A Good Day for a Drive

It was a beautiful day for a drive. Labor Day Weekend in the Colorado Rockies. Our family cabin is nestled in the high altitude farmland of Gunnison, a small community downriver from the majestic peaks of Crested Butte.

On a whim, we piled into our restored 1976 Jeep CJ-7…three kids, two parents, one dog. Our only plan: to go as far as we wanted to go. Supplies included some snacks, warm clothes, raincoats.

The Jeep’s configuration perfect for a family of five. The front bucket seats are roomy, with enough space on the floor for some supplies and the dog. The rear bench seat faces backwards, adequate for three small bodies.

We rose high traversing the four-wheel-drive roads, rolling, jerking, up and over. The surrounding twelve to fourteen-thousand-foot peaks displayed themselves beautifully as rows of shark teeth.

After six hours of slow, bumpy travel, we descended upon the picturesque town of Aspen, our dusty, dirty bodies and tangled hair no match for the community’s refinement. Forgetting the holiday weekend did not bode well for procuring suitable lodging less than $700 per night. Multiple phone calls revealed no room in the inn…anywhere. Our only option to commence the return trip. Fear and panic surfaced by bits, bubbling, surpassed only by the desire to be warm at home, while the sun began its rapid decline.

Before embarking on the supposedly shorter, more direct return route, we heavily bribed our children with hamburgers, milkshakes, and candy followed by a romp in the park to loosen cramped bodies.

Witnessing the peaks silhouette themselves against the pink sky, the temperatures cooled severely as daylight faded. We bundled in our warmest gear, which wasn’t much considering we planned for a sunny day in early autumn.  Rolling through the wilderness, the dirt road before us, boulders jutting, Jeep rocking exhilaration moved toward concern.

Once darkness settled, our navigation failed, the round vintage headlights providing only a short-sighted, non-peripheral view. Multiple roads appeared seemingly out of nowhere pulling us off course, yielding repeated dead ends. Backtrack, start over, new road, dead end.  Following the tumbling water of the Crystal River we moved forward to the best of our ability. Stop. Check the map. Start. Dead end. Turn around. Repeat.

Rumbling along we meandered downward toward two bobbing lights. Inching forward, unsure of what was before us, we rolled by two campers jumping enthusiastically, whooping and hollering,  “No way! He’s gonna do it. WOO HOO!” Eric and I looked at one another quizzically, unsure what they were referencing. We made the severe right angle turn, light revealing the only bits we needed to see – a rickety, old bridge followed by a narrow shelf road, tipped generously in favor of the tumbling river valley. A hefty drop traversed by a narrow loose granite path interspersed with boulders, wide enough for just our vehicle. Schofield Pass. Little did we know, discovering later, the most deadly stretch of dirt in the state of Colorado, aptly named Devil’s Punchbowl.

Everything I envisioned did not happen. We did not plummet to our deaths, nor did we have to sleep in our cold, cramped car. Every obstacle eventually offered a solution. One map said one thing, the other offered an alternative. Our journey revealed itself through piecing and connecting the dots. Thank God we had no idea what lie before us at the outset.

Anytime we find ourselves in a fierce predicament choices are available. The fear will envelope and immobilize us if we let it. The looming problems of life and world require us to faithfully take the one next step.

The diagnosis, the divorce, the tragedy, the layoff…all of it hits hard in our core. While no one would choose the harsh difficulties of life, they still come. The work requires us to honestly evaluate what we are up against, take the known information and boil it down to the smallest particle. Peering down the road, squinting to see, attempting to anticipate the future leads to fear. Our only option that night was to manage each presenting obstacle, while doing our best to remain on the road, and to pray…a lot.

Hopelessness hit hard, over and over, each time we had to turn around, each time we hit a snowbank, a boulder. Yet, every overcome obstacle yielded a rush of relief, appreciation, peace – a recognition of the beauty, the joy of adventure, a sense of pride.

I would like to climb Devil’s Punchbowl again, on my own two feet, in the light of day. I want to witness the river deep below, the peaks rising high above. I want to relive that night, celebrating how far we came, but I will never again choose the same set of circumstances.

Life brings about so much we could never anticipate. The things I see around me seem so awful, so hard, yet there is a way, always a way. I pray we choose the next hard thing, the next remotely clear thing and follow the path of breadcrumbs until eventually we stop, stand firm, turn around in amazement at see how far we’ve come.

Here is where we can find joy and hope again.


photo credit: verdon gorge via photopin (license)
photo credit: verdon gorge via photopin (license)

It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.
― Lemony SnicketHorseradish

Death is a horrible business. The loss of two young lives this week, unrelated to one another, one a young wife and mother, the other, a sixteen-year-old son and brother. Both loved deeply by their people. Our significance, yet impermanence revealed. Suffering in life contrasted by relief in death. Deep, gut-wrenching sadness in loss, joy in remembrance. Both/And.

Grief, that thing which appears both terrifying and remarkable, horrific and lovely, the most difficult yet the most important. This work is essential while at the same time full of confusion and uncertainty. One can sob wildly and laugh uncontrollably, one can fantasize of the life returning, grateful for the end of suffering. The loss, a gaping vast wound, the memory returning over and over and over again, a consistent notice of the vacuum left behind.

Grief carves a canyon in our souls, twisting and winding through our daily existence, layers revealed at the most inconvenient of times. Grief as precise as a surgeon, excises, no corner, no surface, no emotion, no experience unexamined, unturned. The full work breathtaking and complete, renders us powerless in its clutches. The canyon walls slowly etched into a brilliant tapestry, layer upon layer of occasions, regret, memory.

Nerve endings exposed in the carving. The largest and tiniest of fibers poking out of the sediment, all requiring attention.

We are always left with a choice. Do we choose the numbing path or the feeling path? How does one choose this most uncertain, terrifying, unpredictable road? The grief will deal with us, somehow, someway. In choosing to feel, in the working out, the sifting, wrestling, the nerves become the most awe-inspiring parts of the tapestry, adding depth and shine to the walls, erected in the memory of our desperately loved. The holy work of grief more and more complete, revealing the unique truth and beauty of an imperfect life.

As a girl, just shy of 12, I stood over my unmade bed weeping. Never was I required to change the sheets. This was my mom’s work. She was gone now, it was up to me. Her life taken by a brain aneurysm at the too-young age of 37, leaving behind a young husband and four children.

While I wouldn’t wish the pain upon anyone, none of us get to escape. Grief is terrifying, the belief we may never return from the places we must go. But we will. This is the complete work, the work that allows us to move forward, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, so we can someday dream again.This work is essential, the other side revealing light, grace, knowledge, solidity.

A friend recently asked what I thought my life would be like if Mom were still alive. I have no idea, for I couldn’t answer, nor did I need to. Why wouldn’t I want my mom alive? Yet, who would I be now? Would I be married to the same man, live in the same wonderful state, have my three remarkable children? Would I be me…this person I’ve come to love? Questions with no answers.

Grief allows us to become, allows us to journey along life’s paths, growing.

Grief allows us to honor the authentic lives of those we’ve lost. When grief is done well, martyrs and saints are not manufactured, only real people celebrated with weird quirks, preferences, fear, desires, joy, sadness.

Grief allows us to carry our loved ones near, fueling the love and care of others, the love and care of ourselves. We can be light, hope, strength in the world, full of compassion, empathy and truth -motivated by a touch of pride piled high with heaps of wonder and grace. There is no room for shame, for we have done and will continue our work.

A limp will always remain, a reminder of the journey, the valley, the process. This is good news. I want to remember. My voice still catches in my throat, tears quick to surface, still surprising me after all these years.  I will never be over her, for she will always stay with me. My grief ensures she will never be lost.

It is good, this work is good.

Life is very good.

Scale Lessons

22toloseconfidenceinone27s0abodyistolose0aconfidenceinoneself22-defaultI was tempted today, tempted to do something I knew would take me down a destructively familiar path, one of self-degradation, hatred, control. I was tempted to succumb to the belief, to the notion that my faith in myself, my confidence in my body was in jeopardy. I was tempted to resort to former ways, to crazy-making methods that dump me mercilessly on the moving line of never enough, of scarcity.

Today was my yearly physical. Twelve hour fast, foregoing the hope of early morning cups of coffee, blood drawn, nether regions prodded. The scale revealing a number I have not seen in decades (aside from pregnancy).

How can this number have as much power as it does, defining a day or a lifetime? Why does this number determine my livelihood? Does it differentiate how I’ve spent my days? Who I love? Who loves me? If it’s going to hold this much power there better be an itemized list somewhere parsing out each pound, every ounce.

Does this number take into consideration the blood flowing through my veins, the protein, the fibers, the composition of my muscles, the miles run, the weight lifted, babies carried, people loved? Does this number care enough to recount the enjoyment in a pint of beer, real butter, pizza with friends?  Does this number reflect the laughter around a table or the dates I’ve been on with my husband? Does this number celebrate the engaging and challenging conversations with friends, rehashing life over a latte? Does this number reveal the meals prepared and shared together as a family around the big table?

In my shortsightedness this morning, the beauty enveloped in this life of mine was nearly thrown under the bus, flipped, and tumbled, down the unforgiving blacktop. I could have allowed the power of this number to redefine my existence, sending me into a spiral of loathing, shame, fear. I could have gone to the brink of my worth, to the place where I can no longer receive love, grace or provide love, grace, rendering me to hatred, hating myself in the purest of ways…in my body.

My body, what it has done for me, the gift it will continue to be! The stress it has endured, the ways I’ve starved and over fed myself, the stress, the diets, the fat-free and sugar-free foods, the intense and grueling workouts. My entitlement, disgusted I could not procure the image, the form I desired. The dissonance between the parts and pieces I beheld in the bathroom mirror compared with the perfection of magazine pages. My fantasies incomplete because my body was not compliant.

My legs have brought me through marathons, triathlons, countless bike rides to and from school with my children, hikes with my husband, running with a dear friend, beautiful treks into the wilderness. My arms have swum me for miles. My face has expressed my heart, sometimes betraying personal confidences, people closest to me reading it like a book. My smile has welcomed the hurting, and celebrated the recovery of the broken. My teeth chew the best food, assisted by my tongue and salivary glands, providing joy and nutrients, sustenance through night and day. My hands hold children, scratch their backs, ruffle their hair. My cold feet nestle in with my husband on frigid nights.  My fingers can type and patter the keys to spell out words, sentences, thoughts. My hips have nested babies safely within, their width perfect for growing, sustaining three delicious lives. My belly stretched in all directions, silvery strands run lengthwise. My thighs strong and able, prepared for any adventure. My eyes seeing, responding to smiles with lines that easily know their place. My heart beating for so much, for you, for me, for the world both near and far.

Our bodies are wonderful creations, our lives are worthy, beautiful, valid because of our template: Imago Dei…the Image of God. We have been created, celebrated, cherished – which will remain so until the end of our time. I do not want to waste another moment, another minute incapacitated because of a number, because of a size, because of a skewed perception.

I know I will still wrestle and try to pin down the demons. This is my thing, my thorn. I used to fight them, their damned voices circling in my head. Most days, now, I let them do their thing, let them spin themselves into oblivion while I drink a beer enjoying conversation with loved ones, relaxing at day’s end, sun setting upon the efforts.

There is too much to do, too many to love, too many to be loved by. I want to be motivated by grace, by desire. I want to eat the food, savor the memories around many tables, remember the gifts I’ve been given, choose joy and be kind to myself.

This Messy Business

photo credit: image3 via photopin (license)
photo credit: image3 via photopin (license)
The awake/asleep moments, those where the magic of imagination still pushes through, the storied, soon-to-be forgotten dreams a flickering light, memory awakens, the sense of joy or dread or mundanity or excitement become the template for the day.

This morning I rose, feeling undone, feeling un-good enough, less than. The tendrils of shame tickling my consciousness before my head lifted from the pillow. The hour on the clock, ungodly.

Pushing feet to the floor, hunting and pecking for pants, sweatshirt, buried socks in the sheet-folds, I shuffled to the kitchen. My tender, tight Achilles reminding me of a recent run and advancing age. Coffeemaker whirring and grinding to life, first signs of hope.

Far corner of the couch, the best perch to view the morning’s unfolding, chickens and sheep, lone lamp lighted above my shoulder. After checking email and Facebook, I opened my notebook recording the previous day’s events, the highs and lows, gratitude. A foreboding sense, the day before me, voices still mocking of my inadequacy.

Many days, my native tongue is shame. I return to this default setting, the language learned young from never believing I earned the mark, never meeting the demands, the comparisons, falling short of the moving line of excellence, rarely winning. The early morning whisperings will torment my day, reaching fever pitch, shrieking of my inabilities and shortcoming, lying to my tender soul. A brazen highlighting of my lack, my inability to be perfect.

Perfection has never been the design, the ideal for which we are to aim. Perfect is frightened, boring, predictable. Perfect demands a straight-line existence, no room for error, walking the precipice – joy absent, creativity stifled, grace rendered impotent, individuality muted. Striving for perfect is hiding behind the mask where the outside, the appearances are collected, cool, envied. Yet, inside is crying out to be found, to be seen, heard, loved.

Living a perfect life is living small….and scared.

Our imperfections makes us human. Imperfect allows the creative spirit to flourish. My life, my home, my relationships, my work as a parent, my writing…all fueled by this truth.

The mess, the risk, wrestled and overcome tells me a new story about myself, my unique voice and beauty, my distinct offerings. It is in this distillation where I gain the eyes to recognize who I am and what fills and drives, feeding this soul and body of mine.

I long to be fully human as I’ve been designed, which in turn requires that I create. Humility and vulnerability, with a healthy dose of defiance working together in tandem keep me returning over and over, fighting for the work, the expression, moving through the fear and shame. Perfect can not be an option, or else my creative breath suffocates, authentic life snuffed.

Slipping backwards into my shame speak, into my expectation of perfect, creativity is rendered void. The fear, the tightrope existence straitjackets me into a mold, a predictable identity. Yet when I let go, trusting in the grace, the centered surrender, the generosity, I can long for more, for messy, my expression, my creation.

Clinging to control is my fear response, the drive toward perfect. Talons gripping, unyielding. Grace and permission absent. Yet, fear is an important co-traveler on this journey. Accomplishing my essential, creative work, work only I can do, only you can do means we must accept this truth. 

Here’s how Elizabeth Gilbert handles her fear with creativity from her latest book Big Magic:

I decided that I would need to build an expansive enough interior life that my fear and my creativity could peacefully coexist, since it appeared that they would always be together. In fact, it seems to me that my fear and my creativity are basically conjoined twins – as evidenced by the fact that creativity cannot take a single step forward without fear marching right alongside it. Fear and creativity shared a womb, they were born at the same time, and they still share some vital organs. This is why we have to be careful of how we handle our fear – because I’ve noticed that when people try to kill off their fear, they often end up inadvertently murdering their creativity in the process.

So I don’t try to kill off my fear. I don’t go to war against it. Instead, I make all that space for it. Heaps of space. Every single day. I’m making space for fear right this moment. I allow my fear to live and breathe and stretch out its legs comfortably. It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back.

When I am terrified, as my voice lodges in my throat, breath raspy and labored, I pay attention. I know I have skin in the game. Transcending all sense, I move forward perfectly in my imperfect humanness humbled and beautiful, as I was created.

We make room for fear, recognizing our innate language of shame and issues of worth, fighting forward, surrendering and welcoming her to the party. The party of becoming.

What Always Was

photo credit: Tocca le Stelle via photopin (license)
photo credit: Tocca le Stelle via photopin (license)

I was a sucker in junior high and high school for the “mountaintop experiences”. This is common for those of us growing up in an evangelical faith tradition. All people are invited to make a decision, to accept Jesus into our lives, to believe in His life, death and resurrection. Oftentimes this was accomplished publicly, in  a camp or retreat setting, after time away from the real world and its conflicting messages. I cannot even express to you the number of times I raised my hand, or went forward (as they say), my hands clammy, heart pounding. Typically one does not need to be such an overachiever, except me, in my fear, requiring insurance of Heaven and Eternal Life.

Each camp or retreat provided fresh opportunity to confess, to re-dedicate through an altar call. And so I did, over and over and over again. I can only imagine God doing the grand eye roll: Here she goes again… In my desperate need for security, I consistently pled with God to forgive me, to accept me, to let me in, to spare me wrath and end times and judgment.

Hands raised, eyes closed, moving talks, frank disclosure…emotions raw, tears shed as we in all of our adolescent honesty shared hearts, failures, decisions for Jesus. These were the ingredients of the evenings around the bonfire, believing nothing and no one could remove the magic.

Eventually we’d have to leave these peaks and returned to the valleys of real life: school, practice, parents, siblings, homework, pressures. In a matter of days or weeks, the renewed commitments set aside, ignored, some forgotten or lost.

As a grownup, life happens in the valley. This just is, the responsibilities of raising three kids, maintaining and growing a marriage to withstand and outlast the rigamarole, caring for oneself, education, career, housework. The peaks are trickier to discern, no longer found in weekends away with cute boys and giggling girlfriends. I am required to open my eyes a little wider, to count the abundance in warm beds, coffee, friends, laughter, conversations, good meals. The peaks fit more into the life of routine, the life of demands and responsibilities. The highs come and they go, factored in, mostly planned, upon which my sanity and contentment depend.

Two weeks after Why Christian, the conference I referenced in Love Answers the Question, I am moved. While I didn’t answer any altar calls or sign a pledge sheet or raise my hand in the secret quiet, something shifted and dislodged. While I wouldn’t say I was on a mountain during the conference, I experienced something anew, a rebirth, a validation and confirmation. I was met in the valley, in my questions, in my wondering and wandering. I was met with a Me Too. I was met with hope for the Church, for the future of this faith I can’t shake.

Green shoots are jutting from dry, crumbling earth, a new thing rumbling from the depths, the margins. My wary and weary heart and hands being pulled up and out into this brave new, radiant space. A space that prefers to hold more questions than answers. Doubt and anger and real and raw coexist, breathing the same oxygen. A space that contains a  transcendent beauty that fills the gaps these questions hold, that dissolves the cloud of anger I’ve carried like dirt enveloping Peanuts’ Pigpen.

This new place allows me to let go, or not. There is a collection of people giving me room to explore, to seek answers, to put my foot down and demand. There is grace to be our unique selves, imperfect and celebrated. There is room for human dignity, for seeing people as loved, created in God’s image. There is freedom to enter into the stories of the hurting, the oppressed, the criminal –  instead of requiring them to enter into mine, or those of the church. There is life and light and hope, an invitation to be.

As my grip loosens and the fight slowly dissipates, I get to receive Love. I get to be soft, the hard edges of my frustration and cynicism smoothed by mercy and justice and authenticity. Receiving mercy for my own state, I then have the privilege of doling out the loaves and fishes, trusting in the miracle of grace.

This uncovering, this revealing the way it always was. The mountaintops aren’t needed, the valleys aren’t needed. This way of faith just IS. This seeing the broken, responding to the outcast, entering into the story of the oppressed, bringing relief to the prisoner, is Christianity.

Christianity is beautiful. Christianity is life-giving. Christianity is hope overflowing, pointing to the love of God and the person of Jesus.

It’s all there.

I’m entering in. I’m going for it. I want what I witnessed, what I experienced. This is not me trying to live on the high. This is finally seeing faith as it was designed…an invitation, a longing, an answering. Faith is my way of life, it is my lens, my filter. Faith in Jesus is the only thing that doesn’t fail. Faith in the Church, in it’s glorious and messy humanity, is what I’m choosing. This is not about me succeeding, or winning, or earning. This is the greatest gift I am given. I pray I live in the truth of it, and I own it.

And when I forget, because I will, all it takes is a gentle reminder, gazing to the reaching trees, participating in the miraculous of every day.