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

 

joy

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to know if you’re cursing yourself

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and walked away a completely different person?

Yesterday, a friend and I shared some salty tears via Verizon.  One of us needed it pretty badly.  One of us needed to be reminded of her purpose.  One of us got clotheslined this week (again) and one of us can’t ever seem to  remember that silence is her Kryptonite.

That would be me.

Kathleen and I have spent years learning how to use fewer words to communicate more.  Our babies were babies when we began talking regularly.  She’s  always lived an hour away, so the amount of time we’ve spent face to face over the last 15 years  has consisted mostly of drive-bys to trade maternity clothes and all sizes of jerseys, jackets, and cleats. She went back to work several years ago and I’ve expanded my studio hours so between businesses and running our children to all manner of child-like activities, our talks are fewer and further between.

I won’t lie, its not my favorite. I can be an umbilical cord sort of friend though so it’s good for me to learn to say truer things with fewer words. These days when we talk, every word carries weight and yesterday we covered big successes (she’s in line for a promotion very soon and I’m so proud of her), some sad situations, and then we prayed.  Honestly, I wanted her to pray and I planned to follow with a  faint “what she said” and call it church.  Something deep within me though, the shadow of hope that sits in my gut maybe, began pushing upward.  It took work and belief and real vulnerability to sit with my friend in complete brokenness before God and offer the sacrifice of my smothered, breathy words.

Powerful shifts in the atmosphere happen when we pray with friends who share our theology of the Holy Spirit.  Let me say that again.

Powerful shifts in the atmosphere happen when we pray with friends who share our theology of the Holy Spirit

So, when the words made it to my mouth in halted, whispered phrases, it wasn’t long before I could think clearly again.  Within a few minutes, while reminding God who he is and what he does, I started to remember who I am and who he created me to be.

One of the reasons I love Kath is because she reminds me who I am by linking arms with me instead of pointing fingers or pulling on my hands.   Though she’s wired to be an encourager she doesn’t shirk away from pain.

Sometimes, I believe pit-of-hell lies that undermine my calling and I don’t even realize it’s happening.  In these moments, I sell short belief in my Destiny and therefore, my belief in God. She lives out of her own Destiny though and when I simply cannot take one more step or say one more word, she knows how to lean into my pain in a way that propels me forward. It’s as if we’re standing back to back while she gently throws the weight of her belief against  my paralytic self.  She’s wired with the ability to move people forward while their feet are planted in intricately, etched concrete.  

No thank you, I’m not going any further, I’ve reached the end of the road and shall stay here.  Just throw me a high pile blanket, some markers to color the concrete and I’ll be fine.  No worries, I’ll bathe in my tears, I’ve heard saltwater is good for the skin.  

When the amens had been said, I had already begun to feel peaceful rush that follows invisible spiritual work.  The Holy Spirit does the heavy lifting, but something in the way this  trust-walk works must begin with me and my big mouth.  When I chose to speak life instead of curses, when I chose to believe with my mouth true things about the God and Father of my soul, magic began to happen.

I felt better.

I saw clearer.

The world was lighter.

And I began to remember,  I was made for this life I’m living.   Purpose is discovered as a result  of acting as if the bible is true.   Whether we feel our purpose, see our purpose, or can define our purpose right away, it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that when we believe what God says in the bible.  What matters is that we speak it with our mouth.  Because when our lives don’t go the way we thought they would, speaking truth with our mouths restores goodness and purpose and hope.  And magic happens, soul renewal right here in The Land of the Living.  

One of the places I find most joy is connecting with other women, listening for ragged edges of brokenness they’re encountering  and then feeling the brush with God that comes when we share our hardest stories.  That might sound like some kind of twisted way to find joy, but if you’ve experienced it,  you’re nodding your head right now because you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Sharing with other people means opening my mouth and speaking, so when Kathleen Voxed me this short sentence just a few minutes after we got off the phone, words that had been lodged in my chest for days, began to break free.

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If Satan can keep you silent, he’s winning.

I’m motivated by winning.  It’s just true.  Sometimes it can be destructive to my relationships but when it comes to throwing down with evil?  I’m all over it!!  These words instantly became my battle cry as the holy spirit blew through my soul and filled up my lungs.  Bring it baby, mama got things to say today and she gonna use you to do it.  

The story isn’t quite over and someday I’ll tell you what happened a few hours later.  But even though I don’t know exactly what’s next  in my pursuit to use my gifts, you can bet  in a couple of weeks, the same struggle with silence will resurface.  When it happens I will remind God of who he is, and be reminded of who I am and you may here me shout from over here on Carmelita Blvd.

 

Lord, I will give thanks to you with all my heart.
I will tell about all the wonderful things you have done.                                                 

                                                                           Psalm 9:1

 

If you haven’t met my friend Kathleen, would you pop on over to her place and say hello?  You can also find her over here on the FB.  Believe me, you want to know this one!  She’s a wealth of information about all things oily and has been on a Young Living journey for much more than a decade.  I’m not gonna lie, I used to think she was sniffing too much of the stuff.  But then, life and kids and injuries and an insurance crisis and THEN she gave me an oil, White Angelica, to help with my mood.  As  I began to use it religiously, a sort of  Land of the Living self-care began to intersect with spiritual mercies that are new every single morning I have a long way to go on my wellness journey, but I can say without one hesitation that using oils regularly is helping to repair broken places in my soul, rewire my thinking and provide my family with alternative health treatments.

I’m shamelessly trying to help Kathleen with her promotion today.  She has until midnight to meet her goal. Here are a couple of links if you’d like to check them out.

Link to order a starter kit. ***the best of oily introductions

Link to tell you all about White Angelica.  If you have questions, comment below and I’ll try to answer them.

Link to learn more about how essential oils work.

Now Just a couple of more fun things.  If you’re interested in learning more about discovering your God-Given Destiny.  Check out Dave Rod from Grace Church 146th in  the video here.  Or here.  Or here.  

 

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.

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.

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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.

When Pain is the Best Gift of all

Scattered words when I should be cleaning……..

My heart feels like it could break open this morning.  Several weeks ago, I heard Kara Tippets speak at my Grace church.  It’s so cliche to say I haven’t been the same since but I’ve decided all of life is cliche.

I haven’t been the same since.

She spilled out her broken, beautiful, messy wonder of a story and the Spirit moved in that room.  She laughed more than I expected and didn’t shy away from the unwritten pages of her life.

My 12 year old daughter breathed in Kara’s words and grabbed higher hope from her,so we stood in  line to have our book autographed and then I saw it.

 Philippians 1:21  For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.

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We’ve prayed for her often and each day since I await her post on the FB.

It’s just like Jesus said it would be in Matthew 6:10.  Kingdom Come on earth as it is in heaven.  Each day I cry for this woman I’ve never met. And every day, I love these people tucked into my home a little better because of her.

Several years ago, I picked up a copy of the Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis.  I was sinking in the thick muck of it with fresh complications showering me daily and I needed someone else’s words to help me make sense of it. The bible holds words of life, but there are times when we need to hold a book written by a bleeder.

If Lewis  has a handle on anything, it’s the bleeding.

I put it down because it was simply too heavy for the journey at that point.  My pain isn’t acute today as it was then, but I’m coming out of a time when  some of my core beliefs about people have been challenged and I still catch a whiff of smoke every once in a while.

Monday, as I waited for Kara’s post  I wondered for a moment if I was a freak show creeper getting some sick emotional fix from her life.  Sometimes you’re so dead on the inside that  the drama of someone else’s pain is exhilarating in a twisted sort of way because at least you feel alive.

But I relate to her because she’s a mom and close to my age and because I know some children who’ve walked through the deep loss of a mother, but I realized it’s really not any of those things that draws me to her experience.  When I see her unfiltered, beautiful, broken, bald and bold posts of peace, I don’t just see Jesus, I feel him.  As my heart feels like it will bleed out for the hole that will be left on this earth when she’s gone, he transfuses the blood that spilled out of him into me and I feel him, I see him, I become him as I love people here better.

Yesterday was a 13 hour studio day.  I heard the same thing over and over.  Where are the people unafraid of the pain? Every face in the mirror, including my own looking for companionship on the journey.  We are a people who fix when what we really need to be is a people unafraid to feel.   I might finish the Lewis book at some point, but for now I’ve come up with my own conclusions.

Pain is the point of life.

We spend hours and dollars and energy and whole entire lifetimes trying to escape it.  We schedule, chatter, and putter as we desperately try to hide the ugly dysfunctional messes that in essence define us and we spend a lifetime walking parallel to the very thing that would we cross it, could save us.

The Pain.

God’s heart broke when Adam and Eve chose fruit that he knew would bring them Pain.

He chose to send Jesus here so we could identify with someone who spoke our language of Pain.

Jesus’ very conception caused Pain to his mother; his gestation, great Pain to his earthly father.

His life was continually filled with the Pain of rejection and I believe his executioners broke his heart more thoroughly than they could ever have broken his body.

And the Pain of God the Father in that moment?  Beyond our comprehension.

Do you see?

We have to cross the path of our pain before we can ever cross the path of Christ.  We can spend a lifetime talking about God, catching glimpses of the  pain and wondering of the meaning of it all, but until we make the choice to stop living parallel to it,until we cross it boldly,  we will never experience the healing, transforming power of Christ.

Pain has no conclusion, but I believe it holds transformation.

Will you look under the hidden spaces in your soul today?  Will you dare to embrace, just for a moment, the places that hurt the most?  And when you feel as though you want to shop, or clean, or talk, or organize, or exercise, or eat to escape it…..would you ask God to be present in the middle of it?  I promise he’ll show up and I promise that what you find in that moment will change you.

I’d love it if you share your thoughts with me.  There’s a quote bubble at the top right of this post.  It’s there just for you!

Follow Kara’s journey on the FB here.

For the day when you lose a baby

 

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We were looking at her calender after pizza on Sunday night when she asked if I remembered the date.  October 14.  The kids were wrestling in the living room, but we were a distracted audience.  For nine years, she’s remembered  that particular miscarriage and for some reason I just don’t.  I felt caught, found out.  I mean who doesn’t remember something like that, with the exception of someone who wants to forget.

She’s a pro at empathy, trained in social work, and she’s heard some of my toughest junk  but she’s a good friend and even so,  there was no way I could look her in the eye. Baby days are behind me and sometimes that makes me really sad but I will never, ever miss the days I came home empty and I still want to hide when I think about them.

I can tell you every detail about the first time.  How the timing was a few months early so it took me a few days to adjust.   About the two excruciating weeks when there was the slimmest of hope, but we still held on tight.  About the baby kicking safely inside the sonographer’s belly as she asked when I was seeing the doctor, she knew my baby would never kick, I didn’t know enough then.

But mostly, I remember the doctor.

I didn’t know he was handing out condolences when he walked into the room. I’m sorry, he said before the door latched.

Foolishly, I thought it was for my two hour wait. I brushed off his apology, no problem I understand,  and then he tossed me a word, denial.  It linked cold to my hope when I realized he was chaining it to me.

Chaining it.  To me.

That word  pulled heavy, and hard.  I  started to fall inside myself,  out of verbal firing range.  I saw his mouth keep moving and then my husband’s, but the next thing I heard was the door unlatching, followed by, how will you pay today.

For real? They were going to ask me to pay for something I didn’t even have?  I’d storm out of the office like a pro the second time, slam some doors to keep from screaming don’t you people know I just lost my baby, but I was only silently indignant the first time.

I’d felt foolish for worrying my way through the entire two weeks we waited for my HCG levels to rise.  Women have babies all the time, why should you think this pregnancy’s special.  Get over yourself, suck it up, get back to the grind.  

Foolishness turned to shame the moment he accused me of refusing to accept a detail he’d neglected to share.  My sixth pregnancy, or my seventh, I would have understood completely that I’m sorry meant no baby.

But it was my first.

And I didn’t understand.

And it sucked.

Shame hid beneath intense recurring pain the morning of the procedure.  They afternoon before, they’d inserted medication to soften my cervix and I should have known that softening the cervix was just a schmanky way to say labor.

But it was my first.

And I didn’t understand.

And it hurt.

Recurring pain turned to a referred ache that hovered over my heart and started to stab as people tossed around all kinds of careless cliches, sometimes all in one breath. You’re young, there must have been something wrong, heaven needed another angel.   They summed up my life-wide devastation in ten second sound-bytes they dropped between blinks. I’d been kicked out of the Baby-Making Club.  Everywhere I turned was a Baby-Carrying Member.  And those well-meaning but careless words made it worse.

In my first rush of maternal intuition or maybe I had just hoped for a girl we chose the name Isabella Kathleen for its grace and beauty.  I still have feelings of foolishness about this because so many of my friends lost babies they actually held.

Babies in blankets.  Babies with beautiful silent lips and soft cool skin.

Heather and baby Hope Renee.

Ashley and baby Mary Rose.

Cheryl and baby Rachel Lynn.

After our first loss, I wrote for the first time in years and put together an informal gathering with a handful of family.  I can still hear the words of one who couldn’t understand. What are we remembering…..there wasn’t anything…..right?  

There were kind words too, words that knew.  Older women I’d known for years shared their losses, tucked away for seasons,  and women at a support group gulped out  fresh stories of leaving the hospital empty-armed.

I listened to a few songs over and over during dark midnights and read every page I could find on miscarriage and pregnancy loss.

I walked around numb and lonely, feeling like a freak show because I wasn’t pregnant and because I couldn’t just get over it.

I looked for answers in my faith but  theology ground deep into my bones wasn’t worth smack in the middle of the night. Let me tell you what was though.

Jesus.

He’s  worth smack in the middle of the night.

He met me sitting lonely on my green velvet sofa.  He sat with me while I sobbed and tucked me in with his peace.  He held my head when I could only stare at the twinkle lights on my stupid plastic tree hour after hour.  It was the beginning of the first years in my life that I understood he cared about me.  Not just what I did, but who I was, who he’d made me to be.  It was the beginning of the journey that would bring me to write in this place I think……

We didn’t name any of our other children or commemorate their losses.  I think I grew tired of holding the uncomfortable gifts of silence people handed me when they didn’t understand.  I’m wired to swallow everyone else’s feelings.  The only way I knew to escape their awkwardness was to drink my own pain down so deep they couldn’t see it.

Distinctly different feelings wrapped unique DNA around each miscarriage, but my survival strategy was the same loss, after loss, after loss.  Target, to buy new lounging pj’s for procedure day and  Lowe’s, to make sure I had something to do with  my hands.

I found mindless repetitive projects that would pass  time between sentencing and execution although the second time, I wanted nothing more than to bust every window in the  house with a giant sledgehammer.  Most of the time, those stupid jobs distracted my thoughts while I  stripped wallpaper, sorted pictures, or painted walls. More importantly, they held parts of my heart I feared would drop off and disappear until I could manage to begin to put them back together.

I don’t  talk that much about my losses.  They feel private and honestly I don’t know if I’ve processed them as much as I’ve wanted them to go away which is funny to me, considering I process every other last shred of life to it’s bitter shriveled end.

I recognized, just this week that these feelings I’ve been carrying are shame.     It’s a hot, sick feeling that makes me want to hide and I haven’t quite figured it out yet.  I’m thinking it’s not coincidental (since I don’t believe in coincidence)  that last week I picked up a book I’ve wanted to read for a while. Yeah, it’s on shame.

We walk alone a lot of the time as women.  Carry the disappointments of our lives hidden from the crowds, often hidden from ourselves.  I heard William Paul Young say recently that we’re only as strong as the secrets we keep.  I’m learning here how to tell some of mine.  Thank you for treasuring them with  me.

I love music so I linked  below several songs that meant so much to me that first go round.  They look goofy because they’re old, but I still love them.

 

When the voice inside your head is wrong

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My own voice echoed as the list rolled. 

Remember when you…….

and then you had the nerve to say……..

I bet she thinks………..

and you seem like………

why did you say that………

you should have ………..

you shouldn’t have…..

yep, you’re doing it wrong.

I made a bold statement, said that God thinks you’re some of his best work.  Said that he cares about every detail of your day and speaks to you all the time if you’ll listen, if you’ll look.

I went on with my week and forgot to remember……

That when I make progress in any area of my life; when I live, on purpose, out of the bold yet vulnerable places in my soul, there’s a shady voice always waiting, hellbent on the back-door destruction of my heart.  I mistake it for my own voice if I’m not careful and I bet you do to.

My soft spots always include relationships, people, all kinds of them.  They hurt me young and left me early and I still hold onto the belief that I can be a good enough friend to avoid conflict altogether. Conversations incessantly loop and the voice insufferably auto-corrects with one rotten subtitle:  you did it wrong.

Maybe it’s different for you.  Maybe  you feel the flash of shame when you think about your marriage or your parenting, or maybe it’s a full-blown lightening show.  A burst of insecurity about your education lights up a rod of  dying dreams, blazing a grand finale of deep disappointments from high school to the present.

It makes you feel like you’re in trouble, like when you were a kid and your mama used your full name.

It steps on the softened place that connects to your heart, yanking you backward into a muddy pit of degradation while angry accusations blare from the perimeter.

It triggers a flash that burns hot in the notch behind your ears shooting into your spine, dropping into your stomach or filling up your eyes as the disappointment, failure, or shame physically becomes part of you.

The voice I heard sounded like my own and it took me a while to remember that it’s not.  It’s a lying voice of opposition, not authorship and it contradicts, admonishes.  The one goal of this voice is to drown out the voice that’s Truthful.

You have to remember to close your ears to the lies that want to wreck your soul and begin to speak (out loud)  the truth that’s been whispered into your soul. Truth about who you were created to be.

It begins with a whisper of thanks for Hope and ends with the decision to choose the Voice that speaks life.  In the middle of the night it’s hard for me to remember, but I’ve learned the difference and it’s a game changer.

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For when we glory in the cross and forget about the love

The celebration of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ is settling somewhere new in my heart this year.  I’ve always loved the tradition and liturgy surrounding the weeks before Easter.  It’s a holiday of water-colored hope painting broad strokes of redemption over thin lives.

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Spiritual battles seem to culminate during Holy Week as the antagonism of Satan mocks our walk through the Stations of the Cross.  This year has been no different as I’ve watched friends lose loved ones and dealt with my own challenges, puny in the light of death.

As social media penned words of faith, posted serene pictures of crosses at sunset and dared us all to pass on gruesome depictions of a bloodied Christ as a sign of true belief, I felt a depth of contempt that surprised me. I’ve quietly changed my profile picture in previous years and couldn’t account for the shift in my feelings.

I wondered if voicing my doubts had fueled the feelings and even considered briefly  that maybe I’d lost some faith.  Maybe daring to believe with eyes wide open made for new travelling companions, Thomas or even Judas.

There’s something about loud, accompanied poetry that releases the pressure from my obnoxious thoughts so I turned up the new album from Needtobreathe, Rivers in the Wasteland.  This CD captures the dim reality of life in a fractured world with driving melodies that wrap solaced hope around a soul.

The song Wasteland repeats the simple truth that if God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31) and as the song dug into my heart, the massive celebration of Easter was broken down into the most personal understanding that God is for me.

That small change in my focus opened up new thoughts.  Is it possible that our insistence of  walking the way of the cross, complete with reenactments starring a beaten Christ, exploit the anguish of the Father?

We focus on the physical pain of Jesus to the point that we forget the agony and despair that lies in the un-sensationalized, seldom referenced, simple broken heart of the Father who loved us.

The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ symbolize our faith, but in the beginning was the word and the word was God and in him was life and light and the light shone in the darkness (John 1) and the reason there was a light at all was because we were created for communion with God.

When we tell the story of Adam and Eve breaking that communion in the garden, we focus on their shame but what about the depth God’s loss? What about his broken heart way back in the beginning?

The sacrifice of the cross is shocking and absolutely is essential to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  But  the sacrifice of the Father sometimes gets lost as we glory, to some extent, in the gore of the cross and the miracle of the resurrection; hoping to convert unbelievers with shock and awe.

I have friends who are grieving right now, it’s a sacred time in their lives that deserves respect.  I wonder if our Easter pageantry doesn’t  distract us from the fact that God also continues to grieve as we make choices that separate us from him.  As whole tribes of believers spit hatred at each other does he shake his head and mourn at our insistence of making our belief about us?

Really, if God’s heart broke so deeply because we were separated from him and if  he would allow it to be broken to a greater degree as he watched the physical anguish of his son, shouldn’t we love with that same depth of passion?

Does he watch the rhetoric of Good Friday and the fanfare of Easter Sunday and wish that we’d remember instead the very intimate gift of his broken heart?  Because that’s what  necessitated the crucifixion of Christ in the first place.

It seems to me if we did, that we might all look more like him. We might worship with more humility and love, with deeper abandon.

My heart has changed this year.  It’s smoother in a sandy sort of way.   It’s been broken wide open and spilled all out and as it heals, I’m hoping that it looks a little more like the Father’s as I learn to love to the degree I have been loved.

Maybe I’ll feel differently as Easter rolls around next year, more like embracing the sorrow of the first day and engaging in the celebration of the third, but this year is off beat and I’m going to honor that.

My faith isn’t lost.  I’m wondering if maybe I just  found it.