This is the story of a sister named Joy

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On May 5, 2000, a Friday, I walked out of my full-time job as a hair designer with a plan in place. And this is where it Always goes wrong.  

I’d attend the baby shower of my cousin the following day and return for work on Tuesday. My own baby would be born in the next two weeks after which I’d take a reasonable six to 10 weeks off, figure out childcare and return to work full-time.

Hell-bent on creating a place for myself in my hometown, I’d be successful wife, mother, and future business owner, get back behind my chair as soon as possible and life was going to take on the fullness, the contentment that I’d always dreamed it would.  Someday.

Do you know the Someday I’m talking about?

Someday when I finished college.

Someday  a few weeks after my final semester when I’d be married.

Someday  when I finally figured out what kind of work I wanted to pursue after my Elementary Ed Degree.

Someday  when I finished Beauty College in six months instead of 10.

Someday  when my salon appointment book was scheduled six weeks in advance.

Someday when I got pregnant.

Someday  when I got pregnant again and had a baby to show for it this time.

Someday  when that baby was born.  And it was about then that the shit hit the fan.

I remember looking at him and wondering why I didn’t feel all the stuff they told me I would.  They told me I’d want to jump in front of a truck for him.  And I didn’t.  They told me I would figure it out.  And I was sure that figuring it out didn’t mean wondering why they were insisting I take him home.

There’s a  quote by someone who was famous for something, only I can’t remember who or what.    She said the decision to have a child was like  forever walking around with your heart stuck to your arm, or outside your body, or something slightly more poetic than that.

When my son was born, though,  I didn’t have that epiphany or magical transformation.  I didn’t look at him and feel a fierce protection.  My heart did not feel like it was hanging outside my chest for the intense love injected upon his arrival.  Instead, I was finally beginning to realize that I was disconnected from my heart.  It would be years before I understood why and what to do about it.

I felt like I’d exited my body  and was watching a scared little girl take her cues from everyone else in the room.  She was going through the motions but not healthy enough to be truly emotionally present for any of it.

Looking back, I realize, it was like I had just been born myself.  I felt like a newborn, just five seconds older, or younger, than my baby, and not in a boy do I feel like a new person, motherhood rocks, this being a mother, being born again, is one of the best thing that’s happened to me.  

Nope.  It was a little more like, these lights are blinding me, turn down the heat  it’s 60 degrees outside, I might suffocate. If I could , I’d roll into the fetal position,  let them know I’m not ok, but people keep coming in to look and  they keep handing me this wailing 8 lb floppy kid who wants to bite me all the time, why isn’t anyone asking me if I’m ok.  I can’t figure this out, I need to sleep, I am not ok, can these people just go home now.  At the time, I didn’t know myself enough to express these things, but I’d love to go back and fiercely protect my new-mama self that day.

Forty-eight hours later, the nurse brought a fruit and cheese plate for dinner before giving me the boot.  Time to go home, you’ll figure this out.   If there’s anything I’ve done often in life, it was figure it out.  

I was going to return to work full-time after a few weeks off.  You know,  do and be it all.  In the fall though, I decided only to go back part-time.  Motherhood wasn’t going the way I’d imagined but something in me knew that I’d find missing pieces of myself as I learned how to love my children.

It’s important for me to explain how I entered motherhood for you to understand how Joy  has impacted my life.  How she unexpectedly rolled in in the most unassuming manner and did so with no agenda.   How in one simple connection she would add a level of safety to my world  that I didn’t know I was missing.

Joy worked with my husband and we sat together one year at a Christmas party but other than that, I didn’t know her very well.  I’d always get senses about people though, to a degree that can be overwhelming, but I felt completely comfortable with leaving my son with her.  When my husband talked to her about babysitting, she told him she’d been hoping he’d ask.

Bob Goff wrote a book called Love Does.  The idea  is that you can intend to love all you want.  You can feel an overwhelming intensity of love for another person, but until you actually do something, they can’t experience or feel your love.  Love does something and so did Joy. Joy’s a giver, at times to her own detriment, but she never, ever attached strings to her gifts.

At a time in my life when I needed a mother, a sister, and a friend, Joy slowly walked in and became all three    While I’ve been thankful for her from the first day, it’s only recently that I’ve been able to fully appreciate just how much she’s given me..

Joy showed up at my door every Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon to take a crying, hungry baby from my arms. Sometimes she brought a coke.

Joy washed my sink full of dirty dishes.

Joy played outside with my baby.

Joy bought a car seat so she could take him places.

Joy brought my him to the hospital when my daughter was born.

Joy said Sure and kept coming when there were two babies.

Joy called them her babies.

Joy took pictures of my kids and printed doubles for me.   Joy came at 4 am to stay with my son when my daughter had emergency surgery.

Joy said, are you kidding, when I asked if she’d be willing to add a third Holder baby to her list of loves.

Joy’s the one who knows where to find beaters for the mixer and how to run my washer.  She steps in and does what needs to be done so quietly, you can easily miss it but do not misunderstand me, she can be fierce when people cross those she loves.

Joy loves with every last ounce of joyness possible, always with a smile and always without expectation.  There have been so many times when I have not loved and appreciated her in return as I should.

I believe Joy’s connection in our lives is a Divine one.  God knew how hard the road was going to be for me.   He knew that for a very long time, I would crawl more than I walked, and he sent someone to crawl with me.

God has a book for each one of us.  He understands our personalities and knows his hopes and dreams for our lives.  It’s our job to learn to listen though, to follow the path set in front of us and walk through the doors we come upon, even if their stuck shut.  Joy has traveled this journey with me.  Her book has my name in it, and my book has hers.

This has been the story of a sister named Joy.  One for which I am deeply, profoundly, thankful.  Love you Joy!

 

I’m having fun sharing my Joy stories with you.  Next week, I’ll wrap up my Joystories with the December day that Joy choose me.

 

It’s one of  the best things ever when I get a little message in my inbox telling me someone  has chosen to be added to my email list!  If you don’t receive these posts regularly, consider joining the list?  Click the email icon below.  Thanks so much!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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.

For the day your identity quits working for you

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Today is a day of naked and unashamed.  A stripping down, wiping off, laying aside sort of day. Demands for time have, again, out-lasted my reserves and I can’t figure out how to get in front of it all or just on top of it for one tiny minute and just when I think I might; well, life.

I know too well the cycle in my own life of picking up, putting on, and parading about in my own plans and identities before tossing them right back onto the floor.

It’s the kind of dance we do in front of our closets in the fall, when the weather changes with the hour hand.

Sometimes I feel like what I write in this place is a pronouncement of my next failure because I’m eager to share the ideas I’m processing right now, in real time.  But then life happens and sometimes the stories aren’t mine to share but they still  deeply color my soul and leave me looking again for the sound of my voice.   Sometimes I don’t even recognize my own voice when I hear it.

Do you know what I’m talking about?  When life changes faster than you can inhale?

When you drop to the ground, gravel stuck deep in your knees and you’re forcing air out of your lungs just so they don’t explode.  Sometimes we have to remind ourselves to breathe.

When you  count through the pain because really, it’s been a mess for too long and surely there’s not much left to save, but you must.keep.breathing.  Sometimes our choice to keep going is a lifeline for someone else.  

When the beauty of the fall harvest is shadowed by the latest crisis and you’re taking care of e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g because that’s what you always do, but you keep hearing that sound.  You wonder what it is.

Days go by as you put one weary foot in front of the other and you wake up one morning and realize, it’s crying. Someone’s crying.  And then you realize, it’s you.   Sometimes we walk through life so numb that we don’t recognize the sound of our own cries.

There are days when death grips life fiercely, the moment of a diagnosis or divorce decree or the disorientation of watching a child deal with disappointment and feeling for the love of all things adolescent, that you just can’t peel your own disappointment apart from theirs.

Maybe there hasn’t been a moment for you.  Maybe, it’s been  thousands of moments when hope fights for breath but deep inside you know it’s a loosing battle. You just can’t face it yet, but you know if you sit really still and you’re really honest?  You know there’s a day coming that you won’t be able to hold it all together.  You also know that once the lid’s off from that mess?  You’ll never get it back on.

Our lives change on dimes and in decades and we’re all left standing, at some point, in front of a closet packed with possibility, decisions and  disappointments piled at our feet. We never know what a day will bring and that’s why it feels risky to write here, but it’s good for me because it keeps me evaluating the level of truth I’m feeding into my own soul.

I know my own tendency to live unaware of the life playing out in front of me as I choose pleasant subtitles for some of the uglier unfinished scenes in my life.  Scenes that force me to face fear, loss of control, shame.

 

Pain will happen, we just don’t have one little say in that.  But we do get to choose what we do with it. We have the choice to allow it to strengthen us, make us wise,  and bind us to other people as we share what hurts the most in life; or we can push it down, ignore it and remain blind to the ache of life that is humanity.

I’ve had to learn to ask God to help me know what’s  real in my life. On the heels of that prayer is the one where I ask for help knowing what comes next.  It’s been a radically different way to pray, to live. The pain is absolutely still there but it’s easier to see my way through it.

It’s not my job to fix it for my disappointed kid.  I get to help my children learn how to get through life.  I hope I’m teaching them that sometimes God fixes things for us and sometimes he walks through things  with us.

I’m not responsible for filling in gaps in a one-sided relationships. Several are in the process of changing right now and some have died off but you know what?  God has brought me fulfilling new ones  as I’ve learned to rest the weight of who I am on him, instead of them.

It’s not my job to keep all the plates spinning anymore.  They’re dropping one by one, but it’s not undoing me.  In fact, I’m becoming more  me than ever  as I  purpose to use my time intentionally.

Pain wraps its way around hope as we strengthen  our identity  in Christ.  Then,  the most amazing thing happens.  Hope begins to incubate.   It grow and settles into the deepest parts of us, shoving out piles of shame. And after we stretch reaching to open the new doors in front of us,  once we’re strong enough, we throw out ill-fitting identities and find new ones more comfortable than we ever thought possible.

 

For the day when confusion freezes momentum

Cracks on Yellow Asphalt

It’s a day I’d like to get away from myself for just a few minutes.  It seems I’m irreparably broken and while I don’t believe the lie that everyone else isn’t, they seem to be more accomplished at filling in the cracks.

These are the feelings that rush in after days heavy with fruitfulness.  I drip the purpose of who I am, conversation after connection after commitment and am understandably empty.

Seems I can cycle pouring, retreating, refilling, only so many times before the next fissure appears.

I wonder why I can’t be content to stand still in my soul while marching ahead in cadence, and why the forward movement always comes with a price higher than the last.

The marchers look accomplished with full cups and pots and there doesn’t seem to be a unit small enough to measure what my soul manages to squeeze out.

Weary from a day of comparison, I want to get away from my needy-self.

But apparently, I am always with me.

So, I refocus, dive in to all I am not to become more of all I am.

We have to speak truth, with a voice of conviction, into the small places where we are the most frail in order to hush the voice winnowing through our humanity.

 

Those very small  moments of frailty allow us to reach into the tiny crack in another’s heart specifically because of our brokenness.  

Today, when momentum is frozen by the confusion of comparison, I remember the recent moments when I’ve held hearts and shared tears and choose to tell myself true things and let the beat of his heart mark my time.

Jeremiah 31:3   I have loved you with an everlasting love.

Psalm 34:18  I am close to the brokenhearted and save those who are crushed in spirit.

II Corinthians 12:10  For when I am weak, then I am strong