Category Archives: divinity

Loving Jesus Doesn’t Have To Be So Complicated…

 

So, I was lying in bed last night thinking about so many things. Feeling confused. Inadequate. That’s when I felt the love of Jesus come over me like I haven’t in a while….this sweet, unconditionally loving presence in my heart, that kind, still small voice in my spirit that says, “stop doing this to yourself Jen. I never asked you to do any of that stuff you think you have to do in order to be a “good Christian”. I never asked you to be something or someone you aren’t or to give something you don’t have. I just want you to be with me, let’s just be together right now, let me hold you. I’ve missed you and it’s completely ok because I know you missed me too and I know you are doing the best you can. It doesn’t have to be so hard. You don’t have to try, try, try. Just be still and know that I am God. Receive me. Let me hold you at night after the crazy day is done. Quit guilt-tripping yourself and comparing yourself to others. We don’t even have to spend the mornings together ok? You don’t have to read anything. What if you just lie down and let me give you peace at the end of the day? Let’s get back to spending time together.” My body, mind, and spirit finally calmed and accepted the peace He was offering me without hesitation, without asking me to repent or apologize for not doing a “good enough job”at being a Christian. He knows how I beat myself up for not being “good enough” in any way that I possibly can. He knows I just need to stop, to be held.

Relationship-with-Jesus

So, that is what I will try harder to do. Nothing else. No other goals for this year. I will bring Jesus whatever I have in my heart and let him hold me. My time with Jesus doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. I don’t have to have “quiet time” at 5am every morning. I think Jesus knows “morning person” is not in my DNA. It can be at midnight when I’m lying there unable to sleep. It can be in the car when I bite my lip because I’m twisted up with anxiety after checking the bank account and tallying up all my bills. It can be when I go in the bathroom at work for some peace because I can’t take all of the demands and sadness of the stories I hear as a counselor. It can be anytime. ANYTIME. It can involve reading my Bible or just being still and knowing Him.

Because, if I wait to spend time with Jesus until I feel like I can do it like a “good Christian” or I wait until I have large chunks of time to sit and sip coffee leisurely while reading my Bible and pondering a devotional for an hour somewhere with a beautiful view….then I will miss out on being held, in the here and now, in my real life, my messy life, my exhausting life, my life that isn’t picturesque most of the time. It is this life that I need Him in so badly. Real life. I don’t want to miss out on time with my best friend just because I can’t do it “like I should.”

It makes me think of my friend out in Texas. If I waited until she came back to Georgia and we could have a spa day together to spend time with her at all, we would likely grow very far apart. But, just by talking on the phone for 20 minutes here and there when we can and sharing our messy real lives, we have a great friendship. I know I can count on her support and she knows she can count on mine. I want to have a close friendship with Jesus too. I don’t just want to call him up when something catastrophic happens.

love-shoes

I have to get back to the basics. 1) Love God 2) Love one another. There is no 3) Feel guilty for not serving within the church constantly. It really doesn’t have to be that complicated. Spend time loving God and love people. Loving people doesn’t even have to be so complicated. It doesn’t have to involve all kinds of volunteerism or going to a foreign country or serving at the church during this season of life where I have plenty of opportunities to love on the women and children survivors of abuse I work with, to model care and compassion for the mentally ill to my students, and to love on my own kids, husband, and extended family members. What if I just stop feeling guilty and focus on treating the people in my day to day life, the ones I’m CLEARLY called to love, with love and kindness? That can be challenging enough. What if everyone loved their families, clients/students, and co-workers well?

One day, in a different season of life, I will serve within the church more, I will have more to give, I might get to read my Bible for an hour or more sitting by the lake digging into each scripture. But, right here? Right now? Loving Jesus doesn’t have to be so complicated. I just need to be still and know Him. Right here. Right now.

 

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God Is In the Weeds…and the Radio, Thrift Store Books, Trees…and Muck, Mess, and Shattered Glass

It makes no difference to me what you call it…I call it a lot of different things myself and I realize that none of my words, my labels are sufficient at all. Words just fail me. That’s the beauty and mystery of it. God. Great Spirit. Great Mystery. Great Weaver. The Universe. Abba. Divinity. Holy. That which cannot be explained. Supernatural. Awe. Wonder. Agape. Energy. Life Force. Creator. Healer. Lover. You are all of these and so much more to me. I tried to deny you based on logic and reason at one point, as any scientist “should” (but wait, aren’t we taught absence of evidence is not evidence of absence?) And yet, I feel you all around me in inexplicable ways. In the weeds, the radio, books that jump off shelves at me at the thrift store, a tree, my messy and crazy job, and thinking about babies….How does all this stuff connect? This is how it weaves together for me:

I feel you, hear you, see you in…

Thrift Stores. A book found me at the thrift store this week…I say it found me because it literally fell off the shelf as I walked by. It is called “My Grandfather’s Blessings” by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. and although I am only half-way through, I feel God speaking to me through every story within the pages of this gift of a book that Rachel has blessed me, and all who care to read it. In it, I have found such pearls as this which I need to be reminded of as a counselor: “We do not serve the weak or broken. What we serve is the wholeness in each other and the wholeness in life. The part in you that I serve is the same part that is strengthened in me when I serve. Unlike helping and fixing and rescuing, service is mutual. There are many ways to serve and strengthen the life around us: through friendship or parenthood or work, by kindness, compassion, generosity, or acceptance. Through our philanthropy, our example, our encouragement, our active participation, our belief. No matter how we do this, our service will bless us. When we offer our blessings generously, the light in the world is strengthened, around us and in us. The Kabbalah speaks of our collective human task as Tikkun Olam; we sustain and restore the world.”  

My-Grandfathers-Blessings

Sustaining and restoring…don’t we all need some more of that, on the personal, familial, societal, and environmental levels? Why is it so hard to love one another? Why must we get caught up in these us versus them battles that rage constant? What would happen if we all took on this collective task? What does it look like for me to take on my part of this task just for today?

For me, today it looked like getting up and trying to love on my family the best I can even though I’m not perfect and they aren’t either. It meant going to church, singing my heart out, and finding something beautiful in the sermon and loving the people there even though they aren’t perfect and I’m not either. It means tomorrow going to work at a shelter for women and children who are fleeing domestic violence or who have become homeless in other ways due to it.

Muck, Mess, Shattered Glass. My job isn’t glamorous and doesn’t award many accolades; it often stretches me to the edge physically, mentally, and spiritually, but it is my calling and it is one of the places where I feel God teaching me and breathing life into my spirit the most. There, my job is to show love, to offer guidance and encouragement, to not rescue or fix, but to serve the best I can in a woman’s empowerment and her children’s healing. Sometimes that looks like carrying a woman’s bags in as she and her children move in. Sometimes it looks like unloading a truck full of food to feed our residents until my back is aching but I force myself to be thankful for my strong back that will feel just fine tomorrow. Sometimes it’s holding and rocking a sick child and wiping their boogers or a child throwing up on me. At times, it has been wiping poop or dealing with overflowing toilets or being hit and scratched and cursed at by traumatized children…and learning to show love anyway. But other times, I am unexpectedly blessed with the giggles and smiles of children dancing in dress-up clothes holding my hands twirling around when the realization of how far they have come in the few months since they have moved in and how far I’ve come since I started this job 5 years ago comes to me like a light bulb coming on. I am a better mother, friend, daughter, wife, human because of this job. It has helped me find God and understand how to love in the ugliest, hardest situations. In the muck, the mess, and the shattered glass on the floor that I have to clean up. Trying to piece it back together into something new. Something beautiful and strong. Like God is doing with me and the women and children I am privileged to serve in this way.

Im-not-telling-you-it-is-going-to-be-easy

Trees. There is a tree in my yard that has fallen and we thought was dead, but somehow year after year remains alive. I walked down to the creek to see where the base of the tree was and how this thing was still alive at all. The base of the tree roots is hanging down into the creek. When it fell, the roots slid right into water. I relate to this tree. When my life was at its worst and I was free-falling, I somehow fell into living water. Into the divine. Into a spiritual journey that is still going and I pray never ends. Something awoke in me. And when I saw this tree, it too became a part of my awakening.

Songs on the radio. I have playlists of songs that speak to my heart and soul and make me feel different things. But, my favorite thing is getting in my car after work or just going about my day and hearing a song that makes time stop and my spirit connect with something important that somehow got lost in the day to day shuffle. It doesn’t matter who the artist is or what genre. This week it was Tracy Chapman and Adele reminding me of the deep love I have for my children and reminding me that is exactly how God feels about me.

God is in the weeds. I used to be a waitress and when we would be up to our eyeballs in customers and about to lose our sanity and tips, we would say “I’m in the weeds, help!” to each other. That is when someone would give us the most help and where a lot of friendships and alliances were made. In the hard times, we find out who will love us and help. We appreciate it all the more. We can see God’s love in those “in the weeds” moments when people help and when we help them.

I think God is also in garden weeds. Last week, I watched as two birds danced around my poke plants, eating the berries and thought “what if I had pulled it up? I wouldn’t have these two unusual and beautiful birds dancing around blissfully in my yard. I wonder what else would be missing if these birds weren’t here?” I felt a holy awe as I watched and gave thanks for the interconnected nature of life and for embracing the life of this “weed” many would just pull up and toss aside or spray RoundUp to prevent growing in the first place.

weeds

Be still and know. Seek and you shall find. Perhaps we don’t even have to try that hard to find, but just be open to receive the awe and wonder that is all around and trying to get our attention…in the thrift store, in a book, in a song, in birds, trees, weeds, and so much more. 

Of Mourning, Dancing, and a Polka-Dot Dress

On a cold, grey December day in 2012, I said goodbye to one of my dearest friends. Friend isn’t even an adequate word. This friend had helped me through some of the worst seasons of my life and helped me find joy even in the months and years I wanted to literally run away from my life, my struggles that seemed never ending, and the pain I held in my heart as I forced a smile onto my face in daily life. It was an unconventional and unlikely friendship by all outward judgment, but it is one I cherish to this day. He: a deeply depressed and lonely person. Me: a young, frazzled mom feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders, having almost daily panic attacks while trying to attend to my children, go to school, and work a job. Somehow, our brokenness collided and somehow started a healing process for us both. With each other, we were both able to smile amidst the hand life had dealt us.

And then he started getting sick. First, just stomach aches. The stomach aches would come and go. Good days and bad days. I figured it was gallstones or something. He saw a doctor and they didn’t think it was anything serious, probably acid reflux. The medicine didn’t help. Then, things started to take a turn for the worst, then a nose dive for the worst. The doctor ordered some invasive medical tests. I took him to those appointments, sitting in the waiting room reading a book until it was time to go back and see him in the recovery area. The doctor tried to ascertain if I was his daughter or wife or what (“just a friend”) and we laughed a little about that when the anesthesia was still in effect. I helped him to my car and took him to get a Steak and Shake milkshake that sounded good to him. He couldn’t even drink more than 2 sips. I knew this was more than acid reflux. It got so bad that I took him back to his family doctor one day and went in with him to his appointment. With tears in my eyes, I said “please, this is serious, help him.” The doctor took a closer look and realized he was jaundiced and I saw a look of serious concern spread across her face. She ordered some blood tests and a full-body scan.

cancer

He received the dreaded phone call about his results when I was on my way into work one day. Employers don’t look kindly towards “I need to take a month off to attend to my sick friend” so I had to trudge on taking care of him while having to go into work and perform while holding back my desire to curl up in a ball and cry. I received a text in a Kangaroo gas station parking lot that would change everything. “It’s not good, it’s cancer, it’s terminal.” Leaning on my steering wheel, I whimpered like a dog, barely able to catch my breath. I texted back, “You are not alone in this.” It was all I knew to say. His daughter bluntly asked me to just cut ties now unless I was in it until the end. Not a second thought, yes, I am in this. I don’t leave the ones I love in their time of need.

I still had to keep the rest of my life running as my friend was slowly and painfully dying. I couldn’t lose or quit my jobs. I couldn’t neglect my kids. It was really hard to explain to my children’s Daddy who was planning a wedding with me after we had finally reconciled why I was going to visit another man daily who was dying, but somehow he understood the best anyone could under the circumstances.

Then, that December day came when we said our last goodbyes.  I got some sort of closure. I sat in the 3rd row of the chapel during his memorial service silently shaking and weeping in a black dress with frills and tiny white polka dots. A close friend of mine who had lost touch with me for a year or so due to her own difficult life circumstances and issues really came through for me that day. She simply sat beside me so that I wouldn’t be alone in that pew. She held my hand and anchored me when I felt like I was going to pass out. She understood the gravity of the situation because she was one of the only people I have ever been able to tell everything to. We have gone through some difficult things since then, but that day (and others) will forever anchor me to her, no matter what.

mourning

Psalm 30:11 (ISV) says: “You have turned my mourning into dancing; you took off my sackcloth and clothed me with a garment of joy.” During my period of mourning, I had read this verse and felt a mixture of impossibility and hope. Although I have always loved to dance, I didn’t dance for a year. I didn’t feel music in my body, I didn’t feel anything except a crushed heart for many months. Most people didn’t realize what I was going through, and thus didn’t offer support because this was not my spouse, my child, my parent, etc. It was admittedly an odd friendship. I learned there is a name for this kind of grief: disenfranchised grief .  I realized it was up to me to do this grief thing more or less on my own. I started seeing a counselor. I had started going to yoga classes before he passed away as a way to cope with the anxiety and panic attacks I was having. I continued this and found myself crying silently in class as yoga helps release deep emotions. Yoga was a huge part of my grief journey. It helped me re-connect to my body and my numb or conversely chaotic emotions. I prayed, I read stories of grief and mourning. The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman spoke to me on a deep level, although it is not necessarily a grief oriented book. The characters all experienced losses and had to go on heroically. I feel that it is important to share what helped me during the grief process. It is an active process and not a passive one waiting to one day be ok.

dancingwine

Fast-forward to 2015. I am usually so busy with work, kids, home, etc. that I don’t go out much if at all. I just try to keep my head above water on any given day juggling all my responsibilities. I had made a new friend whose kindness and genuine Christ-like love for others still has me a bit in awe. He gifted my now-husband and me two tickets to a charity gala. My husband and I went to the gala and in a series of unfortunate wardrobe events, the dress I had planned on wearing didn’t work out. We were late to the event, so I just grabbed the first thing in my closet that would work without thought. It was the black frilly dress with tiny white polka dots on it that I had worn to my friend’s funeral. I didn’t even think about it at the time. I just threw it on, grabbed my high heels and ran to the car. We were bickering on the car ride over to the country club about some matter of no importance. So, when we arrived, we both grabbed a glass of wine immediately. I seldom drink, so when I allowed a couple more glasses to find their way into my hand, I am not even going to lie. I was drunk. Then the music was crunk. And before I knew it there I was dancing in my seat then up on the dance floor doing the Cupid Shuffle then dancing to “Que Linda Back It Up” and my dancing was hearkening back to days of yore when I would shake it like a Polaroid picture and drop it like its hot on a regular basis. My husband isn’t the dancing kind, so he just sat mortified, amused, or perhaps jealous at the table drinking another glass of wine….it was pretty hilarious but also the source of some bickering on the way home about why my kind of dancing isn’t appropriate for public viewing. That was fine though. It was worth it. The next morning I woke up and realized that I had worn my FUNERAL DRESS to the gala and my MOURNING had literally been turned into DANCING and JOY.

Sometimes I still feel a wave of grief welling up in my heart and I let it wash over me. It comes and it goes. No point fighting it. Just like an ocean wave, you just ride it out. If you fight the rip tide, you will lose. But if you surrender, you will come out the other side. But, I smile at the fact that even this one time I was able to dance and rejoice. I also now understand why wine is a prominent feature in the Bible.

I’m still winging it through this grief and dancing and joy thing….do you relate to my story? Leave a comment with some advice or your experiences and let’s wing it together.

When Taking a Sabbatical Isn’t An Option: Inside My Life as a Working Mom and Special-Needs Parent

“You’re 5 minutes late again, Jen. Is everything alright?” my former boss questioned me…again. I wanted to be honest. I wanted to tell the truth, but the truth was that my son’s autism wasn’t going to go away, I still had to keep this job, and it wasn’t my boss’s problem. It wasn’t something someone who isn’t the parent of a child with special needs will ever understand on any level anyway. I’m sure my boss assumed I was just having trouble with “time management” or taking too much time getting a latte (which I couldn’t even afford) when the truth was and is that I have trouble with “life management.” If I didn’t HAVE to work to keep a stable home, the lights on, the water running, food in the pantry, clothes on my kids backs and shoes on their feet, I wouldn’t. I would have taken at least a season off. I would have at the very least taken the season off from work when I had a newborn and was driving 2 hours to Atlanta for testing and therapies for my 3-year-old son who was being diagnosed with autism.

running late

This was the season when my heart was breaking and I would collapse in tears on my pillow every night after completing yet another 10 pages of paperwork fighting to get him the early intervention services that I was told would make or break his future functioning (no pressure or anything lol)  that I couldn’t afford on my own. It was the season when I kept my make-up bag in the car so that I could put my make-up on when I pulled into the parking lot at work so that no one would notice (hopefully) my red, puffy eyes from crying on the drive into work when my son had yet another meltdown when I had to drop him off at his special-needs preschool. Thank God we even have a special needs preschool in my town so that I could put him in daycare. He couldn’t function at a typical daycare center. It was the season of covering up his claw marks on my arms with long sweaters some weeks. It was the season where he gave my mom a black eye from flailing around during a meltdown. It was the season when I was not only working, but trying to finish my Master’s degree so that I would be able to work part-time and actually make a living wage. I knew working full-time would never work for me and my son’s needs. Someone has to take him to therapy appts twice per week, he cannot stay in a typical after school care program (he can barely hold it together behaviorally during the school day), and I knew that I would not be able to have the patience and energy to deal with his challenges if I was drained from a 40+ hr work week. So, I worked 30 hrs per week while I attended graduate school full-time. It nearly killed me. I wasn’t the best, most patient mom during this time. But this was the only way I saw to make it to a sustainable lifestyle. I did survive by the grace of God and threw myself over that finish line, walked the stage and got my Master’s in Clinical Counseling Psychology.  I collapsed in bed with a migraine that lasted for a month after graduating. Thank God I had enough money from student loans to take one month off to try and heal my body and mind.

icantbut

Thank God, after an exhaustive job search, I was offered the first job that didn’t require a long commute giving community awareness presentations and working with women and children who have experienced trauma in my town. I am still there today because I find my work fulfilling, but also because it is a family-friendly workplace where I get some limited benefits and a stable, predictable salary. I feel like my bosses care about me and I could tell them if I needed to take time off for my son. I make a decent enough living and work outside the home only 20 hrs per week. I supplement my income teaching online college classes here and there. It’s not enough to have a savings account, take vacations, or feel “set,” but I know I won’t be in danger of being homeless or unable to meet my children’s basic needs.

strugglestrength

I often felt like if I could just be a stay-at-home mom, then maybe I wouldn’t feel like a basket case all the time. There is nothing worse that having people look at you with that, “is she alright?” look at work. No, I’m not alright. I struggle every single day. My child requires more from me than typical children do. He has had sleep issues (thank God finally resolved with natural supplements, but he didn’t sleep through the night for 6 years), he requires a strict routine and I can’t just make him run to the grocery store with me because I forgot the ketchup and he’s demanding ketchup. I have to keep him on an even keel by making sure he has time for relaxation, to sit on the potty at the scheduled time, to go to his therapy appointments. He requires so much love and patience. He has taught me so much love and patience. Did I mention I also have another child 2.5 years younger than him? I have to deal with the challenges of a sibling who is frustrated with his brother’s special needs. I mediate fights and try to understand both their viewpoints. Putting on my game face for work and acting “put together” and “professional” isn’t easy. I don’t have time to accessorize or do my hair, so its usually in a messy bun. I could be having an full on panic attack and you wouldn’t even notice because I have trained my mind and body to just sit there and ride it out, knowing it will end at some point. Anxiety is a liar I don’t have time to listen to. I used to feel like a big, fat phony. Now, just feel strong. I survive my challenges and my life everyday.

I’m a warrior, I soldier on for my son every day. I don’t completely unload my whole story and all my struggles on my co-workers, but I’m honest enough about the fact that I have struggles and I know what its like to be past your breaking point and still soldiering on because that’s what we good mamas do for our kids.  I think that makes me a better counselor, especially for other parents who have special needs children or have trouble finding ways to balance all of the demands of life. It doesn’t make it easy. I invest some money each month on self-care so that I don’t end up in the mental ward or dead from a heart attack. I have to take care of myself or where will that leave my kids? Without a functional mama. So, I do yoga, I pray, I listen to music, I journal, I get acupuncture when I can afford it, I get cheap massages from the local massage school, I garden and run around with my kids in the yard. I thank God I have a home and a yard.

failure-is-not-an-option

Sometimes, now I think that working has been good for me. Not having the option to stay home means that I have always had to pull my $#@# together every day, even if I don’t think I can or I don’t want to. I don’t have the option to sink into alcoholism, addictions, self-pity or depression. I have to “just keep swimming, just keep swimming” and that keeps me from sinking down deep. I can’t sink or my kids will sink with me and they don’t deserve that. They deserve my all, my best. I refuse to fail them as long as there is breath in my lungs and my hands are able to work. Work demands my all, my best as well. So I have to find ways to be my best me, to cope effectively. Yes, my ultimate daydream is to be a kept woman, but knowing that is about as unlikely as a winning lotto ticket, I just keep going. I cry, I scream and pound the steering wheel of my car when I’m alone in the car sometimes, I call my mom or my best friend and get out my “its not fair, this sucks” moments. I listen to songs that make me feel like God has me and I’m strong like:

You might be thinking I’m a single mom as you read this. I’m not. Times are just tough and they always have been. My husband has always tried his best, but he has had some tough stuff to deal with too, like lay-offs and being unable to finish school due to caring for his sick father and trying to support their family when he was only 19. Now, he has health issues himself. He works hard, but without a college degree or hulk-like physical strength to do manual labor in a 105 degree factory all day, he has never been able to fully take care of our family’s financial needs by himself. I know it breaks his heart and his pride watching me struggle. We live frugally. We have a tiny house, used cars, thrift store clothes, discount shoes. We are not snobs, but I refuse to live in the projects where I can’t sleep in peace at night. I need a car to get my son to his appts. My son requires a lot of vitamin and mineral supplements to help his behavior, sleep, and stomach issues. My son’s therapies require co-pays. I have had to buy things to help him learn and communicate better like an iPad. There are so many extra costs that come with his needs. It is what it is. But he is worth it. And I will do my best. Thankfully we have extended family support if the car breaks down or the pipes burst. That support for emergency needs is more than many struggling families have. hope

This is my life. It is raw and honest. I would be lying if I said I didn’t ask God, “why?” sometimes. But usually the still small voice in my heart just reminds me that I am strong and I can learn. If God only gives us what we can handle, apparently I’m just a bad-ass.

But on a serious note, I give thanks that all of my prayers for my son have been answered. I have prayed over him every single night with tears flowing. He is thriving in spite of his challenges. He speaks (not only speaks, but articulately and with a beautiful vocabulary) and he has not had a meltdown in 3-4 years. He has friends, loving teachers, an accepting church family, and kind therapists. He finally started sleeping well and using the potty. He still needs peace and calm in his daily life. He still can’t go to the after school program, but that’s ok. We are making it. He is making it. Living on the love of God and family, we just keep winging it. Giving up is not an option. We will wing it together.

Lost and Found…Daily

Everyday I walk my sons into school. I pass by the “Lost and Found” rack full of coats, jackets, shirts, hats, etc. How do so many of these things go missing so often? Do the kids not notice they don’t have a coat on? Aren’t they cold? That made me start thinking about being lost and not realizing it. It made me think of being found in a more profound way. Many people sing “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see” in church. “Amazing Grace” has always been a favorite of mine that brings me to tears…every…single….time I hear it or sing it. I used to think the journey of faith was like that. I was once so lost and blind, but now I’m found and I see. Linear like that right? Not quite. Well, it was true that I was lost and then found. When God found me in 2011, I was utterly and desperately lost and blind. My physical and emotional health were at an all time low. My relationships were in shambles and I was desperate for a job. My son was diagnosed with special needs I was financially incapable of providing for. I tried to figure it out on my own and just ended up digging myself into a deep, dark hole. Utterly lost. I was brought to my knees and begging to be found and my eyes opened. They were. Through a strange series of events and people who came into my life at just the right time, I was found. I was changed. I had always thought it was just a cliche, but in spite of my skepticism, it happened to me! It all started with being brought low and admitting on the floor of my bathroom ugly crying that I was lost and blind, begging to see and be found.

Guardian-Angel

But, it doesn’t just end there nice and tidy like that. I wasn’t just a shirt that was dirty and nasty and got washed and hung up nice and neat in the closet never to be dirtied or worn and torn again. I still go out every day into this world and face my past and my struggles that are still there, struggles I have learned how to deal with rather than allow to control my entire life. I still get lost (although not as badly lost as before thank God) and I still get found (thank God) on a regular basis. Sometimes a daily basis. Kind of like how my kids misbehave, go to time out to think, tell me they are sorry and love me and will never misbehave again only to go through the same. darn. thing! a couple of days later. They are still learning…so am I. I haven’t lost my shirt in a long time, so I know I’m making progress.

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Sometimes in life, in spite of our best intentions and plans, we find ourselves backsliding. Like that darn game chutes and ladders, we are just plugging along and we think we are making progress and we are gonna win this thing! Woohoo! Then, we roll a 5 and land on a chute space and go sliding back down. Slides can be kind of fun even, until you land on your bottom in the dirt and realize, no, you aren’t back to “Start” but you went from space 65 to space 40 and now 3 people are ahead of you! Last place! Ugh, how did this happen?! When we were in the lead! We can either chose to get dejected and quit the game early to avoid the possibility of not winning or we can say “well at least I’m not where I started”, roll again and pray for a ladder space. Sometimes I get a ladder space and I’m like “wow! I didn’t expect that!” and I feel so grateful. Those are like the little epiphanies I have sometimes when I have a heart-to-heart with a friend who is also trying to move forward, read an inspiring  book, spend some quiet time with Jesus, be still and sense God in nature, or sometimes I’m just driving in my car and some kind of wisdom hits me like a 2 x 4 over the head, etc. Life and my faith journey is a lot like “Chutes and Ladders.” Down and up, side to side, slide down, climb up, be pulled up, slide a little, ask for help, get lost, get found, daily. Thank God “Found” is not a one-time-only, limited time offer.

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It’s dangerous to tell yourself you are just found, found, found and don’t struggle with “that” anymore, whatever “that” thing is for you. In my experience, Jesus broke my chains, but I still have to chose day to day to step out of them or just sit in those broken chains. If I’m honest with myself, I step out of the broken chains and I realize that there are certain situations I just don’t need to be in or its like picking up broken chains and wrapping them back around myself like some kind of security blanket. Sometimes standing up, stepping out of the broken chains is a weird feeling, “ok what now?” is my usual question. I fear boredom, I fear stagnation, I fear depression, I fear being dumpy, put upon, a “beast of burden” (thanks Rolling Stones), and most of all, unloved and unappreciated. I can let all of those fears rise to a roar in my mind so loud that I just get lost or I can say “God please find me, help me not get lost…again” every morning, every hour, every breath. If I fix my eyes on your love, on You, Jesus, the epitome of grace and mercy who laid down your life to try and wake us the bleep up in a dramatic way and save all of us who perpetually find ourselves lost, I am found over and over in wave after wave of your grace and mercy. Your hand is ALWAYS outstretched to me and to all. Sometimes I turn my back on you and still when I turn around you are right there with that same outstretched hand. You never shun me for being lost, you wait patiently and you find me when I want to be found. You are a gentleman and would never force me into your arms or get all up in my face demanding I accept your love, but instead wait for me to find my way to you with your gentle whispers to guide me as well as the people and experiences you put in my path.

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Even thought I try hard, I still mess up. I blow it. I could sit in that shame and guilt when I blow it beating myself up for _________ (insert shame and accusations) and I can hide from you in my ugliness as Adam and Eve did (that’s my take on what that story is really about anyway, that we are gonna mess up and its the running that is really bad not the messing up). Or I can just realize you already know, you know I am human, you know I’m dumb and I blow it, that’s why I need you. Now, I run straight for your arms and I’m brutally honest with You and with myself when I mess up…again. Found. Again and again.

Of course, we should all try our best to not cause pain to ourselves or others, to listen to our conscience, to be the good we wish to see in the world, the salt and light. We should do the hard work, be our best selves. But, we will fail. We will get lost. We are human. We can experience God most deeply and profoundly in our brokenness. I think brokenness is so beautiful because if we weren’t all broken in some way, we wouldn’t need God. “Why does God allow suffering, allow atrocities, etc.?” is often used as proof that no Higher Power exists at all. I do not agree with this viewpoint. Have you ever learned something you would have never been able to learn from suffering or a traumatic experience? I have. Post-traumatic growth fascinates me and other researchers. Trauma doesn’t just cause PTSD and debilitate people. Trauma can fuel growth in a way that almost nothing else can. If we can stop lamenting our pain and instead seek the purpose, seek to grow, seeking a higher power in it then we can grow stronger in every way. Or we can use it as evidence that hope and growth from pain and a plan or purpose for our pain is just a bunch of bologna. Either way, one thing everyone can agree on is the universal nature of brokenness and a need for healing. Healing for ourselves, healing for our families and loved ones, healing for communities, systems that perpetuate injustice, healing for all for all of the violence and pain in this world. May our own brokenness connect us with the brokenness of others just like all of those coats hanging on the “Lost and Found” rack at school. May we all be found. By each other, by our higher power. Again and again. Day after day as we wing it through our brokenness and this broken world seeking healing.

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Spring Magic…Coming Back to Life

As the brisk, fresh air swept over my bare shoulders and arms I closed my eyes and sighed “Spring, oh thank you for inviting me to come back to life every year.” Lush greenery, pink and white blossoms, and tiny purple flowers spring up seemingly overnight. I walked outside my front door yesterday and there was my invitation. If these leafless trees with limbs missing from the ice storm and bare dirt under my feet can spring back to life overnight, so could I.

Winter is not just a season for me, it is a state of being. I try my best to appreciate all seasons, but Winter is difficult. When my loved ones have passed on, it has always been in Winter. I do not prefer cold weather or cold people. I do not prefer having to wear clothes, much less lots of layers just to survive. During Winter, the somber landscape induces a melancholy of my spirit.

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So when Spring comes bursting forth, my heart, my mind, my spirit, my body feel enlivened with a magic that reminds me “Winter is just a season to endure, it always ends.” While Winter is all about endurance in my experience, Spring is about awakening with joy. How it delights me that my children and I can spend not a cent and have a magical day just running gleefully around our property, my oldest son picking plants he finds interesting and pretending he is making some sort of magical soup, my youngest finding sticks he makes into spears and running into the woods as if he is going hunting. My shaman and my warrior. I have known this from their births. I am in awe that my body produced these beings. They both came in the Spring. Life comes in Spring. Perhaps that is why I savor Spring fever so deeply.

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I remember spending so much time in the Spring forest as a child. I first felt God there and I marvel at the divinity God has instilled in all of creation. My heart aches for the children who grow up in concrete jungles. When I was a girl and I was sad or uncertain, I would go into the woods and sit next to the largest, oldest tree I could find and pray. I still do this. To all of the people who feel alone or hopeless, I say “go, let an old tree hold you and listen with your heart, think of all this tree has endured over the past hundreds of years, can you not stand and endure until this Winter of the soul until it passes?”

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The deadness and harshness of Winter is giving way to the magical life of Spring. Whatever has been dead or dormant in you, Spring is your invitation to let the ice melt off and the little purple flowers grow again. All it takes is getting outside, taking off your shoes, feeling the Earth beneath your feet, the flowers ticking your toes, and feeling the delicious air wrap around your shoulders like a long-lost lover. Listen…the birds are chirping. Their wings have brought them back home. Let’s wing it together as we welcome this new season and awaken. How do you celebrate Spring? What does Spring mean to you?