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

I’m late

I’m late for Lent.

But somehow I don’t feel like I am.
 
It feels like it’s been Lent for a year.
 
All the sacrifices.
All the not having.
All the fasting.
All the giving up.
All the solitude.
All the praying.
 
So when Ash Wednesday showed up on my “Birthday Eve,” I wasn’t having it! (at least not yet)
 
I wanted a day or two or three or four to celebrate.
Have my own “Fat Tuesday” of sorts.
 
A party with friends (over Zoom) to play games and blow out a virtual candle on a virtual cupcake.
 
A big giant chocolate chip cookie after a delicious take out dinner with my husband.
 
A guilt-free social media binge day to see all the birthday wishes from friends old and new, far and near.
 
A day filled with dings on my phone and a few cards in my mailbox.
 
A final hurrah two whole days later with my kids escaping some locked internet room.
 
A few days to celebrate. Revel. Create my own carnival.
 
But now I am ready for Lent.
 
Fat Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday are over.
 
The normal chips, chocolate and cheese are out the window (except for on Celebration Sundays…look it up…it’s a thing).
 
But that’s not really what I’m ready for.
 
That’s not the Lent I’m diving into. Not this year.
 
I’m giving up the BIG THREE… (or at least trying to)
 
FEAR.
 
Not the put-your-seatbelt-on-to-protect-myself kind of fear.
 
I need that.
 
More like the people-might-not-like-me kind.
The I-might-fail kind.
The I’m-not-going-to-be-okay kind.
 
I do not need that at all.
 
GUILT.
 
Not the take-responsibility-for-my-harmful-actions kind of guilt.
 
I need that.
 
More like the I-never-do-anything-right kind.
The responsible-for-everyone-else’s-feelings kind.
The why-do-I-have-a-good-marriage-and-my-friend-doesn’t kind.
 
I do not need that at all.
 
SHAME.
 
Not the I-was-unkind-to-my-husband-last-night-and-I-don’t-want-to-do-that-again kind.
 
I need that.
 
More like the I-am-a-bad-person-no-matter-what-I-do kind.
The how-could-anyone-ever-love-me kind.
The God-must-be-disappointed-in-me kind.
 
I do not need that at all.
 
But because this is a year where I’ve already given up lots and lots and lots more, I’m making room for a different BIG THREE.
 
FAITH.
Believing something that hasn’t happened yet will come true. Especially what I can’t see with my the eyes in my head, but maybe I can with the eyes of my heart.
 
I need that.
 
HOPE.
The confident expectation in the God who is my Father, the One who wants good for me. The anchor for my soul that grounds me and reminds me that good always triumphs over evil in the end.
 
I need that.
 
LOVE.
The intense feeling of deep affection that God has for me and that I have for others. The great interest and immense pleasure that God has for me and that I have for others. It never fails. It always wins.
 
I need that for sure.
 
So Lent, I welcome you with open arms.
 
I’ve had a lot of you this year.
 
But I’m ready for just a little bit more.
 
I am running a little late.
 
Or maybe, I’m right on time.
Posted in Faith, Family, Health, Motherhood

3:39 pm

Nine years ago, I was a mom of a 19 year old, an 18 year old, a 15 year old and a 12 year old.

My husband commuted to a job 90 minutes away.

I was in the middle of some of the hardest and busiest times of my life.

Trapped in a mile-long to do list.

Trying to SEE God, but constantly pulled in a thousand directions, especially at 3:39 pm.

Sports.
Exhaustion.
Homework.
Mom Guilt.
Groceries.
Tuition Bills.
Church.

Anxiety.

I must have read this quote somewhere.

It struck me enough that I stopped and posted it on Facebook. At 3:39 pm.

It was probably exactly what I needed at that specific time and wanted the world (or my little Facebook Friends world) to hear it.

To soak it in.
To bask in its freeing and life-giving truth.

God SEES me.
God loves me.

Right in the middle of the mayhem.
Right where I am, not where I “should” be.
Right at 3:39 pm.

He SEES me.
He loves me.

Maybe that day, I got a little glimpse that held me up when I needed it the most.

Maybe I blasted some music on my iPod, headphones tangled around my neck.
Maybe I stopped and danced around the kitchen with dirty dishes piled high in the sink.

And maybe today at 3:39 pm, I’ll need another peek at the never-ending love of God.

Maybe I will throw on some worship music.
Maybe I will dance freely around my office.

And maybe nine years from now, this will all happen again.
At 3:39 pm.

I hope it does. I sure hope it does.

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 Faith, Family, Health, Thanks

2020, Thanksgiving, AND

BUT I SHOULD be thankful because…

I have technology to communicate with my family.

none of the people I love is sick right now.

my husband just got a job.

BUT I SHOULD be thankful.

BUT.

BUT.

BUT.

 

I’ve lived for a long time in the land of the BUT.

Hoping that happiness would spill out as I pondered all the “awesome” in my life.

Hoping that even though XYZ was hard, pointing out the good would quiet down the raw grief that kept welling up inside.

Hoping beyond hope that gratitude would spring up and overflow to all those around me.

 

Dirty little secret.   It didn’t work.

I just felt guilty, like an entitled little brat who didn’t get her way when her mom told her “no more cookies.”

I stuffed down my sadness in favor of all manner of positivity, only to find it leak out in ways like resentment and unkindness.

I brought this yuck into my marriage, my parenting and my friendships, only to perpetuate this vicious cycle.

 

One little word changed all of this.

The word I’ve come to desperately NEED and LOVE, especially in 2020, the year of all years.

The word that helps me to embrace all of my humanness and yours too, giving us opportunity for true and real connection.

The word that’s holding me this week as we head into Thanksgiving, giving space for gratitude in a whole new way.

 

This word:  AND.

AND.

AND.

AND.

 

It’s goes something like this.

 

I am very sad that I can’t eat turkey and watch football with some of my kids this week

AND I am thankful because…

they are able to see each other and I have technology to communicate with them.

 

I am anxious about this dang virus and all the numbers going up

AND I am thankful because…

none of the people I love is sick right now.

 

I am angry that local businesses are shutting their doors and the holidays are kind of being ruined

AND I am thankful because…

my husband just got a new job.

 

I am having a very hard time with all that’s been ravaged, lost, ripped away from the collective “us” this year

AND I am thankful because…

God is good and near and kind and with me in the middle of all of it.

 

So on this very 2020 Thanksgiving, my friend, let’s give ourselves permission to kick the land of the BUT to the curb and pitch our tent in the terra firma of the AND.

Posted in Childhood, Faith, Family, Health, Motherhood

613

613. Number of ancient Jewish laws.

613. Almost the number of rules in our home when the kids were little.

61. Probably the number of different “Family Laws” based on said rules along with kids’ ages and stages.

All of this an effort to keep track of what really mattered and didn’t, what should be disciplined and what should be praised.

But mostly just a desperate attempt to manage the chaos that seemed to be a natural part of raising a family.

One not-so-glorious day, having reached the end of my mom rope, I screamed these words in exasperation:

“JUST TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AND YOUR STUFF!!!”

“PUH-LEEZE!”

If the not-so-glorious scene had been made into a comic strip for the Sunday paper, a glowing “light bulb” would have hovered just over my red face and red head.

“AHA! MAGIC!!!”

Boxes in my brain were immediately checked for compliance:

  • Brush teeth (SELF)
  • Put gas in the car (STUFF)
  • Do NOT eat 17 cookies (SELF)
  • Do homework (STUFF)
  • No wet towels on the floor (STUFF)
  • Go to bed (SELF)
  • Get a job (BOTH). – YES. Get a job!

A new “Family Law” was imposed, one that didn’t take hours of preparation, spreadsheets and doctorates. The old charts were wadded up and saved as fire starters!

“AHH. RELIEF!”

“TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AND YOUR STUFF!”

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

Everything in our OUTER lives is managed by this sweet, simple phrase, no matter how old we are, whether we are a male or female, who we live with, what dreams we have, or what our personalities are like.

(You could play a little game and see if you can find any that don’t if you really want to. Comment if you come up with one.)

It’s the same for me and for you, our child or our parents, our spouse or our friend, our pastor or our barista at the local coffee shop.

But what about our INNER lives? What about cooperation, kindness, generosity, respect, compassion, thankfulness, forgiveness, patience, etc., the deeper issues of the heart?

Do they land in those two columns of “self” and “stuff”?

The wisest human (not me) who ever lived emphatically says, “yes.”

In fact, he reminds us that “taking care of our self and our stuff” begins with our INNER life.

Cultivating the matters of our hearts is the best care we can take of our “selves.”

Tending to our souls is the best care we can take of our “stuff.”

His words, not mine:

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)

P.S. I need a new toothbrush!

Posted in Celebration, Faith, Thanks

Pennies From Heaven

“The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside by a generous hand. But- and this is the point- who gets excited by a mere penny?”  (Annie Dillard)

My husband hatched a plan at dinner one night many moons ago.  He had been reading Annie Dillard’s book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and was captivated by an anecdote about a game she played during childhood. She tells how she hid her own “precious penn(ies)” in nooks or crannies in trees or sidewalks, drawing chalk arrows to them so a stranger would find the surprise penny and pick it up.  Many times, she would lie in wait to catch a glimpse of the excitement in the finder’s eyes.

Dillard reminds us that, just like her game, there are “unwrapped gifts and free surprises” straight from the heart of God, just waiting for us if we open our eyes to see them.  Our family mission was born:  find these pennies every day and tell us about them at dinner.

What started as a conversation starter for the table ended up literally changing our lives. Each one of us searched and found many things each day that we believed were “strewn by the generous hand” of God Himself, “surprises” just for us He had hidden along the path, many times with “big arrows” signaling where we might discover them.  We had things like flowers, actual pennies, frogs, the best parking space at the mall on a rainy day, butterflies, a kind word from someone, a goal scored on the soccer or field hockey field, etc.  Sometimes, we would joke that what we had been given was a “nickel,” a “dime” or even a “quarter,” depending on the magnitude of what it meant to us.

My life (and mostly my head) is filled with negativity from the news, struggles in my home, animosity on social media, work-place uncertainty, sickness and even the death of those I love, all things that consume me by what’s wrong with the world instead of what’s right.  Truth be told, doubts creep in about this God and I question if His love and care for me and this beautiful, but hurting planet.

Sticking my head in the sand and pretending the “bad” does not exist is NOT a good idea, but being swallowed up by it is worse.  I am wise to navigate the tension between the bitter and the sweet of life, allowing them to sit side-by-side, both having their rightful place in my day, compassion rising within me in the bitter and joy enveloping my heart in the sweet.

I would still venture to say, however, that I don’t have to look very far to see the bitter.  I am bombarded from sun up until sun down.  I must open my eyes to search for the sweet, find it, and name it.  Those “pennies” are just what I need.  They quiet those doubts and remind me of a God who is fully alive and loves little old me, a God who has put special pennies all throughout my day, surprise “pennies hidden” just for me.

“As you go through this day, look for tiny treasures from God that have been strategically placed along the way.  God lovingly goes before you and plants little pleasures to brighten your day.  Look carefully for them and pluck them one by one.  When you reach the end of your day, you will have gathered a really nice bouquet.”  (Sarah Young)

From my heart to yours.

P.S. My penny already this morning was the sun streaking through my window, casting its rays across the floor. How about you? Any pennies?

Posted in Anxiety, Faith, Family, Friendship, Grief

Comfort, Comfort My People

US: We’re all a little afraid, God? Ok, some of us a lot afraid. Most of us are somewhere between freaking out and totally Zen, depending on the day, the hour, the moment. What are we supposed to do?

GOD: COMFORT, COMFORT MY PEOPLE.

US: You mean we’re not supposed to tell them not to be afraid?

GOD: COMFORT, COMFORT MY PEOPLE.

Don’t tell them not to be afraid. HELP them not to be afraid!

US: How should we do that?

GOD: You already are in so many ways, and I’m so grateful for that.

When you answer the phone and cry with a friend who has lost her job, YOU ARE.

When you drop a roll of paper towels off in mailbox for someone who is running short, YOU ARE.

When you hold your kids close who are now having nightmares, YOU ARE.

When you order a pizza from a restaurant who wonders if they are going to make it (and add a few dinners to go), YOU ARE.

When you pray for your coworker whose mom is in the hospital (and tell them that over and over and over), YOU ARE.

When you put stuffed bears in your windows for kids to see as they walk by, YOU ARE.

When you drop a note for your elderly neighbor, asking if they need anything, YOU ARE.

When you keep your distance if you’re out and about, yet greet people kindly, YOU ARE.

When you have a video conference call with your family to celebrate your son’s birthday, YOU ARE.

When you listen to your spouse’s rant about all the scary things that are going on inside her, YOU ARE.

When you collectively gather on the internet with your faith community and remind each other of God’s tender care, YOU ARE.

When you hold another’s heart carefully and tenderly, allowing for all the feels, YOU ARE.

US: Really? That will HELP them? That will HELP me? Not to be so afraid?

GOD: Yes. Yes. COMFORT, COMFORT MY PEOPLE.

Posted in Celebration, Faith, Friendship, Thanks

A Beautiful Mess

I’m headed to a place this morning where pain is shared, joy is celebrated, grace is abundant, hope is plentiful and love looms large.

This is a place I can’t live without.  Everyone should have one of these.

It’s my refuge, my anchor, my lifeline.

You see, where I’m going, there’s…

…one who is wisdom that makes my “self” smart.

…one who is joy that brings a laugh to my heart.

…one who is gentleness that reaches deep in my soul.

…one who is peace that guides me to be whole.

…one who is light that counsels my spirit to shine.

…one who is faithfulness that connects me to the “Vine.”

…one who is grace that keeps me looking “Up.”

…one who is generosity that fills up my cup.

…one who is goodness to help me feel truly blessed.

…one who is kindness that allows my spirit to rest.

This place is going to look a little different this morning, but it’s going to feel exactly the same.  Warm.  Safe.  Love.  A Beautiful Mess (#ourfancygroupname).

This morning, we will share our pain, celebrate our joy, grant grace in abundance, muster our hope, and lavish our love.

I can’t wait.


P.S.  There are some who have scattered and I miss you terribly.  You will always belong to us.   Never forget that.  You are light and love and hope and joy and peace right where you are today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Celebration, Faith

I Arise Today

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

 

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.

 

Christ shield me today
Against wounding

 

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

 

I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation.

 

–St. Patrick’s Breastplate–