Relax, Mom! (how the heck can I?)
My LEAST favorite phrase that graces the mouths of my kids.
It usually comes when I am in a tizzy, overcome with fear about something that’s out of my control.
“Mom, can I go to this party (far away with people you don’t know)?”
“Mom, I just rear-ended someone.”
“Mom, I have this weird rash.”
In the middle of all the fret and freak out, it’s the last thing I want to hear.
Instead, I totally want to hang on to my anxiety and use it to gain control over whatever is in front of me.
[Secret reveal: it doesn’t work. The more control I try to take, the greater my fear and panic. I can’t just “relax.”]
I’m not a big “throw a Bible verse out there and hope it sticks somewhere somehow.”
But there’s this one that turned this whole “relax” nonsense on its lovely head.
It’s simple and not simple at the same time.
“Cast all your anxieties on Him…”
[I looked it up, being the nerd I am.]
“Cast” means to “fling something with great force” and it indicates “onto the back of some beast of burden.”
My precious body is not designed to carry the weight of fret and freak out.
My aching back and my clenched jaw are proof.
BUT my days are still filled with hard stuff that is just too much for me (and my fragile central nervous system).
What am I, the fret-and-freak-out mom, to do?
I’m not good with “relax,” but I am really good with “fling” whatever whenever onto God’s “shoulders.”
Sounds perfect to me. Good riddance.
But why should I, the fret-and-freak-out mom, do this?
Plain and simple answer. One I can get on board with.
…BECAUSE He cares for you.” (I Peter 5:7)
[I looked this up too.]
This word “care” implies “deep affection” and “meticulous attention.”
God’s not only highly aware and taking notice, but has utter tenderness for me and the heavy loads I am carrying.
It’s a good thing God doesn’t say “relax” to me like my kids do.
That would probably just amp me up even more.
Instead, He’s so gently reminds me,
“Take whatever load you’ve got on your back and fling it with all your might onto mine. I will carry it for you. You know why? Because I care deeply for you.”
Maybe I can “relax” a little bit after all.
Death (my fear of it…and some hope)
Fear is prime real estate in the “fun to do.”
The “shadows” come out to play.
Death is paraded for the world to embrace. I do not like thinking about death. Even on Halloween. I like cute pumpkins.
It’s where my anxiety heads on any given day. At times, I am able to “keep it in its rightful place,” and move along. [Get my work done.]
[Enjoy the beauty of life.]
[Have lots of hope.] But at others, I feel fragile, afraid, and my heart is off to the races [Text my family to see if they are okay.]
[Look on the internet for answers to my latest ailment.]
[Hunker down to protect myself.] I would love to get to a place where I don’t fear death at all.
I’m not sure if that’s even possible. But I’m pretty sure I don’t have to be a slave to this excruciating fear, wear it as a weighty chain around my neck, and allow it to lead me down the “not living anyway” path. As of late, I have felt a few links come off and I wonder if this might be (at least some of) the reason: I am leaning into it, instead of avoiding it. Spending time and energy with those who are grieving and not trying to fix their pain (and thus, my own). Asking questions about walking through it with a fiercely-loved one and being reminded again how God shows up in the middle of it all, and it’s one of those “thin places” where heaven touches earth, awful and beautiful, but mostly exquisitely sacred. It all seems to reveal, like nothing else can, that “LOVE is stronger than death.” In fact (as my hubby often reminds me)… I was born in LOVE. I’ve come from it. I am currently held in LOVE. I’m safe. And eventually, I will return to LOVE. Sigh. Death (as scary as it is) cannot destroy the REAL ME. I will live forever, doused in and surrounded by LOVE. It is much stronger (HE is much stronger) than Death. I’ll still have my moments and days and seasons of slavery to fear.
Of taking chain links on and off. I’m still in a “continuing to heal” place in this area. Maybe we all are.
Waiting on the Porch with Strangers
I picked up some barbecue from a local restaurant this past week.
It’s a hole-in-the-wall that opens at 11 am and usually sells out by 2 pm. They make no bones about how they will close as soon as the meat is gone.
When I arrived at 10:50 am, there was already a short line. They are THAT GOOD!
At 10:59 am, they opened their doors. There were now several people behind me waiting for their goodies.
Because of this not-so-lovely continuing plague, each person entered one at a time, some with masks and others without.
That left most of us waiting outside, just fine as it was a gorgeous fall day, filled with sunny skies and warm temperatures.
One woman fidgeted. She seemed overly nervous. She asked me how long I thought this would take as she had left someone waiting in the car.
A man complained that the website had not updated and they “better have brisket” today.
Three mid-twenties “guys,” looking like they just rolled out of bed, chatted about how much they loved working from home.
I was in a good mood and thrilled not to have to be cooking for the company we had invited over for dinner. My face was filled with smiles as I waited to order.
But my mind was churning.
What made this woman so nervous? Was the person in the car a child? A demanding, abusive spouse? Why was she in such a hurry? I felt sad for her.
What was the deal with the “Negative Ned” (the name I made up for him)? Why was he being such a jerk? This is a small business in a local town and he just “had to say something?” I felt pretty angry about him.
Where did these young fellas work, the ones in their sweats with bedhead? Did their bosses know that they were out-and-about? How fun for them to be getting lunch with their friends and working from home! Are they getting paid for this? I felt pretty confused about them.
As I drove away, the smell of pulled pork and brisket wafting through my car, I couldn’t stop thinking about this group of humans lined up outside on a small porch at 11 am, all waiting for the SAME thing.
Yet, we were all so DIFFERENT.
Coming from different places.
Feeling different things.
In different spaces.
Inside and out.
And it struck me.
No matter where we go or who we are with or what we are doing, we bring ourselves.
What’s going on in our life.
What’s happening inside our hearts.
Good or bad, happy or sad, annoyed or kind, fearful or at peace (yada yada yada).
Other people, even strangers standing in line and small business owners trying to serve up some finger-licking-good eats, reap the “rewards.”
I just happened to have had a good night of sleep, a full belly from my smoothie and an evening ahead with friends to look forward to.
I was rested, fed and loved.
Maybe that’s why I was all smiles and “in a good mood,” something the porch-waiters and shopkeepers benefitted from.
But the others?
I’m not sure.
Where were they coming from?
Were they rested, fed and loved?
I emptied my wares into the fridge, my husband helping me. I chatted away about the people in line.
He reminded me of a quote by Richard Rohr, “If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.”
Yes to that. YES. YES. YES.
That has happened both FROM me and TO me.
A few minutes later, I hunkered down in my office, thoughts continuing to swirl.
This time, something Jesus said came to me. “Out of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
Yes to that. YES. YES. YES.
What happens on the outside comes from the inside. Always.
I said a quick prayer on my futon, knowing I could have been any of those folks on any given day.
“God, grant me the goodness that I need on the inside. Help me to fight for it. Help me to receive it. Help me to give it to others on the outside.”
Even when standing on porches in small towns waiting with strangers.
On change and letting go…
The afternoon sun glistens through the trees.
The leaves are just beginning to be marked by yellows and oranges.
I steal a quiet moment to soak it all in.
Change and letting go beat their steady drums right in front of me.
They mirror what’s happening in my own life, my own heart.
So much change.
Much of it visible to the outside world.
My kids growing and flying.
My move to the woods (#acorns) and very-far-away grocery stores.
My new and strange love of flower gardening.
My public writing.
My decision to take a sabbatical from church and ministry.
My now simple and unhurried life.
So much change.
Especially in the hidden places of my heart.
My growing ability to hold space for grief and joy at the exact same time, not trying to diminish one for the other.
My okayness with not having everything right this minute at my beck-and-call. #thisishardforme
My settledness of soul when I’m digging in the dirt and hashing things out with my Creator.
My surprising bravery sharing my not-so-pretty parts with the world and being somewhat fine no matter what others might think.
My emerging desire to lean into questions instead of being certain of answers.
My permission to explore long-held beliefs, systems, and what drives me to cling to them.
My switch from frantic to slow, elaborate to simple, piety to peace.
So much letting go.
Of manicured lawns.
Of a sense of belonging.
Of life as I know it.
So much letting go.
An acorn falls with a large thump.
A brown leaf floats and lands to my right.
Many already scatter my driveway.
The trees are changing right before my eyes.
It’s beautifully sacred to see.
The trees will soon let go of all their leaves.
It’s the exact right thing for them to do.
The trees need rest.
The trees are not afraid of change or letting go.
They are not afraid of rest.
They tell me I don’t have to be either.
I am obsessed this week. To say the least.
It’s all I talk about.
To my friends.
At the dinner table.
Via text. Phone calls. Zoom groups.
I can’t stop listening and thinking and mulling over and over and over.
I’ve been obsessed with a podcast.
It’s about the glorious rise to fame of a church and its pastor and then their spiraling demise.
Being a fierce “justice warrior,” anger wells within me over the same old story of corrupt systems and those who enable the people at the top. Often in the well-disguised mantra of advancing the kingdom of God. I’ve seen and lived it over and over again in my lifetime.
It happens on large scales with huge followings.
It happens in microcosms like families.
It happens everywhere.
Questions loom large in my mind as I listen.
How does this happen?
Why does this keep happening?
Who is responsible?
Haven’t we learned?
How can we fix this?
Why am I so mad?
The last one haunts me.
Why am I so mad?
I know I’m mad at the pain it causes people whose desire to do good are being used as pawns in some weird game disguised as ministry.
I know I’m mad at the downright destruction left in the aftermath of shame, fear, manipulation and abuse of power.
I know I’m mad at the harm it brings to those who thought they found God and healing and life, but in the end, they realize it was all a fraud.
As I dig a little deeper, I’m kind of mad at myself. Not just kind of. Really mad.
Mad that I can get caught up in advancing these systems. I have and probably will again (no matter how hard I try not to).
Mad that the podcast could be about me. If my center-of attention, leadership-bent, late 20s, unhealed self had been put in a position that was “too big for my britches,” it certainly could be about me.
I’m okay with the mad. It’s a bit of a righteous anger. Because it’s all just not right.
This church I’m learning about.
The much bigger system we all live under.
I dig even a little bit deeper and chatter about all this with my family.
Why am I so mad?
Where can I start?
What do I need to learn?
How can I heal?
Bring healing to others?
The answer that comes catches me a little off-guard.
I’m still obsessed. How could I not be?
I’m still mad. I’m allowed to be.
But I’m still going to keep reaching for grace.
Or better yet, the Giver of it is going to keep reaching for me.
If you are curious, the name of the podcast is “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill.” Click HERE to listen to it.
I did a very HARD thing
I knew I had to do something.
I knew it would be HARD. Probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
I knew it was right, in fact, more than right. It was good.
When the “thing” came to light a couple of weeks ago, my stomach churned.
I looped around and around about it.
I talked with a professional and got wise counsel.
I chatted with my people.
I wished the “thing” did not exist. But it did. Large and scary and awful.
It was hurting someone I love. A few people I love. Harming them.
It was ruinous. The opposite of healing. That “wide road that leads to destruction.”
This “thing” was out of control.
Actually, it probably was in control, the horrific boss, dictating thoughts, decisions and actions.
Causing shame, fear, guilt, heartache, mistrust, disunity, chaos, impatience, lashing out.
That’s why I had to do something.
A very HARD thing.
I set a plan so I wouldn’t back out.
Gathered others to help. With the “thing.”
Chose a day and time.
I knew it was good and right, but as the moment approached, my head ached, my heart raced and I was very afraid.
Of all the bad that might happen.
Of my own inability to follow through. Be calm. Show tender and fierce love at the same time.
Of screwing it all up. Bringing more harm.
But I forged ahead, knowing the “thing” needed to come out of hiding into the open.
Remembering that I can do what’s HARD.
Trusting the process of transformation and the very God who is at the heart of it.
The dreaded hour came.
It was awful.
It was scary.
It was sacred.
It was beautiful.
It was HARD.
Darkness came to light.
Tears were shed.
Boundaries were kept.
Bravery showed up.
Love fitfully reigned in the mess.
And the most important of all…
One small step was taken down the “narrow path that leads to life.”
*items in quotes come from Matthew 7:13*
P.S. Jonathan Puddle has a 30-day devotional book. It combines a short message along with a guided audio meditation for each day.
I started four days ago and it’s been fabulous. Just what I need to center myself around who God says I am and how much I am loved by Him.
There’s a Kindle version, an Audible book and a hard copy available.
A Much Bigger Dream
I had one girl and two boys, all under the age of seven. I was ready to burst, my fourth baby wiggling incessantly inside my pregnant belly, leaving me exhausted and eager to give birth. I had chosen NOT to find out the gender, but not-so-secretly dreamed of a sister for my oldest.
You see, I was the only girl in a family of three older brothers and always wanted a sister. But no matter how much I pleaded with my mom, no more babies were to be had.
A few days after an awful procedure called an “external version” to flip over my not-head-down baby, I packed my bags and headed to the hospital. After hours of induced labor, the doctor came rushing in just in time to shout, “IT’S A GIRL!”
My heart leapt for JOY (her middle name that mirrors my own) and, in that moment, I thought my BIG dream had come true and my earnest prayer answered.
Little did I know that something much BIGGER was on the horizon.
The birth of this baby girl became the very starting point of a now years-long journey of healing for me. I’m still not sure why.
Perhaps it was a fluke. Or maybe God just knew that I might be ready.
Immediately, her sparkly eyes drew me close, as if she could see right into my soul.
I had never before been able to open my heart without pause.
She was unconditional love wrapped in a tiny package of flesh and bones.
I had never before been able to receive love without restriction.
As she grew, her child-like wisdom shocked me in the best ways.
I had never before been able to move out of formulaic thinking.
Three crucial pieces to a puzzle that had long been missing in my life, and that changed it forever.
As I write, this young lady stands on the precipice of a hope-filled future, one that reaches far beyond me.
She still sparkles and I feel seen.
She still loves unabashedly and I receive it with JOY.
She still speaks wisdom and I am, again and again, moved toward healing.
My BIG dream did come true that autumn morning, the birth of a sister for my oldest.
But God had a much BIGGER dream for me, an “immeasurably more” kind: the slow, deliberate, continuing and tender mending of my own precious soul.
I don’t know how I feel about the word “sin.”
I’ve stopped using it for a pretty long time.
It feels yucky.
It has been used to scare me into trying to trust a God who is blazing mad at me because of something I had no control over (“born in sin”).
It has gotten me to shame, guilt and make others afraid about a certain behavior I believed was right up its alley.
A friend of mine asked a bunch of us what we thought about this word.
All of us had lots to say.
It’s been in our lives for as long as we can remember.
We’ve replaced it with softer words like “brokenness,” “humanness,” etc.
It’s been misused and we’ve been harmed by it. Gut-punch!
Yup. I’ve been down-right harmed.
Probably why I stopped using it.
Why I bristle every time I hear it.
I don’t want to perpetuate the madness.
After all, those are the BIG THREE that I have worked so hard to overcome with the help of God and His audacious love for me.
Or as my friend said, “EW!”
So what to do with this word, “sin”?
It’s an important word.
It’s a word that needs to be understood and redeemed.
For me anyway.
Recently, I picked up a book that has the word in the title. Might be why it’s all up in my grill at the moment.
I dove into the first chapter to see what this author had to say about it (or what I think he had to say…since we all pull out what grabs us and try to make sense of it).
Could it be this?
“Sin” is whatever we do that “goes against the grain of love.”
Small “l” and capital “L.”
Love God. Love my neighbor. The BIG TWO. Or the BIG ONE.
The way to combat the BIG THREE.
NO SHAME in LOVE.
NO GUILT in LOVE.
NO FEAR in LOVE.
So, I’ve got to ask myself this every single day (plus ask for lots of help from LOVE HIMSELF):
How can I go WITH the grain of LOVE?
Not making others scared.
Being a soft, safe place to land.
Going WITH the grain of LOVE.
I may be back to using this word I’ve avoided (at least in the privacy of my own heart).
We’ll have to see.
P.S. Here’s the book (if you are so interested):
I quit something recently. In fact, I quit two things.
And these weren’t just two small things. They were two ginormous things that I had been doing for umpteen years. Umpteen.
First of all, I loathe quitting.
I was that mom who never allowed my children to quit something they had committed to (like a sports season, those art lessons, their service project).
I am also a human German Shepherd, loyalty coursing through my veins. Once something or someone makes its way into my heart and my life, I’m holding on tight.
I loathe quitting.
But quit I did. Q-U-I-T.
And these weren’t just two unimportant things. They were highly meaningful things that I had poured my heart into. My time into. Things that had breathed life into me.
Second of all, I needed to quit.
Even saying that out loud and penning it for the world to see makes my stomach a little bit swirly.
But I needed to take a big giant step outside my never-quit comfort zone and pull the quit trigger.
I needed to quit.
For my integrity. Something even more important to me than my loyalty.
Because the time had come.
To put to death what was no longer giving me life (I’m still struggling writing that).
So in one week, I wrote some of the most difficult emails and made some of the hardest phone calls telling some of my most favorite people in the whole world that I quit. I was done.
And these two ginormous and highly meaningful things ended just like that. Just like that.
Third of all, it was awful.
I cried. I cried more. I talked to friends. I met with a counselor. I told God how sad I was. And mad. And that I couldn’t believe this was happening and that I was doing this.
I also reminded myself over and over and over again that making the right decision does not mean it’s easy. Or happy. It often is not.
It was awful.
It still is.
Especially now that the newness has worn off and I am left with the empty space that those two ginormous and highly meaningful things filled to the brim.
I still cry. I still talk to friends about it.
I tell God that I’m never going to quit Him. And that I’m incredibly grateful that He never ever ever ever ever is going to quit me. We belong to each other no matter what else stops or ends or is over.
Last of all, it brought me space. And room.
Space for quiet. Room to listen to the whispers from the heart of God.
Space for what might breathe life into me. And what I might breathe life into.
Room for my next right things, what I might miss if I stay my German Shepherd self.
It brought me space. And room.
To breathe (as my online yoga instructor says, “lots of love in and lots of love out”).
I have no idea what’s going to happen in the big picture.
I’m a little bit scared.
I’m just beginning to see glimmers of light ahead of me.
I’m a little bit hopeful.
But for now, I sit in this odd space between the definitive past and the murky future. I like it here.
God is here with me.
That’s all I need to know for now.