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.
No weird subtleties that confuse others and me the most.
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!!!
One is 100% wrong and one is absolutely right!
And if you don’t choose what I choose, you will be disowned.
Not talked to.
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.
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.
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.
Not the one about just saying no.
Not the one about the future. It was a completely different, way more nuanced and complicated one. The kind that might make her big kid get defensive.
Or shut her out. The kind where she went through all the scenarios in her head.
How should approach the subject?
What should she say? This or that or the other thing? Her mind raced and looped and her stomach got all knotty inside. She loved this big kid so desperately.
She had worked so hard on keeping her mouth shut and her opinions to herself.
She did not want to do anything that would hurt this kid or their relationship. But this was one of those times when talking was really important. It couldn’t and shouldn’t be swept under that rug where the pile grows and then there is a huge bump that no one can get over or around. This was one of those times when talking was scary, but oh so necessary and really good. For her big kid.
And for her. She got up the gumption after a few nervous-nelly days to say, “Can we take a walk just by ourselves?” When the answer was “I’d love to Mom,” she said a little prayer for help, mustered up her brave mom heart, put on her cute white shoes and took the first step out the door and into what might end up horrible or wonderful. At first, she asked lots of questions that had nothing to do with anything about anything. She was hoping to make it feel like she didn’t have this weird mom agenda that was about to pounce. Next, she talked about all the beautiful sights on the walk, the tulip trees in bloom and how the neighbor had shaved her dog in the strangest of ways. She was avoiding. Finally, in the most normal, not awkward mom way she possibly could, she carefully tiptoed her way into “the talk.” She tried so hard not to “set her big kid straight.”
She tried so hard to listen and understand.
She tried so hard to share her thoughts and concerns from a place of love and not fear. And guess what? It went better than she could have imagined. What could have gone sideways, upside-down or completely backwards went mostly straight. What could have ended in tears, slammed doors and broken hearts ended in a hug. It wasn’t because this mom did it all perfectly. That is not true, not true at all. This mom actually does not really have any idea why it went so well. Maybe it was because the Tender Lover of both of their souls softened their hearts. Maybe it was because they had slept well and eaten a good breakfast. Maybe it was because they just loved each other and had worked really hard to do these kinds of talks better than they had done a million other times. Maybe it was none of those things. Who really knows? But this mom does know a few things right now. She can take a deep breath and her tummy can unknot. She will offer a huge prayer of thanks. She is not a nervous-wreck mom anymore. She is a glad one.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.