Onward



My dog knew something was about to happen. And when I say my dog, I mean Bella, and dog spelled backwards.

I had just begun to rise out of a long season of burnout. I’m not going to list the reasons, I’ll just put out a sentence most or all of you will relate to: I’m a grown up.

On the way to one of my daughter’s cross country meets last fall, I had shed enough stress to let some creativity back in; through the hairpin curves and mountain climbing in my rattly Xterra I got an idea so exciting I started tailgating the blue-hair driving in front of me. I felt guilty as she eventually pulled over to let me pass—tailgating is rude, I know—but I was thrilled to be settled onto the wings of my muse again. I needed to fly.

Come November, I was coming along on this new book, polishing the rusty fingers and creative flow, when my dog began to act strange.

My ultra-sensitive boxador has this code for earthquake. She can sense them from a state away. Bella gets fidgety, impossibly restless. If I’m not fixing it, she’ll go outside to our back patio and focus her bark-growl straight through the house to whatever threat she imagines is lurking in front of our house.

There were a few earthquakes, you know, across the world, so her radar was either ramped up to impossible or she was bothered by something else.

Bella moved out of our daughter’s room where she usually slept and started sleeping in the center of the house.

By January, she was mostly back to normal as she always gets once a storm or natural disaster gets underway. The only difference is that she insisted on keeping watch from the living room, where she can keep an eye everything.

Now that we’re in quarantine, Bella is exceedingly happy. Not only has lizard season begun, but her family is home a lot more. More play, more snuggles, more people to go on walks with.

It took me a while to gather my thoughts after the COVID-19 crisis arrived. From re-calibrating at my day job, to my own health issue right before quarantine to becoming a homeschool mom while trying to balance my novel-writing and…..you know. Being a grown up.

It the beginning, there were the haters spreading their angry at a 9.9 magnitude. It was ugly and so was social media.

But then, from across the world, Italy started singing from their balconies. Locked inside their worst crisis, they reached inside and gave forth their best.

As the hoarders cleared shelf after shelf here in America I started watching Bella more closely since I couldn’t go anywhere except when necessary. She has the gift of being exceedingly happy with so very little. Lizards, a nice breeze, her family, walks. Forwards and backwards, her kind is the very definition of love. I don’t believe this is coincidence. Now is the time for all of us to think about these things.

DoG spelled backwards is giving us a rest, my friends. He’s allowing this to happen for reasons I won’t pretend to know, but one thing I know He’s doing is reaching inside those of us sensing the change within the change, and pulling out our best.

He knew this was coming, and will remain present with every one of us throughout this whole storm. Right where he can see all of us.

It’s onward with the book for me, although I have to think about the new world it will be published in. How will things change? Will my characters still shake hands, or touch their faces? Will medical facilities wear masks all the time, forevermore?

Will I ever see my sweet Doctor’s face again?

Like Bella, I’m going to have to foresee the change so my book will be relevant when I release it.

I could say we’ve been given the opportunity to thoroughly, quietly (as much as mom’s lives with kids can be), intuitively consider how we’ll forever go about our lives. But doG spelled backwards hasn’t given us the choice this time.

I’ll promise to release the beautiful if you do.

The Honor of Us

My son was born a protector. When he was just two we found ourselves in front of an animatronic crocodile at the Rainforest Café. He shot an arm in front of his older sister and told her, “Back, Sissy, back!” He was the baby of the family and we hadn’t yet taught him to look out for his loved ones, but something within him came alive when the need arose.

He’s been fighting health problems since birth—could it be he learned to have a warrior spirit early on, or is the politically incorrect idea true that men are natural protectors? I have to say, I’ve noticed a great decline in male protectiveness over the years…cultural influences may have something to do with this. What do you think…nature or nurture?

I’m a 125 pound part-time security guard. Having said that, I guard the elderly at a retirement resort. My job mainly consists of desk work/people work, but when a security issue arises, I’m the one, or my partner working the far side of the building. When I first started working in the security department, I got a lot, and I mean a LOT of comments/jokes about being a guard looking as I do. I worked out, and still do, but six-pack abs and the ability to run laps around most people didn’t matter to the WWII generation. They wanted MEN in the department, even if they were old, fifty pounds out of shape and couldn’t lap the desk if they tried. Men, to them, are the soldiers and the protectors, always and forevermore.

Do you know when I became a soldier? Always. I grew up in the country, surrounded by cactus and boys. I went to a small country school where many of the girls were equally as tough and I had to learn how to defend myself at an early age. The staff turned a blind eye to most playground violence. I punched my first face when I was in fifth grade. In that environment, I learned not to rely on anyone else to protect me, and I’m grateful I learned that when I did.

My biggest advantage, ALWAYS, has been that people don’t expect someone who looks like me, and who is an introvert like me to even have the will to lift my fist.

Not that I don’t know my limits. I mean, I’ve punched faces, forcefully detached too-friendly men and have lifted more retirees off the floor than I can count, but when it comes to the more heavy lifting at work I call my friend—the guy– with all the muscles. I appreciate him, and acknowledge that he has a biological advantage over me in that arena.

Women, until recently, have been the main protectors of babies. This is, without a doubt, a cultural change because I’ve walked the pregnancy road, given birth, and am quite willing to rip anyone’s head off who would try to harm my children. Fact—like my son, from something deep and fierce inside me. Something too ancient to name.

But there are these hurt voices that say women haven’t been appreciated enough, or valued enough and we need to demand respect once and for all. I get it. There is much truth in this. I’ve been disrespected in many ways, including being a called “skinny, weak woman” at the exact time I was lifting my accuser off the floor.

The problem is, I’m hearing these voices about not letting disrespectful attitudes determine a woman’s identity from women who are doing exactly that.

Pregnancy and motherhood are no joke. It’s incredibly difficult—painful in all kinds of ways and I’ve had to put aside many projects I’ve felt passionate about to change diapers, attend field trips, and care for a flu-ridden child. I’ve had to neglect my own health/career/sleep to care for my children.

Isn’t that what a warrior does? When my son put himself in front of his sister, he was allowing the perceived danger to get to him first. When soldiers—real soldiers—fight for our country, they’re risking it ALL to protect us.

That is not a right, it’s an honor. It is complete selflessness.

Ladies, our wombs aren’t showcases for burdens, they are armor. Our biological advantage. God chose us to carry children when they are at their weakest, most vulnerable state. We are chosen to carry all those future Presidents and Doctors and Artists. Every Influencer, every Teacher, every Athlete, every Overcomer. We are their first shield.

When I see women marching for the right to remove children from their wombs, I don’t see virtue. I don’t see strength, I don’t see courage or liberation. I see an army of women hiding behind a political banner of fear.

We’ve been through too many battles to lose our honor, ladies. We have to be stronger than the leaders attempting to manipulate us into thinking we’re fighting for what’s right when all we’re doing is discarding the people who need us the most. The people whose voices we can’t hear. This is a cultural change that is not okay—it’s infanticide.
It’s okay to be afraid, but our army of protectors is dividing, which will eventually lead to the destruction of our nation. This isn’t an exaggeration. Take a good look at the state of our nation right now. Men, women, children. We are meant to be one united team.

This Little Light

At the gym a few days ago, I took to the last available treadmill and started my usual run. For some reason, I’ve been dragging this month—the cloudy skies, maybe? The chronic lack of a full night’s sleep? More than likely, I’m just run down from a rough year but determined to stay in shape, I was going to do my full 3ish miles.
To my left, a man about a head shorter than I increased his running speed to keep up with me. A competitor, I see. I tried not to giggle as his short legs had to take twice the amount of steps than mine to run a moderate 5.8 METS.
But he worked hard. No matter his motivation, my humor quickly turned to admiration. How many of us feel like the best we can do is to take one step forward, three steps back to keep up with our goals—that we can’t run hard enough to catch them? Can all the strugglers raise their hand?
But this guy, he kept pumping those legs, working almost twice as hard as I did to meet the same stats.
It was the perfect picture of 2018, where almost every circle I belong to are in survival mode–battle-weary from an unusual amount of trials this past year, almost like a surge of darkness is engulfing our nation. I once read about a pastor writing about a season of higher suicide rates in his hometown directly related to the increase of occult influences. It makes me think of the happenings of this year: is there a fiercer battle going on that we can’t see?
Perhaps God is on the move for something big and the darkness is trying to keep us behind it.
Sometimes I think the trials of 2018 have kept me from running hard enough, although God is merciful, even when our best effort is minuscule. He sees us trying.
But that small man next to me, this giant of a competitor ran like there was an ember right in front of him that promised to light his world if he worked hard enough to reach it—even if his struggle was more difficult than it was for others.
So let’s keep going with all we’ve got, even if we have to drag ourselves along the path. Because my friends…..

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. John 1:5

For all of our Furiosas

How are you handling your world in the middle of the turkey and pine tree?
Thanksgiving brought news to me that a good friend had passed away. Her name was Louise, aka Furiosa in the writing community.
I met her in Bible study where we discovered we had a mutual love for writing. It only seemed reasonable that she would join my writers group a town away where we traveled every second Saturday for some critique, encouragement and lunch. Often, a third friend joined us.
Really, it was the 45 minute car rides that were the best. We took off our Mom badges and discussed things like, ok–parenting, stories, ghosts, God and how God and ghosts can be used in the same sentence.
It’s also where she told me about her heart failing some years ago. She passed through to the heavenly realm, woke up in a dark room glowing, and started walking toward God when she was resuscitated.
Yes, God. To be clear, The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Father of Jesus.
She then recounted her battle with breast cancer and chemo—how she broke down in an airport when she was asked to remove her hat, and from the corner of the bathroom where she ran, a housekeeper pulled her aside and told her she “has to be like Peter on the water, keeping your eyes on Jesus.”
As our friendship grew, we, along with another friend, planned a trip to a writers conference where we were expected to bring a costume for the rewards banquet. But shortly before we were to leave for Philly, my friend learned that her cancer had not only returned, but it had spread throughout her whole body. Bones, spine, and all.
Her response was to keep her eyes on Jesus. She endured her first round of chemo and set off for the second hand store where she threw a costume together with a handful of random items. Having  paid for the conference months ahead of time, she decided she wasn’t going to waste a moment. And she had this story inside her that she needed help getting onto the page.
She walked into the awards banquet as bald and bold as Furiosa the warrior. By now, everyone knew of her battle. When they saw her, jaws dropped, cameras were pulled out to record what a true warrior looked like.
Louise came home and endured the kind of pain no one wants to, and several more rounds of chemo. Armed with the kind of faith only those who’ve had a glimpse of heaven have, she conquered that cancer, regained her strength and poured herself into life. God, family, writing, hiking. Breathing.
After her heart failed a second time, the Lord took her home Thanksgiving week. From what I understand, it was in the midst of joyous family time.
It’s hard to interpret the conclusion to such unexpected loss after such marvelous victory. She never got to finish that book she was working so hard on. But as I look over her life as I knew her, the words spoken about her and the picture I have in my memories of her, I realize that she did indeed tell the world her most powerful story.
We should closely consider the lives of those who have had early visits to the afterlife, and what Louise did was to pursue the will of God, and lived—really, fully lived—every moment, even in the painful center of difficulty, knowing the reward  waiting for her when her time came.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2

Things I Learn From My Dog

My dog can sense earthquakes in our neighboring state of California. Tail in-between legs, bark at the ready, she shifts into high alert as if every flap of wing or roar of an engine electrifies her. She’s protective, and determines to catch every single unsettling current until the threat is gone.
She runs laps. Not one or two, but intermittent laps around the yard in between dinner, TV time & bedtime stories. She’ll do this for one day, or several days, working until the earthquake passes. On nights like these, I can hear her dog door flapping throughout the night as she makes her rounds.
Finally, she’ll collapse and rest.
It reminds me of the days when my mind spins like a broken record, catching on all those ideas that jump track.
On into the night, a mish-mash of unfinished files to sort out.


So, the next morning, I don’t nap—I do like Bella does and I run. I go to the gym and hit the treadmill, then I pop on the elliptical. Finally, I take on the weight machines until I’m exhausted.
s-t-r-e-t-c-h
Now I can get to work. I pull the good ideas from my mind and sort them out on paper, or the computer screen. I work until I feel the tide shift. I don’t always see it, but I feel it. That’s the spot where faith thrives, in the unseen realm where I’m beyond my limits.
Then I can rest.
It’s not real rest until you’ve worked with everything you’ve got. Until you’ve unwrapped your God-given gifts and covered your space of the world with them. The outcome is not up to us, it’s up to God. Our job is to just do our thing.

Just a Moment to Relax…Please?

I met Chris Morris when I took a tax class from him at the 2016 Realm Makers Conference. Although I don’t speak Math, I found his class to be surprisingly interesting. Entertaining even. What I didn’t know at that time was the life-altering thing we did have in common–a child with chronic illness. Chris also struggles with a chronic illness of his own, and has written a wonderful book to help those affected by it, and who may even ask, “Where do I find God in all of this?”

Read on as Chris gives us a picture of navigating through life with his daughter’s challenges.

 

Dad…
Tap-tap-tap on the shoulder.
Daaa-aaad…
Here I was, trying to focus on God as we worshipped during small group, and my twelve-year-old son couldn’t even leave me alone here. I just wanted a single, solitary moment free of the kids. Sighing meaningfully, I opened my eyes and prepared to remind him that this was time to learn.
Then I saw the look in his eyes. A mixture of anger, embarrassment and helplessness. Instantly I knew what the problem was. Or rather, who the problem was. Familiar thoughts and worries flew into my mind.
I found myself paralyzed with fear, not wanting to deal with it again. A flush of tears stirred under my eyes. I felt lost. Before I could move past this and put my Father Hat on, my wife followed my son out of the room.
Twenty minutes later, she returned to the room. I caught her eye, and she mouthed to me that Cindy hit another child. Apparently our daughter didn’t get to play the Wii game she wanted to play, so she lost emotional control.

Every parent has been here, in this place. Your child is just not acting like you want them to. Like they should act. It seems they are not capable of behaving in public, so you remain on edge. Wondering when and where you will next have to “learn to manage” your child.
We have another level of challenge, one some of you may relate to. Our daughter is autistic and epileptic, so there are certain aspects of Cindy’s behavior that are beyond her ability (and ours) to “manage”.
So many myths about chronic illness can disrupt Cindy’s life and hold her hostage. Moments like her episode in small group remind my wife and I how vital it is to teach our daughter and her brothers the truth and empower them to live unhindered by these terrible lies.
We are all learning each day to push down the worries and focus on how to ensure our whole family knows the important things in life:
We are loved as we are by God.
We are accepted despite how we may act.
Cindy is not less-than because of her illnesses, and she is not defined by her chronic conditions.
She is more than her epilepsy, greater than her autism.

The last two statements above are very difficult to remember day-in and day-out. Surrounding us are people who do not understand. Who think my wife and I are just bad parents when Cindy is overwhelmed by too many stimuli, too much change. Worse yet, we regularly come across those who tell us we must lack faith since God has not healed our daughter yet.
And my daughter is not ignorant of these accusations. So we talk a lot about how her self-image should not and cannot be informed by others’ opinions.
But it’s hard, and we grow weary. So often we have felt as if we were entirely alone in our struggles. No friends to support us who really understood. Sure, they loved us, but they didn’t understand, couldn’t comprehend, what our daily life was like. This was our daily experience for a long time.
But no longer.
We have finally found a group of people who love our family, no strings attached, no judgment, just acceptance. We have stumbled into a group of people who place no judgment on our daughter, her seizures, her autism, or our parenting. Nothing brings peace to the troubled soul like an accepting community. A safe place.
Beyond community, practical resources are vital too. We spent many hours looking for books or seminars or focus groups to guide us on our journey, and to provide us a way to navigate through the minefield of myths.
We found nothing. So I created one. My book Perfectly Abnormal: Uncovering the Image of God in Chronic Illness walks through myths all sufferers of chronic illness will face. These lies can paralyze us, if we believe them. My book dissects eight of these myths, counteracts them with truth, and offers pointed questions to get us moving again. If you have a chronic illness, or love someone who has a chronic illness, please consider picking this book up. You can find Perfectly Abnormal on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iBooks.

Bio:
Chris Morris writes about redefining normal and building hope in the face of chronic illnesses and special needs. His writing is founded on the belief that circumstances don’t prevent thriving, but create opportunities for God to demonstrate his goodness. By day, he is the founder and managing partner of the creatively named accounting firm Chris Morris CPA, so Chris brings a unique analytic perspective to deeply emotional topics. He writes at his blog, and you can also find him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

The Summer Files: Day 48

 

Summertime is a challenge for this mom. Like many creatives, I’m one of those personalities that needs a good dose of silence and S-P-A-C-E to recharge. So do hermits, as I’ll explore below (But I’m not a hermit).

What keeps you going? Is it hope around the corner, or the work ethic you’ve come to rely on year after year? Or are you tired, and at the point where you want to throw up your hands and disappear from this world we live in? I just finished reading The Stranger in the Woods, a true story of a man who lived as a hermit for 27 years in the back woods Maine. Overwhelmed with life, he walked into the wilderness one day, and stayed there until society absorbed him again.

He was finally captured when technology had become more advanced than he knew how to manage. Devices from Homeland Security were installed in the camp kitchen from where he had stolen food for the last 2+ decades, finally ending his career in solitude.

Experts studied him. He was an anomaly; overwhelmed by the noise and “color” of civilization, his health started to decline. Usually, solitude will eventually drive a normal-functioning person to madness, but not Chris Knight. In fact, the lack of human contact along with his technology-free mind (as explained in greater detail in the book) seemed to have sharpened his senses.

He never became sick. His injuries were never serious enough to need medical attention. He ate the same processed food we eat, of course, considering he stole food to survive. So what was it that preserved him? Was it freedom from the criticism/judgment that erodes us day to day? The freedom that comes when you don’t have to do the job of three people to stay employed?

 

Dr.’s decided he had some form of Asperger’s Syndrome, depression, or Schizoid personality disorder—some kind of unusual brain chemistry that gave him a pass on the social interaction most of us need for healthy mental function.

Strangely, when Knight tried to describe his experience as a hermit, he said, “Solitude bestows an increase in something valuable. I can’t dismiss that idea. Solitude increased my perception. But here’s the tricky thing: when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. There was no audience. No one to perform for. There was no need to define myself. I became irrelevant.”

Anxiety/stress/depression are overtaking our country (USA). Sometimes the pressure of our day to day lives becomes so overwhelming, we dump our stress onto each other in unkind comments/rumors/criticism/ manipulation, etc., without realizing what we’re doing to our culture. Although kind words, encouragement, patience and all things good are still part of our construct, and hopefully, these will become the colors that shine brighter than those in shades of misery.

Because we need each other. Even the hermits.

 

God sees our struggles. He knows our fatigue with trying to keep pace, as well as the fruitfulness that comes from goodness and the sometimes-agony of perseverance.

Galatians 6:9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

 

What keeps you trudging along with, you know, “people”? Leave your words in the comments below.

 

The Summer Files: Day 42

Creativity is found across the well of boredom where your hand and the hand of God meet for a shake. That’s why I didn’t sign my kids up for a single activity this summer (except for the summer movies–that’s how we Arizonans get out of the heat for a few hours). That, and to give them rest from their structured school year. Structure is good for a time, but there comes a point when a person has to leap into less-traveled places.

There’s a cultural norm that says the whine that follows, “I’m bored,” is a sickness we must remedy. But it’s not. When I let them cross this ravine on their own, the Children find the fountain of creativity (warning–this may take some time and some whine). This is where they learn to be self-starters instead of waiting for the Grown-Up Servant to bring entertainment to them. On a diamond bedazzled platter.

New and innovative vehicles get designed.

Monkeys are finally given birthday parties.

Canvases are currently being adorned.

I care nothing for continuously leading my kids in the worn paths of bedazzled leaders.
But a Supernatural Handshake–that’s where I’m pointing this summer.
Happy Wednesday, friends.

The Summer Files: Day 13

The valley days roll along as tumbleweeds and Arizona is working up to full summer boil as it does every year, but One thing has awakened us to the brilliance of seasons: Miracles haven’t stopped coming. They’re coming, friends.

During our third trip to the Healing Room, remembering God is the same God who healed all those people a few thousand years ago, Our Son kept tugging at me, trying to get my attention. After shushing him so as not to interrupt the prayer volunteers, he finally stood forward and announced that he felt this “hand” on the back of his neck. At first, he thought it was the Guy leading the prayer, but the Guy, standing a few feet in front of him thought it might have been a more celestial hand.

Over the next several days, including the few the Son endured with a long prep and a few tests at the children’s hospital, joy burst from his seams.

“I feel good, Mommy.”

I won’t go into detail on how no one would be feeling good after what he just experienced, but the joy kept rolling in like a protective halo.

Shortly after coming home, we found out his bowel disease is gone.

It was a twisty road, friends. We prayed, we doubted, and prayed again. Many people prayed for us. Thank you, to all who did. Somewhere in there, we believed. I often wonder why miracles don’t happen more often…maybe we’re too distracted by, “but will He?” thoughts. Maybe we put more faith in modern medicine than in God. He does say, “…because of your faith, you are healed.”

We are also a culture of intellectual pride. How can an educated, modern society believe in miracles? If we can’t see them, touch them, prove them, do they exist?

Modern medicine is a blessing. Thank the Lord for our Doctors and Nurses. I believe God uses them in many beautiful ways.

But that wind. It pushes in tumbleweeds with its invisible hands. It cools our sweat with its merciful breeze. We can’t see it, but we know it’s there. Why is it so much easier to count on the arrival of ugly, poky sticker bushes, than the breath of Heaven? Even fellow believers tried explaining the healing through logic and spiritual doubt (What kind of solutions come from spiritual doubt?).

But our Son just experienced an invisible hand, illogical joy and healing. Those weren’t tumbleweeds that blew our way.

They’re coming.

The Summer Files: Day 7. J-O-Y

The Summer has stumbled into our valley with a surge of wind and scowls. With my delayed book release and The Son’s medical tests at the Children’s Hospital, a sweet summer seemed to have gotten knocked into the abyss like a dirt clod.

Deep.

But The Son, even in the midst of his medical prep, had this song for us. Down in the valley, there is J-O-Y. Yes, he sang this during his colonoscopy prep (test one of two).

You hear about kids with health problems that are supernaturally happy and think it’s just a creation of Hallmark films, but it’s no cliché. The Son has been gifted with joy, and indeed was the comfort for his family through his whole ordeal, even when they put the mask on his face and his day faded to black.

When he woke, he smiled and sheepishly asked where his pants were.

I was reminded this morning of our uniqueness, our gifts that God has given each one of us. Sometimes, we hear such reminders so often they lose their power until we walk into those low valleys and find there’s always someone there to offer a song and a chair in which to listen, or an instrument to play your own music.

I suppose we switch from one to the other in various walks of our lives, but isn’t it nice that God has made us so different, yet with the capability of becoming a master orchestra? We are vital to each other.

Now off to work, friends.