Posted in Faith, Health

Huge and Lopsided

It’s raining today.

The tree stands there.

The huge, lopsided evergreen tree stands tall outside my window.

I stare and gaze and am lost in a myriad of thoughts about this tree that is the always-green focal point of our back yard.

How does it feel to be a tree, doing nothing all day?

When we moved here, I had visions of this tree.  It was perfectly-shaped.  I made mental plans to put lights on it as soon as the darkness of the time change came upon us, a symbol of beauty and hope in the middle of the black and cold of winter.

But the stress of the move pushed the thought to the side and “naked as a jaybird” is the way the tree stayed.

One morning, I woke to the sound of crackling and crashing.  An ice storm had come through in the middle of the night.  Branches were sagging under the weight of the thick, sparkling crystals, many snapping and plunging to the ground.

This tree was no different, looking haggard and strong all at once, the watery frozen glaze enveloping every needle and branch.

I turned my back for a moment when I heard a snap, crackle and pop.  A huge branch from an even-taller-and-more-mighty tree had come tumbling down, side-swiping and decimating some branches on this perfectly-formed tree.

I stood there, my heart breaking just a smidge for this tree and for me.

My silly, important plans, and hopes and dreams for this flawless evergreen.
Gone just like that.

Perfection wiped away in a flash.

It’s raining today.

The tree still stands there.

The huge, lopsided tree stands tall outside my window.

It does nothing all day. So it seems.

But is this the truth? No it’s not.

It’s drinking and growing and reminding and teaching.

Teaching wise truths to little old me.

That…

Drinking deeply from the good soil, the soil of a Loving Gardener, gives me strength.

Growing doesn’t only happen when it’s sunshiny and happy, but also when it’s stormy and weighty.

I may be lopsided and have scars (even forever), but I am still full of life, both inside and out.

Perfection isn’t the key to beauty.  Being myself is.  Others can still play in my branches no matter what.

I don’t need “extra” twinkly lights to be a symbol of beauty and hope.  I already am.

This tree.  This tree outside my window.

She’s you and she’s me.

Posted in Celebration, Faith, Family

Is it wrong?

I fight a silly battle in the weird places in my head.

Something in me feels like it’s kind of wrong to have pleasure. Or JOY.

It plays out in normal and odd places.

Eating a brownie with ice cream (guilt staring me in the face).

Watching my kids enjoy each other’s company (thoughts careening through my head, “What about all the moms whose kids aren’t even speaking to each other?”).

Having the rest I need (accompanied by the niggling feeling that I should be working. ALL. THE. TIME.)

Getting flowers from a friend for no reason (when people live in squalor and alone).

Why is it fair that I have JOY?

It’s a battle that rages inside of me.

I try to make peace with those voices in normal and odd ways.

Reminding myself that my life isn’t a bed of roses all the time.

Wondering how much is too much pleasure and too much pain. Have I had enough of both?

Riding the merry-go-round of indulging and restraining and balancing and being thrown off the whole crazy ride.

Writing posts to figure it all out. Is it wrong to have pleasure? Sheer, unbridled pleasure? How much? How often?

Once upon a time, I read a book called the Celebration of Discipline. It talked about fasting and prayer and meditation and worship and all those very holy practices that guide us to a healthy spiritual life.

I am all good with that. DISCIPLINE. Hard stuff. “No pain, no gain” material. Somehow, it feels right.

But the last chapter did me in. It’s titled, “The Discipline of Celebration.”

What? What is that?

Easy stuff? Celebration? Joy? No pain period. Is this even allowed? And a spiritual discipline at that?

I guess it must be. It has to be.

Why else would God make laughter and singing birds and flowers and kisses and friendship and tickle fights and waterfalls and rainbows?

It’s seems like pretty big deal in this life.

Even Jesus talked about it and lived it.

He didn’t stop the woman from breaking open her whole bottle of perfume and pouring it all over his feet. Lavishly pouring it. NO SKIMPING. AT ALL.

He made it the very point of the whole story about the Prodigal Son. Kill the fattened calf. Rings on hands. Best robes. Big parties. FEASTING. Redemption.

He healed people and they thanked and praised Him and He straight-up received it with gladness of heart.

In the end, He told His friends that He wanted His JOY to be in them and for them to have it to the FULL. Not just a little. But a whole bunch of JOY.

This isn’t the easiest for me.

I wish it were.

But I’m working on it. One normal and odd step at a time.

I have to. I’m reminded every time I sign something.

JOY.

It’s my middle name after all.

By the way…

I took a huge step just the other day.

Check out my sheer delight in NOT tipping over.

Posted in Anxiety, Celebration, Faith

An Oral Burst of Hope

When I hear out-of-my-control things on the news or from a friend or family member, or experience them in my own life, I barrel quickly toward fear and anxiety.

All the “what-if” thoughts careen into my head and heart.

Depending on the day….

I run the other way and pretend it doesn’t exist.
I get angry and try to come up with a plan to fix it.
I just take a nap or watch mind-numbing television.
I become completely paralyzed, staring out the window, unable to do anything.

Super rarely I…

STOP
breathe
pour out my heart
connect with God

what I actually might need more.

Not too long ago, one of these “doozies” reared its ugly head.

It was something with one of my kids.

It kept coming up over and over and no matter what I tried, the problem just wasn’t getting fixed or even getting pushed in the right direction.

It was NOT for lack of effort on my part.

I had tried my usual…

fleeing
fighting
fainting
freezing

along with better tools like…

counseling
talking with friends
prayer
you-name-it.

One night
in the dark
on my knees
tears pouring out
making one last-ditch effort telling God I was super serious this time,

the word “Hosanna” flooded my mind and also my mouth.

I wasn’t sure why.

I had to check it out.

What did this word that I had heard so often in my churchy life even mean?

Thanks to ever-helpful Google, I found that “HOSANNA” was originally an appeal for deliverance, a cry that shouted

PLEASE SAVE!!
PLEASE SAVE!!

Over time, it developed into an expression of

joy and praise for deliverance
that was anticipated and WOULD be granted,

an oral burst of HOPE in God, an “anchor for your soul” kind of HOPE.

Being the “doer” that I am, I came up with a “Hosanna List,” that “doozie” being at the very top.

I keep adding other (lots of other)…

completely-out-of-my-control
hopeless
desperate-feeling
only God-can-fix-this

things.

I only have one word for them:“HOSANNA.”

PLEASE SAVE!
PLEASE SAVE!

I would imagine you have your own “Hosanna list.”

If it’s not written down, it’s swirling around in your head.

Take courage, my friend.

We have a God who not only CAN SAVE, but WANTS TO VERY MUCH!

It’s HIS JOB.
It’s HIS WILL.

There’s nothing too small or too great!
There really is great hope!

HOSANNA!
PLEASE SAVE!

Posted in Anxiety, Family, Health, Motherhood

the craziest, bravest, most out-of-the-box thing

There was this mom who had four kids not in diapers, but not quite teenagers yet.
One early summer day, her left leg collapsed.
 
After one bajillion tests for all the things related to left legs collapsing, the doctors were flummoxed.
 
In the meantime, this mom of four kids, during all the thousands of tests, freaked out on the inside.
She was sure she was going to die.
 
She was sure she was going to leave her four kids without a mom.
 
Her brain took her to places that she’d never even knew existed before.
 
Scary, fear-mongering, awful awful places.
 
She could barely get out of bed.
Her four kids ate the “snack that smiles back” for breakfast.
They did NOT do their summer transition homework.
She felt like she was watching her life from a blurry distance.
 
Her husband didn’t know what to do to help her.
 
One late summer day, she mustered up some gumption and went back to the doctor.
 
“What is wrong with me?” she begged while sitting on the crinkly, sweaty paper.
 
The doctor told her words she had never wanted to hear and thought she would never hear. “I think this is a simple nervous breakdown and some serious anxiety.”
 
She did not like that answer. It was the worst. She was strong. She was capable. She was smart. She had her “ducks” and her kids in a row.
 
But she felt weak. And unable to cope. And helpless. And her ducks and her kids were not even in the same area anymore, much less in a row.
 
One day in the early fall, this mom of four kids did the craziest, bravest, most out-of-the-box thing she had never ever done before.
 
She got help.
 
Did you hear me???
 
She got help.
 
This help-everyone-else, never-need-help mom GOT HELP!!
 
She nervously picked up her phone and dialed a strange number given to her by a friend. She said words she never thought she would say.
 
“Hello. I have four kids. I am not okay. I need help.”
 
The kind and gentle voice on the other side of the phone uttered,
“That’s what I’m here for. When do you want to come in and talk?”
 
One day lots and lots of weeks (maybe even months) later, after lots and lots of talking and learning and her sweet husband praying his guts out (because she was having a hard time there), and also getting some meds (imagine that), this mom of four kids began to heal from things she didn’t even know were broken and she began to actually live inside her beautiful and messy mom life again.
 
For lots of more years, she kept talking and getting help and, one day sitting in a grocery store parking lot, she realized it was not the worst thing that had ever happened to her.
 
In fact, it was the best.
 
P.S. She still gets help when she needs it.
Posted in Celebration, Faith, Family, Grief, Thanks

The Gifts of the Darkness

“What gifts?”

A question I have asked myself over and over and over again this week as I settled my mind on “springing ahead,” even the clock speaking of the hope of longer daylight and warmer spirits.

“What gifts came as a result of the darkness of this year of all years?”

I am usually someone who rushes over the grief and wants to spring right to positivity and happy things. I like that. I’m definitely a “spring-forward” girl.

But I am learning that it does NOT work. I can’t just rush to JOY. Nor should I.

So when that question came, I paused. I really paused.

First, I need to speak of the darkness.
Of the soul.
Of the cocoony, wintery, messy, middle-of-the-muck-and-mire-stuff.
Of the death of life as I knew it almost exactly a year ago.
Of all the loss in every facet of society and in my little world.

Losing friends to this monster (youngish ones).
Not having family reunions on both sides.
Isolation and disconnection.
The tearing away of peace of mind.
All the complicated choices to see people safely.
The sheer exhaustion from the stress.
Judgment from everywhere, even my own, about all. the. things.
Lack of motivation.
The constant survival mode feeling.

It’s all been hard. Too hard in many ways. DARK. Really dark.

But my heart (my spring-forward heart) also sees the gifts that can only come as a result of the darkness.

Even the darkness of a horrible-terrible-no-good-very-bad year.

The dark night of our collective souls.

I’ve been watching our rhododendron sleep through the winter, the buds closed tight, hunkering down.

At one point in the coldest and snowiest and darkest of days, the buds were covered with ice and the leaves were droopy and frozen.

I stood there looking at it through my big window, marveling that when the light and the warm and the spring finally comes, each frigid bud will burst forth into all the purple blooms that shout beauty and hope.

The blooms are the gifts of the darkness.

So right back to my question.

“What gifts?”

“What gifts came as a result of the darkness of this year of all years?”

Then another, more clarifying question came as well.

“What gifts do I want to bring with me out of the darkness and into the “spring,” into the light?

To be honest, there are many.

Plenty of rest for this recovering-workaholic.
Moments to stare out the window at my sleeping rhododendron covered in snow.
The freedom from all the soul-killing expectations to be busy, busy, busy.
Deep connections with those most important to me.
White space that grants margin for creativity.
Extra time with the Tender Lover of my soul.
Long walks in every kind of weather and the appreciation of nature that comes with them.

Simple thankfulness for things like paper towels and meals with friends.
Discovery of parts of myself that I hadn’t known before and I now like (a lot).
The narrowing of priorities to what really matters.
Deep empathy from and for others in suffering.

There are more and more and more.

Life-changing “terrible gifts” (as CS Lewis calls them) that have only come as a result of the darkness.

Gifts I will continue to unwrap for the rest of my days.
Gifts I will hold onto like a treasure box only meant for me.

Gifts.

Terrible, beautiful, sacred, horrible, hard, holy, very very good gifts.

The gifts of the darkness.

Have I hated this year?
A resounding YES in many ways.

Do I wish it never happened?
A thousand times NO.

I’m peeking out an my rhododendron on this bright, sunny day.
It’s reaching for the light and its leaves are glorious.
The buds are still closed, not quite as tight, and I can see their faint color through the green.

Soon, the purple will unfurl into all of its goodness.

It won’t be for a few more weeks, but I can feel the gift of incredible beauty as if it is right now.

Posted in Faith, Grief

Deeper

Lots of us feel stuck in a pretty bad place.
It doesn’t seem like there is any way out.
It feels like no matter how hard we try, it’s like quicksand that might swallow us up.
It feels lonely and even black there, like a pit so deep that even if we climb and climb, we would slide back down into the darkness.
 
We might have jumped into this “pit” because of our own unwise decisions.
 
Perhaps we have been pushed in by someone else’s unkindness, even cruelty.
 
It could be overwhelming circumstances that aren’t going the way we think they should or hope they would.
 
It’s probably some odd combination of the three.
 
No matter what, we are in a very deep pit, longing to get out.
 
In those seemingly endless and desperate moments, the only sure thing is that we are not going to be able to climb out on our own, no matter how hard we try.
 
We may even wonder if we are in a hole so deep that we are beyond rescue. It feels hopeless.
 
THIS IS JUST NOT TRUE. It’s just not true at all.
 
There is great hope.
 
We are not alone.
We are loved.
 
We are never “in too deep” that God cannot rescue us. This goes for all those we love as well.
 
The son who is on the is suffering panic attacks.
The spouse who is enslaved by addiction.
The friend who is fighting a debilitating disease.
The person in the mirror who is not sure if God listens anymore.
 
No matter if the pit has been jumped, slipped or been pushed into.
 
The God who hears our cries and loves us beyond measure is right there in the midst of it.
 
His fierce love will make a way out.
 
He will come to the rescue.
None of us are ever beyond His reach.
 
We can rest in that safest of places today.
 
From my heart to yours.
Posted in Celebration, Faith, Family, Health, Thanks

Ordinary Couch

There once was a woman who DID NOT like ordinary days.

She wanted hoopla and fanfare.
Bluster and rah-rah.

Ordinary meant colorless and ho-hum.
Stodgy and flat.

Who would ever ever want that?

But along came some very un-ordinary days.

She found herself smack dab in the middle of them.

For a very very long time.
Like more than 350 of these un-ordinary ones in a whole, long, very confusing row.

But there was no hoopla or fanfare.
Bluster or rah-rah.

There was strangeness and head-scratching.
Veiled faces and pandemonium.

She sat down one day on her ordinary couch
in her ordinary house
after a very ordinary breakfast and thought for just a minute and a half or so.

About all those ordinary days she had not liked.

The ones with laughter.
Friendship.
Lunch hours.
Stadium seats.
Picnics.
Hugs.
Lemonade stands.
Conference rooms.
Smiles.
Carpools.
Sunday school.

How silly of her? Not to like them.

She found that she could not wait until she could have just one of them again.

Just one. Count them. ONE. Ordinary day.

A regular sun-up to sun-down.

But on her ordinary couch
in her ordinary house
she thought for another minute and a half or so.

About all these un-ordinary days in a row.

Would she want them back?
Would she say “good riddance?”
Would she find that some of them were just ordinary after all?

The ones with family dinners.
Gardening.
Board games.
Pillow fights.
Cuddles.
Long walks.
Bike rides.
Prayers.
Puzzles.
Firepits.
Books.
 
So on her ordinary couch
in her ordinary house
she thought and she thought and she thought some more.
Maybe three minutes this time.
 
She did NOT NOT like ordinary days anymore.
 
In fact, she liked them a lot.
 
She didn’t need hoopla and fanfare.
Bluster and rah-rah.
 
Because ordinary doesn’t always mean
colorless or ho-hum.
Stodgy or flat.
 
More often, ordinary means
 
family.
kindness.
neighbors.
joy.
friends.
faith.
hard work.
memories.
rest.
contentment.
 
AND
 
love.
 
What she needs the most.
 
And guess what she finally thought about?
 
On her ordinary couch
in her ordinary house
this time gazing at her ordinary dog?
 
There are many many more beautiful un-ordinary ordinary days to come.
 
She can’t wait.
Posted in Celebration, Family, Grief, Motherhood

Mustangs and Paper Chains

Once upon a time, a mom of an 18-year-old made a paper chain.
Just like the ones her kids made in preschool, but this one tucked neatly in her head.
She almost made a real one, but thought it would cause a ruckus in her home.
Why? Why? Why the paper chain?
Because she was counting down the days until her son left for college.
It all started in the middle of the winter.
This mental paper chain. 180 days.
It wasn’t because he was horrible, disrespectful teen
OR
that she was a terrible mom, even though she felt like it often (she had a paper chain after all).
It wasn’t because he was breaking curfew every day and doing all kinds of god-knows-what
OR
maybe she was just clueless…which is more likely.
It wasn’t because she didn’t love him, because moms just can’t help themselves and she loved this kid especially
OR
that he didn’t have friends or wasn’t enjoying high school.
It wasn’t because he bought a Mustang convertible and got in an accident with his younger brother in the back seat during the aftermath of a hurricane
OR
that she had told him not to go out more than a couple of times.
Why then? Why? Why? Why the paper chain?
It was because he was fighting to be himself, a grown-up
AND
she was confused about that and didn’t quite know what to do. And she was tired of the fighting.
It was because he wanted to be with his friends more than he wanted to be home for dinner
AND
that made her pretty sad and sometimes, even angry.
It was because he wanted to explore new scary out-of-the-box adventures
AND
she was freaking out inside and maybe it would be easier for her if he was out of her sight, not so much in her face.
It was (REALLY) in the end, because he was spreading his wings to fly on his own
AND
that she knew he would soar (or maybe fall to the ground, get back up again and then stumble along until he took flight).
It wasn’t very long until those 180 “circles” of paper were ripped completely off, with none remaining.
They were scattered all over the floor of her memories.
He left. She cried. She cried some more.
She went home and made another paper chain.
This one counting the days until he came back home.
Posted in Faith

I’m late

I’m late for Lent.

But somehow I don’t feel like I am.
 
It feels like it’s been Lent for a year.
 
All the sacrifices.
All the not having.
All the fasting.
All the giving up.
All the solitude.
All the praying.
 
So when Ash Wednesday showed up on my “Birthday Eve,” I wasn’t having it! (at least not yet)
 
I wanted a day or two or three or four to celebrate.
Have my own “Fat Tuesday” of sorts.
 
A party with friends (over Zoom) to play games and blow out a virtual candle on a virtual cupcake.
 
A big giant chocolate chip cookie after a delicious take out dinner with my husband.
 
A guilt-free social media binge day to see all the birthday wishes from friends old and new, far and near.
 
A day filled with dings on my phone and a few cards in my mailbox.
 
A final hurrah two whole days later with my kids escaping some locked internet room.
 
A few days to celebrate. Revel. Create my own carnival.
 
But now I am ready for Lent.
 
Fat Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday are over.
 
The normal chips, chocolate and cheese are out the window (except for on Celebration Sundays…look it up…it’s a thing).
 
But that’s not really what I’m ready for.
 
That’s not the Lent I’m diving into. Not this year.
 
I’m giving up the BIG THREE… (or at least trying to)
 
FEAR.
 
Not the put-your-seatbelt-on-to-protect-myself kind of fear.
 
I need that.
 
More like the people-might-not-like-me kind.
The I-might-fail kind.
The I’m-not-going-to-be-okay kind.
 
I do not need that at all.
 
GUILT.
 
Not the take-responsibility-for-my-harmful-actions kind of guilt.
 
I need that.
 
More like the I-never-do-anything-right kind.
The responsible-for-everyone-else’s-feelings kind.
The why-do-I-have-a-good-marriage-and-my-friend-doesn’t kind.
 
I do not need that at all.
 
SHAME.
 
Not the I-was-unkind-to-my-husband-last-night-and-I-don’t-want-to-do-that-again kind.
 
I need that.
 
More like the I-am-a-bad-person-no-matter-what-I-do kind.
The how-could-anyone-ever-love-me kind.
The God-must-be-disappointed-in-me kind.
 
I do not need that at all.
 
But because this is a year where I’ve already given up lots and lots and lots more, I’m making room for a different BIG THREE.
 
FAITH.
Believing something that hasn’t happened yet will come true. Especially what I can’t see with my the eyes in my head, but maybe I can with the eyes of my heart.
 
I need that.
 
HOPE.
The confident expectation in the God who is my Father, the One who wants good for me. The anchor for my soul that grounds me and reminds me that good always triumphs over evil in the end.
 
I need that.
 
LOVE.
The intense feeling of deep affection that God has for me and that I have for others. The great interest and immense pleasure that God has for me and that I have for others. It never fails. It always wins.
 
I need that for sure.
 
So Lent, I welcome you with open arms.
 
I’ve had a lot of you this year.
 
But I’m ready for just a little bit more.
 
I am running a little late.
 
Or maybe, I’m right on time.
Posted in Celebration, Family, Marriage

we forgot. we remembered. we were nervous.

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.
Knowing smiles.
A kiss.
Tears (mine).
“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.

Given openly.
Given freely.
Given lovingly.

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.