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 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, 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, Family, Motherhood

What Matters

I had to set my alarm for the first time in nine months.

I left my home in the cold cover of darkness to pick you up after five whole months of being apart.

I spent my whole entire day “getting your room ready” (since it had become where we “store” everything).

Our grocery bill is going to be quite a bit higher for the next three weeks.

We both had to quarantine to the best of our ability for the last bunch of days.

I had to fill my pantry with all your favorites and drove back out to the store because I forgot something.

There will be more dirty dishes and meals I haven’t made in months.

ALL of that just doesn’t matter. Seriously.

WHAT DOES MATTER IS ALL OF THIS:

I watched you embrace the dad you have had wrapped around your finger since you burst forth on the scene in that sterile hospital room.

I heard your particular footsteps scampering to the bathroom this morning.

I soaked in the smell of your perfume you’ve been wearing since you were 13.

You sat with me eating your favorite cereal and we just had time to talk face-to-face.

The puzzle board is back out with pieces scattered in very neatly arranged areas.

We are going to decorate the Christmas tree together.

I am hearing your laughter right now as you chat with your brother.

We went on a walk today in the freshly fallen snow.

You are here if I want to see your face, be in the same room with you, and hold your hand on the couch while we binge watch our favorite mom/daughter show.

WHAT REALLY MATTERS IS THAT YOU ARE HOME.

With me.

For Christmas.

Best mom present ever.

E.V.E.R.

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

🎶All we are saying is…

GIVE PEACE A CHANCE.

The mantra sung and chanted and begged for in 1969.

1969.

War rages and protests break out all over.
Charles Manson cult members murder 5 people.
Hurricane kills 248 people.
Chappaquiddick (look it up).
Police raid a gay club in New York City.  The Stonewall Riot ensues.

1969 sounds like a year I would want to AVOID with all my might.

GIVE PEACE A CHANCE.

What the messenger asked of a young, brown-skinned, oppressed, poor girl named Mary.

4 BCish.

Herod the Great kills his own family to hold onto his reign of brutality.
Taxation of the poor is almost 50-60%.
The main feature of life is gender separation except for sex.
Revolts and uprisings are commonplace.
Politics and religion intertwine and hatred for the “other” rules.

4 BCish sounds like a year I would want to AVOID with all my might.

GIVE PEACE A CHANCE.

What our collective, modern-day hearts continue to yearn and plead for.

2020

COVID threatens everything we have worked so hard for.
Politics and religion intertwine and hatred for the “other” rules.
Sex-trafficking is at an all-time high.
Natural disasters are some of the most destructive ever.
Racial tension sparks protests and riots and looting.

2020 is a year I want to AVOID with all my might (I bet you do too).

GIVE PEACE A CHANCE.

PEACE.

The idea that ALL IS WELL.

inside and outside
individually and collectively
mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally

for EVERYONE.

Not just for some.
Not just for the rich.
Not just for the healthy.
Not just for the insiders.
Not just for the free.

BUT for everyone.
The rich and the poor.
The healthy and the sick.
The insiders and the marginalized.
The free and the prisoner.

GIVE PEACE A CHANCE.

PEACE.

HOW?  HOW?  HOW?

Begged for in 1969.
Asked for in 4 BC (ish).
Yearned for STILL in 2020.

Something so elusive.  So difficult.  So needed.

HOW?  HOW?  HOW?

HOW DO WE MAKE PEACE?

[not how do we KEEP peace – the want to AVOID with all my might]

1969.
4 BCish.
2020.

We MAKE PEACE by embracing that “ALL are created equal.”  ALL.
Not just the ones who look, believe and act like us.

We MAKE PEACE by being willing to resolve turmoil.
Both what rages on the outside and on the inside of us.

We MAKE PEACE by standing up for it.  Saying “NO MORE!”
Both for others and ourselves.

We MAKE PEACE by fighting for it.
In our own hearts and homes first, but NOT stopping there.

We MAKE PEACE by making room (just like Mary in 4 BCish) for the Prince of Peace.

The One who embraces that ALL are created equal.
The One who resolves the turmoil that rages inside and out.
The One who stands up and says “NO MORE!”
The One who fights for our hearts and our homes, but does not stop there!

The One who shows up every moment of every day of every single year (even 2020)…and tenderly says…

GIVE PEACE A CHANCE.

**I lit the peace candle this morning for Advent week TWO**

Posted in Faith, Friendship

Dear Human Race, Here’s What I Need From You Right Now

YUP.

What I need from you.

But also what I hope to give you in return.

The pretty blunt dos and don’ts.

Not flowery. You might actually like it.

  1. DO check in on me and all my feelings, even if they seem crazy.
  2. DON’T try to convince me who to vote for. I will be spending lots of time (doing research and on my knees) figuring that out for myself.
  3. DO respect my boundaries about no-right-answer decisions. DO cheer for me when I decide what I think is safe or risky. Some things might still FREAK me out and I can’t get “there” yet.
  4. DON’T have a secret agenda to change me or my mind. Just be with me in the middle of the mess.
  5. DO tell me why you are making your choices. I love knowing you, even and especially if you are completely different from me.
  6. DON’T tell me I’m nuts, even if I am that minute. Just give me a virtual hug over ZOOM.
  7. DO keep our relationship paramount. I will be here when we’ve moved beyond all of this.
  8. DON’T yell in the comment section on social media. Also, DON’T post political things. At least not in my news feed. I want to hear about your kids, your pets, your latest adventures and even cute memes that make me laugh or help me cope. I am happy to have a one-on-one conversation with you about all that’s clogging the news.
  9. DO understand that I am trying really hard to navigate the complexity of this with as much bravery and wisdom as I can muster, keeping grace for you and me at the forefront. I might screw this up some days.
  10. DON’T be afraid to tell me how much it all SUCKS right now.
  11. DO help me stay grounded (when I’m pouring over “the numbers”), but also help me gain freedom (at my turtley pace except for when I’m a hare). Holding onto and speaking HOPE works great here.
  12. DON’T be afraid to tell me how much FUN you are having right now.
  13. DO take me into consideration when you act. You know, that whole “love your neighbor as yourself” thing.
  14. DON’T keep silent about how much you miss me. You can even cry. I might cry right back.
  15. DO be true to yourself. Let me be true to myself too.
  16. DON’T try to make me happy and put yourself in an uncomfortable position (see #13). It’s really okay to maintain your own boundaries, even if it’s super hard.
  17. DO feel free to change your mind, any time you want. The world is changing at break-neck speed. You just might have to as well. We both might.
    **17 is a weird number, so I will make it 18 (#noprimenumbers)**
  18. One final and big DO. DO pray for me. A lot. There’s this Presence with a big giant capital P “up there” who has us and knows us and holds us. Plus, it’s hard to pray for me and be against me at the same time. I like when we’re in this human race thing together, on the same side, helping each other out and all that good stuff.

YUP.

What I need from you.

But also what I hope to give you in return.

#fistbump #virtualhug #ADDYOUROWN

 

Posted in Celebration, Childhood, Thanks

Painted KINDNESS

It happened again.

Children brought hope to my discouraged heart.

Hope in the form of painted rocks.

Painted rocks outside our local elementary school.

Messages of goodness, encouragement and kindness splattered all over simple gray stones.

In “pre-crazy times,” I would have thought, “how cute” and moved on quickly.

Not now. I stopped, savoring each one, breathing a prayer of thanks.

Thanks for each child. Thanks for the purest and simplest of words, designed to breathe life into my disheartened soul.

I needed these rocks. I needed these deliberate acts of kindness from children who decided to take a moment to paint rocks.

I want to be like them when I grow up.

Posted in Anxiety, Faith, Family, Friendship, Motherhood

Finding PEACE when we are FRAUGHT

FRAUGHT. Adj. (of a situation or course of action) filled with or likely to result in (something undesirable).
THIS IS OUR LIFE right now. NO clear answers, much less any that we like.
Should I send my kids to school in person, online or homeschool?
How should I respond if someone puts their hand out to shake mine?
How can I safely see my aging parents? Should I quarantine? For how long? What does that even mean?
What do I do at work when someone comes in without a mask on?
When should I plan that dentist visit?
How do I respond with my friends, online, on the news, with my family when other people are not making the same choices as me?
Should I have friends over? Inside? Where will they go to the bathroom?
Is it okay to serve at the soup kitchen? How close will I have to get to the other volunteers?
FRAUGHT.
YUP. We are FRAUGHT.
Whatever decision we make is likely to result in something undesirable.
So what are we to do to have PEACE in the middle of it all?
____________________________________
DISCLAIMER: I’m on the same struggle bus sitting 6 feet away from you with my mask on. We are here kind of socially-distanced together, high-fiving and cheering each other along on this bumpy, twisty ride.
____________________________________
Okay. Back to our regularly-scheduled programming.
I had one of these FRAUGHT-FILLED decisions just this weekend. I was officiating a small wedding and I suddenly remembered I was going to have to talk to people. The bride. The groom. The wedding coordinator. The parents. The little cute kids wandering around. I’d always done it with ease and now it was complicated. FRAUGHT!
Will they think I am rude? Should I stand six-feet away from them? What if someone is immunocompromised and I have no clue? What if they want me close to them?
I would love to tell you that I knew exactly what to do and how to do it and that I was super confident in my decisions ahead of time. HAHAHA. NOPE!
I reverted to all those things I normally do.
I asked my husband what to do.
I wrung my hands.
I called an officiant friend for his advice.
I freaked out a little inside.
But then, I had to get out of the car. I had to make my decisions. The wedding was upon me.
I put on my big girl pants (I mean dress in this case) and I did what I knew to be my own best practices.
  • JUST DO THE VERY NEXT THING. I am not in any kind of position to plan ahead because my world is changing at break-neck speed. Don’t add anything extra to my plate right now. Add my best version of LOVE into the mixture and trust it will be really okay in the end.
  • DIG DEEPER TO FIND OUT WHAT IS GOING ON BENEATH THE SURFACE. Is it fear? Is it bad boundaries? Is it people-pleasing? Is it comparison? Maybe it’s something good. Faith? Good boundaries? Being true to myself? Take a minute to listen.
  • WATCH HOW MY BODY RESPONDS TO EACH OPTION. Do I tense up or do I sigh with at least some measure of relief? Check myself again and again until I sense which direction my body is sending me.
  • SINK DOWN INSIDE OF MYSELF WHERE GOD DWELLS. He is filled wisdom and love, goodness and life, healing and hope and SO AM I. Trust my God-filled gut.
  • GIVE MYSELF PERMISSION TO CHANGE MY MIND. The decisions I make do not have power over me. I have power over them. There is not one right one choice and everything will go to “hell in a hand-basket” if I make the wrong one. Change is often a good thing. It means I am learning and growing.
Yes. I am FRAUGHT. I certainly was this weekend and will be again for the foreseeable future. So are you. We all are. It’s a perfect word for the times we are living in. NO GOOD OPTIONS.
But good options are not the dictator of whether we have PEACE. Peace comes from within, not from without. Nothing has the right to steal it away from us. NO ONE. NO THING.
We need PEACE so very desperately because it’s our GUIDE, our HOPE and FRIEND.
And it’s ours for the taking because, after all, the very Source of PEACE is with us and for us and around us and IN US.
IN US.
IN US.
So struggle-bus companions, let’s keep asking for and giving ourselves the gift of peace. The unexplainable, undeniable PEACE that is rightfully ours, if I may say so myself.

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