When Power and Sleep Don’t Mix

Sometimes Cami has trouble going to sleep at night because her brain is so full. Years ago, in a moment of silently-breathed prayer (“Lord, how can I help her go to sleep??”), God inspired me with an art therapy for her, which I only pulled out on the most desperate occasions. As she grows into adulthood, she still takes advantage of this little trick: if your brain is too full, empty the thoughts out onto paper.

One Thursday evening, bedtime arrived at 9:00 p.m. Cami really tried to fall asleep, quietly snuggling her favorite stuffed animals, listening to homemade CDs of her favorite music, breathing deeply and evenly. Nothing worked.

Finally, after hours of my checking on her and encouraging her to keep waiting for sleep, she asked if she could draw “just one picture, Mom. Then it won’t be in my brain anymore. It will be on the paper.”

This image shows what was in her brain at 1:00 a.m. that Friday morning:

Thank You, Jesus, for the grace to let my girl be who she is, for the insight into how to help her live fully in her skin.

Seriously. How can a girl sleep with all that power in her head?

 

*An earlier draft was first published at ChosenFamilies.org on August 4, 2011.

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Easter Conversations

“Mom, are those macaronis done?”

I stirred the blue box of macaroni and cheese, adding sharp cheddar cheese a little at a time.

“I’m stirring them now, Honeybear.”

“Mmmmmmmm, they sure smell good.” Underneath the silence, I could hear the profound coming to the surface. “I wish I could see that smell.”

See that smell. While my brain was still picturing what this yummy smell might look like, Cami started giggling. “I’d be a Smell-a-Seer!”

Wow. What an incredible child God gave me. My favorite place to be is home with her, hanging out with her, listening to her. I learn so much from our conversations.

One Good Friday, I was driving her to a play date when she started clapping her hands. She said excitedly, “Easter’s almost here! That means the Easter Bunny will come and leave presents for everyone!”

At no time did we ever say to Cami, “On Easter, the Easter Bunny hops to your house and brings you presents.” When she was young, she received an Easter basket every year, a basket or bucket filled with many books, some games, and minimal candy. My sister and I received Easter baskets, so I guess I was just carrying on like I was raised.

This day, my heart sank to hear her Easter excitement connected to a make-believe figure that really doesn’t have any good history to him. I mean, who thought up the Easter Bunny anyway?

I said, “But Cami, the Easter Bunny isn’t the best reason we celebrate Easter, right?”

“Right.” Was that disappointment I heard in her voice? I started silently scolding myself for being such a spiritually lax mom. I determined to speak the truth, to pull the Eternal out into the open for my daughter.

“Why do we really celebrate Easter, Cami?”

“Because Jesus died.” She was thinking hard now.

“Well, not only because He died, but because He didn’t stay dead. He isn’t in the tomb anymore. If you go to Jesus’ tomb today, you’ll see that it’s empty. There’s no body buried there.”

Her voice started growing in excitement. “That’s right. He’s alive, and anyone who loves Him and believes in Him will never die. And He lives in my heart.”

We drove on a bit, talking about how everyone dies because our bodies aren’t made to last forever. For those who believe in Jesus, when they die here on Earth, they move to Heaven and get a new body, a better body, one that never hurts or gets sick. I knew her 5-year-old mind couldn’t grasp all that. My 40-something-old mind didn’t grasp all that. I just believed it.

A few minutes passed, and she said, “Well, I believe in Jesus, so I’ll live forever!”

I said, “I believe in Jesus, too. And so does Daddy.”

She said, “And Amy does. And Katie. And Bela and Kaya believe in Jesus.”

“I think you’re right, Cami.”

Silence again. And then: “Mommy, does Kevin believe in Jesus?” Kevin lived across the street. I talked to his mom quite a bit, but I had no idea where the family stood spiritually.

I had to say, “I don’t know if Kevin believes in Jesus or not, Cami.”

She said, “Well, the next time I see Kevin, I’m gonna ask him if he believes in Jesus. And if he doesn’t believe in Jesus, or even knows who He is, then I’m gonna tell Kevin about Jesus.”

My daughter’s faith overwhelmed me. I was amazed at her childlike trust that what Jesus said is true, that He loves her and wants to be with her.

The next day we were out and about, and Cami was totally quiet in the back seat. I asked her what she was thinking about.

“Spring. And why Easter has to be over.”

We talked about how Jesus being alive is never over. Because that’s why we celebrate Easter, it can be Easter every day of the year if we want it to be.

“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean it will always look like spring.”

No, Dear Ones, it won’t always look like spring. The seasons will always change; God promised us that (Genesis 8:22).

But Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He is steadfast. He is faithful. He holds everything together (Colossians 1:17).

And He is alive.

 

*An earlier draft was first published at ChosenFamilies.org on April 6, 2012.

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The Easter Gospel

I am grateful for this place to write and for the time you take to read this blog. I don’t take this privilege lightly. On the contrary, I believe this space matters greatly in God’s economy. So I want to use it well.

In this space, I try to honestly proclaim the many times and different ways in which God is faithful to give my family Happy Turtle Lives. I try to tell stories that I hope will matter to someone else; I try to say in a loud voice, “You are not alone, and God hasn’t abandoned you! He’s still working!” As I’ve been asking God what He wants me to write about this week, He keeps reminding me that it’s Easter, the culmination of the Gospel story of Jesus Christ.

Have you heard the Gospel story?

When I was a little girl, I wanted to live in Heaven with Jesus when I died. My parents, my pastor, and my Sunday school teachers told me that the only way to get to Heaven was to ask Jesus to come live in my heart. When I was four years old, I asked Jesus to come live in my heart and make me ready to live with God forever. I remember that day vividly. Even though I was very young, I know it was a real experience. I have seen God work in my life and in my family ever since that day.

My understanding of the Gospel has broadened and deepened since that day on February 17, 1970. On this Good Friday, let me tell you the Gospel story—what Jesus has done in my life, what He wants to do in your life, and why it all matters anyway. Because it is really important, I want to tell you the truth, just in case you’ve never heard it before.

There is only One God, and His name is Yahweh. He is holy, blameless, righteous, glorious, and good—and we are not. It makes Him sad that because of our sinfulness, our selfishness and envy and pride and all the other yucky parts of us, we cannot live with Him.

Because He so desires us and wants to live in relationship with us, He made a way for us to be reconciled to Him, to be brought back together with Him. He made a way for us to be able to live in His presence, to sit with Him and talk to Him and listen to Him. He sent His Son Jesus Christ to earth, to live with us, to be like us, only sinless, only good, only right, only holy— yet human like we are. When Jesus died on the cross, it was to pay the penalty that the One True Holy God demands for sin. Jesus died instead of us. He died so we don’t have to be punished for our sin.

Here’s the best part of the Gospel story, the part that makes Christianity different from all other religions: Jesus didn’t stay dead! Jesus died, was buried, and then rose to life again after three days in the tomb. Jesus walked on earth for 40 days and was seen by many people before He rose up to Heaven to be with God again. He told His followers at that time, “I won’t leave you alone. I will send My Spirit to comfort you after I leave. The Holy Spirit will teach you the ways of God, and will remind you of all the things I’ve told you.” (See John 14:16-18 and 25-26.)

That’s why other belief systems and Christianity—the Jesus-kind of Christianity—can’t be the same thing. No other god or prophet came back to life after being dead. No other god or prophet lives in the human heart and teaches people how to live like the One True God created and designed them to live. Only Jesus Christ does that. Only Jesus.

When my grandmother was in the hospital for the last time, I remember holding Mimi’s hand and telling her I was there. She couldn’t talk because she was on a ventilator, but the expression in her eyes changed when she realized I was there. I hadn’t seen her in probably more than a year. Her eyes smiled when she saw me. Then she saw my husband Michael leaning over my shoulder, and the corners of her eyes crinkled up like she would be smiling from ear to ear if she could.

She squeezed my hand so tightly. I told her how much I loved her, how much I would miss her when she moved to Heaven to live with Jesus. Michael and I had been going through infertility treatments, and we wanted a baby so badly. I remember saying, “Mimi, when you get to Heaven, you and Granny and Aunt Marlene get together and help Jesus pick out some precious children to send to us.”

She squeezed my hand even more tightly and nodded her head “yes” just slightly. “But don’t send me too many at one time, now!” I said. “Only send me what Jesus and I can handle.” The corners of Mimi’s eyes crinkled up when I said that. Mimi moved to Heaven just a week later, on July 18, 1999.

In November of 1999, Michael and I found out we were indeed expecting a baby. I know Mimi and Granny and Aunt Marlene look down from Heaven and delight at my Cami girl, how much like them she is, how much like Jesus she is. She asked Jesus to come live in her heart when she was five years old, and I clearly see Him living in and through her today.

Even though our time on earth comes to an end, our lives don’t end. God created us to be eternal beings. That’s why I could say those things to Mimi: I knew she would see Jesus and Granny and Aunt Marlene again because I knew they would all be together in Heaven. I knew they would be in Heaven because I’d seen the evidence in their lives on earth, evidence of the Holy Spirit changing them into new creatures, just like a caterpillar changes into a butterfly. (See 2 Corinthians 5:17-21.)

At Easter, Christians remember the Cross of Christ: His amazing grace that saves us from God’s wrath because of our sin; and His complete sacrifice, the shedding of His blood that washes us clean from our sin and gives us right standing with God.

At Easter, Christians also remember the empty tomb: proof that death no longer triumphs, that Satan is defeated and eternal life is ours in Christ. What happened in the tomb where Jesus was buried? God’s mighty power raised Him from the dead! In Ephesians 1:19-20, 3:20, and Colossians 1:11, the Apostle Paul tells us that we have that same power—God’s mighty power!—living in us through the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ.

The very Son of God in all His power and glory takes up residence—dwells, abides—in and through our very lives. How cool is that? That power, the Apostle Peter tells us in 2 Peter 1:3, gives us everything we need for life and godliness as we learn to know Jesus more and more. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like what I need is overwhelming, and what I have isn’t enough for what I need. But if I believe scripture (and I do), the truth is that I have everything I need for anything I’m going through because I have God’s mighty power in me, and that same power raised Jesus from the dead.

Today, look into your heart. Be honest with yourself: does Jesus live in you? Does He live through you? If He doesn’t, when you die here on earth, you will be separated from the One True God forever. He doesn’t send our spirits to earth over and over again until we learn to live correctly. We will never live a correct life on our own. Only Jesus lives a correct life. That’s why we need Him to live His life through us.

He loves you so much, Friend. He wants to live with you forever. But you have to invite Him into your heart to live in you and through you. It isn’t a choice that your parents or your siblings or your loved ones can make for you. You have to choose.

Please choose Jesus.

I pray that God, whose name is Yahweh, the One True God, will open the eyes of your heart so that you can understand all of His love for you, how much He wants to live in you here on earth and with you in Heaven after your time on earth is over. I pray that the Holy Spirit will speak the truth to your spirit so that you will understand the hope He calls you to. I pray that you will feel Jesus hugging you closely, that you will know that He is near and wants to live with you forever.

I pray that your struggle—whatever hardship, trouble, pain, or strife you’re facing—is just like the chrysalis that a caterpillar spins. In the dark of that chrysalis, the caterpillar changes from a squirmy crawl-on-the-ground creepy thing to a beautiful butterfly who floats and flies on the breeze. I pray that you, too, will become a new creature—an Easter person—who is new and whole and free.

“We are an Easter people and alleluia is our cry,”
Saint Augustine wrote.
Alleluia means I have found God in the here and now.
I celebrate the Presence that gives life quality and gives life meaning always.

I sing to Monday mornings, alleluia;
to washing dishes, alleluia;
to friends and work, alleluia;
to dawn and dusk, alleluia;
to old things and new, alleluia.

Say alleluia, alleluia, alleluia to life.
That’s what it is to be “an alleluia people.”

~~Sr. Joan Chittister
Benedictine Sister and spiritual writer

Alleluia! He is risen!

 

*An earlier draft was first published at ChosenFamilies.org on March 31, 2013.

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Back Off, Jack

A friend and I were comparing signs of how our children are growing up and branching out into adulthood. He talked about the choosing-a-college process and the decision-making skills that his son is cultivating. I talked about the moments when my daughter walks and speaks her faith in Jesus in front of me, about how it grows me as much it grows her.

One of my Bible study teachers told us a story about her friend in Louisiana, a heavyset African American woman who loved Jesus with all her heart. This lady used to sing back-up for Celine Dion, so you can imagine the timbre of her voice. She’d walk into a house, and if she felt demonic influence, she’d stick out her arm (like the “Stop in the Name of Love” move) and say loudly “Back off, Jack!”

In October of her kindergarten year, before we began to homeschool, Cami’s public school classroom Halloween celebrations and stories caught my girl’s attention, and not in a good way. At home in our townhouse, Cami would get spooked if the lights were off upstairs and she had to go up there. She’d come running back down, saying, “Mommy, I think there’s something bad up there. I’m scared.”

So I told her the story I’d heard in Bible study. I told her that Jesus loved her and protected her. She didn’t have to be afraid because Jesus was with her, and that when Satan tried to scare her, she just needed to tell him to back off, to go away.

So she did. She stuck her little hand out and yelled, “Back off, Jack!” Then we turned on the lights, went upstairs together, and went on about our business.

We’d been talking about how Satan tries to trick our hearts. He tries to tell us that we’re bad and stupid and ugly, and we can’t do anything right.

But God’s Word says the opposite of those accusations. Psalm 139 says that God made each one of us, and He made us all in a wonderful way. He doesn’t make stupid things, or worthless things, or unredeemable things. He formed us in our mothers’ wombs, crafting the bodies we have just the way He wanted to.

And He delights to watch us walk through our days. There’s nowhere that we can go where God isn’t. He has ordained—planned out, purposed, already made provision for—every day of our lives. He’s written every one of them down in His Book before we were ever born.

Cami and I didn’t have this conversation all at once, or even just one time. We talked about how much God loves us and treasures us over and over and over. As she struggled with her fear of the dark, I gave her the only answer I knew: Jesus and a light switch.

Soon after that, with simple sweet faith, Cami prayed at bedtime:

“Dear God, I love you, and I’ll love you no matter what. Sometimes the debil tries to trick my heart, but I just tell him ‘Back off, Jack.’ Amen.”

Amen.

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By Any Other Name

I have a confession to make.

Most people don’t know my name.

The federal government does. And the people at the bank. And my parents.

Most people know me as “Candi.” But that isn’t my real name.

My husband’s best friend asked me recently, “So how did your parents come up with the name ‘Candi’? Is it short for ‘Candace’ or does it just stand on its own?”

I was surprised at how shocked he looked when I said, “None of those are my actual name.”

My mother wanted to name me “Cassandra Michelle” because she read it somewhere and thought it was a beautiful, powerful name. When discussing the beautiful, powerful name with her mother and her sisters, they said, “That name’s too long. It needs to be shorter.”

So, my mom says, she “gave in” and said, “Fine, then. Her name will be Cassandra Jo.”

After I was born, my aunts wanted to call me “Cassie” for two reasons: it was shorter than “Cassandra,” and everyone in our family had a nickname. My parents didn’t like the name “Cassie,” which created a quandary for the family women-folk. My grandmother decided the matter:

“We’ll call her ‘Candi.’ What else are you gonna call nine pounds of sugar?”

So, my confession to you is this: most of the world knows me as “Candi.”

When I began blogging in the Chosen Families community, I was given the option to blog anonymously or as myself. I guess I chose something in between the two. I soon became uncomfortable writing as only “Cassandra.” I felt like I was keeping a secret.

I’ve wondered many times why my given name was such an anathema to me. (My husband, reading over my shoulder, said, “Anathema? Really? Like it was the worst possible thing that could happen to you? Your name?”)

Yes. When the teacher called the roll on the first day of school, and she said, “Cassandra” with my last name, I would quickly correct her—“Um, it’s Candi”—and slide down, wanting to hide under my desk.

I don’t know why that is.

So here I am, in my 50s, and I’m still tussling with my first name. Cassandra, or Candi? I didn’t choose either one for myself. Of course, the burning struggle underneath the seemingly unimportant question of proper name or nickname is “Who am I really?”

I have lots of names: wife, mom, sister, writer, reader, musician, genealogist, teacher, friend, neighbor, Cassandra, Candi…the list can go on if I think hard enough. I think of these names as hats I wear. Some hats can be worn simultaneously. Others, not so much. Sometimes I feel like I’m wearing so many hats that if I put one more on my head, they will either all come crashing down around me, or the sheer weight on my head will unbalance me and topple me over.

Too many names and not enough being.

I’m waiting with anticipation to see what name Jesus gives me, the name engraved on the white stone He will give me, the name only He and I will understand (see Revelation 2:17).

Until then, you can call me Candi. Or Cassandra. Or, as my daughter’s friend used to call me, “Mrs. Cami’s Mom.” Any of those will do.

They all mean me.

 

*An earlier draft was first published at ChosenFamilies.org on January 13, 2013.

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The Right Size

As far back as I can remember, I’ve thought of myself as overweight. Indeed, for many years, I have been overweight. A few summers ago, I embarked on a journey to reach the weight which God designed my body to carry. In that season of hyper-regulated eating, premade bars, and powdered shakes, I discovered a curious thing:

For much of my life, I’ve been content to wear clothes that are too big for me.

Overweight people wear plus sizes; I’m overweight; therefore, I must wear really large sizes. Those big shirts hid my actual shape and, I dare say, made me look heavier than I actually was. But I wore them because I believed they were what I should wear.

Wearing the right-sized clothes took some getting used to. I still have to make a mental adjustment when I purchase new clothes. I have to be honest with myself and buy shirts and pants that fit the body I currently have—not the body I used to have or the body I want to have someday. More times than not, finding clothes that fit me is a process involving fitting rooms and catalog returns. Each company has a different idea of what size is accurate to the label: a size large at one place is not the same size as a size large from another place. It’s exhausting. Yet when I find the right fit, I feel confident and beautiful.

In the same way, finding the right fit for my daughter, and discovering the right size for our family, has transformed the way we do life. When she was little, we jumped through various clothing hoops in order to accommodate Cami’s sensory struggles. Yet the fit I’m talking about here is in her environments, in her activities, in her friendships, in her transitions. Sometimes, it takes a major shift to find where Cami fits and what works for her. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a little tweak here and there in the status quo. Every time, it takes paying attention and being brave enough to say, “This isn’t working. Let’s try something different.”

My friend Betsy used to describe it as being a student of my child. She used to tell me that Cami’s learning glitches­—the dyspraxia, the dyslexia, and sensory processing disorders (vestibular, visual, and auditory)—were gifts from God because they made me slow down and pay attention to my girl. She was right. When we pulled her out of public school kindergarten all those years ago, we took time—time for Cami to heal from the traumas at school, and time for us to figure out who we were and what worked best for our family. We took time to discover the right fit for all of us.

We stopped looking at Cami as a problem to correct and instead embraced her as a puzzle to solve—an intricate, sometimes frustrating,  but always fascinating treasure to unlock. God forced Michael and I to take Cami out of the box that the benchmarks and growth charts and child-development books tried to keep her in. He helped us turn our girl loose in an open field and say, “Go be who you are. Let’s see what happens!” What we’ve discovered is this amazing human being who loves God with all her heart, loves other people in a truly selfless way, and loves to learn. We’re also discovering how to look at each other the same way we look at Cami.

We’ve stepped out of the trap of “supposed to be.” We’ve stopped comparing our family and our rhythm of life to other families around us. We’re finding the right fit for us. It isn’t easy. Sometimes, it’s downright chaotic. But every millimeter of the journey is worth it because we’re following Jesus, and I have to tell you: our family is brimming with life. Our hearts are settled and at peace with Him and with each other. We genuinely like each other!

As parents and caregivers, we must be careful—and intentional—to allow our loved ones to be who God created them to be. He made them fearfully and wonderfully, seeing them as His masterpieces, His beautiful, glorious works of art. He made us all that way, infusing us with His image. We are all different. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s true. Each one of us has a unique fingerprint, a unique DNA sequence, even a unique ear shape! God takes such great care to craft us each unique from anyone else. So why do we spend so much time and effort trying to look like everyone else? be like everyone else? do life like everyone else?

Be brave enough this week to ask Jesus to show you the right size and fit for your family. Just ask Him. And when you ask Him, be ready for the most amazing discoveries you could ever imagine.

Now glory be to God! By His mighty power at work within us, He is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope. Ephesians 3:20, NLT

Flattening boxes of fear and expectations, dancing in fields of grace,

Candi

 

*An earlier draft was first published at ChosenFamilies.org on April 28, 2013.

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Nobody Works Like Him

In John chapter 5 verse 17, Jesus told the Jews,
“My Father is always working, and I am working also.”

In Psalm 86, verses 8 through 10, David says,
“There is none like You among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like Yours.
All the nations You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord,
and shall glorify Your Name. For You are great and do wondrous things;
You alone are God.”

Yahweh alone is God. He is always working, and so is Jesus. Nobody works likes Him.

Who else would use a funeral to bring truth and life to a broken family?

When my father-in-law passed away right before Christmas, God gathered seven adult children from three different marriages and five different states all in one place for the first time in 28 years. God gave my husband the opportunity to host his siblings as they hung out together, and talked, and discovered how connected they really are. They’d spent their lives thinking their dad loved his other children more, when in reality, their dad didn’t demonstratively love any of them well. As they shared memories and confronted childhood hurts, Michael and his siblings found real relationships with each other, even planning a “Brothers Weekend” to continue connecting with and loving each other.

Who but God would use that very same funeral to give my daughter, who struggles with anxiety and extreme stage fright, the platform to declare His praise?

After the funeral, we all gathered at Granddaddy’s house—and when I say “we,” I mean seven adult brothers and sisters and their significant others, a step-mother and her siblings, an aunt, a step-sister and her husband, and lots and lots of cousins both children and adults. For my daughter, who struggles with noise and crowds and had already navigated days of extreme emotions and transitions, the situation had the potential to shut her down.

After the funeral, I’m changing from my funeral clothes into comfortable clothes when I hear Cami playing her melodica in the next room. If you’re unfamiliar with a melodica, just know that there isn’t a quiet way to play it. I hear her playing and I think, “Thank You, Lord, for giving her courage to play in front of people.”

I gather my clothes and walk out into the hallway where Cami meets me. “Mom?” The tiny hallway is crowded with two of us standing there.

“Yes, Love?” I try to maneuver around her in order to lay down my clothing burden. She takes a minute too long to answer, so I look into her eyes.

She takes a deep breath and whispers, “Would you sing so I can play the ukulele?”

Okay, this is new, I think. Usually she plays her musical instruments in her room with the door closed, or in the basement with the headphones on, or when no one is home so no one can hear her. My daughter used to cry during her piano lessons because she was embarrassed for anyone to hear her play, and she plays better than I do.

We’ve never made music together.

I say, “Sure, Honey. I’d love to sing while you play.” I put my funeral clothes down in a pile and walk around the corner. . .

. . .into a room filled with people—relatives, yes, but people Cami barely knows. And she wants to play in front of them.

“What song are we doing?” I ask her.

“Well, I know Good, Good Father pretty well. What about that one?”

What about that one?!? Only the worship song that undoes me and ushers me into God’s sweet Presence as I cry the ugly cry. What about that one??

“Okay. I know that one.”

Someone holds Cami’s ukulele songbook that I made for her, and she leans over to me and quietly says, “Just to warn you: I don’t strum very well.”

I’m just thrilled she’s willing to strum at all. But I don’t tell her that. “It’s okay, Love. You just strum, and I’ll follow you.” And she begins.

I start to sing, and I see my husband around the corner in the kitchen. His head whips up, and his jaw drops, and I can’t look at him anymore. He gets it. He gets what this moment is.

As I begin to sing the familiar words, simultaneously I’m having a conversation with myself and with Jesus. Because we women can do that, right?

Okay, Candi, don’t freak out. Don’t feel  how important this moment is, or it will freak Cami out.

Jesus, thank You for this moment!

Okay, hold it together. Don’t cry.

Yes, mark this moment in time. Worship Jesus through this amazing song; but don’t fall apart. You can do that later.

Jesus! How amazing You are! Help me hold it together right now, Lord. Please.

And then I reach the bridge of the song: “You are perfect in all of Your ways. You are perfect in all of Your ways to us.”

Love so undeniable, I can hardly speak. Peace so unexplainable, I can hardly think as You call me deeper still into Love. You’re a good, good Father. It’s Who You are. And I’m loved by You. It’s who I am.

Who but God would arrange a gathering of a family who was bitter and distrustful toward one another, and after over forty years of strife and misunderstanding, provide a song and a moment for His Truth to be displayed and proclaimed? Who but God would fold into that moment an opportunity for my daughter to find courage to use her gift in front of people, include me in the process, and show her dad and me that He is working out His will and His plan for her—He is freeing her voice—His way?

God the Father is always working. Jesus is working also. Not just for me, but for you, too.

Take some moments this week to think about the place in your life that’s hard, the place that seems hopeless—the situation that feels like God has forgotten. Ask Jesus to give you new eyes to see His working for you, loving you fiercely, and fighting for you. He is always working, but it doesn’t often look like what we expect. . .because nobody works like Him.

As He shows you His involvement in your circumstances, praise Him. As He calls you deeper still into His Love for you, run. Run towards Him—even if it seems odd, even if you’re afraid—especially when you don’t understand what He’s doing or why He’s doing it this way. He loves you, and He is always working, and He is perfect is all of His ways to you.

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Lessons From a Carrot Cake

Some traditions are worth keeping. Here’s a post from 5 years ago that’s still relevant for our lives. And it’s actually my husband’s birthday today, so the carrot cake is served. Enjoy!

Lessons From a Carrot Cake
November 3, 2013

Every year for Michael’s birthday, I make a homemade carrot cake. From scratch. Frosting, too. This endeavor has been a tradition in our family for over a decade. When we were first married, I tried the shortcut way of making his birthday cake from a boxed cake mix with store-bought frosting.

He made a face with the first bite and gently said, “What kind of cake is this?’

Then and there, I embarked on a quest to perfect the making of a bona fide homemade carrot cake. My quest was complete when my friend Wanda came over for dinner one night. She brought a cake pan full of yumminess, and my husband loved it. Surprisingly, so did I, and I don’t usually like carrot cake. I asked for the recipe.

It wasn’t hard. Just stir up a bunch of ingredients in a certain order, pour it in a pan, bake, and voilà!  Birthday cake that Michael loves! For the first few years, he didn’t seem to notice that I still used store-bought frosting. Then he raised the bar of excellence and asked me to make homemade frosting. At the time, we didn’t own one of those fancy mixers-on-a-stand, so it was the hand mixer for me. Maybe that’s where my I-only-bake-this-cake-once-a-year rule came from: making homemade cream cheese frosting with a hand mixer is no fun. I burned up the motor on a few mixers before Michael bought the KitchenAid we still own.

So this year, Michael’s birthday rolls around, and I make some choices that could potentially forever alter the way we traditionally celebrate his birthday every year. First, I decide to tweak the birthday cake recipe. I figure using whole wheat flour, stevia, and low-fat cream cheese can only make a yearly treat healthier. Right?

Which brings me to my second fateful choice: I add the ingredients in the same order as always, but this time, I let the KitchenAid do the whisking for me.

The end result? Carrot cake fail. Really. I begin the cake-making on the day before Michael’s birthday, determining to start a new celebratory tradition: birthday cake at midnight! I make the cake, and the frosting, using the healthier ingredients and the automated whisking. I think, “These layers look thinner than usual,” rationalizing that maybe it’s my imagination. After all, I only make this cake once a year. The layers come out of the pan okay, so I begin the frosting-making while the cake is cooling. I think, “This frosting looks kind of runny,” comforting myself with remembering that Michael always makes his own frosting because I can never get it quite right.

I put the cake together on the cake plate with the glass dome cover, working with the thin frosting as best I can. Michael encourages me with, “Your carrot cakes have never been about how they look. It’s how they taste that matters.”

At 12:05 a.m. on his birthday, Michael slices the birthday carrot cake and serves up three plates’ worth. He passes out the forks, and we all take a bite.

Y’all, Michael brags to others about my carrot cake. Which is wonderful because it means he really likes it.

Which is terrible when we taste this one.

Oh, it tastes okay, but talk about a jaw-workout! This cake is truly dense. “Maybe being in the cake-keeper overnight will moisten it some,” I think…secretly whispering prayers of thanks that I made this cake on the day before his birthday because now I have time to make another one.

Michael wakes up early on his special day to run some errands, including a stop at our church. I suggest we slice up the dense carrot cake because “someone at the church might actually like it.” My intentions are good. The cake tastes okay; it just didn’t bake up the fabulous way Michael’s birthday cake always turns out.

Then, to my chagrin, the cake is too dense to slice. I mutter to myself, “I’m going to have to throw this cake away.”

“Why?” Michael says. “It tastes all right.”

“I can’t slice it.” I hand him the knife. “Here. You try.” And my big burly strong-armed man struggles to slice his too-dense birthday carrot cake.

As I throw the entire cake in the trash (because, well, we can’t slice it), Michael heads to the grocery store for more carrot-cake ingredients. “I’ll get more ingredients, but you have to promise me something,” he says.

“What?” I ask.

“This time, don’t mess with the recipe.

It’s so true, especially in our journey with hidden disabilities, that we look for an easier way—a less-expensive therapy, an easier coping behavior, a better whatever (fill in the blank)—even when our method already achieves the desired goal. Why do we try to change what’s already working? Yes, sometimes, we need to question the rules. Sometimes, the recommended methods aren’t best for our family, for our loved ones, for ourselves. We need to ask the hard questions. We need to advocate for what brings life to all of us.

But when something works, and works well, when something brings life and health and peace, why do we still try to go with something “better”? Why can’t we just be content with the life God has given us and the way He’s given us to live it?

My husband says, “This time, don’t mess with the recipe.” So I don’t. I make the second birthday carrot cake with all-purpose flour, and sugar (2 cups!), and I whisk it all by hand in the big silver mixing bowl like I always do. I include original full-fat-content name-brand cream cheese in the frosting, and it all comes out perfect. We eat fabulous birthday carrot cake, and there’s enough left over for Michael to share with his buddies at the men’s retreat.

Rules can be broken, and recipes can be tweaked.
But once you find a fabulous method with consistent results,
don’t mess with the recipe.

The carrot cake recipe works so well (and I love her so much) that I break my I-only-make-this-cake-once-a-year rule and make another birthday carrot cake for my friend Betsy when she visits this week. It’s her birthday, too. As my own birthday quickly approaches, I briefly wonder how the cake would taste if I substitute bananas for the carrots, or maybe apples and cranberries, just for a change of taste.

Nah. I think I’ll stick with what works.

Candi’s Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Cake:
In a large mixing bowl, mix by hand with a whisk the following ingredients one at a time, whisking after each ingredient is added:
3 eggs
1 ¼ cups vegetable oil
8 oz. can crushed pineapple
2 cups sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
Using a mixing spoon, stir the following ingredients into the cake mixture:
1 cup raisins
1 cup pulverized walnuts
2 cups pulverized carrots
Pour into 2 round cake pans and bake at 350° F for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake layer pulls out clean.
Let cake layers cool completely before frosting.

Frosting:
With an electric mixer, mix together
½ cup sweet cream butter (1 stick @room temp) and
8 oz  cream cheese (1 package @room temp) (no low-fat) about 3 minutes on medium speed until very smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure even mixing. Add
2 tsp vanilla extract and mix. Slowly add
6 cups powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time until thoroughly mixed.
Mix frosting on medium high setting for 2-3 minutes.
If the icing is too thick, add up to 1/8 cup of whole milk as you mix.
Frost the cooled cake layers, slice, and enjoy!

Thankful for birthdays and tried-and-true recipes,
Candi

 

*An earlier draft was first published at ChosenFamilies.org on November 3, 2013.

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The Mommy Power

We’re headed tomorrow to meet up with family in another state, so I’m posting a Way-Back-Wednesday instead of a Throwback-Thursday post from the Candi archives. Although this event happened in June 2011, I find the encouragement for myself more timely and relevant than ever. 

I hope it encourages you also. Whatever God has called you to and anointed you for, He gives you what you need to accomplish what He asks of you. Because He’s a good Dad that way.

“Here are those bags, Mommy.” Cami leans into my office sideways.

“Thank you, Love. You can just lay them right there.” I point her to the piano bench. Her body language is wonky. Something’s up.

“Cami, are you okay?”

She shrugs off the question. “Sure. I’m fine.” Yet she still hasn’t looked directly at me. Clue #1.

As she heads into her room, shielding one side of her body from me (Clue #2), I put down my pile of papers to be sorted and I go after it. You know, the “it”: the whatever-is-going-on-with-my-daughter issue. It takes me a few minutes because I have a huge stack of papers in my hand. We’re moving this week (a wonderful God-story for another time), and we are all feeling the anticipation and excitement.

As I put down the last stack of papers, Cami says from the next room, “Mom, isn’t it time to say prayers?” Clue #3. She usually tries to delay bedtime.

When I step into her room, “I’m here,” I say as I approach the bed. Cami is already up in her loft bed, looking at me. I’m not quite sure how to describe her facial expression, but it ratchets up my sense of alarm. She’s got a little smile on her mouth, but it’s not a happy smile. So here I go, into the mess, having no idea what mess I’m getting into.

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“Cami, are you sure everything’s okay?” She nods her head. “What did you bring upstairs just now?”

She shrugs her shoulders. “Nothing.” That’s twice now. Cami is not usually the shrugging kind. Nor is she surly.

“I asked you what you brought upstairs just now. Let me see, please.”

“What?” she innocently asks. “It’s just a blanket. Why do you want to see it?” Now the alarm in my head is sounding at full wail.

“Cami, hand me the blanket.” As she picks it up, something falls out of it.

“Hmmm…I wonder how that got there,” Cami says as she hands me a pink fleecey blanket.

“Give me the rest, Cami.” (Be firm, Mommy Candi, and remember grace.)

I am stunned at the Big Reveal. My daughter hands me a granola bar.

Really? A granola bar?

“Are you hungry, Cami?”

“No, not really.”

“Then why in the world would you sneak a granola bar into your bed?”

“I dunno,” she says sheepishly. “I guess I wanted to test myself.”

While I dialog with my daughter aloud, I’m conversing with God and myself internally:

(Precursor to an eating disorder? She’s hiding food! God, give me the right words. Why would she hide food? She’s never done that before.)
{Be anxious for nothing, Child of Mine, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, tell Me what you want. Tell Me, out loud, right now. Model for her your relationship with Me.}

I reach up to put my hand on Cami’s head, and I pray aloud. I ask the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth, to help Cami understand her own motives, and to give me the wisdom I need to be the mommy Cami needs me to be. At first, Cami pulls away. I grab her hand. She squirms, but she holds my hand. With each prayer-word I say, she squirms less.

I say “Amen,” and Cami says, “I really don’t know why I did that, Mommy.” Her beautiful eyes are looking straight into mine.

“Maybe you wanted to see if I could guess what you had in your bed.”

Her tone and attitude totally change as she says with wonder, “How did you know?”

(Lord, help me speak truth in all gentleness here.) “Cami, I’ll tell you the truth. When God made me your mommy, He gave me a special set of super powers to help me be the exact mommy that you need.”

Puberty? No problem.

Struggling with friends? Piece of cake.

For if God is with me, then who can be against me?

He never sleeps. He never leaves. He sings over us. He delights in us. He gives us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Jesus.

He appointed and anointed me to be Cami’s mommy. I can do this.

Bring it on. I have the Mommy Power!

Writing in Community with Jennifer

*A previous draft was posted at ChosenFamilies.org on June 15, 2011.

Live loved, Friends, because we are,
Candi

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Confessions From One Tired Momma

Just wanted to let y’all know where we are with Cami and all the stuff happening with the Virginia Dickersons this summer. Because we need your prayers.

First of all, thank you for praying for wisdom, discernment, knowledge, peace, and faith for the health care professionals and us. To update you from the beginning: almost a year ago, Cami casually mentioned at bedtime that she’d been having “episodes” where her vision turned to particles of light which grew steadily brighter (although her vision never completely whited out). Accompanying these “episodes” were ringing in her ears, lightheadedness, and sometimes dizziness that made her have to sit down.

Our first step last September was to visit the pediatrician, a nurse practitioner actually, whom we love so much we drive to the further-away office to see her. At her recommendation, Cami had a full ophthalmological exam, which was clear. We learned migraines can happen without pain, and began to wonder if that’s what was happening.

Our next step was to consult a pediatric neurologist, who conducted a one-hour in-office EEG to see if we could catch one of the “episodes.” When that showed nothing, we went through a 48-hour at-home EEG where Cami’s head was covered with electrodes (and bandaged to keep them secure) and she carried a monitor for the duration of the test. When the first 24 hours were normal, I found myself praying, “Lord, please let her have an episode so they can collect the data they need to determine what’s happening to her.”

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Sure enough, the next morning, Cami had the worst episode she’d had to date. And the data was recorded. We waited for the results for two weeks, when we received an email from the doctor: no sign of seizures. But no next step to pursue answers either.

So we went on with life. This spring, Cami’s episodes became more frequent and sometimes left her with a dull headache. So we headed back to Dr. Melissa and sought a second opinion from the neurologists at Children’s National Hospital. Thanks to many prayers and a call from the pediatrician’s office, we were able to request an urgent appointment, which meant Cami started seeing Dr. Lavenstein three weeks ago instead of waiting until October of this year. We took the raw data from the previous 48-hour EEG test. When he read it, he saw “unusual activity in the lower left occipital lobe” which isn’t mirrored on the right side. He ordered an MRI of Cami’s brain to investigate if there’s a “structural” reason for the “cell irritation.”

As we waited between the appointment and the MRI — from Friday to Monday, when normally it takes 7-10 days to obtain pre-approval from the insurance company (another answer to many prayers) — I found some strongholds in my heart that surprised me. (Here’s where it gets real, y’all.)

1. I live in constant, though not always acknowledged, fear that God will take Michael and Cami away from me, that something devastating will happen and they will move to heaven before I do, that I will be left alone here without the two loves of my life here on earth.

Which might mean that Jesus really isn’t the center of my life. That I don’t really trust Him like I say I do. That, deep down in the darkest part of my soul, I believe He is a Taker and not a Giver.

I’ve asked God to heal my heart, to break down this stronghold that keeps me captive to fear and distrust. It’s exhausting to try to live here.

2. Although I try to live with open hands (because everything belongs to God anyway — we’re just stewards), I don’t live that way with my daughter. I don’t give her to Jesus because a. I’m afraid He’ll really take her (see Confession #1, above), and b. I feel entitled to her. She’s my only child. God gave my sister Sarah e.i.g.h.t. children; He only gave me one. It isn’t fair that He take her from me. She’s the only one I have, the only one I’ll ever have.

Which is my saying to Abba, “I don’t like the road You’re asking me to walk. I can do it better, I think.” Which is setting myself up as an idol, when my agenda, plans, wants, desires become what I cling to instead of trusting the Creator of all with my one and only daughter, my precious daughter, whom I love (Genesis 22:2).

Which leads back to the core belief I have about God that underpins Confession #1, above.

When we showed up for the MRI, they informed us the doctor had ordered the test to be with and without contrast. With contrast meant an IV of dye inserted into her bloodstream. Food dyes are Cami’s kryptonite. I panicked just a little at the thought of kryptonite in my girl’s veins. It turns out that the MRI dye is made of iron and water, nothing artificial, which makes sense. It took the tech three tries to find a vein for Cami’s IV, which is the only time I’ve seen her cry through this whole ordeal. What a brave kid she is.

As I sat in the room with Cami while she was in the MRI machine, I flashed back to her first few days of life, when I couldn’t hold her because of all the tubes and monitors, when I felt nothing but exhaustion, when everything was so different than I imagined having a baby would be. Michael and I went through a lot of difficult stuff to conceive Cami. My pregnancy with her was hard. She was born seven weeks early with underdeveloped lungs. And I was powerless to do anything to make her “normal.”

Theme song of my life. You’d think I’d sing it with gusto and ownership by now. You’d think it would be an anthem of celebration by now, accompanied by the knowledge that God isn’t powerless, that He is good, and He is for us, and He is trustworthy.

You’d think. (Did I mention Confession #1, above?)

We heard promptly about the MRI results: there are “two white spots” on her brain in the same area the EEG showed abnormal results, but structurally, Cami’s brain is “unremarkable.” Dr. Lavenstein prescribed an anti-seizure medicine that is also used to treat migraines. Cami is taking this medicine on a trial basis, to see if it helps. We’re on the fourth day of the fifteen-day ramp up to an almost moderate dosage. We’ve seen minimal side effects, and no episodes, so far.

(More answers to lots of prayers. So why are my insides still on the defensive, anxiously awaiting the other shoe to drop? Something’s definitely broken inside this heart of mine. And I don’t think it’s a healthy broken.)

Whewy. That’s where we’ve been, and where we are. Here’s where we’re going:

  • Cami, Roscoe,and I leave this week for a trip to Charlotte, NC to meet up with my folks while Michael travels to Canada on a road trip with his Bible study table mates.
  • Six days after that (June 2nd), I have rotator cuff surgery. (One to three weeks in a shoulder immobilizer, 30 days in a Controlled Cold Compression Therapy device, 2 1/2 months of physical therapy, all of which will hopefully alleviate the increasingly excruciating pain I’ve been trying to smile through and stay pleasant about.)
  • Ten days after that (June 13th), Michael leaves for a ten-day work trip. (Hoping I’ll be able to drive by then…)
  • During those same ten days that Michael is gone, Cami needs to go back to the neurologist for a follow-up plan. (Really hoping I’ll be able to drive by then.)
  • June 29th, Cami turns 14 years old.
  • July 4th, Michael blows stuff up for our yearly neighborhood Independence Day Celebration.
  • July 9th, Michael has ear surgery to try to alleviate his hearing loss.

Again, I say: Whewy.

All the above is why you haven’t heard from me lately. When I launched this new blog home, I had such noble intentions of writing often, posting brilliant insights that would change the world. For now, I’m settling for honest writing that lets in anyone who chooses to read it.

How can you pray for us? In addition to whatever the Holy Spirit prompts you to pray based on this novella, I ask that you pray for my heart to be continually turned towards Jesus, turned into the pain, so I can feel it and let Him heal it. Stuck in the brokenness, the sadness, the grief, the fear is never a fruitful place to be. I truly want to be effective in the Kingdom. I really do want Jesus to be the center of my life. It’s tough, though, trying to navigate how to love God first when I love these two people so fiercely, when they’re right in front of me, and there’s so much uncertainty.

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Pray that I will notice — and rest in — when God’s grace finds me. Because it does. It will.

Pray that I will see all the ways God is a Giver, all the ways He gives to me. Because He does.

Pray that I will live loved. Because I am.

Candi

 

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