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.
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 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 Faith, Family, Health, Motherhood

3:39 pm

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.

Sports.
Exhaustion.
Homework.
Mom Guilt.
Groceries.
Tuition Bills.
Church.

Anxiety.

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.

Posted in Anxiety, Celebration, Faith, Grief, Health, Sabbath

Sisyphus…Sigh

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.

Peace. Hope.

Sigh.

Posted in Celebration, Faith, Friendship, Grief

The Three Dots

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.

Welcome ALL.OF.IT.

Come close to EVERY.LITTLE.BIT.

Cheer.
Cry.
Laugh.
Text.
Hug.
Pray.

ALL.OF.IT.

Posted in Faith, Grief

Once Upon a Time

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!

She was going to STOP doing some things. They weren’t working anyway, no matter how hard she tried.
 
So she STOPPED making the monster smaller than it was. She actually said the word “monster” out loud. She told her friends and her family that it was scary and horrible and that she wanted it to go away.
 
That was really hard for her. She liked talking about rainbows and butterflies and happy things.
 
But it was really good for her too. She felt like she was finally telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help her God.
 
She also STOPPED trying to rush really fast to “happy,” even though Joy was her middle name and she had been told her whole life it wasn’t good to be sad.
 
She looked right in the mirror and said, “You are allowed to be sad right now. That’s the best thing to be when you lose a bunch of stuff that’s really great.”
 
And then she took a shower and cried for a long time.
 
That helped a bunch and she figured out that now she could START doing some things too. She had time and space (like more than ever before).
 
She STARTED to talk, talk, talk. To her friends. To her husband. To Jesus. To a counselor. To her journal. She got her sadness outside of the inside of her. She gave it really carefully to those who loved her and who she trusted to hold her all safe, like inside-her-heart safe.
 
She also STARTED to listen, listen, listen. To her friends. To her husband. To Jesus. To her kids. And guess what she found out. They were all sad too. Just like her. She was not all by herself. How about that?

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.