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, 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 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.

Posted in Celebration, Faith, Family, Grief, Thanks

I Can’t Stop Staring

 

I can’t stop staring at my tree.

For the first time ever in the history of my “very-organized-and-get-it-all-put-away” self, I decided NOT to take our tree down just yet.

Yes, the ornaments are all put away, labeled in their correct boxes.  But the lights are still shimmering quietly.

I wonder if it’s because it’s the last thing left from 2020, the year of all years.

That feels strange, but it’s mostly likely true.

Part of me doesn’t want to “let go” quite yet and plunge into the “back-to-normal” (if there even is such a thing) 2021 to come.

I’ve loved and hated 2020 just like the rest of you.

Hated all the division, sickness, suffering, anxiety, loss, isolation, yada yada yada.

But I’ve come to LOVE some things that I don’t want to let go of.

Like less expectations and shoulds.

More enjoying what’s right in front of me.

Less running around like a nutcase.

Embracing the simplicity and monotony of each day.

Figuring out who my people are…my real people who have stuck with me and by me through it all.

Clinging to the Source of Hope like never before.

It’s probably why I’ve kept my tree up with it’s sparkly lights.

Why I can’t stop staring at it.

It’s giving me permission to go slowly again into this year.

Not follow my usual rules.

Allow it to be different (because, let’s face it, it is different).

Let go of all that never really served me in the “before times.”

Grieve all the loss and hang on to all that I’ve found.

Continue to feed the hope that burns in my soul.

The light that cannot be snuffed out.

I can’t stop staring at my tree.

Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Faith, Family, Grief, Motherhood

Long. Slow. Deep.

Breathe.

Just breathe.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

Breathe.

Words said to me over and over again with every single contraction I had as I labored with each of my four kids.

Breathe.

Just breathe.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

Breathe.

Words I say to myself whenever my heart starts to race, my palms get sweaty and my brain is off to the races, filled with anxiety and dread.

Breathe.

Just breathe.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

Breathe.

Words the Tender Lover of my soul speaks to me when the heartache both within and around me feels unbearable.

Breathe.

Just breathe.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

Breathe.

Words that I imagine were spoken to Mary by the women in her caravan coaxing her through the laboring pushes and birth of Jesus and the comfort and joy that prevailed in the afterbirth.

It’s past midnight.

Someone I love was in much pain earlier.

Most days, I would push it aside and go to sleep.

Not tonight.

I’m sitting at my table just breathing.

In and out.

Breathing in her pain.  Long.  Slow.  Deep.

INHALE.

Holding my breath for just a few seconds as I hold her before the God who is with us in the middle of our pain, our heartache.

Breathing out the love of God to her.   Long.  Slow.  Deep.

EXHALE.

I’m not in the physical room with this one I love.  I can’t be right now.

I can’t take away her pain.

I can’t make it magically all better.

But I can breathe for her.

I can breathe with her.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

In the story of creation, God took the dust, the dirt, the ground and breathed life into it.  His powerful, beautiful, love-filled life.

What sprang forth in all its beauty was us.  You and me.

We were glorious.
We were sacred.

But we were also fragile.

But God didn’t and doesn’t stop there.  He didn’t and doesn’t create us and then leave us alone.

We are still glorious.
We are still sacred.

And we are still fragile.

We need Him, His breath of life, every single day.

In our pain.
In our fear.
In our sadness.
Even in our joy.

We need His powerful, beautiful, love-filled life.

That’s why I breathe.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

For those I love.

For myself.

Often for those I don’t even really know, but can love because they are glorious, sacred and fragile just like me.

Each of us takes about 20,000 breaths per day.

20,000 chances to inhale our individual and collective suffering.

20,000 chances to hold each other and bring each other to the One who holds us in the palm of His hand and in the recesses of His heart.

20,000 chances to exhale His unending and unfailing love to one another.

But most of our breaths are rushed, fast, and shallow.

We move at a pace that requires this.  Rushed.  Fast.  Shallow.

It’s no wonder we miss out on the powerful, beautiful, love-filled life that God has to offer us and we have to offer each other.

So tonight, at this dark and quiet hour, I don’t want to miss out.  I want to be present.  I want to soak in the power, the beauty and the love that is ready at the waiting.

I do nothing else but breathe.

Long.  Slow.  Deep.

For the one I love.

For me.

And for you.

Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Family, Grief, Motherhood

Paper Chain Ripping

I’m zipping along, buying presents online, wrangling the tree that’s a little on the skinnier side this year, and opening the Christmas cookie can filled with goodies, sneaking a bite or two.

ALL OF A SUDDEN it hits me out of nowhere.

That odd feeling that has pangs of grief intertwined with downright disbelief.

I won’t be seeing my son this year for Christmas.  

My son. My actual flesh-and-blood son whose tiny body I held on my bare skin just moments after he was forcepped out of my birth canal.

The boy that wrapped himself around my legs, refusing to step into his nursery school class.

The “too-cool-for-school,” chain-around-the-neck (with the green marks to prove it) preteen.

My very own guitar-playing, camera-toting, lacrosse-eyed 16-going-on-21-year-old who would scream “Hey Mom!” into the bleachers, not caring who was around.

The young man who lived in my basement after college, couches littered with his friends who called our house their “second home.”

I won’t be seeing him this year.

He has chosen (and rightfully so) to go with his beloved to see her family.

I get it.

Completely.

I did the exact same thing when I was navigating all that weird “who do we visit this year?” choices of the young adult.

But it doesn’t make it easy.

He’s still my baby boy in all.the.ways.

You get it.

I know you get it.

But who said this mom gig was easy?

No one ever.

It’s so dang hard.

We have no idea what we are getting ourselves into when we see those TWO LINES on the little screen.

No idea how much we are going to love this human.
No idea how good it’s going to feel often.
No idea how awful the constant goodbyes are (to seasons and to them).
No idea how wonderful and complicated and messy and beautiful it ALL IS.

The pangs and disbelief will show up out of nowhere in the next couple of weeks.

I’m ready for them.  Kind of.  I’ll cry for sure.

But you know what?

I’m really glad for them.

It means what we have is good.
He’s one of my people.
It’s how I always wanted it to be.

Lest you think we’ve got it all “going on,” I can promise you that it wasn’t always this way.

During his rough senior year, I was counting down the days until he left for college.  I almost made a paper chain (it was that rough).

But now, thanks to the very kind God above, and a lot of keeping my mouth shut and my heart open, I might just make a whole different paper chain, one that counts down the days until I see him again.

Right now, it’s most likely 99.

It will be 98 tomorrow.

I can hear the sound of paper ripping.

Posted in Celebration, Faith, Grief

Kitchens and the Howl of the Not-Yet

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The past months have been marked by much suffering.
 
The pain can be overwhelming.
 
Substance abuse by those we love.
Every kind of loss imaginable from the dang virus.
A very scary diagnosis.
Betrayal.
Unkindness.
A debilitating disease that prevents normal life-function.
Mental illness that doctors are having trouble treating.
The excruciating long and threatening unknown.
 
We find ourselves overwhelmed in the most ordinary of places.
For me, it’s often the kitchen (even when I’m not cutting onions).
 
We cry…
 
How long?
How much?
Why?
Why right now?”
 
I love the holiday season.
 
It’s FULL (even this very strange year).
 
My tree is FULL of ornaments.
My tummy is FULL of food (way too much of it, as my current waistline is showing).
My neighborhood is FULL of lights (it seems even moreso in 2020).
My garage is FULL of empty Amazon boxes, gifts waiting to be wrapped and opened on Christmas morning in the family room.
 
And especially this year…
 
My heart is FULL of
 
gratitude
wonder
hope
love
 
I’m desperate for them. I’m holding onto them with all my might.
 
I like living in the FULL of good things part, not the CRYING part.
 
The period leading up to Christmas morning is commonly known as Advent. It’s Advent right now.
 
Advent speaks to the “howl of the not-yet,” the pleading, the waiting, the yearning, the “crying in the kitchen” part.
 
Advent is NOT Christmas morning.
 
Advent speaks about and grieves broken places that are yet to be healed, questions that have no answer today, and yearning that is unfulfilled.
 
Advent gives a glimpse of fruition at the end of a long season of waiting.
 
Advent says there is suffering and it is real, palpable. But advent also says there is hope, just as real and palpable.
 
Advent says “don’t skip over the suffering. Don’t minimize the heartache. Sit in it, acknowledge it, and feel it.”
 
This is not an easy place.
 
I struggle with Advent.
I do not sit with the grief, acknowledge and feel it.
 
I skip right to Christmas morning, the happy place, where the answer is here and salvation has come, the “FULL in the family room” part.
 
Skipping right to Christmas doesn’t work.
 
It doesn’t take away the pain.
It doesn’t make bad things not happen.
It doesn’t bring true healing.
 
Advent brings healing.
 
It’s the place of truth that speaks to both heartache AND hope, both suffering AND a savior.
 
Right now, there is more than a week until Christmas morning.
 
I think I have some more “kitchen” work to do.
 
Howling.
Waiting.
Questioning.
Grieving.
The Not-Yet.
 
Christmas morning will come soon enough.
 
A baby will be here.
A Savior will come.
What is empty will be filled.
Heartache will be healed.
Yearning will be fulfilled.
What is broken will be repaired.
What we’ve lost will be found.
 
It will be time for the “family room.”
 
But right now, I’m headed to make breakfast.
 
(P.S. I lit my third candle this morning – this time the pink one)
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**thanks to Shauna Niequist, who penned the idea of the “howl of the not-yet.”**