That time joy grabbed hold of my life and wouldn’t let go

 

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I got off the phone on a Sunday afternoon, my heart knotted with questions, jaw gripping for any kind of answer.  She’d listened to me spill over the edges of 60 minutes, maybe longer, like so many times before.  Her name wasn’t Joy but it does mean Pearl, Precious, Gem of the Sea and if you knew how many times she’d listened to me process, translation:  talk and talk and talk and talk until I know what I think, you’d understand just how priceless she is to me.

This time she said something new though.  You’re trying to figure this out Marcy and you need to let it go.

I diverted my attention from the meaning behind her words, felt my feet press to the floor bracing myself against the flash of what it might require of me.  She was right.

The problem was I didn’t know where to start, how to release my grip and  let the blood flow into my fingertips again.

Have you ever prayed about something for so long that you’ve run out of words or find there’s nothing more to say?

God says he already knows our hearts but he also wants us to ask and keep on asking.  I think he means both of those things (which is why we need to quit interpreting him so much instead of choosing to believe the  bible is more And than it is Or but that’s a completely different post).  There comes a time in every challenge, when you have to loosen your grasp, open your hands completely, and lay that unfinished business down, throw it, if you have to, straight at God.  From there, you believe that he will be all Bob Gregory from channel 13, here with an important weather advisory if there’s something you need to know, but until then, you carry on with regular life and stop trying to work it all out in your head.

It was the week before Christmas and  I  was  holding tighter than a heart should to some things I’d run out of ways  to fix. The expectation of a beautiful holiday couldn’t do a thing to lighten my load no matter how I’d tried to will it, I was miserable.  The heaviness of what I could not control was like a chunk of coal wrapped in layers of tattered paper sitting on my heart and it was beginning to be unbearable.

After finishing my last client of the season, the wrestling I’d been doing in my mind for weeks, turned into an all-out brawl.  I swept the hair, soaked the bottles and headed to the mailbox.   Walking the twenty or so steps,  and overwhelmed with the thought this weight crushing my hope for a glory-filled Christmas, as I began to open the mailbox, I knew I had a choice to make.    Hold tightly to my misery while I demanded God answer me one way or another, or truly, once and for all, lay down every expectation, every possible scenario.  Like Red quoting Andy  in Shawshank Redemption,  ‘get busy living’, or get busy dyin’, because that’s just how much this bloodshed was controlling may life.  I won’t ever forget the gravity in that moment and the way I felt powerless to do what I knew I must.

What happened next is proof to me that when we find ourselves unable to do that thing we need to do  and we’re out of emotional, physical, even spiritual resources, if we trust our Creator with the details of our lives (in the listening way, not the talking way) he will cause a chain of events set into motion months earlier  to come together in one desperate moment  we’re not sure we can survive, and change the volatile trajectory of a soul.

A couple of years ago, I swallowed the Coconut Oil and now have beautiful little bottles with aromatic liquid  delivered once a month.    In theory, I remember to change my order every month so I get the essential oils I actually need, but similar to my library motto a few years ago No More Fines in 2009,  the real-life story is not-so-much.

In the fall, I began working with an incredible woman who helps other women give structure to their business and pursue dreams that won’t be hushed.

Standing at my mailbox on the 20th of December, in no way is it an overstatement to say that my life changed in a series of moments I couldn’t have imagined or planned, let alone orchestrated.

Along with your garden variety bills and a stack of sale flyers were two packages with my name on them.  I didn’t know what they were and I hadn’t remembered ordering them.

I ripped open the first package to the cheerful branding of my new coach.  Want to know he name?  Natalie Joy.

Her company name?  Defining Your Joy.

Natalie had sent me a planning calendar for the year to help keep me on track and while she’d previously sent several little packages with encouraging messages and treats, I wasn’t expecting a thing from her that day and was happy for mail that didn’t ask me for money.

I’d processed often through the fall with two friends and  knew I needed to stop holding tightly to some long-dead dreams.   I didn’t expect though that the result would come in the form of a choice.  When I opened the second package, I suddenly knew, in the way that you effortlessly know how to breathe, not only that I had a choice to make, but also the name of my choice.

The previous month, I’d ordered some oils for my mom.    As I started to open my Young Living package,  I realized I’d forgotten to change my order.  I had no recollection of what oils I’d ordered the month before.  Massive amounts of white-hot shame that I’d forgotten another deadline.

When I opened the box, pulled out the protective cylinder, and shook the bottle into my hand, when I saw the gorgeous pink labeling in the same hue as the pink on the calendar I’d already opened, and when I turned over the oil and read the name, the last bit of emotion attached to the heaviness I’d been carrying for as long as I could remember streamed right out of my eyes.

The name of the oil was Joy.

For months, I’d been faced with decisions about my attitude and my  atmosphere amid circumstances unlikely to change, and for months I couldn’t cross over making the decision to let go of deeply held bitterness and resentment, resulting in control and anger.  But right there in my mailbox, God delivered some Christmas Joy in a way so unexpected, so personal, so beautiful, there was nothing left for me but to grab hold of it and believe.

I just about danced back into my home that afternoon as I felt the darkest blanket of hopelessness lift off my soul.  Due to the Reese cups sitting on my hips, it was quite impossible, but I’m telling you I felt 10 pounds lighter. My world began to twinkle like the 900 lights on my tree.  I played music and danced with my children and anticipated the entire holiday  known and unknown, with a powerful sense of God’s presence.  I’d felt the same thing many times before, I think the difference I felt then, and I still feel today, is that it had taken up permanent residence within me.  There will circumstances for the rest of my life, that require me to choose a response of Joy.  But on that day,  Joy chose me in the most absolutely forever sort of way.

I’ve walked away from the computer countless times trying to capture words to tell you what kind of magical and supernatural celebration started to take place in my soul that afternoon. I wish I would have walked straight inside, sat down and written right then about the radical absence of anxiety and anger that had plagued me for years.  But I didn’t, and life marches on to the drumbeat we execute and sometimes to the rhythm determined by someone else.

The truth is that since that day, I’ve had legions of opportunities to pick up that same anger and anxiety I threw off at my mailbox, and resume living  life according to an old script. When circumstances have  dictated feelings of hopelessness and deep disappointment, I’ve had to make a choice.  Not a choice to gut it out, not the same sort of wrestling I’d been doing for years but a choice to simply remember.  To take myself back to the side of the road where the most  sacred peace washed over me in a forever sort of way.  Because while there have been beautiful moments with my family, and the most lovely Christmas I can remember, there have also been  bolts of lightening  that lit up my world in  abrupt and frightening ways, but let me tell you what I believe.

I believe that when we choose to look our Creator in the eye, dare to wrestle with the flesh he formed around us, and learn to know ourselves as we learn to know him, it’s then, that radical and abiding peace  will cover our lives and begin to make us invisible to the enemy of our souls.

I believe then, that Joy chooses us.

 

When I realized the amount of Joy, both my friends and the state of being, that have been closing in on me for years, I knew that I had to share this story.  I’d love to chat with you in the comments.  Is there anything you want to talk about?  Stories you’d like to share about a time when Joy chose you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What you really need to know about the darkness and God

Monday, I showed up here with some of the darker colors of my heart, not at all how I intended to move back into this space.   As I sit at my desk this morning, I see the sun is trying hard to make a name for itself through all the gray and in that same way, I want to share from the brighter hopeful places inside of me.  Because, it occurs to me that I know that they’re always there, shining between the cloud cover, but maybe you don’t.  

So today, some brighter colors of hope, because I could always use a reminder and I’m thinking maybe you could too.  

darkness and light

What I really want you to know is this….

God thinks you are some of his best work. 

He knows that life has been brutal for you and sometimes you feel like pellets of sharp  driveway gravel  are being aimed at your heart at random intervals.

He can’t wait for the chance to show you how he really feels about you, but he’s waiting for you to give him the teeniest, tiniest chance.

When your mom’s sick and you’re sitting in the hospital until 5 am because the overworked nursing staff might forget her pain meds, he knows that your back is screaming for just 15 minutes in your own bed and your due at work in 3 hrs.

That feeling in the pit of your stomach when someone is tormenting your child, when they’ve picked and pulled and tugged and sneered for so long that your first-born, been-a-gentleman-since-he-was-4-weeks, is ready to thrown-down?  That feeling?  He wants you to know he gets that one, it’s familiar and he’s ready to send in the cavalry if you’ll ask him.

But did you know that God’s a gentleman too?  That  he’s waiting for you to invite him into  your hard places?

People get all choked up over the free will part of insert-your-chosen-religious-term here.  But it’s really not that complicated.

Do you want to feel and experience God who cares about every bit of your daily life? Or do you not?

I’ve got to be honest here, because I can’t imagine anyone answering no to that question.

Part of the human experience is handling life ourselves, but who doesn’t want help if we’re really honest?

It’s the asking though, we really don’t like to ask and so we struggle on, alone.  When all we really need to say is me! me! me!, I need help, I do, because that’s  all it takes to have an all access pass to some of the coolest things you’ll ever experience and it’s not a religious freak show, I promise.

I know, I know, we all know people but forget them for a minute.

Sometimes you see the same people at dinner around 11 pm at IHOP that you see 14 hours later at lunch time at Panera.  You don’t really know why you saw them, but when you’ve included the possibility that there is a God who cares about everything in life, you know that  there’s some reason you saw that woman with the fabulous haircut and her sweet little boy that’s so pretty you call him a girl.  You feel bad and hope you didn’t insult her, but you’re glad you said something because you don’t believe in coincidence.  You know there was a reason and it’s ok if you don’t ever know what it was.

Sometimes, you don’t like the soup that you order at lunch and when the manager takes your tray and finds out I wasn’t your favorite, he asks you what your favorite is and brings it back in a to-go bag.  When he does, you know that the soup is a little shout-out from God.  You just know because you talk to him, sometimes out loud if your kids aren’t around.  You embarrass them enough, you know.

Those details are just slivers of nothingness in comparison to the ways that you’d see him every day if you’d get a little risky and ask him to show up, be a part of your life.

Really, it doesn’t have to be a whole life decision to ask him to show up just a little.  But when he shows up, you just might want to see him more. Because when you see him, and you know it’s him? It’s like crack.  Completely addicting.

He knows you, how he made you.  With fear that leaks out of your eyes at night and a heart that pours and gives and squeezes out every last drop of hope right out there in the fresh clear air.  He knows that you deeply want for someone to swallow down that hope with you, to hold it inside and sit in the sacredness of that shared moment.  And he see’s when they spit it right back at you, without acknowledging your offering.

Did you know that the sadness and the loneliness, he feels that for you, with you? He sees all those things about you and he wants you to know that he feels so much sorrow when he sees the places in your heart that are breaking.

He’s as proud as he can be when you make choices that are good and positive for your life, things that open your heart to seeing more of what he’s really all about, but you should know that when you don’t get it right……..

When you lay out your kid because they ate all the snacks and they’re hungry and it’s 10 pm and you’ve been up since 6:15 and the list never ends and they.always.need.more……

When you choose to destroy yourself by doing that thing that you do because you just can’t feel this much pain for one more minute and need some relief….

When  you catch yourself thinking that you don’t even know if you believe in a god of anything in the first place and then tun around and lay your own self out because what kind of person would you be if you didn’t……

When you make choices that stink because you’re lazy or you’re scared or you just don’t want to be alone, but you know better and so how could you possibly ask God to come be a part of that hot mess.

He wants you to know that he doesn’t love you not one bit less when you makes those crummy choices.  In fact, maybe he loves you more.  Because he knows about the shame you’re pouring on top of your own self behind the smile, the silence, the sincerity or the sneer.

He doesn’t care what a big huge mess your life is or how shiny you think it is for that matter.   He just wants to be there to share it with you.

He understands how he made your fragile heart to work and he’s waiting for you to ask him to help you to understand yourself.  He is I promise.

I want this to become a place where we can declare what’s real in life.    A place to shout proudly all that is good, share freely all that is hard and learn to see him in the middle of it.

A place to whisper the darkness of fear while believing that momentary glimpses of light, momentary glimpses of God, make the darkness bearable.

The day I turned in my answers for grace.

Answer People don’t like questions.

I should know, I’ve spent most of  my  life avoiding questions by keeping a cache of answers close at hand.  My senses were trained to hone in on doubters,  to stand back, take aim and fire hoping to annihilate inquiries with my arsenal of catechism.

Funny thing though, I’ve also avoided other Answer People because I knew their answers didn’t work for me.  It wasn’t until I became brave enough to ask God questions and then sit with uncomfortable new ideas that my head began to connect with my heart.

It’s easier to repeat scripture and christian tenants from rote memory  than to toss-up questions that at best have multiple answers and at worst have no answers.

Posting this today, will be an invitation for answers of all kinds and the crazy thing is, I welcome them, from folks who aren’t afraid of questions in the first place.

That’s why I love Jesus. That guy answered most questions with a question and he wasn’t afraid to shake things up, to require people to think.   But he also understood that all our thinking and questioning, all of the struggles that we would face in a flawed world would leave us exhausted and confused as we wrestle with profoundly difficult issues.

That’s why he says, come to me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28-30).

He never ever said, come to me once you’ve got the blanks filled in completely and then I’ll give you rest.

He didn’t say get your systematic theology intact so your questions are answered, apply those particulars to the shadiest parts of your life and then I’ll give you rest.

He didn’t say come to me after you’ve read the bible through in a year, filled the pew for 48 Sundays, wiped snotty noses in the nursery for the remaining four and then I’ll give you rest.

He didn’t say come to me after you’ve been successful in crucifying your own flesh and giving selflessly to others until you’re utterly drained and then I’ll give you rest.

He said come to me now, when you’re exhausted from the ticker tape of turmoil that rolls through your head 24/7 because it’s only when you quiet your own thoughts, when you hand them to me with trust that I can handle them, that I can begin to give you rest.

The resurrection of Christ implies that something supernatural even magical happens at the cross. Answers about how our faith works and reasons that others should believe can sometimes diminish the beauty of what is offered there.  Don’t get me wrong and think for one little minute that we can do anything to impede the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of anyone, but I do believe that we can reduce our ability to see and experience the extravagant grace that’s offered to us every single day.

Come to me when your children are screwing up their lives and even though you feel like your heart might rip in two, I’ll give you rest.

Come to me when your parents are declining and there are tons of hard decisions to make,  because I can help you carry that,  I’ll give you rest.

Come to me when your House of Belief is so messed up you’re ready to don a mask and torch it at midnight for the chance to escape.  I know why I’ve led you there, I’ll hold your hand every Sunday, bring it to me and I’ll give you rest.

Come to me now, when your jacked up life and broken heart  feel so heavy that you’re pressed to your sheets, curtains drawn, eyes clenched against the pain and don’t be afraid of what I think of you because my intention wasn’t ever for you to measure up, can you hear me under there, because I’ll give you rest.  

Come to me, when the plates are all spinning as they should.  When your life looks so perfect it practically glimmers but you know one little mistake and this gig’s up.

Come to me while the ink from your questions is still wet and watch how I create art and beauty from the smudges because it’s in me that you have rest.

When we dare to take our degenerate reasoning and combative interrogations with complete candor to the foot of the cross, something remarkable happens.  It’s the single place where a perfect God intersects with our broken, tweeked out hearts and begin to make utter beauty out of a piping hot mess.  It’s in the beauty of our shambles that he gives us rest.

If we come to him trying to interpret our own issues, we negate the beauty and the mystery of God.

 

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Rest is for those of us standing with our fists clenched at heaven and those clenching the pew  as we try to make one more right choice.

Rest is for those of us who can’t find a soft place to lay our aching heads and those  who stay so busy we’ve mistaken that throb for the cadence of life.

Rest is for those who’ve experienced loss so deep we feel  as though we might sink right in, be swallowed whole by the sorrow and those of us who marginalize that sorrow with breezy reference to Jesus’ words in John.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.  John 16:33

(If you grew up in Sunday School, do you remember this song? God said it and I believe it and it’s good enough for me.  Well, just because God said it doesn’t mean that we should when our friends are struggling)

I remember the first time I heard the call to come now, while life was all still a big jumbled mess.

It was late and I’d already been to church that Saturday night.  I couldn’t tell you one thing about the service, only that I was coming undone on the inside.  Locked inside a habit that brought me relief from excruciating pain, I was beginning to come apart.  The model of my faith offered a plan and I decided to work it with intense resolve.  I’d call her on the way home and see if she could meet me. Thirty minutes from the church to the house, I’d leave my husband with our two small children drive another 30 to meet her halfway.

Usually the endless fields of corn are calming to me, but that night it was as if a thousand pins were pricking at the inside layers of my skin.  I was agitated as I played out the plan in my head.  I’d confess, she’d admonish, spotlight some scripture I’d suffer through and  we’d set up a system, checks and balances, accountability.    I’d never signed up for the accountability plan, because people and trust issues naturally, but I was such a miserable mess that I was willing to do about anything.  I had no idea that my paradigm of faith was about to get busted up.   

We sat at a booth against the wall under struggling florescent boxes,  I don’t know if it’s the protection of the wall or the padded seats, but booths offer a sense of security and I choose them over a table every time.  She leaned in and began with the three words I’d heard her speak a hundred times, what’s going on?

I blurted, bawled and blubbered all over her while the night crew slopped the floor and restocked  hydrogenated-trans-fat.  I braced myself for a barrage of reproof , and sat stunned as she did something that would change my life. The warmth of her hands covered mine and I saw it first in her eyes, they were gracious, gentle even.  

With complete tenderness, she said Honey, you could do that little thing for the rest of your life and it wouldn’t change how much God loves you, not one tiny bit.  Her words got stuck in translation and I tried to figure them out, they were nothing that I expected.  I’d just offered up myself for proper censure and she smiled, was she kidding me?    I was certain she didn’t understand.  

My indoctrination deciphered her response and I quickly remembered that she was from a different brand of belief. That explains it, she doesn’t know how this is supposed to go; I confess, she admonishes, I feel reprieved, she says she’ll pray and we leave with the expectation that I’ll try harder and she’ll call to check my progress.

I’d hoped to drive away with relief after my confession but was confounded instead by her compassion.  Her gracious words wandered through thick theology as I sped past green and yellow fields.  I can see now that I expected my humiliation and shame to produce forgiveness.  She hadn’t so much as said go and sin no more.  I began to realize that she had something that I didn’t, trust in the love of Christ.  

As I drove,  my long-held answers began to suffocate in a new atmosphere of faith.   She knew that the love and grace God offers is so powerful that it is the love alone that compels us to believe and change. Not confession, not atonement, not restitution, not even continual crucifixion of our own flesh, but the love and grace offered freely by Christ  for our pervasive sin that rests in the deepest darkest places in our souls, it’s the love that begins to breathe hope and infuse life  into our most desolate terrains.

 I’ve learned so much since that day, mostly about my extent of my inability to fully understand Jesus Christ. The answers I had up to that point required that I suffer for choices that I made despite the fact that I could systematically recite scripture to the contrary.

You might be surprised to find out that I didn’t leave there and drop my sinful habits.  There was no miraculous intervention that marked a specific moment I chose another path.  I began, instead, to embrace the understanding that God loved me no matter what.  I’d grown up with a theology of self-atonement woven so intricately into my soul  that it produced an if-then faith.

What she offered me that night was radical and even risky.  Trust God?  Give him the ugly?  Release my ideas of the holy hammer waiting to take me out? But I did, and I learned something new about answers and questions.

God is

God is big enough to hold  our hands when we think we have the answers and small enough to hold hearts when we find out we don’t.  And it’s the true understanding of the depth of his love and forgiveness that brings about authentic changes in our lives.

 

 

Do you remember a specific time that you began to have questions about your faith? Has anyone ever offered you a response to your actions that took you completely off guard?  Would you share a quick story by clicking on the  comment balloon at the top right of this post?

 

Calling all questioners

There are gaping holes in my faith right now as I reconcile Truth that was practically transfused into my blood as a small child, some would call it indoctrination, with the truth I see being lived out locally and globally.

I come from a long line of  head-nodders and I’m not talking about my family tree.  I see gashes in grace as I’m watching the gospel of Jesus that I believe so deeply  leak out all over a parched, pain-filled world and not even begin to quench it’s thirst for meaning.

My own belief in who Jesus is carries with it the requirement for sharing that belief, but what  I’m wondering is how to embed the doctrine of making disciples of all men (Matthew 28:19-20) into the broken code of who his disciples actually are (John 13:35).

Add that to my own inability to follow the mandates of scripture to hand out  grace that was offered to me freely to others; to build life rafts of forgiveness because the bible says if you don’t forgive you won’t be forgiven; pile on top my inability to live out for one minute what I believe on a truthful and authentic level, and there’s a crisis between my head and my heart of biblical proportions.

My faith people are Answer Theologists and I gave up answers for  Lent about fifteen years ago.  You should also know that 15 years ago I didn’t practice Lent so really, I just gave them up.

Like, forever.

When I did,  craziest thing happened.  When I stopped reading books about What I Believe, and Why I Believe What I Believe, and How to Answer Every Question Someone Ever Might Ask About Your Faith, because of course, that’s the cornerstone of evangelicalism, when I put those books on the shelf and shut up the Answer Girl in my own head,  I learned who God was.

I fell in love with the immutable love that he offered to me when I let go of The Answers.

I saw him everywhere around me and stopped trying to strengthen my faith.  Instead, I let HIM build my faith from the inside out.  I came into a deeper understanding of why the transfused and indoctrinated blood inside me gave me life.  It was because he first loved me, not because I first loved him.  In fact, his love for me has absolutely nothing to do with my love for him.  His love became a part of me and transformed my life from the inside out instead of the outside in.

It was beautiful and filled with Hope.

I’m asking a lot of questions these days and I’m calling those of you who dare, to ask questions with me.  I’m inviting you to walk through the unsettled rumblings inside your soul and see what’s hidden there.  I’m asking you to discover the Beauty in the Blood, if there is such a thing.

Tomorrow, I’m going to talk more about Answer People, but today I’d like you to think about  your own questions.

Do you have any?

Are you looking for something deeper in your life?

Have you parked yourself in a pew for years and do you find yourself beginning to question what you believe?

Is this all new  and intriguing to you?

Would you care to share in the comment section?

 

Love Idols, Plans, and my Pride

A plan.  There’s always been one.

preapproved final

Bold and bulleted

Red and re-read

Punctuated with passion

Dotted with dates.

I got pregnant several months ahead of Plan A.  After feeling completely trapped for a couple of days, I headed for the Infant Department in Target.  Because – cute baby clothes.  Plus, I needed to get over myself really fast.  I picked up What to Expect So You Can Be Absolutely Prepared For Everything, and got down to business.  Acclimating to Plan B.

A spring due date will be much more pleasant than late summer.  I’ve always wanted to be perfectly pregnant at Christmas, no fewer than five months, no more than 7.  It’s only a couple of months ahead of schedule, I guess all of life can’t go according to plan. 

My plan for life.

Dashed with dull lead.

Ribboned in loopy letters.

Scrawled in invisible ink.

The idea that we would be three started to sink in and I scheduled a trip to the doctor.  As an act of rebellion against no one in particular, I chose a practice in a larger city an hour away.  We didn’t have immediate plans to move, but I had erased my hometown from the blueprints birthing a baby here was never in the plan.  Besides, I was certain a new job would take us to Tennessee or maybe South Carolina.  Big dreams, I had.

Every arena of life, held a plan.

Every plan, had an outline.

And the most important plan of all, working the plan.

The nurses were sure I had my dates wrong so there was blood work done several times over the next two weeks.   I didn’t know enough to understand the implications of all those tests, and after three more visits, my doctor confirmed what the 13-month-pregnant ultra-sound tech had not.

I’m sorry, he said. I thought he meant for running 90 minutes behind, no big deal, I said.     

He talked about denial and I was pretty insulted at an accusation I didn’t understand.  My husband could see my disconnection and began asking questions, which was a good thing, because when the doctors words began to make sense, I felt like I might fall backward off the table, I didn’t hear another word he said.  They handed us a bill and said have a good day.

I’d love to go back and give that poor girl a hug, but she probably would’ve stiffened her shoulders, maybe even taken a step back.

Plan C was another pregnancy immediately, D, more doctors’ appointments.  Treatment for endometriosis was  E, fertility drugs, F, and 22 months later  Plan G arrived, Gage Barkley Holder.  He was ridiculously cute for a newborn and I am not even kidding.  But I had to begin work on Plan H before we even checked out of the hospital because I looked at that baby and didn’t feel attached to him, not one little bit. Working to attach to a baby?  Definitely not in the plans.

There’s a discard pile in the corner.

Stacks of translucent pages indented, outlined, capitalized, and ready for publication, immediate implimentation.

I write them, erase them, start over and take myself far too seriously.

If my first sweet unborn baby was Plan A, you should know that fourteen years later, I’m somewhere in the neighborhood of Plan Quadruple Q.

Miscarriages,  career changes, non-existent moves and unanticipated conflict have scratched out plan after plan after plan. I knew that Life could be messy, I just didn’t think that my life would be messy.

Anger is always, always my first response to disappointment.  My poor family has backstage passes for the show and believe me, there are serious special effects.  During the second act I dive deep inside where the next set of plans begin to unfold.  Loss after disappointment after delay after heartbreak and the response, always the same, anger, silence and a new plan.

In some ways,  I’m proud of my ability to adjust.   I think God initially gave me the ability to help me  weather two very difficult decades. It’s no small task to take the plans of  life and layer them with enough new fabric, enough extra padding to reveal an entirely different shape.  But now, He’s doing some new things. Our seasons of deep and repeated loss are shifting to daily days with a routine that’s new to me and I think my ability to acclimate is morphing into distrust.

Several weeks ago I set out with one more  new plan.  I want to learn more about the writing process and so I signed myself up to join a book launch team for Jennifer Dukes Lee, an author I admire. The plan was to give  up a Love Idol for Lent and write about during the days leading up to her April 1st release date.

While my plan for this gig wasn’t real defined,  I do tend to think more highly of myself than I should and I was just sure that I had something valuable to offer to this team.   Holy.Cow.Bookgirls.  It took me about 2 minutes to realize that I’m way outta my league!

The women on this team are Official Author Girls complete with beautiful websites and I am an Official Hair Girl complete with exorbitant words.  I saw the OAG’s beautiful words and took a deep dive into some serious doubt about what business I had contributing my half pence of life experience.

But, God is still God whether I slosh around in self-pity  or not.  He  pulled me right outside of myself  with the  gentleness of this song and  encouraged me that what I have to share is enough because He says so. Amen.  All this before I had even read the intro to Love Idol.

I understood the foundation of the book was about holding tightly onto ideas, thoughts and sometimes maybe even relationships that stand in between our relationship with God.  And going back to the drawing board over and over to re-map my life is getting exhausting.  I mean really, who am I to say that my plan quadruple Q wasn’t God’s plan A in the first place.

And then, because, really,  this was an endeavor to help support a book launch, I began actually reading the book. Signing up kind of carries the implication of reading the book after all.  (Good grief, I hope I get over myself before 50.)  Jennifer has a beautiful ability to cut straight to the issues behind the idols we worship while being easy on the soul and I found myself connecting with every word.

In Love Idol, Jennifer talks about  the deep ways she longed for approval. The lengths she went to her in life to secure perfect plans garnering endless praise with the idea that her desire for acceptance could be accomplished from the outside in.  Here are her words.

I was an early adopter of the now- popular school of thought that if one wants to achieve her dreams, she should write them down. I was my own life coach. While most girls my age planned slumber parties, I mapped life strategies. I wrote that I would marry a handsome man and birth twins— one girl and one boy— all while managing dual careers as a highly acclaimed psychiatrist and a famous book author. Death would not come knocking until age 105.  What I didn’t know then is that life has a way of making its own plans, no matter what you write down.

The pride I had in my plans to join this launch team has taken hit after hit this last week.  I was surrounded by gifted, talented women and took a deep dive inside.  As if their gifts diminished my existence.  Dramatic, but true.  I not only wanted to disengage  from the group but from the people in my real life.  Because the plan I’m on?  Quadruple Q,  QQQQ?  It’s not my favorite.  There have been friendships that haven’t gone like I expected and I’ve struggled to find connection in my faith community and feeling like I didn’t measure up to the talent in this group of women  seemed like entirely too much with the other things I’m trudging through.

But God reminded me that my job is to reflect Him.  And that He transforms and fills up all of the not-enough in my life if I just give him the disappointment and hand over the plans.

You should know, I’m not on the once-a-week-hand-it-over plan.  It seems that every minute of my day finds me laying out another 3 point plan to be enough.  It’s a battle I’m sure that I’ll fight  until death do this world and I part.  Because my plans have been the way that I’ve justified my value.  When the plans fell apart, my ability to adapt became the new way I measured success.  And girls, I’m exhausted.  If I want rest, and if I want to continue to reflect who He is, I’ve got smash the Love Idol of my plans. I hope you’ll join me for the journey.   I’m so looking forward to finishing the book, here’s what Jennifer  has to say about it.  

The book shares a lot of my personal journey of seeking approval through my good performances, my insatiable appetite to succeed, and my desire to be “known.” But no two stories are alike. Love idols lurk in so many different areas of life. God wants us to get free from the grip of those idols, but first we’ll need to identify them, giving up on some of the lies we’ve been telling ourselves about ourselves.

I pray that together, we can give up on:

  • the inner critic who bruises, the mirror that accuses, and the mental playback that oozes with bad history;
  • our knee-jerk response to try to please people;
  • the idea that it’s somehow all up to you and me, or that our reputations hinge on our own spotless performance;
  • our penchant for self-criticism;
  • our fear of trying because we’re afraid we’ll fail when people are watching;
  • our inability to fully experience the love of God because we’re waiting for proof from a spouse or a friend that we are worthy of his or her love;
  • our longing to feel important;
  • our appetite for being “known”;
  • our un-gospel notions about pleasing God.

You can find out more about Jennifer and the Love Idol she’s courageously giving up for Lent on her blog.  Or find her on Facebook, here.

Here’s a hint of the Love Idol she’s smashing for Lent.

jennifer dukes lee

 

The silent ring of rhythm

Our family is experiencing changes faster than the post office raises rates.

Adjustments to our new schedule carry both widening space to exhale and twinges of tightness as old patterns of thinking and living become too small for a new routine.  

I hear  coffee chug, steep and steam at the fifth hour.

There are still three more before he leaves.  

Number one son rises, silent, at the sixth hour and there are two more before he leaves.

Number two daughter wakes with words to spare at the seventh and there is one more before he leaves.

Number three son, always the wild card, bounds down the hallway and there’s still time for one more cup before he leaves.  

He’ll return before dark.  There will be lessons, meets, dinner, and homework before the order will reverse and they return to their beds hour by hour.

Can you hear it?

The deep driving rhythm of a daily routine drawing straight lines around a dashed life.

It’s difficult to keep life between the lines when they’re invisible.  In our old, non-routined life, it seemed as if each time I caught a solid glimpse of steady, a giant eraser would  drop from the sky leaving behind gaping holes, interruptions and life-sized eraser jib.

These are changes that can’t be heard with a neighboring ear.  These are the kind that can only be felt in the center of a family and they have me drawing sheer panels over my windows and silencing iCalls.

A good friend once told me that she could sense my pregnancies, before we’d announced them, by my silence.   In the extremes of life, I tend to draw inward.  I’ve come to understand that honoring my soul means to give it space to process both heartbreak and elation.

Time alone, to silence the voices from the outside, allows us to walk through our own feelings and clearly sense the voice of God, in the middle of change.

As a verbal processor prone to indulgent self-doubt, I tend to over-share.  I’ve learned the hard way that my emotional acuity remains pliable in times of transition when I give myself room to organize my thoughts. Time to pull apart layers of complex feelings, that when left unprocessed, form fiery licks of anger and cold, slimy contempt.

I haven’t always known this and spent years looking to friends and family for affirmation of my own perceptions and experiences.    Verbal affirmation is heroin for my people- pleasing addiction.   Learning to batten down the hatches has taught me to take my feelings of scrambled anxiety to the feet of Jesus and keep looking straight at him as my emotional DT’s subside.

I’ve learned to know and love myself in new ways by valuing how I’ve been created.  And I’m beginning to love my family differently, better, as we dance behind drawn curtains to the beat of new lines and the occasional iRing.

Time alone quote

Humble Holder Household news

This friends, is a good day.  One in which I will give you the status of the Humble Holder Household.

The physical household is just an absolute disaster after weeks of actual calendar Holidays (I just tried to apply the -ies rule to holiday:  fail) followed by possibly the most school-year Snolidays since the ice-age.

The fridge is bare.  Requisite storm staples of eggs milk and bread have left room for little else in that big cold box.  Yesterday I walked in the kitchen to find a child making a butter sandwich, which I just spelled sandwhich.

We haven’t had a nutritious meal since Thanksgiving and that one was questionable with the butter and all.  Rules of nutrition, housekeeping and grammar, have apparently been flattened under the weight of our massive snow drifts.

I’ve been wearing yoga pants for 65 days straight – it’s gonna get ugly at some point.

We started just a small little project in the bathroom because, well, broken walls.  Let’s just fix the wall and toss up a little paint, maybe some new ceramic on the floor, we said.  And the next thing you know, this.

Please pretend that this photo is focused.

Please pretend that this photo is focused.

The bathroom floor has a big hole  and my husband had to dam the toilet  with a dirty rag.  And also this is the second post in a row that I’ve been able to fit the word dam in, in a totally legit no-swearing sort of way, not that I’m opposed to the occasional colorful word or anything.

Moving on.

The garage is full of outgrown shoes, VHS tapes  and various other unlovables, but I’m happy to report that the shelves are still on the wall.  Spawned belongings have been put on ice for a rummage sale in the Spring, which we’re hoping will arrive by mid-June.

The kids will be making up snow days until October and the weeks are so mixed up that no one knows the current spelling list.

My computer and printer are going through nasty a divorce and quit speaking to one another weeks ago.

I can’t tell you the last time I washed my hair and if you see me at Marsh, I will look 762 years older than the last time you saw me. (see above remark regarding yoga pants)

Yesterday half a litre of shampoo washed down the shower drain.  Early reports were that the floor looked like an infomercial for Scrubbing Bubbles. The latest is that if you step carefully over the 42″ chasm, you can still shower.

But wait, there’s MORE!

This is where we get into the exciting stuff.  Yes, indeed, there is good news here.  

The disarray of the house, hole in the floor, yea verily not even the loitering of children can dampen my blazing excitement!!!

I mentioned on Monday that there might be a shift in my schedule soon.

I’m excited to announce that soon is Today.

My husband took a new job which will bring his irregular, 12 hour, every-third-weekend shifts to an end.  Now, before you join me in my victory dance, you need to know exactly how hard you’re gonna to need to shake it.

In the last 20 years he has worked every odd shift imaginable with the majority of those years including some sort of weekend work.

normal:  conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.

Our life has been full of many things, but normal has never been one of them, though I’m beginning to have hope.

We’ve been short on the nor and long on the mal, unless, of course,  you examine the second definition of nor in which case we’ve had plenty of  :  struggle that never seemed to end

nor:

1. used before the second or further of two or more alternatives (the first being introduced by a negative such as “neither” or “not”) to indicate that they are each untrue or each do not happen.

2.  used to introduce a further negative statement.

          “the struggle did not end, nor was it any less diminished”
       

 

mal:

1.  in an unpleasant degree

“malodorous”

2.  in a faulty manner

“malfunction”

I’m certain that my etymology teacher would be proud to  learn that I continue to pull apart words today, if only for my own personal growth and that of the 35 people that follow my blog.

Mr. Tetrick had a metal plate in his forehead and I have very fond memories of sitting in his class at 7:05 (a.m.), taking full advantage of his generous restroom passes and watching Brian Paul stick kleenex in his ears for the sole purpose of making us all laugh.

So, I have no idea what my original plan for this post was exactly, but now you know this most fabulous good news!

And, as if all of these exciting goings-on were not enough…..

I have a super amazing friend, also from high school, who  gave me a massage gift certificate for Christmas.  At 1 pm I get to see Miss Debbie  for what will undoubtedly be the most relaxing hour of my month. (Thanks Waymire!)

Alrighty friends, I’m gonna shuffle, but I’ll be back real soon.  I think things are about to get exciting up in these parts.

But first, in honor of my husbands new job, my years in high school and  love of words, and with fond memories of  Mr. Tetrick, I leave you with Muted High School Monk Impersonators and their version of the hallelujah chorus.

(please pretend that the laughing and cheering the happy sounds of  me and my husband)

Would you consider joining me regularly?   I’m feeling that things are about to get exciting in these parts.  You can sign up by clicking on the button at the right that says Follow My Blog and these posts will be delivered to your inbox.  

The ceiling can’t hold us

My prayers are open and vague these days.

There’s that scripture, you have not because you ask not.

But when life is completely turned upside down and everything you already have is just outside your grasp, then having not because you ask not doesn’t really seem to apply as much.

I force a specific prayer this morning.

Soak my heart by telling God what I want and hoping He’ll agree.  But it’s not about his agreement, it’s about his sovereignty and my words are quickly followed by the ones I know best.

Unless there’s another plan.

Those words have opened difficult doors.  And I’m ready not to pray them anymore.

The desire to delete that phrase sheds light on my complacent heart.  A heart that wants what I want because I think that’s what would make me happy and can I be honest for a minute?

Because honestly, I’m a little over holiness at this point.

I’m digging for happy.

And then there’s the difference between happiness and joy and I can’t even open that door because today I’d trade a whole pie of joy for a slice of happy.

They both come with a healthy topping of fear right now.

There are some moments of choice ahead.  And as I read the phrase I just wrote, it sounds a little simplistic.

But there are moments.

There’s because we always have and what if.

There’s the ceiling opening to hope while the door in the floor creaks closed to fear.

Today will be about small tasks and a barely-there heartbeat.  About cultivating hope and stomping out fear.

Tomorrow will be more of the same.

It will be cold this week, but I hear that Spring follows Winter and I believe the small cold mundane decisions of these days will warm soon enough.  And when they do,  low ceilings will make the most lovely floors.

31 Days of Growing Up: Day 16

The girl in the rocker that sunny day in 2001 didn’t know about The Process.  She probably wouldn’t have believed in it and she certainly couldn’t have trusted it.

The girl in the rocker had all the answers.  Red Letters she called truth, black ideas she labeled fact.   Declarations. Words that pronounced judgment.

Apart from the Red Letters, she lived in a black and white world. No word escaping scrutiny. A tally sheet for every relationship.  The weight of her marks in her column, like concrete and chains.

The Process doesn’t have a label, but if it did, the fonts wouldn’t match and the colors would be blinding.  Red letter girls like strong black fonts, curly cues and colors are terrifying.

That day in the rocker, this girl peeked out from behind her Red Letters and caught a glimpse of the rainbow.  The journey has been full of tears and questions, so much that I can’t control.  But every tear has been caught by the rainbow Maker and each question has been Held patiently while I sorted it out.  Soft hues of grace laced with curves of mercy.

I’m still in The Process of uncovering new shades of grace, and it’s an exciting journey but sometimes so lonely.  Want to travel a while with me?  What new colors have you discovered  lately?