Manuel Nuῆez

Today’s selection comes from Manuel Nuῆez, an artist who’s done a lot in the commercial world, but who caught my eye with these striking paintings in the style of religious icons. The one I saw first is still my favorite, the lines so sharp and elegant, it’s burned into my memory and I love it.


I love the gold leaf in these kind of paintings, it adds so much dimension and lustre to the image. I think what I love about this image in particular is that instead of being an image that begs to be worshipped, it’s an image of a woman in the act of worship. There’s a big part of me that wants to be that woman, with that dramatic look, completely lost in the awe of God.

A Hollow Space

In May of this year I had surgery on my throat. Just a pesky case of thyroid cancer. I was not informed that this surgery would steal my voice away, but I was barely able to speak for two or three months. Thankfully, my speaking voice has returned and I’ve even done a couple of spoken word performances post-surgery.

My singing voice, on the other hand, is still AWOL. I can kind of muddle through a tune, but there are hiccups and cracks and sudden descents into notes I had no designs on. There’s not a lot of control involved in my singing, and after two or three songs I get the very strange sensation that my vocal chords are tired. I still sing almost every day, when I play my guitar and worship God while my baby scoots around the living room floor. Despite the rasping unpredictability of my voice, I still find that I feel the presence of God while I play and sing. It reminds me of the first few times I plucked out a tune on the guitar. I only knew four chords, and my abilities extended far enough to do one strum for each chord change, after a few seconds of meticulous finger-placement. I found that God was willing to show up to that stuttery song too. He really doesn’t seem very particular, at least when I’m alone (or only in the presence of un-critical infants).

There is a kind of freedom in knowing that my singing voice sucks. I spend no time wondering if my voice is any good, because I know for sure that it isn’t. So I can just sing, and I can just worship, and I don’t worry about it. I think of my voice singing this song as a kind of placeholder for music; it creates a hollow space that other people can fill with their voices, that the guitar can fill with its chords, that God can fill with his love.

God Responds

Today I’m grateful that God responds. That the solution to feeling disconnected and far from heaven is to say to God, “I feel disconnected and far from heaven.” And God responds. He moves, he changes things. These last weeks have been hard for me, despite all the fantastic people in my life, despite how much I love my day-to-day. My friend died, and her death saddens me greatly. Not only that, but being in mourning makes it so much harder to ignore the close relationships that have been broken this year, the ones I can’t take comfort in anymore. So I find myself on my couch, without the will or energy to rise. When I feel like that I say to God, “I don’t have the will or energy to rise.” And God responds, and I feel a bit lighter, enough to move my limbs, enough to do the things I know will make me feel better, but which I couldn’t do without God’s response. It overwhelms me that God is not only willing to hear my complaint, but that he so easily and reliably responds.

I know it’s a bit Christian-y for this blog, but I don’t mind. At the end of the day, I believe that I was made to live in the center of God’s love, and to preach the good news that you were too.

Eternal Life

I recently lost a good friend. Her name was Brianne, and she was one of the greatest people I’ve known. She was a good influence on everyone she was around, including me. She loved children, and went to South Africa to help at an orphanage there. She loved with her actions, caring for people with concrete acts of kindness given with great joy.

Brianne died young, and suddenly. She was hit by a large truck that ran a red light, and that was that. The cute husband and I had both prayed over Brianne while she was in our small group and when she came back to the midwest for a short time before returning to South Africa. We laid our hands on her, and we believed we heard God speak great plans over her life. Plans for marriage and motherhood, for a great ministry and love for a thousand children. So when we heard that she had died, we had to ask ourselves; did we hear wrong? Were those just our hopes for Brianne? Was God tricking us, not wanting to break the news too early that Brianne wasn’t going to be around for long? If God had plans for Brianne that hadn’t come about yet, how could she die?

We have an image of heaven as an empty white landscape where everything is soft and squishy and nothing really matters. We get to live, and it’s kind of nice, but nothing happens. We picture heaven as the end of the story, when all the action has happened in our physical lifetimes, heaven is the static reward. We do not get this idea from the Bible. The Bible describes heaven as a place where things happen. The Bible’s description of heaven is of a pulsing, gorgeous city, of gardens and towers and mansions. The Bible describes heaven as a place where angels ask questions that get answers, where people are sent out on missions and then come back. Where time passes, and new things happen, where there are seasons and light and healing being done.

My faith depends on the words God speaks to me, on the words written in my holy book, and on the reflection of my community. If I am to believe in these things, I must believe that Brianne still lives. I must believe that in heaven, things still happen that matter. I must believe that even though Brianne’s time with us was cut short, her life is still being created by the loving hands of God.

Luck vs. Blessing

I got very lucky with my baby. I was worried before giving birth that I wouldn’t be able to be around another person all the time, much less a demanding baby. Pearl is relatively easy to be around, and creates much more joy than inconvenience.

It’s easy to feel like we’re just lucky, like it is by sheer chance that Pearl is so happy. It’s more politically correct to view the situation that way. It would be judgmental of me to say that Pearl is happy because I’m such an amazing mom, or because I breastfeed, or because we used this or that sleep training program. And if I say that Pearl is this way because God intentionally chose to bless us with this happy person in our lives, what does that say about women who have more challenging infants?

The problem with viewing Pearl as luck is that luck is so easily broken. Because of my continuing cancer treatment, I’ll have to stop nursing Pearl in a few months. What upsets me most about this development is that I’m afraid it will upset our balance. If I can’t nurse Pearl, maybe she’ll stop being so happy. Maybe without that comfort, I won’t be able to get her to sleep at night anymore. Maybe our bonding will fade and she’ll feel unsettled and frightened. Maybe our luck will break.

As controversial as it may be, I choose to believe that Pearl and her happiness are blessings from God. A blessing doesn’t break so easily. If God intended our lives to be peaceful and happy, that peace and happiness will endure the weather. If it is God’s doing that has brought my life to this moment, I can continue to ask him for what I need or want and hope that he will hear and respond. I can hope that God means to bless my life, and that those blessings will endure beyond any curse, even cancer. I can believe that light will make the darkness flee, even at sunset.

Unwinding Worry

That pesky cancer thing is still kind of going on, so I have to have surgery on Tuesday to remove my thyroid. I’ve never had surgery before, and I’ve been advised by those who have to not think about what it actually is. Because if you think too long about someone, even a surgeon, cutting into your throat, the floor directly beneath you starts to sink. Granted, this is a relatively minor surgery, I’m in great hands, and I’ll have lots of help from my cute husband and my mom.

And yet, there are not completely illogical reasons to worry. I’m a breastfeeding mom, and the arrangements to make sure I can continue nursing after the surgery has required five phone calls in the last four days. I have a friend who was in a coma for two days after having this same surgery. I had another friend who died during a relatively minor surgery. All of that is pretty concerning, but I think I would be okay if it was just me.

I know within myself that if tragedy strikes, I can get through it. I’ve been through a great deal in my life and I know I can trust God to take care of me. It is much, much harder to trust God to take care of my family, especially my helpless two-month-old daughter. At this point, and possibly forever after, a tragedy for me has the potential to be an even greater tragedy for her. If I were to get really sick or die, Pearl’s life would be more effected than mine. While I can be concerned or even worried for myself, that thought sends me into out-and-out panic.

After Pearl was born, I felt that God gave me a new mantra, a phrase I can repeat to quiet and focus my mind while I meditate. Now, while I meditate, I repeat the phrase “I trust you with my daughter’s life.” I find that repeating this phrase releases tension I didn’t realize I was holding. There is a piece of the mother-baby connection that can turn sour and strangling; repeating that phrase unwinds that connection. I am telling God that I am willing to hand over the responsibility I feel for Pearl’s life. I am surrendering the idea that I can control or shape her, that I can protect her from all harm, that I am anything more than a mere mortal in her life. I am telling God that I trust him with the most precious and delicate thing I have ever held in my hands. And truly, if I can trust God with my daughter’s life, what else is left to worry for?

How Good You Are

A poem in honor of the third time in my life when my jaw has gotten sore from too much smiling.  The only times I can remember feeling this way before were the day I was healed from a chronic pain that lasted six years, and my wedding day.  Pearl, my lovely baby, reminds me daily how God stupefies my expectations of what he’s willing to do.


Once again you’ve overwhelmed me

with just how good you are.

Once again you’ve given me

a light that defies concealment

a joy as bright and powerful

as obvious as any hurt

I might write or weep about.

Months and years stretch out in doubt

so unaware your wave of joy

is about to crash upon me.

While I hold out my little clay cup

and beg for just another sip-full

“Would that be so very hard?”

You smile and prepare an ocean

that embraces my horizon.

Once again you’ve given me

a joy that widens my perception

of how loyal your love is

how sincere your promise is

how good you really are.

A Nice Frame

After two years of infertility, my husband and I are quite miraculously going to have a baby. We discovered this shatteringly joyous news during my pre-operative physical, because I was supposed to have my thyroid removed due to a small case of cancer. That is a crazy-ass story, and I cannot frame it. I can’t pull a simple moral out of it, or force it into any kind of cohesive sense. Some helpful friends have offered to frame it for me, which leads to conversations like this.

Me: I’m pregnant!
Them: That’s great! Did you decide to stop trying and just let it happen when it happens?
Me: Not really. I got cancer, though.

The truth is that I despaired that it would ever happen. Facing thyroid cancer, throat surgery, and a possible radioactive treatment that would prohibit us even trying to get pregnant for an entire year, I put my face in my pillow and sobbed. When a good friend expressed that she was having some stress with her pregnancy, I cruelly replied that everything would be okay and my tumor would keep me company.

The truth is too that when my doctor told me that I was pregnant, I went into panicked hysterics, imagining doctors pressuring me to terminate the pregnancy or dying of cancer because I chose to carry the baby. Even after that, there was the next-day ultrasound where the tech couldn’t see anything in my uterus, and my doctor telling me later that day that I might have an etopic pregnancy, in which case we’d have to “get rid of it” or it could kill me. There was my husband saying, “that’s an abortion pill” about four or five times that night.

All of this stress eventually fell away, because the pregnancy was caught very early and they just couldn’t see the little bud yet. We’ve since had a successful ultrasound where we saw the pregnancy in the right place and a tiny tripping heartbeat.

Real life stories don’t frame up very well. There are too many factors, and any simple frame job leaves out very essential elements and feels dishonest. Real life stories don’t frame well because they aren’t finite. Life keeps going, the plot keeps thickening, and very few things come to a firm conclusion. I don’t think I can pull one moral out of this story, because it has too much stuff in it. If I look at just one piece at a time, just one factor, I can come up with a few different vignettes, like these.

A lot of people told me that I just needed to relax to get pregnant, but apparently, I needed to increase my stress level. The crushing weight of having cancer sent a shock of stress throughout my whole body, and one of my very smartest eggs said, “I have to get out of here!”

After my last negative pregnancy test, I cried out to God for some help with my despair. I read the story of Hannah in the bible, a woman who was infertile and was blessed with many children, the first of which was Samuel the prophet. She went to the temple to pray for children, and the priest there told her that God would grant her request. It says she went home happy. Even before she was pregnant, she was happy. I asked God if I could have that too, if I could be happy even before it happened. He gently told me that Hannah was happy because she believed the promise, and I didn’t. I prayed and asked for others to pray for me that I would be able to believe the promise too, but I couldn’t bring myself to embrace it. I want children so badly, the very idea of actually having them brings me to tears. God didn’t wait until I was able to fully believe his promise, he gave me a baby anyway. I think that God is showing me that he isn’t going to wait until I’m all cleaned up and perfect before he’ll bless me. He loves me just like I am right now.

The same day we found out that I have cancer, we also learned that a dear friend of ours died the night before. This friend had taken it upon himself to pray for Ben and I to have children. He prayed for us whenever he saw us at church, and told us that he prayed often for us on his own. He gave me a powerful prophetic word that God had children for us, and he held my hand during the hardest part of the Mother’s Day service. I fully believe that after God had healed all of this dear friend’s wounds and brought him into health and fullness, this friend continued to petition God on our behalf. I can see him smiling and saying, “could you take care of this now?”

That’s what I can glean from this crazy, wonderful, unbelievable period of my life. I don’t know what will happen next or what kind of story this might become. I know there is more to this than I can understand, and I think I can live with that.