When Christmas isn’t what you’d hoped

Christmas is here. Today. Tomorrow.

I can’t seem to tuck away the dog-eared pages of my own story this year; smooth, crease and hide them back in Luke 5 or better, the obscurity of Jude while adoring the cherubic Christ and his romanticized parents. It’s just not happening. The pressure to create lovely and my ability to do it in years that looked harder than this one seems to snear at every effort from my heart and hand at settling into a season of hope and joy.   I’ve never wanted it to be over more than I do this year.

Wonder crept back into my life three years ago and I can remember where I was standing when I realized it wasn’t just for children. The weary world rejoiced and hope seemed to explode from every twinkling light on the tree.

Our new puppy chewed the power out of a strand or two of lights on the lower limbs of the tree and and the top of that tree shines on. I’ll do the same today, in fact I’m going to go light a candle and start singing with Bing right now.

I’ll frost a few remaining cookies with my kids and iron the wrinkles out of their good clothes. It’ll be fine. It always is. But I can’t pretend that it feels fine any more than we shouldn’t pretend that the stable was sanitized and romantic. It wasn’t.

Nichole Nordeman wrote a song that speaks to the futility I’ve felt in cleaning up my Christmas feelings this year. If the stable and the people in it were really real, I want to be too.

 

Nichole Nordeman Real

 

When Thankfulness Runs Out

I am caught today in a  dark ink pool of my privilege while blessings, too many to count, stain my ungrateful heart.

Thankfulness precedes the blessing and I am both blessed and un-thankful.

My heart wants heaven on earth and translucent understanding. Someone to share with as we separate threads of  pure thankfulness knotted within dark disappointment  and spun completely over with the Perfect Love that was born into humanity.

I look for connection and when I find it run furiously.

I am sure of my belief in the Son that came from God. The Son that gives life to hard cynical souls and I hear my screaming angry echo when I choose politics over love, choose right over love, choose alone over love.

My thoughts curve with love the instant before they veer hard left, straight toward victimization.

Friends pray and I can feel their faith, the way they know the names of my silent tears.

Strengthened, as I share without words.

 

 

 

Because I said so

In this space of electronic invisibility,  I’m looking for the place I fit in this world, maybe not so different than the refugees landing on all sorts of shores this week.

Learning to find a voice. My voice.

NT Wright refers to the voice within us that cries for justice and beauty, the echo of a voice.  He’s referring to the voice of our Creator resonating within each of us,

individually,

collectively,

simultaneously.

Sometimes, I still think the voice I hear is my own and try to silence it’s call to greatness. But the call to join with something bigger than myself, something higher, the call to greatness being birthed in me isn’t a vain desire to make a name for myself, though vanity whispers to us all.

This mandate with which we have all been created, to reflect the one who created us, when we follow the holy echo of that call, something beautiful and intricately unique happens inside us.

We discover our own voice.

It’s challenging for me to leave out qualifiers in my writing but  I’m learning.

I remember a time in the middle of my fourth decade.  My children were small and I was working out by process of elimination, what kind of parent I wanted to become. At the same time, my paradigm of faith was shifting and every last plank in the floorboard of my relationships had started to warp around the edges.

In those exhausting lonely days, there wasn’t much of anything I knew for sure.

I believed God was interested in every area of my life and loved me in  a way I couldn’t begin to feel yet; I also believed, knew actually, that my children needed so much more than I was equipped to give them.

The majority of statements I made in those days were cushioned with qualifiers.

I don’t really know but…..

I think…..or it seems to me…….

I wonder if you might ever consider…..

It’s only my opinion…..

To complicate that mess more was the fact that I was sure I had the answer to any question asked in the course of ever.

(Interestingly enough, at this same time, I was working hard to please and placate people for whom I would never be enough and ignoring relationships with the ones for whom I am everything at this point, my children.)

If you happened to be one of those who listened to my rambling  nonsense please accept my deepest apology for nothing specifically and everything in general.  I wanted you to think I knew it all but was insecure enough to think that who you were, what you were created to do and be in this life posed a direct threat to who I was. As if of our existences were mutually exclusive.

I didn’t know it yet, but  I was qualifying my  existence to my own self.  I desperately wanted my outside ‘knows’ to match up with the ancient echo in my soul and I didn’t understand yet that the eternity set in my heart could never be explained by what I knew, or what I could point to, or what I could read, or what I could convince you of.

And also?   I wanted you to nod your head and tell me…

Yes, I know.

Yes, I understand you.

Yes I see you.

Yes, you are something, someone unique and you have your very own voice.  

When I hear hashtags of  qualifiers today, I recognize my thirty-something self and feel so much compassion for both the person I’m speaking with and that poor girl inside me who was such a mess. On my better days, I practice showing them with the compassion that I wish I’d had for my own self back then.

As I learn  to say big-girl words with no qualifiers here, with you, I’m feeling stronger and safer.  I’m finding new confidence in understanding Truth both inside myself and in the world simply because I said so.

Maybe you are too.

How Not to Feel Like a Wimp on a Monday Morning

Monday mornings are not for wimps.  If you don’t know who you are before your ten piggies dig into the day and  you don’t know what needs to be accomplished before the yellow bus rounds the corner, they, the ones who outline most of your life with their color of choice will trade in their pop tarts and oatmeal, eating instead, you and your peace for breakfast.

Honestly they can do this any day they choose but Monday Mornings seem the worst.

Can I get a witness?

I see that hand.

I’m working to get ahead here at home and inside myself.  You know, so we can hang winter coats in the coat closet sometime before spring break and when it comes time for a graduation or two, the school pictures are at least in the same box and so that when that day actually comes, I’m the slightest bit ready to let go of these people.

After years of treading schedules to just keep current, looking toward the future feels luxurious. I don’t have the first idea about what’s coming up, but I know that I’m beginning to catch glimpses of if not the shape, at least the open space out there in the distance.

01cb0a6ccea7507b12e33beacc5f437980c56437e2

In 2012 (which I can only remember  because of the date stamped on the picture), we visited my sister-in-law in Florida and went to a monkey museum or sanctuary or something.  Honestly, it was more of an ape asylum where imprisoned, belligerent primates throw food and all kind of bodily fluids directly at those foolish enough to plunk down an admission fee.

Which is to say, my kids loved it.

Someone painted this quote just outside the entrance and the whole interesting experience was worth this one photo.

I’d been intentionally living by St. Frank’s words for a couple of years by the time I first encountered his quote.  I’d never seen them before, but remember the decision I made to keep moving my feet forward whether I was making forward progress or not.  In April of 2012 though, I still wasn’t any closer to getting conquering the necessary.

Over the three years since that vacation, and some of the hardest of my years yet, I slowly began taking on what was possible by……

Standing my ground.

Weeding out manipulators.

Honoring my heart.

Believing in my salvation, that’s its for the living years.

Choosing to live out of love.

Forgiving because I am forgiven.

Understanding that my choice to forgive is my choice for freedom.

Committing to a life of honesty.

All of this heart-work has taken place in the middle of a physically demanding schedule tailored more for  the extra-ist extrovert than for me. But what’s beginning to happen now I think is that specifically because of these hard years, the impossible no longer seems that way.

In fact, it seems probable, hope-filled, exciting and imminent.

And still.

My self-talk revolves around reminding myself what I’ve decided I believe and offensively shutting down everything thought that stands in challenge of those beliefs and most days I’m up for it.

But today…. this Monday all honest and red-ledgered.

Today I’m just the slightest to the right of wimpy.  I needed more than my own words of refute or affirmation.  I needed to come here where my hidden self takes shape and remind myself of progress.

Motherhood, The Great Interruption: on being a mom

License: Creative Commons

License: Creative Commons

Can we talk for just a little minute about being a mom?

Early this morning, I saw an internet meme and drew tears out of me I didn’t know were still there.  Four side-facing silhouettes, one, two, and four pleasantly pregnant and colored blue, number three colored pink; the best abs of her life.  The post a reminder, one in four women experience pregnancy loss and infertility.

Shame clouded any specific emotions.

Just last week the kids wanted to talk about my first miscarriage, the one baby out of four we named and I still want to slink under the table and disappear when the subject pops up.

Yesterday, I found the poem I wrote marking that child’s impact on my life.  I hid it away in the drawer.

I realize and remember all too well that some women hurt deeply,  unable to experience the frenzy that accompanies motherhood and I don’t want  to minimize that excruciating heartbreak one little bit….

But!!!

I wanna talk about being a mom and friends, I’m rockin it today.  Tomorrow, you may find me in my bed in the fetal position screaming “HUSH!” for the love of all things ordered, but today?

I am ON it!

It’s 8:48.

Successfully, I rolled out at 6:01 stumbling for the thermometer to determine the physical state of Number One child, on my way I rinsed my face of the miracle Nerium night-time mask I’m sampling…

Note to self:  apply for second mortgage

….and my hands were so wetI had to whip out stealth negotiation skills  while peeling  the cover off from the thermometer protector  one tissue sample at a time so as not to transport any unwelcome, unidentifiable, and unsanitary creatures into the mouths of Number Two and Number Three on some un-forseeable date in the future.

Note to all women: there’s a reason that the therMOMeter has mom written all over it 

I fought back his gusts of raging morning breath, pried open his clenched teeth and stuck that stick of  toxic mercury straight into his slimy mouth.  Scared the kid half to death as he tried to fight off the unknown intruder.

Single most important skill of mothers:  ability to witness absolute hysteria while maintaining the facial composure of a politician.  Case in point, the sustained shrieking of fevering Number Two child after witnessing the deceased carcass of a lethargic fly bouncing from her oatmeal onto her Ipad before coming to a rest on her fuzzy pink leopard robe. This trauma was real people!

After determining that Number One was indeed normal, I ordered him to the land of the living and feel compelled to note that he complied completely.

My habit is to wake these people up and then hide in a darkened family room while I communicate telepathically with my coffee until the last possible moment when I  make them lunch.  Today, Number Two forgot about the morning routine was scared half to death when she heard me finally speak.  Two for two!

The morning sped by after this excitement with a succession of daily duties including disembarking the dishwasher, blending a battalion of bangs and dispensing proper prescriptions.

I wrote 11 please-let-her-ride-the-late-bus-home notes for the month of October, taking time to double check the dates on the calendar with her play practice.

After determining that sickie Number One boy needed an extra day to allow meds to work further and his body to strengthen because sending him back to school will mean that he heads straight to football practice afterward making today, and the following three. 12-hr days followed by mountains of homework that will be due on forthwith (deep breath and maybe a comma) I summoned paternal agreement and immediately phoned the nurse so as to determine what type of document signed by Congress will be necessary to excuse such an absence.

Note to self: long election year ahead

Moving on.

After dismissing Number One child to bed and Number Two child to the bus but before summoning Number Three, there was a peace treaty to negotiate.

Now it should also be noted, that while we, here, have been spared excess tween drama (as in girls, not club), today,  I found myself with a situation requiring my intervention and in a search for solidarity, phoned another mom and officially “went there.”  Fortunately, she and I came to consensus proceeding with a pact for our Two out of the Three Members of this controversy . (thank you Lord for sparing me mama-drama.)

….so far.

With the armistice of my daughters social life in order, I turned to dinner.

Today will be full of work, the kind that results in funds appropriation for budget increases as opposed to alms and dinner isn’t started early, the masses will be miserable.

Note to self: must  shrink  Choir T-shirt before Number Two arrives home. She’s declared it over-sized and therefore unacceptable for the 7 pm concert.  You don’t even want to go there!

Second note to self: try to spoon out dinner like a civilized human mother instead of throwing it at them on their way through the kitchen at 9 this evening.  

Reflecting on the morning, I marvel at the ability  to reason so clearly this early  when I remember; the day didn’t actually start at 6:01 but at 2:33 when I was startled awake with the realization that in exhaustion and complete ineptitude, I had sent an aberrant video message (clean though politically incorrect)  to a new work associate.  She found it so funny that she remarked in a return text about sharing it with a friend.

At 2:34 a.m. I saw my whole life flash before my eyes when I considered my figmental, yet completely feasible future complete with a blip on the evening news about the latest suburban mom to lose her entire bid for the Presidency as the result of a vilified video.  I reminded myself why I expound ad nauseum about the dangers of the internet to my children.

Note to self:  Call said work associate first thing in the morning

Second Note to self: Spend time in prayer that you can turn this into learning tool for the youth under your care instead of a career-busting media debacle

Third Note to Self: Get a grip, you are not a celebrity politician in danger of a media debacle.

With Numbers One and Two children set on proper course for the day,I summoned Number Three.  I woke, I bargained, and  I force-fed before dousing a fresh toe-residing spider bite the size of the Capital Building with essential oils, (my contribution to the environment and a downsizing pharmaceuticals, and waiting for 15 minutes for the bus in the newest season, Fweezing Fwall. Only one thing left to do, toss the Taco Bell napkin full of snot before I accidently squeeze it.

Note to self:  Bus does not arrive five minutes later than usual on  30-minute-delayl-Wednesday as previously amended but  actually appears five minutes later than is customary.

Second note to self:  Dress that kid warmer or you’ll be filleted by the teachers on the playground 

All in all, I’d call this morning a screaming success.

Motherhood hasn’t come easy for me, not from the first blue line.

It’s been like reconstructive surgery for my soul. There aren’t enough pain killers for that kind of transformation, believe me, I’ve looked.

Here’s what I know though. If you give yourself to it, the living of the life that’s right in front of you right this moment; the pain, comedy, fear, fulfillment, anger, exhilaration, heart-break, resentment, shame and all, it’s worth it.

I’ve found missing pieces of myself as I’ve learned to mother these children and I’m forever grateful that they’ve interrupted my life.

When you’re ready to give up, do this first.

My sink needed caution tape.  There was a lasagna pan filled with cold water, a few rogue noodles floating, one corner black from a re-warm.

sponges and sticking to it

Hardcore life before 8 a.m. for sure, but last night we were determined to make progress on a puzzle manufactured by sadists, so the pan spent a dark, wet night in the sink.

The  Kitchen Fairy skipped our house (something about working conditions) so I scrubbed the cold, slimy mess while I talked myself though.

Fire up the hot water,  we can melt it off.  Hot water negative,  noodles holding on for dear life.

Switch to scrapers.  But the gunk left on the end of the dish scrubber!!

Better gunk on hard plastic than grease filling up the sponge.  I think I’ll let it soak a while longer, finish after I pay the bills.  

You’re almost done now, keep moving. Shower door tracks win hands down over gross pans.

But you’re almost  D.O.N.E!  I can’t do this anymore, too.much.blackened.noodle.slime.

Don’t Stop Now, you can handle this!  I just want it clean.

Switch to manual sponges.  But they’re gross!!!!

Target is locked and loaded, steady now, you’re almost done. Switching to manual spongeesssss.

There’s something about dirty pans and slimy showers that bring out the quitter in me.  You’d think that  I would have learned by now to flip the autopilot switch and just do the junk of life without a whole lot of fuss but for whatever reason, I don’t.

I listen to the whiny baby inside my head  far too long before I actually get down to it and do the gross work.

Really, for the amount of time I whine in my head about  something, I could have finished it and three more disgusting jobs.  I mentally quit before I even start and  have to put all my energy into self-talk just to break even.

It’s one of the things I’m constantly working on.  When it comes to toughing out the rough things in life, finances, relationships, even sometimes faith, I’m usually committed but not before I’ve thrown a fit-fest sure to out-fit the most expressive three year old.

There are relationships that are difficult for me right now, a whole group of them.

I’ve been putting some healthier ways of relating into practice over the last couple of years but there’s some baked-on junk still sticking to the sides and I’m over it.  It’s taken a lot of strategic work to remove bad habits I developed mostly because my relationships were rooted in different kinds of fear.   But finally, I hope, the majority of my thinking and relating is more healthy than not and so it doesn’t surprise me that I’m have to work a little harder to keep myself motivated these days.

I think that’s how the disciples felt in Luke 5.  They’d been fishing all night with nothing but grimy gunk caught in their nets and they were over it.  Hungry.  Ready to hang up their nets and order take-out.  Their feet were cold, hands were dirty and stomachs were growling and I’m quite certain they were on each other’s last nerve.  The lasagna pan had more baked-on crud than they could handle and the thought of switching to sponges was just too much. They were ready to call it a night,  go home.

And then Jesus.

They dropped their nets one more time at his command.  I imagine a collective eye-roll as it sunk.

Their job was simply to do what he said, even if it was something they’d done a hundred times before.  It wasn’t like he gave them a new idea, he just simply added his authority to their process.  If they would’ve quit , they would have missed out on a miracle that would fuel their faith for the rest of their lives.

I need that authority and that kind of power to sludge through right now, and I’m sure you do too.

Whatever you’ve got going on today, and however sick you are of dealing with a mess that just won’t seem to come clean, stick with the honest work believing that at some point, Jesus will add his power to it. When we finally come to the end of ourselves….again, what happens next can be powerful.

The list of not-quite-finished in my life is long, but I’m switching to sponges.

Orange Jumpsuits, Low Rumbles, and Momentum: What to do when the World is Breaking

 

imageThis is the day.

I can feel something beginning to rise up but I don’t know what to call it yet.

We live on a busy road and occasionally some kid will drive by with a killer stereo or maybe it’s a mom grooving 80’s style to Taylor or Bruno.  I would have no knowledge of such behavior.

This morning,  I could feel the bass from the back of the house, a shaking that rumbled my stomach but not my toes.  The sound was so powerful it skipped over every visible part of my body and jumped inside, wrapped itself around my stomach and squeezed.

The feeling I have inside of me, whatever it’s called, is like that bass.  It’s coming from a place so low, so deep  that  it hasn’t crossed the sound barrier.  It’s more like a tension or an anticipation.

I’m cautiously excited in a frightened way. I throw around the word awesome all day long but maybe this feeling is what the word really means.  Maybe this is awe.

In the moment last night between my last thought and first dream ,  Psalm 46 wrapped around my sleep.

Nations are in an uproar, kingdoms fall,  he lifts his voice and the earth melts.  (melts!)……. Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted in all the nations, I will be exalted in all the earth.

That chapter has been a long-time favorite but I realized, just today,  that  I’ve always pictured myself on some other planet with an aerial, telescopic view of the nations when they’re up-roaring and the kingdoms when they’re falling.

Maybe it’s because I’ve thought of them as bible stories in bible times.  I’ve had some real-life raging in my own back yard, some crumbling that I didn’t anticipate and have received real comfort from that passage but even then, in my mind I was far removed from the blood and gore of the chaos. Safe.  Extracted from the violence  as I cheered on a winning God, who told me to sit tight.

And then there’s today.

I’m right here in right-now times, where the bloodshed is across the ocean and yet I hear it beginning to trickle a path to my patio door.  There are times  when it seems I’m  inside the crumbling kingdom walls, blood around my feet.

Images play on a screen 12 inches from my face while words words scroll along the bottom.  I read them with pause giving consideration to sources, motives, ideologies.

Colors blaze in my mind.   Orange jumpsuits, black masks, white explosions, and the turquoise coat on a blond child.

Just last night, there was a van, a violin, and the most beautiful daughter. Her view was blocked by a yellow jeep and a colorless car sped by as I heard my own gray gasp.  I watched a nation, my very own kingdom, stumble backward just in time.  She went on in alone and shaken while I sat quickly gathering images of what could have been before they  surrounded and took me captive.

I’d felt the need that very morning to pray protection for my people. It was an urge so specific that even my skin chilled to attention.

Overseas it’s  kingdoms.

Here at home it’s a nation.

Behind my van it was my whole world.

All of these, rumbling as the pounding within me grows strong.and begins to rise out of a quiet place of peace.

I’ve been in the anxious kind of rumble before.   The kind  birthed from fear that moves quickly to indignation and sometimes anger as I try to protect the people I love. The kind that makes me do crazy things and run my mouth from morning til night in a wild, but futile, attempt to convince everyone I’m in control when really I couldn’t sit still and be quiet for one minute even if I tried.

This is different.

This is a holy rumbling.

A reverberating stillness with momentum.

A powerful silence bellowing authority.

The understanding that a Force beyond our control is running this show.  Our job is to do the next thing, the daily thing, the boring thing and the hard thing while we wait with anticipation and in belief of the goodness and sovereignty of the Force.

I don’t know what’s next.  There are dangers seen and unseen everywhere and then there’s the pain, Dave Rod calls it a low-grade fever of sadness. We make choices every day to silence the hard places in our hearts, the stories that bring us pain or to welcome them in anticipation of the day they will be no more.   While we work deliberately to live out of the reality of the places that hurt within us, we can

Sit ready.

Love fully.

Offer  thanks.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for what’s next!

Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice,the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields[d] with fire.
He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

This one trait will make you the very best kind of friend

upside down hearts

I met a new friend recently.  We planned to have coffee while I asked her a few questions within her expertise.  Usually she charges by the hour, but offered to meet me off the clock.

It was all business at first, like clicks of a keyboard, hands working together to type some sense into life.  I asked  questions about mothering and she answered with depth and understanding, the openness of one whose known some pain in life.

I knew we’d share a little bit based on the types of questions I had for her, but what happened next was a rare shift in our conversation, a gift that I will remember for a long time.

We began sharing more personally about some of the hard situations in our lives; painful stories of the barest stretches we’ve walked, while weaving in our stories of faith.   Before long, our standard Times New Roman  conversation  moved into  sweeping Lucinda calligraphy.

Though I’ve learned a lot about the safety of where to rest my heart recently, I still tilt heavy on the sharing spectrum which is a grown-up way of saying that sometimes I practically bleed-out all over people at some of the most inappropriate times.

It’s really just a scavenge to find similar life form. I can stay on the slick surface with the best of ’em, making halted, chippery conversations about schedules and, well, mostly schedules but I prefer to cut right through the thin flakes of fine, busy, tired and move on to places with meaning.

Mostly, it’s a problem with my own expectations. Making a deliberate choice to stay in touch with all my junk  is something I can’t not do.  (I mean I have to do this or my brain will implode).  Many people that I meet  aren’t comfortable discussing the way life bruises us, or maybe they just don’t care to  discuss those  with me.  Quite possibly, we’re just not meant to share on that deep of a level.  In any case, most of the time I feel like I’m speaking Swahili while everyone else is speaking the King’s English and this new friend spoke fluent Swahili.

All of these things I’ve been learning about recently,  made this unexpected connection shortly after Christmas one of the better gifts I received this year.

Over four glorious hours (I know, Four!) and with not one mention of the word busy, the letters of our hearts began to loop long and broad, flourishes of

loving,

losing,

bending,

believing.

Warm waves of understanding made their way down our cheeks as we shared some of the deepest parts of our stories.  She underlined entire segments of my soul with compassion and we both breathed deeply of grace.

Time breathed deeply as we talked about how real life turned out so much different than we thought….  She let me hold some of her broken pieces for a few moments and then she held mine.

I think the most beautiful thing was that she didn’t try to fix my ragged edges, put them back together for the sake of what was expected in that sort of meeting.

Because of the pain that she’d walked through, that she literally walks through each day, she wasn’t afraid of the edges of my mothering or the ridges in my marriage. My disappointments weren’t too heavy for her and never once did I  sense that she thought I might be inadequate or need to get myself together. She offered me a safe place for a few hours on a Saturday morning and I hope I offered the same to her.

Smooth words curved in just the right place.  They swept strongly, giving courage because we shared a belief  in the value of the pages left out of our stories and  hope in the parts still unwritten.

And also, the shape of her heart?  It’s different, or maybe just situated differently.

Most hearts are puffy at the top.  They  just  don’t have room for the heaviness of life that can lie thick at the bottom of a soul.

I get it, I don’t want to make  room for it either.  I’d rather push all the disappointments and betrayals, the things that hurt the most in life, into that little point underneath the floorboards and pretend they don’t exist too.

But there’s something inside me, a search for truth maybe, or a desire to live beyond the constraining rush of life.  I just can’t  push all of the uncomfortable feelings down anymore.

For years, I lived with the fluffy part of my heart sitting on top.  To be honest, I didn’t know the pointy places of pain at the bottom existed, not in my own life, at least.   From the outside looking in, I had nothing to complain about, not really.

The brokenness in my life was present but I wasn’t able yet to pay attention. Maybe I was I was afraid of what I would learn about myself if I started to cup the pain.  Maybe I didn’t know that a seasoned heart is made to shift and needs to  be cradled like the first cup of morning coffee warming my hands and waking my soul  while  the hearts I love most still sleep.

Whatever the reason,  I couldn’t get away from my own self and and had no idea where my blazing intolerance of all breathing people came from.

The slightest variation from my plans at any point in the day resulted in exaggerated, prolonged annoyance and often rage.   Anxiety about what people thought of me and my preoccupation with their opinions began to turn me into someone I didn’t like. I ended up finding a group of people in another state that could help me and spent a couple of weeks there.

My time away was the beginning of a dark decade, I walked through  buried and painful needs (unmet needs that I believe we all experience, by the way).   I began to to figure some of that  stuff out, to learn that I used my list of accomplishments to validate who I am.

As a result of deciding to open the scariest doors in my soul, I found things that surprised me about myself.  I uncovered deep pockets of pride  and entitlement, began to  sort through their sources and begin,  for the first time,  to allow the Grace I believed in begin to change me.

We all walk this journey, it’s the purpose of life I think, but we have to choose to allow our hearts to be turned upside down as we go along.  We have to make a deliberate choice to sit with the the painful things that we discover about ourselves  and let them settle into the deepest places in our hearts and souls.

I fought it for a while (again, I think we all do)  but when I slowly began to allow my heart to tip?   I finally accepted it into the dark brokenness of my own life and let it begin to heal  the painful things I’d experienced from the bottom on up.  As I poured out some of the fluff on the top and began to be filled with understanding and compassion, with grace that runs heavy?

It  changed me.

Helped me begin to express the love that I felt inside but didn’t ever seem to be capable  of communicating.

For the first time, I was able to offer people around me the same Grace that I said I fiercly believ ed in.  Peace began to flow into my life and my parenting.  My family, and  I hope others around me, began to see in me the love buried underneath all of the pain.

By learning how to rest and receive, I began to be able to pour out and fill.

My new friend and I haven’t met or spoken since.  Our paths aren’t likely to cross consistently and I don’t even know if we’ll have the opportunity to meet again (though I hope we do).

She gave me a rare gift though, that day over a strong brew, the offering of an upside down heart and I won’t ever forget the healing that continued on that morning.

The Way to Really Know Your Own Self

Darkness and the light

In the dark of morning before floorboards crack and pipes fill, I’ve found I write more freely.  It surprises me that I find peace in a place that often leaves me feeling so very lonely.

In the dark there is silence, a swallowing still.

A current lulls and rocks and washes refreshing, steel-blue.

It’s consuming yet intimate enough to curve into the slivers of the soul that fade,

still whispering, with the rising

of the sun.

In the dark, we hear.

In the dark, we listen.

In the dark, we find rest.

In the dark,

the most shadowed corners of the soul are

free from hiding,

free from playing dress-up,

the dark is where our souls rest.

The light shines in

distractions,

refractions,

downright distortions of what is real, of what is true.

But in darkness lies hidden beauty,

glimmering in the pitch of night.

 

There’s  an absence of hiding that  happens at night. An acute knowing of the spaces within ourselves that are not yet what we hope for the fabric of our souls.  It used to frighten me to be that alone with myself.  It was a time and space where fears left unspoken in the daylight, fears of who I was and who I was not, would fill my lungs.

In the light of day, the demands that stream with the sun and the coming and going of a life allow for a measure of distance from fear. But when darkness tucks in around the edges, in our most truthful places we can hear what N.T. Wright calls the echos of a voice.

At night, we’re left unclothed by the demands of daylight and given countless opportunities to make ourselves at home with all we cannot see, cannot know.

I’m learning that making peace with what appears the most frightening by walking straight into it,  is the way to overcome it. Not because darkness disappears once the sun starts to rise in the morning, but because within the darkness, within the hurt and pain, at the very center of the absence of control there is a new dimension of light. A dimension that we hear with our hands and feel with our eyes.

I believe we can spend our whole lives maintaining a measure of distance from our fears but that we can’t escape them completely, because they curl up tightly and rest in the small of a back, the curve of a neck.  They nudge us with a continual insistence that we’ve forgotten or neglected something important.

Does the stillness in the middle of the night unsettle you? Have you found comfort there?  Have you learned things about yourself or things about God that you might share?

 

The stench of the nativity

The stink filled my room.

Before my feet hit the floor, I was already sick of myself, exhausted.

saved

My list probably looked like yours and the only thing I wanted was to escape it.  I could hide from the mounds of laundry and meters of wrapping, but found myself tucked in snug and smoldering with reminders of some relational junk.

Simply, my attitude stunk.

Breathe deeply, in through your nose, out through your mouth. I heard my mother’s voice talking me through childhood nausea.

If I could get through this day, if I  could just breathe through it, I hoped  the bitterness,resentment, and imperfection would keep from puking all over my Christmas.

Did you get the memo?  There shall be no mental or emotional meltdowns the Monday before Christmas. 

Somewhere around the sixth time I slammed my snooze button, I remembered why we we do this to ourselves every year.  It’s the nativity.

We all need it, but maybe not in the way that we think.  Maybe it’s not really about the sweet story of a baby born in a manger after all.

We clean up our families and polish the house and wrap beautiful ribbons around packages we hope will delight.  Romanticism takes over in the light of all things shiny and we picture sweet babies in fresh straw surrounded by pleasant faces on a silent night with one beautiful star shining bright.

But it’s a lie.

That shiny, fresh version of the nativity was never true in the first place.

We focus on the baby, how cute he must have been, how cozy we  feel because that sweet little thing came to save us.

If that’s our focus, we’ve missed the point completely, because the nativity is unseemly, aberrant, and downright grotesque by anyone’s standards.

There’s nothing romantic or beautiful or sweet about it because it’s about the remedy for the stench that filled our earth.

Jesus, the son of a King, took his very first breath in a dung-filled stable.  That deserves more of our attention than  three verses of Silent Night while we try to keep our candles from dripping.

If there was no room in the inn,  I’m assuming that the innkeeper didn’t have the cleaning detail spend much time in the barn.

It stunk in there.  Reeked of urine, sweat, and feces, of discarded food left in the trough for the animals.  Nobody ran for hot water or started a quick load so this prince of a baby would have fresh blankets with the scent of lavender. The stench that night, our stench, filled his nostrils as he became one of us.

One of Us.

With Us.

Someday, in Us.

Joining us in our Ugly.

To be God In us, with us, the hope of Glory.  (Colossians 1:27).

I could have laid there all morning  with my list and  mess.  The odor would have drifted into the  day and likely I would have  emotionally massacred  my children in the course of it.  The entire day would have ended ugly and unproductive.

But he reminded me.  The mess doesn’t preclude him.

That he made his first home and breathed his first breath in the middle of it, that nothing in our lives can repulse him.  That he came not in spite of but because of the junk.  Luke 10:10.

Nothing causes him to say, maybe later, how bout you do some disinfecting first.  

Nothing about us is unlovable to him.

And absolutely everything changes when we ask him to Be With Us.  It’s  his presence that cleans up the mess.

He was born into our mess to eventually save us from it.  We have to invite him into our mess before it starts to change, because it’s the gift of his presence that causes the odors in our lives to be filled with sweet fragrance. II Corinthians 2:15

Our lives are chaotic, but where he is there is peace.

Our hearts can’t see past our pain, but where he is there is hope.

Our love is almost always rooted in selfishness, but where he is there is love.

Our minds can’t make sense of the evil we see, but where he is there is understanding.

God is in the midst of everything that we are not, everything that we cannot, everything that, in our worst moments, we don’t want.

I want to hold my resentment, because it makes me right.  I want to cradle my wounds, because they’re unjust, I want to shout my defenses, because I’ve been wronged.  I want to set the whole world straight in my quest for having all of life as I desire it to be.  And in my most dire moments, I don’t even want him to come.

I don’t think I’m alone in my pile of filth this Christmas. I’m betting you’ve got some junk lingering somewhere as well.  If there’s a list formed in your mind or a shadow resting over your heart would you invite him into it?

Simply say come be with me in my mess. It’s what made that filthy stable worth it to him, the opportunity to be with us.

My youngest son woke up as I was finishing this post. He voice filled with excitement after I reminded him that he’d celebrate Christmas with a dear family friend later this afternoon.  We talked about her home and dinner and the gifts they’d open and that snugly boy summed up everything I’ve tried to say here with this  “mom, the best thing is, we get to be with her.”

He could see beyond the events of the day and you can too.

If we stop when we’re feeling overwhelmed and  issue the invitation for God to come be in the middle of our Christmas, instead keeping him in our sanitary nativity scenes, we’ll experience a Christmas like no other.

May your week be filled with joy in spite of all the mess, friends.  I hope  you’ll come back here and tell us the story of how the impossible became tolerable (maybe even pleasant) as a result of asking God to join you this week.

Faith is contagious and you never know how your story could encourage someone else.