I’m late for Lent.
We forgot about those letters we penned to each other on a marriage retreat.
A whole year ago.
But here they were, two envelopes in our mailbox, our own scrawl written on the front.
Our brains did not compute. What were these? (we are getting a little older, mind you)
“Oh my goodness.” I chuckled to my husband, remembering vaguely what they might be. “These are the love letters we drafted at the end of that great weekend together.”
Both of us just stared at the white rectangles, postmarks scrawled at the top and bottom.
Normally, I would have ripped mine open. But this time, not so much.
Instead, my heart skipped a beat and my nerves came out to play.
Same with my usually very calm-cool-and-collected husband.
What had we written to each other when the new life stage in front of us was brimming with possibility and hope, a year later, our lives on a seemingly never-ending hold?
What promises had we made to each other that we did not keep?
What goals had we set that we hadn’t even taken a step toward?
What vows to change did we share that might have been broken?
What words were inside, threatening to mock us?
Making some kind of off-hand excuses to each other, I took those two holders of secret messages and tucked them into my “inbox,” out of the way of our curious minds. We were not ready.
We set aside a special time when we would open them together with quick promises not to judge the other.
A few days later, having donned our emotional armor, we apprehensively pulled out the small sheets with words scribbled all over them.
Silence. A long one.
“I love you(s).”
A long, long embrace.
Relief washed over us.
We hadn’t made empty promises.
We hadn’t barked a bunch of goals.
We hadn’t asked for the other to change in “no uncertain terms.”
What we HAD done was gently remind each other all the reasons we loved each other. STILL.
We HAD called out the beauty we saw in the other. STILL.
We HAD thanked each other for our so-far marriage adventure. STILL.
We HAD stated the simple words, “I love you.” STILL.
We HAD written that we were so excited to venture ahead into the unknown future together. STILL.
The words were pure grace. Just what we needed.
Today, I am officiating a wedding over Zoom, standing by our fireplace, with this man I love right by my side.
We are all gussied up for the first time in forever.
Another couple is just starting their very own marriage adventure.
Promises will be made.
Kisses will be given.
Words of love will be exchanged.
They don’t know what lies before them. JUST LIKE US.
They see beauty in each other. JUST LIKE US.
They are heading into an unknown future. JUST LIKE US.
They are grateful for the other. JUST LIKE US.
They are excited too. JUST LIKE US.
They are doing it together. JUST LIKE US.
I’ve asked this cute couple to write a letter to each other that I will send them a year from now.
Maybe we will write another one today that we will “send” to our future selves.
Maybe won’t be nervous wrecks when they appear in the big green box at the end of our driveway.
Maybe we will rip them open right away, devouring the grace we will need once again.
And again and again and again.
Nine years ago, I was a mom of a 19 year old, an 18 year old, a 15 year old and a 12 year old.
My husband commuted to a job 90 minutes away.
I was in the middle of some of the hardest and busiest times of my life.
Trapped in a mile-long to do list.
Trying to SEE God, but constantly pulled in a thousand directions, especially at 3:39 pm.
I must have read this quote somewhere.
It struck me enough that I stopped and posted it on Facebook. At 3:39 pm.
It was probably exactly what I needed at that specific time and wanted the world (or my little Facebook Friends world) to hear it.
To soak it in.
To bask in its freeing and life-giving truth.
God SEES me.
God loves me.
Right in the middle of the mayhem.
Right where I am, not where I “should” be.
Right at 3:39 pm.
He SEES me.
He loves me.
Maybe that day, I got a little glimpse that held me up when I needed it the most.
Maybe I blasted some music on my iPod, headphones tangled around my neck.
Maybe I stopped and danced around the kitchen with dirty dishes piled high in the sink.
And maybe today at 3:39 pm, I’ll need another peek at the never-ending love of God.
Maybe I will throw on some worship music.
Maybe I will dance freely around my office.
And maybe nine years from now, this will all happen again.
At 3:39 pm.
I hope it does. I sure hope it does.
There’s usually a stack of books on my beside table. Murder mysteries. Books about the sacred. Memoirs. One or two chapters at the most at the end of a long day send me to dreamland.
Books, for me, are spending a bit of time with another person, the writer. I might enjoy a completely entertaining story, hear another’s heart on a particular issue, or just walk beside someone through their life’s journey. I find connection in my jammies without any makeup on.
Fast forward to Sundays, my “take-a-break” day. I carve out at least SOME time alone, in the quiet. Self-help books shut. TV off. Phone on emergency-calls-only mode. Stop and stare out the window. Hash it all out with God. Often, something inexplicable happens way down deep, in the places I rarely venture.
It feels similar to what happens when I see a rainbow or a sunset or hear a beautiful piece of music. There is an unexplainable knowing that “all is well” despite all the swirling things in my life that are NOT. In fact, the silence actually magnifies the things that are not okay, perhaps because there is some space to explore them.
Mysteriously, as I sip my once-a-week cup of tea, watch birds flit by or the snow fall (which is happening as I write this), sorrow and joy, disruption and peace, the messy and the beautiful are able to walk side-by-side, neither one cancelling out the other.
The rest of the busy, hurried week, I fall into the trap of working hard and praying for ONLY the positive, happy, safe side of life. I keep my house organized, pay my bills on time, plant flowers and read self-help books.
Somehow, though, the negative, sad, and scary sides that are usually defined as bad by almost every voice around me, creep in no matter how hard I try to avoid them, stuff them down, or get all in a fit about them.
I’m like the Greek mythology character, Sisyphus, painstakingly rolling a huge rock up a mountain and just before I reach the top, it tumbles right back down to the bottom and I have to start all over again.
Anger. Confusion. Anxiety. Despair.
Thanks to those books on my nightstand and the authors who have “been there and done that,” I’m gently reminded that life is filled with both and believe it or not, both are necessary AND both are good.
Happiness celebrates the gifts given to us AND sadness brings honor to the loss of those gifts. Both are necessary AND both are good.
Back to that little bit of time when I stop the distractions once a week. It’s no wonder that I often find my true “all is well” place in those moments. Space to lean into the bad. A place to celebrate the good. God smack-dab in the middle of it, making breathing room for it ALL.
Text one: “Please pray. It was a horrific day!”
Text two (about two minutes later): “GOOD NEWS! My husband found a job!”
I sat there staring at my screen. The three dots kept coming in two different places.
I waited anxiously, my feelings all over the place. Tears welled.
Strange tears. Filled with gratitude and grief all in the same moment.
Was that even allowed?
Could I cry for the pain and cry for the joy?
It didn’t matter the answer, because I was. Plain and simple.
I felt myself tossed around for the next several minutes as I went back-and-forth with these two people who I love.
Grief. Joy. Sadness. Relief. Anger. Gratitude.
A bouncing ball inside from one emotion to the next.
Then it all hit me. Right between the eyes (of my heart).
This is sacred ground I am walking on.
This is humanity at its fullest.
This is what I’ve wanted my whole life.
To not stuff it down. To not brush it aside. ANY.OF.IT.
To grieve with those who are grieving.
Like cry real tears for them.
To hold them in their pain and trust that somehow their sorrow is halved because I am sharing in it.
BUT also to rejoice with those who are rejoicing.
Like cry real tears for them.
To hold them in their joy and trust that somehow their delight is doubled because I am sharing in it.
I want it from others and I want to give it to others.
This is how I heal.
How I embrace my humanness.
How I come closer to Tender Lover of My Soul.
How I help to mend the world, right in front of me and all around me.
Come close to EVERY.LITTLE.BIT.
One day, a girlish woman looked down at her big burgeoning belly and she had little red lines.
She freaked out a bit.
“Those are STRETCH marks,” her very own mama broke the news. “They will always remind you that you are a mom.”
What seemed like both three days and 75 years later, her big kid, yet still-her-baby, was taking one more step to new-found freedom. Away from her. Out into the world.
She glanced in the mirror that night, tears staining her cheeks, and those little red lines, albeit mildly faded, spoke gently to her about all the ways she had been and was still being
Before she was quite ready. Often taken-aback by what was in front of her.
To her limits. In…………….all……………the……………..ways.
In her thinking. More open-minded. Less judgmental.
Above and beyond. The call of mom duty.
From the inside out. Just like the burgeoning belly. Bringing new life.
Beyond her imagination. Who knew? There would be all this s–t–r–e–t–c–h–i–n–g?
By her child. Of course.
She took another hard look at her now mid-life, bumpy belly and she gave thanks for those little red lines.
For all the s–t–r–e–t–c–h–i–n–g. That had happened and was still happening.
Not just on the outside. But on the inside. On her heart. On her soul.
“Those are STRETCH marks,” she whispered to herself. “They will always remind you that you are a mom.”
Once upon a time, there was a woman who was sad.
About a year ago, she was skipping along, busy as a bee, marching to the beat of getting things done and getting ahead. She believed the new year held possibility and promise like every other year. Why wouldn’t it? It was the start of not only a year, but a whole new decade. She was excited.
But right after her big party in her new house with all her friends, an ugly monster came. It came and gobbled up all her normal, all the rhythms that held her and rocked her and told her that everything was okay.
Days went by. MUNCH.
Weeks went by. MUNCH MUNCH.
Months went by. MUNCH MUNCH MUNCH MUNCH MUNCH.
The monster kept devouring her normal. But not just hers. The normal of everyone around her. It ate up bank accounts and dreams and businesses and celebrations and hugs and peace-of-mind and worst of all, it gulped down lives.
She tried really hard to stay upbeat and hopeful and to “look on the bright side,” but it didn’t really work very long.
She was sad.
One day, she figured out that she had to do something about it. But what? What should she do about her sadness?
She could take Vitamin D.
She could binge watch TV.
She could eat a cookie.
She could work in her garden.
She could pretend the monster wasn’t there.
She could make a grateful journal.
If that helped, maybe then she could tell all her friends and family to do the same.
After making her “what-should-she-do-about-her-sadness” list and checking it twice, she tried hard for a really long time.
Guess what happened? She was still really sad.
Oh no! What should she do?
One morning as she was swallowing her Vitamin D for the 282nd time, she thought of a great idea!
The story is not over yet (even after 324 days) and sometimes, the woman still eats cookies, binge watches TV, and pretends the monster isn’t there.
But more often, she cries. And prays. And talks. And listens.
Once upon a time, there was a woman who was sad.
But she was not alone.
And it was the perfect place to be.
A recycled candle jar.