Tuesday, February 28, 2017

To honor Rare Disease Day, 2017

Initially, the OB said he was bruised from the birthing process which I found odd because he was pulled out along with his twin, via emergency C-section.

The next day, however, we met our pediatrician who proceeded to clarify for us that our son, Judah, was not bruised but born with a permanent birthmark called a Port Wine Stain (PWS) covering 40% of his body, most of his face and skull, and carried with it the possibility of an accompanying rare syndrome known as Sturge-Weber Syndrome (SWS).

Five days after Judah was born, we drove to Johns Hopkins where skin, eye, and neurological evaluations confirmed Judah had two of the three markers for SWS: skin and eye. Neurological involvement was then unknown and since has been ruled out as much as medical knowledge can provide that assurance.

It is still essentially unknown if Judah will remain free of neurological involvement, but to date we are grateful God has not asked us to walk through those particular hardships.

Nevertheless, the challenges we have faced these past twelve and a half years have all drawn us closer to God, to each other, to our community of friends and fellow Christians who have more than done their part in shouldering this burden with us.

And by burden, I mean the surgeries, the procedures, the endless quest for a cure, the countless crossroads we have come to where decisions have had to be made on Judah's behalf--something that has at times evoked significant anxiety, self doubt and near paralysis as a mother.

But, never, never do I or have I seen or felt Judah a burden. He is such a delight to our family and all who know him.

He is a joyful, outgoing, intelligent, creative, opinionated, strong, compassionate little man who feels deeply, loves sincerely, sings sweetly, perseveres, has so many dreams for his future, is ambitious, and a conqueror.

I love this kid whose rarity exceeds his diagnosis of SWS and extends into his person-hood, his infectious smile and warm hugs.

I look at his red face everyday, left side more full with hypertrophy from the genetically mutated proliferation of blood vessels, and see nothing but a handsome gift from God.

Friday, January 27, 2017

I am not an evergreen

All throughout my yard, evergreens are planted next to flowering shrubs or trees that lose their leaves and stand bare through the winter months.   While the evergreens have the same, stately fullness of needle or leaf, same depth of the color green, the flowering bushes and trees look naked, fruitless.

I love peering out to my yard in the dead of winter, amidst its cold, sometimes gray, low cloud hanging days to see streaks of green, round orbs of color.
Something lives!
Something thrives when all else appears lifeless.
I love these evergreens because they are ever green.

I am not an evergreen.

Like my flowering bushes and trees, I languish during the winter. The cold, the lack of sunshine, illnesses that relentlessly creep all converges at once. It wears me down physically and wears on me spiritually.

I have long despised my frailty. I have wondered why I am so easily undone. I've analyzed and evaluated how to grow more stout,  more steady, more stately – poised – like some of my evergreen friends.

Without fail, I fail. I fall prey to external circumstances that weaken my resolve, steal my smile, and drain my liveliness.

I am learning to wait. I am learning to live fruitless and bare. I'm learning to not feel shame in my nakedness and nothing-to-offer seasons. These are the seasons of simply standing still, staying rooted, bearing the cold wind.

Fruitfulness and color will come.
For me, it's not the season.
It's my winter, and I'm not an evergreen



Saturday, January 21, 2017

January

gloomy, gray days
when will the fog lift?
for an ice storm?
into a bank one drifts

illness after illness
squeeze life and laundry
into the cracks
between runs for antibiotics

fill the diffusers
pump the fluids
wash hands
daily probiotics

make bone broth
take immune boosters
lots of vitamin C
and hand sanitizer

cover your mouth
don't share food
wonder why one well sibling
is in school

wafts of lysol
drinks of ACV or hard liqor
to tighten up
a loose stomach

postponed plans with friends
finally cancelled 'til spring
sickness circulates
keeping track of meds

rest
hot tea
blankets
lots of TV

This is January.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Why #adifferentway is going to be the Almengor way through 2017

We Almengors are a family of mantras. It is mostly my husband’s doing, but I am agreeable to it because I love having a focus or goal, and I love words yet am less concise with them than my husband. Verbosity is my game which does not work so well when trying to convey the heart of a matter quickly. 

When in the midst of our everyday, sometimes frantic life, communicating the goal quickly is necessary, skipping the lecture, preferred. So, for 2017, Lawrence and I have chosen a mantra of #adifferentway because we are now living in the era of the hashtag, and we have fully embraced it at our house. I unashamedly love the hashtag movement.

A different way. What does that mean for us? Let me try to flesh that out here.

Lawrence and I read a book last year that influenced the two of us greatly called, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Peter Scazarro. We were impressed with how much of an impact our families of origin, culture and the experiences of our childhood have had upon our marriage, parenting, friendships, and relationships within our extended family.  And, we realized there are now patterns of behaving, speaking, and reacting to situations that just are not in keeping with what we see exemplified in the Bible by Christ and other followers of Jesus.

We are passing these sins and habits onto our children. They are now 12, 12 and 9 and giving full expression to some of the sinful ways of their parents. Oh, how difficult that is to see sometimes.
In some of these behaviors, we are simply stuck after years of wearing down a nice, deep rut. We know love is patient and kind, but the tone of our voices still sounds so sharp and even cruel at times.  We know we want to embrace a godly sorrow when faced with our sin, repent and ask for forgiveness from God and from each other, but goodness, that stubborn pride of ours just doesn’t want to hear it in the moment especially. 

So, we came up with a prompt of sorts: #adifferentway.  We learned that in the heat of a “moment,” it’s harder to hear, “You are wrong and need to repent,” and easier to hear, “There is a different way through this. You can choose a different way.”

When we say #adifferentway, we mean that
  • ·        You are not enslaved to this all too familiar way of responding
  • ·        You are not defined by this pattern of speech or way of behaving
  • ·        You are able to choose in this moment the godly way through
  • ·        You are able to ask for wisdom and grace and receive it right in this moment
  • ·        You are able to change

Like a flick of a rubber band around one’s wrist, #adifferentway will become for us a jolt out of some ruts we have laid over the years. Or at least we hope so.

#Adifferentway also makes room for us to keep exploring and trying on new ideas and routines. Where we, for years, have enjoyed family night on Fridays with pizza and a movie, we are going to try using some of those Friday nights to play games together.  Watching a movie every Friday night was good for us as a family for many years. It was easy for us as parents who, by the end of the week, were bone tired from raising and home educating young children.  And, it also built within our family a cache of common stories to refer back to, inside jokes, and one-liners. And we will continue to watch good movies for this purpose.

But, our children are entering a new season of growth and development, and it seems a good time to step up our game in pursuing them relationally. We *think* we are ready to take on the potential mire of playing games together for the new level of growth that might afford us as a family and as human beings.

Another area we are exploring #adifferentway is in how we educate our children. We are currently in our 7th year of homeschooling, and aside from one year for the boys in Kindergarten at a private school, my children have never known anything but home education.  We may continue down this road, but we are going to at least explore what it might look like to educate #adifferentway.  I am working on a few shadow days for my kids to experience at a handful of local schools.  I don’t know what will come of this, but we are stepping out and choosing to investiage #adifferentway.

On a personal note, I want to grow in communicating God’s story in my story by way of writing and public speaking. To do this, I know I need to be a voracious reader except that I am not. L  I kicked around the familiar plan of upping my reading intake but #adifferentway occurred to me, and I am choosing that instead. This different way is in keeping with the doer God created me to be versus the sit and read volumes of material person I am not. 

Instead of doubling the amount of books I read in a year, I picked five influential, time tested authors of whose material I will ingest this next year. Curious?  Comment and I’ll let you know who made my list. J

So, 2017, whatever you may hold for us Almengors, we are choosing #adifferentway.

Where we have worn down ruts of reacting, we are resolved to forge new paths, ones that will honor God and each other.

Where familiar routines no longer serve us, we are resolved to do the hard work of beginning and reinforcing new routines that will further our growth and joy.

Where common held practices do not line up with who you have made us to be, we will not try to fit our square self into a round hold but are resolved to conjure up #adifferentway that will accomplish the same goal.

How might you choose #adifferentway for your 2017?
If you think of any ways, I would love to hear about it and cheer you on in your pursuit of #adifferentway.



Tuesday, November 29, 2016

He is near, a post in memory of Uncle Marlin

He is near.
My Jesus is near.

When I lost my Father to brain cancer when I was only 12 years old, I felt abandoned by God.
In my estimation of reality, He was nowhere near.
He was far, far away, handling other business, leaving me all alone, turning me over to my own resources and my own ability (or inability) to grieve and bear the weight of the emptiness left behind by my dad’s passing.

Now I know.
I know He was closer than ever in that moment I looked upon the shell of my father’s body and said my last earthly goodbye.  He was close, so very near to me then and near to me now.

Yesterday, I woke to a text message to pray for my uncle who was undergoing emergency surgery. This uncle--from whom I always felt love and respect--needed prayer, needed God to be near.
Less than six hours later, I received the shocking, unexpected news that he had passed away.
And, in that moment, while I stirred the taco meat on my stove-top and nearly stumbled to the floor after reading the text, GOD was NEAR.

He was near and is near. And I know this now without a doubt. I know because, though my feelings have oft belied the truth, God’s Word, the Truth, tells me He is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

And not only is He near now, but He was near then when my uncle passed from this earth into eternity.  

I have spent many of my earthly days in lament.
Perhaps, the mixture of my melancholy personality and having experienced a significant loss at an early age inclines me toward a sorrowful disposition. I feel comfortable among the brokenhearted, burned, busted up and barren. These are my people. This is my tribe.

These are also Jesus’s people, His tribe. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.
Oh, how I breathe more deeply and settle down into my seat when I read these words.
I am not alone. I am known, and Jesus is not afraid of my sorrow. He is not put off and does not try to put a positive spin on it all. He just settles in beside me, wraps His arms around me and says, “This is not how I wanted it all to be for you, for my creation. And, this is not all there is. Take heart. I have overcome. There is more for you than saying goodbye again and again and again.”

And He sends my fellow sojourners to incarnate His love and comfort to me through promised prayers, a phone call, an offer for me to come and talk it all out on a friend’s couch.
Many of those fellow travelers are on the last leg of their journey here on earth, ones that, too, have spent a number of their earthly days lamenting. How meaningful is their comfort, how weighty are their words of hope to me.

They have lived long. They have said many goodbyes. They are not afraid of sorrow.

Today, I am afflicted but not crushed; perplexed but not despairing; struck down but not destroyed.
Death is all around, but life is mine.
I do not lose heart for though my outer self is wasting away, my inner self is being renewed day by day.
My uncle has never been more alive. He is dead to this world, but alive unto Jesus, seeing Him face to face, standing with the One who willingly became a man of sorrows to rescue us from all of our earthly ones.
The grief is painful and heavy but momentary and preparing me for an eternal rest and rejoicing at the feet of my Jesus, who is very near.  


Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Poor, Plundered and Needy

Psalm 12:5, 7 

Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan,
    I will now arise,” says the Lord.
    I will protect them from those who malign them.
You, Lord, will keep the needy safe
    and will protect us forever from the wicked.

As I read this passage the other morning, I thought about who I seek to align myself with.  Is it of those with means, status, power?

Here in the Psalm it says that it is the poor, the plundered and the needy for whom the Lord will rise. It is the needy the Lord will keep safe and protect. 

If this is the demographic for whom God says He will rise, would it not BEST behoove me to align myself in keeping with this?

Matthew 5 tells us it is the poor in spirit,
                                       those who mourn, 
                                       the meek, 
                                       those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, 
                                       the merciful, 
                                       pure in heart, 
                                       peacemakers, 
                                       those who are persecuted.... who are blessed!

Essentially all of humanity is poor, plundered and need, really.  It just looks different for each person. 

There are those who are poor financially and by lack of resources, yes, but there are also the poor in character; poor in spiritual health, poor relationally--a scarcity of intimate, human connection.

There are those plundered of acceptance not just of their stuff, plundered emotionally not just physically.

There are needs of every kind amidst the breadth of humanity. 

It is easiest to see the physical, material needs of others, but what of the spiritual, emotional, mental, and relational needs?

Am I willing to see these in the humanity around me and then not just see it but draw near to it because THIS is what draws God near. And do I really want to be nearer the heart and presence of God?

Oh that my felt comfort, safety and provision would not keep me from drawing close to the poverty and need in others' lives.

Thank you, God, that you come near to me in MY poverty and lack.  There truly is none like you. 



Thursday, November 26, 2015

Observations from my sick bed on Thanksgiving

No one chooses when illness comes nor trials of any kind. 
But they come nevertheless. Unannounced, unwelcomed, inconvenient.
Expectations are rearranged, reshaped, sometimes bending us out of shape. 

Illness came for me this year over a holiday, Thanksgiving. 
After delivering what I hope to be an "inaugural teaching" called, "Giving Thanks in the Thick of It," I found my very self in the thick of it with achy muscles and joints, low-grade fever, chills and general malaise. 

I lay in bed that first night of fighting the chills thinking, "It must just be the crash after the build up of giving this talk."  I didn't think I had built up this talk in my mind or heart. I was not giving it my normal obsessive attention. I was not nervous, more than I thought was reasonable at least. I asked for input and prayer from others, and had committed the results to God a part from how I "performed." Perhaps my body was telling a different tale.

Seven days later, today, Thanksgiving day, I can say my body was not crashing from some mentally frenzied build up of anticipation to fulfilling a dream of mine. No, I just simply got sick. 

Some virus. Four days in, I went to my doctor who said, "Gone are the days of the 24-hour bug. Viruses are stronger now and last longer. There is nothing to do but wait it out."

So, I am waiting it out. and waiting. and waiting. 


And, there are all kinds of observations to be made in the waiting rooms of life.
Once one gets past the obvious observation that she doesn't like to wait, there is a lot more to see. 

1. A husband who goes after life with all the tools I find completely useless.  But, he utilizes them and gets things done after all. Different tools, different strategies. But, the man gets things done.

I spend far too much time criticizing him for the "tools" he chooses to use and how he chooses to use them...spreadsheets, clipboards, hours of planning, researching. I am often busy blazing a trail with whatever stick I found on the path, working really hard but not smart, and criticizing him for wasting time looking up "the best tools to blaze a trail" on google.


Father, thanks for giving me this time to do nothing but watch him, watch my husband do what he does so well. He does it his way which is not my way, but it is A way and sometimes the better way if I'm humble enough to admit it. He is good at doing things his way. Things get done. People are served and loved. And, he is a gift to me. Help me to stop criticizing and trying to convince him that he's wasting time but rather to cheer him on and to give thanks for giving me a man who is so completely my opposite and yet loves me fiercely and so, so well. 

2. My children can be rather self sufficient when they need to be. I love and hate that at the same time. For forever, it felt like, I just wanted my children to grow up so they could cut their own food, buckle themselves into their seats, dress and wipe themselves in the bathroom. And now they can do all of that and more. But from the vantage point of laying on the couch, all of them helping themselves and then moving on, I was sad to not be able to serve them. I realized what a gift it is to serve others. 

Father, thank you for giving me this undeserved role of "mom." I complain about it so often, and I feel so ill-suited for the role, but you gave it to me anyway. And, I actually love it. I love being my kids' mom. I love serving them. I love helping them learn how to live life. It is an incredibly undeserved gift You've given me, motherhood.  Thank you. 

3. There is far less to do in life than what I think needs to be done.
I make lots of lists. I have a lot of things to do. always. Illness has this way of distilling down to the bare necessities on those lists I love. Day after day has passed of me accomplishing very little but simply putting in another day, fighting to be healthy again. 


I L O V E productivity. I A D O R E getting things done. I derive immense satisfaction at coming to the end of a day, looking back on that day having done many, many things. I may even find a bit of my self worth wrapped up in being a productive person. I know in my mind that my worth is not in what I accomplish, but I still function and respond to life as though it were at times. I do not find great joy in simply "being." No, "Doing" has always been my jam. 


But, I have had to figure this out because God has laid me out time and time again. I have had to come face to face with what and in Whom I am going to find value and worth, not just for myself but for everyone else, too.

Am I lovely because I am? Are you lovely because you are?  Am I worthy because Jesus calls me worthy, or is it because I crossed ten things off the list today?


Father, this is a hard thank you, but a thank you nonetheless, for taking me out of the game of life from time to time. You do this far more often than I would prefer, but apparently I am a very slow learner. Thank you for loving me simply because you made me to be loved. Thank you for making me work hard to find my value and worth in YOUR greatness rather than my own, in YOUR ability rather than my own. 

4. In my own suffering, I am so much more aware of others suffering this year. Friends who are battling chronic illnesses of various kinds, friends who are mourning loss or fretful about impending loss of some kind--you are all so close to my heart right now and in my thoughts.

If this is how acutely aware I am of those suffering, how much more so is God not only aware but so very near. Psalm 34:18 says, The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit.


Father, thank you that you are a God who sees and knows, who cares for us and carries our sorrows. Thank you that you are a God who sympathizes with us in all our frailty because you took on human flesh yourself. You came down to our earth and experienced it in all its brokenness and mess, in its illness and grief. And, now Jesus, you stand to the right of God,the Father, who sits on the throne of grace, and you pray for us by name to our Father who is merciful and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness. Thank you that though my home be without human companions at the moment, I keep the company of Christ with me always.

There seem always more words to write and say, but my frailty allows me no more strength to peck it out. It is time to rest. again. 
A truly, "Happy Thanksgiving" to all no matter what state or circumstance you find yourself in.