Posted in Faith, Health

What I’m Really Fighting For

INTEGRITY.

A word I have always used to describe my husband.

He’s even won awards at work for it.

Me.  Not so much.

I’m sneaky.

And I struggle to always tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth when it does not fit my “get ‘er done” mentality.

TRUE STORY AND CONFESSION:

My son’s health insurance needed to be cancelled and I called up and told the people on the other end of the line I was him and cancelled that baby on the spot.  They didn’t even, or probably weren’t allowed to, question my high voice and my masculine name not matching.  He gave me permission to do such a thing, but I didn’t really think long and hard about this little fib.  Not a good look for this Dolly Mama.  Not a lot of integrity for sure.  I kind of feel bad about it as I write this.

NOW BACK TO THE POINT.

My husband doesn’t tell little white lies or big whopper ones. He’s as honest as the day is long.

No wonder he’s won awards at work for integrity.

No wonder I trust him implicitly.

But did you know that honesty is not the same as integrity.  Yes, it’s a natural result of integrity, but it’s NOT integrity.

INTEGRITY is when we live according to our deepest values.

When our outsides match our insides.

When all the parts of us are working together in harmony (they are “integrated”) and not separated and fighting against each other.

When we are the SAME in our homes, in our church, in our neighborhood, in our activities, in our workplace, in our social media posts and in our time alone.

INTEGRITY.

A word I would like to use to describe myself.

Maybe even win awards for it some day.

Recently, the rubber has met the road.

I have not been living with integrity.

I believe and value one thing and then I live, work, spend and serve as if I value something completely different.

It’s been kind of awful.

I have been hiding.
I have been pretending.
I have been trying to please others.
I have been anxious.

It’s come to a head.

I can’t do it anymore.

But the pressure to continue to do so seems insurmountable.

Outright pressure.
Unspoken pressure.
Internal pressure.

So I am on the mission to fight for it with all my might.

Have all the parts of myself aligned and working with each other.

My inside and my outside.
My feelings and my actions.
My heart and my mind, my soul and my spirit.

What I’m really fighting for is me. The real real me. The me that God made and loves and cheers and delights in. The one that is an absolute beautiful mess.

So here’s my first step. Speaking out what I value.

It’s scary.
I am afraid of being judged.
I don’t want people to think ill of me.

All the normal-ish and crazy reasons I keep going down the lack-of-integrity slide.

So here goes.

Right now, in my life, these things are what I value most:

  1. Freedom (mostly the inside kind)
  2. Becoming my true self and helping others to do just that
  3. Living with and under radical grace
  4. Questions more than answers (a posture of constant learning even if it’s downright hair-raising)
  5. Allowing God to be Himself, and not who I’ve told myself He is (mostly to fit in with others)
  6. Living in the gray, nuanced, complicated, and messy and forgoing the black-and-white
  7. Eliminating hurry and scurry
  8. Being present to joy
  9. Telling others about the unconditional love of God AND deeply knowing it myself
  10. Becoming healed, whole and integrated (there’s that word)

Looking at this list, it seems easy, right?  NOT SO MUCH.

Because, I like to: 

  1. Stay safe.
  2. Protect myself.
  3. Judge others to make myself feel better.
  4. Have all the answers
  5. Tell God who He is.
  6. Live in the BLACK and WHITE.
  7. Hurry and scurry.
  8. Think about the past and the future (I spend most of my time there).
  9. See #5.
  10. Stay in the same, comfortable place I’ve always lived in.

I know it’s going to be a rough road ahead.

I have some big changes to make.

Both outside ones and inside ones.

I’m a wee bit terrified.
I’m also a whole lot excited.
I’m wondering what my next right step is.
I’m trusting God will show up as I take one. He always has.

And I’m beginning to see the INTEGRITY light at the end of the tunnel.

The one I might just get an award for.

Even if I have to give it to myself.

From my heart to yours.

P.S. Want to hear a funny story about my lack of integrity this week?

I’ve been on vacation and posting all the wonderful pictures of sand castles, family time, ice cream, and sunsets. Meanwhile, I’ve been riddled with an outbreak of horrendous poison ivy for most of the time, been miserable and staying in the air conditioning.  I only went to the beach once. So there you have it. Finally called the doctor today and got me some meds.  Never have I ever had poison ivy on my nose and a few other unmentionable places.  YIKES!  I don’t think the foraging for blackberries was worth it.

Posted in Faith

11 Questions

My nighttime prayers were once filled with berating myself for the day past.

Making sure I got all my ducks in a row before the Almighty.

Rehashing my sins and confessing them so that I could be “right with God” once again.

It was probably born out of a belief that God was crazily concerned with my right behavior (according to what and who, I’m not sure) instead of my broken, but wanting-to-heal heart.

Somehow, even though I was his daughter, my evil deeds from the day could somehow catapult me into a severed relationship with Him.

So, before I slept, I made sure I was all “good” again.

No wonder I kind of secretly hated this process.

I could never be sure I had remembered and confessed them all.

What if I missed some?
Would He be mad at me?
Would our relationship still be “on hold?”

So one day I just quit. I needed a break from the shame, guilt and fear I felt at the end of every day.

I spent the time scrolling my phone (which I sometimes still do, TBH).

I also spent it snuggling with a murder mystery book.
I mostly spent it avoiding this God who I supposedly had a wonderful relationship with.

Time marched by.

Enter my cute husband. Talking about things like his “Daily Examen.” How he ends his day much of the time.

Sounded a little old-school for me, but I new-schooled it and looked it up on the “Googler,” as my one friend calls it.

This is what I found out about it:

“The Daily Examen is a technique of prayerful reflection on the events of the day in order to detect God’s presence and discern his direction for us. The Examen is an ancient practice in the Church that can help us see God’s hand at work in our whole experience.” (ignatianspirituality.com)

The basic goals of it are to:

1. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow.

It all sounded like a big relief for me and a good way for me to redeem that precious time I have right before I go to sleep.

I’ve been doing it in fits and starts for a few months, even keeping track on a spreadsheet (I get it…I’m nerdy like that).

To make a long story even longer, I came up with 11 questions I talk to God about at the end of every day. Here they are:

1. What event happened, small or big?
2. What gifts did I receive?
3. Where did I show courage?
4. Who showed me love and support?
5. Where might I feel stuck?
6. What challenges did I face?
7. Where did I pause?
8. What emotions am I feeling? About what?
9. How did I sense God’s presence?
10. What is my response to the God of my life?
11. With what spirit do I want to enter tomorrow?

It hasn’t been magic, but it has been helpful.

ESPECIALLY NUMBER 4.

You see, I tend to want my poor husband to be my constant and ever-faithful person who loves and supports me. All by his lonesome. And I get a little annoyed if he doesn’t measure up to that impossible standard I’ve set for him. This question gets me thinking about all the people and ways God shows up for me, one loving and supportive act, thought, prayer, choice at a time. It’s been so good to end the day reminding myself about how God has provided for me in ways I may have missed. I also think my husband is a lot happier because I’ve let him off the hook from being my one and only source of love and support.

OH! AND NUMBER 7.

I am the “Esthergizer Bunny,” always going and going and going. But I secretly want to be the “Take-It-Slow Turtle,” knowing that hurry seems to cause worry and rushing seems to cause restlessness. So PAUSING at least once a day to breathe (imagine that, it’s my Word of the Year) and be present to God and what’s right in front of me, has been a gift beyond gifts.

So there you have it.

Nothing grand. Nothing monumental.

But good. Very good.

From my heart to yours,

Esther

P.S. For a deeper glimpse into my sometimes all-over-the-place brain from last night, here are the answers to my questions:

1. I had a stay-at-home day. I wrote. I listened to hurting friends. I met with a couple I am marrying. I had a continuing conversation at dinner with my family about something hard we are going through.
2. A FaceTime from my daughter. An electrician who put in a bathroom fan…he came on time…woohoo!!!
3. I asked some hard questions of my hurting friends. Uncomfortable. But brave of me.
4. My daughter. My husband. A friend who prayed for me. Another writer.
5. I don’t know exactly what to do about this hard thing. I am going round and round in circles.
6. See number 5.
7. I took 20 minutes to do Yoga right before dinner, ending with breath prayers and the phrase “God loves me with an everlasting love.”
8. I am feeling them all right now (as usual), but especially doubt. Not sure what’s the next right thing to do.
9. God showed me Himself in the wineberries we found and ate on our walk. He’s just fun like that.
10. Help me! HELP!
11. Clarity and direction. Peace and comfort.

Posted in Faith, Family, Motherhood

It Wasn’t Pretty

It wasn’t pretty.

What started out as a kind gesture on my part turned into a knock-down, drag-out fight with my teen.

On a summer day, as he slept in, I snuck his keys and took his car to the coin-operated car wash and vacuum place around the corner.  I wanted to surprise him with a clean car full of gas just to send him a mom/teen son “love note.”

As I opened his trunk, that sweet, knowing fragrance that I had often smelled in my brother’s car wafted to my nose.  POT.  It was P-O-T.

My mom heart did flips of fear, anger, shock, and shame.

What if he gets caught?  What if he ends up in jail?  Is he dealing?  How often is he using?

How dare he?!?!?!?  After all we’ve done for him!  Just wait until I get home!!! This is the end of the line!  This car is not going anywhere for a long time!  Neither is he!

What in the world?!  How did I not know?  He’s such a great kid!  This just isn’t happening.  UGH.

What am I doing wrong?  I must not be _______ (fill in the blank) enough.  What if they find out at church?  Or almost worse, on his team?  What will they think of me?  And him?

As I finished up the vacuuming and slid the wet wipe over the final seat, I drove home still flipping through all of those emotions, my eyes wet and my heart pounding.

I raced up to his room, threw open his door, and began to yell.  I mean yell.  He woke up dazed and confused.

It was NOT my finest parenting moment by a long shot.

All my fear, anger, shock and shame came tumbling out in words and threats I don’t care to share.

He fumbled back with excuses and “relax Mom.”  Needless to say, that didn’t help at all.
After I was done with my rant, I made my way to my bedroom closet and just sobbed.

What am I going to do?  How can this be fixed?  How can I make him stop?

At first, my controlling, black-and-white, formulaic parenting reared its head.

FEAR was beckoning and overtaking my mind, my heart, my soul, and even my spirit.

He is grounded.  He can’t have a door to his room.  No more car!  I will drug test him every week.  He could really mess up himself, his future, and us!  I am going to fix this!!!

Guess what?  My natural, very unhealthy, unwise, go-to way of parenting did not work.

I couldn’t control him.  I couldn’t fix him.

I was at an absolute loss, one of the first times in all of my motherhood journey that I couldn’t figure out.  Or solve.

I needed something.  Something different.  Something new.

A friend began to pray for me.  I began to pray.

Not prayers that sound fluffy and happy and like I have it all together.

More like prayers that were filled with curse words and “help me” and guttural sobs on my knees.

One day, a still small voice spoke to my heart.

“This isn’t about him, my Sweet Mama.  It’s about you.  I am here to help you.  You are not alone.”

I sat right there and cried.  This time, not the tears of despair, but ones of hope.

“I am the Lord, your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.”  (Isaiah 48:17)

I paused.  Listened.

I sought counsel.  From my friends.  From my spiritual mentors.  From a counselor.  And from the Holy Spirit, the most trusted Counselor of all.

In fits and starts, fear raging back at times and supernatural peace overwhelming at others, I got HELP.

HELP in the form of wisdom, not having it all figured out, and all my controlling ducks-in-a-row.

HELP in the form of guidance, being provided only the next right thing to do on any given day with this sweet child of mine.

HELP in the form of comfort, knowing that God can reach into those places in his heart that I have never been able to, no matter how much I have wanted to.

Lastly, HELP in the form of a beautiful, soul-resting, peace-bringing thought, one for my beautiful, but hurting mom heart:

Even if my ‘brain-hasn’t-fully-developed’ child makes a wrong or foolish choice that seems life-altering in all the worst ways, God can weave it into their story so that when it comes down to it, it’s the “right” one. He’s just able to do it.

This has not been an easy road. It’s been an up-and-down, twisty-turny one.  It’s been one that I wouldn’t have chosen.  But it’s one that I’ve needed and has allowed me to grow into a much larger space with this God who loves me and loves those I love even more than I do or ever will.  I am truly grateful.

So today, my friend, remember that God’s got you, no matter what crazy and hard road you are traveling right now.  He’s got your child.

Take a long, slow, deep breath with me, resting in His tender and loving arms, knowing that He is WITH us and FOR us, and we are not alone.

**first published on Liquid Church Family Devotional**

Posted in Faith

God in the Box

God I want to know You.

Not the version of You I was told about since I was a tot.

Not the one that I have used to “keep myself in line.”

Not the vending-machine god that I’ve pursued for my own sake.

But You, God.

The real You.

I just want to know You.

I have a feeling that we’ve all gotten You wrong for as long as You breathed life into us.

We’ve made You into our image.

We can’t help it. We are suffering. We are broken. We have so many limitations. We are human.

We desperately want a God who fits into a neat little box that we can understand and control. That’s happened since ancient times, when we literally put You in a box of wood, overlaid with gold and carried You around with poles and used You to fight our battles and convinced all the people around us that You were inside that box.

Funny thing?!? You weren’t. No matter how hard we tried to put You there and parade You around like we owned You.

We still do it.

We create constructs and circles and books and doctrines and contracts and churches and tell ourselves that You fit into those places. We keep others out of when their version of our god doesn’t match. We love having You in our neat and very small boxes. Ones we can control. Ones where we belong. Ones where we feel safe.

It’s so easy for us.

But I don’t want the easy way anymore.

I want the path that leads me to You.

The real You.

Even if it’s wild and full of adventure.

Or twisty-turny and complicated.

Or confusing and filled with more questions than answers.

The God who does not fit in carefully constructed and horribly restricted and finite boxes.

I’m a little nervous. How could I not be?

This is new territory for me.

But it’s not the same nervous where I’m wondering how it’s all going to fall apart and I’m going to be swept away right along with it.

It’s the hopeful butterfly-in-my-stomach kind.

The one where I might not belong to groups and systems that make me feel good inside.

The one where You live way outside of the box.

The one where it’s the start of a grand adventure of goodness and love and intimacy and creativity and all the fullness of life.

The one where You can be You and I can be me.

*Image from Raiders of the Lost Ark*

Posted in Faith, Motherhood

A Six-Letter Word That Changes My Life Every Day

BLACK OR WHITE!!!

Do you hear me???

BLACK OR WHITE!!!

Good or bad.
Wrong or right.
Yes or no.

How much do I love these?

They make life so much easier.
I know what to do and what not to do.

It’s clear cut.
No weird subtleties that confuse others and me the most.

GRAY?
Good enough?
Wrongish?
It depends?

How difficult are these for me?  They make all my decisions so much harder.
But easier is NOT always better.  By any stretch.

We’ve seen enough of that in our homes, in our neighborhoods, at our workplaces, in church and especially on social media.

CHOOSE ONE OR THE OTHER!
YOU HAVE TO!!!

CHOOSE SIDES.

One is 100% wrong and one is absolutely right!

And if you don’t choose what I choose, you will be disowned.

Kicked out.
Not talked to.
Cancelled.

UGH!

There seems to be a huge missing factor in what I love and what can be easier, but not better.

It’s a little six-letter word called WISDOM.

W.I.S.D.O.M.

Wisdom says it’s not always black and white, good or bad, right or wrong, yes or no!

Wisdom allows for the whole possibly-hidden story behind what’s outwardly visible.

Wisdom often brings a third out-of-the-box thought, path, or decision.

Wisdom isn’t simple or easy much of the time.

It can nuanced and difficult.

It requires grace and patience and seeing things from many angles.

Wisdom is the way of Jesus.

He’s all about it. He doesn’t get caught up in the ALWAYS this or ALWAYS that.
He’s all about the SOMETIMES.

Sometimes it’s the right thing to walk away and shake the dust off of your feet.
And others it’s the right thing to stay and lean in and heal those in your path.

Sometimes it’s the right thing to break hard and fast man-made rules.
And others it’s the right thing to follow them closely.

Sometimes it the right thing to turn water into wine in celebration.
And others it’s the right thing to turn wine into a symbol of grief and remembrance.

*************************************************************

TRUE STORY:

When our son was a senior in high school, he and his classmates went to a very sketchy (to say the least) beach hotel for the weekend after prom.

This mama white-knuckled it on her knees through those 48-hours.

When he came home, he shared a crazy story.

A boy in his “suite” (if you can even call them that) had brought some heavy-duty drugs with him and was using them openly.

Our son did NOT want to be involved in the slightest and needed to figure out what to do, where to sleep.

Guess what he chose: to sleep in his friends’ room on the floor.

That sounds simple enough, but it’s not. His friends were girls.

Normally, this mama would never have praised her son’s choice for sleeping in the same room with four bikini-clad, beautiful members of the opposite sex. I would have freaked out just a little (okay, a lot).

But I did just that. “Wise choice!” I said to him. “I’m so glad you came up with that option and acted on it.”

How crazy is that?!?

After he walked out of the room, I breathed a quick thank you prayer for not only God keeping him safe that weekend, but granting him wisdom in the middle of not-the-greatest of options.

I was stretched out of my own black-and-white thinking in a way that still surprises me now.

*************************************************************

So today, when the rubber meets the road and I find myself tempted to fall into the easier way of doing life, I hope to choose the much much better way of WISDOM.

It might be more work and I might be hugely uncomfortable, but it will be worth it.

For me. And for the people around me.

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 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.