Top Posts of 2016!

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It’s time for the list of the top 10 posts of the year!

This was a slower year for me, mostly due to pregnancy and all that comes with that, so I only wrote almost half of the amount of posts of the previous year.  In 2015, I wrote 93, and this year I wrote an exact even 50.  BUT, even with half the posts, I actually, just barely, got more views and visitors this year than last year, meaning that my posts are bringing in more readers than ever!  Hooray for that!

This year, I had 11,687 visitors to my blog with 16,043 views and ended the year with 118 blog followers.  *cheer*  (To follow this blog, click FOLLOW on the right hand side of this page) 

Without further ado, what were the most popular posts of this year?  Well, not all of them were even actually published on this blog this year – some have remained super popular from previous years, and have lived on with lives of their own all over the Internet.

Sitting at #1, by far, with no competition, and with around 35 hits A DAY is:

Anime Characters by Myers-Briggs Type (with 7,164 individual views this year!!)mami_tomoe_render_by_moeblueberry1771-d5evnl7

This post is also #1 on any Google search for “anime characters by Myers-Briggs type and continually brings in guests to my blog.  Kind of exciting, even if it is very niche.  So if you like anime AND personality typing, this is the post for you.  Identified by name, show title, and picture, I have anime characters from various shows in neat little groups according to their types.  🙂

 

The Day I Met Job (with 996 individual views)PCOS Challenge Infographic

This makes me so happy that it’s #2.  This is the deeply personal testimony of what God did in my heart and life last year after suffering with secondary infertility.  It is also about my best friend and her daughter, an appreciation of my mother-in-law, a nod to a fellow author, and mostly a testimony about a hero of the faith I met last year.  Please read the article.  I hope my vulnerability and sharing of God’s greatness touches your heart!

 

An Open Letter to My Pregnant Sister (with 460 views)beautiful-wedding-tiara

Still going strong.  This is a writeup I did for baby showers that I first composed for my sister 2 1/2 years ago, and have tweaked a few times since to share with other expectant moms.  There must be a need for this, as people continually search for this online and find my site.  🙂

 

Tied with “My Pregnant Sister” is: Setting up the Romance Ship (with 460 views)austenland-holding_13254521245

How fun that my breakdown of the smart secret to writing a winning romance story did so well!  I thought this one was a bit obvious until I read (and watched) many people miss this key point to setting up their relationship story. Thinking I had nothing to lose, I threw my own theory out there, and it did very well!

 

Should Married Women Vote Against Their Spouse? (with 349 views)your_vote_counts

This one was a hot button when I first posted it a few years ago, and it continues to be something people search for and find through my blog. Read at your own risk…  🙂

 

Could You Love This Genderless Person? (with 287 views)5

Maybe it was just a catchy title, but this was a very niche article about genderbender dramas that I posted. A “genderbender” is when a guy dresses up and pretends to be a girl, or vice versa, and the opposite sex falls for them.  I explore this trope and why it means so much to women, and maybe what’s spiritually at the heart of this “forbidden romance” story.

 

In Memory of Victoria Mercy Conte (with 262 views)conte-052

A year and a half after the sudden and tragic passing of my husband’s baby sister, this post, written by *him* not me, still makes the top 10 on my list.  Please read my husband’s beautiful, tear-jerker tribute to a lovely life that sits very dear to our hearts.

 

NAME THE BABY! (with 221 views)namebabygirl02

I’m legitimately shocked that this made the top 10!  Last year I teamed up with lovely author Melanie D. Snitker to do a giveaway and promote each other’s books.  Readers named the baby that her main couple was pregnant with, and we got some great responses.  I need to do more on this blog with fellow authors next year!  In the meantime, check out Melanie’s very successful books on Amazon.

 

Asian TV for the American Newbie Viewer (with 188 views)patemainverted_dvd-f

This is a fun list that I kept on my sidebar.  Always hearing me talk about anime and kdramas but have no idea what’s safe or good to watch or where to start?  Not sure you’d even like Asian TV?  I put together a “starter” list of Asian TV for people who don’t like Asian TV, so to speak.  These are storylines and shows that I think any American could love without feeling too “eastern” in the storytelling style.  Give any of these shows a chance, and let me know if they did not disappoint!

 

And last but not least: Sarcastically Realistic Movie Descriptions – Name That Movie!2a3

This one also surprises me that it made the list.  This was a funny little game I posted on my blog a while ago, and it’s done well recently.  Someone must have reposted them.  If you’re looking for a comedic way to describe popular movies, as a game for a party you’re hosting, this might be the post for you.

 

So which blog post of mine was YOUR favorite this year?  Leave a comment!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being a Minor Sufferer

I have the most mediocre, run-of-the mill trials.

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And, since I know You’re listening, Lord, that doesn’t mean I want them ramped up to a Daniel or Job on the scale of suffering!  Just making sure You know I’m okay with my Mary and Martha level.  I’m good with that!  😉

Unlike my Job-like friends I talked about in this article, I’m kind of this mediocre sufferer.  My trials are always highly obnoxious, only a little scary, and a bit sad.  Not real earth-shattering.  Let me make a “RJ’s Suffering List” in a Paul-like way.  You remember the Apostle Paul’s list, right?  Involves a lot of beating, people trying to kill him, and even a shipwreck? AND his list is all stuff done in the name of Christ!  Like real persecutions for his faith.  MY list is just regular life woes.  Would only count as “thorns in the flesh”!

So, that disclaimer being said, RJ Conte’s very vulnerable, honest, and pretty complete list would go something like this:

Separated her shoulder and ankle ligaments – twice each

Had hormonal imbalances.

Had a doctor perform the wrong test, which scared her senseless for a bunch of years

Had to deliver two healthy babies by emergency c-section – couldn’t have her perfect births

Lost relatives to spiritual and physical death

Went through 18 months of infertility after having two children successfully 

Lost some cartilage on one side of her knee 

Has chronic environmental allergies to everything, including most animals

Gets pneumonia or some other respiratory infection once a year from colds

Has a couple ex-friends who won’t talk to her due to her infuriating stupidity in her young adult years

Has had other friends get caught in serious sins

Has occasionally been treated selfishly and not loved the way believers should love one another

Has a daughter with a massive amount of food allergies – none that are life-threatening, but all that lend itself to obnoxious hives and maybe vomiting

Has had to move a little bit often, and leave churches a couple times

Doesn’t make money on her novels…

Because her novels are overtly Christian, and the world isn’t quite down with that

Had to have Accutane because the acne went on FOREVER. And, even now, in adulthood, some of it has come back

Has been insulted on her physical appearance…

Maybe because she’s never at a perfect weight, but always has those last 15 pounds she’d love to lose…

And what do you know? Finds out she has gestational diabetes in her recent pregnancy, and probably some insulin resistance, which probably caused her infertility to begin with…

Therefore, has to give up regular Mountain Dew  *sob*

 

Woot!  That’s my LIFE Trial List!  I put ALL of those on there so that you can hopefully identify with one or two or five or all of them.  See?  I’m a normal human being like you. Please tell me Paul isn’t laughing up in glory. No offense to anyone whose list is identical to mine, but it’s kind of measly.

What do you do when you’re the “normal friend” with the normal, daily life trials?

The person who doesn’t have much to say or help to give out because you’ve not gone through much of anything that interesting – or that every other Christian hasn’t gone through to some extent?

And sometimes you wish you could trade in the whole group of the small guys for one big, God-glorifying trial that’s over a few days after it begins but makes you this awe-inspiring Christian with a great testimony?

And then you’re ashamed of yourself for saying so, because the Elijahs and Jobs of the world look at you like, “You’re thirty years old, for grief’s sake, and have it all.  Seriously?”

Okay, maybe they don’t do that, because they’re freakin’ Job, for goodness sake, and have so much love and compassion and godly character that they could drown you in it.  But you’re convinced they probably are tempted to think that way about you.  That they’re secretly wringing their hands at home, staring at your Facebook posts, and hating your guts. Right?

I have a dear person in my life whose short years are littered with a few, scattered, mediocre trials.

“I kind of had a crush on someone but they didn’t like me back.”

“I have some big fears.”

“I didn’t make the grades in college that I liked.”

“My managers didn’t treat me well.”

“Someone close to me moved away.”

But this person has completely walked away from the Lord. They can’t see beyond their own suffering, which they see as horrendously awful, even though very few in their life have any clue what would warrant their dramatic, victim response.

The little ongoing things are REAL, folks.  They’re sneaky.  They creep in and go on and on and on, making us think our life is less than perfect, will never BE perfect, and drive us crazy with their prickly itchiness.  Sure, we may not have lost our entire family to death or been tortured for our faith or be stricken as a paraplegic, but things are still NOT RIGHT.  And, as pathetic as we can feel, those things linger day after day after day and break down the joy that we’re supposed to have.

I’m going to introduce a radical concept: all trials are trials.

Call out!  Ask for help.  Reach out.  Ask for prayer. Get godly advice. Don’t be ashamed.

Sure there’s some validity to saying, “Wow, I’m a stupid, babyish ninny.  Get a grip and move on with life, and don’t let these little things bother you.” But I really don’t think that’s always helpful or productive, and few human beings are in that kind of place. And God totally gets that.  You don’t hear him calling us “stupid, babyish ninnies.”  God only gives us the trials He knows we can survive and also come out the other end (1 Corinthians 10:13). So for some, those may seem “smaller” but there’s no belittling comparison scale in the kingdom of God.

And His GRACE is sufficient for ALL of them.

If you or I are really struggling in a little Martha trial (“My sister drives me NUTS, Lord.  Make her clean house and play host with me!”) chances are, that’s where my spiritual idols are.  And the feeling of being used as a slave by one’s lazy sister, whether the right perspective or not, has the same capacity of driving us away from the Lord as the massive shooting of one’s whole family does for someone else.

DON’T let that make you feel small, pathetic, or worthless.  All things that make us believe that God is making a mistake (Martha: “Jesus, why are you letting her SIT there?  Jesus, do something differently!”), all of those things that make us doubt that God is good, drive us from Him.  And, before you know it, your “mediocre list” has become a gigantic battleground for the devil.  It’s a fight for your very soul.

Can I highly, highly, highly recommend One Thousand Gifts, which I’m re-reading for the51vwntxh1sl-_sx347_bo1204203200_ 2nd or 3rd time? Ann Voskamp is a very, very average homeschool mom and housewife.  She had her one “big tragedy” in young childhood when she was hardly old enough to even get it. But, besides that, her trials have been run of the mill.  Compared to anyone else maybe.  However, Ann saw that bitterness, ingratitude, and a coldness to God were sneaking in right under her nose while she washed dishes and did laundry and made dinner for the millionth time day after day. And, in beautiful, poetic words, she explores the beauty of all of life – everything God gives – the great and the impossible. And how her entire life’s perspective changed.

This Christmas I asked for butcher paper.  Yep, this giant, larger-than-life roll.  My sweet mother-in-law, without question, went and bought it for me, and it sits under my tree like a giant possibility of gleaming white.

I know what my very first use of it is going to be – the making of a floor to ceiling list.  Of gratitude.  That the Conte family can walk by and add to at any time.

So that those little bugs don’t get in the way – my shoulder is aching again as I type this, and I’m really, really hankering for a piece of holiday pecan pie that I shouldn’t eat.  (Man alive.  Die, taste buds, die!  You cruel villains!) Because those little bugs grow and grow and grow in our hearts to become the most giant of Godzillas. To become life or death to our souls and our First Love (Revelation 2:4).

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This guy has it all.  Pure happiness in liquid form, baby.  😛  😀

So no one is a “minor sufferer” at all.  Even giving up the Mountain Dew can be a giant
battle that leaves you a little breathless, a bit bruised, and more surrendered for the kingdom of Christ.  Hey, if you’re going through a sugar detox, come to me, and I will WEEP with you, bro!

 

It all matters in the Great Fight that is this Christian life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’re Invited to My Pity Party!

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You’re invited! Right here on social media – my special pity party.  All 637 of you on my friends list get to come!

I promise to be vague, I promise to provide lots of emoticons, and I promise to give you just a few details so that you can guess the individual that’s hurt me but I don’t say her name outright. Sounds like fun?  Bring your popcorn and gallons of ice cream because I’ll be crying my eyes out.  You’ll know because I’ll make it very obvious.  No leaving your office chair, and all sympathy welcome!  Warning: This post will have a lot of goofy meme examples.  😀

 

Ever been to one of these? Ever found yourself forced to attend one of them even though you never RSVPed?

I am very concerned about the amount of memes and passive aggressive pity posts I have seen on Facebook.

Things like this:

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I feel like these things make injured people feel like they are “being the bigger person” while not-so-subtly letting all their friends know they’ve been hurt.

But instead of being the bigger person, I feel like we are wounding the cause of Christ. When I see Christians post these things, I cannot help but think of one thing only: this is a person who has not forgiven.

We may say you are working on forgiveness, and it is true that we can be tempted to bring back up old (or recent) scars, fighting the temptation against bitterness, but there is no “working on forgiveness.” There is only “forgiving” and “bitter.”  Each and every day that you choose to not get angry about a person’s sin, not dwell on it in your own mind, and not bring it up to others, you have forgiven. Every time you indulge to gossip about that hurt, you choose, in that moment not to forgive.  There is no state of “I will be fully un-bitter and fully forgiving in a matter of months. Every day I might be getting better and get angry about it less.”  There is only, “Today I chose to forgive.  Yesterday I sinned against God and chose to stew about it and talk about it to others.”

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven times…”

“…Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” Matthew 18:21-22, 32-35

Every day that you publicly invite questions because of passive aggressive memes and statuses, hinting about how someone has hurt you, is a day you make your Father in heaven angry – the Father that forgave the sins you commit against Him day in and day out.

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Another thing to think about when we post our pity party invitations and proclaim our unforgiving hearts online (or even privately to listening ears) is that we have failed others too.  We have been that erring friend.  We have been that bully. We have been that loud mouth or insensitive jerk. All of us have been there.  And God has brought us through a period of cleansing out our messed up hearts. Some of us have had lots of relationships restored.

When we post our hurts on our pages to all our friends, when we mention “that friend” that did such and such, we give God NO room for reconciliation and restoration.

God is the same God over your friends’ lives and hearts as He is over yours. In only thirty short years of living, I have seen SO many relationships restored to me.  Relationships where I thought the other party would never forgive me – where I was an immature rebel.  And relationships where I thought the other person would never apologize, where they had offended me.  And yet, I’d say about 75% of them have ended with restoration and reconciliation – in the way Christians are supposed to behave with each other.  As they and I have prayed quietly for each other, seeking counsel only from one or two wise counselors (but keeping the whole situation under wraps) restoration and repentance has happened.  Then, when those friends are welcomed back into fellowship with you or you with them – sometimes it’s taken years, but I’ve always been so in awe of the Lord when He makes the impossible happen – you don’t have bitter memes that are clearly about them littering your wall.  You don’t have hundreds of people who have become little detectives in the meantime, totally figuring out which friend hurt you so they can take up offenses for you. They – or you – can humbly walk back into friendship and fellowship knowing that your reputations have been preserved safely. That all has been forgiven and ugliness has not been spread.

Meanwhile, the people who choose not to post but to daily forgive and zip their lips from speaking (and their fingers from typing) are known as gracious, kind, trustworthy individuals. People do not fear messing up around you, people do not walk on eggshells around you, and people do not keep secrets from you, knowing you’re not talking in back alleys about them.

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Do unto others as you would have them do to you.  If you were that friend who sinned and messed up a relationship, would you be thrilled knowing the other party was posting memes about how they were the bigger person and you weren’t worth a second chance?  Is this how God treats us?  No, like the father of the Prodigal Son, He restores us, choosing to forget all that was behind, and pressing forward in celebration of getting His son back.

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Obviously, there are wicked people who shouldn’t be welcomed back into your life and who have done unspeakable things, but that still doesn’t mean you are exempt from forgiving them.  As far as the east is from the west, so are our sins removed from God in forgiveness.  How can we refuse to stop talking about what others have done when we know they will never sin against us as much as we have sinned against God?

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. Mark 11:25

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Let’s wait in quiet hope for our offenders to repent, only seeking godly counsel from one or two, telling people to pray instead for US that we would have pure and godly and forgiving hearts, giving 70X7 endless chances, not thinking ourselves “deserving” of anything from anyone, and not filled with pride that we would not fail in the ways we’ve been failed against.  There but for the grace of God go I.

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30+10 – Remembering Nana

‪#‎30and10‬ Day 3

I visited my grandmother often in North Carolina, and loved the scenery, the nautical feel, and the Atlantic ocean. We drove all up and down the east coast, and setting Dashwood Avenue in South Carolina was simply nostalgic for me.
A pic of my grandmother, two of my siblings, and me – I’m the blonde! (she passed away almost four years ago, and I miss her tremendously. She was the epitome of a perfect grandmother in so many ways. Fun, great sense of humor, gracious, affectionate, loved us all equally, perfect presents, and fantastic sense of style. I love and miss you, Nana!)

Dashwood Avenue, Christian fiction for fourth grade and up, is available HERE.

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The Day I Met Job

  Many of you know, because I haven’t been the sPCOS Challenge Infographiclightest bit shy about it, that our little family’s growth came to a grinding halt after our second child due to sudden Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome symptoms and what’s known as “secondary infertility.”  We had two daughters very easily and then nothing.  Suddenly I was riddled with strange symptoms.  My body was like a foreign alien, and my main dream in life was shattered.

I’ll just give the recap of our family’s story so that I can share about what God taught me in November/December of last year – the point of this blog post.  It will be a long post, but stick with me and please read through until the end.

Some people dream of being corporate businessmen, others dream of being teachers or social workers and training and saving children.  Some dream of traveling the world or being a firefighter or an astronaut.

All I dreamed of, besides writing books, was having a large family that I could raise in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and homeschool and love.

When I became a mother almost 5 ½ years ago, I called my husband one day at work and said, “This is what I was MADE for.  This is the most fulfilled I have ever been.”

Four years later, when I began homeschooling, I called him again and said, “I take it back.  THIS is the happiest I’ve ever been.  A mother AND a homeschool mom.  It truly doesn’t get better than this.  I could do this for the rest of my life.”

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                My girls became Christians young (both at age 3) and are my best friends and usually nothing but joy. Yet strangers in grocery stores would make comments like, “Must have your hands full” and I thought, “With these two?!” Never.  Matter of fact, I had time on my hands enough to write a few books these last two years in the evenings.  These girls are sweet, quiet, adorable things.

I was totally ready to grow my family.  The girls prayed for their dad to be ready for #3, I prayed for my husband to be ready, and we waited.  After a year, my husband heard a Bible study talk on the Leviticus passages on discharges and mildew – passages most likely to skip over! But the teaching leader’s sermon was on obeying God in the things that don’t make sense. He explained that even when God’s commands seem like they might be a challenge, if we just obey, his yoke is easy and light. And my husband came home with a new peace in his heart, and said, “I feel led to try for #3.”

I cried.

 

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My “Happiness Wall” for my first baby back in 2010

I went out and bought a stuffed animal, homecoming baby outfit, and journal – all prematurely of course – just because it’s what I always do.

Over time, I stuffed that bundle of baby stuff under my bed in a grocery sack and hoped I’d someday look at it again. We couldn’t get pregnant.

My emotions were a roller coaster.  I had a doctor who waved my concerns aside, saying I was 28 years old and got pregnant fine before.  “Just give it time, girl.  Don’t stress.”

I said, “No, I know my body.  None of this is normal.  Something’s wrong.”

She finally gave in and gave me Clomid, which made me swell up until I had to take my rings off, my shoes were tight, and I felt like my face had become a balloon.  I put on weight and couldn’t take it off.  I got medicine-induced mood swings that made me so depressed I would sob and rant and not know what was happening to me. I was filled with so much self-loathing for my body, that didn’t work and looked like a balloon, that I finally covered up my bathroom mirror in pillowsheets and Bible verses so I wouldn’t have to look at myself.  I hated myself so much, I had thoughts of harming myself.  I finally understood what it was like to have a touch of chemical depression as the meds messed with my head. I have so much more sympathy for those who have to go through that.  After three months, I got off and gave up on meds.

Our church went through a merge that we didn’t feel was a good fit for us personally and we started looking around.  At the first church we visited, which we eventually went back to, the pastor’s wife and I hit it off and she mentioned a new doctor and a new drug.  So I tried that too, especially after the claims that it wouldn’t be as bad as Clomid.  Letrozole was the new up and coming thing, after it had only been used for breast cancer before.  It was this new doc that found the polycystic ovarian symptoms I had, and informed me, after an ultrasound that I bravely submitted myself to, that I actually wasn’t ovulating at all.

In the midst of all of this, my emotions were a rollercoaster.  Every first Sunday of the month, during communion, I would confess my discontentment, my desire for control, and my idol of this perfect, large, homeschool family I dreamed of.  I wanted to be the women with twenty kids.  I used to name my twenty fake kids when *I* was a kid. I used to write stories about my future family.  Even my peers said I was “motherly.” There was the one that described me as a “fuzzy mother hamster.” This was what I was made for. Then why did I only have my two precious daughters?  Why wasn’t God answering their persistent prayers for a baby sibling? Would I never even get a son?  Would that longing for a constant stream of babies through my arms be snatched away from me?

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Me with Baby #1 in 2011

It’s hard to even write this knowing how some people want children and can’t have any at all – yet I had two.  I even watched my godly mother-in-law lose her youngest daughter. I was awestruck, even then, by her righteous response. But I was too new into our infertility journey, and my heart was unwilling to repent at that time. I would think back to her amazing response later though, it sitting with me in spite of my own anger at God.

But one day I woke up and went, “Pathetic or not, stupid or not, THIS is shaking my faith.  So I need to come to grips with the fact that it’s serious and I better get down on my knees daily about it instead of comparing myself to everyone else and trying to shove it under a rug and pretend it doesn’t exist.”

But it was still a back and forth battle.  I would pray before every single pregnancy test.  I coped in a variety of good and bad ways – the time I walked out of communion and my husband had to find me in the side alley next to the church vs. the time I read through all of Job and wrote a really special blog post about how amazing God was and how I could trust Him. Or the time I thought, “Fine!  I’ll just splurge on clothing spontaneously!” and bought myself a fancy dress that ended up getting ruined the first time I wore it vs. the time I wrote a poem about God working on my heart and asked everyone to pray.  Or the time I cried for hours at my husband and blamed him for more than his fair share of everything vs. the time I sat down with my kids and talked through idols and how God was working on me.  It felt like there wasn’t a single day I could predict how I could react, and the inconsistency and fight to surrender was killing me

And the worst part was that, all throughout this battle, God was silent.

I never heard from Him, I never felt His peace, and He did not take away my suffering. He didn’t cure me or heal me or even take away my desire to have more children. I prayed hard that He would just take away my desire.  I prayed hard that I would feel His presence.  But it felt like He vanished, and that made me more heartbroken and angry.

In November, one of my very best friends in the whole world, Bethany Jennings, informed me that her 3-year-old daughter was regressing.  She couldn’t drink well out of a cup, she was stumbling when she walked, her speech was slurring, and her eyes drifting.

At first I didn’t want to believe her, hoping it was just motherly paranoia, but I’ll never forget the day I requested she video her daughter, Cora, so I could see.  I watched, horrified, at how much the little girl had regressed from when I had seen her in April.  Something was seriously wrong, and it was probably in her brain.  My chest tight with anxiety, I prayed that their visit with the specialist would come as quickly as possible.

Cora Jennings was diagnosed with an AVF (arteriovenous fistula) – like a swollen blood vessel – over her brain stem. It was compressing her whole brain, causing many neurological problems; she was losing the ability to walk, talk, chew, swallow, and other dangerous effects. My friend went to the best neurointerventalists in the nation, and he had never seen anything quite like Cora’s specific problem and its unusual formation. He was stumped and went into strategy mode with a ton of his colleagues.

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There was a real possibility that my best friend’s second born daughter, her precious little fair-haired princess would die. 

I had a three-year-old daughter.  What if it had been me?

For the first time in a while, God shook me out of my own stupor to care for my friend, who showed nothing but firm resolve and faith that God would do what was best.  If God planned on taking her three-year-old out of this earth, then she wanted to lead thousands to Christ because of it.  Her posts, and even her private IM chats with me, showed nothing but beautiful faith, real raw emotions coupled with such a love for her Savior, and a hopeful attitude about how God would use their family.  We started the page Praying for Cora together, and Bethany wrote her godly thoughts down for thousands to read, people who were touched and followed her page, eating up her words and being moved by the Holy Spirit inside of her.

I couldn’t imagine having that kind of faith and peace, and wondered why God had never given that to me.  I wanted more children and I was being a brat.  I couldn’t imagine contemplating one of my children being taken away! I felt awed and humbled.

The Jennings live on the east coast, and the risky, never-been-done-before operation to stop the swelling flow of blood was happening in the morning.  For me it was in the middle of the night.12246719_10207973116347885_5303478278759824858_n

I set my alarm to 4 AM and started praying.  On my knees at first, then jogging in circles around my living room, I pleaded with God for her life.  I had never gotten up in the middle of the night and stayed up to pray. I knew so many people were doing so with me, but in my house it was silent, still, and I was alone. I had to come face to face with God, and it finally wasn’t about my secondary infertility. It was about something more important.  I would take infertility over my friend losing her little girl, and that was the first time some of my clenched fingers came loose in my heart.  Maybe I was willing to surrender my dreams after all.

I watched the sunrise, something I hadn’t done for possibly a decade, and took pictures, feeling closer to God than I had in a while.12241312_10208118536786954_1470777290341552039_n

When the call finally came hours later that Cora had been saved, that the operation had been a smashing success, and that she was going to okay, I fell into a relieved, exhausted sleep.  Praise the Lord for His mercies!

I enjoyed Thanksgiving with my husband’s family that next week, thanking God for new answers to prayer, reading IM messages from Bethany about Cora’s progress and recovery.

My heart was being softened and I didn’t even know it.

A mere few weeks later, I traveled to Iowa, to a town on the border of Nebraska, to a part of the country I forgot existed and had never been to before.  It was a mild winter for them, with only one thunderstorm and a brief bit of nippiness.  I had been invited to play the piano in the wedding of a former piano and voice student, who was a kindred-spirited best friend as well. He was marrying the young lady he met in school in Iowa and I was his honorary “groomsman,” his former teacher playing his favorite songs.  It was a special honor, and playing in my students’ weddings was always on my bucket list.  This was the second time I got to do so, and I was thrilled.

My friend, the groom, can be scatterbrained, to put it mildly 😛 , and he didn’t even let me know who I would be staying with while I was out from Thursday-Sunday until the day before. I was told I’d get to board with an honorary aunt, a friend of the bride’s who was as close as family, and who had also put my friend up when he came out to stay and work there a summer.  He gave me her number and we texted each other a picture so we’d know who was who when I showed up the airport. I thought, “Here goes nothing!”

She walked in with a cane but had a young face.  I later found out she was in her early forties, so not old enough to be my aunt, but not quite a peer either.

I was in and out in a whirlwind of joyful fellowship, enjoying old Texan friends I hadn’t seen in a while, and wedding prep and practice.  But every evening the aunt and I would sit and talk far too late into the night.  She’s one of those that it’s easy to just get started with and never stop.  It came out that I was a writer, and I gave her the address of this blog.  Unbeknownst to me, she perused a bunch of my articles.

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Me with my iconic pink tips 😛 next to the groom to my left  🙂

The very last night, after the wedding was over (It was beautiful!) and I had stayed and laughed my head off with the other young people in a hotel room, I returned nice and late to the aunt’s house.  She and her husband were talking, and let me in on their chat.

After the aunt’s husband went back to work (Hard-working man that maintains multiple jobs and puts in many late hours at night doing so!), the aunt decided to trust me. Based on the recommendation from the groom? Based on what she had read from my blog? Based on the comments I made? Based on the look in my eyes or our conversation?  I should ask her sometime.  But for some reason, even though I was still a bit of a stranger, she made the plunge to trust me with her story.

Guys.  I met Job that day.

On December 12, 2015, the same day my good friend and student got married, I met Job.

I didn’t know that Job lived in the twenty-first century, nor that he had an auto-immune disorder that left his limbs aching and hurting most of the time, nor that he was a 40-something homeschool mom in a big, beautiful, older home in a little town in Iowa.

But I tell you, he does.

Those of you who remember my Job post from last year might recall that the only thing that truly comforted me in the time of so many “whys” was Job, specifically when God speaks at the end.

Nothing else can comfort in this broken world better than the thought of how great and big God is.

How He doesn’t answer to us for His decisions, how He does what He deems best, and how He so poignantly and even sarcastically points out how much He can do as God that Job couldn’t dream of. In my darkest hours, when I truly thought, “I’d stop trying to be a Christian right now except that I know I can’t because I am His, and because there is nothing else,” I’d read Job and know that I could never escape Him, and the best place to be was by His side, even if it felt like He was crushing my soul with His decisions.  That, in the end, my only hope of peace and comfort and understanding was sitting at His feet.

Because Job suffered so very, very much.

And so does this woman in Iowa, this adopted aunt of my dear friend.

In all my life, I have never heard a story as horrific as hers. I didn’t think anyone could suffer this much.

I won’t go into the particulars because of my broad audience, and because that is her private story that I would never want the responsibility of telling, but just know that this woman and Job will sit at God’s right hand some day.  I know it in my deepest heart.

As she sat and talked to me, and as the tears ran down my cheeks, the horror and jagged broken pieces of my heart piercing me, and as I held her hand and listened, she said words I will never ever ever forget:

 “I.  Love.  God.”

I was dumbfounded.

She continued. “He is good.  And I can say that, even though my trial hasn’t ended for all these years, even though I’ve developed health ailments on top of everything and been rejected more times than I can count, even though I don’t see an end in sight, even though I was once suicidal and didn’t think I could stand living… I know that God is good and that I love Him and want to follow Him all of my days.”  She was not bitter.  Her pure faith filled the room. I was seeing someone again who had it far worse than I did – far worse suffering than I could imagine.  And, like Bethany Jennings, she had nothing but faithful joy radiating from her eyes.

But she took it a step further, and that was the clincher.  “So I saw on your blog that you were struggling with some infertility,” she soothed kindly. “That must be so hard. I know what it’s like to have your womb just cry out.”

My chin was quivering now and I was trying to keep from sobbing.  “You… DEIGN… to talk to me about my MEASLY ‘trial’ after all you have been through?  Why?”

And she said, “Because it’s still a trial and because I care and because I feel for you.”

  And she went on to counsel me in a way only a Job reincarnate could. And she didn’t see me as pathetic under her feet but she engaged in my pittance of suffering. And she challenged and encouraged me.

I went to my bed that night and cried until I fell asleep.  I cried the plane ride back home. I cried when I saw my husband and little girls coming towards me in the airport bearing flowers. I cried when I told my husband the story at home.  I cried every day that next week.

The very next day after I got home, it was a surprisingly warm day for the northwest, and I took the girls to a new park.  The sun was out, which was also a rare treat, and the sky was clear. I sat on the park equipment, my face lifted to the sun, my eyes closed, and I began to thank God for all that He had given me.  For all that I had.

And lastly, my bitterness finally gone, I opened my hand completely, baring my palm to Him.  And I said, “Thank You for my infertility. Because I know that, without it, I could not be Christlike. Thank You for what You have decided to do in me.”

I was not the same after that.

    Now God didn’t magically heal me just because I said, “Thank You.” I pretty much despise when people tell me, “Just stop stressing and it will happen” or “All I had to do was surrender and then God gave me what I wanted,” as if we follow this works-religion that tells us our life is all up to us and we just have to repeat some magic words or go through a chain of actions to make God do what we want. I know some pretty godly people who aren’t stressing and have fully surrendered, and are still fully entrenched in their trial.

I still teared up when I got negative pregnancy tests, and I realized that was okay.  It wasn’t me being angry, it was okay to still be sad.  I still had times I really doubted He could heal me.  And He still felt distant and I couldn’t hear His voice or feel His peace.

Six more months of this passed, during which I started going to the new doctor recommended to me by the pastor’s wife, conquered a decade-old fear (Woot!) that I won’t talk about here, and started a new med.  I was convicted I needed to have faith that God could do a miracle, while still trusting that even if He didn’t, this was what was best for His glory and our family.  And encouraging my daughters to not lose their faith as well, but to continue to pray.

I still had emotions that swung up and down, but never the same depression, never the same anger.

I was changed.

Fast forward to the present.  I was on a double dose of the new med, Letrozole (Femara), trying again after a failed month of it.  My childhood friend was in town from Idaho for the weekend, and my parents were flying into town the next day. Summer was in full swing, and the days were longer and easier.  I got over two colds and a stomach bug all through the month of May, and was just grateful for good health and sunshine.

I had recently shared my testimony at the end-of-the-year Bible study (BSF) fellowship day, and had spoken about what God had taught me through studying Revelation, Job, and my good friends.

“Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come!” Revelation 4:9

After I spoke at BSF, I had finally felt God’s presence subtly, like he was holding me around the shoulders, pleased with me.  The sensation filled me up.

Putting out feelers into my author community, I asked for audio book suggestions while I gave my house a deep clean.  Jennifer Westall replied to me and sent me a free copy of her book Healing Ruby, a depression-era story seeped in the gospel and realistic drama. Doctrinal disagreements aside, main character Ruby’s faith made me tear up. She was nursing a sick young man with tuberculosis, and challenged him boldly when he got depressed.

She admonished, “God CAN heal you.  God has the power to heal you.  Have faith in what He’s doing!  Have faith in His love for you!  Never let your faith waver!”

After finishing the book, I laid my hand on my stomach and prayed for God’s healing, asking Him to forgive me for doubting Him.  I may not be angry any more, but I thought God had moved on and wouldn’t do what felt like the impossible.

I pulled out my pregnancy test two days ago on Monday, for the umpteenth time, just going through the motions. I sat down on the bathroom floor, my back to the wall, waiting to check to make sure the test was negative so I could go back to bed.  I prayed like I always did, that my attitude would be peaceful and godly when I got yet another no, and I counted the seconds in my head, my heart racing like it always did in spite of me.  The light was off and the bathroom was dark, dimly lit by the sun poking up over the horizon.

After only two minutes, I wanted to crawl back in bed, so I got up on my knees and peeked at the test.  There was the clear, bold, negative line.  Immediately my mind spun with, ‘What will the doctor say next?  This was the third month of Letrozole.  I thought it was working, and I was ovulating for the first time in who knows how long.  Does that mean something else is wrong with us? What other options are there?” But immediately I shut down my brain.  Go to bed and don’t worry.  The night before, when I had prayed to the Lord on my face about the pregnancy test of the next day, I had finally heard Him speak.  “Rest,” He seemed to say.  “Go to bed and rest.”  So I had. And I wanted to do so now.

Yet something pulled me back.  Did you even look at it in the light? Before I tossed the pregnancy test in the trash, disappointed but resigned, I flipped on the light.

THERE.

In the darkness, I had missed it.

It was so faint.

But it was THERE.

It existed.

A faint, light, SECOND LINE.

I….

I…

I AM PREGNANT!!!!!!!

When I called Bethany and the aunt in Iowa, they cried with me, telling me their hands were shaking, voices full of tears.

I am SO THANKFUL for God saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  You will now glorify me more by being pregnant than not.  This valley is over.”

And, as my ecstatic five-year-old remarked, “God answers prayer!! This is God’s love gift to us!” Because the due date? It’s Valentines’ Day 2017.  Yep, February 14th.

God’s love gift indeed.

I may never know God’s timing, or why He had me wait, other than knowing it was to clean house in my heart and make me more like Him.  I may also never know why He decided, like Rachel in the Bible, to “remember me” and lift His hand and bless me in this way.

But I am thankful.  SO VERY THANKFUL!!  I am thankful for the prayers, encouragement, testimonies, faithfulness, and love of all of the saints who surrounded me in this process, and I am thankful that God gave me my heart’s desire when I didn’t deserve it.  I am thankful that He showed Himself the doer of things impossible to my little girls, and answered their prayers.

I am excited to share this happy-surprise-twist ending with you, but would have shared what God taught me no matter how it ended, even if I didn’t have a single other child.

God can do anything.  But sometimes He first wants you to sit and meet Job.  ❤

 

What do Lady Gaga, Personality Types, and Rainbows Have in Common?

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The answer to my title is: They’re all in my yearly stats!

This year I saw the best traffic on this web page in all of my years of mc_guime_performing_live_to_5_thousand_peopleblogging!  I had 15, 507 views from 11,248 visitors.  All in all, I had exactly 555 comments.  🙂

People browsed the most from the United States, with Canada at second place, and United Kingdom coming in third.

Readers came from Facebook most often, with Reddit hitting a close 2000px-facebook_icon-svgsecond, and search engines being the third choice.  The most common search terms were “shocking truth about lady gaga,” “hiding” (???  Okay?) and “blonde rj.”

After reading my article, people then were most likely kgpsqbx3to click links that took them to Amazon.com (To buy my books!), or to my best friend’s page at The Simmering Mind, or to Jane Friedman’s description of the “literary novel.” Hello, Jane!  We don’t know eachother, but I hope you enjoyed the traffic!  I loved your article.  🙂

Onto my top 10 posts!  

These are the posts with the highest views in 2015!

#1 Liminal Fantasy and the Stupid Heroineposing20in20a20spider20girl20costume

This was a huge success on Reddit (Click to read the discussion), mainly due to the fact that I simply beefed on a trope of fiction that so many of us are sick of.  It was fun to write and rant all in one!

#2 In Memory of Victoria Mercy Conte

My heart is full thinking about this post making it to the #2 spot.  ❤  MyConte - 052 husband wrote this speech, and then spoke in front of a large gathering at his littlest sister’s funeral.  This was a tough year for the Conte family, and we miss our little butterfly very much.  My husband’s words are tender, compassionate, and yet hopeful – since we know she’s with the Lord.  I hope his writing continues to bless even more people.  ❤

#3 Anime Characters by Myers-Briggs Type

People love Myers-Briggs and people love anime.  This is a combination ofmami_tomoe_render_by_moeblueberry1771-d5evnl7 the two.  It took me a while to find all the pictures and correct spelling of names.  This is an ongoing project, so a link to it sits in the right-hand sidebar of this page at all times.  The majority of Redditors agreed with  my assessment of types, so I’m glad.  I wasn’t terribly happy with how WordPress sometimes insisted on formatting the pictures, but it works.

#4 All Myers-Briggs Humor Posts

I’m going to lump all of my Myers-Briggs humor posts into one place, murder_scenesince they were all in the top 10.  These do very well on Reddit, and are all similar in style.  I do them when I want a comical post in between serious posts.  Find your type!

How Each Myers-Briggs Type Responds to Finding a Spider in the Shower

How Each Myers-Briggs Type Responds to Endless Videos of Your Children on Facebook

How Each Myers-Briggs Type Would Respond to a Visit from an Alien

How Each Myers-Briggs Type Reacts to a Dead Body

 

#5 Lessons from Job on Infertility

I’m really glad I decided to share my struggles, as it took me quite some 325554_f520time of suffering with this before I felt brave enough to share.  It has been wonderfully relieving to have other people know what we’re going through, and secondary infertility is not talked about very often.  Job is a powerful, wonderful book, and I’ve been clinging to it all year.  Could use prayer, as we still don’t have any answers about why we have not been able to have more children.  😦

#6 Make Your Mami Tomoe Musket for Under $20!BeFunky_IMG_4671.jpg

Believe it or not, this hit my top 10 list!  This is for the cosplay crowd, or lovers of Puella Magi Madoka Magica.  I can’t wait to go to an anime-con and see someone who actually made this musket.  😀  Meanwhile, I’ll be bringing mine, so look for me at Sakura-Con!

#7 Somewhere Over the Rainbow?

Another post about my difficulties from this year, this one with a more general, artistic, lyrical bent.  Again, I’m glad that my excruciatingly honest posts are the ones that get the most views.  If God can use my trials for good in someone else’s life, I can sleep a little easier at night wading through the challenges.  Please pray for my family.  ❤

Rainbow Land

#8 Sakura-Con Friday Part 2!Ruby blur

This is really random that this was my #8 top viewed post.  This is simply one part of an anime convention I went to, complete with pictures of cosplayers.  Maybe someone saw themself and reshared it a bunch of times.  🙂

#9 An Open Letter to My Pregnant Sister

This one still astounds me that it’s hit the top 10 list two years in a row. beautiful-wedding-tiara This is my most-searched-for blog entry, and gets hit by people on search engines almost daily.  I still wonder if people think they’re going to find something juicy, or if there are just a lot of pregnant sisters out there.  🙂 I was able to revamp this devotional a bit and use it in another baby shower this year.  🙂

And lastly…

#10 I’ve Never Told My Kids to “Bow Your Head and Close Your Eyes”

WOOHOO!  So glad this recent post made it on the list of top entries of child_prayer3_679979819the year!  Let’s continue to challenge ourselves spiritually, parents, and fight unbiblical and extrabiblical dogmas!  Let’s fight hypocrisy and be Christians under grace in our parenting.  If you haven’t given this a read, I hope you will do so and leave your thoughts!

Thank you, readers, for making this the best year of blogging ever!  Can’t wait to bring you Heartsick, and The Hotline Girl and 12th Girl (from a new publisher!) – and hopefully good news on a couple fronts – this next upcoming year.  Regardless, God is God and He is good and takes care of me, as evidenced by the fact that I haven’t stopped fighting the good fight, and I have your abundant friendship.  I am so grateful for all of you!  God bless your 2016!!!

 

 

Somewhere Over the Rainbow?

This has been a difficult time.

Most of the trials that came barreling through our door recently are not things I can even talk about.  My husband and I are okay, maritally and spiritually (Praise the Lord), but our trials were just not of that nature at this time.  Instead, they constituted catch my breath, feel the sorrow down in my toes, I-can’t-imagine-how-I’m-supposed-to-get-out-of-bed-tomorrow hardships.

Somewhere over the rainbow way up high…

There was some good stress too, like writing, self-publishing, and promoting two new books.  But it was still stressful, especially trying not to ditch all of my responsibilities and family to get it done.  Tears were also shed in that difficult and lengthy process.

There’s a land that I’ve heard of, once in a lullaby…

So I said, “Slow down!  Lord, You need to just give us a break now!  We’re not scheduling anything with anyone for a while, or doing anything but sleeping in, and going to parks, and cleaning my house, and cleaning my SOUL.”

My bottle of tears doubled in this last year, I can tell you that.

Somewhere over the rainbow skies are blue. And the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true…

But, right in the midst of my “well-deserved time of trial-free living,” we lost my husband’s beautiful little sister.

And, as the tears flowed, and as we raced to California to be there and weep with his family, I gasped at God, “How can you do this?  How can you take away someone else we love?  How can you devastate our family like this?  How can you cause more pain?”

Someday I’ll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me…

When my youngest daughter threw up just days before Victoria’s Memorial service – we all came down with stomach flu later –  and as I pulled dirty sheets off of my mother-in-law’s bed with quaking hands, I couldn’t hold back my tearful anger.  “You call Yourself a God of peace?” I shouted in my head.  “Where is it?  You say You give it when we ask!  You say you give peace and rest and comfort.  You are keeping it from me!

Where troubles melt like lemon drops…

My anger startled me.  Like a waving pompom in the hand of a hyperactive cheerleader, anger is always a glaring sign to me to stop and pay attention.  It is not easily ignored.  It means something is wrong.

Evaluating myself, however, I could not find the cause.  I was still pursuing and seeking God’s face.  I was spending my normal amount of time in prayer and Bible reading.  I was trying to be obedient to what He wanted me to do in the midst of these trials.  I was asking Him to keep His promises.  Right?

Away above the chimney tops, that’s where you’ll find me…

It wasn’t until I sang the words of Elizabeth Prentiss’ hymn, along with the hundred and fifty people who came to my dear little sister-in-law’s memorial service, that I realized my idol.

Once earthly joy I craved, sought peace and rest;
Now thee alone I seek, give what is best.
This all my prayer shall be: More love, O Christ, to thee;
More love to thee, more love to thee!

Had Ms. Prentiss written these words to me?  Somehow, in the midst of seeking the Lord, falling on my face before him as I lay beaten from heartache and testing this year, I had stopped grabbing His feet for security, and was manhandling the gifts behind His throne instead.

Somewhere over the rainbow bluebirds fly. Birds fly over the rainbow. Why then, oh, why can’t I?

God does give peace and rest.  But I was seeking and idolizing and worshiping those gifts.  Not Christ.

I was ready to tell the Sovereign Lord of the universe that He had taken enough people, planned enough grief, and allowed enough pain for this year.  That I was going to fight against Him to make sure the entire extended Conte family got a break.  That I would fight for this peace that was my right as a human being.

In my head somewhere, I had a land beyond the rainbow waiting for my family and me.  My mother-in-law who had suffered enough, my own parents, myself, my kids, and my spouse.  That there was a Rainbow Land where clouds stayed away.  We used to have a “great life” before, and we would achieve it again – by golly!  Nothing was going to stop us from tapping our sparkly red shoes together and attaining it.  And God?  Why weren’t you delivering on that Rainbow Land about now?

If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow why, oh, why can’t I?

In “More Love to Thee,” I realized that the striving was not for peace.  That was an earthly joy.  It wasn’t of God.  The striving was for Him alone.  To love Him more.  To know Him more.

This is life!

There isn’t a Rainbow Land.  Not for me any more.  Some of these trials are here to stay.  We will never have Victoria back, and maybe not the other people I’ve lost spiritually and emotionally this year.  This is life.

And, for some people, Life means a new death a week from starvation.

For some people, Life means Ebola or MERS.

For some people, Life means imprisonment for having a Bible.

For some people, Life means rejection, by everyone in their family, because they are a Christian.

For some people, high-stress never ends.

Do they sit there going, “Going to be mad at God for right now, and going to do nothing but fight for my right to have a peaceful life.  Waiting for my Rainbow Land.  Until I get it, I’m going to be angry”?  Do they lie down and grow a layer of spiritual dust?  Does it mean they live without ever experiencing joy?

I think that peace is a brain thing now, not a circumstance thing. 

I think God can give peace even if you live in dusty Kansas and never see a rainbow.  That it can be something born of a truly sweet relationship with His Person, regardless of the twister blowing around you.

But I’m going to take this a step further.  I’m not going to seek Him, ultimately hoping for peace in the process.  I’m not going to seek Him and expect that He’s going to give me even a month free from pain.  I’m not going to seek Him expecting He’ll go, *ding ding ding*  “RJ is the winner of a free six-week trip to Rainbow Land!  One golden ticket coming your way!”

I’m not going to worry about tomorrow, and what troubles it might bring.  I’m going to expect Life.  I’m going to expect Kansas. I’m going to muster up some real bravery, and tell God I actually don’t need a break, or a rest, or peace from pain – because I have Him.  *gulp*  And He’s enough.  Even when He feels far away or hard to reach.  Even when I still get angry and have little screaming fits in my head.  I refuse to bow down in front of a present He may not actually want to give me right now.  Why would I worship a gift-wrapped box that might not even have my name on the tag?

In Christ alone, my hope is found.  He is my light, my strength, my song.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

Feel free to save this meme off to your desktop, as it’s copyright free.  I created it to show our support for our dusty “Kansas lives” that are complete in Christ!

Rainbow Land

In Memory of Victoria Mercy Conte

This week we buried my husband’s nineteen-year-old youngest sister.  Her death was a surprise and a great loss to all of us.  This week’s post is guest written by my husband, Brad, sharing the story of his sister’s life.  When I heard his quaking voice read this last Saturday, during her memorial, I was very touched – and I hope I will never complain again. 

This is perspective.  

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My sister, Victoria, was the youngest of four children born to Sue and Richard Conte. Today we lay her to rest at the age of 19, after a heart-attack claimed her life a week ago. I’d like to share a window into her life and some of the lessons I’ve learned from it.

We tend take our body’s abilities for granted. Most of us can do whatever we want whenever we want with few limitations. It’s not until we break a bone or perhaps sprain a joint that we’re reminded how much our bodies do for us and how much of both our mundane and special activities rely on being able to use our body to our will.

But Victoria lived a life that was very shaped by limitations. She never had the physical gifts that most of us enjoy. Her first three months as a baby were very standard, but at that young age of just three months she started to experience seizures. The seizures were frequent and sporadic. Some days she had a couple, some days she had a couple hundred. Some of them were minor and only involved a roll of her eyes, others convulsed her entire body. The day the seizures began, her life changed.

Her physical and mental abilities developed very little after the seizures started, leaving her effectively frozen as a 3-month old in many areas of life. She never developed fine motor control, so she always made large sweeping movements with her arms to hit the buttons on her electronic light-up toys. She never developed speech or the ability to walk. She never even developed the ability to chew or swallow her own food, and so she got her nutrients via a feeding tube connected straight to her stomach.

Many of her obvious physical difficulties, like those, fell under the diagnoses of severe cerebral palsy. Another of her diagnoses was cortical blindness, meaning that while her eyes had vision her brain didn’t process all the information from the eyes, leaving her effectively blind in some ways.

The seizures never stopped, nor came under control. She saw many doctors and specialists. My mom met with everyone who was someone. But while some medications offered a little help regulating the seizures, they couldn’t be stopped. At one point she even had an experimental device implanted near her heart to try and neutralize seizures when they happened, but it was ineffective and eventually removed.

Her immune system was weak as well, and her health was always in a fragile balance. A simple cold had a good chance of developing into pneumonia. She was very susceptible to environmental allergies and spent most of her time later in life in rooms with constant air filtration. She had a large host of prescription medications that provided bodily regulation that she didn’t naturally have. She always had nurses who would come in and care for her to allow my mom to tend to other aspects of life.

Caring for Victoria was a full-time job and the whole family contributed. My mom by far did the vast majority of the work, but even we kids had some minor responsibilities. My dad did a lot of babysitting to give my mom some breaks, both psychologically and physically. We kids helped dress her when she was young. We would help her with her standing exercises: She had standing apparatus that provided balance so that she could stand on her own legs for about a half hour per day. One of us was often tasked with putting her onto it and keeping an eye on her until it was time to take her back off.

Protecting her immune system was everyone’s responsibility. We constantly washed our hands on entering the house and avoided sick friends so as to not bring home anything that could spread to Victoria. Each of our friends was, at some point, told that we’d have to cancel a get-together because someone in their family was sick, even if it was just a cold. To most people a common cold wasn’t a big deal, but while a cold was an inconvenience for us it was life-threatening for her.

But the relationships weren’t one-sided. She might have been able to recognize us, and she could convey excitement. She was visibly happy to receive new toys on a birthday or at Christmas, and sometimes she lit up when one of us walked into the room. When she was little enough to do so, she enjoyed rolling off of her changing table and being caught in our arms. In all, she was very sweet.

We loved our sister. We kids would make “welcome home” cards to greet her from her many trips to the hospital. We routinely changed batteries in her toys. We picked up her stuffed animals when she knocked them down and put them back on her chair. We would try to comfort her during seizures. When the kids would give gifts, like on Christmas or Mother’s Day, one of us, usually one of her sisters, Gracie or Hope, would see to it that there was one from Victoria.

Her most common toys were simple ones that lit up and made sound when a button was pressed. I once used my LEGO robotics kit to rig something together that would light up and play music when she hit a large button.

One of her pastimes was watching animated TV shows. Her favorite one was definitely Veggie Tales. Something about the animation style just clicked with her and it could sometimes keep her attention for hours. For those who’ve seen the show, Bob, Larry, and Junior had a big presence in her life.

It was very challenging to see my sister endure these things, and I can only imagine it was more so for my mom. So much pain, so much frustration, so much difficulty.

But God is faithful, so we knew God had not forgotten her. We knew He had a plan for her. Watching her life was like watching a butterfly’s cocoon: It isn’t the final result. It isn’t the finished product. God had not neglected her, but was building something with her.

While her life may have been characterized by difficulty, very notably her life was also not characterized by complaining. She experienced a lot of discomfort, frustration, and pain, but she expressed very little of it. In fact, I found the times that she did express it discomforting. On the rare occasion she would express pain, I shuddered inside thinking that if she hadn’t complained about all she normally went through, what was she going through then?

Just earlier this week I had a cold and I lost my voice for a couple days. I complained. It was hard to since I had no voice, but I still found a way to. I wish I hadn’t.

I wish I was as patient as she was. I know that I complain far more than she did.

And I will be honest: I have asked myself an ageless question countless times, “Why her?” Or rather, “Why not me?” Why did she have hard time moving her limbs while I was able to play with a LEGO robotics kit? What did I do to deserve that?

The answer, of course, is nothing. I don’t understand God’s sovereignty, and neither is He under any obligation to explain it to me.

But I have learned how much I have to be grateful for. How much God has blessed me. And how many things are so easily taken for granted.

God showed Himself to Victoria and the rest of us through our mom. To care for Victoria’s needs, my mom laid down her life and devoted it to her daughter. She put tremendous effort into learning Victoria’s specific needs and ensuring they were met. She learned more about medicine than I think she would have ever anticipated she would need to. She met with many doctors and specialists to examine and learn Victoria’s condition. She worked tirelessly without complaining for Victoria’s benefit.

She trained the nurses who came into the home to help with the work. To give a glimpse into the complexity of Victoria’s situation, nurses would typically need a couple months of weekly training before they could be left with Victoria unsupervised for a few hours. Few nurses were ever comfortable taking a multi-day shift, meaning that my mom’s travel was usually restricted to where ever she could go and return to within 8 hours. To spend a day or two out of the home was a treat that she rarely enjoyed.

I cannot over-emphasise how much effort and love my mother devoted to Victoria. And I find it mind-blowing that God’s love is greater than that.

The night of Victoria’s passing, the last thing my mom said to her was this prayer:

May the Lord bless you and keep you and may the Lord make His face shine upon you. May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)

And the Lord has given her peace.

Today we remember Victoria as a sister and daughter. It’s a hard time, and we don’t know why God took her so young, but we learned from her and God used her in many people’s lives. And in our sadness, we have reassurance in this: God made her special and He loves her very much.

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His Bottles of Tears

Psalm 56:8

“Please! Don’t hang up on me! I want you to come home!”

My cry echoed hollowly as the dial tone stung my ear. Dropping the receiver, the burning hit my eyes with a hellish fervor. They stung until the saltwater tears poured out to douse the fire behind my vision.

She wasn’t coming home. My beautiful, lovely, one and only teenage daughter. Lost to me, she refused to leave the sin and return. Repenting and begging for forgiveness wasn’t on her rebellious bucket list.

Was this the fifth time I wept today? The constant falling of life-water onto my face did nothing to assuage my heart. Like a bandage that would not stick, the tears failed me, but still, they would not cease.

Drained with grief, I stumbled back into the room where my husband lay sleeping, and crawled under the heavy quilt. Wrapping myself securely, I crouched near his warm body, trembling with the shivering sobs. Chill seeped in through the sheets. Would I ever be able to set a firm chin of resignation to this issue of my precious baby daughter?

Within seconds of forcing my eyelids to clamp a lid on the sorrowful leaking from behind my eyes, I found myself opening them once again inside a bright white room. Jars and bottles of all shapes and sizes stood shoulder to shoulder like ardent glass soldiers in strict formation. They occupied every inch of hundreds of rows of shelves affixed to the wall, and they held transparent, sparkling liquid up to their brims. The room was radiant, unseen lights reflecting off of the white walls and the crystal clear bottles.

I did not hear Him arrive, but there He stood beside me. He stretched out His hand to me, his robe as pristine as the room, the white soft on my swollen eyes.

“Where are we, Lord?” I worried. Had my heart finally cracked beyond repair and given up the fight? Was this Glory? Then why did I still feel so heavily unhappy? What was this absence of peace, even as I stood in Jesus’ presence?

“These are my treasures,” He said softly, His voice soothing my ears like feathers against the cheek. “Each of these hold the tears of my children.”

With a gasp, I surveyed the room again, staring at the precious life-water of my brothers and sisters. Some jars were larger than milk jugs, holding gallons of sorrow in their bellies. They could only represent numerous days and nights of ripped hearts and tortured souls.

Thinking of my own impossible battle with my daughter, of the messy breakup that had destroyed my college years, and of the miscarriage I once faced as a newlywed, I suspected my own bottle was fairly immense.

Turning doe eyes to my Lord, I enquired, “Where is mine?”

With a strong finger, He pointed to the corner shelf, second from the bottom.

There sat a miniature vase, its thin neck holding no more than a pint of the clear salty tears I had donated over the years. I stared in disbelief. “Are you sure you didn’t miss any, Lord?”

“I miss nothing.” There was a sweet smile on Jesus’ lips.

In an instant, I forgot about my own miniscule bottle, and straightened up, gazing about the room again in horror. Striding purposefully over to a vessel the size of a small aquarium, I tapped its face with my fingernail. “What happened to him?” I demanded, dread filling the gaps between my lungs and ribcage.

Jesus’ eyes melted with a wise sadness that was married to joy and hope, a look of which my own timid faith could not mimic if I tried. The corners of my eyes were far too wrinkled with doubt to attempt it. “His entire village was murdered at the hands of radical militants. They burned down his church, leaving him crippled. His whole family was killed, and his wife died in his arms.”

With a gasp of pain, my hand reached for the great big jug of tears, and brushed back and forth against the glass as if I could wipe them away forever. I felt useless and helpless and my own sorrows fled. “Why?” I whispered, eyes shut.

“He travels to all of the surrounding nations, giving his testimony and leading many to Me. He is writing a book that will bring thousands to Me. His entire church and family rest in my Father’s bosom in heaven awaiting his coming to join them for eternity.”

I stepped a few paces to the right and found another. Large, intimidating, and sloshing with fresh tears. “And her?”

“She was sexually abused by her father for ten years. It began at the age of four and didn’t end until she ran away with her mother as a teenager, living on the streets and eating out of trashcans.”

“And…?” I waited, my heart racing in agony.

Jesus took my hand. “And she has started a nationwide ministry that provides shelter and education for abused women and their children. Every day she frees hundreds of lives.”

Encouraged and emboldened, I found yet another giant bottle, the tears of which were almost overflowing.

“She has multiple sclerosis and hurts every single day. Her husband left her, her family has all abandoned her, and she is completely alone, trapped in her own failing body.”

I knew what to expect this time. Jesus would tell me why. There was a happy ending to this story too.

“She came to know Me. She loves Me better,” He said simply.

“No extravagant ministry or worldwide fame?” I asked, hesitating.

“No one knows her name,” Jesus replied. “But it is enough that it brings her soul daily into my arms.”

I pointed to my own tiny vase once more. “Why have I not suffered like these? Why have I been spared so much mourning? Why have you given me an easy life in comparison?”

“Because, My dear child, it would not have glorified Me or been for your best to give you more. What you have now is good for you. You bring honor to Me in your responses, and I see and hold your fewer tears just as close to my heart. They are precious jewels in my sight, and more valuable to me than gold. You have been a good and faithful servant with what I have allowed you.”

All of me resonated with His words, as they spun through my head and radiated out my fingertips and my toes. My body felt light, and the peace I longed for coated my limbs. All I could control in that moment was my knees, which dropped to a deep kneel at His feet.

He moved away from me, reaching for my own vase. In His other scarred palm, He held a new, slightly larger bottle. With deft hands, He poured my tears into this bigger vessel, discarding the old.

In an instant, the supernatural peace fled from my immature, unstable mind. His words disappeared, my flimsy brain forgetting them. All I could see was the greater bottle, glaring at me with its smooth surface. My tears only occupied two thirds of its inside, ominously prophesying of weeping that was to come.

“What are you doing?” I demanded, rising to my feet, my hands clenched. “Are you implying I will be crying so much more soon? I thought it wasn’t for my good! I thought I was good enough now!” My spirit cried out silently that my words were vain and foolish, and not fit to be spoken in front of my King, but I did not heed this warning. I was consumed with unreasonable fear.

His kind face remained unchanged. With the same look of compassion, He took my hands in His once more. “My daughter, there is no inherent goodness within yourself. And did you forget so quickly what I did in the lives of My other children? Do you still not trust Me?”

Biting my lip, I shushed my mouth and hung my head. “Help me!” I murmured. “Because it is so very hard. It should not be, but yet it is!”

The doorbell roused me from sleep and I was once again huddled against the strong back of my husband, our familiar bedroom walls alerting me that it had been a dream. The incessant chiming cried to be noticed. Who could it be so early? The sun had only just begun to apply blush to the cheeks of the sky. I pulled on the knob and swung open the heavy front door.

There she stood. My lovely, broken, weeping daughter. Her cheeks were pale, her makeup smudged. But her lowered, shamed eyes were clear. She lifted them to me and fell into my outstretched arms. “Mama, I’m home!”

Again, the saltwater cleansed my cheeks. These were the new tears of which He had hinted. Tears I had been afraid to meet. I knew they would flow for hours.

Tears of joy.