Thursday, June 8, 2017

sitting still

Apalachicola Bay - St. George Island 


“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink 

and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, 

like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum 

because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. 

We are far too easily pleased."



After my divorce (you know, that first one), I eventually had to learn how to be still.  Up until that point, my life had been perpetual movement.  Nothing was ever enough; or it was too much.  I was always either running after people and things... or running from them


I knew nothing of sitting still.


I also knew nothing of allowing myself to feel without acting.  All my life, I'd been running towards feelings or away from fears.


Old habits die hard.   And we really are far too easily pleased.  

There's a theory popular in modern psychology that says for those of us abandoned by our biological parents, we will subconsciously strive to recreate the same scenario throughout our lives, chasing after those who are either incapable of or outright refusing to love us.  They theorize that somewhere in our subconsciousness, we believe that's how we will be healed; that we will somehow reconcile the wounds they left by winning the love of those who reject us - even as we are rejecting the love of those who give it to us freely.  

I don't know if this is a characteristic of my human heart or my abandoned heart, but it certainly has held some truth in seasons of my life.  It was always a strange paradox to me, that I was capable of placing those who rejected me on a proverbial pedestal, while simultaneously degrading those who loved me without condition.  

For years, I felt as though something was missing, not necessarily in my life since I'd had everything I'd ever wanted, but within me.  But I'm realizing, at forty, it was never that something was missing within me as much as it was/is something is present within me - and that something is my own selfishness.

Raised by a grandparent who "spared the rod and spoiled the child", I am admittedly - even approaching middle age - still so often the spoiled child who wants what she want when she wants it and at all costs.  And if I can't have it, then I want it all the more, and my selfish ambition overrides my intellect - and every other rational sense of my being.


And isn't that how the nature of sin works in our lives.  It draws us in, enticing first and then entangling, until it strangles the life out of us.

Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. James 1:14   

It's no secret that I was also on the run from God during those years, that He was at the forefront of those whose love I'd repeatedly cast aside.  And intermittently every now and then in between, I've been the perpetual prodigal.  I'd stored up scripture in my heart from the Baptist youth group days of my teens, and even though I was gravely distracted by unrequited love even then, the Word was hidden there, lying dormant.  Until it wasn't and one random day in my early thirties, when I'd grown tired and weary from all of the running, it resounded loudly: Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).

I had to make the decision between living my life based on what I felt or living based on what I knew to be truth.  I chose truth, to walk in truth.  Or, more accurately honestly, Truth chose me. As Spurgeon said, "I am quite certain that, if God had not chosen me, I should never had chosen Him."  

Although His choosing of us is once and for all, ours is infinitely more complicated.  Because walking in truth doesn't come naturally for any of us, especially not for those of us who fear losing control, even if we repeatedly wreck our lives at the wheel.  The truth is diametrically opposed to everything the world tells us; sometimes, to everything our hearts tell us.  We want to call the shots, but Jesus said it this way: "If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it" (Matthew 16:25).  Turns out, I'm really good at hanging on to my life - just like I am really good at hanging on to people, both to my detriment.   

The hard truth is that our hedonism will invariably lead us to our heartbreak.  

We fool ourselves into believing that surrender is a one time decision when the truth is, it is daily. Sometimes hourly.  

Some of us are just more prone to wander than others because we are still learning how to to surrender our selfishness, and ourselves - and just sit still.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

holding lightly

"Being alive, it seems, means learning to bear the weight of the passing of all things. 
It means finding a way to lightly hold all the places 
[and people] we've loved and left anyway, 
all the moments and days and years that have already been lived and lost to memory, 
even as we live on in the here and now, 
knowing full well that this moment, too, is already gone. 
It means, always, allowing for the hard truth of endings."
~ Katrina Kenison

If she's right, if being alive really means learning these things: to bear the weight of the passing, to allow for the hard truth of endings, then I am, undoubtedly: a) more alive than ever; and also b) categorically the worst student of such learning. 

I know nothing of holding lightly, only of holding tightly - too tightly. 

To all of the things and all of the people.

It's a strange paradox:  this not attaching too deeply to most, yet at the same time, not wanting to let anyone go.  Ever.  

After all, when I first started writing here, niiiine long years ago - I was still struggling to let go of my childhood home, of all things, even though it had been two decades since we left it.  Even though, or perhaps because, I was facing much more life altering events at the time, like divorce and single parenting and scrambling to figure out what exactly I was going to do with my life.  Nonetheless, I wrote about the childhood home here.  

Truth be told, I still occasionally drive by it when I'm passing through.  Because, well... something is clearly wrong with me.  Time has not been so kind to it.  It's not in a great neighborhood and it isn't much to look at, but it's still a part of me in some way. My childhood, while good, was a little chaotic  and confusing at times.  In some way, I think the house stood as some ambiguous monument of stability for me.  I couldn't understand why I kept going back to it, as if I were expecting to finally gain some sort of closure with it, to make peace.  I was desperate fabricate a happy ending or sense of finality.

I don't even know how to do that with other humans, much less inanimate objects.

Nonetheless, it never made sense to me until I read these words:

"I don't wish for the red house back, not really, 
yet in a way, I wish for everything back that ever was, 
everything that once seemed like forever and yet has vanished . . . "
Katrina Kenison, The Gift of an Ordinary Day

That's the truth, for people like me, anyway.  In a way, I wish for everything back that ever was.  And in another way, I wish for everything that ever could be.  But this, the accepting of the present reality - that doesn't come naturally for me.  Or easily.  Or at all.       

I don't know how to bear the weight of the passing, to allow for the hard truth of endings.  Goodbye is such an oxymoron.  Is there ever such a thing.  Not everyone you lose is a loss, but it still feels like loss all the same and if it's up to me, and I will hold on to the death before I willingly suffer the pain of loss.  I'll choose blistered hands from a too-tight grip over a bloodied heart from letting go anyday and erryday.  And this is nonsensical, of course - because the heart is not unscathed either way.  This is the hard truth of endings.

I don't know why, but I keep coming back to the story of the nameless invalid in John 5.  He'd been physically invalid for 38 years... (and I've been emotionally invalid for 40).  Jesus approaches and asks him the strangest of questions: "Do you want to get well?".  Is this a rhetorical question?  Or is Jesus speaking more about this man's heart than he is his body?  Do you want to get well?  The man was so conditioned to his condition, that this could seemingly become a valid question.  No pun.  

And the man's response is even stranger.  Instead of responding with an immediate "Yes, please!", he gives an explanation for why he can't be healed and then lamented that there's no one to help him to the healing pool of water, that others keep getting in his way...

Nameless Invalid Man, do you want to get well or do you want to lay at this gate making excuses and lamenting?  (Named emotionally invalid woman, do you want to get well or do you want find yourself still sitting alone at your desk in another forty years, writing and lamenting?)

Isn't this so us me.  Conditioned to our own condition, trying to understand why we are the way we are, trying to avoid the discomfort of heartache or loss, without counting the cost of such.  Trying desperately to get to what we think will be the source of our healing or happiness or whatever it is that we think we need.

Because when we don't understand who He is, we will look in all of the wrong places for healing for both our blistered hands and bloodied hearts.

Jesus doesn't carry him to the pool, but simply says, "Get up.  Take up your mat and walk."

John lets us down here.  Because I want to know more.  I long for the intricate details of the facial expressions going on here.  I know Jesus rarely came across as smug, but I have to think in this scenario, after hearing the excuses and lamenting, Jesus cutting his eyes at the man while saying this in the tone of, "Ugh.  You're whining to God in the flesh, here.  Just shut up and GET UP AND WALK already."

I want to know how Nameless Invalid Man stood for the first time, how long it took him to stand.  I want to hear about the tears in his eyes, the joy in his heart.  But we get none of that.  Jesus speaks and, "At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked."

 And that was that.  #shrugemoji

We all have places of invalidacy (yes, I just made that word up) in our lives - and in our hearts.  It's our nature to look to all of the things and all of the people and all of the collective things of our past for healing or understanding.  Fearing change and loss and letting go, we'll pull up a mat and lay motionless for years on end, camping out lamenting for "everything back that ever was" or lost in some fantasy about "everything that could ever be".

And all the while, it's right there in red letters:  Take up your mat and walk.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

runaway

Tennessee River Bridge 5.30.17

"What brings us to tears, will lead us to grace. Our pain is never wasted." Bob Goff

Our dog went missing last weekend and I'd be remiss not to write about the trauma we endured from that experience, or the lessons embedded within it.  

We'd searched until after midnight that first night and with storms coming in, we had to make the difficult decision to stop looking for her for the night.  We were in the another part of the state, she had gone missing from my sister's house and we were staying in a hotel thirty minutes away.  After hours of searching and crying and praying, we made the drive back to the hotel.  Through tears, voice cracking, Parker whispered, "Why didn't God answer our prayers?"

I feigned strength as I told him what I knew to be true about God, which is that He doesn't always answer our prayers in the way we'd like for Him to or in the time frame we want Him to, but that He is faithful.  Sometimes, it can feel like He doesn't hear us at all, but God doesn't promise us a life free from pain or loss, but He promises His presence and His comfort in the midst of it.    

The storms rolled in and I couldn't sleep at all that night.  All I could think about was that our dog was somewhere out there in the storm, the memory of Parker's voice calling her name through sobs, and my daughter, sleeping soundly in another hotel room with her cousin, safe from the knowing, for now anyway.  Parker was asleep next to me, having cried himself to sleep.  We've had Cookie since he was three.  "I don't remember life without her", he'd said.  Chloe was five years old the year that she woke up on Christmas morning and found a puppy under the tree, and while I do, admittedly, love the dog - Cookie is a part of her heart in a way that I can't fully understand.  I never had a pet for that length of time as a child and if I'm honest, until I had children, I also never attached to anything or anyone so deeply that I felt I couldn't live without them.  

Life wouldn't be the same for them if we lost her so tragically and suddenly.  I lay awake thinking of how I would even begin to tell her, how I would help them grieve, how I would grieve for them grieving, and how would I help them let go and heal without any closure... especially when I'd never learned myself.  

As soon as morning came, I drove back to look for her again, the prodigal dog.  I just prayed that she'd eventually make her way back to the last place she saw us - and I did blatantly ask God to spare my children's hearts from this kind of loss at this time in their lives.

Driving back alone, the sky was still gray and ominous, trees were down and there were no other cars on the road.  When I exited the interstate towards my sister's house, trees were down, limbs and debris were covering the roadways.  I drove slowly up and down the main highway, along neighborhood streets, back alleys, and parks - desperately searching.  

Won't He leave the ninety-nine to go after the one? (Luke 15)

I was a mother desperately trying to spare her children from heartache, but at the same time, I thought of all the times God has come after me in much the same way.  Our dog had never gone missing before, but I have been - I am - the perpetual runaway.  

And He is One who loves despite. Despite our sin, our waywardness, our piety, our efforts, our failures, despite everything. Hear me, erry.thing.  God across the span of thousands of years has relentlessly pursued the stubborn in every imaginable way. When all else failed, He appeared in the flesh to knock on their doors, to sleep in their gardens, to eat at their tables, to call them back to Him. 

God will not let them go. 

Or us.  Even when we want Him to.  Even when we run.

I found Cookie that morning.  She was soaking wet and filthy and shaking.  She was, in fact, making her way back towards the last place we saw each other.  And just like the parable of the prodigal, in that moment, it didn't matter to me where she'd been, why she'd ran away.  She ran towards me and I ran towards her.  And I don't have words for the relief.  


“Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. 
Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness 
and go after the lost one until you found it? 
When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, 
rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, 
saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ 
Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life 
than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue."
Luke 15:4-7 (MSG)

Saturday, May 20, 2017

the making of a wound


Let us throw off everything that hinders 
and the sin that so easily entangles. 
Hebrews 12:1


There's a small scar running across the top of my left foot that slightly annoys me every time I catch a glimpse of it.   

A couple of months ago, we were walking down the sidewalk to one of our favorite restaurants.  A long strand of dried blade grass had blown into the path and I didn't see it until it was already tangled around my foot.  I stepped on it with my right foot to free myself and when I did, the blade of grass sliced across the top of my left foot like the blade of a knife.  It wasn't a deep cut, but it bled profusely.  I ended up fashioning a makeshift bandage out of an extra napkin.  The whole scene was ridiculous. 

One minute, I'm strolling along along a familiar sidewalk in the middle of the day and the next, I'm tangled up in some unforeseen, seemingly innocuous blade of grass - and then I'm wounded and bleeding.

Yea, life's a lot like that sometimes.

And so is sin.  

Looking at the scar now, the incident has become more of a parable, recounting the lessons I've learned - or more-often failed to learn - from the most difficult, self-inflicted wounds.  Although admittedly, the shallow scar across my foot pales in comparison to the deeper ones left on my heart.

It's a parable of this path and the obstacles we're often blind towards - many times because we're walking in a sense of faux security.  After all, who expects to be tangled up and assaulted by a rogue piece of blade-grass while walking along a suburban sidewalk on a sunny afternoon?

We're instructed to walk sober-minded and alert, but more often than not I'm more along the lines of tipsy and distracted.  And our enemy, the one that prowls like a roaring lion, is watching and waiting, "seeking whom he may devour".  One misstep and we're entangled, in blade-grass or the lion's den.  Sometimes both.

 And it's the untangling that leaves us mangled.  

That is the making of a wound - that in time, if we do not agitate it, fades to a scar.  And our scars can either remind us of our failings, or they can remind us of our freedom, so that we can walk again - more wisely.  Until we can learn to run.

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  
We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.
Hebrews 12:2


Monday, May 8, 2017

Yet even now



"I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is good for you 
and leads you along the paths you should follow.

If only you had listened to my commands!  
Then you would have had peace flowing like a gently river 
and righteousness rolling over you like waves in the sea." 

I think about this portion of scripture a lot, particularly during times of chaos or turmoil in my life.  That whole "if only" phrase in the verse resonated with me for years whenever I found myself wandering... which was often.  And sometimes is still.  I've lamented the "if only" more times than I can count, regretting that I had not followed any commands other than my own whims, led purely by my own feelings.  

Years passed and with them, layers of surrender.  There were spiritual markers and personal growth and maybe with those things, some sense that I had finally turned some ambiguous corner in life where I felt confident that I could walk consistently in freedom... so much so that I had it tattooed on my wrist late last summer.  I wouldn't have labeled it as pride or haughtiness, but maybe - in hindsight - that's what it was.  That somewhere along the way, I'd shifted from Christ-reliance to self-reliance.  And you know, "Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18).

It turns out, I'm a really stubborn woman.  It also turns out that the subheading of chapter 48 of Isaiah is titled "Stubborn Israel".  God knew that His chosen nation were stubborn and rebellious people.  He knew that generations would turn from Him.  He knew this about them long before He chose them; and He knows this about us long before He chose us, too.  In times of comfort and peace, they too would make that familiar shift from God-reliance back to self-reliance and invariably find themselves in captivity. 

Their story is my story.  Over and over again. 

But here is what God had to say to them (to us... to me) through the prophet Isaiah:

Yet even now, be free from your captivity! 

Leave Babylon and the Babylonians.  
Sing out this new message!  
Shout it to the ends of the earth! 

 The Lord has redeemed..."

Isaiah 48:18-20


God was always faithful to call them out, always seeking to reconcile them to Himself.  Whyyyyy?  Because that was His covenant: that He would set them free.  

Yet even now, be free.  

This phrase "yet even now" is the one that gets me now.  The "if only" reminds us of the things we should've done, the paths we should've chosen, the choices we could've made.  But "yet even now" embodies the hope, that even though we've failed, we can still be free.  "Yet even though" in your stubbornness, you've turned away and charted your own course straight into a trap and into captivity, be free.  



And I think maybe that's why I have this inscribed on my wrist...  Initially it felt like a declaration of sorts, and then soon after, it felt as if had become an invitation to be tested.  But now, it has become a reminder of this command:  "Yet even now, yes - even despite your wandering and your disobedience, be free".  

Yet even now, return to Me... 

"Yet even now," declares the LORD, 
"Return to Me with all your heart, 
And with fasting, weeping and mourning; 
Don't tear your clothing in your grief, but tear your hearts instead." 
"Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, 
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. 
He is eager to relent and not punish." 
Joel 2:12-13
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Saturday, March 25, 2017

the things not meant for me



"I am learning to love the sound of my feet walking away
from the things not meant for me." A.G.



Sarah Bessey, in a beautiful post on surrender, recently wrote these words:
In my life, when it comes to the dawning of change, it can feel as if God presses a thumb down on something in my life. As if to say, “here, this spot, this one, let’s stay here for a while. I want to lean on this.”
And so, that is exactly what happened to me, driving in my car in the middle of the day on a street in downtown Birmingham.  I heard the random quote above on the radio during a break and simultaneously, felt the familiar pressure of God's thumb pressing, gently pressing into my heart.  The things not meant for me.  There.  That's the spot.  

I don't know who A.G. is, despite my best efforts to track down the source of this quote, but I'd love to talk to him/her.  I'd love to know how/when they began to learn to love this sound and how/when they began to discern and define those "things not meant" for them.  

Because the truth is, at forty, I still struggle with this.  With all of the things not meant for me.

It is no secret that the concept of letting go is not one that comes naturally for me.  I wrote about it in my last post - about learning to accept that some things - and some people - are meant to be in our lives only for a season.  But the truth is that some things - and some people - aren't meant to be in our lives at all, and sometimes, those are the hardest to walk away from... even though they are the heaviest to carry.

"Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." - Jesus

I'm weary lately and I realize it's from carrying those heavy things.  The ones not meant for me.  Sometimes, it's the weight of them and other times, it's just the firmness of my grip.  I seemingly hold on until I reach that familiar impasse where holding on and letting go are equally as painful.  

When we hold on too tightly, we find ourselves with bloodied hands - and bruised hearts.  Especially when we are holding on to the things not meant for us.

What then, do we hold onto?  What do we cling to?  What do we walk towards when we're learning to love the sound of our feet walking away from the things not meant for us? 


His word, of course. 
Our hope:  

"Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise." - Hebrews 10:23


Monday, February 6, 2017

Lessons from La La Land



I promised myself I would write today, but I've done all of the other things instead, while humming and singing City of Stars from La La Land over and over and over... 

... Are you shining just for me? 

I saw the movie for the second time again last night with my daughter and two of my girlfriends.  Together we sat, all weepy-eyed and bewildered at the end.  I already knew how it ended of course.  It was like seeing it for a second time was my attempt at coming to some sort of peace with it.  But, as it turns out, I suck at closure.  

As if I didn't already know this.  

It isn't necessarily an unhappy ending, not for the characters anyway - but it's quite devastating for those of us who fall in love with them in the film.  We, the hopeless romantics with our handfuls of popcorn, falling in love with love, regardless of how unrealistic it may be.  

The characters share a deep,  passionate love for one another - the kind of love that will likely last for a lifetime - but sometimes, love can outlast a relationship.  They don't end up together and for those of us who buy into the whole happily ever after thing - at least in our movies - the ending leaves us feeling all of the things except happy.  

My daughter, almost thirteen and typically impervious, looks at me with tears brimming the corners of her eyes.

"Some people are only meant to be in our lives for a season," I tell her... and myself.

And in life, the lesson of letting go is equal to that of loving.  I had a difficult time learning how to do either, so I'd always felt they were mutually exclusive.    

As King Solomon said, there is a time, a season, for everything..."A time to search and a time to quit searching.  A time to keep and a time to throw away" (Ecclesiastes 3:6).   

When we never really learn how to let go of something or someone we love, we fail to realize that sometimes, loving means letting go.  For them.  For us.  

Sometimes, the act of letting go is the purest form of true, unconditional love. 

I'm still learning.