Wednesday, December 23, 2015

How I Found Love

When we are little- not old enough for clumsy, plump fingers to tie shoelaces or for toothless mouths to articulate the most challenging sounds of the English language – our ability to treasure and hold a memory is scarce. We can’t remember our difficult entry into the world or first gasping cry. We are unable to recall the disappointed look on our mother’s face when we, once again, fail to make it to the toilet in time. It is impossible to even recall the joyful eruption of applause when we took our earliest steps or uttered our first, barely recognizable word.

But, I can remember the first time I felt love. Perhaps all of our early childhood memories are solidified around the few times we felt extravagant love or the immense lack of it, and I was two.

I can still see the steps which led up to an attic bedroom in our Kansas City ghetto home. The morning sun shone at the top as I struggled to crawl, step by step, up into a room cluttered with framed artwork my parents had never found the time or perfect wall space to hang. And there, on the twin bed, sat my handsome Grandpa Roger. My little sister had just been born, and he had flown down from New York just to be with me.

As my parents were justifiably consumed with our new Hilary Leigh, my grandfather took me on adventures. Our daily lunch hang-out was my beloved “Bo-King” {translated: Burger King}, and I can still visualize holding his strong hand as we got close enough to feel the mist arising off some of Kansas City’s famous fountains. The undivided love I felt burned the memory into my heart and made me a forever fan of my “Pa.”

I can even remember my first performance. I was two, and my dad treated me to a show of Sesame Street LIVE. I can still visualize Big Bird and my favorites, Bert and Ernie, as their striped turtlenecks danced with a rubber ducky across the stage. It was the first time I was taken on a date- when someone thought about something I loved, planned, and sat next to me in a crowded arena filled with screaming toddlers and treasured the way my face shined.

{A photo of me sitting on the kitchen counter, excited, right before my dad took me to the show.}

Of course, I also have memories of when I disappointed someone’s love. I saw their eyes grow dim and their body turn away. I can recall the inner fear I felt when I realized that someone’s love was not quite strong enough. They could not overcome their own pain and rather than loving me enough to preserve me, decided to stab me so I, too, could limp, broken, alongside them.

Love, actually, is everywhere. It is the reason for everything.

We can pretend that we just want a successful career, the perfect home, and a predictable 9 – 5 life. But, we’re not fooling anyone. Ultimately, we are just trying to prove ourselves; to find the peace and acceptance that can only be found in love.

We can love enough to treat ourselves to the purchase of the most coveted Mercedes, incredibly stylish clothing everyone notices, and beauty treatments that make our friends jealous. But, let’s be honest. When we reach the final days of our life on earth, we can’t take any of that with us. When our child is dying of cancer, we can’t enter our dark garage, sit in our sparkling Mercedes, and gain some sort of strength for the journey.

We dream and plan exotic travel; hungry for some buzz or experience. But even that, without the companionship of love's uncontainable laughter or late-night talks on the beach, is ultimately empty.

I turned 37 a few months ago. And I started to find true love at the age of 36. Now that I look back, I can see that I’ve been searching for love quite a while now.

As a child, I sought it as acceptance for an ugly, chubby, unnoticeable girl on the playground and in the classroom.

As a teen, I sought it through the accolades of finishing top of my class, performing as the lead on every stage, and starving myself into the body any great guy would want.

In university, I tried to find it entangled in the dream of greatness. I was made to do something special. I could hone any talent I had to unselfishly serve and change the lives of others. But even in the unselfishness was buried a deep need for my life to matter.

During my first years in Armenia, I tried to earn God’s love through sacrifice. If I was humble and did everything asked of me {even at the cost of my own God-given dreams}, then I would finally be pleasing.

I’ve sought love in my marriage. But when our main source of love is a companion, we begin to understand that there are very few humans who can truly grasp the depth, commitment and sacrifice of true love. They also have too many stories of battered love clinging to their souls. Often in our attempt to find love and acceptance in one another, our personal lack suffocates trust and intimacy.

I’ve tried to lavish love on my kids- giving them every opportunity, every medical intervention, every latest shoe style. I've tried to prove myself as a mom worthy of two innocent hearts, and somehow in my trying, I lost the point of it all.

Nearly two months ago, a long string of stressful and difficult months collided. I found myself driving our grey Volkswagen van around Tallinn. I played my favorite playlist filled with songs of worship to God, and I broke. 

My parents always told me, with a remnant look of exhaustion, that during my strong-willed years as a toddler, I had a common reaction. When my lack of size and influence hindered my ability to get my way, a small, disgruntled cry would emerge. Then it would swell into heaves. Those heaves would grow until I could no longer breathe or speak, and I'd beg with my eyes for my parents to help me get air. Fortunately, with age, the heaving disappeared.

As I sat in my car, driving, the tears began to fall so hard that I felt like I was trying to maneuver my car and see through the heaviest of rain storms. I was about to force myself to pull over and engage the hazard lights when the heaves emerged after being dormant for decades. They were small at first, and only grew and became more rapid until I could only cry the words, "God, help me," in my mind. And, when they were at their worst, suddenly a song burst on to my audio system. It was definitely not a song that was in my worship playlist...and to this day, I don't know how it jumped into my speakers. 

It was a love song. And a voice clearly sang out above my heavy breathing, "Don't you know, you just take my breath away." And in that instant, in the softest part of my soul, I knew without a doubt that it was the voice of God. Instantly, like a young child who finally collapses into her mother's arms after a long battle, everything inside me became still.

Later that day, I sat down in the car of a close friend- one of those rare people who, with one look into my eyes, can read the state of my soul. Within two minutes of our drive, she looked at me and said, "What happened? Why have you been crying so bad?"

I was ashamed to answer her question. I still didn't really believe the words I felt God told me. I quickly rattled off the details of my day and drive, and then said, "I know this is going to sound like the most prideful, selfish thing in the world to say. I know it sounds crazy. But, I felt like God stopped me and told me that I take his breath away. I think it was just my emotions. That can't be true, right?"

Without hesitancy and with a quick firmness, she replied. "Of COURSE it is. You really don't see your true self, do you?"

And that was the day, after SO MANY years of trying, that I found love.  

I know to many, this blog post will sound quite weird {especially to those who do not believe in God. Although, I also tend to believe that many of us, when we reach the last moments of our lives, will sense something about Him is very real.} But this truth is actually an age-old, theologically sound concept. 

  • One of the shortest and most powerful verses in the Bible is: "Anyone who does not love, does not know God, because God is love." Period. {1 John 4:8}

  • The Bible refers to us as the "bride of Christ," which I always thought sounded weirdly inappropriate. Now I comprehend just how jealous, deep and protective His love is for us. How we, as His creation -with all of our strengths and weaknesses, are absolute beauty to Him. He waits for us to fall in love with Him.

The battle of my last two years has often caused me to doubt my right to minister {I am the Creative Arts/ Music Pastor at Focus Church}. Then I realize the truth, that the last two years have actually completely qualified me to be a minister. Thank God that everything I have been through has finally allowed me to know and realize how great His love is. 

How can I teach others about a love that I have never embraced or comprehended? 

How can I love my husband, kids and the most unloveable that surround me with unconditional love if I have never felt its euphoria, peace and safety myself? 

I can now love all the gifts God has given me and not become a prideful jerk because of them. I know that anything I have {my ability to write, sing, lead} are only a result of His love for me. I want to give every thing that I am and every talent I have back to Him, so that He can use it to show His love to others.

And, if I can truly understand His love, then I never have to fear again - even when others try to break me. 

I never have to strive so hard to make a difference in the world, because when that kind of love flows through us effortlessly, it is bound to revolutionize those around us.

I don't have to worry about losing my dreams or future. If He loves me that much, He has a bigger and better vision than I could have ever planned. I just need to remain faithful to Him.

I don't have to be anxious about my children. If I realize how much God loves me, then I know He loves them the same. Nothing can happen to them {whether I am able to protect them from it or not} that can tear them away from His love and protection. 

Realizing His love does not mean I will have a perfect, easy life - away from pain and abuse. There are many hurting people in the world who will continue to break the laws of love until they are able to finally embrace it themselves. And sometimes I, and you, will be caught in their crossfire. Sometimes sickness will still claim the light of even the most innocent among us. But when we hang on to His love, no matter what, beauty will somehow emerge.

My grandpa Roger is now 95 years old and still lives in New York. When I was a teenager, I sat across from him at his small kitchen table in a bright blue and white kitchen. He started his daily ritual of slicing half a banana into his bowl of raisin bran cereal. 

"Grandpa. Aren't you afraid to die?"

"No, Olivia. I have God and I am ready to meet Him at any time."

At that time, I was so full of life and dreams that I couldn't comprehend such a simple, truthful answer. But now, as I observe his life, I can see the reason. 

Roger Crowell, after living a long life without true love, met God in his 60s. We stood together in a pool of water, donning clingy wet shirts, when he and I were baptized on the same Sunday in my home church in Missouri. I was 8 years old, and he was 66. 

Now, he has no real reason to be happy. His life-long love, Grace, died and he lives alone in a city with a family that mostly lives overseas. All of his friends, co-workers and neighbors have left this world. He can sense how the once sharp mind of a chemical engineer has faded away. He has every right to be grumpy, lonely and sad. But, my Pa knows true love. He spends most of His days reading the Bible, spiritual books, praying for the family he loves so much, and enjoying the simple life he has. I recently felt that it was his unselfish, 95- year-old prayers that helped sustain me over the last few years. Although I am no longer two, my Pa, once again, took care of me.

So, what are you waiting for? What excuses and past experiences are you ready to throw into the vastness of God's love?

Isn't it time to finally realize that YOU take His breath away? Start believing it and watch your world change.

{I want to say a special thank you to those who have unrelentlessly guided, stood beside and counseled me over the last two years. I have experienced a true sacrificial love that will always hold a piece of my heart and will always take my own, personal breath away. Much love always, Your Liv}

P.S. I am a musical person, and songs always help solidify the inner workings of my heart. Here are some songs that have helped me continue to feel God's love - even when I start to doubt its greatness.

Love Came Down by Brian Johnson
Good, Good Father by Chris Tomlin
Abide with Me by Matt Redman
And for some odd reason, this song :)  Tenerife Sea by Ed Sheeran

Friday, October 30, 2015

"Just went to the Doc to renew depression meds. Makes me feel..."

My Friday, which is sure to be full of text messages between family members, friends and work colleagues began with this:

I had just dropped my kids off for their school day. Oliver rode the tram to school in a Star Wars storm trooper costume. His hair stood frazzled above the white mask he wore across a hidden, proud face. He loved the extra glances and somehow felt more confident baring his neon green and orange nerf gun in hand. I kissed him goodbye, and he entered his turn-of-the century school building somehow inappropriately dressed with orange and black balloons for Halloween.

I walked up Toompea hill to Ava's Estonian kindergarten. She smiled as she showed me the pumpkin she had just carved in her image- a huge smile with just one tooth.

"I love it, Ava. Better go now. I have a doctor's appointment to get to." She blew a kiss and ran into her class's group of six year olds, nestled together on the carpet for their morning circle time.

My pace slowed and my feet seemed to dread the path to my appointment. It was cold and grey. The trees had lost their leaves and looked as if they had somehow chosen to become sinister for the Halloween holiday.

"Puccini." The Estonian accent that clouded the pronunciation of my last name had not caught my attention.

"Puccini!" Her more stern and loud voice made my name undeniable. I hurried through the waiting area and followed her to a back, corner office sparsely decorated in white, body diagrams and a few blue chairs.

"How can I help you?"

"I am here to renew my depression medication." The words left my mouth, and I felt shame.

I was telling a secret to a stranger. And I knew she suddenly saw me differently.

I had felt somewhat pretty today. I wore a nice denim dress with black tights. My hair was down (somewhat of a rare occurrence) and wavy. My eyes seemed bright and rested. I looked like a sharp professional- a woman with a good head on her shoulders.

Then I sat down and said the word "depression," and I suddenly became someone else. Sad. Weak. The doctor's eyes tried to be kind, but they were veiled in a curtain of pity.

"So how long have you been on this med?"

"Two years." The excuses began to roll effortlessly off my tongue.

"Well, I moved to Estonia three years ago, and it was so dark here. I am from a place with more sunlight. My work is very stressful, and I'm trying to manage a family outside of my home culture..." and yada, yada, yada.

How could I even begin to explain to her the truth - my story?

Depression runs deep in my family. I am the third generation to wrestle with it. Others have tried to do so, without medication, and have seen decades of their lives and dreams dissipate under its constant cloud cover.

I have seen counselors. I have successfully retrained my thinking through the pain-staking steps of cognitive therapy. And yet, depression was still shadowing me every where I went.

In my mid-20s, I sat in a chilled, hotel conference room in Chang Mai, Thailand and thought I had finally found the key to overcoming depression. Our organization's main psychologist presented a seminar billed: "Seven lifestyle habits to overcome depression and burn-out."

Nick and I sat together and anxiously took notes. The doctor quoted well-researched studies that proved that we could take real, actual steps to combat depression. He passed out a sheet of paper with the following advice (and one that we have kept safely filed away for the past decade):

  1. Do cardio exercise for sixty minutes every day. After approximately 25 minutes of heightened heart-rate levels, our body starts to produce serotonin- the happy hormone.
  2. Take Omega-3 supplements daily. Omega-3 is the building block for serotonin.
  3. Expose yourself to sunlight {or a sunlamp} 20 - 30 minutes a day (without sunglasses on).
  4. Reduce the amount of bad animal fat in your diet. Be sure your diet is filled with healthy fats found in olive oil, nuts, fish, lean meats.
  5. Do not ruminate. Rumination is when you allow yourself to constantly think and worry over disturbing thoughts or past occurrences. Every time we think about these things, our body relives the same stress response. A way to stop rumination is to find a hobby that keeps your mind busy and can give your mind time to rest.
  6. Sleep eight to nine hours a night. Try not to have any light on in your bedroom- nothing from TVs, phone, computers - as they disturb deep sleep cycles.
  7. Have intimate conversation with at least one person daily. This kind of conversation is not merely small talk or recounting the day's activities. You must share something deeper- your feelings, fears, joys.
We returned to Armenia equipped, and I did EVERYTHING prescribed on the list {and still do}. A year trickled past, and my long companion of sadness still stood closely by, watching my every move.

Often in life, we do everything possible to fight for our future, our families, our lives. But eventually we get to a point when we have exerted everything we have- sweat dripping, exhausted muscles aching from the constant fight. And just as we feel we can no longer stand, a new path opens and we can finally find rest.

By chance, a year later, that same staff psychologist sat at our dining room table in Yerevan. We chatted over a hot bowl of chicken chili. I told him everything, and concluded with a simple question. 

"What do I do now?"

Grace often waits for us in the most unexpected places.

"Olivia. I can see that you have tried everything. For most people, those lifestyle changes are enough. But there are those who have a very strong genetic component of chemical imbalance. And, no matter how much they try, it will be a life-long battle. I think this could be you. Why don't you give medicine a try?"

I took his advice and began to take a medicine I didn't want to take for a depression I believed I could have been good enough to beat.

That medicine changed my life. Within a few weeks, the change was noticeable. But, I am a stubborn person.

After eighteen months of happiness, I decided I was healed and now strong enough to live life without the "happy drug." I stopped taking the medication, and slowly... unnoticed... over the course of a year, I found myself inwardly begging, once again, to just leave it all.  

People often think depressed people are egocentric- all they do is think about their own problems and self.  But, many of them are some of the most beautiful, self-sacrificing humans I have ever encountered. 

Sometimes they even give too much away. They don't follow their dreams, but give everything to the dreams of others. And once they can't even imagine a day without the despondency, they begin to believe they would be giving their partners, children, friends and co-workers a gift by simply no longer being in their lives. To them, it is the ultimate gift of loving sacrifice.  

The last time I visited a psychiatrist in America, he really challenged me.

"Look. You have a strong genetic history of depression. You don't have any big side-effects to anti-depressants. You have a husband, wonderful children and a great career. You are beautiful woman. Why even mess around and let depression eat away years of a great life? Stay on the medicine. Let it help you. You deserve it, and your family deserves you."

I cry when I even remember those words. He sat in front of a large wooden desk. He was an older Indian gentlemen who swiveled back and forth in his high-back leather chair. I may not have a doctor's diploma on my wall, and I certainly can't fit that huge leather chair behind my tiny corner desk, but I have my fingers to type and my journey to share.

Don't give up. Don't feel shame. Do whatever you HAVE to in order to remain the treasure you are - to yourself, to your family, and to the world that surrounds you. 

Every evening I fill my favorite green glass with water and take three pills - one for a slow thyroid that haunts all the women in my family, one for the PCOS I inherited from my European Jewish ancestors, and the little white anti-depressant I take to reclaim my life. 

If you are dealing with depression, know that you are very far from being alone. For many, the seven lifestyle changes are revolutionary. Please do everything possible to instill them into everything you do. Rearrange your life to make room for these habits and then hold on tight- never let them go!

And once you've given it time, walked through every open door possible, and still find the future dark, do whatever necessary to find the light. We all need you. 

Seconds after I wrote my husband, Nick, that text message, he responded without hesitancy:

I take an anti-depressant because that 10 year old boy in the Stormtrooper costume deserves a mom who can get out of bed every day. 

I take it for that front-toothless six year old girl who will hopefully always blow me sweet, bright-eyed kisses. 

I swallow it down for my husband- so I can continue to make every day of his life better. 

I take it for God. He created me with a gift and a purpose. And, no matter the stigma or shame associated with the little white pill, I will let absolutely nothing take that beauty away from me. 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

An American Cooking in Estonia- Recipe Neli (4)- Brown Rice Pilaf that kids love!

I have been a bit swamped the last few weeks, and most of my deep writing energy is being consumed by a Fiction Writing course I started in September!

But, here is a post dedicated to something I believe in- healthy eating that tastes good!

I made a vow to myself that my kids would grow up eating everything whole grain - wheat bread, whole grain pasta, and brown rice! This was easy when they were young and knew nothing else. But, once they entered the world of school lunches filled with the possibility of everything white, it has become more of a challenge.

I experimented, gleaned from the great Armenian recipes for expert rice pilaf, and finally found a brown rice that my kids actually cheer about when it's on the menu {and it is almost once or twice a week}.

And, as you can see from this recent family pic, Oliver is eating his brown rice and nearly growing as tall as I am at 10 years old. So something must be working. And, as always, I am listing stores and products that I use and can be found in Tallinn, Estonia! I am sure you can find an easy equivalent in your city's markets.

Take a moment and enjoy the beautiful Fall! This is a nice recipe for autumn that can give you the energy you need to endure days filled with school, work and homework.

Brown Rice Pilaf

1. Heat olive oil in medium sized sauce pan. Add 1 cup of brown rice. I like to use this rice that I find at Marks and Spencer in Tallinn. It's long grain, and tastes great.

2. Sautee the brown rice in oil for five minutes - stirring every minute or so. The rice should take on more of a golden brown color. Be careful to not let the rice burn.

3. Add 3 cups of chicken broth to rice/ oil mixture and bring to boil. Also add salt and pepper to taste.
Let's face it, we don't always have time to make our own homemade broth. I use this chicken broth from Marks and Spencer.

I also like it because it has no preservatives, and has only the ingredients I would use at home.

If you don't have the broth, I will sometimes use this organic chicken bouillon cubes I found at Rimi market in Tallinn.

4. Cover the sauce pan with the lid and reduce the heat to low. Let the rice simmer, covered for 30 to 40 minutes or until chicken broth is absorbed.

5. Fluff the rice with a spoon or fork and serve! Great taste with no guilt!

Friday, July 31, 2015

I Need Heart Surgery

Some day, in all likelihood, I will need a heart surgeon.

I will shed my thin, open-backed blue and white hospital gown. The nurses will attempt to scrub my skin free of all possible bacteria in preparation for a major surgery. My kids will likely be grown, and will come to say their secret goodbyes. They will try to smile confidently; tell me I’m strong and brave. As I’m rolled out of the room, they will vow to greet me on the other side of surgery. But I can see it in their eyes. They are actually absorbing every last second, realizing that it may be the last time they look deep into my living eyes and hear my voice.

Heart disease runs rampant in my family. My grandfather has had two open-heart surgeries. My parents are both on cholesterol medication, and I’ve had borderline high cholesterol my entire life. My extreme exercise and healthy eating for two decades is barely holding up the fight against my genetics. I made a choice when I was young to battle heart disease with everything within me. But when the day comes, I will have to lay myself on that operating table and trust the experts to save me. My life-long fight will be over. There will be absolutely nothing left for me to do in order to save myself, except to surrender to the surgeon’s well-trained hands.

As I write this, I am flying back from our Eurasia Regional Retreat in Budapest. Once every three years, all of our region’s workers gather for a conference. I was excited for Nick to be able to reconnect with friends. The special camp they organized for our kids – all American children who are growing up overseas- is invaluable. But, I really didn’t want to go.

{A few of our favorite colleagues- Heroes' Square, Budapest- Hungary}

The reason is quite simple: I am an introvert. Meeting a lot of new people every day is not my personal idea of a “retreat,” and I stink at small talk. I’ve learned the tactics of deep eye contact, smiling, nodding my head and asking questions to make people feel comfortable. But still, at the end of the day, I just long to go to my hotel room, sit in an oversized chair next to a window, think, and have deep conversation with a close friend. And since this is our 13th year in the organization, I thought it would be difficult to hear, learn or be inspired by some thing I had not heard before.

I was wrong.

Our Regional Director Omar Beiler, stood before a hotel ballroom filled with fake crystal chandeliers and 300 workers, and shared about the emergency open-heart surgery he recently faced due to a valve that had deteriorated.

Omar and Pat Beiler are not merely my family’s bosses in a large organization. They were our original welcome party- the ones that stood waiting for us in a dirty, dark Armenian airport years ago when we landed for the very first time. Amidst the broken baggage claim belt filled with workers manually pushing luggage along; the sea of black leather coats and pointy dress shoes; gangs of chain smokers begging you to ride in their taxis, there emerged a smiling Omar and Pat.

They not only showed us how to live the first few weeks in Armenia, but their love, wisdom, encouragement and plain simple belief in us, as a couple, have kept us going in this life, away from our homeland and family, for over a decade.

Omar stood on the Budapest stage, with his familiar white hair and thick-rimmed glasses. Unexpectedly, he didn’t try to impress us with an intellectual discourse or organizational strategy.

“When I was waiting in the hospital, waiting for this surgery. I felt God inwardly speak to me. He said, ‘I’m not just going to repair your physical heart, I want to do a work in your spiritual heart too.’

“I replied, ‘That’s great, God. But I don’t know what I need to do for that to happen.’

“And God’s reply was simple, ‘Right now, you HAVE to trust this well-educated heart surgeon to do what he does best, and repair your physical heart. There is absolutely nothing YOU can do except lay down on that gurney and allow him to do the work he was meant to do. Just as you trust him, trust me. I am the surgeon of your spiritual heart.’”

Despite my counselor’s best efforts, I don’t keep a journal to process my thoughts. Instead, I keep this blog. I have chosen (sometimes against my husband’s fear that I am too honest) to process life in a public forum. I am very tired of pretending to be perfect. And I want others out there, the other misfits of imperfection, to know they most certainly are not alone. And, if you read this blog, it is no secret that the last two years of my life have not been the pinnacle shining glory of my personal journey.

Instead, I’ve been forced to stand face to face with all of my known and hidden weaknesses. One by one they come, very worthy and strong opponents. They taunt me in the boxing ring. The bell rings, and I try my best to fight, to defeat them, and at times, to just stay standing; to not go down for the losing count. And I recently realized that I am just plain exhausted from the fight.

When Omar shared those simple words, I knew I had gotten it all wrong.

God knows I’ve fought hard. I’m bruised. I’ve had concussions, but I have not fallen. But I feel as if there is absolutely nothing more that I can do. It is time for me to surrender myself to the great surgeon of the inner soul, and let his expert hands gracefully do their work.

Every morning, since Omar stood on that stage in Budapest, I roll over while attempting to rub the sleepy sand out of my eyes. Then, in my typical dramatic fashion, I do something to remind myself of Omar’s words. I allow my body weight to sink deep into my memory foam mattress and imagine myself helpless, arms relaxed by my side on the gurney, ready for surgery. And instead of fighting, kicking and screaming into the operating room, I allow myself to release guilt and feel my sickness- the painful thoughts and feelings that have accumulated and clogged my heart over the past few years. And then I inwardly whisper these words.

“I am open, God. Do surgery on my inner heart.”

There is a sense of dread as I do this. Surgery is never easy. It is painful. Under the surgeon’s scalpel, we lose parts of ourselves that we cannot imagine life without. When the work in the operating room is finally done, we wake up with an inner pain. We have weeks of learning how to move, walk, and be independent again. We get frustrated when we fall while doing simple tasks. We are humbled when we are forced to grab a loved one’s hand just to take a few steps.

But, we wait. We heal. We recover. We push the limits of our weakness. And most of all, we can finally hope and see a better future ahead.

When I was a little girl, my grandparents would come from New York every Christmas to visit our Missouri home. A hotel with a swimming pool was always their grandparent vacation necessity. As we would come daily to play in the water, I would stare at the long, white, smooth scar dividing my grandpa Roger’s chest in half. Even at a young age, I recognized the bravery he must have had, and the pain he must have endured, in order to have a new lease on a life.

I go under the knife with a hope – the same hope my grandfather had. I will survive. I will have a stronger heart. I will be able to share my scar and story to inspire others on the same journey. And I, too, will have a new lease on life.

I think that whenever we submit to such a risky surgery, we fear that we will never be the same again. Can a body that has been cut open and a heart that has been taken out, repaired and covered with scar tissue ever compare to the heart of our youth? 

Will this heart ever allow me run again, push it to its limits and pound with all of its might? Will it ever truly be able to love deeply again, forgive, laugh, and regain the innocence it had when it was young?

I asked those same questions. I don’t want to go through a terrible surgery and recovery to be living on a perpetually wounded, weak heart.

And I immediately knew the answer. After my Grandpa Roger’s heart attack at an early age, he was considered by some to be frail. He couldn’t find a new job as a chemical engineer because he was considered too great of a health risk for insurance. When my grandparents applied to adopt a child, in order to fulfill their dream of having a large family, they were denied. The adoption agency was sure my grandpa would soon leave my grandmother a widow and alone with a young family.

This past New Year’s Eve, I sat at a restaurant table in America and celebrated the holiday with my 95 year old Grandpa Roger by my side. This week he attended the memorial service for his final living neighbor and friend. This man, with a heart that has been torn apart and reconstructed twice, has outlived everyone who always had hearts of perfection.

I can learn from him. He not only allowed the surgeons to clean his heart, he followed their advice. He started exercising several times a week. He completely changed his eating habits. And even at the age of 95, he can still be seen riding in his hospital’s van to attend the special exercise room monitored for heart patients.

Many of us would agree that we NEED doctors and surgeons. Human life would be shortened without those who have dedicated their lives to learning the trade of saving others. If we need a doctor for our physical body, why wouldn’t we need a doctor for our soul?

Yes, I know that God seems intangible to many. We can’t see him standing there in a white coat, scribbling prescriptions on his pad of paper. But our lives are filled with so many intangibles: love, hurt, sorrow, joy. We can’t physically see them, but we feel them deeply and know they are present and real. And if we all agree we need a doctor for our physical bodies, why wouldn’t we believe we need a doctor to renew our wounded spirit?  An unseen physician that we cannot see, but we can certainly feel everywhere if we open ourselves to find Him.

I’ve woken up with my new tradition for nearly a week now. And although I cannot brag by instagraming a picture of a doctor's chart showing improved blood pressure or cholesterol levels, I can say that I feel a difference inside. I know God is working.

So I will continue. There are those around me that are ready to support my weight as I lean against them and try to walk. And one day, I am confident that I will run; and faster than ever before. And when I wear my swimming suit or a low-cut evening gown for a special evening out, my scar will occasionally make its white, smooth appearance. And I wear it like a badge of bravery - something that reminds me and everyone that there was pain. There was healing. There was a great surgeon that waited for me; whom I can completely and highly recommend.

"Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? I'm here inviting the sin-sick; not the spiritually-fit."  -Jesus, Mark 2:17, The Bible

Saturday, July 4, 2015

True Freedom

{Living overseas and celebrating America's Independence Day (July 4) is always a challenge. Life continues as normal here, while I remember what the day was like back home. Stores closed. Family picnics. Kids with dirty knees,  ice cream cone in hand. Crowds gathered late at night, people sitting on the hoods of their cars, viewing displays of fireworks. I remember sitting on my dad's lap, eyes uncontrollably twitching with every loud boom. I am so thankful for the freedom and prosperity I have experienced as an American, and I'm thankful to those who paid the ultimate price. But, as I was thinking about America's freedom and the true freedom of the soul, I woke up this morning and decided to write this poem. Readers always try to figure out the hidden meaning in a poem's rhyming words and rhythm. I'll make it easy for you. This is about the power of forgiveness. For those of you celebrating America's freedom, be reminded to also pursue the truest form of freedom.  Happy 4th of July from Tallinn, Estonia!}

When I was young,
And life was still white,
The anthem was sung,
Bright lights filled the sky.

Smoke billowed, could
Shadow their glare,
Still freedom stood,
You carried me there.

Their thunder would come,
Boom through the sky
Like God beat his drum,
I clinched wide eyes.

You picked up young fear,
You whispered soft peace,
Strength fin’lly near,
Fist clenching ceased.

Days grew to years,
Each fourth was the same.
Firework tears
Colorful flames.

No longer afraid,
Your hand was not near,
My soul on parade,
For someone to sear.

And sear it they did,
Burned deep in soft core.
Smile rose and hid
The pain from raw sore.

I covered it up,
And acted so free,
but pain’s bitter cup
demanded its fee.

I tried to forget,
I tried to forgive.
Trapped in its net,
Daily relive.

I know I am strong.
I thought I was free.
Can’t right the wrong
Tormenting me.

My core has a crack,
So small and unsure
Thin line of black
Can’t find the cure.

Stealing my sleep
Reigning my heart
Too painful to keep
Too buried to part.

Please come again,
I’ll sit on your lap.
Pretend I am ten,
Hear thunder clap.

Whisper the dark
Into soft ears
Kindle the spark
Gone all these years.

Not kind enough
Forget what was done.
Not tough enough
To hug fiery sun.

You quiet my strain
Take hand beaten cold
Press finger to pain
Words soft and bold:

“I know what they did.
I saw your soul split.
Wound so well hid,
Covered with grit.

You think you can run
Ignore tiny crack,
Race fires gun,
Burst on to the track

But pressure will come
With each living stride
Leg becomes numb
Snaps deep inside.

A crack can well mend
Could have raced more!
But this break will end
Your power to soar.”

Looked in His eyes,
Though easy to flee,
Exposed hidden cry;
Crack- first to see.

He kissed ugly scar
Grabbed tired hands
“I’m never too far.
My love like the sand

Fills up the split
In heart and your soul
Don’t ever quit
I will make whole.

Repeat after me.
Utter these words.
Though heart still not free
Pain soon will blur.

‘I forgive and set free
the one undeserved.
I forgive and set free
No longer reserve

Pain covered deep
Inbittered crack
Choose to release
Never take back.’

Whisper these words,
Though heart disbelieves.
Your ache will transfer
I’ll set you free.

Daily recite
Forgive yourself, see
Soul transformed light
Prisoner freed.

Whisper through pain
Whisper through tears
I shatter chain
Return the years.

Now not so young,
Life renewed white,
The anthem was sung,
Bright lights filled sky.

Smoke billowed, could
Shadow their glare,
Still freedom stood,
You carried me there.