A No-Brainer: My Public Thanks

I thank God for my faithful, kind husband of 25 years who still makes me laugh. In fact, on seeing my five glued abdominal wounds today, he called me his blueberry muffin. I laughed. It hurt. And we laughed and I hurt some more. It was very worth it.
The hallelujah view of The Basilica of St. Josaphat was a kindness, too, for it reminded me of where I heard my beloved Handel’s Messiah.
St. Luke’s omelette’s rate. I thanked God for one at dinner and one more at breakfast. I recommend the cheese and veg.
“Didn’t see that coming,” was Aunt Mary’s text on hearing of my unlikely post-op eye injury. I’m icing my eye here, and thanking God as I type that it’s almost all better.
This track was a sight for sore eyes, or at least the one (see above). I haven’t walked this slowly in 46 years—mom confirmed, I was quick out of the baby gate. But this week, I thank God for my slowest walks.
image of legs
These. I thank God for these. I almost didn’t want to leave the hospital because of these inflatable leg sleeves. The rhythmic compression was a major post-op perk.
My sisters are great cooks. One made this incredible Korean beef and veg fried brown rice. The other brought us kale-chicken-garbanzo salad. We devoured it before I took a picture.
I thank God for the sunset reflected in these clouds over Lake Michigan. How could I ask for more?
I thank God for good books like these: George Sayer’s, Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis and Andrée Seu’s, Won’t Let You Go Unless You Bless Me. Seu is quoted below.

Pain, Op & Post-Op

This was a big week for me. A big week for me to give thanks.

Because my pain got bad in July. Then an ultrasound found a huge mass. Surgery was scheduled for August 16th.

I had a month to wait. A month to talk back to the little aches under my arms and to wonder if the mass was cancerous. Yes, a month to learn to speak peace.

But Tuesday was surgery at St. Luke’s. My only other operation was the prodding that named the pelvic pain behind my more painful infertility: endometriosis.

That was twenty years ago. This time we knew I had a problem. By noon the surgeon had removed a 12- cm ovarian mass and a second surgeon was called in to help remove the adhesions gluing organs together that don’t belong together.

The first three things I remember upon waking were 1) the painful eye, 2) reaching my dream room on the 12th floor, where lymphoma patients come, and 3) I remember a big smile on Jim as he said,

“Dr. Kamelle removed it all and would be shocked if it was cancer, but the lab will need to confirm.”

Not Everyone Is Healed

Even as I sat in those glorious leg massagers, I thought of my friend’s friend whose bones are literally breaking with cancer. I prayed for another church friend who probably won’t live to see her long awaited first grandbaby’s birthday. Then came a text from a dear friend whose husband has fought cancer for ten years. He was just admitted due to a serious infection, and is still there as I write.

I think of these God-fearing, Christ-loving, praying people. God doesn’t always heal, on this side anyway. He leaves some mountains unmoved.

The song says,

I know the sorrow, I know the hurt would all go away if you’d just say the word.

But even if you don’t, my hope is you alone.

I want to believe I’d still sing that, and his faithful follower I would be, for by his hand He leadeth me.

But would I? Would I still have enjoyed the room with the view if the surgeon pronounced the mass cancerous? Would I still be telling you how sweet is this place?

I don’t know.

My Shout from the Housetop

But Andrée Seu wrote—and I am 💯 with her—that since she and her prayer warrior had prayed watchfully and since their request for her healing was granted:

It’s a no-brainer that I need to give public glory to God. Still I protest: Many godly, praying people are not healed. [Her prayer warrior] replies, “You were. Shout it from the housetops!”— Plus words to the effect that it’s a dangerous thing to ask the Almighty for something, and then, having received it, to flirt with unbelief.

There was no gainsaying that, and in the end I saw the truth of it, and yield the doubt to faith and that is why I tell you this.

So here receive my public thanks to God. To Him alone be praise.

Do I know I would praise God even if? No, I do not.

But I will thank Him now. To Him alone be praise.

What Makes Me Cry

What makes me cry these days? I’ve been weepy for the 48 hours I’ve been home, and it’s not because of the incisions and I don’t think it’s because I’m down an ovary.

It’s because of kindness.

God’s first, and y’all’s next. I mean it. I can’t list all the names now, because I’d forget someone. But you know who you are—you texted and prayed. You made a meal or sent a card, you drove me, or the son, home. A couple of you took a son to lunch and met a son in court. You dropped off flowers. I give thanks to God for you. You were gentle and kind.

For you all, and for strong Tylenol, a funny husband, inflatable leg massagers and a friend named Gwen; for sunshine, omelettes, and my slowest walks, I give public thanks to God.

I also give Him thanks for the call in the elevator on the way down from the 12th-floor room.

Is this Abigail? It’s pathology. We wanted to let you know: no cancer was found.

Public thanks goes to God for that too. From the housetop.

And the roadside, in my slowest walking shoes.

And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.

Psalm 39:7 (ESV)

Freedom, Prison and Praise: A 1-Verse Prayer for Desperate Places

What rolls off your tongue when you’re in trouble? What comes out when you’re in a prison or a cave? How do you pray?

Like A Song, It Came

“Help me,” “Heal us,” and “Have mercy,” are desperate prayers my God has heard lately. There’s also been that prayer for a prodigal.

But last night, these words came. Like lyrics from songs we sang in eighth grade, they came.

Set me free from my prison,
    that I may praise your name.
Then the righteous will gather about me
    because of your goodness to me.

That’s the last verse of Psalm 142, “Of David. When he was in the cave.” David prayed those words when he was literally in a cave, hiding from a hostile King Saul who literally sought to end his life.

I’d just texted a few friends to ask them to pray, another SOS. Please pray that God will bring peace to our family.

Then Psalm 142 verse 7 came, like ROYGBIV and All Cows Eat Grass and The Doxology.

Like a familiar, overlearned thing it came. The Spirit sent it and it came.

Because that verse was a go-to prayer during the decade of gut-wrenching infertility, a heart-wrenching church split, and marriage conflict that came along for the ride. Those felt like a prison that I couldn’t escape. I felt helpless and hemmed in.

So I prayed.

Set Me Free From My Prison

We know anything is a blessing that makes us pray. I think thinking of the word prison today triggered it.

David’s prison was a cave. He hid in a hole in the rocks to save his life from hostile King Saul. Derek Kidner explains, “the strain of being hated and hunted is almost too much, and faith is at full stretch.”

Psalm 142 teaches us how to pray when we feel trapped and out of control, when we see no way of escape from our dark cave of troubles. It is a psalm of lament, it is a psalm crying out to God.

There is no cave so deep, so dark, but we may out of it send up our souls in prayer to God.

Matthew Henry

My prison is not a cave. It was my “decade of troubles.”

But today I felt trapped and helpless again. As if there was nothing I could do to escape hostile, hateful words from someone I love, nothing I could do to help him know how much he is loved. I didn’t feel hunted but I did feel hated.

So for freedom, I prayed.

That I May Praise Your Name

During that decade of troubles, I loved to pray this phrase of Psalm 142. Because it grounded my prayer. It turned it from being just about me and my pain to the Lord and his praise.

Bible commentator Albert Barnes, explains, “Not merely for my own sake, but that I may have occasion more abundantly to praise thee; that thus [you] may be honored; an object at all times much more important than our own welfare.”

In other words, we ground our cries for help in the glory and praise of God that will come when he frees us from our prisons. Bring my soul out of prison, not that I may live more comfortably, or insure my physical safety and financial security, but that I may praise your name.

Because God is zealous for his glory and seeks our praise, these prison break prayers are easy to pray.

So for God’s praise, I prayed.

The Righteous Will Gather Around Me Because of Your Goodness to Me

The Hebrew verb for “praise” means to confess or acknowledge. David wants to extol God’s power, goodness and mercy in the company of the saints. In other words, he wants God to answer his prayer so that he can glorify God publicly.

Here, Derek Kidner notes, David “dares to visualize the day when he is no longer shunned or hunted, but thronged, or even crowned.” David visualized a good end. In Christ, with him as our refuge and portion (verse 5), we can be sure of a good end (Romans 8:28). But we can’t be sure when.

I believe we have biblical warrant to take our cues from David and visualize a good end.

Do you visualize how answered prayer would look? Because it does seem like that’s what David is doing. He’s picturing his faithful friends, like the friends I texted who pray, coming around him and rejoicing at God’s goodness to him in freeing him from prison.

David’s visualizing is hoping.

So in hope, I pray.

Faith Joined By Hope

David’s faith was tested in the cave. It was “at full stretch,” as Kidner said. But it was “undefeated, and in the final words it is at last joined by hope.”

Sixteen years ago, God broke me free from a childless prison. Six years ago, he brought me out of an estranged prison. Today, God is building our marriage. I am a prisoner of hope.

Now I am visualizing deliverance. It’s hard, but I picture a day when the relationship filled with hurt and hate is marked by love and laughter. Then the righteous will gather around us and celebrate because of God’s goodness to us.

Friend, tell me if I can pray for you. Because I’d like to get in on the party. Because there will be a party.

The righteous will rejoice in God’s goodness to us. He has done great things, we will say together.

So together, we pray.

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

1 Corinthians 1:8b-11 (ESV)

Condescending: Seriously Bad & Gloriously Good

Baby feet in cloth

Ooh. That sounded condescending, I confessed seconds after using the phrase, “So cute.” The topic? Christmas decor.

What does condescending mean? asked the 13 year-old son.

Like you’re God’s gift to the people you’re with. I paused, As if they’re beneath you and you’re so great to get on their level and give them the time of day.

Oh, he said.

I didn’t tell him the Latin part.  

Condescending Is Seriously Bad

I can be condescending. The bad way—the smug, snooty, Seriously?! way. The, How could you not know that? way. I don’t say it. But sometimes I think it. And thinking it even once is too often for a child of God.

But I begin to think how good it is of me to “go low” and help someone “up.” Even with “so cute” Christmas decor. That thought betrays my pride. For humility is not thinking less of yourself, Lewis said, it’s thinking of yourself less. Jesus said, Don’t let your left hand know.

Bad condescending is bad not only because it’s proud, but because it lacks sympathy. I condescend the bad way when I feel like the people I’m “gracing” with my insight or presence should know better or know more or fear less and trust more.

I’m not alone in that mire. Even the great preacher C.H. Spurgeon confided,

There are distresses to which God’s people are subject with which their fellow Christians can have but little sympathy. Some Christians whom I have tried at times to comfort, have had fears so silly that I have felt more inclined to laugh at them than to console them.

I must have more sympathy to condescend the good way. Because there is a good way.

Aunt Merriam says to condescend means 1: to assume an air of superiority, 2: to descend to a less formal or dignified level; to waive the privileges of rank. Number one is bad. Number two is the good.

Now here’s that Latin part. Condescendere comes from the Latin words con- which means ‘with’ or ‘together’ + descendere which means to ‘descend’ or ‘come down.’

A question for us: When we descend to be with another, is it with love and sympathy or pride and superiority?

Condescending Is Gloriously Good

The God way is the good way. Philippians 2, verses 6 and 7 explains the “good” condescension so beautifully,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 

Do you see it? Almighty God condescends to us, not by reminding us of our smallness and neediness, but rather by stooping down to make us great. The All Wise God who does great things beyond our understanding speaks to the creature in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, the Word made flesh. The Holy God in whom there is no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.

Have you ever sung that old hymn “Come, Christians, Join To Sing,” by C.H. Bateman? Here’s the second verse:

Come, lift your hearts on high,
Alleluia! Amen!
let praises fill the sky;
Alleluia! Amen!
he is our Guide and Friend;
to us he’ll condescend;
his love shall never end.
Alleluia! Amen!

Did you see it again? God’s condescending love is worthy of our praise. God’s is gloriously good condescension; his condescension is free from pride and full of sympathy. Spurgeon—and I— know that even when we are unsympathetic and condescend in the bad way, our God in not like us. Thank God he is not like us.

Now our God is so tender and gentle that He even condescends to deal with our silly fears…His gentleness shows itself in His being afflicted in our afflictions and entering into our sorrows, and putting Himself side by side with us in the battle of spiritual life.

C.H. Spurgeon, Divine Gentleness Acknowledged

Condescension like that makes me want to worship Christ the newborn King. Oh yes our God condescends.

And not just to the whole wide world, but to sinful, needy you and sinful, needy me.

God Condescends

Fourteen years ago last month, I made a once in a lifetime announcement. With Jim’s family gathered around to say grace before Thanksgiving dinner, I asked if I could recite a Psalm.

It was Psalm 13, a condescension Psalm.

Who is like the Lord our God,
    the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
    on the heavens and the earth?

He raises the poor from the dust
    and lifts the needy from the ash heap;

he seats them with princes,
    with the princes of his people.
He settles the barren woman in her home
    as a joyful mother of children.


The Lord who is enthroned on high nevertheless stooped to look down upon me. He was mindful of my humble estate. After ten years of barrenness, he remembered me. He came down with me and lifted me from the heap.

The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianiy

But our Lord condescends in everyday ways too. Today he gave me peace in conflict and strength to forgive again. Then he allowed a cancelled session which gave me time to finish a report. In big and small ways, God stoops down.

But He did it biggest at Christmas.

Christmas Is About Condescension

I think C.S. Lewis saw it that way. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a foetus inside a Woman’s body, he wrote. If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab. (Mere Christianity, Book IV, Chapter 5)

That condescending conversation in the van last night brought this song to mind in the morning. You might like it.

Who but God would send his Son
To condescend and make himself the likes of a mere mortal man

For in the end, condescend is one of the sweetest, most Christmasy words I know. It’s why we stretch Advent out. Because in the incarnation, God did way more than just come down and give us a hand. More than just step out of his castle for an evening of revelry with his serfs at Ye Olde Pub. Oh, no. Infinitely more.

He became one of us. He took on our weakness, sympathized with our weakness and bore our sin. The Creator became a creature. Like us becoming slugs but far more shocking. Who would condescend like this?

All glory be to Christ. Who but God.

Who is like the Lord our God,
    the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
    on the heavens and the earth?

Psalm 113:7

Gabriel Speaks

I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.

Luke 1:19b

Some of you know this story, but lots of you do not. And this is of all the days the best day to tell it. So here it goes.

Once upon on time, ten years ago today- but it truly began nine months before that or really even eight or seven
Yes, it was ten years plus seven months ago, Gabriel, when you first made your presence known.

But I really must rewind

Because it was ten years before these last ten years-

Twenty whole years ago, it was

In January when Dad and I- we two, were joined as one.

For most of those first ten years (Big brother came by plane after nine)

We hoped and prayed and tried (how we hoped and prayed and tried, and too much, I think, I cried)

And doctors consulted, tried this and that, and poked around inside

But all their methods failed- it just wasn’t the right time.

And empty wombs like empty stomachs sometimes ache 

But God’s children run their race and walk by faith and trust the promises true-

That our trials produce steadfastness and character and a hope that will not disappoint

That  no good thing will He withhold and they that wait upon the Lord will be renewed.

So we stopped the procedures and we ceased striving and tried less hard.

But still in faith we prayed, in His love we hoped, and life kept racing on

Then one fall- that fall Aunt Char and I decided, Sure, let’s run it all.

And I remember how

That September, my coffee didn’t taste as good and I was suddenly ready for bed by seven

Then came October, and snow,

But we sisters plowed on and  drove six hours north

To run that 26.2 mile course.

(Run we did -we three, the third, still unbeknownst to me- and we finished the race in four hours, give or take.)

Next week I took a test I’d taken a dozen or more times before

But this time, the stripes said YES, YES, YES- it’s true

Your frame was being finely woven by then for eight whole weeks

But that was when I first found out for sure about you.

And now tonight, ten-year old son,  I pinch myself and think how loud your name rings true

You are our YES  to countless prayers that God would grant us love’s sweet fruit

Your presence with your brother “HEARD OF GOD” was so good we prayed for more

But God, for righteous reasons only He knows

Has not again opened to us that door.

You are no angel, but still you are a messenger to tell

That God alone sets the times and the seasons and even the days

And that no good thing does He withhold

That His ways are not our ways (and that is all okay).

It’s been ten years today since I laid eyes on that long-lashed, lovely baby boy- and I never want to forget the messages I heard then

That we’d best keep running and look to Jesus even when we ache a lot.

That it’s when we cease striving that we can know that He is  God

And that the best gifts can’t be bought.

Because, after all, Who is like the Lord our God who sits on high and humbles himself to behold things in heaven and on earth? 

That’s is good news God sent you to tell us Gabriel, messenger of God.

Who is like the LORD our God,

Who dwells on high,

Who humbles himself to behold

Things in the heavens and in the earth?

He raises the poor out of the dust,

And lifts the needy out of the ash heap,

He gives the barren woman a home,

Making her the joyous mother of children.

Praise the LORD!

Psalm 113:5-7, 9