Hope: Between Desire and Surrender

I have wanted to write this post for a while. It turned over and over deep in my gut, but the words hadn’t reached my lips yet. Until today. Something shifted in my heart and I knew there were thoughts I needed to share.

In the past few years since Bryan’s cancer diagnosis and Sage’s cerebral palsy diagnosis we have run across a familiar philosophy over and over again. There are some Christian circles that it is particularly dominant in, but it permeates even the secular. This philosophy has one thing to say to us in the midst of dark seasons and difficult circumstances: Just Believe. Just Stay Positive.

When those touting this philosophy hear of Bryan’s cancer or my daughter’s cerebral palsy they say things like “You just have to have faith, you just have to believe and not doubt and the prayer offered in faith will cure the sick man. You just have to believe and it will all be ok.” The more secular version would say something like, “You just have to stay positive. If you stay positive you can change your energy. Envision what you want to happen.”

I wrestled with these statements. On a lot of levels.

A few weeks ago a woman stopped me at my son’s school and asked a few questions about my daughter, Sage. Then she asked if she could pray for Sage and I of course said yes. She didn’t get more than a few words into the prayer before I started to feel uncomfortable. She prayed the kind of prayer that prays “in faith”. She asked for my daughter’s healing.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I would sing loud songs of praise if my daughter was suddenly able to do the things which have so far been so difficult for her. If she could walk or talk my heart would dance.

But here’s the thing, my daughter isn’t a problem to be fixed.

I would love for God to step in and changing my daughters condition, but I am also ok if he doesn’t. And she is too. She is enough as she is. She is not a problem to be solved or a broken puzzle to be fixed. She is a beautiful, full, lively, and bright, little girl who has value exactly as she is. And I sing loud songs of praise every day and my heart dances happy steps just because I get to be her mama.


So often, in the church especially, and western society particularly, we come at things from this industrial mindset of “fixing”. We aren’t comfortable with discomfort, we aren’t comfortable with grief, we aren’t comfortable with things that don’t fit our normal little boxes and so we try to fix them. We think that if we pray the right prayer, do the right thing, then things will be ok.

We would all say that we know being a Christian isn’t going to make our lives perfect, but when it really comes down to it isn’t that sort of what we believe? We believe we are owed something. Sometimes we put some prerequisites on it, like “if we have enough faith” or “if we’ve found enough favor” by doing the right things, but essentially we are saying if we have/do x than God will do y.

That is not the God I know.

The God I know doesn’t fit in my nice neat little boxes. He doesn’t make life perfect, or even comfortable, he likes to shake things up instead.

This whole philosophy of “having enough faith” never sat right with my heart, because it feels like putting God in a box. It feels like creating a formula for what we want.

I know there are verses that supported it, but I couldn’t fully understand them. It didn’t sit right with me because it didn’t feel like obedience to what I knew deep in my bones I was being called to do when it came to Sage’s condition, or when it came to Bryan’s.

Throughout the first few years of Bryan’s cancer diagnosis, and especially at this time last year, I didn’t feel like I could hope, and honestly I didn’t feel like I was suppose to.

I constantly felt God calling me to put Bryan (and Sage) completely and utterly on the alter, as Abraham put Isaac on the alter, completely ready for the worst to happen. I had to wrestle through all of my feelings associated with the worst happening. I had to come to a place where I could say “Yes, Lord, I will follow you even into that.” I had to wrestle with God’s faithfulness, his trustworthiness.

I had to go into the dark places. Not avoid them with nice platitudes or positive thinking.

Holding on to positive thoughts, holding hope and faith, felt fake. I couldn’t for the life of me make it feel honest. I knew in my heart that when I tried to be positive, tried to believe that Bryan was going to be ok, all I was doing was running from God, trying to cover over my fear in my own strength. When I forced myself to think of positive outcomes, when I forced belief that I didn’t have, I made it all about me instead of about God.

And that is exactly what that sort of “just have enough faith” thinking does, isn’t it? It makes it all about us. It makes it all about what we can do for God. I don’t want a faith like that.

The truth was that I couldn’t hold positivity and hold obedient surrender at the same time. Believing in the best possible outcome went hand-in-hand with trying to control my own future and I knew deep down that wasn’t what God wanted from me.

He wanted something entirely different. I heard it in every whisper of the spirit. I sensed it in every dark corner of my heart. I felt it with all my fear and all my broken humanity. We were waging a battle and the battle wasn’t for belief it was for control. It was for my very soul.

I didn’t need to pray the prayer that could move mountains, I needed to pray the prayer of Gethsemane. I needed to voice my desire to go another way. “Lord, if there is another way”, and wrestle with the God who says no.

I needed to lay down all my plans for the future in the hands of a sovereign God. I needed to abandon all of my idols, the most significant being my own way. I needed to come to the place where I could enter into my worst fear, go into the darkness of the worst possible scenario, and find God still there. I needed to come to a place where I knew that the Spirit would still be trustworthy whatever cross might be laid upon my shoulders.

I had a moment last Christmas when all of that wrestling with God came to a head. And something in my soul broke. Of course there have been other battles for control since, but I have lost them more quickly and laid them down more gladly.

But, now there is something new.

There are so many parallels between this Christmas season and last Christmas season when it comes to Bryan’s cancer, but this season feels so different.

Last Christmas at this time everything was uncertain, Bryan had tumors all over his body and we weren’t sure if the treatment we were pursuing would do any good. This year the same is true, Bryan’s tumors are growing slowly but steadily. The treatments we have been using don’t seem to be working and we don’t know if they will start to work.

But, my heart is in a different fight now.

In this season there has been another whisper that comes to me when I am quiet. At random times over dishes, or laundry, or on my yoga mat I feel it. Hope is rising. Without effort on my part, without contriving. It comes.

And I am instantly faced with a temptation. Will I let it in? Or will I doubt hope’s whispers? Will I only believe what my eyes can see or will I hold hope in faith?

When Bryan’s tumors stopped responding to the last treatment, when they started to grow again last fall, and we knew we had to pursue another treatment, I felt so clearly and strongly that this next treatment would work. Maybe not forever (probably not forever) but for awhile. Now we are pretty far into this treatment and there is no sign that it’s working. Bryan has a tumor in his stomach the size of my fist which isn’t getting any smaller. I can see things growing. I can feel new tumors appearing. There is a temptation to panic.

Yet that voice keeps calling me, “Will you listen to me instead of to what you see?” Hebrews 11 keeps coming to mind, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” I come again to the story of Abraham and Isaac but with different eyes and a different struggle. I face now the faith of Abraham. And I hear the voice of Spirit with a loud and clear message, a message of hope.

I come again to the passages about faith which can move mountains and they don’t sit as awkwardly and uncomfortably in my heart.

Last year I couldn’t hope. Last year I couldn’t believe. And I don’t think God wanted me to, not then. Because last year, I couldn’t hold hope without holding on to the outcome I wanted. I couldn’t hold belief without holding onto control. I couldn’t hold faith without making it all about me and my own desires.

But, something is different now, and I feel it deep in my gut. Now that I know what it feels like to surrender to sovereignty, I can ask for faith without trying to force faith upon myself in my own strength. Now that I am not trying to escape from anything or fix anything, I can explore what it means to ask in hope. 

I had to let go of everything before I could begin to learn what it is to hold on to something with hope.

Now, I can feel the freedom to hope. Not with a childlike hope, which requires getting what it wants in order to be fulfilled, but with an mature hope. A hope that can hold desire with open hands, a hope that can hold the white space between desire and surrender.

Rejoicing in the journey,

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A Story of Guilt, Hiding, and Grace

When I was nine years old I kept a picture hidden, buried, at the bottom of my top dresser drawer.

It was a picture from my seventh birthday party. As far as I can remember it is the only picture from that day. A picture of my friends and I standing under a tree with a piñata hanging from one of the branches. We were wearing swim suits and our hair was still wet from refreshing hours spent swimming in the pool.

I didn’t keep this picture in my dresser because it reminded me of a wonderful birthday party. I kept it there, because I couldn’t bare to look at it. I didn’t want to see it in the photo albums or framed in the hall. I wanted it hidden.

Every time I looked at it I was filled with guilt.

I felt guilty for my behavior at that birthday party.

Years later, thinking back to that day still made me feel like a terrible friend, and a terrible person. I didn’t do anything at my seventh birthday party that most seven year olds haven’t done at one time or another. My crime was simple and common.

I ignored all of my friends in favor of one particular friend: my cousin. She and I went off and played in the deep end pretending to be mermaids and refused to let any of the rest of my friends play with us. We were cruel in our rejection of them, like all little girls can be. Many would probably be able to shrug off a guilt like this with a simple “I was young.” Not me.

It took years before I could think of that party without feeling guilt. I wanted to be a good friend and that birthday party was the epitome of my failure at achieving that desire. It was a landmark proving that I wasn’t as good a friend as I wanted to be. And so I hid it away, not wanting anyone to be able to look at the picture and perhaps discern from it how far I had missed the mark. Not wanting to be reminded of my own ugliness of heart.

I didn’t want to show who I really was, or who I was capable of being: The mean girl.

This was one of my earliest experiences with guilt. It was also perhaps the first time I truly recognized sin, brokenness, ugliness, in myself instead of just in another.

For as long as I hid away that picture, nothing changed. My heart carried a heavy memory of guilt. But, it was not the kind of guilt that leads to healing and confession. It was the kind of guilt that eats away at you and creates its own form of ugliness.

In many ways I still struggle with this kind of reaction to the broken places in my heart and life. I hide them away, try to ignore and forget about them, while all the time carrying with me a guilt that eats at my soul. It’s the kind of guilt that leads to more hiding.

Over the years though, I have learned something profound, and it is part of why I write on this blog; part of why I write at all. Guilty hiding doesn’t lead to healing, but open confession can. It is only when I openly begin to recognize and admit to the broken potential in my own heart that I can openly begin to receive from God the grace that covers all.

When I can admit that I am capable of being the mean girl, I can come out of hiding and find that Christ clothes me with his grace.

So often I try to pretend that I am fine on my own. I try to pretend to others and to myself (and even to God) that I am the good girl. There are so many terrible things that I have never done, so I must be doing fine, right? Wrong. The truth is my heart is still so broken. I may not have done x, y, or z, but I am capable of doing x, y and z. And it is only when I begin to acknowledge how capable I am of being the lier, the hater, the abuser, the adulterer, that I can begin to fall heavy on the grace of God.

This sort of recognition does not lead to guilt, but frees from it. Guilt is a feeling of hiding. Confession clears the air of guilt and invites instead grace and hope for transformation. This is the work of the gospel. This is the gospel of grace.

I often think of that little girl I was so long ago, hiding that picture away in my dresser drawer. Trying to pretend that I was the nice girl, the good girl, the perfect friend, when deep down I knew all along I was none of those things. I wish I could tell her to open the drawer. Let in the light. Embrace the ugliness in your heart, because it is only in embracing your great need that you can embrace God’s abundant grace.

I send so much love and hugs to that little girl I was, and to the grown woman I am, who still struggles often with guilt and hiding. God’s grace is waiting. And it is so much bigger than I ever imagined. Big enough to cover all. And welcome all. Every fall, every sin, every thought, every potential thought. It can all find grace in the arms of Jesus. All we need to do is open the drawer, and step out of hiding.

Rejoicing in the journey,

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On Anxiety, Anger, and Trust

Slowly I put one foot in front of the other. To my right, windows reach from floor to ceiling. In the darkness of night I can see the snow on the rooftops below sparkling in the building’s light. To my left, a wall of glass looks down on the hospital entryway below. During the day the noises of people echo softly through this hall way, but now all is quiet.

From the top floor this hall circles the edge of the building, circles the entryway below, and as I walk it’s circles my heart circles around the same worries. Each lap taking me a little deeper into anxiety. I walk as if trying to shake off the day, trying to escape the fear that has gripped me, but with each circling lap it becomes more and more clear that it’s not working.

Only hours before I stood in the Urgent Care with my four year old son. He sat in a stroller nearly too small for his preschool body. His eyes glazed over in a motionless stare. His little face flushed with the fever which had reached 103 degrees only minutes before. He complained of a headache and begged me to hold him. My heart longed to sweep him up in my arms and cuddle his aches away. I wanted to hold him close and never let him go. But, my head recoiled. I would never hold back my love for my child just because I was fearful of catching whatever illness he had, or at least I had never thought that I would, but in that instant I had to. I had to protect myself as a means for protecting my husband.

Bryan is now half way through his chemo treatment. His white blood cells are starting to fall. The goal of this treatment is to bring his white blood cells as close to zero as possible. They literally want to destroy his immune system. Once he is neutropenic then the real treatment can be given. That is when they will give him the millions of white blood cells – his white blood cells – that they have grown and trained to fight his particular cancer. That is also when they will give him Interleukin 2 as a support for the cells they inject into him. During that time he will have no immune system, he will be dangerously susceptible to illnesses and infections of any and every kind.

I cannot risk getting sick now, because Bryan cannot risk getting sick now. I will not be separated from my husband during the most difficult thing he has ever walked through. So I say no to my son’s begging. I step back instead of stepping forward and my heart breaks. My sister flashes me an understanding and heartbroken look, before offering to hold Thad for me. “Thad, can I hold you? I’m not your mommy, but I am a mommy? Can I hold you?” My heart swells in gratitude for my sister – she has a beautifully mothering heart – but at the same time it aches for my son.

I had thought I understood stress. I thought I was already under as much stress as I possibly could stand, and then Thad came down with a fever and I felt my worst fears being realized. I couldn’t pray. I couldn’t even think. All I could picture was myself coming down with whatever Thad had and being unable to be with Bryan and then Bryan getting it anyway because he had already spent time with Thad. This has been one of my worst fears since coming to NIH. And now I felt that fear knocking on my door, threatening to come in.

Looking back on the day as I walk I try to pray. I beg God to protect Bryan and keep him well, to protect me and keep me from coming down with anything, to heal Thad and restore him quickly. Lap after lap I lay the same request before Him. But, the hall is silent and my anxiety only grows. And then as I round the corner I hear a gentle voice, “You are worrying about something you cannot control.” And I only walk faster. I want to scream, “But I WANT to control it. I don’t want to get sick. I don’t want Bryan to get sick! I don’t want anything to happen to Thad and I don’t want him to suffer through illness without his mom! I DON’T WANT THIS! It’s not right! I want to worry about this because I want to control this.”

The voice comes back again, “But you can’t control this.” And I remember my blog post from a few days ago about Worry. I remember how I had concluded that it seemed ok to me to worry about things that I could control, choices I could make – it seemed ok, and perhaps even right, to worry about the things that were within my free will.

I fight back again, “But there were decisions I could have made things I could have done to prevent this! I shouldn’t have let Thad come out here. I should have kept him home. Even today when my sister told me he woke up teary and seemed out of sorts I should have heard that as a warning sign and kept him away. I should have left him and sent him to urgent care with my sister instead of going myself and exposing myself to whatever other germs there were at the urgent care. I should have… I should have… I should have…”

The voice is gentle, “You did what you could. You made the choices that seemed best to you at the time. You took steps to protect both Thad and Bryan. You got Thad on antibiotics right away, even though that wouldn’t normally be your first course of action. You wore a mask yourself and used lots of hand sanitation and even showered before going back to see Bryan. You did what you could within your free will. So, why are you still holding on to this? Why are you still so anxious over something you can’t control?”

Finishing the lap I stop and stand still. Directly in front of me is the small hospital chapel. I move towards the doorway as if pulled by gravity. But I cannot step inside. There is a war going on within me and stepping inside would be acknowledging defeat.

In my head I know that I shouldn’t be holding on to this anxiety about something I cannot control. In my head I know that Bryan could get sick while he’s neutropenic and there could be nothing that I can do to stop it. In my head I know that I could get sick – not only from my exposure to Thad, but just from the fact that I’m hanging out in a hospital all day. I know that I cannot control whether or not those things happen. I can take steps to prevent those things from happening, but now that I have done that I should be able to let go of the anxiety and trust God to do for us what is best.

But, there is the clincher. There is the heart of the issue. Trust.

Standing in that doorway, unable to step forward and yet also unable to step back I know I face a choice. The same choice I have faced a thousand times before and will probably face a thousand times again. Will I trust?

I start to cry. Not the soft tears of acceptance, but the hard sobs of anger. I am angry that Thad got sick. Angry that there is an increased risk that I will get sick and that Bryan might get sick. But, more than that I am angry that we are here at all. It is the first time I feel it, really feel it deep in my bones, this anger at the injustice, the un-rightness, of cancer. “God, how can I trust when you are not trustworthy!?!?” The words spill out of my lips thorough desperate broken cries.

“Do you really believe that?” “YES!” I cry back. And the truth is finally out. My head may proclaim God’s trustworthiness, but my heart tells a different story. In the depths of me there is not just questioning of God and his trustworthiness there is a knowing. There is a root within me that knows without a doubt that He is untrustworthy.

And now we can really talk. Now that the heart is exposed we can really begin the battle. In the silence a simple thought comes. How do you define trustworthiness? By who’s standards do you judge your God?

By my own, of course! By my own desires and goals and wills. I want what I want and when I don’t get it, like a small child, I holler and yell and believe that God is untrustworthy. Standing in that door way that is exactly what I do. I throw a classic tantrum. I fall to my knees. I play out all of my worst scenarios in my head and ask myself at the end of each “Would God be trustworthy then? How could God be trustworthy if that happened?”

God does not defend himself. He is silent, but more present than I have ever felt him before. And then when I have few tears left to cry the words come, “Will you follow me anyway? Will you follow as Abraham did, to an alter? Will you place Thad and Bryan and Sage and all that you care for in my care, on my alter, as Abraham placed Isaac?”

Remembering the story I suddenly felt calm, “Will you give them all back to me safe and sound, as you gave Isaac back to Abraham?” But, I know as soon as I speak the words that this is not a bargaining ground. This must be trust, real trust, complete trust, heart trust. I stand again and stare through the doorway, down the isle, at the simple alter in the front of the chapel. And suddenly something breaks within me and I take that first step singing through choked tears.

You are good You are good
when there’s nothing good in me.
You are love You are love
On display for all to see
You are light You are light
When the darkness closes in
You are hope You are hope
You have covered all my sin

(Oh) I’m running to Your arms
I’m running to Your arms
The riches of Your love
Will always be enough
Nothing compares to Your embrace
Light of the world forever reign

You are peace You are peace
When my fear is crippling
You are true You are true
Even in my wandering
You are joy You are joy
You’re the reason that I sing
You are life You are life
In You death has lost its sting

You are more You are more
Than my words will ever say
You are Lord You are Lord
All creation will proclaim
You are here You are here
In Your presence I’m made whole
You are God You are God
Of all else I’m letting go


It feels like a very long walk from the doorway to the alter, but is in reality only a couple of steps. By the time I reach the alter I fall to my knees again, arms raised in the empty chapel. This is what it means to surrender. This surrender costs something.  This is what it means to praise in the midst of darkness.

After a few minutes the tears ease up and I feel drawn to the podium. On the empty podium rests a large lectionary. I turn to the marked page – the reading for the second sunday in Advent:


When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see:The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[b] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

I nearly laugh when I read the passage, but instead tears begin to flow again.

Many years ago when I was in college and going through a difficult season, questioning God’s goodness, I read a book called The Prisoner in the Third Cell . It was very transformative for me and centered around this passage of scripture when John the Baptist was in prison.

Here is John in the middle of his own dark night, questioning the very Jesus whom he had proclaimed. John was faced with the same question I just wrestled with in the doorway of this hospital chapel, “Will you follow me even though you don’t understand me? Will you follow me even though I don’t do things the way you want me to do things? Will you follow me even though it might cost you everything you hold dear? Will you follow me and trust me even though I may lead you to places you wouldn’t choose to go?”

The walk away from the podium, away from the alter, out of the chapel was entirely different from the walk in. My heart was light as I crossed easily through the doorway. I will follow. I do trust.


Rejoicing in the journey,



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The Desire to Know


“But the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” Genesis 3:4-5 (emphasis mine)


We want to know what God knows, don’t we?


We want to know good and evil.

We want to know why. Why does this happen, why doesn’t that happen?

We want to know the outcome of our days, the number of our days. We want to know what the future holds. We want to understand the past. We want to know what we should do in the present. What decisions should we make? Should we go this way or that way?


We want to know.


We don’t want to trust.


In my own life right now this desire surrounds me on all sides. We all want to know what the results of Bryan’s next PET scan will show. We want to know if the cancer is getting worse or getting better. We want to know what the outcome will be and what steps and decisions are best for us to make now. We want clear knowledge, assurance, and direction about what the best treatments will be going forward. We want to know the future and the number of our days.


And with my daughter we want to know how she will develop. Will she walk? Will she talk? We want to know the exact steps we have to take to make sure that she does do those things.


We want to know good and evil – we want to know what path is best to take (what path is good) and what path is not (what path would be evil for us). We want to know where we should live, where we should work, how we should spend our days.


We want to know… because we want to control.


But, the truth is we cannot be like God. We are not God.


Even with the knowledge of good and evil, even with our eyes being opened as Adam and Eve’s were, we are still not God. The serpent lied.


And yet the desire to be God, the desire to know, to control, to determine our own destinies, is not lessened, it has only grown greater.


Knowing may be desired, but it is not in our best interest. It is not what God desires for us. I am not sure we could ever understand or know as God does – we are not God (although we often set ourselves up as little gods).


And so God hides himself. He veils the future. He speaks in parables. Not to frustrate, but to help. To lead us to trust.


It is not knowing that God wants from us, it is trusting. Trusting in Him. Following Him with faith like a little child’s.


Today, as every day, I find myself surrounded in unknowing, surrounded in waiting. And God asks, “Will you trust? Will you stay in the unknown, will you be content in the waiting, will you live in the now?”


Adam and Eve’s story becomes for me a parable for my own season of unknown. Will I, as my ancestors before me, usurp control and grasp at knowing? Or will I trust?


I hope I trust.


Rejoicing in the journey,


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Sharing Somewhere Else Today

Today I have the opportunity to share on a topic very near and dear to my heart over at the wonderful site Lark and Bloom. I’m sharing about severe mercy’s and when God gives you things you never wanted. Here’s the link.

If you aren’t familiar with Elizabeth and her beautiful site you should definitely take time to check it out while you’re there. She is constantly writing posts that inspire, encourage, and call me onwards and upwards towards our God.

Liz is currently running a series called the Dirty Gospel and it has been full of beautiful and thought-provoking posts. Very worth the read.

So, head on over there, read my guest post, say hi to Liz, and explore the rest of the site. It’s one of my favorites.

Rejoicing in the journey,

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