Posted in Emotions, Faith, Freedom, God, Hope

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes (Help!)

“I believe that faith is less like following a GPS through a precise grid of city blocks and more like being out at sea, a tricky journey, nonlinear and winding, the wind kicking up and then stalling.”   (Shauna Niequist)

Our town had a snow day this past week and I didn’t even know it until I saw it on Facebook in our town’s moms’ group site.  Oh my goodness.  The thought roared into my brain, “You are not one of those moms anymore.”  I remember having the same feeling this past fall when I realized I would have no more school year in my life.  I didn’t even know when the first day of school was until I saw pictures being posted by young moms with their adorable children in cute “first day of school” outfits.  After 22 years of first days of school and snow days, I felt clueless.  Huge change.  No more pics on the porch with Allen.  No more “you have a snow day” surprise visits into bedrooms with sleepy “awesome” replies.  Huge change.

These past few years have brought change after change for our family.  Each child slowly left the nest for college.  Allen took a new job commuting to Pittsburgh three days a week.  I started this blog which has brought a host of new and old friends into my life.  Grandchild #1 was born.  Close friends experienced horrific tragedies and loss and I didn’t avoid them (huge change for me).  And just this past Wednesday night, Allen and I slept with no one else in the house for the first time in 26 years  (that doesn’t count the 5 nights all four kids were at camp one summer…best week of my mom life).   There are many days, where I can’t get my bearing and feel tossed around by the “sea of life.”

As a young child of missionary parents, I embraced change.  I moved 21 times in my first 19 years.  I got a kick out of it all.  I constantly adjusted and readjusted to new normals and enjoyed it as much as I can remember.  Change kept happening, as it does throughout our lives no matter how much we try to stop it, and it took its toll on me.  Horrible anxiety came over me one summer with such a force that I couldn’t even leave my house.  At that point, I believed with all my might that change was the villain and I was the victim.  Uncertainty was the culprit and I was the casualty.

Those beliefs are just not true or helpful.  They shout loudly that the external things in life have control over my internal world.  I feel powerless and without hope.  No wonder anxiety comes right along side.  Thankfully, I’ve been slowly discovering a few new and very helpful ways to approach the changes that are sure to come (after all, I am only 51…oh, that kind of rhymes).

  • Embrace change itself.  Shauna Niequist reminds me, “If you dig in and fight the change you’re facing, it will indeed smash you to bits.”  Think of the example of a wave.  If you stand in the sand with knees locked as a wave comes in, you will be knocked over, tumbled through the rough sand and probably get pretty banged up.  But if you entrust yourself to the water just a little further out, you will be gently carried above those seemingly scary waves.  My hope is to embrace change.  Wait for the next step.  Stop “locking my knees” and bracing for impact.  Choose the long-view of my story.  “Ride the waves.”  I find it much easier to live there.
  • Embrace BOTH the darkness and the light.  I don’t want to lose touch with the heart of the story, the part where life comes from death (but not skip over the death part).  I spent many years just trying to “go up and to the right” and avoid all the bad stuff.  This past year, I have plunged headlong into grief, murder, anxiety, all the more shadowy sides of life.  I am going deep there.  People are really hurting.  It’s hard.  But there is always a glimmer of hope.  It’s not all bad.  Redemption comes.  Again, I don’t want to skip the death part, the darkness part.  I want to sit still where it’s not okay NOW (where darkness reigns) but still have hope it WILL be okay in the future (where the light shines brightly).  This is huge for me.  It’s been such a tremendous gift.
  • Embrace uncertainty.  Making peace with uncertainty is the hardest of all for me.  I have learned that certainty is not part of life.  The more I demand it, the more it eludes me.  Much of my life is driven by this force of demanding certainty.  “If this, then this.”  Formulas.  They just don’t work.  Because I bring my kids to church and read them stories from the Bible doesn’t mean they will embrace the deep love of God for them.  Because I exercise and eat right doesn’t mean I won’t get cancer.  Because I do all the right things (whatever that even means), doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen.  Certainty.  The insatiable hunger for it that I believed was my friend is actually my enemy.  Desire for certainty enslaves me.  Making peace with uncertainty frees me.

In the end of the day, change is one of God’s greatest gifts and most useful tools.  Change is one of the things that redeems me, brings me into greater freedom.  As Shauna reminds me once again, “It’s not a function of life’s cruelty but of God’s graciousness.”  God longs for me to have freedom from all that would hold me captive.  This hope of freedom helps me to embrace change the way I truly long to (even just a little bit at a time).

I don’t fear change the way I used to.  I’m up for the next round (and to be honest, a little fear crept in as I wrote that).  When I do think of all those changes I mentioned above, I get excited.  I have less constrictions on my time and energy.  God keeps bringing those who need me and who I need.  We are going deep together.  This blog is opening those doors.  I love and long for relationship.  I love and long for wholeness and healing.  I love and long for impact.  That core of who I am actually has not changed even though the world around me has and will continue to.  I am preserved through all of it.  The outside, external world does not have control over my truest self.  I am not without hope.  Change is NOT the villain and I am NOT the victim.  Uncertainty is NOT the culprit and I am NOT the casualty.   I am not losing myself, but marching forward on this journey of finding myself with the gracious, kind and loving help of God and others.  It’s really worth it.

 

 

Posted in Emotions, Family, Freedom, Hope, Love, Marriage, WTF

Make A Marriage Great Again (Part Five of Ten – What’s Your Forecast Like?)

“Every man’s way is right in his own eyes.”  (Proverbs 21:2)

It began right at 5:00 am this morning.  “Can we put the stuff we are moving in the living room?” (Esther)  “I want to put it in the closet.  I don’t want all that out there clogging up the area.” (Allen)  “But if we put it in the living room, we will separate what is going and what is staying.”  (Esther)  Allen gives in.  Half-hour later, another conversation goes like this.  “You keep everything.”  (Esther)  “What do you mean by that?”  (Allen)  “You have every box for what you own and every imaginable bag that you bought stuff in.  I don’t do that.  But you know what?  Sometimes, it’s good.  Now I have all your dry cleaning plastic bags to put over your hanging clothes.”  Esther gives in.  If you are confused as to what is going on, I am here in Pittsburgh helping Allen move from the suburbs to a cute, trendy apartment in the Strip District.  We are packing up his stuff.  Fun times (insert sarcastic tone of voice here).  We both had a “FORECAST”, a what’s-it-gonna-be-like mindset (there’s my fifth “F”  in this WTF series – see first four at these links:  FOO, Fidelity, Fallibility, and Faithful) for how it would play out.  We came into this packing thing with a load of expectations.

When we got married almost 27 years ago, I imagined it all completely different.  I envisioned romance, adventure, emotional closeness, spontaneity, laughter, someone to take care of me, and the embracing of differences.  I believed in and expected the “happily-ever-after marriage.”  After all, isn’t that the point of getting married?  (I can hear some of you chuckling to yourself knowing how silly it all was.)  I certainly didn’t envision to be bickering over how to pack up an apartment.  After all, this apartment is part of a new adventure for us.  It should be magical.  (Yes, you are still chuckling.)  

Allen’s vision for our marriage so long ago had very different hopes and expectations.  He thought it would be filled with peace, physical and emotional closeness, lots of quality time together doing simple things, care for him, stability and harmony.  He also believed in the “happily-ever-after marriage.”  After all, isn’t that the point of getting married?  (At this point, you need to stop chuckling so loud I can even hear you from here.)   He certainly didn’t envision us bickering over how to pack up an apartment.  After all, this apartment is part of the plan for us to have lots of quality time together getting to know his simple home city of Pittsburgh.  It should be easy.

Every marriage is confronted with a vast assortment of expectations from both parties about what marriage and life should look like.  We have been forming these for years before we are married, even from childhood.  We come to believe that certain things are right and good and therefore want and expect them from our marriage partner.  There is nothing wrong with this.  It breaks down when we assume that we both have an identical picture of marriage and life itself.  However, saying “I do” brings with it a host of conscious and unconscious expectations that aren’t always fulfilled.  We see it play out day in and day out: simple things like how to pack an apartment and much more complicated things like how to discipline a teenager.  When we have these sharp contrasts, they lead to unexpected arguments and stresses.  When this happens on a regular basis, we find ourselves with a vast emotional chasm between us, something neither of us want or thought would happen.

This sounds like all bad news.  As you think on your own marriage or marriage-to-be, it could seem overwhelming.  “We fight all the time.  We are so different.  We want such contrary things from each other and from life.”  Yes.  It’s difficult.  Yes.  It takes a lot of work.  But I am here to tell you that there is also really good news.   And all the hard work is worth it.

As many of you know, Allen and I are the marriage mentoring coordinators at our church and we meet with and counsel engaged couples as they prepare for their upcoming marriage.  Allen has a very favorite exercise (developed by our friend Glenn Murphy…BIG SHOUT OUT TO HIM!) that these couples do as part of the curriculum.  Each couple writes a list of his/her own “Ten Commandments” (the unspoken expectations, the “roles and rules” that he or she brings into marriage).  No matter where you are right now on your marriage journey, this might be super helpful to you.  And it can be about any aspect of your life or marriage.  Just this week, I spoke with our daughter, Sarah, as she and her husband are beginning to navigate raising a child and both working, and they sat down and wrote about what they both expect and want to happen in the next few months as it relates to their adorable son, Broden.   And as I am thinking further about it, I need to seriously practice what I preach here and Allen and I need to sit down before we go about the rest of our day and do this about even something as simple as our expectations of the moving weekend before more bickering ensues and we feel disconnected and upset.

Anyhow, here is some “How To Do It” guidelines:

  1. Make intimacy (being fully-known and fully-loved) your over-arching goal.  This will help create an environment of transparency and safety.
  2. Do this exercise separately without your partner’s input.  Be careful not to write what you think your partner would expect or want.  Be as honest as you can and don’t be afraid to have your voice be heard!   (This comment is not for people like me who speak their voice loud and often.)
  3. Compare answers with your partner. Notice what you have in common and where you differ.  You might just be surprised at both!!
  4. Provide a safe environment to discuss them and question each other with the goal of mutual agreement.  This takes each person believing that expectations are not right or wrong, but different.
  5. Create a new, mutual list that where you both feel heard and what matters most is there.  This is a huge opportunity to move from “ME” versus “YOU” to “US.”

***MAJOR CAVEAT***
Sometimes, there are things we cannot comfortably reach agreement with or compromise about.  Here are some more thoughts for that scenario, which I promise will happen at some point in your journey of future expectations and decisions.

  1. Possibly discuss them with someone you trust who will not take sides.  Look for feedback and input from them.  This could be a mentor couple, a friend or even a professional counselor.
  2. Take a moment to pray together and ask God for wisdom as you navigate the conflict.  Ask Him for unity of spirit and heart.
  3. Face the reality that some sacrifices are necessary for the sake of a loving, mutually satisfying marriage. This means that there are some things that are important to you but you will be choosing to give up , hopefully without any residual resentment or hostility.
  4. Realize that letting those things go might be painful depending on how important it is to you.  It may hurt and cause some emotional distress.  You may have to grieve what isn’t going to happen.
  5. Understand that there will be losses and there will be many gains.  What IS going to happen may even be better than what isn’t going to happen.
  6. Trust the process.  There is great hope and true intimacy (being fully-known and fully-loved) may just be the outcome, especially if you’ve made that your goal from the beginning.  That’s what we all want anyway.

What’s it gonna be like for your marriage?  What’s your FORECAST for the future?  No matter where you are on your journey, there is always hope for greater healing and wholeness!  I pray that your FORECAST would be bright!

 

 

Posted in Anxiety, Beautiful Mess, Childhood, Emotions, Family, Freedom, God, Grief, Hope, Joy, Love, Parenthood

Launch Sequence (I thought it would be easier)

“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you.”  (Frederick Beuchner)

Jared moved to Pittsburgh five days ago.  Since graduating last December, he’s been living in our basement apartment, working with his business partner to launch a web-based company, while doing odd jobs and serving at a restaurant.  As a nervous “millennial” mom, I asked him every so often if he was okay and was he going to be living in our basement when he was 30.  I don’t want to be that parent, the one everyone talks about, that does not “launch” her adult children properly (if there even is such a thing, but I can assure you, there are tons of articles about this very thing that make me a little crazy).

About a month ago, I got the phone call.  “Hey Mom, what do you think if I move to Pittsburgh with Joe?” (see business partner above)  Shortened version of my response:  “Sounds great, Jared.  You could live in Dad’s apartment while you get one of your own (for those of you who don’t know, Allen commutes there three days a week and has a one-bedroom apartment).   You could work for Uncle Charley while finding a job (Charley has a large landscaping company).  I think you will love it.”  Inside my head, I was doing a little cheer, because it would be the beginning of the launch sequence.  I could even hear the countdown in my head.   After all, Pittsburgh is the perfect place.  Allen grew up there.  His parents are there.  His brother is there.  His other brother just bought a farm and moved there with his wife and seven children.  Even his sister is moving to Pittsburgh one week a month.  And most importantly, Jared is a huge Steelers and Penguins fan and his favorite part would be that there would be no more game black-outs.  All the ducks would line up in a perfect row.  YAY!  But of course, part of me believed it wouldn’t come true (negative thoughts rearing their head).

As the month marched on, I was proven more and more wrong.  All the pieces kept falling into place.  Joe got a good job and Charley said yes to Jared.  Everyone in Allen’s family did a jump for joy when they heard the news.  Jared in Pittsburgh.  What a treat!  Even Charley, when he heard the news, said to him, “You finally came to your senses.”  So, on January 2, 2018, Jared packed up his car and moved to “Da ‘Burgh” as it’s known to the locals.  He started work for Charley just two days later on January 4.  All seemed super happy and positive.

Here’s where it gets a little sticky!  I thought I would be elated.  Doing my own jump for joy.  Proud of myself for getting another one out of the house, “launched” as I frequently say to friends (we even use the rocket ship emoji every time this happens to someone).   No more extra food-making.   No more dishes from the basement to wash.  No more feelings of being tied down.  Although those things did happen, other emotions flew in unannounced.   Sadness.  Worry.   Sentimentality.  No more “do you want a smoothie” texts with a reply “Would love one.  Thanks Mom.”  No more “where are you?” texts from him as he pulls in the driveway and my car is gone, causing me to feel needed and loved.  No more hugs as he comes up the stairs to get his laundry.  On New Years, the night before he was to leave, tears flowed unprovoked.  We shared the following texts.

Screen Shot 2018-01-06 at 2.09.10 PM

Life is filled with this.  We experience “BOTH AND” as I like to say.  On many occasions and even at the same time.  BOTH happy AND sad emotions.  BOTH difficult AND easy situations.  BOTH scared AND brave thoughts.  BOTH excited AND anxious feelings.  BOTH joyful AND sorrowful events.  This is one of the times.  I thought (once again, because I am slow learner) that I would only have all the good emotions since this is exactly what I want for Jared (and myself).  But that is not to be.  My heart is filled with a myriad of emotions and a cornucopia of thoughts.  And I am okay with all (okay most) of them (finally).

I lived a lot of my life trying to live in and for ONLY the positive and the good.  I shunned the negative and the bad.  It created much anxiety in anticipation of the “shoe-dropping” moments I dreaded might come true.  I have slowly come to realize that life is filled with it all.  And each part, either negative or positive, can be embraced, lived with and through and then incorporated into who I am and becoming.  It’s a much more whole and integrated place to live and be.  And believe it or not, my anxiety and fear about the dreaded “what bad thing is around the corner” has dissipated.  Bad things will happen.  Good things will happen.  I will be happy and sad.  There will be joy and grief.  It all may happen even in the course of the same event or moment.  BOTH AND.  A much more freeing place to live from.  I keep plugging away toward this place as my life marches on, repeating this mantra, “BOTH AND.”

All that being said,  I am BOTH sad AND happy that Jared has moved out of our little basement apartment into a whole new experience in Pittsburgh.   And Jared, I write this again (even though it’s on a graduation plaque in your bedroom downstairs) to remind you of my heart for you and my dreams for you.

May the Lord bless you, Jared, and grant you His favor FOR:

  • a life filled with knowing and receiving God’s amazing and unconditional love.
  • a wife, children and grandchildren who will love and respect you with passion and fierceness and that you can grow with as you journey through life.
  • success in the work of your hands. 
  • you to find your passion and that your work would bring fulfillment for you.
  • blessing financially so that your generous heart would be able to give freely.
  • a long and health-filled life, unhindered by disease and suffering
  • deep and abiding friendships that will build you up and support you on your life’s journey
  • you to have the peace of God that will guard your heart and your mind.
  • you to have the confidence to be yourself and hold onto who you are in an ever-changing world.
  • purity and integrity in your mind, body and heart.
  • a kind and gentle spirit who will continue to seek out those who need help and offer them yourself.
  • you to entrust yourself to the God who is trustworthy.
  • you to hold fast to God and be unwavering in your loyalty to Him, as He is to you.

I love you Jared!  You are one of the best gifts I have ever known and I will miss you.

Mom

P.S.  I loved your snapchat pic when you were pulling out of the driveway.

By the way, Jared’s web-based company is on the move.  For all of you who are of have up-and-coming college students, you will want to check it out!!  Look for a launch date coming soon!!

Posted in Beautiful Mess, Celebration, Emotions, God, Grief, Holiday, Hope, Sacred

Advent (The Howl of the Not-Yet)

O ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow…

The past few weeks have been marked by much suffering for those I love.  The pain seems overwhelming: substance abuse in adult children, the possibility of a very scary diagnosis, a seemingly unfair and senseless job loss, a sibling carted off to jail in the middle of the night, an impending divorce and the unnerving future of being alone, a debilitating disease that prevents normal life-function, and mental illness that doctors are having trouble treating.  You get it.  You are hearing that kind of news as well.  And like me, your thoughts might be shouting, “How long?  How much?  Why?  Why right now?”

I love the holiday season.  From November 1 to January 1, like many of yours, our house is filled with decorations, food (and way too much of it, as my waistline is currently showing), family, friends, celebration, and traditions.  Along with these external manifestations of the season, there are also the underlying inner emotional expectations of gratitude, wonder, joy, peace, love, hope and generosity, to name just a few.  A quick confession:  I like this paragraph more than the first one.  I want to live here.  I want all good things, happy thoughts.

The period leading up to Christmas morning is commonly known as Advent.  It’s Advent right now.  Shauna Niequist reminds us that “advent is about waiting, anticipating, yearning.  Advent is the question, the pleading and Christmas is the answer to that question, the response to the howl.  There are moments in this season when I don’t feel a lot like Christmas, but I do feel a lot like Advent.”

For many weeks now, as you read above, I agree with Shauna.  I feel a lot like Advent.  Advent is NOT Christmas morning.  Advent speaks about and grieves broken places that are yet to be healed, questions that have no answer today, and yearning that is unfulfilled.  Advent gives a glimpse of hope at the end of a long season of waiting.  Advent is “both and.”  Advent says there is suffering and it is real, palpable.  But advent also says there is hope, just as real and palpable.  Advent says “don’t skip over the suffering.  Don’t minimize the heartache.  Sit in it, acknowledge it, and feel it.”  This is not an easy place.  And if the truth is told, I struggle with Advent.  I do not sit with the grief, acknowledge and feel it.  I skip right to Christmas morning, the happy place, where the answer is here and salvation has come.

I am slowly learning that skipping right to Christmas doesn’t work.  It doesn’t take away the pain.  It doesn’t make bad things not happen.  It doesn’t bring true healing.  Advent brings healing.  It is the place of real truth that speaks both heartache and hope, both suffering and a savior.

Sometimes God does His best work during the seasons of advent in our lives, the waiting periods, the not-yet times.  And that hard work usually takes the form of those who “sit with us in the dark,” when we can’t see the light, those who go to the not-so-pretty places with us and remind us of who God is and His undying love for us, for as long as it takes until we can see “Christmas” on the horizon.

There are more than two weeks until Christmas.   Let’s not skip to that place.  Let’s live in the not-yet, the place of anticipation.  Let’s dive into the questions, the grief, the “howl,” the yearning of both ourselves and those we love.  Let’s be okay in the waiting.  Christmas will come soon enough.  A baby will be here.  A Savior will come.  What is empty will be filled.  Heartache will be healed.  Yearning will be fulfilled.  What is broken will be repaired.  What we’ve lost will be found.  But in the meantime, we will wait together, not forgetting the howl of our hearts.

Look now! for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing!

(It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, Fourth Verse)

Posted in Anxiety, Emotions, Freedom, God, Hope, Love

The Cure for Fear

“We stopped checking for monsters under the bed, when we realized they were inside of us.”  (The Joker from Batman)

For years, I struggled with a horrible disease.  It hurt my family.  As I sit here in the wee hours under cover of darkness waiting for my first grandbaby to be born, one of my greatest desires is that he won’t ever succumb or even have to fight this monster.  No, it’s not cancer.  It’s not heart disease.  It’s not anything that modern medicine in the traditional sense can address.   The disease is fear.  What is the cure?

One of the “not-so-good” things I do when I don’t feel well or have some kind of physical symptom (I know at least two or three of you reading this do this exact same thing) is check WebMD.   There is a handy symptom checker, and most of the time, many deadly diseases come up as a possibility when I have a headache, my left-side hurts, and I have a funny mark under my chin (you get it…you’ve had those weird symptoms too).  Needless to say, it sends me to a “not-so-good” place (if you are taking notes and you have medical-related anxiety, NEVER USE THE SYMPTOM CHECKER ON WEBMD!).

I don’t need a symptom-checker for fear.  The manifestations have been evident in abundance for as long as I can remember in my own life, the lives of those I love, acquaintances, and even strangers.  It doesn’t take long to spot them.  They include: striving, hating, arguing, comparing, performing, blaming, controlling, bragging, shaming, judging, pretending, slandering, and hiding, among others.  I’m sure you have your own list to add.   It’s a little more tricky to understand the driver behind these behaviors:  fear.

What is our greatest collective fear?  I would venture to say it might just be the fear of being unloved, not belonging and ultimately rejection.  No wonder there are so many symptoms.  It makes so much sense.

Left unchecked, fear increases.  Hope diminishes.  The above symptoms get worse.  Sometimes, addictions develop.  Relationships with ourselves and others suffer.

So what is the cure?  I can confidently shout from the top of my roof that the cure is LOVE, plain and simple love.  “Perfect love casts out fear.”  (John)

“Love is an experience that is given and received.”  If we had a symptom-checker for love, it would include: safety, connecting, trusting, humility, vulnerability, harmony, encouragement, openness, and resting.  These certainly sound like the very opposite of fear.

One of the things that fear does to us is isolate us from others, from what our hearts long for:  love, belonging and acceptance.  We believe that we can protect ourselves through isolation and lack of trust.  The result is the contrary: fear grows and multiplies.  Can this true debilitation be treated?  Yes.   True treatment is not in protection, but in vulnerability, scary as that is.  It happens on walks, around tables, in homes, all kinds of places, anywhere that hearts connect.

Is that enough?  Do we just need the venue?  I would plainly say no.  We also need the conduit.  It’s not enough to be with people, side-by-side, together, but alone.  We have had enough of that at big parties or even small family gatherings, to understand that fear can abound in any environment.  What we really need is the language of grace.  Received and given.  My new online friend, Janet Newberry speaks these words:

“Grace is a language, and it’s so much more than a language.

There is real, and supernatural, power in the words we speak, and the words we refuse to speak.  There is power to heal or destroy, to strengthen or weaken, and we hold this power in our words.

When grace is spoken, new life is wooed forth, from our new hearts within.  Good life.  Deep satisfying life.” 

Fear language speakers are filled with the symptoms we noted above.  You don’t have to go too far (just go on social media, watch the news, check out what’s going on in your own home or maybe even passing through your own lips), to see blame, shame, judgment, comparison, slander, arguments, boasting, and the list goes on.

The opposite is also true.  Humility, trust, understanding, kindness, encouragement, and vulnerability permeate the language of the grace speaker.  Connection happens.  Fear is quelled.  Love prevails.

God’s ultimate will for us is that we love and be loved.  He gently reminds us to love others the way He’s loved us.  That’s a love you can trust.  God communicates to us in the language of grace.  He is the ultimate grace-giver.

Yes, the cure is Love.  “Love is a connection that speaks grace.”  Love is not a blog.  Love is not a sermon.  Love is not a book.  Those are good, but they are one-way streets. Love is relationship.  Love is people.  Connection.  Safety.  Vulnerability.  Humility.  The ultimate language of grace is to know another and be known, to accept and be accepted, true and unconditional love.

Will baby Broden’s generation be the one that has the cure for this horrible disease called fear?  I am hoping for that.  I want to be, as Janet reminds me, a “cure carrier,” who speaks grace in safe relationships.  It’s free for you and for me.  I pray that my heart will be on this continuing journey of receiving and giving grace, hope and love.   And that out of that more healed heart, my mouth will speak loudly and often.

“There is no fear in love.”  (John)

(Click HERE to see Janet Newberry’s website, who I follow whole-heartedly because she speaks the language of grace which I need desperately and want to learn more about.  I have taken much of these thoughts from her in this post.  Anything in quotes is from her.)

Posted in Anxiety, Childhood, Emotions, Freedom, God, Hope

For What It’s (uh…I Mean I’m) Worth

The Lord Your God will take great delight in you.  He will quiet you with His love.  He will rejoice over you with singing.  (The Prophet Zephaniah)

I was a smart, speedy child.  I could read when I was just four.  I skipped kindergarten, went to first grade at five years old, did three grades in two years, moved to the United States and repeated third grade (there was no way the Ventnor school system would have a seven-year old in fourth grade), skipped fourth grade when I went back to Ethiopia and ended up in fifth grade when I was only eight years old.   Sounds exhausting just writing it, much less living it.  After that, I actually did only one grade per year, but it meant I graduated high school at 16, even before I got my New Jersey driver’s license.

Needless to say, I was praised all the way through for how smart I was.  What a great performer I was.  How “special” I was.  I loved the attention and thought of myself as the “one to beat.”  But to tell you the truth, I actually did not believe you would ever “win” if we had a competition when it came to smarts.

This perpetuated itself in high school when I received the award for the #1 Bible quizzer in the United States for our church’s denomination and was deemed worthy of a spot at the “Harvard of Christian colleges,” Wheaton College in Illinois.  I had performed well and was rewarded for it.

Lest you think that I sailed through with flying colors both outside and inside, there were many times that I struggled with embarrassment.   I did not want to be the “odd man out,” the one who was different, “special.”  I lived with two conflicting emotions:  I loved being the best, the fastest, the smartest, but I also wanted not to HAVE to be that, desiring to be average, normal, the right age and be accepted anyway.  I actually purposefully got a “C” in Physical Science in ninth grade to fit in (not even with others, but just within my own head).  Opposing messages swirled inside of me:  I am worth a lot because I am smart and I wish I was worth a lot because I am me.

I took these two opposite notions with me well into adulthood when one day, I heard the phrase, “Your worth is not based on your performance.”  Really?  Really?  Because my worth certainly was.  As time marched on, I began to entertain this thought and realized much damage had been done to my heart so long ago and still continued.  It began to make sense why I was driven to achieve and worked tirelessly at everything I did and ended up in an adrenaline-overloaded life-style, constantly feeding the “worthy monster.”   It morphed into terrible anxiety in my late 30s as I struggled with the idea that if I wasn’t “pulling my weight” here on earth, God might just deem me unworthy of staying and he would take me to Himself.  Weird thoughts prevailed:  if I wasn’t the perfect mom, God might just give me cancer.  If I don’t make that person dinner or take their kids to soccer practice, they might not want to be my friend.  If my kids misbehave in church, people will judge me.  So I paddled along, hearing that good message faintly echo in my thoughts, but living from the louder opposing voice.  I wanted to believe that I was worthy even if there was no performance, but my actions proved that I still held to the contrary.

It didn’t help that our culture permeates this point of view.  Constant evaluations based on performance in school, community, church, sports, friendship and even marriage flood our lives.  Learning is replaced by good grades, teamwork is replaced by winning games, compassion is replaced with mandatory volunteer hours, Christian community is replaced by behavior-management sermons, long talks on porches are replaced by a “what can I do for you” mentality and intimacy is replaced by well-manicured lawns and magazine-worthy homes.

I spent years combatting this highly destructive-to-the-soul belief, shouted truth from the mountaintops to my children, friends and anyone who would listen, hoping it would penetrate my own soul and that I would finally live within the framework of knowing I was worthy just because I am who I am and God had deemed it so.  Until this past week, I would have told you that I had won the war for my heart.

Not so.  While waiting for Broden, our grandson, to arrive (and yes, we are still waiting not-so-patiently), I was scurrying around cooking meals for home and for the soon-to-be-parents, cleaning out every cabinet in the house, washing every last dish and dirty clothes item, and tackling projects long-laid to the side, when I asked myself the deeper question:  what’s going on?  why do you feel the need to get “all your ducks in a row” before this baby comes?  Of course, there is the natural “nesting” that takes place when a baby comes into the world, and that is all well and good, but I sensed a below-the-surface wound that was oozing out again.  After all, I am making the transition from motherhood to grand-motherhood.  I can justify my worth if I have children and take care of them.  But what about now that they are grown?  I had a huge moment of clarity: once again, I am trying to prove my worth.  This does not come from a deeply-loved place, but from an earning place.  Keep working.  Keep doing.  Get praised.  Be loved for what you do.  Prove.  Prove.  Prove.  YIKES!

As the week progressed, it came to the forefront that I still have ways to go.  I am still surrounded by constant evaluations, some of them coming from inside of me.  The battle is not “one-and-done.”  It’s a daily fight to the place of wholeness and healing.  There is good news:  I believe and live whole-heartedly from the place that YOU are valuable, beyond any measure.  YOU are of infinite worth, whether you ever perform another task again.  I never measure YOUR worth on your performance.  And there is future good news:  I am much closer to living from that same place for myself.  After all, my mantra in this blog is this: wholeness and healing is for all of us.  And finally, there is the best news of all, a spark of hope:  it can start with me.  I am loved and that is enough.

(Please like or comment on this on social media if you came from Facebook, Instagram or Linked In.  It helps in spreading the good news of hope.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Celebration, Emotions, Freedom, God, Health, Hope, Love, Sacred

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

“The gospel…has but one purpose in mind:  to make brand-new creations.  Not to make people with better morals, but to create a community of…professional lovers.”  (Brennan Manning)

One definition of love is this:  connecting with others at a deep level affirming their value.  I believe this.  Each one of us has infinite worth and it needs to be affirmed through deep connection with God and others.  But really, how does this happen in the bones of what makes up each life?  After all, we have a lot going on and are stretched beyond imagination with family, work, household, community, volunteer and personal growth commitments (even the list makes me feel stressed).

Many years ago, the book, Celebration of Discipline, was circling around in the Christian world.  Practices that had primarily laid dormant for the 20th Century were being called to light by the author, Richard Foster.   He created a buzz about subjects like fasting, solitude, meditation, prayer, simplicity, worship and celebration, things related not to the outer, visible life of a person, but rather the inner, intimate life we have with God, self and others.

Having grown up in church, I viewed these disciplines as a bunch of special, super-Christian duties that would make God happy.  They didn’t really even make sense to me.  They were just piled on top of the long list of things to do that would show that I was better than the next Christian (or if I speak what’s true, that they were better than me, because I didn’t practice most of them hardly at all).

Thankfully, over time, and with more of a proper understanding, albeit still limited, I’ve sporadically, with fits and starts, attempted them all at some level, with limited success.  Most of the time, if I am being honest, they are done from a place of downright desperation for change in myself or others, a kind of “okay God, I’m-serious-about-this-and-I-need-an-answer-now” place.  It certainly hasn’t been a life-style, patiently exercising inner life muscles consistently.  It’s been knee-jerk, “help me now Jesus” and short-lived.

We all know from the tagline of my blog that I am all about hope for healing and wholeness (with some snarky humor along the way…I’ve been missing the snarky lately but I’m sure it will come back full force very soon).   I definitely want healing and wholeness for everyone I love, including you, but first I want it for me.  After all, I can’t give something away that I don’t have myself.

In this vein to grab healing and wholeness, I am reading Shauna Niequists’s book, Bittersweet.  This past week, the subject matter reared it’s ugly (I mean beautiful) head again in the chapter I was reading for my life-giving women’s small group.  We meet every Thursday morning, come hell or high water or even content we don’t want to address at the moment (told you the snarky might return in full force)Anyhow, this particular week, she spoke of how these disciplines are an “enduring way of living that has been shaping and reshaping people for thousands of years.”  They do something to the inside of the people who practice them.  They matter.

Being the “leader” of this small group and wanting to be prepared with some deep insight to share (embarrassing truth), I began to ask some questions.  How do the spiritual disciplines (or as my good friend says, “tools”…I also like the word “guides”), these centuries-old practices, this “enduring way of living” bring wholeness and healing to me, to others, to our world?  What is the real, life-changing point?

I began to think that even in the herky-jerky, sporadic times that I have allowed these to be a part of my life, they have changed me on the inside.  They seem to be an outward framework that brings inner healing.  We are actually seeing a resurgence of them all throughout our society.  Even Google has “silence and solitude” retreats for their executives.  What we have been doing for the past 50+ years, in our work-a-holic, 24/7, achievement-based culture hasn’t really worked.  These things must matter and we can’t get away with having a rich and full life without them.

But why do they matter?  What’s the larger story?  What do they provide that the running-around-in-circles, performance, “I-don’t-have-time-for-myself, you-or-God” atmosphere does not?  Here is my half-thought on the subject (that just means I haven’t fully-processed it all yet and landed somewhere completely).  They just might matter because they promote an environment where intimacy flourishes!  Relationship abounds.  Connection proliferates.  True intimacy (being fully-known and fully-loved) happens when there is space made for it and what really doesn’t matter is put aside for what really does matter.

Consider these:

Solitude grants room for intimacy with self, allowing for knowing and loving our complex and wonderful self.

Prayer provides space for connection with God, revealing to Him our private stories, dreams, hopes and heartaches, and receiving His unconditional love in return.

Meditation is a sacred place where it’s just us and God and neither one has an agenda, a quiet place to just “be” and not “do.”

Simplicity declutters the external “I’m-so-busy-I-have-so-many-things-on-my-plate-that -take-up-a-ton-of-time” stuff so that we have room for what truly matters in this life, which is love (see definition above).  There’s no better feeling than to have undistracted connection.

Worship makes a time and place that we can tell God we love Him. Celebrate Him.  Tell Him he matters to us and all the reasons why.

Fasting removes external, physical pleasure for internal, soul-level healing. I don’t know how this works. I just know that it does. Maybe it’s an “in-the-face, can’t-avoid-it” reminder that we are much more than just the physical.  It is a mystery to me, and I’m really okay with that.

Celebration says to others “you are valuable, I choose you today,” not out of convenience, but actually with fierce intentionality.  It’s why we have birthdays, weddings, showers, and even funerals.  It says, “I really know you and love you.  You matter.”  

I’m not one, being the cynical person that I am, to do things just because someone else tells me to do them.  Not my parents (much to their chagrin in raising me), not my husband, not my friends, not even my church.  I have a mild (okay a spicy) reaction to this.  If I can understand the larger backdrop, the bigger reason why it’s right and good and best, it’s much easier for me to get on board.

I am seeing something I just might have been missing.  Each of these disciplines are designed by God to promote true intimacy with self, Him and others.  They provide a good environment for my mission to become, as Manning reminds me, a “professional lover.”  I look forward to the continued changing and healing of my heart and soul.  This might just be one reason why they work and why they matter.