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“Peace I leave with you”…hard, hard peace.

Oh my friends.  I have been putting this post off for far too long.  I have been wanting to share but couldn’t find words or thoughts or courage.  I still can’t really.

I want to introduce you to my friend, Kara Tippets.  Ok, she isn’t really my real friend, but it’s how I think of her.  I haven’t ever actually met her, but oh, how I love her.  I love her grace and her faith and her nearness to Jesus.

Kara’s story is one of profound grace and sorrow and faith.  I cannot even begin to tell you, but she can:

I first learned of her story back in October when my dear friend Ann Voskamp (also not my actual, real-life friend) first posted a letter Kara had written then read via youtube to Brittany Maynard, the young woman facing stage IV brain cancer who chose to end her life.  Brittany shared her story and it quickly went viral.  I had been so heartbreakingly intrigued by Brittany’s story that I was without words.

How does one find words?

But Kara did.

And she does, through every step of her hard journey, Kara finds words to lift.  Words to encourage. Words to teach big love in the midst of big sorrow.  Her words heal – not bones and organs and diseases.  Kara’s words heal souls.  Mine especially.  In my own battle with sickness, I have seen what it means to want to do so much more than a body will allow.  Although the disease in my story is different and that test result painted the word “chronic” instead of “terminal”, Kara’s words – her story has been a salve for my aching soul.

Every morning, I rush to her site to see what wisdom she has for us – for me.  Because when someone knows Jesus, really knows Him, you can see it on their face.  Hear it in their words.  And you can’t help but want to be near them.  Just like Zacchaeus when he merely saw Jesus face to face, his entire legacy changed.  The same is when I read Kara’s words.  My heart changes.  I see my story in a different light.  I am reminded that days are long, but years are short.

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Kara’s days are fading now.  In her latest posts, she shares that the fight is over, treatment has halted, Hospice has been called.  Just a few days ago, she wrote:

So, there it is.  My little body has grown tired of battle and treatment is no longer helping. But what I see, what I know, what I have is Jesus. He has still given me breath, and with it I pray I would live well and fade well. By degrees doing both, living and dying, as I have moments left to live. I get to draw my people close, kiss them and tenderly speak love over their lives.  I get to pray into eternity my hopes and fears for the moments of my loves. I get to laugh and cry and wonder over heaven. I do not feel like I have the courage for this journey, but I have Jesus- and He will provide it. He has given me so much to be grateful for, and that gratitude, that wondering over His love will cover us all. And it will carry us- carry us in ways we cannot comprehend. It will be a new living and trusting for many in my community. Loving with a great big open hand to my story being the good story- even when it feels so broken.”

Friends, this is peace – the hardest kind.  I am so thankful that I have found this testimony of peace. Please join with me and pray for this family, these people.  I feel a bit of their sorrow.  Not out of sympathy – although, I feel that.  But because Kara has become a friend in motherhood, a mentor in loving through hard seasons, and an inspiration to trust the One who knows through all the unknowns.  We sometimes never get to see the why of things this side of eternity.  But I think…this time, we can get a little glimmer of all the ways God has used a broken story to bring healing and strength and peace.  Hard, hard peace.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27

To read the whole story, you can buy her book, The Hardest Peace.

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Thank you Kara.  I will forever be grateful that I found you.  I can easily imagine we could have been girlfriends chatting over lattes about babies and Jesus and marriage and favorite books and hard decisions and mistakes and grace and forgiveness and life.  I can’t imagine your sorrow but I have dared to imagine your coming joy!  I will pray hard, long after you are gone for your people.  And one day, we will sit together, this whole community of saints at the feet of Jesus and all will be healed, all will be well and all will be right.

Until then….

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*All photos found either on Kara’s blog, Mundane Faithfulness or on her Facebook page.

“One Thousand Gifts”: Book Review…only 9 months later…

So…last October!? in another post, I hinted that there was a post coming about a book I had just read and now, nine months later, I have finally taken the time to sit down and actually hash it out.  I picked up “One Thousand Gifts” again recently and let the words transform me all over again.  There is no other book I recommend more often and more emphatically than this:

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In the corner of our living room, sits a table. Just an ordinary square table, nothing fancy bought in the early years of marriage from a Scandinavian furniture store by married babies trying to keep up with the trends.  Never could we have pictured that table where it sits now.  This simple table and the couch next to it are my Sinai, my Jacob’s well, my garden of Gethsemane, my very own Holy of Holies.  It is the very place where I meet God everyday most days.  I wake in the morning, I fill my mason jar of water,  settle into the corner of the couch already worn and shaped to my frame.  I reach over for my first drink of water then of living water.

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Under that most important book, and under my journal lies another important book.  One that managed to wreck my world, attitude, theology.  I first picked this book up about three years ago when it hit bookstores.  I remember getting halfway through that first chapter with all it’s sentence fragments and “blood pooling” and “baby sister dying” and “Does God really love me?” ‘s and I stop.  I close the book, I don’t get it.  I don’t get the poeticism, the hard agony of loss, of pain, of gut-wrenching heartache.  I remember – in my own naïve, holier-than-thou arrogance – wondering “how could anyone who has met God ever doubt his goodness?” Somehow, through multiple moves and a pregnancy and third new baby.  Unexplainable symptoms then ominous diagnosis.  An ineffective treatment that rendered me closer to death than ever imagined.  Through a marriage on the brink of statistic – talk of logistics and “I give up’s”.  Then… through glorious restoration of family and home and heart.  Through hearing the prognosis: chronic – but believing in healing.  Through unpacking our old life – having sat for countless months in storage box just south of the city – into our new home filled with hope and love and promise, I open a box marked “books” to find this one long forgotten.

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As the summer fades and I lay in the hammock and begin to try to muscle through the hard pages of loss and pain and closed doors, something sparks:

I wonder too…if the rent in the canvas of our backdrop, the losses that puncture our world our own emptiness, might actually become places to see.

To see through to God.

That that which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond.  To Him.  To the God whom we endlessly crave.”

I pour through page after thankful page of Eucharisteo.  The biblical Greek word for “Thanksgiving”.  Really, could it be that simple?  This plain Ann with no “e” tells of the secret.  The secret that really is no secret at all.  That “thanksgiving always proceeds a miracle”.   Miracle?  What is “miracle”?  It’s hard to talk about miracles when the word “chronic” has been painted over the canvas your life, your body.  Miracle, really?  That Jesus broke bread and gave thanks and still he faced death.   Where is the miracle?  The miracle is in the JOY.  That secret that really is not secret is this.  JOY.  Joy – not in place of, but in the midst of.  (Nehemiah 8:10, James 1:2-4)

Through late lunches and “I’m bored’s” and taps on my arm.  I smile, I nod, I highlight, I update my status with quotes:

“The only place we need to see before we die is the place of seeing God, here and now.”

and

“Thanks is what multiplies the joy and makes any life large, and I hunger for it.”

and

“The only real prayers are the ones mouthed with thankful lips.”

And I am thankful, I am.  But this – this daily listing of all the things I am thankful for.  I can’t seem to start it.  It just doesn’t register yet.  The pages get harder more real, more personal.  Then I get to the page, the one that stopped me for 2 whole months.  Page 89.  I just couldn’t get past it.  I couldn’t swallow it.  I took pictures of it, I texted it to friends.  I took it to bible study looking – searching for wise counsel (Proverbs 11:14) on this hard pill to swallow:

“I won’t shield God from my anguish by claiming he’s not involved in the ache of this world and Satan prowls but he’s a lion on a leash and the God who governs all can be shouted at when I bruise, and I can cry and I can howl and He embraces the David-hearts who pound hard on His heart with their grief and I can moan deep that He did this – and He did.”

What!?  This?  No?  It can’t be!  How can the God who knows all things.  Who formed me and knew me beforehand.  Who imagined me and positioned me.  Who breathed life and conquered death.  Who allowed – no, sent His own son to face the ultimate suffering.  How can this very One be involved in my agony??  Because He IS.  He is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.  The creator of the universe, and the holder of my heart.  And I toss and I turn and I flail and I doubt and I ask, those same hard questions that I thought so unthinkable just three years before.  “Does God really love me?”  Does he really have my best in mind.  Is he really working all things for my good?  (Romans 8:28)

I see so much agony – my sweet friend who has been sick and never found a name for an illness that tormented her.  That would leave her unable to do the everyday that we all take for granted.  And I think “God, why!?”  I think, “there is no one wiser or more gracious or more faithful or more generous.  No one more like Jesus.  What could she possibly need to learn or be broken of?”  Then – when I finally stop my wrestling and I listen – I hear…”Who would have pulled you through your darkest days of sickness?  Who would have spoken life to you?  Who would have taught you the true meaning of Eucharisteo, of Thanksgiving?”  And it breaks me.  I see that he loved me enough to send his son.  He loved me enough to let my dear friend suffer so that he could comfort her and teach her how to comfort me.  (2 Corinthians 1:4)

I see my sister, the one who would have made a better mother than me – than anyone.  This mother without children.  And I ache and I scream, God just one?  Couldn’t she just have one?  And I show my inability to see through the lens of eternity.  Again, I still.  And I see her children.  All the ones she holds in India and in the ER.  The ones she fights for and cries for when no other human does.  And then I see the possibility.  If we are still breathing, our story on this earth isn’t over.  Is it ever really over?

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So I go back, back to chapter 1 and try again:

maybe you don’t want to change the story, because you don’t know what a different ending holds.”  Then:  “There’s a reason I am not writing the story and God is.  He knows how it all works out, where it all leads, what it all means.  I don’t.”

So I swallow it, that pill that I’m choking on.  That page 89 roadblock and I turn the page:

“If I had the perspective of the whole, perhaps I’d see it?  That which seems evil, is it a cloud to bring rain, to bring a greater good to the whole of the world?  Who would ever know the greater graces of comfort and perseverance, mercy and forgiveness, patience and courage, if no shadows fell over a life?”

There it is, I see it.  I am transformed and changed and rearranged and gutted by this truth.  The truth that it never was actually all about me.  God is for me, but who am I for?  Because it only works if I am for Him.  When my focus is on me, none of life makes sense.  But when my purpose is for Him, the “why” ceases to matter.  Because He knows, I don’t have to.

“The quiet song of gratitude, eucharisteo, lures humility out of the shadows because to receive a gift the knees must bend humble and the hand must lie vulnerably open and the will must bow to accept whatever the Giver chooses to give.” 

In an endless cycle of grace, he gives us gifts to serve the world.”

Ahhh…the world.  This whole dance of eternity centered around one hard, beautiful theme:  redemption.

I finally see what it took this Farmer’s wife counting 1,000 ways that God loves, to see.  Joy.  The world warps, but He redeems.  Everything.  Even that which seems unredeemable.  I breathe in grace and breathe out thanks one thousand times over and over.  Because to stop thanking is to stop seeing through the hard, everyday, muck to this theme of redemption.  And I am thankful, thankful that this self-proclaimed farm-hick chose to fight for joy and to share the secret.  I will be forever thankful.

So I dare you to read this book.  To start counting.  “Because thankgiving always turns what we have into enough.”

 “And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.   They all ate and were satisfied…”  Matthew 14:19-21 

 

  

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