Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Snyder Hope at

Celebrating the Hope that can never disappoint today. We love each one of you who gather here to share in our lives. Because of Him we expect great things in 2014. Bless you.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

When you are tired of things that break

“You have played, 
(I think) 
And broke the toys you were fondest of, 
And are a little tired now; 
Tired of things that break, and— 
Just tired. 
So am I.”
― E.E. Cummings

An entire season of my life year after year dedicated to choosing and buying things makes me tired. I choose gifts for my children that will bring them enjoyment or meet their needs or encourage them to read and learn or be creative, but I know most of it will end up in a donate bin by next year, sit on a shelf collecting dust or simply become used up.  I wrap things for others I've carefully chosen as tokens of love or appreciation, but I still feel somewhat empty handing them anything besides my actual heart, my time, my "spoons", because I know this is what I truly want from others.  I want a piece of real life.  I'm so hungry for it.  I want experience.  I want to play.  I want to look into your eyes and know how you are.  I want to hear what your dreaming of this year and what your next step will be in making it come true. I'm tired of things that break.

When I was a little girl my mom used to encourage us to leave our comfort zones and make friends with people outside our four walls.  In our small world I'm pretty sure she meant the neighborhood kids who were quite tattered and had much less love than we did in their day to day. She would quote the old saying, "Make new friends, keep the old. One is silver, the other gold."  I love the connection I have with friends from my childhood.  It keeps me grounded.  It reminds me there are people who were there and remember the hours and days of youth much like I do.  We walked through frivolity and unbridled joy and trudged through angst and hurt, all to survive and become the people we are today.  Most of us have taken very different journeys spiritually and still by Grace we love the same God with all our hearts no matter how confusing the theology of our younger days made it to really know Him.  I had spent years of my life intentionally and unintentionally burning most of those bridges out of shame because of who I had become for a time and also thinking if I cut it all off it wouldn't be part of me anymore. Over the past almost seven years God has used these people the most to remind me there can be intense love and best intentions behind the worst life events.  They are the ones I feel safest with.  My friend Angie, who I have written about many times is the childhood friend I am closest with. Sometimes I think we share the same heart.  How dear she is.  She is my gold.   

Making new friends when you are mostly home bound is not easy.  I have a community of people online who share in my same disabilities and illness.  Several of these people have become like family to me. Still, I have little real fellowship with others except those who can slow enough to come here to me, leave their perfume behind, and sit on my couch and just BE together for an hour or so.  It was late summer this year when a women I've written about before, my dear Janet, took me to the airport before dawn and a friendship was born the likes of which I've not known before. Now, she comes, once a week to BE with me.  Knowing and being known by her is something God gave me at the perfect time, just days before the first of three major surgeries and an adrenal crisis. I never could have known to want a friend like she is to me.  She is silver.

This week I received gifts from one of my oldest and dearest friends, Angie, and my newest friend, Janet.  Two women who know my heart so well they gave me things that cannot break. From Janet, a little box full of little slips of paper.  In her script she wrote a year's worth of things we will do together.  This included little things, like a cup of coffee together and walking together on her morning path, and bigger thing like visiting art museums.  It is a precious box of intentional gifts of her time and energy to BE with me and most of all help me remember how to play and enjoy and choose life again, something I didn't mean to lose, but I somehow did through all my pain and suffering.  From Angie, two beautiful signs, hand painted with the names of places I hope to go this year.  They are my hometown of Staunton, Virginia, and the Duck/Corolla area of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  She is not just hoping for me to be able to make these trips.  She is writing them down.  She is writing them in the biggest possible place to display.  She is speaking to me exactly how I hear.  "Moni, You can do this again.  You can travel for pleasure.  You can come and see your Blue Ridge.  It's only a day's drive.  Get in the car and come.  You can have a week with your family in a place you love like the beaches of North Carolina.  It is not impossible.  It will make you more well.  GO.  I'm stepping out in faith you will be well enough to GO."  I will hang these in my kitchen, and I will make plans, and I will go.  

We are so close to Bethlehem now.  I think of the wise men and their gifts that held meaning but most of all held their hopes and dreams for their Savior.  Things that could not break.  I wish this for you. Give something for Christmas that cannot be destroyed.  Encourage someone in their hopes and dreams.  Be specific with giving your time and friendship.  Oh how happy giving and receiving can be when it's tied to our hearts.  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Love languages and expectations

“…what fidelity is meant to protect is the possibility of moments when what we have chosen and what we desire are the same.”  -Wendell Berry, The Body and The Earth

Yesterday Dan was doing a little shopping online to try to fill my stocking on Christmas morning. He likes to think of his own creative ideas, and I am someone who likes to get the usual stocking things like socks, a toothbrush, lip balm, a pen, sticky notes.  In our family stockings are one of our favorite rituals and for Dan and I often the only gifts we buy one another in these lean years.  I said something to him about how much I would love a letter from him.  You see, I treasure hand written affirmation quite possibly more than anything else.  My own love language year round involves giving of small gifts often and written notes.  I know neither of these are the most common language for men, but I believe in a relationship it's important to share what we need or expect from one another.  So, I asked, and he rolled his eyes a little, and I felt a tiny bit sad.

This morning I woke much the same as any morning.  My body hurt so badly.  I moved oh so slowly from my bed to my "nest" chair in the living room.  My family understands the process I must follow to come out from my medication fog and begin to join into their activity. Every morning for as long as I can remember my husband has the kettle on and french press ready and brings me a cup of coffee just how I like it.  This morning was no different.  He set it on the table next to me and asked, "Honey are you feeling any better today?"  Then he headed back to flip some birthday cake pancakes he was making for the family breakfast.

I looked over at him and felt the biggest surge of love and gratitude. Service is his language to me. I don't need a single word written anywhere.  He pens this love moment by moment by caring for the girls and I.  He does laundry faithfully . . . every single day so there is never a back log.  He grocery shops every weekend.  He vacuums and loads and empties the dishwasher.  He works hard and now commutes much further to a job God has given him almost 6 years.  He doesn't make much money and much of it goes to our insurance premium, and he uses every possible day off in service to my health appointments and surgery and still when I ask him at night how his day was do you know he always answers the same.  "Lovely."  He doesn't have hobbies or really any friends outside our tiny circle.  He doesn't have toys like many men.  He is wholly dedicated to our family.

I was raised in a home with a dad who was also a theologian.  For a long time I had expectations about what a "spiritual leader" would look like.  As God brought me back to Himself during these painful years I sometimes wished Dan were other things.  I was wrong.  There is no other man in the world that could have or would have stayed like he has.  There is no other man who would have sacrificed all selfish ambition and pride to walk along side me in this journey.  I know for sure there is no other man who would have served so faithfully in the day to day.  This is Dan's love language.  This is his offering.  This is his calling and fulfillment in a world that screams something so different for most men.

My expectations are changed.  I am basking in Dan's love for me today.  I am grateful to God for giving us one another and keeping us together through challenge unspeakable.  I see Christ in my servant husband.  I will continue to leave him love notes and write blog posts and buy him small gifts, and he will make me a cup of coffee every morning, and we will know in the all the ways that matter most how blessed we are to have one another.  It's of course a mess over here sometimes because that's real life, but I find like in so many other important things it's the ritual and yes, the monotony I spoke of yesterday that shines the brightest to me now.  Day in and day out faithfulness is the greatest love language of all.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The place just right . . . in a valley of love and light

I'm sitting in our living room with the flicker of candle light watching the snow falling outside.  Dan and Danica are out playing in the fresh powder and Delaney is off with a friend to the Canton Ballet's Nutcracker matinee.  Despite this heavy storm I am completely clear headed and without any pressure or pain in my head or behind my right eye.  I could say it a thousand times and still you wouldn't be able to really know how every single minute I'm without that suffering I am healing.

My cousin posted this beautiful quote from Chesterton yesterday, and I gobbled it up because it so perfectly described how I have been feeling of late.

" . . . The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical ENCORE"

I have been like a child.  Everything is new and exciting.  Even the most mundane task is a privilege.  I am reborn.  My life is turning and turning with so much sameness, but it is all brilliant to me.  I was dead to so much before.  My family watched me dying to almost everything.  Now, they watch and laugh and cry as I grab the tiny and seemingly insignificant to the huge and oh so meaningful and shout, "Look at me.  Did you ever think I would be able to do it again?"

The snow today is one of these encores.  It is common enough in Ohio, and I had come to loathe it because even the forecast of a system would crush me.  I would hide in my bed crying and praying. I would swallow dilaudid and plead with God for release.  Today it looks like the miracle it is. Every flake as unique as you and I.  Our God, who cares infinitely about the details of nature surely cares that much more about the details of our lives.  Am I trusting Him now because He has taken this pain from me for a time?  Did His love change?  Did I do something good enough to earn this?  No.  I can say with all honesty the joy I feel now and change of heart and mind is exactly what I was pleading for.  His timing was right.  His provision was right.  If even one thing had gone differently or more quickly or with different people I would have missed out on some of the greatest gifts He was preparing to give me.

For those of us with chronic pain and "invisible illness" (although I'm not sure mine qualifies as unseen any more with all the scars I bear) we live on a razor sharp wire.  We rejoice in good days. There are no great days anymore.  I'm walking the tight rope now.  I'm out of bed and on my feet more which inflames other painful conditions.  I am bleeding again and my prolapse is as bad as it has ever been.  The cold and snow still cause every joint and every fiber of my entire body to hurt. Today my shoulder has "popped out" at least two dozen times trying to accomplish basic tasks like making beds and lunch and helping Danica get her snow clothes on.  The tubing in my back along my spinal cord is poking out and very sore.  I have been bending over to put the dog out or pick up or wrap a gift, and these mundane things do hurt.  They will always hurt.  Turning and turning I choose to grab the good.  Surrender is a daily task for me.  It grows up around a discipline of gratitude.  Focus on the gifts.  Don't take a minute for granted.  He will give you strength for the other because He says He will.  He always has.  He cannot lie.

This beautiful Alison Krauss and Yo-Yo Ma song, Simple Gifts, is on repeat and says it all.

Where I want to be.
The place just right.
In a valley of love and light.
Turning and turning til' we come round right.

Thank you God.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Glorious Impossibles

And the angel told her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you. And the Holy Thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God.” What an amazing, what an impossible message the angel brought to a young girl! But Mary looked at the angel and said, “Be it unto me according to your word.” And so the life of Jesus began as it would end, with the impossible. When he was a grown man he would say to his disciples, “For human beings it is impossible. For God nothing is impossible.” Possible things are easy to believe. The Glorious Impossibles are what bring joy to our hearts, hope to our lives, songs to our lips. -Madeleine L’Engle

As hard as I've tried my head and my heart have been derailed in my feeble efforts to keep focus on the truths of this Advent season.  This is the week of hope. Stuart McAllister wrote "...the difference between optimism (short term and easily overcome) and hope (eternal and anchored) is where they are rooted. One leans on human effort; the other rests in God and God’s promises."  Thank God nothing rests in my tries that often fail but rather in His promises that are sure.  

I'm sitting in my bedroom against a pile of pillows with a heated throw over my aching legs.  It is freezing outside, and I've come from the local hospital and a page of blood work that would make your eyes cross.  No one at the hospital had seen some of the labs the PANDAS doctor had requested.  Once again, I am the rare patient trying to share some of my journey and raise awareness while the nurses drain 13 full tubes of blood from my blue arm.  They watched my face turn more and more ashen as I slumped in the seat but urged them to keep going because a good vein is a treasure that can't be wasted.  I drove myself which seems like a great idea on my way somewhere and is always a bad idea after I've been exposed to people and places and their smells. Add my anxiety on top of mast cells and losing so much blood, and I could barely lift one leg in front of the other.  Thank God for a handicap parking tag.  

When I safely made it home, and I crawled into bed the sun in my west facing window peaked out from the grey clouds.  My heart swelled with gratitude and tears slipped down my cheeks.  There are a hundred shining moments like these day after day.  I can't take any of this for granted.  The commonplace to so many are glorious impossibles for my family and I.  We are learning to live again.  It will never be like it was, but it is so much better than it has been.  I'm working with a counselor on the nitty gritty parts of life as a chronically ill person.  I am finding ways to join real life again without ruining the progress I've made.  Friday night this meant I braved all the people and perfume and cologne to attend the first part of Danica's Kindergarten concert.  I sat in the back row wearing a mask, and my dad left with me after her part was complete.  Sunday, our family was blessed to attend "A Very Canton Christmas" with our Pee Paw and Kee Wee and then go out to dinner together.  Again I wore a mask.  What I thought would make myself and others so self conscious actually was okay.  My girls were understanding and not embarrassed but instead so glad I was there with them.  I spent yesterday weak and worn, but it was so worth it!  

When I reflect on this past year I can scarcely believe I survived all the trauma of my three surgeries and hospitalization for adrenal failure.  I am in awe of the complete eradication of my abdominal pain from the endometriosis.  I stumble when I talk about the risk and cost of having my fusion hardware removed only to be completely pain free in my neck now.  And then there is the shunt.  Oh how I fought getting a shunt because of my fear of failure and revision and especially the big cuts and having something hard and foreign in me. God orchestrated my suffering in such a way that I had no choice.  I could not have continued living with the torturous pressure and loss of vision.  It was your love that showed the way.  Now I am headache free!  All of these changes in my health are glorious impossibles.  I am out of bed most of the time now with quiet resting from fatigue and continuing EDS symptoms that I will always deal with.  I am hopeful about the coming new year. I have lists of things I want to do with my girls and share with my family that we never thought I might be able to do again. I am falling in love with Dan again.  I never thought I could love him more, but without the constant pain I am able to see clearly the beauty of his commitment to me during these long years and his faithful service to all of us.  I want to spend time with him too.  Thank God for the strength and grace to endure.  Do we dare be excited for the future?

i was listening to a message the other day specifically addressing stewardship and God's expectations of us in regards to our finances. This is one area that continues to seem impossible to both Dan and I. There's no Suze Orman or Dave Ramsey advice that will rescue us from the great cost of my sickness.  Looking forward to 2014 we hope and pray we could go a year without surgery of any kind.  Still, we already have big appointments for Danica in Cincinnati in January and the cardiologist for me and once all this blood is back I have to save enough to have another consult with the PANDAS doctor.  Instead of Christmas Dan is getting tires for his commute to Fairlawn every day in this dicey weather.  My car is making the worst noise and the tires are bald.  We stay frozen even if the money is finally saved because we are afraid to spend it on tires and then need it for prescriptions or a trip to a doctor.  As I have felt more well I have been back to my stacks of bills.  I started writing $10 checks to some thinking if I cycle every three months I could at least keep people from suing us. There is one creditor that is at attorney stage.  Some days I am trusting and peaceful and some I am paralyzed with the not knowing how we will get out from under all this and particularly the guilt that my family is suffering debt and begging on my account.  The preacher on the radio was talking about how everything is really God's.  He gives some of us much and some of us little.  How we handle His gifts speak to so much more than actual money.  Except for when I'm opening bills or ignoring collection calls I feel nothing but blessed . . . even rich. When I was sitting in my doctor's office last Friday for my 7th Pen G injection my dear doctor, who has journeyed all this way with me, reminded me of the faithfulness of God.  As an outsider watching this story unfold she can see how we have never gone without what we needed, not only our day to day needs but also support for medical care.  I realized as I left if I had not continued to write here and share over and over the big and little ways God has loved us through you He would not have the glory He has received because of it.  I have only ever asked for enough.  I realize freedom from this thing that threatens my peace and joy may never be God's plan.  Still, I have to dig deep and believe if He can straighten Danica's neck and heal her brain and pay all her bills and then tenderly guide me to each one of my surgeons and heal me time after time when I've been sliced and sewn He can still remove the bondage we are under.  I don't have a headache anymore and He owns the cattle on a thousand hills.

I'm asking for my prayer warriors to lift our family in prayer as we anticipate a new year.  Won't you thank Him with us for all the seemingly impossible things He's accomplished in us and for us? Please ask for wisdom as we try to face the debt.  We need to know how to move forward with continuing care within our means and still pay something to our dozens of medical creditors.  We need to know if fixing our old white car is the right thing to do.  In the past I've been so sick I was willing to just sell it, but now I am able to drive myself to most of my local appointments, and it seems repairing the issues is wise.  We just don't know how to move with big decisions because we are so accustomed to fighting for the day to day.  Please pray for our family as we adjust to me being more well.  It changes everything.  I am in many ways reentering the family life and as joyful as it is there is also a friction because I was in all practical ways absent from so many things.  Our marriage needs strength.  Our parenting needs intention.  We need to find an outlet for all the good we've received to turn this story into something bigger than just us.  

I know many of you are facing similar struggles.  I want to encourage you.  Whatever you are staring down that seems impossible give it over to God.  Nothing is impossible.  I was the prodigal who came home.  I have seen enough healing to know God is still working miracles.  I have seen food appear on our doorstep when we were hungry.  I have seen a check show up in my mailbox before a judgment was given.  I have watched God lead us with the light of love.  Don't give up.  Live in the hope He gives each of us that He is working all things for our good.  Grab the shimmering moments of Grace, because it is ALL Grace.  That's the Christmas story.  

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Slow journey

"If, as Herod, we fill our lives with things, and again with things; if we consider ourselves so unimportant that we must fill every moment of our lives with action, when will we have the time to make the long, slow journey across the desert as did the Magi? Or sit and watch the stars as did the shepherds? Or brood over the coming of the child as did Mary? For each of us, there is a desert to travel. A star to discover. And a being within ourselves to bring to life." Author Unknown

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Borrowed art, slow Grace and stars in our eyes

Star Song by Luci Shaw

We have been having
epiphanies like stars
all this year long.
And now, at its close,
when the planets
are shining through frost,
light runs like music
in the bones,
and the heart keeps rising
at the sound of any song.
An old magic flows
at the silver calling
of a bell,
high and clear.
Falling.  Falling.
Sounding the death knell
of our old year,
telling the new appearing
of Christ, our Morning Star.

Now, burst,
all our bell throats!
every clapper tongue!
Stun the still night.
Jesus himself gleams through
our high heart notes
(it is no fable).
It is he whose light
glistens in each song sung,
and in the true
coming together again
to the stable
of all of us: shepherds,
sages, his women and men,
common and faithful,
or wealthy and wise,
with carillon hearts,
and, suddenly, stars in our eyes.

If you've read here long or at my old blog you know I love Advent more than any other time of the year. The order of the liturgical season leading up to celebrating Christ's birth keeps my heart in a circle of never forgetting.  It reminds my soul continually how the plan for Redemption was THE only plan. Throughout the Old Testament there are the hints and guesses that grow into clear signs of who would come to save us.  I love spending an entire month so mindful of the miracle. Christmas is a big reflection of what God asks us to do with our lives all year long.  He wants us to watch and wait.  He wants us to draw near to the simple and humble and the human so we can really finally understand what a sacrifice God becoming man was and is.  It's Grace in slow motion, step by step to Bethlehem.

Dan and I had a much needed date night last night.  I felt well.  I did not have a headache.  We were together in such a "normal" way, and we were reminded it can be good again.  It IS good again.  For so long we have lived in a place of doubting this and not really knowing how to adjust our marriage.  The time I've spent not writing here I have been healing and living with my family and those close to me. There are a hundred moments I could have captured for you where something was being repaired or restored in the past month.  I didn't want to waste even a second of the time documenting, because it has felt fragile and unsure, like borrowing something we might not get to keep.  Holding things loosely is part of our nature now.  My eyes have been opened to this beautiful way to live.  It used to hurt.  Now it feels like an exhale.  I am lighter and floating just a little knowing I can bear so much pain and loss and not just survive but actually be transformed into something better . . . more like Him and less like this world.  I'm not clutching or striving right now.  Maybe it's because the bill collectors quit calling for the holiday weekend, but I hope it's something deeper and longer lasting too.  

Growing up in Staunton, Virginia our amazing public library had large reproduction art pieces that were framed, and you could check them out to hang in your home for awhile.  I was obsessed with decorating and design since I was a young child.  I was always wanting to make my space inspiring and beautiful.  My mom would let me check out the art from time to time.  My favorite was one of irises printed on a grass cloth type canvas framed in gold.  We didn't grow up with much actual art in our home.  There were cross stitch samplers of Bible verses and one big watercolor painting of my sister on a carousel hung over our couch.  That's about it.  I didn't have exposure to art through museums or my schoolwork either. It was just something that felt important to me like a good thread count and the right lighting.  It was something I was born hungry for like poetry and architecture.  It is something we all need and want at some level if we are honest with ourselves.  In many ways the place I grew up became the canvas I studied.  Watching the seasons change year after year in the Shenandoah Valley shapes your soul for beauty.  All art is born from the master artist, our Creator, and I was blessed to live in the bowels of one of His special studios for many years.

Thanksgiving and the month of December are a time for looking backward and forward.  As I play this long year in my mind one of my deepest blessings has been a friendship that came out of a strange and unexpected place.  It has grown into part of my healing so deeply I don't know if one would have been possible without the other.  We are different in many ways and kindred in just as many. This creates an honesty and perfect iron sharpening iron way of communicating that is rare. We found out early on we both have a love for all kinds of art and need beauty around us in our day to day to be okay.  Besides a whimsical collection from an Ohio watercolor artist Dan and I bought at the beach in North Carolina 2006, which we have refused to part with during all our losses, we don't own much meaningful art anymore. In our one year lived in and cherished home we have large walls with just empty space which is okay with us and especially me.  I don't want to hang things just to have something there.  Everything in my life now really should reflect meaning and sometimes the empty space is just good.  It's part of the waiting for restoration and healing.  

Not long after my hardware removal surgery, the second of three major surgeries in a row this fall, my new friend showed up on my doorstep holding a large piece of framed art to borrow.  She had been in my room and even spent time lying in bed with me when I was too sick to get up.  She could see I spent most of my hours turned on my left side facing a large blank wall.  This particular piece of art had been in her bedroom and brought her encouragement through pain. It's a stunningly painted forest with the richest colors creating a depth you have to trudge through. You have to explore it layer by layer until you reach this little patch of yellow, yes, light, at the very end of your journey.  She brought it on a day I felt so hopeless, so sick, so lost in the woods I could not imagine making it through.  She left the painting here for me to borrow.  We hung it on the big empty wall I face when I am in bed the sickest.  No matter what I could see the light.  I could move towards the light.  The painting changes depending on the day and the mood and yes, the light, and it has never looked exactly the same twice.  I am still caught off guard when I stop to consider it.  I still cry when I tell the story of how a little block of the purest shade of yellow somehow helps me believe it is going to be okay.  

Several weeks later my friend showed up with a religious piece to borrow.  It is in our living room over the mantel.  Dan and I sat enjoying our coffee this morning discussing this particular piece. Beyond the literal meaning we have our own interpretations.  The angel and light overshadow the struggle below of man.  It is a hopeful piece.  It came from an artist whose friend knew he was agnostic so he asked him to study Scripture and paint a series of work depicting Biblical stories in prayer of stirring his heart to come to see the truths he held dear.  I think I will need to return this piece after the holidays before I become too attached, but it has illuminated our simple holiday decorating and speaks to the spiritual journey we are on this and every Christmas season.  

Pulled by the tinsel and things and expectation of things I see the angel speaking to us glad tidings of great joy.  Sit down.  Be still. Listen to how this aching and hurting and waiting will unfold now. I know there were days and weeks and even months without a sign. You thought I had left you here without a Savior.  Your suffering and your broken bodies and hearts will be healed by His stripes.  A baby born of a virgin is just the beginning of the miracle.  You will be saved!  Do you believe?  Can Redemption happen so slowly it begins as a shoot from a stump?  Can it be as simple as a scene in a manger?  

Light a candle tonight.  
Take one step.  
He is coming.  
We have stars in our eyes.  

(Our family celebrates by lighting Advent candles daily instead of weekly.  We use the Advent journey handmade by Ann Voskamp's son, Caleb, which also allows you to add pieces and continue on through Lent to Easter.  We gather around each night and take turns reading and then we sing and pray.  I'm excited Danica is a reader this year too.  We've collected quite a few resources but still use the book A Family Advent: Keeping the Savior in the Season for our main readings.  I have been working through Ann's new Advent devotional book The Greatest Gift since it came out and have gifted it over and over already.  If you've never taken a daily Advent journey I would highly suggest this as a simple place to begin.  Many of you who have loved us and cared for us these years now ask me how you can bless us during this season.  My answer is simple.  We have every thing we need.  Share in our healing.  Share in our restoration. We are dreaming impossible things like a week together in 2014 in the Outer Banks instead of all Dan's vacation and time off being spent in a hospital with me. This is our family's wish.  The challenges we will continue to face financially will be there in the new year, but with renewed hope of some measure of health for me our faith in manna living stays strong. If you are near, come visit us (just don't wear any perfume or cologne!) and let us hug you and tell you "thank you" out loud.  Light a candle tonight.  Watch and wait with us.  Our Hope remains!)