Making life lemonade

Life can be so HARD! I’ve had whole years of my life when each day was filled with the kinds of challenges that make me tempted to ask Jesus to come back NOW, whether it’s in His plan or not. During these times, I was willing to beg if necessary. Pride was out the window, and begging was very much on the table.

Mother’s Day marked two years since the turning point of one such time in my life, and this week we get to celebrate the victory parade. See, on January 28, 2014, I had an intensive back surgery which was supposed to take 3-6 hours. However, 14 hours later, I was finally wheeled into recovery after what I’m told were a couple of close calls. I can neither confirm nor deny this, as I was drugged quite efficiently. The palor on my husband’s face was some indication though.

After this surgery, a downright difficult rehab dragged on. I mostly laid in a hospital bed which was set up in my living room, dealing with a multitude of physical symptoms that seemed as if they would bury me. I cried out to God on a nearly minute by minute basis during those first three months, and at least hourly for the next two.

When I was finally blessed with enough endurance to sustain a drive to the corner pharmacy, I was wiped out when I got home. I pleaded, “Oh God, I’m not ready for this life stuff. Make it go away for a little longer, please.” God is so good though. He told me no when two days later my husband needed me to drive him to the ER for a septic infection in his knee.

All the way to the hospital, I remember repeating in my head, “I can only do this through your strength. Jesus sustain me. Your Grace is sufficient for me.” Over and over, this was the refrain in my mind. “I know you never give us more than we can bear, Lord. Thank you for that!”

My dear husband’s first-time stay in the hospital  lengthened into what would become 8 days, and I sat up in a chair near his bed more in this period of time than I had sat in my whole 4 1/2 months of recovery. The begging began in earnest, “Please, Daddy, please. No more. Please protect us, and make it stop.”

As I brought him home from the hospital, I felt a hope begin to grow that we could at long last, move forward and be stronger, healthier people. Afterall, my husband was in this position because he had worn himself out taking care of me, our home, our kids and doing his job. He deserved a break, and so did I, right? Recovery had been painful and scary, leaving scars that still hurt today. Yes, we all needed a break, and surely God could see that. He sees everything. Yes, God knew, and my confidence in His willingness to spare us more stress and health issues was rock solid. Nothing could shake it, or so I thought.

As I was sitting in a lab with Brad, waiting to get his follow-up blood work done, I received a call from my best friend, who so lovingly cared for our boys during much of my recovery. It was not news about the break for which I had been hoping, but we certainly got a break…or at least, our oldest son did.

An extemely active child, he is always getting into major and minor scrapes, like breaking his arm, getting stitches in his chin, a few concussions…did I mention he was born blue and has always had severe asthma and allergies? Yeah, keeping him healthy is no more of a picnic than it is for me. So it was no surprise when my friend told me he had broken his arm…again…literally while I was taking care of a medical issue for his Dad, and desperately trying to hold my own body together.

Then I hear in my head, “Be brave and courageous, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

He was with me when I nearly died during my surgeries. He was there when Caleb was born not breathing and took four hours to stabilize. He was there with endurance and energy when I had to drive my husband to the hospital and sit with him for that long week. He was there now. Yes, God knew.

Just as God the Son knew that Peter, who asked to walk on water like Jesus was doing, would fall and nearly drown in the waves. Jesus knew Peter would take his eyes off the source of his strength, and stumble. That’s  why He was right there with a hand out to help him up when Peter called for Him.

It felt as though I was drowning too, but that’s when I realized I was throwing up prayers, but the eyes of my heart were focused on the problems, not The Solution. I was asking Jesus for help, but not putting my hand out expectantly to grasp the one who could provide it.

As this truth washed over me, I felt real strength and peace coursing through me. I started thanking God for the way He helped us endure these trials, instead of begging Him to make them stop. I smiled to think of how we would someday look back on this as a period of growth. I know it’s cliché, but I was taking the sour lemons Satan threw at my family and I, and letting God make some lemonade of our life.

So when Nate contracted strep throat later that week, I had my eyes on Jesus, so we soared right over that. When Caleb fell three times in the 10 days after getting casted, and had to have surgery, we had our eyes on Jesus. So, we ran that marathon, and we did not grow weary. As we spent the better part of two months driving Brad to work and wound care appointments, we walked, but did not faint. God was faithful, and with our eyes on Jesus, we could see it.

You see, God also knew that this truth of His blessing in our lives, even in tough times, would help someone else see Him, draw near to Him, and feel how very loved they are by Him. He was asking us to “take up [our] cross and follow Him.”

The question we had to answer was, would we choose it? Would we keep our eyes on Jesus, or shrivel under the pressure of difficulty. Would we let the lemons go to waste, or open our lives up for God to sweeten us and make us useful?

Could we possibly take up that heavy, splintery, humiliating cross, and drag it up a hill while many in our lives watched from the sidelines? Could we really handle all of this with Christ-like Grace?

No, probably not. Otherwise, Jesus could have stayed in Heaven. We knew we could try though, and learn something along the way. We could be open to the positive, and be willing to love sacrificially. Or…or, we could throw up the floodgates and simply be pipelines of God’s love to each other, and those around us. Choices, choices.

I’m not going to say we did any of these things well, but we tried well. We got through it. We learned from it. We were better, stronger, wiser and more compassionate for it.

It was like standing up on a stage and getting lemons thrown at us from all sides. We were bruised, and our cuts burned from the acidic quality of our circumstances. Then Jesus came on stage…the minute we asked him. He picked up the lemons, and showed us how to use them for refreshment, energy and relief.

He can do that, you know. He can take any situation and, show us how to squeeze the goodness from it, using it for our good and His Glory. If we would just ask.

And not to go all Pollyanna on you, but I’m so glad we did.




Life Lessons from 3rd Grade

By the second grade, I was impossibly awkward in every sense of the word. On my first day of first grade, I had already been established as the “nerdiest of nerds,” so by second grade there was no where to go but teacher’s pet. This became known clearly to the students of our grade without any extra effort on my part. To make matters more complicated, I was 5’1″ tall when I started second grade. I gathered a reputation as not only the nerdiest kid in the second grade, but also the best chance at defeating any bullies in the older grades. I had been, after all, taller than one of my first grade teachers…barely.

While I was trying to take all this in, wondering how any of it even happened to me, I got another shock. One of my best friends, Melissa, took me aside in the bathroom, and whispered six horrific words into my ear, which, I’m sure, shall forever live in infamy for both of us: “You need to wear a bra.”

It was as if she said the sentence through a molasses filter. My brain just couldn’t compute. “What?” I asked, my heart also refusing to accept the truth of her statement. She repeated her embarrassing comment at a slightly louder decibel level and in the most loving way possible, “You need to wear a bra. I had to start wearing one too, and boys look at you funny.”

How could this be? I was 8!! Surely, I hadn’t heard her right…right? So I asked her to say it again. The embarrassment must have been paramount, because suddenly, she yelled it at me…staccato…like each word was it’s own sentence.  It was a growing moment for both of us, and to this day, I am very grateful she was brave enough to tell me that. However, someone must have been in a bathroom stall, because the conversation was all over the playground that afternoon, before I’d even had a chance to have a similarly difficult conversation with my mother. Sigh.

Having grown to 5’6″ tall, it was from this background, physically and socially awkward in the highest degree, that I entered 3rd grade, and Mrs. Billings class. It was her last year to teach. After 35 years of teaching mostly 3rd grade, she was changing out the chalk for the new excitement and adventure of retirement. That’s what she told us it would be…an adventure. She believed that with her whole heart too.

You see, Mrs. Billings had a different way of looking at life, proven by the first different thing I really noticed about her classroom. It was a sentence, in 18″, all-capital letters, hung over the chalkboard.


Now, I happened to remember clearly from 2nd grade spelling, and the many books I had read (nerdiest nerd, remember?), that it was most certainly a word. As book smart as I was, I hadn’t gotten the concept of symbolism yet, and so, being me, I raised my hand to question the teachers presumption. I tried to let her down “easy” in my mind. I must have sounded like a total smart aleck to the average person, but not to Mrs. Billings. She did what all good teachers do. She proceeded to educate me.

“I’m glad you asked that Michele (every teacher called me Michele until 8th grade). Class, why don’t you all sit down please. I’m going to answer Michele’s question, and I want you all to listen.” She waited…and waited…and waited. Mrs. Billings was infinitely patient.

Once we were all settled, she began what has become to me, the most important words any teacher has ever spoken to me…ever. No one has ever imparted anything of more value in all my years of learning, though a select few have communicated equally important wisdom.

She spoke calmly and with respect. She spoke like she knew we wanted to learn. She spoke clearly and boldly. We knew in the first short sentence that we could not argue. She was certain of what she was saying, and we took it as truth. Here is what she said.

“‘Can’t’ is not a word. It is a contraction. A shortcut. An excuse. It will get you no where good, and take you to all the places you do NOT want to be. It is not a valuable part of anyone’s vocabulary. All obstacles can be overcome. All problems can be solved. If you are willing, you can do all things. Therefore, “can’t” will not be used in my classroom. Do you all understand me?”

We nodded our heads like we understood. I doubt if any of us did at that moment, but we wanted so badly to please this teacher who didn’t speak to us like we were babies, but rather like we were mature and capable of understanding anything she might want to tell us. So we nodded vigorously, and I was fascinated. I, me, this awkward kid in the second column, second row (who thinks like that except a painfully awkward, “nerdy” child??)…I could do anything? If I was willing…what did that even mean? How did my willingness make any difference at all? It never had before…or had it?

Mrs. Billings continued, “If you use that so-called word in my classroom, I will unfortunately have to make you stay in from recess, so that you can write the sentence above the board 20 times for each instance. Do you understand?” We again nodded vigorously.

I began to question my life up to that point. All the nearly six years that I could remember seemed filled with circumstances, which were piled upon situations, and then smashed into life experiences, all over which I had had no control, no influence, no choice. However, after she said that, I thought carefully over those times, and realized that how I had reacted-maybe-was my choice. At least, I thought it was. I decided to ask her about it a few weeks after that first day.

“Mrs. Billings, can I choose how I react to people when they hurt my feelings or make me mad? How about if something happens that I am not able to change?” I had thought about that wording carefully. I did not want to get caught and have to do sentences!

She smiled and looked me in the eye, “Michele, if you can choose, then did they make you mad or did you choose it?” Why, oh why, do all the good teachers respond to your questions with more questions??

“But Mrs. Billings, I just can’t seem to…” I had done it! I said that contraction. Oh no! I couldn’t believe it.

She remained calm, and handing me a paper and pencil from the sentence basket on her desk, she said, “Why don’t you think about it while you write your 20 sentences.” With a smile, she silently sent me to my seat and my thoughts.

Was Mrs. Billings an idealist? Yes. Absolutely. My 3rd grade teacher  was retiring after 35 years in the public school system, in a suburban ghetto, and she was still an idealist, still overcoming obstacles. I forgot to mention that she also leaned heavily on a cane as she balanced writing with her non-dominant hand so she could keep doing what she loved. She died 3 years later of stomach cancer. She had it as she taught us that year, though none of us knew it at the time. She had been dealing with the slow-growing cancer for many years. That is some kind of special. She was amazing, and she was a Christian.

In contrast, I had another 3rd grade teacher of a different sort, though she too, had more than 30 years of teaching under her belt. Back then, we switched classes for a few subjects to get us used to a junior high schedule, and this other teacher taught us math and science. She was Mrs. Billings’ polar opposite. She said “can’t” often, to tell her students both what she “couldn’t” do and what they “couldn’t” do. She judged when she could have encouraged. Rather than believe in her students, she assumed the worst of them. She took a negative situation, and made it more so. She gave me the only “C” grades I ever received, based solely on my behavior on one bad day, rather than the class and homework of an entire quarter.

Everyday of 3rd grade, I saw the contrast of these two teachers, and when I considered who I wanted to be like when I grew up, there was no question. I wanted to be more like Mrs. Billings. The lessons she taught us that year never left me. I tried to get better and better at them every year.

So now, I teach my children (who are also my students), and those that I teach privately, to never say “can’t” because it has no real value in their vocabulary.  I teach them to reach for their goals, no matter how many times they fall down. I teach them not to make excuses, or take short cuts which contract, rather than expand their lives.

Paul emphasized Mrs. Billings’ concept in Philippians 4:13, where he wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

Just three years later, about the time Mrs. Billings fight with cancer ended, I found out I had scoliosis, and in a few more years, ended up being the worst case ever operated on in the world in 1992. I had many doctors tell me that first of all, it would fail, so they wouldn’t do the surgery. My parents took me to the world’s best surgeon, and even he wanted to use that contraction. I challenged him and won.

Then they told me I wouldn’t be able to walk normally. Within 3 months, that was checked off the list of things I might not be able to do. They told me I probably wouldn’t be able to carry a child to full term. I now have 3 awesome kids, all carried to at least full term (some of you moms know what I’m talking about here, don’t ya?) Checked that one off too.

My body started falling apart during the pregnancy with baby #3, so the potential can’ts of my life started piling up again. However, by then, I was a strong Christian myself. This verse-Philippians 4:13- it kept bouncing around my head. It slowly became a powerful proverbial river of spiritual truth, rushing through my soul, sweeping away all the doubts and selfish I-don’t-want-to’s. This verse took over my mind and my heart, and it reminded me of how, at just the right time, God placed in my life this wise lady with a mighty will. I would repeat the verse to myself, learning its concept… memorizing it…savoring it…storing it up.

I can do ALL things…oh, but God, the pain. It HURTS!

I can do all things through CHRIST…but Lord, why must I endure a life like this? I can’t hide it anymore. People are going to think of me as someone who can’t.

I CAN DO ALL things through CHRIST who strengthens… They want me to have another surgery. It could paralyze me or even worse. I want to believe you Lord. Help me with my unbelief.

I CAN DO ALL things through CHRIST who STRENGTHENS me…Here I am Lord, fill me with your strength and I will go. I will do what you ask me to do.






Oh, and friend, take a lesson from Mrs. Billings and I. So can you.

When God called me

When God called me

I woke up one night after dozing until about 2 am and thought, “I give up on sleep. It’s not worth the frustration. God, what do you want me to do with this time?”

So clearly that I could hear the sound of it bounce around my consciousness, I heard, “Write.” I was surprised it didn’t wake my peacefully sleeping husband.

Now, I have always been a writer, and graduated from college with a degree in journalism, so there is usually a notebook and writing utensil next to my bed. I picked them up. “Okay, Lord. What do you want me to write?”

Again, as clear as a bell, God spoke into my heart, “Read my word.”

Pause. “I’m sorry, Lord. Didn’t you say to write. I have a pen and my notebook. You know, the cute one that’s my favorite color and says, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your Heart’ on the cover.”

Amused silence. “Okay, I feel sheepish. I think I understand. Follow the advice on the cover of the notebook and read your word first. What should I read, Lord? Matthew? Okay, I’m reading.”

Suddenly, something lit up in me and sleep was the furthest thing from my mind. As you may know, after the lineage of Christ in Matthew, comes the Christmas story. Did I mention it was July 2?

Christmas in July sounds a bit cheesy, I know, but God was doing something. I went to bed early that night, thinking I would get some good sleep, and ease off some of the excruciating pain I dealt with everyday from childhood scoliosis, and the dilapidated surgical fusions which were daily wearing down on my nerves and muscles. I didn’t know God was going to call out to me in the middle of the night and start me on the next phase of this life he’s given me. But God knew, and after reading the Christmas story in both Matthew and Luke, I finally picked up that notebook and wrote the following:

“One day, a young woman named Mary, and her husband-to-be Joseph, entered the small town of Bethlehem. They didn’t know that on this night, Mary would give birth to their baby in a barn, and lay him on hay in a feedbox for animals. But God knew, and Jesus came.”

I had goosebumps all over, chills running up my spine, and tears streaming down my face. God was moving in me, doing something through me that was beyond my imagining, and truly even, beyond my understanding. I could visualize this moment with Mary and Joseph and feel the holiness, the preciousness of the moment. To this day, more than two years later, I don’t think I fully understand what God is going to do through this “But God Knew…” series of books, but I’m grateful he’s made me part of it.

Since that night, I have obediently kept writing, and by the grace of God, managed to pen a few books. God also drew one of my closest friends, Jennifer Huffman, whose art is featured in this blog, to illustrate them. The first book we are releasing, “But God Knew…and Jesus Called,” is actually our second book together. We’re saving that first Christmas book for later, but I am excited that this message which God shared with me that night is finally getting out in the way he wanted to tell it through us. The message that for all of his loved ones, he has always known what would happen, known the plans we had for ourselves, and had something infinitely better in mind – that message is so precious and such an honor to communicate.

That night, I began to realize that God was shaping me into a new creation. He was taking the best of what was and making it something new and better. I was beginning to see my vocational calling in Christ, and now firmly see that for the foreseeable future, God is going to ask me to read his word and write his heart.

I also hope you recognize your true identity in Christ. To borrow a line from every Veggie Tales movie ever, God made you special, and he loves you very much. He wants you to draw close to him because that is the best thing for you, and when you’re at your best, you can help others get there too. I hope the book series we’ve begun helps you get there. I pray that the social media and blog entries are an encouragement to you. Mostly though, I hope you begin to live everyday knowing that you are known by a God who really sees you and loves you…faults and all. You are known by a God who has plans to prosper you, to give you a hope and future, and it is very bright indeed.

Many blessings – Chele