And my word for 2017 is…

She poured the bubbling acid, waited for just the right moment, then scraped and scraped and scraped. It was a laborious process, requiring much patience and precise depth. We groaned at another piece of old, musty furniture that did not look worth salvaging. Yet, she saw beyond the layers of paint and deep gouges to the beauty of that turn of the century bird’s eye maple grain, stained a warm, inviting blond.

My mom saw it restored, envisioning something the rest of us simply could not see.

Restore.

That is my word for 2017.

After 2016 began by burying my last remaining parent and ended with a brutal, unjustifiable 2 months of unemployment for my husband, I look towards the beauty of what will be.

2017 will hold its own heartaches- this, life has taught me with certainty. Yet, the restoration I envision is no wishful thinking or wearing of rose-colored glasses finish.

Instead, with great deliberation, I will strive to find purpose in the layers of pain, broken expectations, loss. In the gouges, I will behold the grand details of life’s intricacies and the redeeming qualities of the blemishes.

Restoration is: reclamation of something lost, a bringing back to full capacity, a revitalization of original beauty. It takes seeing beyond what is on the surface. It takes hoping for a future promised. It takes valuing the painful moments alongside the exquisite ones.

It is a laborious process at times, but one so worth the effort. I will hope. I will imagine what’s underneath. I will endeavor to renovate the ugliness. I will have faith in God’s renewal. I will anticipate the loveliness of a salvage completed.

Here’s to a restored 2017!

1 Peter 5:10

“And the God of all grace… will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

Cheap Optimism

Last week, I heard a message about the hope of Christmas and how we look both forward and back to fully grasp it.

During that message, two words resounded and I have mulled them over all week:

cheap optimism

The truth is, I have, over a number of years changed from a self-proclaimed pessimist to an optimist. The reasons are varied and how I accomplished this is too much to discuss here. The simple fact is: I see beauty, potential, and grace in people or situations that were before only dismal, twisted and hopeless.

Still, something about the words “cheap” and “optimism” together stuck me because this is a concept that totally consumes our culture. We want cheap thrills, quick fixes, casual sex, instant gratification, likes and loves on social media, or hope in the form of some political, athletic or celebrity savior. In short, we want a watered down version of lasting optimism. We want hope that just might get us through the next 24 hours but not much beyond. We want the promise of sunny future without any present cost.

These words seem a juxtaposition since cheap connotes negative while optimism brims with positivity. Yet together, they convey a strong message: hope without longevity and a solid infrastructure will fade.

Optimism is possible. No, not even just possible; it is tangibly within each person’s grasp. Because at it’s core it begins with hoping in someone- a being so transcending time and space, so divine and yet strangely human, so outside the temporary, cheap thrills that tantalize- the person of Christmas, Jesus himself.

This optimism won’t dissolve like a vapor. It won’t disappoint like an ill-conceived gift. It won’t wear out like twenty something beauty or fade like yesterdays on trend fashion.

This optimism carries us till the end- in the darkest of seasons and the loveliest of times, in the ups and downs and in and outs of life. We can remain truly hopeful because this is no cheap optimism. It came at the cost of a human life, sacrificed some 2,000 years ago for us.

This is my foundational truth that allows me to see beauty in the broken, feel hope for tomorrow and see light, joy and potential in my dark, lurking doubts.

Lace up

I lace up. It’s been a while. This will hurt.

I know the pulsing aches that will come afterwards. I recall my “clear the cobwebs” cough and that feeling that my lungs might implode.

I’ve been in this exact spot so many times before… knowing the pain, resisting yet relishing it. A strange mental tug of war goes on. I hate taking those initial steps before my muscles have warmed, my rhythm kicks in and I feel the wind on my cheeks.

In that moment, nothing can motivate- not new kicks, catchy tunes or a cool wicking tank. That step over the threshold only happens as an act of sheer willpower. I will run today.

But once that first step is surmounted, the momentum builds along with my adrenaline. I look forward to the exhilaration, that sense that I can glide across the pavement like a fleet footed gazelle. I crave the endorphin rush because in that moment I feel like Super Woman.

This is life.

Sometimes, the season is a grueling marathon- 26.2 arduous, never ending miles. You long to give up, content to be a non-finisher. But somewhere in the back of your mind, a voice says keep going.

Some days, the wind is at your back, you’ve consumed just the right amount of carbs and your twitch muscles are twitching just right. You’re out of the blocks at the gun, setting a PR for your fastest 5K.

Only rarely is life like one of those fun color runs where you feel just peachy because at the finish line, your sweat serves to attract the billows of colored powder, making you look like you’ve been to a rave.

The truth is, we are all running an ultra (in runner’s speak, that’s 100 miles- only the true hardcore crazies attempt these). Within this ultra are hundreds of little milestones, (some good, some bad), roadblocks and refreshment stations. How do we manage? Training and groundwork- in every form- faith, self-talk, someone to run with, conditioning, proper clothing, understanding the terrain, etc.

No one is going to hand us the victor’s medal. We have to run hard, fight for it and keep going even when it feels like the race is extremely rigged or when our muscles feel like burning sinew. Rest assured, there’ll be wafting breezes and down hills along the way. Then there are those people who run alongside us for short or long periods of time, speaking into our lives, words that carry us to the next rest station.

Some of the legs of this ultra will be gladly forgotten, others cherished for the sheer feeling of invincibility. All add up to the race we were meant for.

As for me, I intend to run my very hardest.

take your idyllic life and shove it

It used to be white picket fences. Now, pretty sure it’s more along the lines of a 2500 sq. ft. house in the burbs.

I had a white picket. I built it around my heart. (Oddly enough, there was one in front of our very first house and every day, the school kids would scribble words like fuk on it- go figure.)

For far too long I cultivated and conjured the idyllic life. Pretty. Well ordered. Adorned. I thought I had it. Then it slowly disintegrated like a prim mirage in a heat wave.

Finally, the pickets came out one by one. They all had names like perfectionism, self-righteousness, obedient children, financial security, or dream vacations. I am certain a few were taken out by gale force winds of upheaval.

Without that fence, my life felt bare and exposed. This was new ground to tread and nothing appeared picturesque at all.

I have to talk myself out of panic attacks. My toilet hasn’t seen a brush in two weeks. My kids sometimes call each other the “d” words. I look in the mirror most days and think, “Oh crap. The old grey mare ain’t what she used to be.” I can’t paint my rented walls that eggshell shade.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You should see what’s underneath.

Idyllic? No. Ideal? Rarely. Fabulous? Working on it {most days}.

I’m glad that fence came down. It was freedom that I never knew I wanted or needed. Freedom from expectations and confines and religiosity and so-called bliss.

This life of mine is not very neat and tidy but I love it, every weird, loud, emotional, uncertain moment of it.

If I want idyllic, I’ll have to go to Disneyland.

Tempest Quieted

Tranquil. A calm quiet envelops me. I wish I could be here forever, my heartbeat pulsing in my ears, my shoulder muscles totally slack, my breath counted in seconds, in, out, in, out, in, out.

Then, abruptly, a gust whips violently through my mind. In that second, all peace shatters, calm displaced like sand beneath a wave. An unpleasant memory, a constant worry, a fear creeps in, disperses, then prevails.

Noisy thunder clatters, a deafening muted hum resonates in my ears. All pleasant sounds are drowned out by the cacophony of this present concern. My own voice of reason is silenced.

Turmoil. The rain comes, heavy and cutting, its weight overwhelming my heart and stinging my skin. My insides are churning and heaving as if I’d just stepped off a cheap fair ride.

This storm comes without warning, without invitation, even without certain cognition. Wreaking havoc and leaving a trial of destruction, this tempest bears down. I’m undone under its influence. Drenched with “what ifs…” Submerged in its foreboding temptations, battered by its forceful anxiety.

All this and no one ever sees. No one feels a single gust, hears one clap of thunder or feels the driving rain, just me, deep down inside my heart and soul. But on the outside, all is well. That is how this tempest operates.

Then I remember these words: Peace. Be still. Spoken many centuries ago by a Man who experienced the worst possible storm ever.

I speak them to myself, like a mantra, over the splintering fright, over the soul-wrenching anguish.

They are no magical incantation. They do not even bring an immediate end to the storm. Their power simply over takes and assuages. I’m brought back to trust and faith, remembering the goodness and protection that has carried me many times before.

Renewed. The storm subsides. My soul is hushed. For now.

Marked

I thought it was morbidly weird- ashen crosses on foreheads. My thought process was something like: Must we? That is what makes the world think the Christian religion is a bit freaky; so many outwards signs, symbols and rituals. And this… it’s just so sad looking.

We all wear scars, marks if you will. Some are visible, some invisible.

Maybe it’s a scar from a surgery or the marks from birthing children. Perhaps our mark is an intentional one like a tattoo with meaning behind it. Or the scar could have a darker purpose, like an attempted suicide or cutting.

Whatever the case, these are reminders, either for good or bad.

Likewise, the ashen cross marks us, reminds us, prepares us. The symbol of the cross reminds us that we are in need of saving and Someone has already done that. It reminds us that we are still carrying that mark invisibly in our souls everyday because we belong to Another. It prepares us for one of the greatest events in human history- the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The 40 days of going without serve a somber purpose, but with the happiest of all endings- the reason we rejoice in our present salvation and have a future hope.

The cross is the beginning, but the empty grave is the end!

As we embark on the journey of Lent, it is with purpose and deliberation; a time of reflection and ardent pursuit of the greatest love ever given.

I am a soul forever marked.

In the Valley of the Shadow of Death

A little over three weeks ago, I entered the valley of the shadow of death. I feared this day would come. I felt its imminence and had hoped I would be ready, but who can ever be ready to watch their parent die? Maybe you’re like me and you’ve always wondered if the movies are accurate at all. This is my story, not anyone else’s and certainly not an idyllic deathbed scene, but as always, I strive for truth plainly spoken. So here it is.

My day began with a phone call from the ICU nurse. This was not wholly unexpected as I had given consent just a day earlier to attempt a repair on his perforated bowel. As she held the phone to his ear, I asked my dad what he wanted me to do for him. His answer? Push the magic button. Less than half a day later, I was headed to Idaho, unsure of what would come, yet dreading what felt like the inevitable.

I was the designated legal medical decision maker, so the doctors came and looked at me, waiting for an answer. The irony of that. Who could be mentally or emotionally prepared to make the choice to remove nutrition, to start the morphine drip, to remove life giving antibiotics and oxygen? That was my gut-wrenching duty (along with my siblings input) and no matter how many times the doctors and nurses assured me, it felt horribly wrong. It felt like I was making him die and still, I replay those pivotal scenes like a nightmare.

At first I was hopeful. Then the hours dragged on like a cruel form of emotional torture, watching him try to get out of bed, wanting to go home. This was not going to happen for him though and so we kept vigil at his bed side. They assured us the waiting was worse than what he was going though. I doubt that. I saw it in his eyes. He knew what was happening.

Moments of deep sadness and sweet remembrance were mingled together in sharp juxtaposition. My siblings and I recalled stories of times past, times that would never be again. I felt the injustice as I watched patients rounding the floor of the hospital in their gowns, knowing eventually they would go home.

Suddenly his breathing changed. We made phone calls and every family member got to say their good byes. Even though coherent words were absent, he heard. He heard the love in those voices and his eyes said he understood. I just wish he could have said, “I love you” one more time.

What felt like a hundred times, we released him to heaven and Jesus, assuring him that we would carry on as best we could without him. The chaplains came and went, offering prayers, kind words and listening ears. Comforting, but even this felt like a hollow religious exercise. We held his hand and sang old hymns to him, probably more for us than him.

As his breathing grew labored, I began coming unnerved. My stomach felt like I had been on a roller coaster and the bottom dropped out, except in a sickening way, not a fun way. Our ambling around the halls and floors of the hospital became frequent, looking for a respite of what we knew was coming.

I wish I could say that some supernatural presence was felt, but it wasn’t. What I can say is that my prayers were answered for a short duration of the process, that my siblings and I had beautiful synergy and that my dad left this earth surrounded by his children’s love.

I walked through the valley of the shadow of death, comforted by my eternal hope but nearly crushed by the horrendous journey. It seems unfair, like a sudden reversal of fortune. I came out alive and went home; he never left the valley. Now I’m the one with all the sadness, he with all the joy.

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Undaunted

 

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I was dizzy. Someone grabbed my arm and pulled me back from the edge.

“Becky,” they called, “You cannot jump. Who knows what dangers are down there at the bottom? It isn’t safe.”

So I heeded their voices. I strove to fit inside their tidy boundaries for me. Don’t do this. Do this. And for the love of all that is sane and reasonable, do not take risks. People pleasing had always been an art of mine and so I crafted a careful life, safe from all the unknowns. I was afraid of heights anyways.

Somewhere in my late twenties, married, with 2 kids (and one on the way), I began to seek a precipice. For all the years of obedience had left me wondering: “Could there be more than this flat land existence? Is there a place where I can be me, not always bowing to the confines of someone else?” I longed for it, for freedom from the suffocating rules pressing against me. There had to be a way that I could step off of the ledge and not die.

The longing grew stronger, yet inside me there were always voices, warning me, cajoling me not to want it. In the next decade, I started to see the beauty of grace, the treasure of the cross, my salvation full and free, without regard to any rule following on my part. Those things chaffed against the neat list of expectations I had made for myself: the submissive wife, the godly mother, the dutiful daughter. Conversely, I knew the façade of safety was just that. All the flat land existence was eating me up inside. Gloomy clouds of depression suffocated me.

For the first time ever, I slowly taught myself to stop heeding the voices telling me to not seek the cliff. I began shedding those like layers of skin, each one more painful than before. The better I understood the simple message of the gospel, to believe and be free, to live for Jesus because He died for me, to embrace HIS expectations for my life knowing they come without strings attached, the closer I inched to the edge.

When the clouds of gloom were lifted, I saw that my feet were closer than ever to the rim of the canyon and I looked down into the vastness, its beauty captivating. I stopped reading the “how to” books. I stopped making my husband my god, instead putting purposeful and deliberate distance so that I could be me and he could be himself, all the while loving him deeper than ever.

There was one final rock I was about to stumble on; a rock of momentous proportions on which I would not just stumble, but fall entirely: parenting an adult child who chose a path of life I never could have imagined. Only then did I realize that the very thing I hated, all the man made parameters that had constantly kept ME away from the edge, I had built those very things around my kids to a lesser degree. Deconstructing them took time but as I did, the view became clearer and the canyon beckoned me to come.

Unshackled, I ambled to the edge. There was no fear. I was finally ready, confident,  my arms outstretched and breath bated out of sheer thrill of what was to come. I felt dizzy, light, unencumbered and yet, I felt wrapped in a security I could never contrive myself. This was the arms of my Savior that held me, close to His heart, warmly, gently, and safely. I was enveloped in His love and this assured me of a landing without harm.

I could feel the breeze blowing up from below and I began to totter. Before I could acquiesce to any shred of doubt, my feet left the edge. Air that I had never breathed before filled my lungs and I was in a freefall, sure this was not the last time I would fly.

Mud Pies

Contentment is one of those virtues that we often talk about and hardly truly attain. It’s generally the idea: “ok, I’ll just live with  fill in the blank .” This is more of a spirit of acquiescence than anything.

Contentment is often sought after in want. What if, we would not be content with mediocrity?  What if, we are not satisfied until we ask for more of God’s grace and goodness, instead of a lukewarm, paltry request? What if we are discontent with the status quo faith when we have the power of the true and living God of the universe accessible to us? Or perhaps we don’t know Him yet and we are living life seeking total fulfillment from all this world has to offer.

We often relegate ourselves to far less than is within our grasp.

CS Lewis says it best in his book, Weight of Glory:

 “Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. 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. “

We are content with making mud pies when we could go to the magnificent ocean and play in the infinite sands! We are content with being clothed in rags, instead of wearing the royal robes as child of the King.

A prayer I read this morning sums it up beautifully:

I go into a far country,

And come home a prodigal, saying “Father, forgive me”.

And yet, God is always bringing forth the best robe.

Every morning let me wear it,

Every evening let me return in it.

Let me go out to a day’s work in it,

Be married in it,

Be wound in death in it,

Enter heaven in it shining as the sun.

Grant me to never lose sight of the:

Exceeding righteousness of salvation,

Exceeding glory of Christ,

Exceeding beauty of holiness,

Exceeding wonder of grace.

Let us not be far too easily pleased!

mud pies

You call it a crutch. I call it a bastion.

Way back in the day, I had a cassette tape of a Christian artist named Steve Taylor. His song said: “You say faith is a crutch for a mind that’s closed. You guzzle your crutch and shove it up your nose.”

Clearly as a kid, I had no idea what that meant. Now that I DO understand, it’s a skewed exaggeration to compare religion to abusing substances.

But I’ve been stuck on this point the past few weeks: What DOES it mean to depend on religion (or more specifically, God)? Does it show total weakness of character or even an unhealthy dependence? I mean, after all, these ideas seem to mimic the nature of a substance abuser.

Our American existence is rife with a varietal of the expression: believe in yourself.

Stop the tape. Just so you know: I believe in believing in myself. I believe in women having a strong voice. I believe in cultivating a healthy self-respect. I also believe in self-advocating.

Conversely, I have a deep and abiding faith in Someone besides me: God. This is no oxymoron.

Hear me out. Back to the original line about faith being a crutch. The irony is that a crutch is truly a useful, helpful object; something used to aid in the healing process and lend support in a season of physical weakness. A crutch, though rather inconvenient and cumbersome, is necessary. To depend on it is wise, prudent and trusting.

The hard truth is, we are weak, mortal beings with a deep need for believing in someone beside ourselves. We are born with an innate sense of dependence, then we begin to eschew this sometime around puberty. That is the essence of faith: knowing and accepting the limitations of myself and placing my hope of fulfillment completely on One who is all the things I can never be: perfect, immortal, transcendent, to name a few.

My faith is no crutch or cage. My faith is my bastion, my refuge, what buoys me when life brings me low, my solace, peace, and strength. I am not confined by it. I am defined by it. I am not beholden to it like an addict to a drug. I am upheld by it. I am not shrouded in it, to the point of losing my very self. I am sheltered by it like a chick under the wing of its mother.

For this, I am humble and grateful and stronger and empowered to live life to the fullest.