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


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)