched upstairs and a few minutes later, ta-da! The spot was gone. As I returned the Magic Eraser to its box, I looked for an explanation as to how it works. Nothing. The box doesn’t say what it’s made of or what is in it. There’s no clue as to why it can erase stains that other cleaners cannot. It doesn’t look like anything special, just a white spongy thing with no odor, no suds, hmm. . . nothing but magic.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a Magic Eraser for life? How great would it be if you could magically erase all the mistakes, regrets, wrongs, hurtful words, and broken-heart moments of your life? You could start fresh, as if those things never happened. Well, we can’t. The things from our pasts happened and had an impact on who we are. But they don’t have to define us or control us, and they don’t have to be a stain that will never go away.

Salvation makes us new. Jesus’ perfect sacrifice in our place erased the stain of sin. The things we have done and have been done to us are gone. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) The Bible is full of these reassurances:

~The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-24)

~But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)

~He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and trust in the Lord (Psalm 40:3)

~He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new. Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true. (Revelation 21:5)

I hope you have experienced new life in Christ. I am so thankful for the lessons I’ve learned from my past, but I am even more thankful that Jesus erased the sin and hurt of my past and made everything new. Like Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser on my bathroom floor, Jesus is the only answer for the stain of sin. I hope if you haven’t met Him, you will. Only He can make you new and keep you spotlessly clean.

Disclaimer: Do NOT comment on this post with the secret to the Magic Eraser – I want to keep it magical.

Centrally Speaking

This week’s blog post is a podcast. I know…it’s so 21st century of me. Rest easy, it wasn’t my idea. My good friend, Dr. Drake Williams at Central Schwenkfelder Church invited me to be a guest on their podcast.

This aired on WNPV last week. I pray that it will be helpful to other victims and survivors. Feel free to share it. Thank you, Drake and Central, for inviting me and for your support and concern for victims of abuse.

Roller Coaster Love

I am “one of them.” One of those people who will wait a little longer so that they can sit in the front seat of the roller coaster. Why? Because it’s scarier which makes the ride even more fun. I’m not a screamer. I’m a laugher. The scarier it is, the more I laugh. That feeling of cresting the hill and dangling for just a moment before being thrust headlong down to earth is worth a little extra time in line and a few more giggles.

Our first visit with our oldest son’s wife-to-be included a trip to Hershey Park. We went in the evening. With limited time for rides, we opted to only do roller coasters. She was good with that. One point for Becky. While waiting in line, she suggested we wait a few more turns to get the front car. Point number two. By the third roller coaster, we were starting to compete for the front spot. She was a fighter. Her points were adding up quickly. On a twin coaster, she spied out the lines and timed our wait so that we got on the first cars of each coaster at the same time—for the win.

I pulled our son aside and said, “Whatever you do, hang on to this girl!” He did. And I’m so glad.

Today I’m having that same feeling of riding in the front of the roller coaster. There has been a long wait. I’ve been strapped in, slowly climbed the monster hill. It’s been eleven months since we got in line, when a doctor first said, “I think you may have Mitochondrial Disease.” It’s been eight months since we stepped aside to wait for the front car, going through every test imaginable. And now here we are, dangling over the edge, about to get the results of all the testing. Time to take a deep breath and brace for the plunge.

Like the first time on a roller coaster, I don’t know what to expect. How big a hill is it? How fast will it go? Are there loops and twists? Or is it a straightforward up and down? Does it go backwards? Fortunately, I have my husband with me. He is great on roller coasters. Our first time riding the Superman coaster is one we won’t forget. Because I don’t sit quite as high as most people, the shoulder harness kind of pinned me so that I couldn’t stick my arms out in the Superman flying pose. I looked like a flying T-Rex. I had to ask Doug to reach over and push my sunglasses up for me. He did, laughing himself silly.

When our coaster plummets over the edge this afternoon, I expect Doug will hold my hand and explain the medical jargon that I don’t understand. The best part is he’ll ride this coaster with me to the end. Every loop, every belly-whopping drop, he’ll be there, making sure I’m okay. He has been waiting with me in line, talking through every possible twist, and keeping me laughing. I can’t imagine being on this ride with anyone else. Whatever lies ahead, we’ll face it together, and we will laugh ourselves silly.

Rerouting…

My friends are…different. Each one is unique and has her own quirks, which makes our times together fun and unpredictable. Last week, I went to a conference with one of my friends. I’ll use her nickname, Nedge. Although I’ve known Nedge for over 20 years, I learned something about her last week that I hadn’t known before. She is a GPS rebel. Her GPS says, “turn right,” and she says, “make me.” Nedge did the driving on this trip. I won’t make that mistake again.

When Nedge offered to drive, I figured that made sense, since she is more familiar with where we were going than I am. I thought I’d sit back and enjoy the lovely countryside. But it didn’t take long to realize, Nedge has an interesting relationship with her GPS. Like any normal person, she entered our destination into her phone’s GPS and took off, but from that point on, normal was out the window. She treated the GPS as if it was on a mission to destroy us.

The GPS would say, in its unpretentious voice, “In 1,000 feet, turn right.” Nedge would respond, “Why would I do that? I don’t want to go that way,” or “why is it taking us that way?”

“Well, it says there is heavy traffic, so I think it’s trying to take us around it.”

“There’s always traffic on this road. It will be fine.” Meanwhile, the GPS continued to encourage her to turn right…at every intersection…all the way through town. Rerouting. Rerouting. Rerouting.

“Nedge, if you know where you’re going and are ignoring the GPS, why don’t you just turn it off?”

“I like to know how long it will take to get where we’re going.”

“But if you don’t go the way it’s taking you, the time it will take to get there is irrelevant.”

“Haha. True, but I like to have it on so I can see where we’re going.”

“OK. “Why are you turning left?”

“I think this is the way to the conference.”

“The GPS thinks it’s the other way.” Rerouting.

“It does? Oh. I would have sworn it’s this way.” We turned around. Nedge is really good at turning around. Rerouting.

The GPS announced, “In half a mile, turn left.” Nedge immediately started her left turn.

“Not here!”

“It says to turn left.”

“In a half a mile. Look at the map. You’re the little blue arrow.”

“I don’t use the map. I just look at the top where it tells me which way to turn.”

“But if you look at the map portion, you can see exactly which road it wants you to turn onto.”

“Oh. I don’t do that.”

Then I knew my role as co-pilot. It was to say, “not here” at every road we passed after the turning arrow appeared until we reached the right one.

 I shook my head each time the GPS rerouted or Nedge turned around. But aren’t we, as Christians, just like that? We have an inerrant instruction book, the Bible, to show us our way through life, yet we ignore it. Peter said God has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3), yet we take off with our lives, and leave God’s Word on the shelf. Or worse, we know what it says, and we choose to take a different path. Do we realize that in His presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11)? If so, why do we turn the other way?

If you have been going your own way, ignoring the path God has for you, what are you waiting for? Open your Bible. Discover the way He wants you to go. Reroute!

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12 ESV)

“Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:110 ESV)

Between a Rock and a Pine Tree

We have this rock resting in the lake at the edge of our lot in Maine. It’s not just any rock. It is the same shape as a vintage travel trailer, only bigger. I would bet that 50 people could stand together on it, but we would be hard-pressed to find 50 people in this rural area. It would be easier to find 25 bears, but that seems like a disaster in the making. But you get the idea. It’s big. We call it, coincidentally, “The Big Rock.”

There have always been a couple of pretty pink flowers that grow out of The Big Rock. I think they are weeds, but they are pretty, so they stay. This year, there was a new growth, a baby pine tree. It’s very cute, very Charlie Brown-like. The weeds grow and die off every year. But this little pine tree could potentially keep on growing.

I asked it – yes, I talked to the little tree. Don’t judge me; remember there are no people around. “Do you know where you are? You’re on a rock. There is no earth to put your roots in. How are you going to get nutrients? You can’t live long where you are? What’s your plan?” I’m pretty sure it said, “This is where I was planted, so this is where I’m going to grow. I may not last long or grow very big, but I’ll stand up straight and enjoy every minute I have.”

What a wise little tree. The pine trees here grow straight and tall and never get too big around. I wish I did the same. They don’t have a lot of low branches. There are so many trees packed together in these woods, all of them reaching for the sunshine, that the low branches don’t grow. But this little tree is away from the other trees. It’s gets sun all day. There’s nothing stunting its growth, except the rock.

I showed it to my husband. “Look at that,” he said, “We should probably pull it out. Eventually, its roots will break off that lower part of the rock.” What? That little innocent-looking tree will break off a large piece of granite? Sure, it’s roots will grow and push down and out and, at some point, crack the rock. There is evidence of that very thing happening all over this area.

My little pine tree is growing in an unfortunate place. A hard place, with little food but plenty of sun. The seed that started the whole thing was probably dropped there by a bird and rolled down into a crevice where it took root. So, it grew. It didn’t know it was in an impossible situation. It just grew because that’s where it was planted. Its future is unsure. Will it grow so big it breaks the rock? Will it die from malnutrition? Will it be pulled out? We’ll see.

Do you ever feel like my little pine tree? Are you wondering how you got into such a difficult situation and how you’re going to get out? Let me encourage you to keep growing right where you’re planted. God has a purpose for you in the hard place you find yourself. Trust Him. You’re right where he wants you. He will grow you and use you in the lives of those around you. And you just might break through that hard place and find peaceful waters underneath.

therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure.” (2 Thessalonians 1:4 NASB)

Thy Light in my Darkness

Getting away to the north woods always inspires me. The slow pace and solitude clear my head and sharpen my focus. I always seem to witness something that makes me marvel at God’s creativity or power or greatness. This year was no exception. From the first night lying on our rock (that dwarfs some tiny houses) the immenseness of the heavens took my breath away.

I know there are just as many stars in the sky at home, but with all the light pollution, we rarely see them. But in the north woods of Maine, it seems the stars have multiplied exponentially. The Milky Way is bright and clear, like a magical walkway cutting through the night sky. The constellations are as clear as they are in books. It seems like the longer you stare into the sky, more and more stars appear.

It’s not like that in the daylight. You can only see one star and shouldn’t stare at it. It’s in the deepest darkness that the stars shine the brightest. Part of a Puritan prayer, The Valley of Vision, says:

“Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine; Let me find thy light in my darkness, thy life in my death, thy joy in my sorrow, thy grace in my sin, thy riches in my poverty, thy glory in my valley.”¹

Thy light in my darkness. That’s what I was thinking lying there gazing into the heavens. I needed a flashlight to get to my spot on the rock. Where I was walking, there was nothing but darkness. The beam from the flashlight was very defined, carving a narrow stripe through the surrounding darkness. If I wanted to see what was to the left or right, I had to move the flashlight that direction. All I could see on my own was darkness.

Once on the rock, the flashlight was clicked off, and the starlight filled my vision. Their light outlined the treetops and their reflections sparkled on the lake’s surface. Though our cabin, just a dozen or so yards away, was swallowed up by darkness, the stars, billions of miles away, shone brightly. Looking up, there was beauty and light. But looking around me, there was only darkness and some strange noises that eventually drove me back inside the cabin.

Our circumstances often cloud our vision. Instead of focusing on God and the light of His purpose in our circumstances, we only see the scary darkness around us. But just like the stars being there even when we can’t see them, we can trust that God is there even when we question his presence. God is not only with us in the deep, dark wells of life, He is working out His purpose in our lives through our difficult circumstances.

I saw an interview today with victims of Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas. These folks have lost almost everything. Their circumstances couldn’t be much darker. But one woman was holding a cross that had been hanging on the wall of her destroyed home. It had the word “hope” written on it. The woman said hope was all she had left, but it was enough. She wasn’t letting that cross out of her sight. She could see God’s light in her darkness, His joy in her sorrow, His riches in her poverty, His glory in her valley and can face her uncertain future in His strength.

¹”The Valley of Vision.” The Valley of Vision: a Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, Edited by Arthur Bennett, The Banner of Truth Trust, 1975, p. xv.

The Slot

Earlier this year, the Sisterchicks traveled to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in California. We were in search of the biggest bloom of wildflowers in nearly 20 years. The desert did not disappoint. But as an added bonus, we learned about The Slot, a slot canyon carved out of the desert floor by flash floods, and decided we had to go there.

This part of the desert is not exactly stable. We learned it has three to four earthquakes every day. What that means to The Slot is boulders can shift, possibly when you’re hiking through it. It’s clear there has been shifting in the past. Some of the boulders were quite precariously perched above our heads. As we made our way through The Slot, things got a little tight. Some areas were barely shoulder width and required some squeezing with backpacks removed. Being claustrophobic, this was not an ideal situation for me.

As we were about to turn around because it looked like we were at a dead end, another visitor, walking along the top of the canyon, said, “Keep going. Once you squeeze through that small opening, it will open up again.” I thought she must be crazy, but two of the Chicks pushed on through and hollered back, “It’s fine. Come on, you can do it.” What are the chances an earthquake would happen just as we were going through, causing the walls to squish us? In the mind of a claustrophobic, pretty high. But we lived through it and even enjoyed our time there.

I was reminded of that day in The Slot yesterday. I’ve been waiting for months for August 21, the day the doctors at CHOP were going to reveal the results of my tests. They texted me yesterday morning to confirm the appointment, do the online check-in, and give me a schedule for the day. Then, at 4:00pm, they called and said they don’t have the test results and will have to postpone my appointment until the end of October. It seemed to me the ground shook and boulders were falling.

We had made plans. It was too late to cancel our hotel reservation. My husband was taking a vacation day. We canceled another appointment, which was hard to get, for that same day. My out-of-network referral would expire on September 5. And the biggest boulder of all, I have to wait another two months to learn the test results. I just wanted this wait to be over.  

Fortunately, I have an amazing husband who wrapped me in his arms to protect me from the falling boulders. And, more importantly, I have a faithful God who holds the boulders in place. I went to bed with a migraine and lots of things to worry about. But this morning, I awoke with just a slight headache and feeling at peace—and a stomachache. I think I’m eating too many peaches. I digress. I realized no matter what is shaking my world, God is not surprised by it, and it is in His control. He won’t let me be squished, not even by worry or disappointment. Like my Sisterchicks, he is saying to me, “It’s fine. Come on, you can do it.” He is a rock that cannot be moved, a perfect place to hide, rest, and wait.

 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25 ESV)

Legacy of a Rich Man Who Owned Nothing

Kind, joyful, loving, affectionate, caring – no, I’m not describing one of my Seeing Eye puppies. Those are the words that come to mind (immediately) when I think of a friend who passed away recently. His name was Sebastian, although we all called him Flory. He passed away at 67 years old. He wasn’t supposed to live even a few hours due to a head injury sustained at birth. But he didn’t just live, he made other’s lives better for knowing him.

His injury resulted in serious disabilities. The doctors said he would never walk or talk, but he learned to walk, though not without difficulty. And he would talk your ear off if you’d let him. He only had the use of one arm, but that didn’t stop him from giving and receiving hugs…lots of hugs. It was hard to have a bad day when Flory was around.

I made the very judgmental mistake of thinking his funeral would be short and probably not well attended. The last few years, he was wheelchair-bound and living in a nursing home. Even though I had somewhere else to be, I felt compelled to say goodbye to Flory and hug his family. It didn’t take long to realize how wrong I was about his funeral. What was I thinking? I clearly wasn’t the only one on the receiving end of Flory’s hugs, cards, and prayers. Even Elvis was part of it.

When it came time for people to share remembrances of Flory, one after another popped up and shared a story. It could have gone on all day, but I think others, like myself, would just have echoed the same sentiments. Often, when a person dies, their family and friends tend to only remember the good things about them, and that is what they share at funerals. But with Flory, there were only good things to remember because that’s who he was.

His sister told a story of how their mother would put Flory to bed and sit with him while he said his prayers. At first, he spent about five minutes in prayer. But as he got older and his prayer list grew, she would sit with him for an hour and a half! He had to pray for everyone he knew who had a need. I was reminded that with each of his hugs came the question, “How are you doing?” And he really wanted to know. I didn’t know that he had great recall ability and would remember each person and whatever they shared with him, and he prayed for them.

Flory was never able to drive a car or take a long walk or pick up a sandwich with both hands. He never held a job, but he would help with any task as much as he could. One of his “jobs” was to sharpen all the pencils in our church pews. I can’t watch my granddaughter reach for a pencil without thinking of Flory. He never felt sorry for himself. He knew one day his body would be whole, but he lived fully in the body he was given. He loved Jesus, and that was enough. Even in his weakened state, he would have a friend wheel him down the street to the skate park where he would hand out tracks, give hugs, and share the love of Jesus. Flory never owned anything of material value. Yet he was a rich man, and he left us all a legacy to follow.

 “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:26,27 ESV)

Dead or Alive?

Yesterday was my 55th birthday. I’m not sure how that much time has gone by so quickly. At least 18 birthdays ago, a friend gave me the pretty purple plant in the picture. I don’t remember what it is. Probably some of you will let me know. It’s quite a plant, mostly because it’s still alive. I am not good with plants. They always die. Quickly.

When this plant arrived on my birthday so long ago, its big, beautiful bell-shaped flowers were blooming. I loved it. Not too long after that, the flowers fell off. I kept the naked plant on the windowsill in my kitchen. A few more flowers bloomed a little while later. After they fell off, the plant remained on the windowsill. It seemed fine for a couple of months. Then it started to die. The leaves went first, then the stems. After a few more months, there was nothing left but a little withered stump. This did not come as a surprise to me. I can’t keep plants alive.

I’d like to say that I left it on the windowsill because I was hoping it would come back to life, but really, it was just my lazy side that rears its ugly head more than I’d like. I left it there, barely noticing it. But then, one day about eight months after it first arrived, I saw green on the brown stump. Much to my surprise and delight, more and more green appeared. Soon, a new green stem grew out of the dead stump. Even more exciting, one day I walked into the kitchen and saw a flower bud. It was back. My sad little dead plant was about to bloom again.

Sure enough, a few days later, a second blossom appeared and then another. This time, when the blooms fell off, I didn’t panic. I didn’t wonder why I kill every green thing I touch. I wasn’t sad to say goodbye to the pretty purple flowers. This time, I had hope. It came back once, why wouldn’t come back again? And it did. Every year it came back a little bigger. Eventually, I had to transplant it to bigger pot. I was so happy that I finally had a plant I could take care of with positive results.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t actually do anything to keep this plant alive besides a little water now and then, when I remember. But every year, without fail, no matter how dead it looks, it blooms again. It occurred to me one year that maybe my husband replaces it every year to make me feel better. But he swears he doesn’t. This year, the purple flowers opening was especially uplifting.

It reminds me that no matter how bleak life seems, there is hope. Things will get better, even if they get worse for a time, even when it seems like life is over. We all go through seasons. Some are filled with activity and growth, others are quieter, even dormant. On the surface, it may look like there is nothing happening, like life has been snuffed out. But during the dormant times, life is just gathering all it needs to burst forth again. The time it takes is not wasted. Although nothing can be seen, the roots are growing deeper. The effort exerted is making it stronger.

Suffering does the same thing in our lives. Being set aside for a season gives us time to grow, to go deeper, to understand more of the suffering of our Savior. It’s just what we need to mature and look forward with joy, knowing the best is yet to come.

“Oh Lord my God, I have cried to you for help, and you have healed me. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” (Psalm 30:2&5b ESV – I recommend you read the whole psalm)

An EMG turns into OMG

Earlier this week I had an EMG (electromyography) test along with an NCV (nerve conduction velocity) test. The definitions of these tests sound fairly benign:

EMG – a diagnostic test where a needle electrode is inserted directly into a muscle to record the electrical activity in that muscle.

 NCV – a diagnostic test to measure how quickly electrical signals move through nerves.

I had some concern about the pain level of the EMG. Years ago, I had taken my mother for an EMG, and she screamed through it. My mother was a pretty tough cookie when it came to medical tests. Some friends who had EMGs told me it was uncomfortable but not painful. But others told me it was the most painful test they had ever experienced.

When I arrived at the diagnostic center, the technician began the NCV. To check the speed of your nerves, they basically electrocute you. He started with my fingers and worked his way up my arm and then my foot and leg. The shocks hurt but were tolerable. I told the technician he would probably enjoy visiting the Torture Museum in San Diego.

Then things took a nasty turn. He put electrodes around my eye and held the double-pronged cattle prod to my cheekbone. He warned me there would be ten jolts in quick succession. It’s hard to describe what that was like. Electrical shocks? Yes. Torture? Probably. He repeated this several times with a minute in between. Finally, he announced we were done. My only thought was that I had lived through it.

The neurologist entered the room, looked at the technician’s screen, and seemed pleased with the results. The tech said goodbye and left the room. I thought maybe we were done, but the doctor said, “Oh no, we’re only halfway. There’s more torture to come.” And she pulled out the needle. Here we go. Before she started, she said, “If at any point you need to stop, just tell me, and we’ll take a break. After you compose yourself, we’ll go on.” That should have been a clue of what was to come.

Testing the muscles in my hand and arm hurt, but I could handle it with some deep breaths. I remembered my mom’s reaction to the needle in her hand and thought maybe the worst was over. I was wrong. She moved to my leg. When she got to my calf, I lost it. They don’t just put a needle in the muscle. They put the needle in and have you work the muscle, harder and harder. The more it is stressed, the more the pain increases. I could not stand it anymore. I let out a scream and started to cry. The doctor suggested we take a break. I couldn’t stop crying but told her to just go on. She tested my upper leg in four places. Then one more needle in my back. Seriously. Torture.

They gave me some time to get dressed and compose myself. I guess they don’t want crying people walking through the waiting room. I should have gone through screaming, “Run! Get out while you can!” I cried all the way home, limped into the house, took an Epsom salt bath, then iced my calf, and spent the rest of the day on the sofa.

The pain subsided several hours later. By the next morning, it felt like a mild cramp. My face felt like I had been clenching my teeth all night. Maybe I had. Or maybe my face had been electrocuted over and over. I was thankful it was done, and I promised myself I would never go through those tests again.

As I spent time in God’s Word and prayer that morning, I thought of the suffering Jesus endured for me. There aren’t many people for whom I would go through an EMG or NCV again. But Jesus knew exactly what he would suffer and did it while we were enemies, not because he was forced to but because he wanted to. He didn’t have needles stuck in his muscles. He was flogged with whips containing pieces of metal and bone ripping into his muscles. He didn’t get to take a break and compose himself. His torture went on for hours before he died on the cross.

My hour of physical pain suddenly seemed so miniscule. It was short, and its only purpose was to rule out two neuromuscular diseases. I may have some other deadly disease but because of Jesus’ suffering, I also have eternal life. His suffering was much more effective than mine could ever be.