Upslopes

5410103711_dbedf5b3df_bColorado has been fortunate this winter, some cold snowy days, but February was a string of warmth. We have had a winter storm warning for the past three days, starting midweek, getting ready, waiting. Apparently, the liquor and grocery stores were packed on Friday, people anticipating. I had a little “wait and see”, but I longed for a good snow dumping. The beautiful thing about Colorado weather, is you can try to predict it, but until it happens? Well, better to just not say too much.

Mid-morning Saturday, with an inch or so, the streets were only wet, temperatures balmy in the 30s. My mom, daughter and I headed up north for a little shopping and lunch. By this time, folks on social media were mocking the weather, and raining down veiled insults upon the sacrificial meteorologist lambs. Many believed the bluff was called. While in J. Crew, my daughter having the time of her life debating denim choices, we watched the storm barrel in like a brakeless freight train. The roads once only wet, were now icy and packed down, visibility just barely, cars inching along with little to no traction. This upslope was a contender.

These powerful storms, all eventually leave, but when they are central to your existence, nothing can channel thoughts elsewhere. Upslopes gather moisture from the south, rotating clockwise slowly, wrapping the region, bumping up against the foothills. The energy stays on the Front Range, where snow can fall in feet down here, while the mountains may be sunny and warmish.

What about the storms I face? My upslopes?

I have issues that regularly wrap around and back, with insecurity arriving from the north, purposelessness gathering steam in the south, to collide perfectly at my center: food, weight, body issues warning of impending record-setting events. Yes, I can sometimes predict when they will show: spring after cold winter months of eating comfort food; after very busy life seasons; during grief, new kid stages, certain marriage events, holidays. I try to anticipate, but these upheavals can still come unexpectedly, and with force. The force is sometimes more than I can manage. It seems these life events wrap around, coloring all of my existence, my faith, my hope, my purpose. They bump against what I know, what I’ve learned, the strength earned. Gaining momentum or losing it, depending on many factors, mostly fueled by my choices toward surrender and control. Some are here to stay, creating in me a new existence, a new manner of viewing the world, challenging me to my core. Not moving out anytime soon.

If I get so focused on the fear of the next uprising, the howling wind, the cold, I lose the opportunity to see beauty. How the snow falls when it has settled in, the naked tree branches perpetually reaching higher as if awaiting a pat on the head for the effort, birds on wire in defiance. The opportunity afforded to rest in the unknown, to acknowledge the change in landscape, finding a new place to discover oneself. Life-giving moisture for drought-prone land.

These upslopes in my life and heart change and switch, move and shift. Some show up unexpectedly, and some predictably. Sitting, twisting, churning and moving out. They always move out, it might take a few years, but we all eventually reach a new normal. After the spectacular show, a gap is present, small or big doesn’t matter. The terrifying suffering is more behind me than in front, a return to normal seasonal temperatures, dry weather, regular days, stepping in time. And this is me. The upheaval rocks my world, sends me into a spin, challenges and discomforts. It always leaves…with me anew, changed, adjusted.

What do I do with the gap? The regular and settled in days? Do I take what I learned and water others? Do I move to a new place in my faith journey? Do I recognize the risk of vulnerability and take more chances? I hope so. I hope I don’t just stand braced for the next one, but instead, live my days with gained truth, from a place of fresh hope, surrendered strength, muscle ready to fight for what I now know.

There is always new life in the aftermath. Green, sprouting, fresh, stored up energy for the next journey, the rising day, the long-awaited rebirth. There is always hope, even in the bleakest and severest. Let me remember to cling tight when the cold rattles and re-shapes my bones, when life will no longer, ever, return to my idea of normal. Let me grow stronger, taller, ever-reaching, reinforcing the old supports. Settling in with grace and confidence, trusting the strength of not me, but the strength of the One who holds me fast.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/81474147@N00/5410103711″>Snowpocalypse Chicago Snowmageddon 2011</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>

The Last One

Snow falling in clumps like wet Kleenex, ground slushy and puddled, chimney across the way pumping out smoke. Kids finishing procrastinated homework, hanging with friends, gearing up in snow clothes for a ten minute play outside. Laundry humming along, hot chocolate steaming, a long run to work out the cobwebs. Dog covered in local dirt road mud, bounding at first, lolling at end.  A day home, holiday celebrating Presidents. A surprise egg, from our infamous Truffle Hen who defied a grisly fox-death and sacrificed a toe in her harrowing escape.

All bits of one day, moments held briefly and so easily forgotten. Reminders of those gone by, rejoicing and grieving simultaneously at children growing and becoming, differentiating and leaving. Ten years like dust, when baby number three emerged, to join what seemed like two big kids then, recognized now as toddlers. How perspective shifts and bends, grace withheld for all I thought I should be doing, rather than just getting through some days, with coffee and Diet Coke as my only joys. I hear folks say, “Don’t survive, thrive”. I want to wring their necks and have them sit in my then-home with three baby-toddlers and make them write it out longhand thousands of times on the slate of my sanity.

Boy now, gangly, sinewy, lanky and lean. This ten year old body, on the cusp of separation, still allowing tender moments between mother and son. Hair shaved, eyes and ears too big for face, pants at ankles, instead of nicely folding over the shoe. Child with his fair share of suffering, for a privileged white middle class upbringing. Great heart and head for understanding and mercy, compassion and reflection. Is this learned? Maybe, but feels more like instinct, a soul discontent early from being unable to spell out his burden wreaking havoc inside.

This Last One, seeing him across the room, wondering, “Is that really my kid?” The changes all of a sudden ganging up on this mother, not wishing it any different, but taking pause, taking notice. A mother’s heart has to defy all logic, all fear, all slashes that come from carelessness. These children, take my naked and vulnerable heart, with no understanding for the pain leveled when they hurt or hurt others. This ache is felt constantly, ebbing and flowing with circumstantial life, conjoined with relief for the freedom. Oh! to no longer be the parent of baby-toddlers! Yes, they are becoming, this is the natural order of things, but never chosen with ease. Mothers across the globe, spanning all time and space have fought and lost the battle of keeping our children small and held tight, with very good reason.

My greatest mothering work is to relinquish, to allow the emotion and feeling to wash over, to settle in, to release, once processed, into the abyss of the collective grief and feeling of all mothers.  There are probably enough tears to power entire countries with this weight…of longing, hope, relief. Tears of pain and joy, equal, salty, flowing, some waiting for redemption, for forgiveness, others redeemed and forgiven.

My beautiful boy, high pitched screams and shrieks, just three years from deepening. My beautiful boy, my youngest child, sealing the door just behind him on this parenting gigue that has been both beautiful and obnoxious. I hear often, “Once a parent, always a parent…the fear and concern never leave”. I don’t like it. I’d rather they say that all my hard work will pay off, all misunderstanding will cease and none of them will do stupid, damaging things. An impossibility, I know.

Lazy home days, taking notice, remembering, forgetting, appreciating the mundanity, the divine in the smallest and most insignificant of moments. This holy work of parenting, mothering, is not for the weary or faint of heart. Let us all give grace freely, recognizing none of us has a corner on this crazy market of letting go. Let us mothers notice one another and cling tight for these days are short. Our children will leave, some peaceful and some in fits and tantrums. Hopefully, they will return as friends, people with whom we may grow, generously and respectfully. People who challenge, teach and question us while providing for their own young families, repeating the wonderful, necessary cycle of raising up and letting go, honoring and learning the truths that come from this holy, messy, beautiful work.

Words

photo credit: Glasses on paper via photopin (license)

The din of the local coffeeshop, folks discussing a myriad of topics, infinite options..job opportunities, wrinkles, neighbor problems. A small cross section of Boulder County American life. A typical morning, relationships of all shapes and sizes forming, growing. Hellos and good-byes. Reunions with faces long unseen. Children with mothers seeking caffeinated sanity. Slices of life, random Thursday mornings.

Ordinary life. How are you? Fine. Good. Okay. How much do we really know what happens in a soul, a body, under the serene surface? What is bubbling under the fines, goods and okays? What beauty? What strife? Which questions are being pondered and agonized? What isn’t being said?

Some friends I can look at and just Know. The underneath is a boil, scalding hot pain, leeching, uncertain.

Some friends I can listen to and just Hear. The edge of precipice, the fear of a leap, the agonizing questions without answers, answers that will not come without risk, without surrender. Successes shared with but a few.

Some friends, I am present with and gain strength. I know and hear and see the lives lived, the pain forged through, the hearts on sleeves, the joy released, the fear overcome. These same friends know the depth of what is bubbling under my surfaces, even though I don’t fully know the cauldron some days. Honestly, the number of people where I am privy to the revealed highs and lows is a handful at best.

The good, fine and okay friends have to be satisfied with my goods, fines and okays. Moments with the deepest revelations come with well built trust, patient compassion, abundant grace and suspended judgment. They come with merciful, humble and listening hearts. My open mouth, one who openly shares regularly, must believe and know the person on the other side has my back. She has my best interests at heart, in agreement or disagreement, knowing when to speak her truth to me as she sees it. Sometimes, though, truth is not necessary nor does it need to be shared. It needs to hibernate for later or never. Sometimes truth needs to be requested. Mostly, it is about asking good questions, timely questions, an inquisitive stance. The people who get the information out of me are the ones who love me, not because they say it, but because they do it. They do love…they do grace, they do mercy, they do judgement suspension.

In my early years, I believed truth had to be told, if I knew the truth, I was obligated to tell. No more. It is about responding to a person with patient compassion and wide openness. Brutal honesty may work for some, but for me brutal honesty could put me in the hospital, the dissemination of words and thoughts without overflowing sensitivity is my Hell. My greatest fear, my deepest wound.

There are times, however, for painful truth, for others speaking when I’ve said a cavalier word, or created a hurtful moment…the things I do or say that damage another. I pray I hear and receive without blame and defensiveness, that I listen with my heart, with love for the person who respects and cares for me enough to tell me. I pray my perceived fragility and insecurity do not cloud a timely truth telling.

Why I am capable of doing to others what hurts me most will forever be a mystery. I cringe when words come flying with abandon out of my face aimed at the softest parts of those I love the deepest. Words I could never take, that if directed at me would handicap so horribly.  Words expertly lobbed at my husband, my children.

Forgiveness is my salvation. Forgiveness is my only hope some days…when I wound another and I receive an “I forgive you” in return. This is how we do love, how we do grace, how we do mercy, how we do judgment suspension. I forgive you, I have your back. You are my friend, and I love you.

photo credit: Glasses on paper via photopin (license)

Worthy Chickens

We have a sweet hen we call Truffle. She is a fraction the size of our other girls, runs with her chest puffed out, as if she’s seeking an edge over the finish line. Truffle has become an outcast, the lowest in the pecking order. The other three hens, all sisters, chase after her cruelly. The only time they are together is at night, in the coop. She sleeps separated while the others pile in, layering on top of one another. Each morning  when the chickens are released, she flies out the open front door, while the sisters shuffle through the back, into the fenced area. Truffle, instead of being subject to angry pecks all day, prefers to wander the yard at her leisure, cavorting with the sheep, and meandering the remains of the garden beds.

Typically, in the dark winter months, hens take an egg-laying hiatus. With the colder temperatures and shorter days we have needed the heat lamp for warmth, so the hen bodies have been tricked into believing the days are longer. The other three have been laying religiously, while Truffle, unless she is laying in an undisclosed location, does not provide us with her daily egg, probably from the stress induced by the other birds.

Apparently, once a hen’s laying days are over, once they are no longer useful, it’s time to make a meal. What about our Truffle? Since she is not currently laying, is she of less value to us than the other three hens? What is her worth?

This idea of worth is very important one to consider. I cannot begin to express the number of conversations I have with women regarding their perceived value, particularly among the subset who stay home, not with the little children, but with the tweens and teenagers. On the outside, it can appear a vacation…six hours a day to oneself. How is my purpose as a wife, mother, woman determined when my children really don’t need or want me for most of each day? And, as a good and wise parent, it’s my job to let them go.  How do I define my worth? What am I contributing to the world? What do I contribute to my family?

In this land of ours, worth is widely defined by our monetary accomplishments and accolades. If I’m not bringing home a decent wage, contributing to the bottom line of our family unit, then what am I worth? If I’m only taking but not giving, why keep me around? I know it sounds a bit harsh, but isn’t this the heart of our struggle? What am I worth if I don’t make ___, or weigh ____, or wear ____, or eat ____, or accomplish ____, or have _____ or look like ______. Clearly, this list is endless…and I’m only speaking from my female perspective. What about our male counterparts? Our husbands, fathers and sons? What kind of pressure is on them…same underpinnings, different scenarios.

I have recently come crashing up against this as a mother to a fifteen year old young man. Here I find myself in this land that makes no sense. The days of anticipating and providing for most needs, gone, seemingly vanished overnight. My purpose as his mother is nebulous, with no specific role to grasp. I know my theoretical importance, but the practice is quite fuzzy. The problem seems to lie mainly with how I feel about my role..when, on a good day, I might exchange 10 words and spend 10 minutes with the child.

I have come to realize, like with my sweet chicken, our worth is in the being…being present, available, human. That little chicken brings more laughs than I feel free to admit. She will more than likely, never be in our soup because of the joy she brings to us all and the void her absence will create when she is gone. Because she has a name.

My work now is to recognize my worth as a human being, because I am alive, because I breathe and move and talk and am. Because I have a name. My value as a human, as a woman, has absolutely no association with my outward proving: what I do, who I’m with, the heritage of my family of origin, the amount of money I earn, or what I own. My worth is inherent because I am, belonging to this planet, loving and being loved. Ultimately, I am worthy because I am created, made not to accomplish anything in particular, but to be known and loved by the One who knows and loves me beyond measure. Just as I sit and watch that funny little chicken, deriving joy because she’s just being Truffle. How much more does God see in us…this masterpiece, not just made of flesh and bone, but wit and ferocity and grace and beauty and opinion and feeling and fight and severity.

I believe that when we live out of our worthiness, we will find freedom, beauty, gratitude and grace…not for others, but for ourselves. Out of this will flow our work, our purpose, our calling…able to set aside fear, moving forward in love and trust.

Nothing more needs to be accomplished in order for us to be exceedingly valuable and remarkably beautiful.

Relearning Prayer

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Keep the earth below my feet
For all my sweat, my blood runs weak
Let me learn from where I have been
Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn
Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn  -Mumford and Sons

Prayer.

The concept conjures up a variety of assumptions…formulas, requests, thanksgiving, an old man judging, desperate pleas, fear, expletives, impossible.

I will not presume to know what Mumford and Sons meant by the above prayer, but they touch a deep place within, where the cries for eyes to serve and hands to learn. It is a call to seeing things differently, taking things out of the box of expectation and make a shift. My paraphrase, “Please keep the earth below my feet, for all of this effort, my blood is running weak. Please protect me so I may gain wisdom from where I’ve been…to learn and serve in new, unexpected ways.”

The longer I walk this earth, the more I realize prayer is infinite. Infinite ways to express oneself, infinite gods/spirits/saints/people to direct prayer to, infinite forms, infinite paths. I have come to believe and accept both God and prayer hold no bounds…at least not any to which I am privy.

Formerly, I operated with the false idea that I was required to follow a special formula or plan for prayers to be valid and heard. I wrote most of my prayers for decades to still distraction. Train of thought was instantly lost upon closing my eyes. I have spiral notebooks dated and filled with longing, thanksgiving, identifying with God (or trying to). The practice was essential, a way to write and organize, to empty. I firmly believe I was met, the Holy Spirit with me.

As of late, my views on prayer have changed. Instead of filling time and space with words, I long to shed the notion that my performance matters. Many days I sit in the dark silence, meditative, quieting body and mind…some days successful, in my view, some not. I know God is present, and the importance is placed in showing up, not in having the perfect words or experience.

Also, I am expanding my definition of what qualifies as prayer:

a candle in a window

yelling and doubling over on a hike, painfully grieving

clinking frothy beer mugs, in celebration

laughing hysterically over nothing remarkable

laying awake at night fearing the worst

writing

walking along tree covered paths, gazing upwards, noticing the contrast between branches, sky and cloud

a random conversation, leaving me breathless over the Beauty

frying up fresh eggs

an apology, a “Will you forgive me, I’m so sorry!”

remembering  the needs, reflecting throughout the day

laying facedown on the carpet, uttering words, heart hopeful and terrified

making a meal, assembling with love

I know some moments require traditional prayer, for my own soul and mind, to express the words, to spell out the need. I must lay the concern down, for it is too much to handle, too much to hold.

Other moments, I need my people, my children, my husband, my friends. We need to be together in prayer, beseeching. Sometimes, on a run, words in time to breath, tears mixing with sweat. Sometimes, holding a child, fingers detangling hair or scratching a back, words spoken…or not. Sometimes prayer is a conversation with God, as if I’m having lunch with my husband….meandering, stuttering, reflecting.

Let us not not pray for fear of perfect performance. Let us pray according to what is called for in the moment. Let us pray around distractions, letting them in, persisting regardless. Let us pray in the urgency and need, let us pray all wrong. Let us pray outside ourselves, ultimately knowing the abundance in and around, inviting us to lay down our pride and ego to enter onto the wing of the unknown but All-Knowing.

May we give ourselves permission to use words or not, to use only one word…maybe,  “Help!” “Thanks!” or “Wow!” according to Anne Lamott.

The key element is trust, trust in our emotions, our senses being led by Someone greater, to learn, to wait, to feel, to know. Some things are beyond our understanding, and may never make sense.

Prayer unites us with the generous and always loving heart of God, who adores His/Her children and gathers us together in peace.

Some days

Some days just are.

Some days invite creativity, cleaning, sorting and spiffing.

Some days invite solving, mastering, mulling and conquering.

Some days invite rest, renewal, naps and movies.

Some days invite constructive criticism, problem solving, checking off list items and errand-ing.

Some days just are.

Some days are neither inspiring nor boring. Some days reflect the mood of the sky, a gray, cold expression. Some days invite washing windows and cleaning out closets and coops and shampooing rugs and dogs. Some days are toilet days, where bathrooms define the smell of the house, instead of the other way around.

Some days are restless, read, get up, write, get up, prepare food, sit down, eat, stand up, clean. Drive here, park, drive there, park. Talk to a child, grunts in return. Listen to the radio, nothing but chatter. Drink a coffee, same old, nothing new.

Some days are leftover days, piles of noodles, old fruit, on-the-edge soup, muffins lovingly made – yet still sitting on the counter not eaten. Some days the list is long, but the energy and ability to accomplish – nil. Some days the children are annoying and needy and teenager-y.

Some days the bed is unmade, uninviting. Some days the jeans are uncomfortable and sweats pulled on far too early. Some days, the bra stifles, the watch catches on everything, the ring denting the finger.

Some days the screens occupy too much space, populate time not providing anything but a heaviness behind the eyes. Nothing new to see, nothing new to hear, talking heads, talking points. Some days my skin has shrunk, my eyes are tired, my nose clogged.

These days, normal, blah moments, sandwiched between high and low events. These days are stock up days, where the energy is low, but the need will be great. These days are about keeping the whining in my own head, not letting it leak out too much, not letting it take on a life of its own. These days, bound by difficult circumstances are the days to feel, the days to be, the days to wander the four walls of house and car, to take in the humanity. To recognize neither mountain nor valley, just the flatland of a soul. No highs nor lows, just a day.

What is one to do? Put on sweats, eat vegetables and drink beer for dinner, drive the children, ask questions but don’t expect great answers, keep the mouth closed more than open, do the dishes, wash towels. Take a shower, but don’t fight for exercise, read out loud to a kid, put the feet up. Remember the good things, the simple things…don’t make the expectations such that it’s all wrong or not enough. Avert the eyes, don’t look at the wood floors in the sunlight, and certainly DO NOT lay in a position where you can see under couches or beds. Shut your children’s bedroom doors. DO NOT check grades or math pages.  Try really hard to wear comfortable shoes and pants. Don’t smell the dog, don’t peruse the vegetable drawer, don’t go beyond picking up. You will want to throw things and donate necessary items, and make kids pay. Do not do anything you will potentially regret. Take a moment, put yourself on time out…be the grown up and cry uncle on today.

Lovingly dish up the ice cream, find a cloth napkin and clean spoon. Make mention to your husband and children, it’s time to be done. Eliminating any guilt, walk into your room, shut the door, climb into your bed, secure an easy read or episode of Parenthood. Set fear aside, no, not every day will be like this forever. Turn the light out at a decent hour, wait for a new day, pray hopeful for hefty sleep. Keep in mind, knowing deep down the truth but certainly not admitting…

You are awaiting the visit from the untimely and always inconvenient, the peak of womanhood, female-ness and femininity. The part of you that gave life to three embryos, sustaining. The part of you that comes as a surprise every freaking month. It will get better tomorrow.

Some days just are.

Thin

photo credit: Nietnagel via photopin cc
photo credit: Nietnagel via photopin cc

There is a Christian term, originating from the Celts, known as a “thin place.” It seems a bit of an odd term one might use to describe a measure of scarcity, maybe referring to our nerves or time or bodies. In Spiritual practice, a thin place is where the distance between heaven and earth is minimal, where divine and human connect, or maybe even collide.

Heaven and Earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller. (Celtic saying)

These places have been described, by many, as actual physical locations, particularly Ireland, where the idea originated. In my experience, the mountains are a thin place, where the cacophony in my head stills and I can be present and aware of God. Or the ocean, particularly where the coastline is especially rugged. Sometimes, travel takes me to a thin place as I am removed from routine and forced to reconcile myself to new surroundings, people and customs. But often, in my life, thin places usually are related to current circumstances, to carrying the burdens of others, and realizing I am but a single thread in a great tapestry. I rediscover no man is an island, that we are all connected on an invisible plane.

Today, I am in a thin place. One of our own, in our community is desperately hurting, in pain, with many unasked questions and few, if any answers. The uncertainty is running deep, and the fear difficult to keep behind the guard wall. The what-ifs, which started as a whisper, have reached a fever-pitched growl, ready to nip at the truths one clings to in the quietest of moments. This time, the only solution is a break-through, a miracle, the perfect puzzle piece in an infinity of choices. The only suitable answer is an answer to prayer. The only acceptable answer is a miracle. This thin place, where Heaven and Earth are closer than three feet apart, is aching for understanding and relief.

These thin places, for me, are not exclusive to trials. I am finding that of late, opportunity and need are smashing together. One minute, I can be ecstatic with the fruition of long held dreams, and the next reminded of the heartbreak of many. One minute rejoicing with a friend, the next lamenting the choices of another. The both/and. Both hold equal opportunity to experience a moment of the shrunken distance between heaven and earth.

In today’s early morning hours, longing for sleep, but knowing deep it would remain at arm’s length, I sat with a candle lit in the window for our friend. I sat silent witnessing the flicker of determined light dancing in the darkness, recognizing the thin-ness, the combined frailty and fervor of the moment. Light overcoming, demanding notice, unceasing. This thin place where human effort and understanding halt, yielding space for the Divine to do what the Divine does best…bring hope, laughter, peace…out of the most wretched of situations. To shine the rays of Love through community, through grace, through understanding, through blessed peace.

When we are worn thin, the One who knows, who suffers with His children is shining His light of generous Love bright and unrelenting into our hearts through the sheerest of membranes, the most thin of places, breaking down the barrier to demonstrate His heart of solidarity and provision. May we sit still long enough in discomfort and ask the questions in order to experience the complete and marvelous beauty in it all.

May we recognize that perfect moment when Divine and Human meet.

A Parental Thank You

December 1989: My high school senior year. Dad accepted a new pastorate 40 miles from our  home of five years. I was to be removed from my high school, the middle of senior year, to finish up at another. My sister, a junior with a long term boyfriend, was devastated. I, surprisingly, was not.

Turns out, the second day of classes, I noticed a cute boy in AP English. At first glance, I thought he was short and chubby…not true. At 6’4″ my crush, turned boyfriend, turned husband was nothing but everything I ever wanted in a man.

January 2015: Twenty-five years later, we all returned to California, all five siblings plus spouses and children, to celebrate my father’s retirement…the final Sunday at this same church and 40 years in the ministry for my dad.  Many of the congregants are original to our 1989 arrival, and watched us all, especially my brothers, grow up.

In all my questioning with today’s church, and the frustration I have regarding who is in and who isn’t, this weekend was a welcome relief. I watched a sizable group of people express heartfelt and earnest love to my parents. And I have seen my parents over the years, do this in return. I saw a body of believers, who in our human messiness, remained for the long haul. Sure, their 25 years had it’s fair share of difficulty and disappointment. But I also recognized laughter, generosity, abundance, integrity. I witnessed a church who stood by my parents, earning the right to speak into one another’s lives.

In conversation with my mom, she tearfully said the church received their best. The five of us have had to figure it out, sometimes not being the priority in a minister’s family, sometimes craving the attention of two very busy, very tapped out parents. We each have had to come to terms with this, some more easily than others. However, on Sunday, I recognized redemption. Each one of us was a minister too…maybe not actively, but certainly passively. We learned how to love well, how to give generously, how to prioritize our families, how to seek health. We were taught how to give grace to others…how to forgive…because my parents, possibly wishing it was all perfect, know it wasn’t. They know things fell to the wayside, and sometimes they fell apart. But, these relationships, family and church, are long running. This honesty is where healing begins, where forgiveness happens, and where the past can be laid to rest.

I long to give this gift to my children…to see me in my messiness. Maybe I will recognize it and seek forgiveness, or maybe they will tell me about it later. I pray that I handle it as mine have. I own it, seek to make amends, and move forward the best way we all know how.

Thank you to my parents, who have modeled humility and kindness. In this, I think maybe we kids did get the best. We got to be privy to the real pastors, and what it looks like when things fall far from ideal. I am grateful to you, Dad and Terry, for the model of integrity and humor that has carried you through many a difficult time. I am grateful to you for resting in the lack of resolution, knowing things would eventually come around. I am grateful to you for being honest about what not to do. You have provided a wonderful jumping off point for each one of us in our own life journeys. I am indebted to you for demonstrating what love truly looks like, and sometimes it is not what we expect. You have been faithful in what God has entrusted to you.

I hope the next chapter provides a new place of freedom and discovery. Plus maybe a healthy dose of Colorado goodness.

Perfect love

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.          1 John 4:17 NIV

God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day – our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life – fear of death, fear of judgment – is one not yet fully formed in love. 1 John 4:17-18 MSG

This past summer, I finally relented and purchased a new-to-me mountain bike. My previous ride was a tank with squealing brakes. It was not a fun experience…or safe, for that matter. The hope was if I got a lighter, better bike, I might actually enjoy mountain biking and not be so darn scared. In the past, I may have been known to, in a moment of desperation,  throw set aside my bike before sobbing in the fetal position, Eric looking on in disbelief, but not surprise.

I began challenging myself more on local trails, going out alone, taking my time. I became aware of a problematic tendency. Through some patient coaching from my husband, I came to realize how uber focused I was on each obstacle. Every rock or root, instead of increasing my pedal cadence and moving up and over, I would come to a near stop to maneuver around, so as not to fall. However, anyone who has ever mountain biked or skied, knows that momentum is essential. The moment I allowed fear into the experience, I became virtually paralyzed.

Fear is a powerful motivator…a motivator towards control, perfection, scrutiny. When I become afraid in my life, like on my bike, moving forward well is impossible, and each bump in the road becomes an object of concern. I exist in a land of extremes. Everything becomes worrisome, everyone is criticizing me, I can do nothing right or valuable, I am always going to fail. I can never live up to my expectations (nor can anyone else). I get blocked, creativity comes to a stand still, because I’m terrified of what others will think. Relationships are harmed, when I feel lonely as a result of my fear, because I isolate myself. Health suffers because of the need to strive and be in control. I cannot enjoy the things that bring most pleasure…typically, the small things.

While mountain biking, when I allowed fear to motivate my actions, I was miserable and actually less safe. When I let fear in – instead of yielding to trust – hope, joy, and peace all leave, along with desire.  I become so overwhelmingly concerned with the “what-ifs”, there can be no joy or promise in the journey.

What about fear and love? If perfect love drives out fear, could it be possible that the reverse is true…fear drives out love?

If there is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear and God is love, then the Holy Spirit would also be love. The indicators of a life lived according to the Spirit (Galatians 5), are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. If we live a life characterized by fear, and love and fear cannot co-exist, then potentially could our lives demonstrate hate, misery, conflict, impatience, unkindness, harshness, cheating, gluttony and greed?

I wonder, how has the Christian expression of love, possibly been perceived as the opposite, hate? We may think we are loving someone, because we don’t want to be complicit in their “sin”, by speaking Truth as we see it, or as we believe the Bible says. Is love actually motivating our hearts here, or is it mainly fear? I have to check my motives. Am I being motivated out of generosity, freedom and grace? Or scarcity, control and shame? God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day – our standing in the world is identical with Christ’sThis is a game changer. We are to be free of worry…our standing is identical with Christ’s when we live a life of love. Why are we so afraid?

Fear is a block. Fear cancels our ability to perceive the love of God, and our ability to love others. When I am afraid, seeing beauty or experiencing grace and gratitude is an impossibility. I live stuck. I live in scarcity. The only way I can combat fear when it rises up, is to stop. I have to stop in the moment, seek the face of the One who adores me, made me, knows me and loves me beyond measure. I have to look up and give up. There is no way I can move forward when I am living while trying to control. I have to surrender…turn my palms over, dump out the contents, face them upward to receive the goodness that only the Lord can give. Only in this “letting go” can I receive again.

Living in love or living in fear is a choice, it’s a fight. Honestly, some days, fear wins. I can’t move. I can’t breathe. Thankfully, I recognize the power of God’s wonderful and magnificent grace that comes in and breathes relief, hope, freedom and mercy into my soul. It reminds me, through Jesus, I always get a do-over. I always am loved. I always am worthy.

I always have hope.

Complete Stop

photo credit: ell brown via photopin cc
photo credit: ell brown via photopin cc

Internal tension reaches a fever pitch the week between Christmas and New Year’s. So much mental and physical energy is spent getting to Christmas, and then…done. We have our day or two of detox, yet life doesn’t quite return to normal. The Christmas tree and decorations are packed away but the kids are still home. I am always in a bit of a netherworld during this time. Naturally, as the New Year approaches I take stock of the previous year, and anticipate the next…thoughts turning toward new goals and ways to improve self. After being on this planet as long as I have, and having only ONE resolution stick, EVER, I know to be reticent seeking big changes. New habits don’t happen overnight, requiring intentional small choices over an extended period of time to take purchase.

After the month of parties and not running, I notice my pants are fitting not as kindly. Previously, I would jerk quickly toward temporary correction…dieting, plans to exercise more, self loathing. Like a car skidding on ice, the worst thing to do is jerk the wheel. Instead it must be gently guided back on track, or better yet, pulled over to a complete stop before moving forward.

This morning, after a day of paying way too much credence to my pants fitting problem, I realized the essentiality of a complete stop. My mental, physical and spiritual health require far more than two days post-Christmas 2014 to commence on Project New Year 2015.  Of course the tension is present, the tension of living in the ache of Advent conjoined with joy, expectation and hope, along with the inevitable forward trajectory of life.  I do not want to short circuit this important work by rushing headlong into new goals, expectations and improvements. This week represents the magnitude of what God has done for us through the sending of Jesus. It is not to be considered lightly, requiring me to live small. To set my course well, reflection, thoughtfulness, generosity and grace are all required, along with evaluation of where I am cutting corners, expecting too much or little, and making assumptions.

Dreaming is scary business, asking the question, “What do I really want?” Fear is quite a contender when seeking these answers. I have a problematic tendency to believe old goals and dreams, not accomplished to the level of my expectations should be renewed.  It is probably time to let them go, while beneficial in the past, they are not to remain part of my present and future.

So, in this week (or more) of waiting and resting I will practice what Anne Lamott calls “radical self care”. I will walk, eat until satisfied, go to bed and wake up early, drink coffee, pray and write, date my husband, clean the house, wear stretchy clothes, and spend time with family and friends. I will protect my mind and heart by minimizing comparisons to others..Facebook may need to be curtailed. I know when I’m in a fragile or contemplative state, it’s important to protect from the potential pitfalls of social media. Experiencing the “less than”, the “lack” is difficult but so important. I don’t want to trudge ahead without concern for what is best for myself, my relationships, just because I’m feeling vulnerable…being excessively focused on the markers that determine my self-worth.  Is joy possible in the midst of these moments? I have to believe that it is entirely possible. Joy is always mine when I can surrender…surrender my need for significance and longing for more or better. I may have to fight for her, but she is mine as long as I settle to a complete stop and trust. Wait. Learn. Embrace. Rest.

There is no need to rush or be premature. I want to approach 2015 intentionally, without fear, but with anticipation.