Thursday, December 13, 2018

Being Still

"Be still and know that I am God!
  I will be honored by every nation.
  I will be honored throughout the world."

The Lord of Heaven's armies is here among us;
  The God of Israel is our fortress.

(Psalm 46:10-11 NLT)

Every year I become more of a contemplative and (perhaps because) every year I have more to contemplate. This season has been no exception and, consequently, has properly worn my mind and my heart making both a little smoother, a little less defined. It has taken much longer to process what is happening in and around me, what is happening in and around our world.

With this information and sensory overload, I have had to take the advice to "Be still" quite literally. To intentionally create space in my daily path to stop and breathe. To sit. To process.

Because of this practice, I have been able to inhale a moment and the emotions that come with it. I have made it to a spot where I can start to see a little behind me. I can make out a little more of what is in front of me. And so I want to share. I want to share what I have made time to sit with this year and, when possible, what I have taken away from those moments of stillness:

My heart is too healthy to be replaced in my current state.

Perhaps the most [unexpected? unusual? un-hoped-for? un-something for sure!] part of my year came from starting the process toward a heart transplant. The dreaded T-word has been tossed around in appointments over the past few years without any definitive plan forward. My team at Cotton-O'Neil Heart Center in Topeka launched me to the next step of my heart journey by connecting me with St. Luke's Cardiac Center in Kansas City. All the testing, monitoring, and discussion over the past four months lands us in a grey area--I fall somewhere between a Person Needing A New Heart Now and a Marathon Runner. Stupid grey.

With the help of a strong team of doctors, transplant coordinators, insurance representatives, and cardiac rehab specialists I am inching my way forward. (Extra thanks go to Tinkerbell who has properly paced this vessel back into normalcy on more than one occasion.) My medications change frequently and we aren't sure if cardiac rehab is helping or hurting, but the plan is to keep my "Birth Heart" going into and through this next season.

My heart is too unhealthy to continue at my current pace. 

While my medical team praises my ticker for not collapsing under the pressure of an immediate upgrade, the fact is that I am still in Congestive Heart Failure and dealing with pretty harsh symptoms. I sleep about 12 hours a day--I spent half the year in Dreamland--and have limited energy and ability. I never know how I will function from day to day or hour to hour so it has been difficult to make and keep plans.

In January I was hired by a great organization called Parents as Teachers; I appreciate the work they are doing for local families and love the generous people on their team. It became apparent this autumn that my body was not keeping up with my assigned tasks and, after transplant talks and a handful of ER visits, I no longer resemble my job description. My boss has graciously allowed me to stay on as a volunteer so I am able to continue assisting this great group with projects I can complete at home.

After months of navigating the system and waiting for a response, I found out that I qualify for Disability through the state of Kansas.* My part-time income is almost made up in full from SSA and Ben and I are incredibly grateful. So I walk into this next season without a paying job but with things to accomplish and people to assist.

*I could write an entire blog post on receiving and relying on government assistance (and the emotional turmoil that comes with it), but that will come at another time.

I have so many things in my life that I don't need.

Because much of this year has been spent in my apartment in southwest Topeka (this is also where the entry gate to Dreamland tends to appear) I have been able to take stock of what is most necessary to keep me alive and entertained. Here is the short list:

Things I need: A warm bed! Amy's low-sodium microwaveable entrees! Sunshine! Enjoyable reads!

Things I don't need: High-heeled shoes! More things to dust! Irrational fear! Depressing movies!

I thank God and my husband and Cheryl at Caribou Coffee for helping provide the things I need. The rest I have boxed up for nonprofits or (in the case of fear and depression) stomped into oblivion. This season more than any other in my life has reminded me that more stuff to carry does not mean more stuff to enjoy.

I have so many wonderful people in my community that I rely on.

I have to talk about Ben because there is no way I would be here without him. There is no other reason I would have moved to Topeka. No offense to the Midwest, its just that I have always been scared of tornadoes and blizzards and hordes of white people and not being near the ocean.

I digress...

Ben has had his own season, which I won't write for him, but has also been there every step of mine. He has sat with me to hold news and spent time asking questions, Googling symptoms, and finding ways to make me laugh. I have spent more time with him this year than anyone's hours combined. This has been both a blessing and a somewhat-awkward "Stuck on an Island" situation--Bananagrams has come in handy in those times. He is my best decision and I am so thankful we signed up to navigate life together. I love him most.

My family and my friends continue to be a source of strength and hope. I am grateful to live in a time where I can easily connect with people far away via Skype, FaceTime, and text messages. Seeing my nieces and nephew grow up at a distance makes me even more appreciative for in-person cuddles and playtime. Our Cornerstone Community Church family and my gals at Parents as Teachers provide amazing emotional support and help meet practical needs on days when I can't get out of the house.

I would be less than me without all of you. Thank you.

God is for me. 

Perhaps what has come through most clearly in these times of sitting, waiting, and sighing is that God is for me. Ben and I had a beautiful conversation with the St. Luke's Transplant Chaplain about how God is for each of us in those hospital rooms. Therefore, my heart issues are not a punishment for wrongdoing or a way for the Divine to get my attention. This season of difficult decisions and stacks of paperwork is not a result of God trying to make my life story more or less interesting. Sucky things happen outside of God's hope for me and my life.

God is for my restored health.
God is for my meaningful relationships.
God is for my joy and hope and good work.
God is for me now and always.

God is for us.

And God is for you.

This has been an important year of stillness.
Cheers to a new season of life and hope for movement, however that may be.

Thursday, November 22, 2018


Oh Lord, our God.

I do not know how to express 
My gratitude
For your generosity, your love
For showing us favor.

Shall I use my energy to dance?
To paint a picture: swirling rainbows and splashes of gold?
Would it be best if I sang a song? 
Do I share someone else’s words or write my own?

What if I come into your Presence 
Kick off my shoes at the door and run
Throw my crown at your feet 
Press my face to the floor and whisper,

Thank you.”

My heart is full of wonder and joy and 
Phrases like “But I don’t deserve this.” 
You know me so well
And you speak to me still.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018


I am not a procrastinator.

On the contrary. I am an anticipator.

If a task can be completed sooner as opposed to later I will always choose NOW. I like my assignments submitted with hours to spare. I like my chores completed well before the guests arrive. I like to buy my bananas green. I like to leave myself wiggle room for the inevitable hiccup that occurs right before the approaching deadline.

This season of my life, however, I have been trying to put off for as long as possible.

The summer started with renewed energy, fervor, and spirit for me. I was getting things done at work, hosting people well at home, and enjoying time with our church youth group. I was walking quicker and thinking clearer. It was a refreshing few weeks that overlapped with a much-needed visit from my cross-country driving parents and Gma. I am very thankful for those months.

Even during the good days and corresponding check-ups with my doctors, there remained a looming deadline. It was one I was given years ago when I was first diagnosed with heart problems. My cardiologist warned there may come a time when it would be harder for me to get out of bed, more difficult to breathe at night, a gradual slowing pace. There was no definitive date given so I worked to kick the day further down the calendar. I followed orders with prescriptions and diet and exercise which got me weeks further than I could have otherwise. I wanted to wait as long as possible.

As I watched the clock tick into a new day on August 29 I realized with certainty that we found the deadline. From my gurney in the ER I looked at my sleepy husband (who spent his energy finding happy animal videos to show me on his phone) and sensed it. I didn't feel overwhelmed with anger or distress or depravity. I felt anticipation. I was ready to shake hands with a season I had much wondered about.

I am starting my path towards a heart transplant.

My doctors respect my determination to live well and recommend we move forward with a more aggressive solution. This heart has worked as properly and as long as it could under the effects of cardiomyopathy. (And, believe me, I have used my heart with depth!) Now it is fatigued and its sluggishness is affecting my entire system.

Ben and I will check into the hospital next week for a few days' worth of testing to determine if I qualify for a transplant. If so, I will be ranked and put on the national transplant list. If not, we will look at other options to keep me going. Whatever the case, I have a great team of doctors, nurses, surgeons, and support staff who I trust with helping me feel better.

This is not a season I wanted to enter in my thirties (or in any decade) but I see there is hope for a fuller life ahead of me. This could be the most helpful answer to the many questions I have asked God about my health. This could lead to the healing people have prayed with and over me. I do not need to mourn that I can't push it further--we can flip the calendar pages with a new outlook on life.

So I walk forward with anticipation.
You are welcome to join me.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018


I'm in a very uncomfortable season in my life.

After moving to a new place with high hopes of starting "fresh" I have felt anything but. I have spent the last ten months battling homesickness, ambivalence, and a myriad of physical problems from the exposure to new germs. I had hoped to find renewed purpose and instead have found grating unhappiness this year.

Which is a problem.

Not that I am dealing with very real emotions. That is a normal and healthy response to being uprooted and navigating life with chronic illness. Those kinds of life circumstances harbor fatigue and worry and anger. I am thankful I have the ability and resources (community, counselors, Christ-centered practices) to deal with those. Being emotional is not the issue.

No, the problem is where I keep finding myself: in the Past.

I have had an incredible time being alive. Seriously. I had the great and unwarranted fortune to be born into a loving family, raised by a healthy community, and given opportunities to flourish. When I think back on the past thirty years it brings to mind images of Nutcracker costumes, Yosemite trails, Sunday School lessons, and Nigerian thunderstorms. I have met and loved so many wonderful people. Seen and experienced so many beautiful places. My life has been rich.

It is wonderful that I have loved my life. That is not the problem.

I noticed a few weeks ago, practicing one of the centering activities my Counselor taught me, that when I close my eyes to breathe I always find myself in the same places:

Standing above a bowl of cloud in Big Sur.
Laying in the Timber Mountain field covered in snow.
Opening my lungs for pine needles and ocean waves and peach trees.
I always find myself somewhere else. Not here. Not now. 

That is the problem. I am not able to find calm in my Present.

My Present is filled with uncertainty and is seriously wanting routine (not for lack of trying). I found a job I enjoy but struggle to find the energy to work. I am part of a loving community but I desperately miss my friends who have known me for years. I am married to a wonderful man who is doing a good job of taking care of me but also has to do a good job of taking care of a whole flock of other people.

It takes me an hour to wake up. I can't eat or drink what I want to. I pee constantly. Most of my days are spent on the couch reading books or at my dining room table assembling jigsaw puzzles.

I feel like I fell asleep after an epic adventure and woke up forty years later; tired, confused, and pushing old age.

With the help of people like Kate Bowler, Courtney Carver, and (the man himself) Jesus, I have been able to find words I could not comprise on my own. I am thankful for fellow Struggling Optimists who believe the Past and Present (and Future) can all be good. Even if it sucks.

With their words and stories, I am able to live a little further into my Present and own the grit that comes with this time. I do not have to abound with happiness. I do not have to pretend that things are what I had planned. I can even escape to my Past when I need a breath of fresh air. But I need to own this part of my journey, too.

Cheers to the Present.
(Now get your s*** together so we can make this work.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


As I endure the second week of a viral infection (ah, the joys of having an unacclimated immune system) I have had a lot of time. To think. To reflect. To binge Netflix.

I am sure there is an equation streaming services use to choose what movies and shows to offer in a given season. Perhaps people want to laugh more in the summer and think deeply in the cold months. I assume people watch most horror flicks close to Halloween and Christmas episodes in December. I don't know what it is about this horribly awkward transition from winter into spring, but apparently it warrants biography season. And I am loving it.

I have queued up a selection of biographical films and (while I have the time) enjoy immersing myself in someone else's story. I watched the blossoming romance between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in "The Young Victoria" and thought about how difficult private matters must be for public figures. I cheered on the talented chess players in "Queen of Katwe" and remembered similar dirt roads along the outskirts of Jos. I almost turned off "The Duchess" because I was so repulsed by the Duke of Devonshire (well done, Ralph Fiennes) who was never able to love the creative and caring woman he married.

[Note 1: I commend directors in the last decade who recognize women as worthy subjects and who don't feel the need to add unnecessary drama or sexualization to make them more or less powerful. In my humble opinion, mostly true stories are always better than mostly untrue.]

So it only seems logical that I would start to examine my own journey and wonder what my cinematic life would look like.

Would it be a chronology from birth or just a highlighted season?

Would it have a thematic purpose, try to push an agenda, hope to expose something unknown?

Would it be a sweeping epic or a low-budget indie?

[Note 2: I don't think or care much about who would be cast, but there is no doubt Wes Anderson would direct it. He is the only person I could trust with highlighting the many wonderful children who would need to be involved and the use of bold colors. All the yellows, please.]

As ridiculous as this all seems, it has actually been a necessary examination at this point in my journey. Because time changes things.

Ten years ago, at age 20, my movie would have been an indie documentary about my season working at Faith Alive Hospital. It would not be finely edited so people could get a better grasp on how a young woman experiences a new culture and is welcomed into a far-away family. There would be candid interviews from wonderful people and I would say a lot of seemingly wise things that don't really make any sense now.

Five years ago, my movie would have been written about the many hilarious conversations I have had wandering with kids in the forest. It would have been short and lighthearted, a G-rated episode for the times Mom is washing dishes in the kitchen and needs the kids to sit down. The Weepies would have written the soundtrack.

Today, I'm not sure what a movie of my life would be about. It could walk my spiritual journey, but a lot of that would be difficult to communicate. It could show the before and after of heart issues, but that is an unfair gauge of who I am. It could just be a Bloopers reel of all the ridiculous things that have happened to me. (I think the Dr. Pepper bottle scene would be especially compelling.)

There is one thing I have realized in all of this that will stay the same: in all these stories, it is not the main character who is most important. It is the people around them.

"The Young Victoria" was written not just about a queen but about the man she loved.
"The Queen of Katwe" would not have happened without her coach and team.
"The Duchess" is not as interesting a story without her (horrible) husband.

One of my high school bands, Cool Hand Luke, had a similar soul-searching experience. Instead of writing a blog, they put their thoughts into song. I sang these lyrics in my car on the way to Edison and I can sing them still:

I want to live in such a way
That when I'm gone my friends will say
That if my life was turned to film
I'd be standing on a mountain shouting victory in the end
But in my heart I know it's only true
If I'm supporting actor and the Oscar goes to You

It seems funny that in all this self-searching, I find You.
You, Ben Friesen.
You, my growing family.
You, friends near and friends far.
You, children at my church.
You, Jesus.

I hope one day, if my life warrants a film, You will find yourself on the screen.
... And I really hope they cast someone who plays You well.
You deserve it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018



But why Hope? I have heard all the "name it and claim it" commands. The best wishes. The thoughts and prayers. And I sometimes wonder if they have made any difference. Any change. Any Kingdom advancement.

But here I still sit, holding Hope's hand and whispering my prayers into his ear every time my heart skips a beat. Asking for peace. Asking for healing. Asking for stability.

Because I believe Hope can make progress. That Hope can bring Light that this place so desperately needs. Light for our world and Light for my darkened mind.

If I give up Hope then I will have nothing. Nothing except a bank account and a shelf of Other People's memoirs. And those will not be enough.

So I am for Hope.
Hope for an end to violence.
Hope for a healed heart.
Hope for a world's ignited love.

Hope for Light to break in and restore broken things.

Because that is what you do, Hope.
(Or should I refer to you in one of your other names? Redeemer, Prince of Peace, Good Shepherd?)
You allow us to join you and bring change.
And we so desperately need change.

You are Hope.
And I am hoping that I can be, too.

Thursday, November 2, 2017


The little rose bush outside our window is piling with snow this Halloween afternoon. As I sit and watch the flakes slowly accumulate on the little pink petals I am struck with a sense of familiarity, a feeling of home. Not to this rosebush. I have only known it a few weeks and not intimately; I let the groundskeeper tend it on his weekly rounds. I am also not well-acquainted with this snow, seeing as it is the first time we have experienced a flurry in Topeka. It is the quiet, grey-skies-covered peace that is recognizable. And it has been a long time since our last meeting.

My mother gifted me a book before Ben and I moved here to Topeka, Kansas titled This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live. The author, Melody Warnick, compiles scientific research, poetic essays, and personal conversations to help craft an in-depth look at "Place Attachment". She believes (as do many of her sources) that a person can choose to fall in love with the place they live and suggests active steps a person or family can take to become better connected with their city. It is an interesting and worthwhile read, especially for a recent transplant looking to connect.

I don't think I have ever had a problem connecting with a place. I have moved a number of times in my adult life--my parents still live in the green house in Fresno where all three of us kids were raised--and have always quickly adapted. Every place I have lived has brought incredible community and natural beauty that is unique from anywhere else.

Some would say it is the people who make the place but I am starting to believe a different opinion. People may be the most recognizable (and arguably most important) aspect of a location and should absolutely be taken into consideration when talking of a place. But there are certain non-human elements that I associate with a particular home and, when I happen to run into them elsewhere, I am immediately transported.

The smell of damp, spongy earth on an overcast Scotts Valley morning.

The loud crunch from fallen acorns walking Crestline trails.

The almost-too-warm sunshine that brightly reflects off of Oakhurst snowfall.

The taste of Fresno peaches, just washed in Grandma's kitchen sink.

A place gets to own its flora and fauna, its rivers and fields, its skyscrapers and Walmarts more than it gets to own its people. All those sights and sounds and smells are the truest form of place. And we get to choose what we own as our home. (Not "own" in the sense of possession but "own" in the form of confession or agreement. We own our feelings of home.)

Which is why Topeka and I now know each other. I owned that grey-skies-covered peace in every place I have lived, every place that has allowed me to do life well there. That quiet gentle spot has been a constant in varying landscapes among different people. Even when it lasts only for a few seconds I can find that place and rest in it.

Our neighbors, the Bookers, walk past the window, wrapped in coats to brush snow off their windshield. The peace dissolves as I listen to kids playing in our shared green yard and wonder where the squirrel I saw chowing down on our birdseed this morning has hidden himself. I realize I should get ready for our trick-or-treaters (do they still go door-to-door in freezing temperatures?) and make sure Helen got the package UPS dropped on her front step.

It's nice to be home.