Posted in Celebration, Family, Parenthood

Letter to Mommy-to-Be (Are You Ready?)

“I didn’t give you the gift of life.  Life gave me the gift of you.”  (Anonymous)

Dearest Dolly (my beautiful, pregnant soon-to-be-mommy Sarah Elizabeth),

Last weekend, you called me very teary-eyed.  “Mom, I’m just not ready for this baby.  We don’t have anything set up in the room.  I haven’t picked a pediatrician.  We don’t have curtains.  The house is not sterilized (and on and on the list went).”  My first thought was that you are right.  After many busy weeks working two jobs, being in two weddings, future maid-of-honor commitments and graduate school classes, you had not really done many of those things.  The room was painted and the crib set up, but that was about it.  And it could be any day now.  You aren’t ready.

I tried to reassure you (and truth-be-told, myself) that it would all get done somehow and that your shower was tomorrow and people would give you fun things and hopefully that would all help with the preparation.   My words fell short of the mark for your anxious heart (and my own).  After a few moments of going around in circles and commitments beckoning once again, I thought to myself, “I am getting nowhere and you are just going to have to figure this out yourself (not my proudest hour).”  We spoke a little longer and then we both had to go, you to wedding dress shopping with your best friend and me into the bank to get cash to pay for your shower.

Sarah, it’s a week later, a very different Saturday.  A pediatrician has been picked, baby dressers, car seats and swings are set up, miniature clothes are hung in the closet or placed in giant drawers too big for them, and curtains are on their way (I don’t think the house has been sterilized but neither of us are germaphobes and don’t really care about that anyway – don’t judge us as you read this).  All your “ducks are in a row,” as we like to say.  Calmer hearts prevail.  You are ready.

Or are you?  The question looms in my mind.  I swirl with thoughts about the coming weeks and your preparedness.  Are you ready because his room is painted, child-care is figured out, onesies are neatly folded, infant Tylenol and baby wipes are purchased, and you’ve packed your bag for the hospital?  My mind answers loudly.  No, Sarah.  No.  Those things are good and necessary, but they are not what makes you ready.  My dear sweet mommy-to-be, you are ready and this is why:

You have spent almost 26 years cultivating what matters, your inner self.  Since you were just a little girl, you explored the broken parts of yourself and asked for help.  You sought and still continue to seek wise counsel getting to know these areas, not shrinking back or avoiding them, but allowing God to come in and reveal and heal.  What a gift you have given yourself and baby Broden.  You are ready.

You have fed your soul with good things.  You have sought a genuine relationship with your heavenly Father and in turn, compassion, integrity, kindness, grace, justice, truth, and love are what has come to matter the most in your life.  You actively look to mete these out in the practical, everydayness on your journey.  What a gift you have given yourself and baby Broden.  You are ready.

You have chosen a really good partner to share your journey and parent with, someone who shares these same values of the inner life.  Cody is authentic, adventurous (as we all know), discerning. fun-loving, sincere, hard-working, loving and willing to grow.  We couldn’t have picked a better husband for you.  What a gift you have given yourself and baby Broden.  You are ready.

Over 26 years ago, I found out that there would be a surprise gift coming into my life in March of 1992.  Little did I know then that the gift of Sarah Elizabeth would be one of the best of my life.   Last February, you found out that there would be a surprise gift coming into your life in November of 2017.   He, for sure, will be one of the best gifts you ever receive, as you were for me.  But, remember sweet Sarah, you are giving him yourself, your broken, beautiful, in-process, creative, growing, loving, gracious, and kind self, and there is nothing that can even come close to that!  This is why YOU ARE READY, precious daughter, friend and mommy-to-be!

I love you.

Mom (The Dolly Mama)

 

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.

 

Posted in Freedom, God, Hope, Love, Murder, Prison, Taboo

A Letter from Prison and a Journey to Freedom

“Inner slavery is even worse than outward slavery.  Inner freedom is even better than outward freedom.”  (Kathryn Lindskoog)

By the amount of sheer clicks and views on my post about my friend Kim who killed her husband, I know many of you read her story a few weeks ago.  (If you didn’t, check it out here first before going ahead, but don’t forget to come back.)  I was thrilled that I received views, but somewhere inside me I knew that it was partly because of the mind-boggling nature of the post.  I would have clicked as well just out of curiosity.  Today, however, I hope that even if you did come again to quench the thirst of an inquisitive mind, you will find a greater satisfaction for your spirit.

My friend Kim and I have become pen pals.  Snail mail is a slow process, especially with prisoners, because all mail is opened and read before reaching the other person.  It can take about two weeks from penning the letter to the opening and reading of it on the other end.  In a world where immediate communication is just a text, email or phone call away, this has been an exercise for me in carefully thought-out words on paper and eager anticipation of a reply as I wait patiently for up to a month to hear back.

My second letter came about two weeks ago.  It was the first since visiting her in prison.  I had written her a long letter and sent her a copy of the blog post I had written about her.  She was responding.  As I read the letter, I began to weep with joy over the words that came flowing off the paper.  It was as if I was perusing something straight out of the best book I had ever read, where wrong is made right and goodness wins over evil, something my soul longs for at the very core of it.

Two girls in a dorm room, sharing secrets and dreams late at night while the campus goes to sleep.  Two massively different external stories.  One girl goes on to raise a “normal” family and live a typical American life.  The other kills her husband and heads to prison for 20+ years.  What could we possibly have in common 30+ years later?

Kim writes…  (Get a cup of coffee.  Sit back.  Don’t skim.  Go slowly.  Breathe her deep wisdom into your soul.)

“Your blog entry was poignant.  Wow.  I never thought of my story as inspirational.  I’m not talking about the salacious, media version of my crime.  I mean my story, the one that had yet to be told.  I believe that those truths needed to be told so that my victims would no longer have questions.  I owed truth to them, to my family, to my friends and to the larger community.  I believe that keeping the truth inside of me all that time was in essence a kind of theft.  The truth is all I have to give and I needed to give it.

Telling the truth is hard.  Especially to someone who is out of practice like me.  I kept many secrets for many years and it made me hollow and dead on my inside.  I lived like that while looking perfectly normal on my outside.  Telling those truths was beyond scary to me.  I thought I would lose every single person that loved me, family included.  But God moved in my life and opened doors for me, giving me a safe place and way to finally speak.  Yes, there was real risk of rejection, but I knew it was the right thing to do.  It was the only thing to do.

In prison, there aren’t many safe places to tell the truth.  Information that can be used to hurt someone is power.  So we hold our power inside as a kind of protection.  Sometimes, we don’t even admit the truth to ourselves because we can’t bear to look directly at what we’ve done.  That was definitely true for me.  I wanted to speak, but how?  To whom?  Where should I start?

My objective was to find a way to reach out to my husband’s family.  I was not seeking forgiveness.  I would not dare to ask that.  I have no right to it.  Forgiveness is a gift that heals and releases the giver.  The decision to forgive (or not) is sacred.  I wanted to give them the opportunity to hear truth and to respond however they want.  My hope was that my acceptance of responsibility might help them heal.  I knew I had to try.

My father died and I inherited money.  I hired an attorney.  He found something called DIVO (Defense Initiated Victim Outreach).  It is part of the restorative justice movement.  We hired a psychological expert to create an “in-depth profile of me.”  The woman we hired was patient and smart and kind.  She helped me speak out loud not only what I did the night of my crime, but how I got to the point where I believed that killing my husband was the only answer.  She helped me understand what I could not understand on my own.  She peeled off the layers of self-hate to uncover the complicated mess underneath.  It was painful and horrible and a blessing.

In 2010, I took a class called VOICE (Victim Offender Impact Class Education).  In that class, we heard many stories of victims and how the crimes impacted their lives.  At the end, we were encouraged to write a letter to our own victims.  These letters are kept in a file that victims can access.  They told us that a letter would be sent to our victims telling them the letter was on file.  So I wrote.  I do not know if the letter ever reached Steve’s family.

There was still a pull in my heart to do something, anything to express my remorse, to tell my ugly truth to the the people I had harmed.  I joined a group called “Building Bridges.”  The work we do is transformational.  We speak openly to each other about our crimes and our lives that lead up to them.  It was rough, hideous and shocking to say those things and hear them from others.  We then meet with outside guests to tell them those same truths and allow them to ask questions.  The questions are hard to answer, but I do.  I know that doing the uncomfortable thing is good, that God wants to bless the truth.  And He does.

I have alienated people with my truth.  Especially when the truth exposes something awful that was done to me.  One of those secrets I mentioned.  In the end, I have been loved unconditionally, maybe for the first time in my life.  I am lucky in a way that the only kind of love I can get is unconditional.  Only unconditional love can penetrate barbed wire.

Telling the truth has healed me.  I was without the burden of a thousand lies on my back.  I can accept my incarceration with grace and the acknowledgement that I do belong in prison.  I do not believe I will be here for life and God is working.  He has put blessings and opportunities in my path that could have only come from Him.  That is how I know I am on the right path because He is restoring me.  He promises to give back what the moths and locusts have eaten.

Your visit was part of that restoration.  He gave you back to me.  Your friendship is both a blessing and confirmation.  I love you for it and I give all my thanks to God.  He has loved me even when I was unable to love myself.  He never gave up, even when I did.  It is people like you and Rachelle who exemplify Christ when you love someone who is less than perfect, someone who has destroyed her own life, someone who is lonely and in prison.  Someone just like me.”

What do we have in common?  Nothing on the outside, but everything on the inside.

When I first found out about Kim in January, I believed that God had brought her into my life to restore her.  I would be the one ministering to her, loving her.  God is an upside-down God sometimes.  He’s the God of surprises.  He’s the God whose “thoughts and ways are much higher than ours.”  He’s proving it once again.  Kim’s story is redeeming me.  Her wisdom is freeing me.  She believes that God is restoring her through my love.  And she is probably right.  But I can’t help but come to the conclusion that this God of redemption and mercy and unconditional love is bringing further hope and healing to both of us at the same time.  (And now, hopefully to you as well.)

The story of Kim’s crime is interesting and may satisfy your curiosity, but the story of her heart is redemptive and may just satiate a much deeper, needy place in your soul, one that longs for truth and freedom on the inside.  It has mine.

Two girls and two paths that from the outside, look utterly different.  One God.  Two girls and two paths that are wonderfully similar on the inside.  From lying to truth.  From hiding to freedom.  Her story is all of our stories.   The stories of redemption.   May the stories continue.

 

Posted in Beautiful Mess, Emotions, Freedom, God, Hope, Sacred, Thanks

I Needed Hope Today…TT (Season #01, Episode #05)

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”  (the book of Hebrews)

After almost a year of navigating the tumultuous polarization and division that is running rampant on social and regular media from every possible side, and then more recently following both the natural and man-made disasters, last night, I was done in emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  I felt as if I was living in a place and time where there is no hope.  No hope.  Not a good place for this Dolly Mama, the one whose fierce passion is to bring the message of hope and healing.  It’s what I normally shout from the mountaintops.  There’s always hope.  But last night, I was mired in a place believing I might be wrong.   There actually might not be any hope.

My thoughts swirled.  Who is going to fix this?  Why do people hate each other?  What’s with all the natural disasters?  Why do people keep vilifying those they are not in agreement with?  Where is the love?  Doesn’t anyone see that divisiveness will destroy each valuable person?  I was pretty much on a rampage to convince myself that I am wrong to think that there is redemption and hope and healing.  Hopeless might just be a more true place.  Right in the middle of my thoughts running amok, there was a song that kept running through my mind as I turned in for the night and rang loudly again in my head as I woke this morning.  It was one of those catchy tunes you wish you could get rid of but just keeps going around and around and around in your brain.  The words eventually caught hold of my heart as I was trying to tune them out.

There is hope for the helpless
Rest for the weary
Love for the broken heart
There is grace and forgiveness
Mercy and healing
He’ll meet you wherever you are
Cry out to Jesus.

(Click here for the full version but come back and read.)

Having nowhere else to turn and not really liking the place I was in, I made a bold move.  I actually took the song up on the challenge and cried out to God.   I asked Him to bring voices of HOPE, RESTORATION AND HEALING today to my heart instead of voices of fear, divisiveness and destruction.  I needed those voices today.  I needed that healing and restoration.  Many days, I am that voice.  But not today.  I was desperate for those voices from others, those that reflect the very heart of the God of unity, truth, healing, encouragement, kindness, love, hope, peace, joy, patience, all that is GOOD.  I promised Him I would keep track of them if He would just send them to me.

I quickly went right back to a “not-so-good” place and asked myself if I was just purposefully trying to avoid the bad stuff.  Shut it out.  Not deal with it.  Pretend it’s not there.  Go on in my “nice little world” and not have it be shaken up.   That thought deeply troubled me.   I am not sure that my answer was purely 100% “no.”  Life is hard.  Terrible things happen that shake me up.  I get caught up in the drama and the opinions and the tragedies.  The world is suffering and struggling.  I do want to avoid it.  However, a louder voice and a deeper, truer message broke through the darkness of my soul.  God sent those voices today.

On this,  my “Thankful Thursday,” I share them with you.

  • A beautiful sunrise on my walk and talk with wise daughter, Sarah.  She shared her heart for the poverty-stricken children she has in her second-grade classroom day after day.  She loves these kids with every cell in her body.  A voice of HOPE.
  • A text from my dear friend, Cindy, about her love and thankfulness for me and our friendship.  A voice of HOPE.
  • A quick word with my mom about my dad coming through his surgery with flying colors.  I think this man may outlive me.  A voice of HEALING.
  • A letter from my friend Kim in prison pouring out words of truth, grace, mercy, and wisdom far beyond anything I have personally known.  A voice of RESTORATION.
  • A blog post from my online friend Shelby.  A voice of HEALING.
  • A walk and talk with my pastor friend Tracy.  We shared our differences and our similarities with kindness, love and grace, with humility and reason.   A voice of RESTORATION.
  • A hard phone call with my patient husband working through a disagreement that we’ve been struggling with since Monday night.  A voice of HEALING.

I will end with an excerpt from Shelby’s blog post.  She speaks truth, the deeper truth of HOPE, HEALING AND RESTORATION!

“Wherever the Spirit of the Lord is present, He gives freedom. And the Spirit is EVERYWHERE.

God knows we long for freedom—freedom to live and love and laugh and experience the grandeur and beauty of this precious life He’s given us. Freedom from evil, discord, scarcity, oppression, shame.

If we would only look longer into the eyes of every person we meet, friends and foes, perhaps the God in them would have a better chance of connecting with the God in us. Together is the only way we press forward through these moments of suffering. Arm in arm, heart to heart, breath to breath.

Let’s make sure we love…with every fiber of our being.

Love binds, love sustains, love endures, love heals, LOVE WINS.”

(Read her entire post here)

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Celebration, Emotions, God, Health, Joy, Love, Marriage, Travel

Ciao Italia! (Due cose che ho imparato)

“In Italy, they add work and life onto food and wine.”  (Robin Leach)

I spent the past 10(ish) days in Italy (with a one-day jaunt to Switzerland) with my wonderful husband.  It was our 25th anniversary trip 18 months late (somehow we couldn’t stop Sarah from getting married, Josh from needing surgery, Jared from graduating college, and Rachel having high school and no license yet so that we could take our trip on time).

We had two days in Rome, one day in Pisa with Daniella, Josh’s girlfriend, two+ days in Cinque Terre (the Five Lands) on the west coast, two days in Milan (part of which was our day in Switzerland) with our good friends and missionaries, and then two days in Venice.  It was a whirlwind.

We found out that in order to get by as an English speaker, you basically need 5 words:  ciao (hello and goodbye), grazie (thank you)prego (you are welcome, please come, after you, have a seat)allora (total filler word, like “um”, “well”) and toilette? (I’ll let you figure that one out all on your own).  We became pretty good at fudging our way through and made it home in one piece with our passports and luggage.  Of course, I am up at 3 am writing this blog post because it’s full-blown day-time there.  I should already be finished with breakfast and have logged about 5,000 steps!

If you haven’t looked it up yet on Google Translate, “due cose che ho imparato” (the subtitle above) means “two things I learned.”  Amid all the incredible eating of pasta, pizza and gelati (I had it for 10 straight days and sometimes even twice.  It was my goal!), touring breath-taking architecture and landscapes, endless shopping in fantastic local boutiques, and traveling on boats, trains and planes, my mind kept meandering to two central “take-aways” from the trip, having nothing to do with any of the above.

1.  I took myself with me.  I would love to tell you that it was 10 completely magical days, that I was immediately changed into an always thankful, patient, kind, loving and joyful human, but the truth is, I brought my real self (the broken and the beautiful) along with me.  There were times where my eyes and heart leapt with the adventure of it all and I was filled with sheer gratitude and awe, but there were other times where I immediately lost patience over train schedules and people cutting in line.  There were times where Allen and I were like two young honeymooners, selfless and in love, but there were other times where we were unkind and hurtful to each other.  It hit home once again that it’s not the quick-fix, external circumstances that heal us in the internal places of our hearts, but the slow and sometimes day-to-day inner work we do in cooperation with a God who is in it with us for the long-haul.  Phew!

2.  I didn’t belong.  Not being able to fully communicate (to understand and be understood) was the first clue to realizing this was not my place and these were not my people.  I felt lost and confused and at times, didn’t seem to even know how to get the help I needed.  Cars and trucks (albeit miniature-sized) darting in and out of pedestrians without many traffic laws, militia standing on street corners with machine guns, currency that looked like monopoly money, and strange food (okay, I got you there…it felt like New Jersey with the pizza, pasta and ice cream shops on every corner) assured me that I was “no longer in Kansas” as the saying goes.  I was drawn into the adventure, the “otherness,” and am truly grateful.  I was changed a bit.  My eyes were opened a little more.  It was really fun and I needed that.  However, being with Allen (my person) was the best part of the whole trip.  And now I know why.   Deep within me, my soul aches for belonging, community, understanding, being understood, my place and my people.  This is most often where healing and the journey towards wholeness takes place, within the belonging to a kind and gracious God and a loving community of others.  My biggest “inner reaction” surprise of the whole trip was when we were standing in line waiting for our passports to be checked upon our return to Newark and the agent said, “Welcome home!”  I could feel my heart let out a sigh.  I belong here.  (A huge shout-out to those of you who are on this life journey with me!  I have missed you!)

Italy was a dream-come true and a big check mark on our bucket list!  And the travel bug has been tickled in my soul!  I am already making plans for a family trip to Alaska.  But today, on a mundane Monday morning, it’s really really okay for me to say Caio Italia and HELLO LONG HILL!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Anxiety, Emotions, Freedom, God, Health

What My Dog Taught Me About Anxiety

“I need you to love me a little louder today.”  (Healthyplace.com)

This past year, our dog, Autumn, tore both of her ACLs and we made the very hard decision to put her to sleep.  She was an absolutely beautiful dog, a loving dog, an active dog, a mischievous dog, and a highly-anxious dog.  At our first vet visit when she was just a puppy, we were told that she probably had neurological issues (because we made the lovely decision to buy a pure-breed).  Little did we know then, but soon found out, that this dog was one nervous-nelly.

Life marched on and she had all kinds of typical dog anxiety related to thunder, strangers, and loud noises (like Allen and I yelling at the TV during Steelers games).  But she also had “not-so-typical” dog anxiety where she panted and paced often for no reason, snapped at the air like she was catching flies even when she was alone (it’s called fly-biting syndrome) and tried to climb out of our home through the fire place.

Needless to say, you get my point.  Like her loving owner, this dog had some serious issues with the dreaded monster of anxiety.  As the years went on, I learned some very valuable lessons from my Autumn, many that I remind myself on the days that anxiety rears its ugly head in my own life and the lives of those I love.

#1  Anxiety can come out of nowhere.
There are times that I find myself in a place that only moments before was nowhere to be found.  I am going along just fine and out of the blue, I have thoughts that are absolutely ridiculous and filled with fear.  (I haven’t heard from Josh today.  I wonder if he’s okay.  He is, Esther.  You are ridiculous.  But he could have fallen in the shower and all his housemates are already at school.  He might be laying there bleeding or worse, he might be dead.  How will we deal with this?  I will be wreck.  Stop it Esther.  This is nuts.)  This may have come on the heels of enjoying a nice breakfast out with a friend while drinking chamomile tea.

#2  Anxiety usually passes.
After years of observing Autumn’s and my own anxiety, I have come to realize that it doesn’t usually last.  The same way it roars into my life, it often makes its way out.  This is a lifeline for me in the throes of it.  On a very bad day, I remind myself that it will eventually pass.  It might take some time, but it won’t be like this forever.  It seems to be cyclical.   Shalom (meaning completeness, soundness, peace) is a life-long journey, with many fits and starts along the way.

#3  Anxiety isn’t about trusting God.
One day, Autumn was just beside herself.  It might have been a thunderstorm.  She was pacing and panting, wide-eyed and whining.  In a moment of clarity, I said to her (very tongue-in-cheek), “Autumn, you just need to trust God more.”  You are probably thinking to yourself, “That’s ridiculous.  She’s a dog.”  And you know what, it is ridiculous.  For years, I added to the shame of my anxiety by berating myself about not trusting God enough.  I memorized verses about fear, the “do not fear” ones especially (and yes, I do know that here are 365 verses about fear, one for every day…I would imagine you might sense the sarcasm).  I promise you.  If memorizing these verses and trying really hard to “trust God more” would have done the trick and that formula could have worked, I would be all over it, preaching it from the mountaintops.  If it were only that easy.  But the hard truth is it’s not.

This is a message for all of us.  Anxiety is a neurological disorder.   Anxiety is when a person’s central nervous system is telling them there is an emergency even when there isn’t one.   Anxiety comes from a place of fright without solution.  Yes, we can feed it and make it worse (learned all about those neurons firing and giant pathways being created in my Physiology class in college).  I am an expert at feeding it.   And yes, new pathways can be formed that bring calm to the nervous system.  I am in the process of feeding those new pathways now and have been for many years (which has helped tremendously).  In the end, it’s all very complicated and I am not an expert in the field.  But that’s not the point.

Here is the point.  For those of you who don’t struggle, please don’t tell the person in the middle of it to “trust God more.”  I promise you it won’t help.  It may just heap more frustration and shame on the person and send them deeper into hiding.  And for those of you, like me, who have this monster hounding them on many days and during many seasons, think about my dog.  Give yourself some grace.  Tell yourself some truth.  It’s just as ridiculous to say “trust God more” to yourself as it is to my dog.

#4  Anxiety dissipates by being “held.”
The best thing we could do for our dog, when she was at her worst and visibly shaking with fear, was to hold or pet her, come close to her, and speak gently and kindly to her.  That’s really what those of us with anxiety need.  We need someone to listen to our fears, be gentle and kind to us and most of all, hold us until it passes (this can be emotional or physical).  My favorite words in the whole world are, “It’s going to be okay.  You (the real you) are going to be okay.”

The big question that nags is what if there is not someone tangible to hold us?  Can we go to God?  Will He calm our hearts?  It’s not magic and certainly not a quick-fix formula, but I promise you that He cares for you.  He loves you.  He will listen.  He will be kind and tender to you.  He will hold you until your heart and mind calm.  A verse that I reprimanded myself with for many years got flipped on its head one day by our counselor.  I Peter 5:7.  Instead of “cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you,” it is actually the reverse in the Greek.  It really says, “Because He cares for you, you can cast all your anxiety on Him.”  God is the initiator here.  We ARE cared for.  He holds us.  To that truth, I cling with my life.  Shalom.

(By the way, I loved my dog and I miss her very much.  I wouldn’t have traded her for the world, fly-biting and all.)

 

 

 

Posted in Anxiety, Emotions, Family, Freedom, God, Health, Sabbath, Sacred

The Myth of Scarcity (and the Hope of Acorns)

“We must confess that the central problem of our lives is that we are torn apart by the conflict between our attraction to the good news of God’s abundance and the power of our belief in scarcity.” (Walter Brueggemann)

It’s happening again.  Acorns are falling from trees.  They are everywhere.

I believe wrong things.  The myth of scarcity is one of them.  It comes pouring into my newsfeed.  My television streams it.  It permeates conversations with family and friends.  My own thoughts teem with it.  Many of my decisions are made because of it.  And it’s downright wrong.  A lie.

The myth of scarcity is the idea that there isn’t enough to go around.  The world (and the God who created it) is lacking the resources to meet our needs.  There’s not enough _______ (you fill in the blank) for me and those I love.  At its root is the monster of fear.   And as we all know probably better than we would like to admit, fear is a slave-making emotion.  My reaction to its demands cause me to hoard, fret, close up and off, control, and protect myself physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Acorns speak something completely different, something that has been true from before the dawn of time.  As I walk down my tree-lined street in these months of the fall, they are strewn everywhere.  They crunch under my feet and get in my way as I try to get my 10,000 steps (see FitBit post).  It’s almost ridiculous how many there are.

One morning, I was fretting over the lack of ________ in our world, and in my own family, and I saw with new eyes these acorns.  They were abundant.  There weren’t enough furry little creatures to gather, store up and eat these acorns in the coming months.  There was a plethora of them.  I was gently reminded again from my loving God about how the world began and how it really works.

The creation account in the beginning of the Bible is the story of God’s generosity.  God’s force of life is loose in the world.  His creation is endowed with fullness of vitality, encouraged to “be fruitful and multiply.”  God’s goodness overflows from His creation.  There is so much abundance and generosity, the time must end in a period of Sabbath rest (my most favorite part).  The myth of scarcity is ultimately debunked.

In the last 24 hours, I went right back to believing the myth.  I became caught up in the lack of personal safety in our world and specifically wondering (okay, looping) whether Rachel will be okay through Hurricane Irma.  I told myself, “my 17 year-old daughter is by herself living in an apartment (well, her two 18 year-old roommates are with her…but that is not helping) 1100 miles away and a big storm is coming.”  At midnight, I went right to “how can I fix this?” and my actions quickly followed.  I scoured the internet for hotels and flights for hours.  Talk about slave-making fear.  I fell back into a fitful sleep hoping for different news in the morning.

The news was the same as I woke, but that didn’t matter to God.  He provided an initial text from a good friend saying Rachel could come to Atlanta and stay with him and his girls.  An acorn.  Another text came from a friend in Sarasota saying their home was open and they have water and a generator.  Another acorn.  A third text came later from the same friend that she went to Costco and loaded up for the weekend with more than enough food and water.   More acorns.  (This was not what I was seeing on the news.)  And now I have come to find out, it’s her husband’s birthday on Saturday.  There will be a celebration in the middle of it all.   A whole oak tree.

It doesn’t matter what the news is saying in Florida right now.  It’s the myth of scarcity: “Not enough food, not enough water, not enough gas.”  But God has spoken what’s true.  He’s got all the acorns in the world.  He is filled with abundance and generosity.  He is never lacking.   And He will do “exceedingly abundantly above all that I could ever ask or imagine.”  And you know what, because of His generosity,  I might just be able to take my own Sabbath rest in the middle of it all.  I needed these acorns today.  I hope you have some too.

(One caveat.  I know this is not Family Friday worthy.  I’m sure you can forgive me.)