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.”**
Posted in Celebration, Faith, Grief

I Lit a Candle

I lit a candle this morning.

For the first time.

Not just any candle.

The candle of “Hope” on this first day, this first Sunday of Advent.

It’s a new thing I’m doing this year, the year of all years.
 
The candle of Hope.

Hope.

A simple word.  But not a simple word.

A complex and intricate word.  A pregnant word.

Pregnant?

Yes, pregnant.  The “full of meaning” kind of pregnant.

I’ve been pregnant six times.  Two ended way too soon, loss and grief and confusion permeating my heart.  Four ended at just the right time, joy and life and expectation bursting onto the scene.

Pregnant.

This word.  Hope.  What I felt every single time those two lines appeared on my bathroom counter.

This word.  Hope.

Two times, it ended in a bloody mess.  A bloody mess that brought the end of possibility, the death of the little life that had stopped growing, and abject heartache.

In this particular season of Advent, in all things 2020, it sure seems like I’m sitting in the middle of a bloody mess on my bathroom floor crying.

All I did was open my newspaper this morning.

[One-third of small businesses closed.]

[Numbers in hospitals highest they’ve ever been.]

[Two teenagers dead after Black Friday mall shooting.]

That was just the front page.

In this particular season of Advent, in all things 2020, it’s really okay to be sitting in the middle of a bloody mess on my bathroom floor crying.

It’s why I lit a candle this morning.

NOT because there is nothing to grieve.

NOT because everything is as it should be.

BUT exactly because there is lots to grieve.

BUT exactly because everything is NOT as it should be.

This word.  Hope.  What I felt every single time those two lines appeared on my bathroom counter.

BUT this word.  Hope.

Four times, it also ended in a bloody mess.  But those times, the bloody mess brought the beginning of possibility, the birth of the little life that had grown just enough, and undeniable joy.

Mary.  My favorite pregnant woman.

Young, poor, single.  A nobody.

In a world where her headlines read just like mine.

In a world where there was a lot to grieve.

In a world where everything was NOT as it should be.

BUT in her womb, a baby grew.

Just enough.

AND yes, her pregnancy ended in a bloody mess.

But hope tells me what her Baby tells me as He bursts on the scene.

[I’m right here with you in the middle of your grief.]

[I will put things right and things will be as they should.]

[Take courage, my child.  Prepare your heart for Me.]

It’s why I lit a candle this morning.

HOPE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Anxiety, Faith, Grief, Health

Jittery

It’s a jittery kind of morning around here.

I strike up one of those “conversations” with God.

“Principal’s office” god begins his normal barrage.

[WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? Can’t you get your act together? Enough with the anxiety already!]

That familiar UGH swoops in.

[This again? What is wrong with me!?!]

Newly-found voices of “up-in-arms” battle their way to the surface.

[That is NOT the voice of the real and true God. It’s those dang and destructive voices of discouragement and shame, enemies of my soul.]

I clear a just-enough space for a tender, gentle Voice.

[What’s wrong with you, my Sweet? What do you NEED?]

The ping-pongy chitchat heads into full swing.

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

[I NEED my son to keep his new job so he can pay his rent.]

[Actually, you probably NEED My wisdom to know how much to help or not help. You know, that whole boundaries thing you’ve been working on for (basically) ever.]

[I NEED this pandemic to be O-V-E-R! Like right now! It’s basically ruining ALL.THE.THINGS along with me always feeling like I’m playing Russian roulette.]

[Actually, you might just NEED a settledness of soul in the waiting, an abiding trust in Me. I really care about you and this and I know how it all feels.]

[I NEED my youngest to come home for the holidays.]

[Actually, you likely NEED to feel your sadness over missing her and confront your own loneliness without her. You NEED to grieve.]

[I NEED our financial situation to be secure.]

[Actually, you undoubtedly NEED to live in today and from a place of provision from my generous heart, instead of that never-ending, life-sucking place of scarcity.]

[GOD, HELP ME! I NEED TO BE OKAY ON THE OUTSIDE!]

[Actually, you NEED to be okay on the inside.]

This time around, I keep quiet and He keeps going.

[My daughter, it’s not going to be having all the OUTSIDE problems solved. More of them will creep up every day. What you “needed” a year ago is completely different than what you will “need” a year from now. It’s always changing.

What you REALLY NEED, however, is the SAME every moment, every day.

You need to trust, to settle, to BE in that “all shall be well” place INSIDE, the place where I dwell.

It’s safe.

Your jitters can rest.

You DO have EVERYTHING you really NEED.]

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

And my God will liberally supply (fill until full) your every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)

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

P.S. One thing I do desperately NEED this morning (and any of you who might grace my presence would heartily agree): I NEED A SHOWER! Warm soapy, water, here I come!

Posted in Family, Grief, Motherhood, Thanks

TWINGE

It hits you when you least expect it.

That TWINGE of mom grief.

The lump in your throat, tear in your eye, and melancholy in your mom heart.

It might be something as simple as…
watching your 10-year-old jump in a pile of leaves knowing this might be the last time she feels carefree enough to do so because she is heading into those self-conscious middle school years.

TWINGE.

Or…
your eighth grader asking to stand back-to-back with you so he can prove he has passed you up in the mom/son height race.

TWINGE.

Maybe even…
your newly-licensed driver waving goodbye to you as she backs down your driveway headed off for the very first time EVER alone in the family car.

TWINGE.

How about…
unthinkingly grabbing your son’s favorite cereal in the grocery store a week into his college freshman year? You slowly put it back on the shelf.

TWINGE.

It happened to me today. Again. A sign on the beach I frequent often, one I had never noticed before.

A simple board with words reminding me that I am here, standing 428 feet from the Atlantic Ocean and my 21-year-old is snug as a bug 30 minutes from the Pacific Ocean, almost 3,000 miles away.

3,000.

TWINGE.
TWINGE.
TWINGE.

I stopped.
I stared at the sign.
I sighed.
I teared up.
I wiped my eyes with my shirt.

TWINGE.

That ever-so familiar TWINGE that…

…sparks gratitude for this mom journey I love.

…moves me THROUGH the hard of missing all the good that once was

…takes me TO the good that still lies ahead, waiting for me to enjoy it.

It won’t be long until I feel that TWINGE again.
It will hit me when I least expect it.
But I secretly don’t mind it at all.

Posted in Anxiety, Faith, Family, Grief

How Did You Feel?

How did you feel, LITTLE ANT, the day your world was turned upside-down, the day I moved the huge rock that your whole little life revolved around and was protected by just so I could build a rock wall to line the fence in my yard?

How did you feel?

Maybe you felt…

CONFUSED.  You were scampering along, working hard to take care of your family, happily doing what you were supposed to do.  Suddenly, you found yourself exposed to a world you’d never known.  Maybe you asked yourself, “What the heck just happened?  Why oh why?”  I don’t blame you.  I would feel the same way.

Maybe you felt…

ANGRY.  I know you did because you bit me, at least three times.  I felt it sharply under my pants just moments later.  You know what?  I would bite me too.  Maybe it was all your little self could do to yell, “THIS IS NOT RIGHT!  SEND ME BACK TO THE WAY IT WAS!”

Maybe you felt…

OUT-OF-CONTROL.  After all, life as you knew it had just changed forever.  All those systems that you had put in place to make your little life easier and more predictable blew to bits.  Your formula for how the world works and works well was upended, to say the least.  When I ventured back to check on you, I saw a whole bunch of you just scurrying around, looking like you didn’t know what to do next.

Maybe you felt…

AFRAID.  Who wouldn’t?  I sure would.  Would some giant ant-eater come out of the woods and gobble you up?  Would your life ever look remotely the same as it had before the rock was taken away?  Would your ant family be okay with this new normal?  Would you be able to find another rock?

Maybe you felt…

SAD.  Some of your family and friends were just taken away from you, some never to be seen again and some that you don’t know when you will see again, eat with, play with and work with.  It’s just horrible, my little ant friend.  Just horrible.  It’s not really supposed to be this way and I’m so sorry what happened is putting you through this.  I would just stop right now and cry the tears that are rightfully yours.

Maybe one day, LITTLE ANT, you will have a whole new world, one where you will be working, taking care of your family, busily at peace and full of new adventures.  Yes.  I bet it will happen soon enough.

But for now, my new found friend, I get it.  I get you.

I’m with you and I AM you, more than you will ever know.

God-speed, my LITTLE ANT friend.

 

 

 

Posted in Anxiety, Faith, Family, Grief, Health, Marriage, Motherhood

Which Voice Am I Listening To?

WHICH VOICE AM I LISTENING TO?

Inner Critic:  “You cannot stay on a workout regimen save your life.”

Inner Cheerleader:  “Start with 15 minutes again tomorrow.  You’ve done it before .  You can do it again. ”

Inner Critic:  “Your friends are probably so angry with you because you are not checking in with them as much as you used to.  It’s your fault if they don’t stick around.”

Inner Cheerleader:  “You have had to narrow down how much you are pouring out into people for your own well-being.  You’ve done that so that you can be a better friend.”

Inner Critic:  “You should NOT spend so much at the grocery store.  You need to stick to a list.”

Inner Cheerleader:  “It costs just a bit more to eat healthy, which has been a goal for you and your family.  Keep up the good work!”

Inner Critic:  “I can’t believe you are so racist?”

Inner Cheerleader:  “You are learning to listen to those who are not like you.  You will grow and change.  You always have.”

Inner Critic:  “Why do you tell people you have a good marriage?  You just had another fight with your husband.”

Inner Cheerleader:  “Look how far you have come from the early days.  You’ve seen how sometimes conflict brings closeness.  You have helped so many other couples because you can admit you struggle too.”

Inner Critic:  “You will never get to those boxes in the basement that need to be organized.”

Inner Cheerleader:  “You have been sorting through many things in your life, not all of them visible to the outside world.   You will get to it when you are ready.”

Inner Critic:  “You know that cookie you ate?  You blew it again.”

Inner Cheerleader:  “You know that cookie you ate?  Good for you for showing yourself it’s not about perfection, but about grace.”

Inner Critic:  “You didn’t set good boundaries again with your kids.  When will you get this right?”

Inner Cheerleader:  “Being a mom is a hard job, no matter how old your kids are.  Boundaries are tricky and complicated and you are really doing what you think is right in each different situation.  Also, you are really good at saying you are sorry when you blow it.”

Inner Critic:  “Why do you even bother to give advice?  To share your heart?  To try to make a difference?”

Inner Cheerleader:  “You don’t do it because you have it all together.  You do it because you are broken too and it’s in this broken place that we all heal each other.”

WHICH VOICE HEAPS SHAME AND DESTROYS?
WHICH VOICE WHISPERS GRACE AND BRINGS HEALING?

WHICH VOICE AM I LISTENING TO?

 

 

 

 

Posted in Anxiety, Faith, Grief, Health

What Do You Want From Me?

I got real with Jesus just now.

I angrily pleaded, shouting in my mind, WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME ANYWAY?

His gentle answer surprised me.

You have it all wrong, backwards in fact. It’s the question I’ve been waiting to ask you. What do YOU want from ME? What do YOU need? As a mom? As a wife? As a friend? As a woman? As a human? What do YOU need today?

Really, Jesus? Really? Cause I have a whole list. You ready?

I’m tired. Tired of holding it together. Tired of the extra work. Tired of the mental load. I NEED STRENGTH.

I’m confused. Not sure what to do in this new normal I find myself in. I NEED WISDOM.

I’m irritable. Emotions flying off the wall and out of my mouth. Cranky. I NEED PATIENCE.

I’m sad. Sad that so much good has been taken away. I’m really sad. I NEED JOY.

I’m afraid. It’s scary out there and even here in my own head. I NEED PEACE.

I’m discouraged. Everywhere I turn, it seems like bad news is being shouted loudly. I NEED HOPE.

This time around, His gentle answer did NOT surprise me, because it’s been buried deep in my heart for SO long, just waiting to emerge.

I’ve got all of this IN SPADES for you.
Truth be told, I AM ALL OF THIS.

I am STRENGTH.
I am WISDOM.
I am PATIENCE.
I am JOY.
I am PEACE.
I am HOPE.

There is plenty of ME to go around. I will give YOU all that YOU need today, because what YOU really need is ME.