She works with willing hands.

Diagnosed With Multiple Sclerosis

Well folks, October 2016 has officially been one of the hardest months of my life. As I recently shared with you, I was suddenly and unexpectedly diagnosed with myelitis and spent several days in the hospital at the beginning of this month. At the peak of the myelitis, I could not feel my body from my clavicles down (with the exception of my left arm and hand, which, for unknown reasons, never got very numb). Since that time, I have experienced dramatic physical improvement in certain areas of my body, while other areas remain numb and/or tingly. Specifically, my right hand remains profoundly numb. However, all of my motor functioning remains intact, and I can again feel my feet, legs, pelvis, and abdomen.

On Thursday, October 20th, I visited a specialist at Penn Neurology, and he assigned to me the diagnosis that I so desperately feared – Multiple Sclerosis, or MS. The type of MS that I have is called relapsing remitting, meaning that exacerbations of the disease, or relapses, come and go. If you are curious, you can read more about the disease here.

Even before I was diagnosed on the 20th, I started taking Vitamin D and fish oil, and I reluctantly began modifying my diet, largely cutting out sugar, dairy, gluten, and a host of other potentially inflammatory foods. I am currently following a modified paleo diet, and I am learning as I go. In fact, Saturday night I prepared my first paleo meal from scratch, start to finish. Because I delight in food and all things related to the table, changing my way of eating and cooking is a huge lifestyle change in and of itself. I hope to share my new recipes and techniques with you in the coming months. For now, however, I am learning…slowly but surely.

But beyond the diet changes, physical symptoms, doctor visits, future MRIs, and the MS drug that I will now inject myself with three times a week, the events of this month have left me emotionally shaken, and mentally overwhelmed. And in some ways, I am grieving.

I am grieving the life that I thought I had.

I have no medical history of which to speak. I have always been healthy, and with the exception of overscheduling my way into periods of physical exhaustion, I have taken care of my body. I teach exercise classes and I eat whole foods. I wasn’t supposed to end up with a chronic disease, for which there is no known cure.

But here I am. MS is my new reality, and I don’t understand why.

However, during this awful October, I have experienced God’s love in powerful and tangible ways – ways that I’ve never experienced before – ways that I will share with you in the days and weeks to come. I desire to share my experiences with you because even in the midst of my suffering, I know that God is good. He is sovereign over all things, including my MS diagnosis, and I trust Him. I may not understand His plans for me, but He is my strength, and my hope is in Him.

isaiah-40

Photography by Lindsey Calabretta Clark.

What I’m Digging Right Now

TGIF, y’all. I’m tired as all get out after serving as a preschool bible camp counselor this week. I got to know a bunch of precious smalls (there were seven five-year-olds in my group), and we played, learned about God’s creation, sang songs, ate snacks, heard Bible stories, and made cool art. I majorly love teaching little ones about Jesus, and this week was loads of giggles. But now I feel like I could sleep for days.

FOR DAYS, y’all.

But before I snuggle into my pillow, I thought I’d share with you a few things that I’m digging right now. Here’s what I’m reading, wearing, eating, drinking, watching, and where I’m going.

Reading:

glimpses

I just ordered it today and I cannot wait to crease its pages.

Wearing:

athleta

I want to wear Athleta’s Stripe Swagger Skort every day. Not too short, and not too long, this adorable sport skort takes me from play dates, to errands, to t-ball games, and then to my exercise class. It’s comfortable and flattering, and I want one in every color.

Eating:

pimiento cheese

I’m majorly craving my Basic Pimiento Cheese, so I’m making some this weekend.

Drinking:

cucumber sangria

My dear pal Amy made this cucumber sangria for June’s supper club, and I can’t get its taste out of my head. The recipe (by Better Homes and Gardens) is refreshing, light, and oh so drinkable. A pitcher of this tasty-ness will accompany my pimiento cheese.

Watching:

southern charm

Jersey Boy and I cuddled up to watch the season finale of Southern Charm this week, and let’s just say it was explosive (the show, not Jersey Boy and I).

Go ahead and judge.

Going:

finding dory

Our family is headed to the theater tonight to see finding Dory, and we’re all pretty pumped!

What are you digging right now?

Fifty-One Things To Do This Summer

It’s upon us, folks. Summer is here, and I’m already basking in its glory. My typically pasty complexion has turned a pleasant shade of pinkish-beige, and I smell like chlorine and sweat. It’s marvelous.

The kids and I enthusiastically dove headfirst into our summer routine, and with only nine days of summer behind us, we’ve already crossed numbers one through twenty-five off the list below. How will you be spending the summer? Please add to my list!

1. Pick strawberries.

littles in strawberry patch

2. Make Strawberry Cobbler.

3. Wade in a stream, and explore it.

explore creek

(Make sure you have a cold Coke on hand in case you get parched.)

coke

Pick up the creatures you find tucked amongst the mossy rocks.

turtle

Don’t worry about getting wet and dirty.

4. Go swimming, as often as possible.

5. Grow a garden.

garden

Or just herbs in a pot. (That’s spearmint.)

mint

6. Forage for wild berries (but confirm that they’re edible before you eat them).

7. Swing on a tire swing. Don’t be scared.

tire swing

8. Plant flowers.

9. Create an outdoor space that you love. Spend time there.

outdoor space

10. Go to the beach.

11. Ride an amusement park ride that scares you. Don’t be ashamed of screaming. Loudly.

12. Find a new favorite ice cream, sampling many flavors in the process. This lavender & cream from Chester Springs Creamery at Milky Way Farm is to.die.for.

lavender and cream

13. Go to a family movie night at a church or park. Sit on a blanket with your kids.

14. Run through the sprinkler. (Yes, even as an adult.)

15. Visit a farm.

farm

16. Have a water balloon fight.

17. Watch Mary Poppins. It’s still a magical movie.

18. “Camp out” in your basement.

basement campout

19. Eat popsicles.

pops

20. Invite someone over for an impromptu meal, even though your house is messy.

21. Eat hotdogs.

22. And hamburgers.

23. And lots of salad. (It counterbalances the last two.)

24. Drink an abundance of My Perfect Sweet Tea Y’all.

final tea

25. Visit a public garden with your children. Let them roam and explore. We love Chanticleer.

26. Intentionally limit screen time. The world awaits.

27. Camp outside in a tent. (The backyard is fine!)

28. Roast s’mores.

29. Go to the library and let your children pick their own books. (I usually limit my kids to five books each.)

30. Write a list of the books you’ve checked out so that you can find them later.

31. Go to a parade.

32. Let your kids stay up late and see the fireworks.

33. Fly a kite.

34. Make ice cream. This recipe is divine.

strawberry basil ice cream final

35. Have a picnic.

36. Locate all of the playgrounds within a thirty minute drive of your house. Visit as many as possible.

37. Go to a splash pad. We like Bell Tavern in Downingtown.

38. On rainy days, go to Get Air or Sky Zone. Sky Zone in Oaks has a toddler time every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 9:30 – 11:00 a.m.

39. Or bring your littles to Chatter Splatter.

40. Go to church every Sunday. It’s good for your soul.

41. Go to church when you’re on vacation. We always visit local churches during our travels, and it’s often a highlight of our trip.

42. Make Homemade Pesto.

bowl of pesto

43. Go on some day trips. (We take day trips to OCNJ throughout the summer.)

44. Find a park where your littles can safely ride their bikes without you being right at their side. (I’m seriously on the lookout for a park like this. The closest I’ve found is the loop at South Ardmore Park. Any other suggestions?)

45. Catch fireflies.

46. Go hiking.

47. Invite your neighbors over for dinner (or even just dessert)!

48. Play board games.

49. Make my Caprese Salad for Little Mouths.

seasoned salad

50. Wear your sunscreen, but try not to worry to much about its chemical content.

51. Have fun!

What I’m Reading Right Now

It’s March and the weather is playing games with us.  We’ve had a few incredibly warm days that left us anxious for sun-kissed skin and “all things hot” (in the words of our favorite snowman).  But the past several days have again turned windy and frigid, and I’ve found myself with a strong desire to curl up in bed, fluffy white dog at my side, and read.  And per usual, I have several books going at once.  Here’s what I’m reading right now:

1.  The Songs of Jesus – A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms by Timothy Keller with Kathy Keller

the songs of jesus

Given to me by a sweet friend from whom I seek wise counsel, this devotional covers the entire Book of Psalms in one calendar year.  I just cracked it open, and so far I’ve read only the introduction and the devotional days related to Psalm 139 (one of my favorite passages of Scripture).

The Psalms are a book of hymns inspired by God and sung as part of public worship throughout church history.  In the words of Tim Keller (on p. vii):

All theologians and leaders of the church have believed that the Psalms should be used and reused in every Christian’s daily private approach to God and in public worship.  We are not simply to read psalms; we are to be immersed in them so that they profoundly shape how we relate to God.  The psalms are the divinely ordained way to learn devotion to our God.

I plan to do one devotional per day, on the corresponding calendar date in the book.  (So I’ll start tomorrow with March 22nd instead starting at January 1).  Anyone want to join me?

2.  The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

rosaria butterfield

Speaking of the Psalms, Rosaria Butterfield makes a compelling argument for Psalm singing and the Regulative Principle of Worship in Chapter 3 of this book (which I’m tearing through at a lightening pace).

My friend Kristin recently devoured this memoir while she was on the beach in Jamaica, and she texted me from her beach chair and said, “Leah, you have to read this book.  I can’t stop.  It’s fascinating.”

Rosaria Butterfield was a tenured English professor at Syracuse University and also held a joint teaching appointment in the Center for Women’s Studies.  Her primary field was Critical Theory, and her specialty was Queer Theory, which is a postmodern approach to gay and lesbian studies.  She was in a lesbian relationship, and was an activist in the gay community.  Then one day a man named Pastor Ken Smith from the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church wrote Rosaria a letter and they thereafter established a friendship that also included Pastor Ken’s wife, Floy.  Pastor Ken and Floy introduced Rosaria to the value of studying the Bible and considering whether it might be true.  This book chronicles Rosaria’s conversion to Christianity, which she describes as a “complicated and comprehensive chaos.”

3.  Desiring God by John Piper

desiring god

I read Desiring God’s blog nearly every day, so it was appropriate for Jersey Boy to buy me this book for my recent birthday.  It is a deep, meaty read, but so worthy of your time.  In it, John Piper explains what it means to be a “Christian Hedonist” and worship God for “the pleasure to be had in Him.”  In other words, he argues that our innate drive to pursue happiness is a good longing that we should nourish, rather than rejecting it as a bad impulse.  Because “the deepest and most enduring happiness is found only in God,” and this happiness is fullest when we share it with others in love, we should pursue pleasure as an essential part of worship.  At the core, Piper argues that “[t]he chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.”

I will probably be reading and mulling over this book for months.  Only two chapters in, I already see God shifting my view of how to relate to Him.

So that’s it.  My current reading list is far from light and airy, but it is oh so good…even transformative.

Have you read any of these books?  If so, what did you think?

To The Woman Who Aborted Her Child

I know you.  I know how it is.  The news is unavoidable.  The highest court in the land is reviewing a Texas abortion law, and everyone has an opinion.  Pundits critique, protesters yell, people condemn.

But I know you.  And I know how it feels.

You are the woman who aborted her child.  You are not a hypothetical scenario, and you can no longer choose life.  You already made the opposite choice, perhaps many, many years ago.

I know it still hurts, and that you wonder what he or she would look like.  Would she have wild blonde curls like your middle child?  Would he be strong and assertive like your oldest?  Would her fingers be long and slender like her little sister’s?

I know that the pain and “what-ifs” will be with you always.  And I know that some days the grief feels as fresh as if it were yesterday.  Especially when abortion is in the news.

There is so much I want to say to you.  Because there is so much that God has said to me, in his Word, through his Scriptures.

But mostly I want to tell you – there is grace for you.  Abundant, irresistible grace, made available to you through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross.

I know that you don’t feel grace from other people.  I know that you feel judged, and confused.  While some women proudly shout their abortions on social media, and a segment of pro-life advocates condemn any woman who has aborted a child, you don’t know where your voice belongs.  Where are the women like you?  The women who aborted their children, and aren’t proud of it?  The women who stare longingly at their dining tables, knowing that there should be extra place settings there?  The women who will always wonder who their dead children would have become?

I know you because I am you.

And I must tell you that there is forgiveness, and so much grace, for you.

God freely sent his perfect, sinless son to die a wretched death and rise again so that you could be forgiven.  And his forgiveness is sweet, and redemptive.  Jesus died for abortion-committing women like you and me.  He said so in Luke 5:32, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

There is one way to know the sweet, saving grace of God, and that is by coming to Jesus.

After my abortion, I came to Jesus.  I threw myself at his feet and repented for ending the life of my child.  And because I can now call God my Father, I am forgiven, set free, and redeemed.

I know you.  And I want the same for you.  Won’t you join me?

Upcoming Speaking Engagements

As he so often does, the Lord is leading me down a path with which I am unacquainted.  I can see the road, but not the destination, and I must proceed slowly and cautiously as I veer into unfamiliar turns and proceed up precipitous inclines.

I am most comfortable behind a computer screen, my fingers furiously tapping the keyboard, for fear of not getting the thoughts out of my head quickly enough before they evaporate, and are gone forever.  Then I edit myself a lot, and feel safe pushing “publish” only after I’ve had time to thoughtfully consider my words.  Writing feels safe and comfortable – it is my happy place.

But more and more, I am being asked to speak and teach.  These are things that I can do, and have done, in the past.  As a lawyer (and former moot court member), I was trained in the art of public speaking and persuasion.  As a bible study leader and Sunday school teacher, I have taught many a biblical lesson.

But the truth is – the thought of standing in front of a large group of people who are gathered to hear me speak makes my armpits get all sweaty and my heart pound.

This is not a path that I would have chosen to take without prompting from others and the pull of the Holy Spirit.

In the face of my discomfort, I have chosen to accept several upcoming speaking engagements, and I am prayerfully reliant on the Lord to be my GPS.  I am determined to do my best, and speak honestly and clearly about the things that God has done in my life and the ways he has changed me.

My first such engagement will be at the Saturday Women’s Gathering at Church of the Saviour in Wayne, Pennsylvania on Saturday, May 7th at 9:00 a.m.  I will be speaking on the topic of Bringing Darkness Into Light – The Healing Power of Public Confession.  I hope you’ll join me if you’re anywhere in the Philadelphia region.  I’ll post registration information when it becomes available, and I’ll announce additional dates as they approach.

And if you’re so inclined, please pray for me as I depart down this speaking engagement path with an unknown destination.  I desire for my words to bring glory to God and not to me.  Please pray that I will not fear or crave man’s (or woman’s) approval, but the approval of the Almighty.

Oh, and pray that I find some strong antiperspirant.  I’m going to need it.

The Pull of Busyness

Back when I was practicing law (and before I had children), one of my female colleagues had a friend who was a stay-at-home mom.  From time to time this stay-at-home mom would exclaim to my colleague, “I’m just so busy!  I have so much going on!”

I can vividly recall standing in an office with a few other female lawyers and mocking that woman.

“What on earth is possibly making her so busy?!” we jeered, contemplating our own brutal sixty-plus hour work week.  “What is she doing?  Playing tennis and volunteering at her kid’s preschool?  She needs a reality check.”

Her claims seemed patently absurd to a group of young overworked attorneys.  But today, as I stare at my old fashioned paper planner, covered in ink scribbles marking play dates, doctor visits, soccer practices, exercise classes, science fairs, lunch dates, supper clubs, AWANA club, teaching Sunday school, leading bible study, and preschool volunteer obligations (all in this week alone), I find myself in the peculiar position of being the very woman I mocked.

Busyness has a powerful pull.  And if I’m not careful, my life will pass me by in a hyper-scheduled, distracted blur.  It doesn’t matter if it’s due to a demanding career or my life as a stay-at-home mom.  I will fill up my time.

But consider the story of the sisters Mary and Martha from Luke 10:38-42:

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village.  And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching.  But Martha was distracted with much serving.  And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  Tell her then to help me.”  But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.

This passage of Scripture contains a warning about busyness.  Martha was busy.  And the things she was busy doing were good things.  She was “distracted with much serving,” attending to the needs of the people visiting her home.

When I was a young lawyer, I had a good job doing sophisticated work.  And now as a stay-at-home mom, it’s good things like volunteering and teaching that keep me busy.  But what is the cost of my busyness?

For Martha, the cost was missing the opportunity to sit at the very feet of Jesus and learn from his teaching.  God in flesh was in her living room and she was too distracted preparing the antipasta tray to be bothered.  In fact, she complained to Jesus that Mary wasn’t busy along with her!

But how often am I like Martha?  How often do I deceive myself – believing I am serving others, when in fact I am so often serving myself through my own prideful works?  How often am I distracted by my own busyness when Jesus wants me to choose the good portion.  Yes, God wants me to serve – but he wants me to serve him – by being transfixed by Christ.

Father God,

I want to choose the good portion.  Please help me stop when you want me to stop, rest when you want me to rest, and sit at your feet daily, immersed in your Word, submitting my heart to your will.  I don’t want my life to pass me by in a hyper-scheduled blur.  Please give me a listening, worshipful spirit.  Please help me resist the pull of busyness.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen

When Worry Creeps In…

I am a worrier.  I’ve always been this way.

I can remember being a child and remaining awake late into the night, snug in my bed – just worrying.

At times in the past, I’ve even mistaken worry as my friend – a constant, familiar companion.  I’ve sought comfort in turning a thought over and over again in my head – the same way a thumb works a worry stone.

But as an adult I’ve come to see worry for what it is…

A burden.

A joy thief.

An enemy.

No friend of mine.

As a parent charged with raising three little ones, an ocean of perils and matters over which to worry stretches before me, deep and wide.  And at times, the tide threatens to pull me in.  Worry laps at my toes, and I feel as if I’m in an often-present battle to avoid drowning.  But I know that the maker of the sea doesn’t want me to worry.  He tells me so in Philippians 4:6-7:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

In this passage, the Apostle Paul commands the opposite of worry – he tells me to have peace.  But he is not referring to a peace that I can muster by myself.  No matter how many coping mechanisms I learn and no matter how many insightful devotionals I read, the peace spoken of here does not come from my own knowledge or efforts, for this is the very peace of God.

And how do I find this remarkable peace?  How do I remain immovable and firm, resolutely avoiding not just the tide, but weathering even the force of a storm?  How do I cling to the shore like a craggy rock that has been beaten for centuries but remains steadfast?  How do I shun worry, and treat it not as a friend, but as the enemy it is?

By praying to God.

With a heart of thanks for the things that God has already done for me, I am commanded to make my requests known to God.  Because he wants to help me.  He wants to give me his amazing peace that is so complete that I’m unable to fully comprehend it.

So when I am fearful, and worry creeps in like a joy thief in the night, I pray to the Lord.  I tell him my fears, hand him my worry, and thank him for sending Jesus to die on a cross for me.  This is a pattern I will repeat for the rest of my life, because I can’t do it on my own.

Thank you, Father God, for Jesus.  Thank you for saving me and for giving me your peace, which surpasses human understanding.  Thank you for helping me see that worry is no friend of mine.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen.

I can be whatever the he** I want to be?

whatever i want to be

I was scrolling through Facebook yesterday when I came upon the following post:

Listen to me: I am a clinically depressed MOTIVATIONAL speaker.  So you can be whatever the hell you want to be.  Just raise your hand and say: I AM THIS THING.  The world will BELIEVE YOU.

It was written by Glennon Doyle Melton, the gal behind Momastery.  Admittedly, I am not entirely familiar with her writings, but I liked her Facebook page out of curiosity because she’s sort of a big deal.  She boasts 466,967 (and counting!) Facebook followers and she is a New York Times bestselling author.  The “press” page on her website reads like any writer’s dream, and she is the founder of a non-profit that assists struggling women.

That all sounds pretty rad, and I’m certainly not going to bash this lady.  I think it’s a big deal that she transparently discloses suffering from clinical depression, which certainly encourages other women struggling in the same way.

I can get behind transparency for the purpose of encouraging others.  I like that.  A lot.

But here’s the part that’s missing from her “motivational” post:

God.

Scripture tells us that God is sovereign over all things.  Isaiah 46:8-11 says,

Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,” calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country.  I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it.

This passage means that God – and God alone – plans and intends all things for his purposes.  This includes both natural and human events, all of which were intended by God long before they ever occurred.  In other words, God designs and rules over all things.

This is difficult teaching to hear, and even harder to digest.  We want to be masters of our own universe, and authors of our own stories.  We believe strongly in human autonomy and we certainly don’t like being confined by a supreme power over which we have no control.  We instead believe in the power of our own free will and think it to be self-determining.  If we just work hard enough, muster enough faith, think enough “positive thoughts” and possess good self-esteem, we can be anything.  Right?

Just like everyone else, I have aspirations, hopes and private desires for the course of my life.  There are things that I want to do, and people who I want to be.  But I know that all of those longings and goals are subject to the authority of my maker, and I pray fervently for a heart that submits my own desires to his will.

So yes, Glennon over at Momastery is a New York Times bestselling author, an acclaimed blogger, a motivational speaker and the founder of a major non-profit helping women.  And those are fantastic things.  But she is those things because God destined it to be so.

Not because she raised her hand and claimed it.

More Scary Mommy

Scary Mommy

Well, last week was cray-cray.  (Did I instantaneously age myself by using that phrase?)  Being published by Scary Mommy was thrilling and a little, well, scary.  (Let’s just say that some of the mommies over there are frightening…appropriately so, I suppose.)  As I’m learning, thick skin is required when you write for an audience of any size.  Most of the comments I received were lovely and supportive, but there are always the feisty ones in the bunch…makes things interesting, I suppose.

And I think the boss-ladies over at Scary Mommy like my writing, because they’re publishing me again!  (And yes, I’m still freaking out and I’m just as excited as the first time.)  My next Scary Mommy piece is pretty personal, and to be honest I’m a bit nervous about it.  But I strive to be a truth-teller – both the pretty and the ugly – and it’s a piece of my truth.

Thank you for reading, and for all of your encouragement.  Your supportive words embolden me and warm my heart.  This whole writing and blogging experience is a crazy, electrifying ride, and I’m loving it.

Even when it feels scary.