Monday, December 28, 2015

Blindsided by Cancer

Each summer the Nesdahls take a vacation. This year we planned to spend a few days at a new retreat center, which we quickly discovered a generous term for “church with some Barbie sized bunk beds shoved into closets.”

It was not what we expected.

There was grumbling. I was just about ready to pack up for the nearest hotel when my mother-in-law and father-in-law called a family meeting in the sanctuary. There, Gary said that it wasn’t what we wished for but it was “fitting for our family because we’ve always been grounded in the church.” After it was determined that we’d stay and go on with life, Andrea requested that we each give each other a blessing. From the youngest to the most mature, we placed the sign of the cross on each other’s forehead. “God loves you, and so do I.”

Some of you have said my last few posts have been my best writing yet. Perhaps it’s because I’m writing from the valley. My father-in-law went to the doctor for a cough and it left us with words tough to digest – lung cancer.

This is not a secret, yet I’ve enjoyed a month of quiet. Time to process as individuals and together as a family. Room to gain footing from friends who have been there and pastors who care. Opportunity, in our house, to present chemotherapy as medication to attack grandpa’s cancer like antibiotics target the kids’ infections.

Over Christmas, Andrea and Gary shared this diagnosis in their letter and this week Gary’s diagnosis will be shared in synodical news. With my mother-in-law’s years in public ministry and father-in-law always by her side, many of you know and love our family. Being able to express your care and hope will be important to you and we, very much, appreciate that.

There are two questions that everyone seems to ask.

What is the prognosis?  There is no prognosis and I LOVE THAT. Gary’s oncologist shared with us that this cancer is very responsive to chemotherapy and that gives us great hope. Gary sailed through the first round of chemo like a champ, feels good, and looks great. We are optimistic this will continue. The Lord uniquely covers each of us under His feathers (Psalm 91:4) and no two stories are exactly the same.

How are we doing? This is a much a harder question to answer because it’s a journey not a static event. We’ve all had tough moments. Speaking for myself, I’ve cried in the shower and wet my pillow with tears. I’ve pleaded with God that no one say anything stupid around my kids because I don’t want them to fear life. (In fact, I really hope that people will leave them alone unless they bring it up.)  Hurt is real.

BUT, we still have so many great “us” moments. We’re still sarcastic. We still laugh and make fools of ourselves playing family charades and take ridiculous family selfies complete with props. We share in worship and meals. We go all the places we once went. We attend events. We volunteer. We make plans and dream about the future. Who we are hasn’t changed. Please keep this in mind and treat us with your same normal, friendly interactions rather than puppy dog eyes because we’re in the business of living. :)

Obviously, where any of us emotionally sits at a given moment will vary, and, if we need to talk, we will reach out accordingly.

In some ways nothing has changed. We are all still one breath closer to our last. None of us knows how or when God will call us Home. In other ways, everything has changed because a single word entered our lives.

Life looks different than we expected, yes. This isn’t what we would choose. But, we are a family rooted in the church. The morning we left the “retreat center” God created this sunrise,

 (no filter)

Leaving us all speechless.

So too God creates beauty, hope, and possibility through this journey and in our lives. So, when you see us, if you want to say something but aren’t quite sure what it should be, go with a simple, “We’re praying with you” or perhaps you could join in the family blessing, “God loves you, and so I do.” Then let's smile and move on. :)

Thank you for your prayers.

xx Melissa

Afterthought - when I shared this post with my family to first receive their blessing Joe, my brother-in-law, noticed that you can see both Gary and Andrea in the picture. For months I've been so been so awed by the Lord's majesty in the sunrise that I didn't see them (Sorry, Gary and Andrea!). What a precious thing, after writing this post and knowing the picture's meaning, to recognize this detail. I wept. God's tender mercies shining through. How blessed we all are to be loved by this God and what gift to me to be part of this incredible family.

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Saturday, December 26, 2015

My New Understanding of Bravery {In Lieu of #BeBrave2015}

I was told pumpkin was going to be in low supply this year so I bought 10 cans. Don’t ask me what I planned to do with all of them because I can’t tell you but that’s how I roll. I always want to be ready. Prepared.

When God haunted me with the word “Brave” until I claimed it, I can honestly tell you that I thought my biggest, bravest thing was going to be teaching the newly designed mother/daughter dance class series I created. The newspaper coverage that followed humbled me, and the aftershocks in new class creations and national inquiries overwhelmed.  

Bottom line is I quickly discovered I was wrong.

Going into the year I imagined brave to mean feeling confident and strong. Already off kilter, I was stunned when this new aspect of public life stirred interest in my speaking to women’s groups, mothers groups, youth groups, adult ed, and Intergenerational events. I started to shrink, wondering, why in the world me?

The devil has a way of talking you out of things before you can even completely entertain the options. I’m not a powerhouse, I kept telling myself. And God began breaking me down. It wasn’t His easiest work. I was a hard sell before realizing that perhaps people aren’t seeking a robust authority in me so much as my heart, which I truthfully place before you as passionate, timid, and sometimes broken but always with hope to connect deeper as families and with God to create healthier futures. You want a relatable me. I dropped my obstinance and decided that if I were to address groups like I would talk to friends there was room for possibility.

I finally understood that my perception of equipped may be completely different than the way God intends to use me, and if I rely on feeling I may miss the note I was intended to play.

A new, scarier definition of bravery was starting to form.

My private life proved no different. In both my writing and relationships God challenged me anew. I took to the computer keys fueled by inspiration with no known outcome. Interactions with people, friends, and family involved risk taking in sharing, sitting in the valleys with others, and finding way when life looks different than dreamt. I said yes to going places I couldn’t imagine and I said no and redirected when what I thought would be best, in fact, didn’t prove helpful. At times, it was courageously saying no to begin with.

I spent more time on my knees but stood taller.

There is this beautiful image in Scripture of the potter and clay. “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” Isaiah 64:8. It gives me this mental picture of God slowly, carefully working on a compliant subject who easily bends as they are prompted to be exactly the individual the Lord fashioned for them to be.

I’m not really that. I’m more like the ice block in the Ice Sculpture Christmas Hallmark movie that has to be tendered to a certain temperature before I’m even a candidate to work with and then I need to be chiseled and shined. I’m resistant. But, as I listen and go with God’s voice I’m stronger and more beautifully exemplify the abundant life offered.

#BeBrave2015 has taught me that bravery is moment-to moment resubmission to God. It’s a choice. Bravery means constantly listening to the Lord’s voice. It’s trusting that God’s not going to drop us. It’s letting go of what we think life should look like and giving God breathing room to create new experiences and opportunities we didn’t picture. It’s stepping forward, sometimes with wobbly knees.

God placed this word upon me because I would need it in 2015.

I began the year wanting to feel brave.

I leave it opting to live brave.

So do I have a word for 2016? I’m taking a little different route. Stay tuned :)

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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Real Mom Confessions

Christmas week is here. I don't know about your house but, in mine, the final countdown is on. There are a few things left to be done today. The stockings just aren't going to make it out. And, my hubby's gift isn't going to arrive in time so he's opening a printed picture. At one time in my life this would've driven me crazy. Now my life is crazy and I choose a manageable, enjoyable holiday over idealism. Give yourself a break where need be, too.

On to real mom confessions....

1) Bedtime. I pretty much clock out at 8pm. It is time for little eyes to rest and mama to recharge. So, when my Hannah decided to ask me how our bodies go from a box to Jesus after we die and Ava followed it up with, "Does God glue our body parts together?" I wanted to SCREAM. These are GOOD and WORTHY questions but can we discuss them at a sane hour?! How about supper time? This would be a great supper discussion but not a PAST BEDTIME discussion. I felt horrible because I'm glad that they care but I gave them a much shorter answer and omitted the, "Do you have any more questions?" ask from my repertoire. Better timing, kids. Better timing. To be continued...

2) Underwear. After picking up the girls from school the other day one of my children told me she was completely out of clean underwear that day so she wore her swimsuit bottoms. Apparently even with my more manageable Christmas approach I've not done ample laundry.

3) Humor. My girls wanted a family sleepover last weekend. After my hubby said no, Grace put on her Halloween costume.

Grace: We mustard have a a family sleepover
Charlie: You need to ketchup on sleep. You need to relish your sleep. So get your buns to bed. Quit acting like a dog.

You guys, THIS IS MY LIFE.

4) Lines. Mama don't care about the Christmas lines. I went out shopping by myself and it felt like a vacation. Lines? Who cares! I had quiet and could think a full uninterrupted thought. It as glorious.

Getting home, though, was glorious too. The girls are so EXCITED for Christmas and Immanuel, God with us, is almost here. That excites us all :)

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Why I Admire the Innkeeper: Saying Yes in a Mess

The other day Ava was telling me the Christmas story.

(video only compatible with computers)

I have to admit, until my little comedian cracked me up I hadn’t thought much about the Innkeeper.

The man gets a bad rap. He essentially offered tent camping to the Ritz Carlton of his time for the birth of the Savior. Was he crabby as Ava implies? I don’t know and honestly I don’t care to debate the decisions or character of a man dead for thousands of years. The obvious is that he was busy. All the guest rooms were taken.

However, “no room” in the pretty spaces didn’t stop this man from offering place. Assumedly, he offered the smelly, manure-laden, cramped quarters amongst his animals we now display as pretty stables this time of year.

None of this took our God by surprise – He wrote the story – but in my humanity, it does me. When my kids have played throughout the house and I’m just trying to get laundry done I’m much less likely to want guests inside than when my life looks pretty and orderly. There is an element of pride that I imagine has been instinctive since the beginning of time. Even in the face of a woman about to give birth. I imagine even more so.

The Innkeeper said yes in his mess.

We all know how the rest of this story played out. Jesus was born in midst of ick and darkness and laid in the hay. What has been viewed as the Innkeeper missing Christmas has become the saving grace we cling to. God used this element of the story to remind us that He meets us in our mess. There is no life circumstance or hurt in which he will not dwell and give us hope. Praise be, say we who live anything but easy, sterile, pristine lives this side of Glory.

But if we look deeper, the Innkeeper can inspire us.

Sometimes people approach us and our hearts don’t have a pretty guest room to offer. The reality of our lives looks more like the messy stable.

How will we respond?

Will we turn people away because it’s not what we want people to be able to see and associate with us? Or will we say yes in our mess?

Recently I felt led to do exactly. I talked myself out of sharing the ugly a million times before inviting the individual in, putting my words to air.

And what I heard was, “Me too.”

Me too.

Because of the Innkeeper we are reminded that good things happen in dirty places. Life-changing Hope. Life-changing relationships. Strength.

This Christmas we receive the gift of Immanuel - God with us. 

And, we’re inspired to lay the ego down and welcome the other in regardless of physical or emotional surrounding.

Maybe the Innkeeper wasn’t so bad. He offers place, and isn’t that something we all wish for?

I kinda like the guy.

xx Melissa

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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Real Mom Confessions

I'm writing this Real Mom Confessions from my four year old's bed since she can't seem to fall asleep. Lucky for her she's cute AND I just got back from my Bible Study Christmas dinner, which is the best every year. So many hilarious stories shared over a good meal. Surround yourself with friends you can laugh over your flops with. I just got word from one that she went back to pay for some creamer after dinner that she accidentally stole during the day when it got stuck in her baby's seat that we almost had to come post bail. I love these ladies.

Are you guys ready for Christmas? I am NOT. Oh well, there are a few days. Tra la la la la la. There we shall begin-

1)  I realized today I never put my garland around the banister OR the Christmas stockings hung. I can't even believe my kids haven't said anything nor can I make sense of how this happened. Now I'm trying to decide if it is worth my hubby getting the tote down from the garage again to hang them.

2) When I was giving away school pictures at a family Christmas last weekend it occurred to me that I haven't put their 8x10s on the walls.

3) Thanks to Noodles and Company my kids thing homemade noodles and butter is a delicacy. Tell them any different and prepare to be injured :)

4) Caillou's clothes drive me nuts. I don't know how Ava got on a Caillou kick again but she's occasionally picked it on Netflix. People, these clothes for DIFFERENT seasons of the year in the SAME FRAME drive. me. batty! Even more batty than him whining. Why is Caillou in shorts and a t-shirt when his dad is in a sweatshirt and jeans? ALWAYS

I can't take it.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Real Mom Confessions

Boy, oh boy, do I have some good stories for you this week. It's been seven days of interesting and busy to say the least. Christmas season is going strong and this week that included the girls' dance program, my candy making tradition with my college roomie, and gratitude for Amazon because I can shop without actually going into stores. We've also been struggling with colds and asthma this week with all three girls, taking a serious toll on both my hours of sleep and my ability to think clearly. I promise you some meaty posts in the future when my brain is able to flesh out meaningful thoughts worthy of your time. Until then, real mom confessions, because....who can't use a laugh?

1. Buffalo Parts. Let's just start with the day my 20 year old self would have never seen coming. I moved buffalo parts from the school back to the museum. As if that wasn't weird enough, I was concerned about the safety of the buffalo skull in my moving vehicle and didn't want anything to happen to it that could potentially cause the school a fee so I BUCKLED IT into my child's safety seat.

2. Ava's Morning Routine. The other morning I heard Ava singing her way through morning preparations. "Clothes on. Eat breakfast. Brush teeth. Put on shoes. And off to school." Apparently a Daniel Tiger song was helping her kick off the day. I let her get into step two before I got out of bed. Why ruin an opportunity to let her grow in healthy independence?

3. Gift Wrap Container. The older two decided to hide from us before bedtime prayers the other night - as if that would ever work, but whatever. One of the two said children decided to sink herself in a gift wrap container allegedly per the suggestion of her sister. Do you know how big a gift wrap container is? NOT BIG. Said child then got stuck and began to cry. I thought I was going to cry too, thinking that we were going to have to get something to cut the container to get said child out. Thankfully, my man was able to pull and angle and dislodge her, at which point I kissed the boo boos that, I imagine, did really hurt and dove into a, "If you make unhealthy choices you are going to have natural life consequences. Injuries being one of them"  speech. I figured it was good learning ground for her t(w)een and young adult years when people are suggesting she do things to and with her body that could cause far worse life pain than skinned knees. Maybe I should have been more sympathetic but God gave us a thinking brain so let's use it. Amen?

4. My T-shirt. Friday was All Pro Dad, which Charlie leads at our school. I was in the office helping gather small papers for a giveaway he was going to be doing. As the principal, vice-principal and I were preparing the items, they were talking to me about my shirt. "Once in a while I wear it during the day, but it's perfect for All Pro Dad or a pajama top," I said.

You guys, THIS is what the shirt looks like

I did NOT mean it like it had to have looked/sounded. Insert me turning 28 million shades of red.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Real Mom Confessions

Blog friends, our yard is blanketed in 22 inches of snow and our kids can't get enough of the white stuff. One night they spent hours making a 5 person snowman family - the daddy snowman almost as tall as me. They run, frolic, and play. They randomly drop to the ground and make snow angels. They belly giggle loudly. I find myself looking out the window in awe. These kids do life right. In the midst of troubling moments or a less-than-perfect day they can let go of all of it and play free. Each moment for a kid is passionate, creating a life fully lived. I joke about the less-than-perfect mom moments but the truth is my little people often teach me how to choose joy and live well. I'm so lucky to be their mom.

So what were some less-than-impressive moments this week?

1) My mom and grandma make homemade candy every year and my girls and I went to be quality control. I take my job seriously. Especially the caramels. When I was little I was told I said, "Wrap one. Eat one" and I'm not sure I've progressed much beyond that today. All three girls did an awesome job wrapping caramels but they were ready for some play time when it was all done so, naturally, they started running. In the house. "Don't get hurt," I pretty much whimpered. "That was authoritative," my mom laughed. I could only respond, "It's really more a prayer."

2) Was anyone else shocked by the number of drones in the Black Friday ads? How many people have these and why? It made no sense to me but then I realized when our kids start driving and dating we'll just follow them with photographic drones. Suddenly they have redeeming value.

3) Saturday Grace declared her own PJ day. I decided it was brilliant so after drinking my coffee I informed my hubby, "I think I'll take a shower and get into some new pajamas." And that's exactly what I did. #goals

4) The girls decided to announce to our NEW PASTOR that they made their journal password "Monkey Butt Cheeks."

No words. I'm sure we soared right to the top of her prayer list.

How did your kids humble you this week?

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