The Colors of Grief

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I love how the light falls from this particular angle, the sun shining directly on me through the trees, the shadows cast long, illuminating the developing forest floor as winter takes a back seat and spring rapidly pushes forward. The seasons each are a few weeks longer and shorter in the Colorado High Country. Mother Nature wakes up a little later around here, stretching her long arms as she yawns and new life begins. Abundance overwhelming as creatures skitter, birds construct homes, young deer wander not terribly keen to the need for fear. The fire from yesterday’s eve is blackened char, memories of silly jokes and Sponge Bob’s Campfire Song Song.

Sitting in my favorite chair, coffee, pen and notebook in hand, I am invited to rest in the goodness, the gifts. I am invited to set down my agenda, my need, my proving, to just be, to enjoy, to soak. So much is going on all around, and in. So much to figure out, so much to manage, so much to attempt to control. The kids, this final week of school, finishing strong. Now over, the summer uncovering itself before us.

My heart and head move through situations, hopeless situations that seem to offer no positive outcomes. I think of the child, now rendered motherless, just one year shy of the age I was when I found myself in the same space. Scared, confused, unbelieving. Uncertainty now in the driver’s seat, nothing sure or determined easily. The loss of innocence. I recall these last thirty years I have walked this road, recognizing the incredible and remarkable care I was given, the people, the love…offered, available. This child. Thirty years. Broken hearts. How do we manage just one more moment, let alone a day? This precious girl. Mind, heart, body plunged into uninvited suffering.

Yet, the world keeps miraculously spinning on its axis, the sun shines after long days of rain and joint-stunting cold. The seasons happen, the leaves come, the trees continue their arching up and out. Flowers bloom, tiny seeds become food, birds make homes, eggs are laid, babies hatched. Life goes on its merry way without much care for the suffering, sorrow, grief that may envelope us in the most inopportune of moments. Cruelty at it’s finest, Life doesn’t halt, doesn’t even really stop to take a breath; marches onward to the rhythm of laughter, parties, graduations, birthdays, new life, seasons, promotions. All of it still happens.

While in Barcelona I visited the Picasso Museum. Guided by an English speaking headset, I  meandered leisurely through each hall. While observing his early works – sketches, instructional exercises, contest winning scenes – I took notice of a particular portrait he painted of his friend Carlos Casagemas. The haunting use of color and contrast had me mesmerized. The countenance young, yet worn…almost like he knew too much. The broad shoulders wore a large coat, with thin, elongated face and unfocused gaze.  The recording explained that Carlos was Pablo’s close friend for just two years. I took note of their abbreviated relationship, the image staying with me as I continued.

I came to the collection of works from his Blue Period (1901-1904). A tangible display of dejection and death, all painted in blues. I wondered and confirmed this was Picasso’s response to the suicidal death of his friend, Carlos. He allowed the grief to color him, to determine him, to define him. Everything he did was in relation to Carlos’s death. The subjects of his paintings were sick, broken, dead, hungry, filthy. Maybe this is all that felt real, no longer was there room for fake, trite, patronizing. Nor was there probably room for laughter, merriment, or cheer.

Doesn’t suffering do this work? When we suffer it burns away the excess, the superfluous. No longer do we have the energy or desire to pretend.  When the earth shakes, when we are pummeled by unexpected waves of pain, tumbling us headlong deeper, wondering if oxygen and light will once again be ours. Nothing else works, just blue, just sad, just questions. Our sorrow, our trembling deserves a name, it deserves to be counted and defined, to be contended with, experienced. There is no proper way to manage this. There is no time frame or rule book. There are no definitions, for this would be a great disservice. We don’t get to predict the end, there are not clearly defined borders for grief. One day, one moment there is respite, a glimmer.

Following the Blue Period, the Rose Period (1904-1906) is the picture of Picasso’s hope. Works infused with joy and refreshing color. The hues, however, still seem muted, tenuous, maybe disbelieving. Sometimes hope doesn’t seem real, or deserved…too good to be true. Hope dwells in tandem with suffering. Sometimes she just hangs out, on the edge of periphery, almost undetectable. She dwells in limitless forms – the unfolding of a new season, sunlight, rain, conversation, medication, mercy…

As I am given the gift of witnessing the unfolding of this new spring, again, I know we all get to experience new birth after desolate and desperate winters. Redemption. God’s time is our healer, grace is the driver, and self-compassion is the key. There is great power in the recognition of our work, the suffering.

I wonder if Picasso, in the remainder of his days painted any more blue. I bet he did, but maybe there were other colors too.

Spring Pondering

photo credit: Bored via photopin (license)
photo credit: Bored via photopin (license)
It seems as though spring has popped up out of nowhere. Chicks bustling about, running, chasing, eating, sleeping. A broody hen (again?!), dwelled upon her nonexistent life. The final push towards the end of the school year. Children antsy, staying up later than is good for anyone. Concerts, barbecues, summer plans conversations, field trips, last minute desperate attempts to raise grades. A far cry from the sparse, desolate, oddly comforting days of winter. Snow blanketing the ground, too cold for any normal person to venture out, excuses ready to not go, to not pursue, to rest, to watch yet another episode.

Green everywhere, leaves flickering in the wind. Animals feeding off the lush grass, the ready worms just at the surface from long days of rain. Sun shining around full clouds. A true beauty. The privilege of going outside without stifling layers. The freedom from biting cold and gnawing wind.

The new challenges. Weeds everywhere, me never getting ahead of their relentless reaching upward and around, binding. Insect numbers growing, flies needling through open doors, awaiting their opportunity to filter inside, to ruin rest and make people crazy with dishtowels flying. Moth seeking light. Sunburn first, a reminder of the need for sunscreen reapplication. Runs with sweat dripping in eyes, rather than trembling to the shower with frost attached to all loose hairs.

Changes abound. Seasons are relentlessly welcome, yet prices must be paid. All change comes hard, even when it’s anticipated, desired. All change requires pushing and pulling, negotiation and doubt. All change, beautiful as it is, has an underbelly, a curse, second guessing, a brief longing, to return to “normal”.

I often approach the  summer break with trepidation, an unease of having the children home, managing disagreement, missing my lonely days with them in school. I feel a failure, many times, failing to organize a full schedule: playdates (whoops..”hang out time”), camps, work opportunities, music lessons. I wonder about the 10 weeks of brain fry that happens when far too many hours waste away on devices. The mother guilt can nearly eat me alive as my body longs to rest from the schedule, the run around, the deadlines. I tend to feel better when I succumb to what I know I need to do…pack up bikes, hiking boots, swimsuits…and do something. But the hurdle it feels like to overcome some days can be more than I want to manage.

I enjoy their company, learning about them, knowing our days are so swiftly numbered. Two teenagers, ready to fly the coop, where future summers should be about significant others, jobs, college and angst.

I guess, like most things (or all things), it comes down to kindness, it comes down to compassion. Some days may invite excursions and grand adventures. Other days may invite lounging in the air conditioning.

I pray, I hope we strike the balance this break. Where life can be lived slow and lazy, with structure and opportunity. With room for laughter and growth, friends and occupation. I pray, I hope I give myself vast amounts of kindness and compassion, space to be separate, room to grow personally, not all dedicated to the young people in my life. For a little out-of-balance is not the worst thing that ever was. 

A little bit of rest is not awful and a whole lot of busy is just fine.

Food and a Fashion Crisis

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Tomorrow I leave for Spain. I get to visit my brother and sister in law in Barcelona where they have lived for the past three years. The trip came on suddenly, last Tuesday to be exact, when I found myself in conversation with my husband. We both realized, he just said it first, that I need to get away, gain perspective, eat and drink well, visit family, take some time to gain perspective and love. Thankfully, my present life has room for this spur-of-the-moment decision.

While preparing to pack, I found myself backwards, stuck, reverted. I had a fashion crisis. I needed new pants. I know it sounds small and minor, but old patterns die hard. Trying to anticipate the style of Europeans, while managing comfort for the eternal flight, while keeping the suitcase small.

Every spring I find myself at odds with my body. Shopping for pants sent me spiraling downward. All the progress and growth made over the decade came to a roaring halt. My train reversed direction and I returned to the old ways…the ways of self-hatred, condemnation, name-calling, control.

What is it about the stupid number on a scale, the number on the tag?

When did an industry get to define my value?

And what’s so wrong with a fluctuating waistline? What’s so wrong with eating and enjoying?

It breaks my heart when I hear people discuss what they should or shouldn’t eat. When food itself has become moral, guilt producing, shameful. How can eating be enjoyable when it lugs such baggage?  Food, morally, an innocuous substance, has become this avenue for demonstration of our strength, our superiority. And it has the power to determine my worth or value?

Over the last few years I’ve given myself the opportunity to eat what I love, to drink, to have butter and whole milk and white bread and dessert and heavy cream in my coffee. Nothing else will do. I cannot live any longer in denial of my culinary longings. I work hard in my days. I exercise regularly and determinedly, I love my family and provide for them in all the ways that are meaningful, I love my friends, my home, my community. The end of the day may deserve a beer, a bowl of ice cream, a TV show (or many, if it’s House of Cards). There is inherent balance when we really pay attention to the why. Why do I feel the need to escape? Am I numbing something that demands to be felt? Does the third bowl of ice cream really taste as good as I think it does…or am I avoiding something essential?

As a teenager, food was an important ally…providing release, an opportunity to numb, without turning to harder substances. An eating disorder followed me closely through my teens and twenties. I had no power…other than oddly defined spurts of willpower…that sputtered out easily. I started distance running as the answer, but injury soon set in. When the kids were small I desperately turned to the food for comfort, release, hope. The long hours at home sent me running for the refrigerator. I remember entire days of standing, door open wide, cold air on my face, knowing this could not be the answer. One more spoonful was not my lifeline. Tears rolled because I had to face these beautiful little people and their needs, while not always being able to take care of my own. Food was, I believed, a deep comfort, my solace, if even for thirty seconds.

This is not a healthy place for food to occupy. Food can’t hold this place of power. Every day, every hour, every minute was either spent planning or loathing, hungry or full beyond reason.

So now, over 10 years later, food brings appropriate comfort and joy, fuel in the right amounts. Some seasons involve more indulging than others. What I did to myself yesterday was not fair. The extra five pounds I have are a result of delicious dinners with my family and friends, warming my body with the process of digestion through cold winter months, gathering around the table to a little bit more wine because it’s a Friday night and I’m with safe people. Each and every calorie has been beautiful, has been part of building my community, has been gained through God-given freedom.

If I have to buy larger pants because of joy? Well, I think it’s worth the cost. It will take care of itself as I trust my body, my heart, my motivations.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/99105016@N00/5068837″>Refrigerator in a parking lot.</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>

The Fear of Regret

photo credit: Danger...Danger via photopin (license)
photo credit: Danger…Danger via photopin (license)

Do any of us have the luxury (curse?) of never being required to change? Is it possible to choose static? To never expand, bend, elongate? What does this rigidity look like, this staying small within ourselves?

Regret. Probably in the top five on my greatest fears chart. The fear of regret, the unknown consequence of choosing wrong. Who can win when this is life’s motivation?

This cusp of change I’m perched upon feels precarious. I have had this particular life path for enough years that it is a comfort to me, the determination of my days as wife and mom. However, I am sensing a call to take steps in a new direction. Probably to the outside observer, one would not notice much, but the internal environment is like shifting sand. I have been awakened by a tinge of general resentment trying to rise, not toward anyone in particular…yet.

I recognize how tempting it is to choose predictable, familiar, safe. The voices speak regret. Or, rather, fear of regret. The what-if of regret.

The life I lead is a good one. I have decided well, I have birthed beauty, I have partnered with remarkable, I have learned wisdom and discernment in many ways. Life is full, but many days are too quiet, too restful, too predictable. The babies need a mother where it’s not just about them. The babies are too reliant on this bored mom, who has few excuses why she can’t do it all. The babies need to learn to fly, too. Are they pushing? Yes, they are pushing. They need to have enough independence to make their own mistakes, to grow, adapt, and change in their appropriate ways.

I have to risk not being needed. I have to risk that maybe they will survive and thrive without me here all the time, as a regular back-up. I have to risk that someone might screw up while I’m doing other things. I have to risk that my marriage may become one of equals, one of partnership, not indebtedness. I have to risk bringing my desires, my dreams, my hopes to the table…not just buying into everyone else’s. I have to examine my own calling, responding to the inklings before they reach fever pitch and I’m reacting poorly. I have to risk being tired, cranky and possibly difficult. This people pleaser has strived for years to be amenable, adaptable, low maintenance. It is time to let her go, as the primary method of gaining approval.

I do not want to choose busy as my purpose, but I do want to recognize that some seasons are naturally out of balance. To seek constant balance is short-sighted and additionally stressful.

What is the price of silence? Good question, unknown answer. I know the price I will pay, too scared to live, too scared to chance, too scared to change, resentment toward those I treasure. The price will be me uniquely showing up, owning my story, my journey, missing out on the collective sharing of beauty made possible through uncertainty.

The excuses are too easy and they are running out. The excuses are growing up, gaining independence and driver’s licenses. The excuses, my deepest loves, should not be excuses, but joys. I want my family to launch, even if it means I work myself out of a job.

Regret. Who the hell knows if we will feel regret or not. It seems like a silly motivator, but can be a powerful dictator.

Memorial to a Good Hen

How does one memorialize the life of a chicken? Our Truffle Hen, a source of great joy, laughs, and surprise went to live in Chicken Heaven on Easter Sunday. Of all days, the target of a determined canine.

Truffle was faithful to our yard and disliked deeply by the three sister-hens. Aside from nights in the coop, she preferred to wander the yard alone, living truly off the land, free to pick and peck through each day, of her own accord. Since escaping the fox and sacrificing her toe, she had been venturing bit by bit away from home base. More dog than chicken, when she had a request, she made her pleas known through getting underfoot  and chirping until we received her messages. Often, we talked back, engaging in a discussion that seemed to mean something. She routinely cocked her head in understanding, peering out of the corner of her eye as if to say I get it, I totally understand. Now, would you please provide me with some scratch? I could really use a treat.

The other three hens do not challenge our yard system. They go about their days eating, drinking, laying, pecking, in the fenced yard safe from predators. Truffle was not to be contained. She, if she remained in the fence, was targeted, chased and under-appreciated by her own kind. Her puppy-like skills were not treasured. She was required, for her own survival in the system, to leave. The three sister-hens were not going to be reasoned with, especially the broody one. She was determined to let Truffle know her place in the pecking order.

The benefits of our chicken’s freedom will be remembered. The nutritional impact of her eggs – priceless, small but perfect, the yolks a deep, almost fluorescent orange from foraging through fresh grass, fertilizing in the process.

Could we have forced her to stay in the fence? Sure, we could have reinforced and fashioned a ceiling of sorts, but at what price? Truffle’s only chance for a happy, healthy life was to leave the comfort of the coop and the fence. She had no other choice.

I’m not sure how much I believe in past lives or reincarnation, but if I could, I will go so far as to say, she was sent here to be my example. Not only to show me that chickens have personalities too, but to reveal the beauty and risk in living as an outlier. All of us are outliers. To assume there is a “normal” does us all a disservice. How many layers of masks do we have to wear to appear normal?

Most of us prefer the comfort of our fences, our friends, families. Some of us are thrust out into the world whether we want to be or not…but we are given a choice, to continue our safe, comfortable lives, or to seek out our calling. There is no wrong or right answer. The lives of the other three hens are deeply appreciated, also. Their eggs better than anything out of the grocery, their unique personalities also known to us. The comic relief not present, but their faithfulness to the needs of our home and life? Absolutely noted.

It seems, in our culture of extremes, that a life lived “extraordinary” is better than that which is loyal or simple. Not true! There is no formula for a life lived well. All of us are called to different things, based upon our unique abilities, our life experiences, suffering, joy. I want to live into my calling. Do I wish I was okay with choosing a safe life, sequestered and cloistered in the predictability of my days, the comfortable tasks, the ease of regular roles? Of course, sometimes, but when I see the fruit of lives lived challenging assumed norms, the deep grooves in the lines around eyes, the tears that have run the lengths of those furrows, this is what I want…a life lived by feeling, through knowing, scared to death, believing, daring.

Our Truffle. We kept a regular eye on her. We were surprised by her and clearly she brought many stories and laughs to our lives. The Easter Sunday morning we were gone, she died.

Will she resurrect? Probably not again as a chicken…but maybe, just a little bit…in me.

Middle Saturdays

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I am stuck, stuck in the middle, stuck in Saturday. Today, the day between Good Friday and Easter. The day between two pivotal, remarkable bookends. The day between death, defeat, unimaginable cruelty and life, glory, light. What are we supposed to do with these middle Saturdays?

After a teary Good Friday, being reminded of the greatest love we can ever know. The greatest example of a Man, killed by his own, loving to the very end, surrendered. I’m not ready for Sunday yet. I’m not ready for new life, for light, for glory. I’m still heartbroken. I’m still in my questions, asking ones that quite possibly have no reasonable answers. I’m still in my human mess, unsure what is me, unsure what is someone else.

Have I learned to circumvent pain? Have I tried to weasel my way out of the middle Saturdays and slingshot from the Friday straight to the Sunday? The middle Saturdays are the work, the grief, the feeling. They are the wrestling, the learning to rest, the longing for new joy, hope. It is easier to dream about the Sundays or stay stuck in the Fridays, than truly, honestly living in the Saturdays.

I will courageously choose to witness how the sun’s rays hit the frosted grass, the lone chair left out  from a lunch eaten in the yard, the leaves starting their unfurling process on the cottonwoods, leaving a greenish tinge when viewed from the perfect angle. I will choose to be present with my family, to crack jokes, to laugh, to run or swim or bike or not, to clean the muddy footprints from the sloppy week. I will choose to feel today, to cry when needed without fear, to eat good food while sitting down. I will hopefully find others who, on this middle Saturday according to Anne Lamott, could use a cold glass of water on this journey of ours. Weary travelers on the road with whom I may share the load.

I don’t want to spend so much time dreaming about Sunday, fantasizing, that I fail to do the work on Saturday. It is very easy to live for the next thing, rather than be in the present. The sweetness of Sunday may pass by if I too easily race through Saturday, or remain stuck in Friday. I pray for the fulfillment of which I am longing, but it is a risk, for it may not happen how I think I want. Maybe the dream of Sunday is less about getting though Friday and Saturday, and trusting the work, the process, the teacher, the journey, to be able to see Sunday.

Sunday is about resurrection, renewed life. The only way to get there is walking through the valley of death. Letting go, saying good-bye, walking forward while looking back grieving the loss. This Saturday is my necessary work, holding loosely to the promise of fulfillment, looking back at the heartbreak of confusion and pain. Trusting in hope, reminding myself to see the beauty in the simple, staying small for today.

Today is about good work, holy work.

Messy, middle Saturday work.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/75774657@N08/8978458139″>Sunrise over water</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>

Broody Hens Revisited 

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How does my Broody Hen know? She sits upon her nest, angry, feeling unlovable, ready to battle anyone or anything determined to remove her from her slot. How does she know? How does she know to sit upon an unfertilized egg, waiting, hopeful, defending the possibility of new life? She is mean, intolerant and driven to find a pile to sit upon. She physically needs to move through this process..to brood, to discover new life, to nurture and launch babies into the world.

While I am not awaiting new life from my body, I feel the same. I feel like I’m stuck at an intersection, the one at 4th and Main, that says “Wait. Wait. Wait” in threes. The triplet syllables running through the background of my consciousness. “Wait. Wait. Wait.” I feel like something new is waiting to be hatched from my being, the desire is present, yet the time is not right. In a culture of producing, of measuring success based on a variety of parameters, to wait feels so wasteful, so useless.

I have to believe there is no perfect way to wait, that I don’t have to follow a prescription, for if this is the case I am miserably failing. This recovering perfectionist reverts to the need for black and white law, to measure productivity by following a specific set of rules. My head knows this is not a requirement, that truly it is a matter of surrender. Sometimes it comes down to getting through, calling out the head chatter, switching the station, changing the mantra.

In reality, all I have to offer myself for any solace in this broody stage is self compassion and kindness. Changing the station to a semblance of SNL’s Stuart Smalley. Doggone it.

Talking with a friend this week, we realized self compassion is our lynchpin, the key to living abundantly, to accepting mercy, to allowing for grace. Why do I believe God’s voice is the one that’s cruel tempered, judgmental, and condemning? Why does this need to be His/Her voice? When I switch the station and hear kindness, mercy…this is the place I long to stay, the pillow on which my head will rest.

Fast runs, lap swims, clean house, conversations with beer or coffee in hand, Mumford and Sons on loud…finally a glimpse of momentary stillness, a reset, if just for a moment.  Freedom settling, a relief from broody condemnation. Meditation, breathing, gardening, all provide moments of respite.

Do I run from the chatter? From the questions? From the feeding frenzy in my head? I try but no, for it is my consistent companion, rising and waning through these days of wait.

Do I choose numbing? Maybe in some ways, but I prefer the tenuous line of feeling, of aching, of misunderstanding, than create a problem that will result in deeper consequences and severe-er, pain to be felt later.

What to do with my broody hen? Unfortunately she is living a lie. She is angry, with no answers. When will she get her sustenance, her food and drink, her relief? I don’t know. We may need to wait and see how she manages.  We may have to hand feed her, we have been known to do that for our precious hens. Even though she’s angry and taking up valuable real estate, I still love her. I will continue to provide for her. She doesn’t have to prove herself to me, I know she’s a faithful bird. And I am such a flawed bird owner.

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Grace

My experiences and thoughts over the last couple weeks have been very raw and necessary. I spilled it out, and I was right, there was great healing in being myself, unedited (for the most part) and hitting “Publish”. I so appreciate the friends who reached out and gave me a kind, knowing look…”We are in this together.” It is also nice to know that fifteen year olds should be considered insane. So should 42 year old moms pushed to the brink. We will all figure it out as we go, often flying by the seat of our pants, trusting.

In light of these events, I have learned some things of Grace as I observed her showing up, asking me to invite her in, never forcing.

Grace is polite, an inkling. She pops her head through the back door, where there is confusion, anger, unreasonable-ness, mostly fear. She waits her turn, she waits until we glance in her direction. When all is desperate and nonsensical she makes her move. She provides opportunity for us to dare for better, for light, for hope, for freedom, mercy, and release. Do we choose her? Do we accept her invitation or keep digging in our heels to make our point, to stand firm in our position? Most of the time her offers make no sense. “Really?! I need to submit to my child, friend, husband, parent, etc? Really? You want me to make the first move toward understanding? But, I’m right. I have  to take a stand here. I have to make my point”. In the heat of the situation, glancing in Grace’s direction, succumbing to her gentle pleading, I realize we don’t have to proceed down this particular path. I can rest in knowing, that letting go, surrendering, may actually be the best.

Grace begins as an imagining. She challenges me to imagine different, alternate, the flip-side. I may not be required to maintain my hard line, whether it’s with my child, or spouse, or on an issue. I see so much of this in our politics, our churches. What if instead of staying rigid, fearing for our security, we let go and trusted and allowed Grace to settle over? What if we stopped needing to have the answers?

Grace is possibility. Is it actually possible I don’t have to know everything or be the one to call people out? Just maybe, what I have assumed is my job, actually is not.  Grace provides the opportunity for freedom, to truly live in love and be the hands and feet of Jesus without the need to figure it all out…to be available and present. Grace enables me to imagine that God is actually enormous, vast, working in ways unbeknownst to any of us, revealed in the most minute of ways, that blow our puny, human minds. Could it be possible? Could it be possible that I don’t have to continue to operate in fear, control, anxiety and confusion? Could I be loved for being myself?

Grace is a choice. We can choose our punitive moment or we can choose to let go, loosen our grip, retract our claws and enter into the unknown, beyond our control. We can choose to release our pride and not have to know it all, not have to be the gatekeepers of Truth.

In the context of my parenting, when Grace is not invited in…not only am I a raging lunatic, a conspiracy theorist, a terrified mother, my child is unreasonable too. It takes one of us (me, since I’m supposedly the adult) to stop, breathe, let go, accept new information and believe maybe I don’t know the whole story. It takes one of us to break the cycle of fear that causes me to believe there is no hope, this is forever how it is, it’s never going to be good again. It takes one of us to look at the other and say, “I love you, what do you suggest, clearly this isn’t working.” Will I automatically have an adult conversation with my teenager? Hell no, but at least there’s softness again. At least there’s openness, if even the smallest of degrees. A small crack of light, revealing the shadow of fear that clouds reason and hope.

I will leave you, to extrapolate this to the areas of your own lives, to your marriage, parenting, friendships. To your community, your schools and churches. To your towns, states. To our nation and world. The choice of grace is ours. The choice to allow the notion that maybe we don’t have the whole story…maybe there is an opportunity to give the benefit of the doubt. Maybe we are motivated by fear rather than the revolutionary power of Love. Maybe our own expectations are causing us to lose perspective of mercy and leading us to control.

In my experience, control has never been my friend. Control has only made me have to work harder to stay on top. It’s a miserable existence, where Joy really is just waiting for me to step down, give up the fight, and enter into life-giving Grace.

Thoughts on Parenting in March

*This post is more raw than I care to publish, but there is great healing in taking the chance. Please reserve criticism…it is a tender time.

The voices know how to melt my core. The voices can kick me in the deepest, most soft of places, in the depths of who I am. The voices I don’t know how to decipher. Some are mocking, some are encouraging, all are definite…moving me toward conspiracy, toward trembling, toward believing these voices and knowing the truth beyond a shadow, regardless if it’s actually the case.

Where do these come from? Are they our modern day demons that Jesus went from town to town exiling? Are they the words of shame? Are they what we imagine actual people are saying? Are they our conscience? Is it God?

What is so wrong with standing firmly in self-compassion, in grace, in do-overs and second chances? Why is everything so final, it must be done perfect or not at all? When I stand firm in anything it blows up, shards lancing every beloved soul and body within radius. Firm stances work for some and gain results, gain temporary results. I’m really talking about parenting here. We can talk about shame can’t we? I can force my child to stand there and take it, take whatever I believe he needs to hear, whatever point I’m needing to make. Does it change anything? The only time I see change in him, in us, is when there’s a bend, when there’s softness…not in forceful words or definite paths or “I’m gonna win this one.” Sure, short term results. But how does this prepare a child to be gracious, kind, compassionate, empathetic? If we don’t model it directly with them, how do we know they will know what this is?

I can’t do it. I’m crying uncle. Yes, there are consequences and discipline. Don’t get me wrong..not throwing the kid to the wolves just yet, however, it’s not about living perfect on the outside to gain my approval so I can brag in a Starbucks to a long unseen acquaintance all the incredible ways my children are succeeding in life. It’s about formation, growth, and not me.

I will take a chance on grace, on letting go the tight fisted grip, on results. I will take a chance on my child learning the paths that are best. I will take a chance on my child really screwing up. I will take a chance on letting my child go. It’s the only way to keep the relationship, to let him become who he was made to be.

I have never done this. All I have in my back pocket is how I was parented. It is now my responsibility to set it all down, in a pile, grab a chair and pick up each piece one by one…dust it off, turn it over in my hand, examine each facet. Which bucket will it go in? There are three: Save, Discard,  Later (aka. therapy). I am now the adult, raising the children. I have a choice. Go bull-headed forward with what I think I know, or choose grace and self compassion to not have to be perfect, to not have to be rigid, to reserve the right to change my mind. I am taking a chance.

Control isn’t working for me or my family. In fact, it’s ugly and I have become a raging lunatic.

If you see me in a Starbucks and tell me all the wonderful things about your kids, and I grunt in response and say, “We’re fine..the kids are still alive.” Don’t feel sorry for me, because I will not spell out all of the accomplishments and accolades. Those are reserved for the most trusted who will not use them to measure the worth of their own parenting. Nor will I spell out my fears and concerns, unless it helps you in some way. I will not be a part of promoting the competition, the measuring, the weighing of worth.

I will not.

As Ann Lamott says, as a writer there are always shitty first drafts. It’s important to write, get it down on paper or hard drive. As a parent, my first drafts are also going to be shitty. I’m not talking about my firstborn..I haven’t lost all hope. I’m talking about attempts, at first reactions, at things said but not exactly vetted, choices made in anger that produce regret. These first drafts, some are initially brilliant. Most are shitty, flawed, failed.

There must be a God, because there is always redemption. It may be today, it may take thirty years, but there is always a working together for good..always. Even in this mess, this stink, this pain and angst, regret and fear, there is redemption.

A New Path

Woke up to another snowy landscape. I love snow, I’m finding winter might be my favorite season..if I can stay warm. I like the excuse of staying inside, of not feeling pressured by the warm sun to have to be outside if I don’t want to. I guess I am more of a homebody than I would care to admit.

In this season, my soul, mind, body..all adrift. We have a houseful of construction. My child is in a necessary stage I don’t like. Church life, nonexistent.

This morning my view is the snow laden backyard, icicles hang prolific in random places, ice omnipresent to make any venture treacherous for this aging body. I gaze through the gridded window upon the backyard. Squares, each when focused individually offer a microcosm view. One, on the top middle portrays the garage roofline, with neighbor’s tree branches rising above, little humble birds sitting atop. Another square offers our half dilapidated chicken coop addition, where our wandering Truffle likes to perch, her halfway house as she pecks through the yard. Sitting in the silence of early morning, watching the full moon span squares, tree branches, power lines, while illuminating the frigid earth.

My walk with God is shifting. My faith journey, once so certain, is sprouting legs and taking me to places I once reserved for the backslidden, the lost. The faith lens, the grid through which I observed the world is leaving. The parameters, guidelines, rules one attributes to God-pleasing, dissolving. The earning of Heaven, the avoiding of Hell no longer interesting or essential. I am left with this vast landscape…no walls..everything is up for question. Dare I say, few absolutes?

The beauty of blanketed snow, how it falls and sits until disrupted by the beaming light of day, or a skittering creature. The beauty of freedom, imagining, wondering. The beauty of being open to loving all, to accepting each person where they stand. The rest in knowing judgement is not my job, my paycheck does not reflect this responsibility. The promise of spring, unfolding flowers, trees and vegetable sprouting from the desolate boxes. Miraculous, each one, morning newness abundant.

All of this I know. I have done this for enough years to know my faith goes beyond what I feel. My sense of bereft-ness is happening because without the certainty of rules and boundaries, how does one know if they are off course, or just alone? I have followed, through my life, the leader. I have also been the leader, albeit many times a bit of a rebel. I have walked easily and willingly with others, in fellowship. I have sought out approval from the powers that be, truly believing I am honoring God with my life and devotion.

Years ago, I completed my first triathlon in Denver at the Cherry Creek Reservoir. I knew I was a decent swimmer, but never having raced before, I didn’t know how I would compare. My only gauge the poor unknowing soul I would compete with in the adjacent lane at the Rec Center.

I swam along, nervous energy faded, breathing on every third stroke as a good swimmer does. Murky water, goggles fogged, blind. I, while bilaterally breathing, noticed I was alone and actually believed I was in front.  Me in the lead. Incredible! I succumbed to the voice-in-my-head temptation, “I am amazing, Wow!” The illusion came crashing when I was shaken by a booming, megaphoned voice, “MA’AM, YOU ARE OFF COURSE!”

I had taken my own line, I had veered out of the triangle path designated. I was all alone. The kind race volunteer allowed me to de-fog my goggles, catch my breath and resume the race.

I am trusting in grace when I feel I am off course, or alone.  When I have presumed too much or entertained untruths, I hope to be steered by a megaphone, a gentle nudge, or a push…all motivated by love. My questions will continue to be posed, with abandon. I trust that living outside of the well-trod path I will discover new understanding, or maybe a faint path trod not by the majority.  I long to, through humility, follow, grow, become –  knowing that whatever path I’m on, wherever the journey takes me, all of it leads to the common ground of love, grace, mercy, empathy, compassion…free from shame, condemnation and fear.