Garden Grace

One spring day, I worked in the front garden, filling in squirrel holes and looking for new growth. My garden project for that day was to place two shepherd’s hooks that would eventually hold wind chimes or garden baubles—something whimsical and fun.

Cami scootered up the sidewalk, pink helmet and all.

Me: Cami, where should the wind chimes go: on each side of the steps, or should I put some in my garden?

Cami: Mom, you know, it isn’t what’s in the garden that’s important, but the heart of the gardener.

Me: (blink blink)

Me: Where did you hear that?

Cami: I just know it. (Tone of voice=“Isn’t it obvious?”)

Me: (Deep breath.) Well, that’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard. Thank you for saying it about me. That really touches my heart.

And she scootered away.

How blessed I am.

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Lessons From the Cardinals

Cami and I love nature. We’ll take 30 minutes to watch a caterpillar eat on a leaf, or a spider spin-wrap its prey, or a toad hide in the grass.

By far, our favorite nature activity is bird watching.

Lately, we’ve seen numerous cardinals. God’s been whispering encouragement to my weary heart through these beautiful red birds:

*Some food is better than other food.*
A bird feeder hangs in the dogwood tree in front of my house. One year, I kept it filled with sunflower seed because the bird seed bag said sunflower seed would attract songbirds.

The songbirds showed up. But so did the squirrels. The feeder is supposed to be squirrel-proof, but the sunflower seed was an incentive for the squirrels to live dangerously. The squirrel (Cami called them all “Chippy”) shimmied out onto the branch that holds the feeder. When Chippy reached the spot over the hanging birdfeeder, he launched himself toward the ground. On his way down, he grabbed the perch at the bottom of the feeder with his paw (sometimes the front one, most often the back one) and pulled himself up to the feeder. Then he wrapped himself around the feeder and munched away on the sunflower seed.

You have to admire that out-of-the-box thinking, don’t you?

I was filling the bird feeder with sunflower seed every other day–not because I wanted to watch squirrel acrobats, but because there were indeed beautiful visitors to the now-Chippy feeder: goldfinch, titmice, chickadees, purple finches, and cardinals. The local chipmunks and sparrows enjoyed the seed detritus underneath the feeder as well. I didn’t begrudge Chippy his well-earned snacks; it’s just that I’d rather watch birds and chipmunks.

So I tried a different kind of birdseed: safflower seed. Guess what? Chippy didn’t like it. So the seed lasted longer in the feeder. I saw more cardinals than ever before in my life. They came in, ate their fill, then swooped up to the dogwood branch and sang their songs. Maybe they were letting all their friends know the Chippy-buffet had been converted and was again songbird-welcoming.

In Cami’s world, some learning environments were better than other learning environments. Our church’s homeschool co-op didn’t work for us in her earlier years because the structure and class sizes hit all her hidden disability buttons, which triggered all my rescue instincts, so everyone went home agitated and exhausted. Her best learning environments included kinesthetic activities with simultaneous visual input and clear auditory input with room to stop the activity if she needed to ask questions or tell someone a Pokemon fact she was thinking.

I came to realize that it was up to me to create those effective learning spaces for Cami because her struggles with crowds so drastically affected her learning processes. Now as we navigate her finishing high school studies and asking the what’s-next questions, I have to trust that I’ve taught her the most effective “food” for her best learning environments, and where to find those places and tools for herself.

*The best way to learn a song is to sing it.*

I love to sit and watch birds from my home office window. A few weeks ago, I watched a male cardinal high up in the tulip poplar behind the fence. While the tree branches swayed in the swift breeze, I discerned three parts of his song. (Do the females sing? I wonder.) What made the bird’s song change? Was he adjusting to the breeze, finding his footing on the branches as they moved in the wind?

Whatever he was doing, he was singing. Loudly. I noticed that he was a juvenile, not quite totally red, mostly dark gray with a red head. I thought, “That young whippersnapper has the right idea! I should have his courage.”

We should all have his courage. The “right idea” = sing for all we’re worth (which is a lot) + don’t worry about what others think of our singing. Our homeschool life doesn’t look like anyone else’s homeschool life. It never has. But we learn so much that we would never grasp if we had to learn it in the traditional classroom style.

*All I have to do is take the next step.*

Some days, I spend huge amounts of minutes just watching the cardinal activity in the front of my house. Spring keeps the mamma cardinals busy.  I saw a female cardinal in the parking lot, hopping along with a bundle of twigs in her mouth. She must have hopped for a good five minutes, all the while with those twigs in her mouth. (So maybe they don’t sing—with all those twigs in the way. . .)

I thought, “Wow. She isn’t thinking about her husband’s upcoming business travel. She isn’t thinking about the church schedule for next week. She isn’t thinking about the homeschool plan for tomorrow. She’s just making a nest now because that’s what time it is: spring is egg-laying time, and egg-laying needs a nest.” She was so busy, hopping about, taking only the next step. She wasn’t fluffing the nest yet because she was still building it. There’ll be plenty of time to fluff it later, when she’s sitting on those eggs in her sturdily and timely built nest.

Thank You, Jesus, for the lessons You teach us through Your creation. Open our eyes, our ears, and our hearts to understand what You’re saying to us. Oh, how we need You, Lord.

All my children will be taught by the LORD,
and great will be their peace.
I am a servant of the LORD, and
this promise is my heritage.
(Isaiah 54:13, 17)

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The Day I Delivered the Moon Pies

One Sunday at church, an acquaintance asked my husband, “Do you think your wife would be interested in seeing Beth Moore speak at the Pentagon?”

WOULD I??!?!?

This gentleman arranged for me and two other ladies to hear Mrs. Beth speak at a lunchtime gathering at the Pentagon on the National Day of Prayer. I have to say: I felt some anxiety about showing up by myself, not knowing who would be there or who I would sit with, unsure of what to wear (and what not to wear), blah blah blah. The appeal of a chance to hear Beth Moore speak in person, however, outweighed my cowardice at a new social situation.

When I was thinking through the opportunity, I thought two things, in this order:

  1. Wow, God, You must really have something big and important to say to me for You to arrange for Beth Moore to say it to me in person.
  2. I could take her some Moon Pies!

Why Moon Pies? you ask. To fully understand the Moon Pie importance, you have to read Mrs. Beth’s blog post (https://blog.lproof.org/2009/04/taste-buds-of-ten-year-old_24.html). Go ahead. Stop reading this post and go read that one. Then come back and you’ll understand about the Moon Pies.

Between the initial invitation to this shindig and the day it occurred, God calmed all my social anxiety fears. The two other ladies that were invited to the Pentagon weren’t strangers to me. They were two women that I really enjoyed but seldom had the opportunity to pal around with. I went shopping for new clothes and found a spiffy outfit. As The Day approached, I had one task left: purchase the Moon Pies.

It just so happened that Moon Pies were on sale at Cracker Barrel. But they were out of chocolate. I bought vanilla- and banana-flavored Moon Pies and daydreamed about presenting them to Mrs. Beth. I had it all pictured in my head: where I would be sitting, how I would approach her, what I would say to her. It occurred to me that the whole experience was becoming less about hearing from Jesus and more about Moon Pies. Yet the more I thought about it, the more I believed that this crazy idea wasn’t mine at all.

I was so excited about seeing Mrs. Beth in person, I couldn’t sleep the night before. I was like a little girl on Christmas Eve, trying to be good and stay in my bed and go to sleep—all the while knowing that my most-favorite-thing-in-all-the-world-that-I-just-had-to-have-and-couldn’t-live-without was wrapped in shiny paper, sitting under the Christmas tree in the living room. Yes, I was excited about seeing and hearing Beth Moore in person. Yes, I prayed that God would give to me through her a word specific to my current situations. However, I was just as excited about the Moon Pies waiting for her in the Cracker Barrel bag on my dining room table.

I prayed that God would provide the perfect opportunity to deliver those Moon Pies safely. I mean, could I even make it through Pentagon security? Have you seen a box of Moon Pies? It isn’t exactly small. And I had purchased two boxes. They weren’t going to fit in my purse.

It turned out that my acquaintance escort to the Pentagon didn’t have to go through security. He worked there. He held the Cracker Barrel bag (containing the Moon Pies) and waited by the door while the nice police officers x-rayed our purses and helped us pass through the metal detectors. We made it to the auditorium and sat close to the front. We chatted while we waited for everything to start. I had to sit very still because the Cracker Barrel bag between my feet crinkled loudly at the slightest nudge.

But we’d made it! I was in the Pentagon with Moon Pies to give to Beth Moore!

The service began several minutes late because Beth Moore’s group was caught in DC traffic. When she came in, she seemed sober and composed. No brilliant smile. I thought, “Wow, Lord. You knew she’d be late and feel (I assumed) flustered. What a great day for a Moon Pie!”

Beth Moore is an amazing teacher of God’s Word. With just as many men as women in the room, she spoke it, y’all. She rightly divided the word of truth for us, making us laugh and cry in the same thirty minutes. God spoke–and not just to me. Mrs. Beth spoke from 2 Timothy where the apostle Paul says,

“I have fought the good [in the Greek, literally “beautiful”] fight.”
There is a good fight. There are some things worth fighting for. My child is worth fighting for. My marriage is worth fighting for. We are in a battle, and our enemy is fierce.
Take courage, Candi. Stand your ground.

“I have finished the race.”
When Gabriel, a little boy with a severe form of epilepsy, ran a race in the Special Olympics, he was the last runner to cross the finish line. But he won the gold medal. When his parents asked the officials why, the answer came: “He stayed in his own lane. That’s all we asked him to do.”
Candi, stay in your lane and run with confidence the race that’s been marked out for you.

“I have kept the faith.”
Our faith is the only shield we have. If we put it down, we are decimated by the evil one’s fiery darts. No one and nothing is worth my laying down my faith. When the little boy Gabriel tries to write his name, he can only write three letters: G-A-B. And he writes it everywhere. If there’s a surface available, he writes his name his way. He gets the G just fine. He leaves the stick off the lower-cased A. And he inverts the lower-cased B. And for some unknown reason, he puts a distinct and very large period at the end of those letters. In Gabriel, God has given those parents a child they can’t “fix.” It seems like a tragedy–an unfairness on God’s part. (“Lord, why did You do that? Why did You give me this child? I’m so tired. I can’t do this. Why, God?”) Don’t you know it’s divine planning when now, everywhere Gabriel’s parents look in their home, they see “G-o-d. Period.”
Candi, God has appointed YOU to love and homeschool your daughter. She doesn’t need fixing, and neither do you. His grace is enough. HE is enough. He provides everything you need for life and godliness.

Mrs. Beth spoke a sentence straight from heaven to my heart:
“May we lay down our arrogance without letting go of our confidence.”
It was just a transition sentence from one point to the next. But it reverberated to my core. I’ve let go of my confidence. I need to take hold of it–of Jesus in me–again. That’s where I’ll find courage to fight the beautiful fight while running my race in my lane.

I kept waiting and watching for the right opportunity to approach Mrs. Beth. She was seated three rows in front of me on the opposite aisle. So very close. I knew at the close of the service, she would be surrounded by people wanting her attention.

But I still had the Moon Pies. They were in the bag at my feet.

The Deputy Pentagon Chaplain finished up the benediction with “In the name of” Jesus, I assume, because I didn’t really hear the end. I heard those first four words and I stepped out into the aisle. I was the first person standing beside Mrs. Beth when the chaplain said “Amen” and everyone opened their eyes.

The Chief of Chaplains of the Army presented Mrs. Beth with a commemorative coin–it looked really special–and she graciously accepted it and said something like, “I want you to know these gifts will be displayed because they are treasured and important.” Her humility was palpable.

Then she turned to me and I said, “I brought gifts, too. They’re Moon Pies.”

Mrs. Beth’s eyes lit up.

I said, “They didn’t have chocolate, but I brought vanilla and banana.”

She said, “Vanilla? We can’t get vanilla.” Then she hollered over her shoulder at Keith, her husband, “Baby, she brought us Moon Pies!”

I wish you could have seen Keith’s face. “You brought us Moon Pies?” He said it like I’d just brought them a most precious gift. “Can I hug your neck?” And he did.

Y’all, I promise you: I already believed that my God is a personal God. I’ve wrestled with His providence. I’ve banked on His provision. I’ve struggled with His sovereignty. But that day at the Pentagon, I was privileged to be a messenger of God’s playfulness, dare I say whimsy.

If you know me, you know that I don’t really know how to just play for fun’s sake, which is extremely inconvenient living with the husband and child that I have. They’re all about the party and the fun. I tend to view myself as the party-pooper and the fun police.

But not anymore. Not since that day. I heard, I believed, I obeyed, and I delivered the Moon Pies.

And I was the one who was blessed.

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Lessons from the Garden

In every house we’ve lived in, I’ve had some kind of garden. Even when our only outdoor space was only a cement patio, I covered it with pots of trees and flowers and fruits and vegetables.

In our suburban townhome {=small} backyard, my husband Michael built several raised beds for me to grow things, and God doesn’t waste the opportunity. While He has me alone out there in the sun, with my hands busy and my mind focused, He teaches me deep truth, truth that translates to various and sundry places in my life, especially the places affected by hidden disabilities.

Lessons I’m Learning in the Garden

Take time to find your rhythm.
Gardening isn’t like cooking a meal; when growing food, having everything ready at the same time can be counterproductive. Depending on the crop, there’s an appropriate season for planting and a best time of day for harvesting. Staggering planting times provides a better chance that produce will continuously be available. Planting with intention helps the crops to last through the growing season.

With Cami, although we try valiantly, we often fail at following a schedule. Some days, our ideal schedule comes to fruition: school in the morning, lunch on time, chores accomplished, tired when it’s actually bedtime. Other days, we set aside our ideal schedule and finish reading that exciting book, spend time playing with friends, and take dinner to our pregnant neighbor. Mostly, we’ve learned to find the rhythm in our lives and to move with the wind as it blows—without becoming uprooted. We trust that Jesus is directing that rhythm, and it’s safe to dance with Him.

Pay attention.
Plants give warning signals when things are out of balance for their growth. If the beans grow tall and bushy but aren’t producing many beans, their soil probably needs more nutrients. If the cilantro and parsley leaves turn yellow, they probably are being watered too often. Once, in one evening, a single hornworm ate my one-and-only tomato plant in its entirety.  Now, I check the tomato plants daily for any signs of chewage.

As Cami moves into adolescence, her sensory integration struggles and her hormones make for some interesting combinations. As she grows taller and her limbs grow longer, her growth spurts and her vestibular challenges make walking hard for her to navigate. She stumbles a lot. She often steps on the back of my heels. When I pay close attention, I see her struggling to judge how long her arms are, how long her legs are, how far to step forward in order to walk with me and not step on me. I can’t “fix” the awkward stages in her growth, but I can help her understand them, navigate them, and learn to be patient with herself.

Spread out.
Young plants need room to spread out and grow stronger. For seeds, being lumped together is a productive place to be. There comes a time, though, when seedlings need to be thinned out so the baby plants have room to grow into strong adult plants. This might mean one row of lettuce turns into three. Let me tell you: thinning out lettuce is tedious work. Sproutlings are tender and crush easily, but giving each lettuce sprout enough room to grow will yield many more healthy heads of lettuce.

I have to let Cami go more often now, and it’s tough for this momma. Cami needs to spread out, to try more open spaces, and I need to let her. The time for my holding her close to me and being her buffer is drawing to a close. It’s time for me to let her stand out, to be different in a crowd without trying to shield her from how that feels.

Find your niche; then bloom there.
Boundaries are not only beneficial; sometimes they’re downright necessary. Each plant has needs specific to its growth and productivity. Some plants need lots of sun and not much water. Other plants need to stay cool and moist. Planting crops with differing needs in the same space impedes their growth and fruitfulness. As we establish our garden, I need to keep each plant’s needs in mind and place it in the garden accordingly if I want it to produce good fruit.

All along the way in this journey, there have been places, people, and activities that just don’t fit us as a family. I used to feel guilty about that, like I was being exclusive, or intolerant, or snobby. Now I see: we’re all made for different places and different things. God anoints my family to walk and serve in places no one else walks and serves. That isn’t less; it’s His more.

When you need more room, think up.
There’s limited growing room in our roughly 16′ x 12′ planting space. The crops we’re growing—especially the zucchini, squash, eggplant, strawberries, and beans—need room to sprawl. In order for them to bear a good crop, we need to give them room. Because our spreading room is limited, my husband and I researched different ways we can garden vertically. Not only does vertical gardening help the plants, but it makes for an interesting-looking garden.

Michael and I don’t always know how to provide enough room for Cami’s growing. In those many, many times, we stay on our knees and think up: God made her; He understands her; we ask Him to make room for her. And every time, He does. And the space He provides fits her just right. Unconventional as the growing solution often looks, it always gets the job done.

17So Isaac left there, camped in the valley of Gerar, and lived there. 18Isaac reopened the water wells that had been dug in the days of his father Abraham and that the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham died. He gave them the same names his father had given them. 19Moreover, Isaac’s slaves dug in the valley and found a well of spring water there. 20But the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen and said, “The water is ours!” So he named the well Quarrel because they quarreled with him. 21Then they dug another well and quarreled over that one also, so he named it Hostility. 22He moved from there and dug another, and they did not quarrel over it. He named it Open Spaces and said, “For now the Lord has made room for us, and we will be fruitful in the land.”  (from Genesis 26, HCSB)

Hoping your days are filled with springs of fresh water and open spaces,

Candi

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Bank Missions

As hard as life can be with a child with hidden disabilities, I often find Jesus smack dab in the middle of our days. I think this hyper-awareness of the holy in the everyday comes because I am paying more attention, watching my daughter more closely, trying to read her signals, and help her negotiate transitions, especially in public. Time after time, God shows up in my observations, teaching me more about my deep heart than I ever teach Cami about successful public transitions. A trip to the bank the week after Easter was one of those deep-heart lessons I’ll never forget.

It’s Thursday, and I have some business at the bank. Cami and I head inside, me with all my papers and her with her stuffed green NeoPet. I need to talk to one of the bankers, which means Cami has to wait with me.

Cami can’t sit still. She sits in the chair. She stands up and leans over the desk. She climbs in the chair to sit on her knees and look over the partition into the workspace next to it. She jumps down. All this squirming happens while I’m trying to convince the nice bank lady that they’ve erroneously charged me a service fee.

I finish my conversation (I don’t get the refund), and I still need to make a deposit at the teller window. The central table doesn’t have a pen, so I walk to an empty teller window that has one of those pens-on-a-chain. I start filling out my deposit slip. Cami dances and twirls around behind me.

Now, get the picture here: It’s right after lunch, and the bank is quiet: no customers except us, and four bank employees that I can see. None of them are Caucasian. None of them look like Cami and I. The teller I’m dealing with has a thick Arabic accent. I’ve just fought a losing battle of words with a young lady with a Hispanic accent.

I finish filling out my deposit slip. I say, “Cami, come with me.”

As I walk to the end teller’s window, I hear Cami start talking. I can tell when she’s talking to someone new, or talking about something that really impresses her because she begins every sentence with “You know what?”

I hear, “Ma’am? Ma’am? You know what?”

I look around, and Cami’s standing at the middle teller window. I hadn’t seen the lady behind the glass; I’d only seen the teller at the end as he motioned to me. But Cami saw her. And Cami wants to tell her something.

“You know what? My NeoPet’s name is Kacheek. I think he’s some sort of rabbit.”

The nice teller lady responds kindly, something like, “Oh, isn’t that nice?” She has an accent as well.

Cami says, “And you know what else?” I have no idea what she will say next.

Cami begins, “On Friday, Jesus died on the cross. They buried Him in the tomb, and on the first Easter Sunday morning,” and her one free hand is emphasizing her every point.

The room is still—no air conditioning rumble, no traffic noises from outside, no one talking. The room with everyone in it is listening to Cami. She takes a deep breath.

“Well, three womans went to the grave to see Jesus’ body, and guess what?”

The lady teller says, “What?”

Cami says, “The tomb. . . .” She draws out the pause between each word. “. . .was. . .EMPTY!” And her eyes pop open wide as her voice rises in timbre and volume. “There was nobody there! ‘Cause you know what?”

By this time, I realize what is happening. My daughter the evangelist, the missionary-hearted gift of a child I’ve been given, is sharing the Gospel. Her love for Jesus is spilling out, bumping into all these lives that are gathered in the bank. I start praying silently for the souls that are listening—confession for my prejudiced assumptions, thanksgiving for her, amazement at her boldness and zeal, remembrance that His word always accomplishes what it was sent out to do—all present here in this one instant in time.

I stand by while my child shares her faith. I listen while she proclaims the truth, while she succinctly states the reality of what really matters in life.

“Jesus didn’t stay dead. He’s alive!! And that’s why we celebrate Easter.” She smiles that little Cami smile, and she walks over to stand by me, hugging her NeoPet Kacheek with one arm and my leg with the other.

I turn to the teller who looks back at me from behind the glass where I’m standing, and I don’t know what to say next. I hear, “You’re a really smart little girl,” and murmuring from behind the glass where the lady teller and the bank manager are talking about what just happened.

I finish my bank business, and I grab Cami’s hand. As we leave, she’s saying, “Bye! See you next time!” And everyone’s waving to her and smiling, calling out pleasantries and all that nice stuff you do when a ray of sunlight has split the darkness around you.

It’s like Yahweh peels back the veil of temporal time and gives me a glimpse of eternity. In this one moment, I see Jesus’s love and passion for a lost, hurting, dying world. His passion for all nations pours out of my 5-year-old daughter. She doesn’t tell anyone they are going to hell if they don’t worship like she does because that isn’t true. She doesn’t tell anyone that only Americans have the favor of God resting on their country because that isn’t true either. She doesn’t say, “Get right or get left” because that isn’t the point of the Gospel.

She says, “Jesus is alive!” And that’s all that’s needed.

I think about that quote from Columbine’s Cassie Barnall:

“Do I live like someone who’s been raised from the dead?”

Cami does.

Jesus, thank You that You didn’t stay dead, that You have defeated sin and death, that You set us free with Your life. Every day, in every minute, I want to live like You are alive. Please help me.

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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?

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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.

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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!

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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.

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