Forget to Remember

Sometimes it is so good to remember. Generally speaking, we like to forget all the bad stuff (and certainly it is a coping mechanism that proves to be effective). But the good things, well, they are easy to recall, then we get all mushy on the inside- as we should. Some really bad things seem to self-destruct, leaving something like a temporarily numb frontal lobe behind.

September is our month to remember as a nation- not in a good, celebratory way like the fourth of July, but in a somber, reflective way. In fact, we adopted the slogan: “We will not forget”. Last week, as 9/11 came and went, I pondered why. Why is it we will never forget those terrorist attacks, fourteen years ago? Why must we remember? Why all this reflection and reviewing the images of that day?

I think that pain, that gut-wrenching, heart-gripping memory, makes us stronger, resolute, united. It makes us feel the ire of injustice all over again. It makes us defensive and protective so that it may never happen again.

In a micro-cosmic way, it’s the very thing we need to do from time to time in our own lives.

Don’t forget to remember the feeling of emptiness when we lost something or someone we cared about, the self-doubt we experienced as teenagers, the feeling of separation or loneliness from a divorce or broken friendship, the fear of the unknown when we lost a job, the worry over a wayward child, the anger of being hurt by words and actions of others.

Why?

It makes us real to people who may be going through something similar. It makes us profoundly grateful for having crossed over to the other side of the challenge. But most of all, it makes us resolute, stronger, a tiny bit more invincible. It allows us to see that though the divine plan has unexplainable injustice, it also has inconceivable joy. We can wear the victor’s crown for having overcome.

We are changed. Forever. We are better when we remember.

One Word

A few months back, I posted how we like to hear ourselves talk about this or that. This is also known as, venting, blabbing, gabbing or (if you’re of the female persuasion), bitching.

Since that post, my desire to write became wrapped in something mysterious. It was a little like fear, something until the events of this summer, I had never before experienced. Me, afraid of words? How could this be?

After some evaluation, I realized I wasn’t afraid at all; I’d simply become more cautious, more reserved. I want what I say to be reflective and impactful. Every breath matters and I don’t want to waste mine.

You see, over the summer, I met a woman who had an aura about her so divine and spiritual, her words burned into my soul. She was simple yet authentic in prayer, with pauses that were downright uncomfortable, each word deliberate and thoughtful. She didn’t waste breath, yet what she said hung in the air like a beautiful fragrance.

I guess I learned to be okay with silence, actually, not just okay, but to invite the quiet, to bask in it. And strangely when I did that, both in prayer and in life, a single word would come into focus. The prominence of that word would overcome every other thought, flickering like a neon sign until its full brilliance was illuminated.

Now I can put my finger on it: that is what has changed.

A powerful word can linger on the tongue like one bite of a decadent dessert or savory appetizer. It stays with me throughout the day, simple and beautiful. Words like:

 Lavish

Exquisite

Marvel

Array

Bountiful

Steadfast

Long-suffering

Unshackled

Enraptured

I read a statistic that women speak up to 20,000 words per day while men only 13,000. We are word gluttons, gobbling them up and spitting them out with great rapidity.

I intend to change that. Starting one word at a time.

Summer Surmising

Dear Readers,

It would seem I’ve lost my mojo.

Hundreds of blog worthy thoughts have been bobbling around in my head, but it’s been a season of no traction for me. I want to say it (whatever “it” is), but it never sticks. I open my Word doc and nada… Epiphanies, confessions, encouragement- it’s all “right there” and then flatlines.

Outside it’s been summer- (and a blazingly hot one at that) when you’re supposed to take it easy and bbq with friends or family, maybe take a vacation or two. That is at least what middle-class Americans expect from their summer- give or take a trip or two. My summer has reinforced one of my many mantras: expect the unexpected. For good and for bad.

The summer kicked off (no pun intended) with my skater hubby in the ER, followed by a total hip replacement surgery. I spent the next five weeks toggling between being his home care nurse to keeping my bottom glued to our couch enraptured with the glories of an online astronomy course (slowly chipping away at my GE requirements).

Then came a small reprieve, when I did kinda chill for a few days.

Mid-summer, I was off to Indonesia, which I could write about for days. I went prepared- armed with English teaching skills and an open heart for embracing the culture and people. They embraced me instead and I felt enveloped by their admiration and respect (figuratively) and by the stifling moist heat (literally). I hold dear memories of each face I met. I long for another dip in the warm Java Sea. I could pass on white rice for quite some time.

As summer proper spiraled down and I dragged myself through days of jet lag towards 8th grade supply lists and senior transcripts, something (or maybe some things) were overcoming a part of me. It was welling up and running over. I couldn’t quite put a finger on it.

(to be continued)

in so many words

We like to hear ourselves talk and rant, really. I am no exception. Social media is proof of that. And sometimes religious zealots are the worst.

I love words. I’m pretty much a word nerd- I love to learn new ones and find etymologies fascinating. Words are my paintbrush, my chorus, my therapy– allowing me to maneuver through the labyrinth of my inner workings. At the end of the day though, if that’s all they are, I’ve just flapped my jaws for nothing. I’ve jumped on the bandwagon of the narcissistic, selfie generation, except I’m saying, “Look at me! Love my words!” Instead of perfected pixels, I boast perfected paragraphs.

I’ve realized lately, I’m not special and frankly my words might just be more noise added to the already deafening roar forced upon us from every side of every argument and issue.

So I had to ask myself then, why I write.

I concluded this: perhaps I AM different. My aim is to be the quiet voice, the evocative voice that someone, somewhere can nod in resonation with. I’m not the person standing on a soapbox with a megaphone. I’m not the loud mouth handing out religious paraphernalia. I am not even registered with a particular political party (Cue the shocked gasp!) But I DO have something to say. I DO believe in many things passionately that I won’t back down from, but unlike so many- I am always willing to listen as much as I speak.

I believe there are words better left unspoken. I believe God’s words are true. I believe combative words fall on deaf ears most of the time. I believe bold words are necessary and good. I believe words can bring healing or abuse- and I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of both.

I want my words to count for something. I want to say something ponder able. I want people who disagree to say it. I want people who find my words meaningful to tell the world.

This blog stands for truth but it also stands for acceptance and love and a willingness to change my ideas and say, “I don’t have it all together but I am sure of this: I journey towards my heavenly home. Won’t you journey with me? We can help each other and just maybe my words can be the balm to soothe your wounds or the prod to get you back on the right path.”

Disarmed

I used to pride myself in saying, “I’m a fighter, not a lover.”

To be a lover meant vulnerability and weakness- two things I didn’t want to classify myself as. To be a lover meant to be all squishy on the inside.

I thought if I displayed my crusty exterior, I’d be prepared for the worst when it inevitably came. With my proverbial sword strapped to my side, I could easily unsheathe it, hacking and hewing with my words or thoughts until I felt vanquished.

But the bad part is, I fought everything, even the good things. I fought grace and forgiveness. I fought joy and freedom. To allow those things to soften me would be to relinquish my self-efficacy. That would not do.

Our pastor used to say: “Behind God’s frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.” This angered me. I conjured a rather cosmic joker image; behind the sugary smile was a benevolent dictator of sorts waiting to pounce with His agenda. I did not understand. I fought this idea with a vengeance. To acquiesce to someone calling the shots, especially bad ones, unsettled me in the worst of ways.

Then my mom died. Then we lost lots of money. Then we lost a house. Then I was diagnosed with a hip disease. Then we lost jobs (plural). Then I had to go to counseling. Then we moved 12 times. Then my son chose a lifestyle of self destruction. Then lots more things happened that I won’t bore you with.

Sometime during all that, something changed. Not all at once or in totality but it happened yet I could never pinpoint the date or time.

 I saw God’s smiling face, behind the frowning providence.

I tasted the goodness. I witnessed the mercy. I felt the love. I heard the assuring words. I was washed with the peace. I was girded up with a strength not my own. I soaked in the grace that flowed like a fountain, free and unconditional. I was awed by the miracles. I was overcome by the provision. I was forgiven.

You might think I laid down my arms and became a lover. Not exactly. (Although I tap into that side of me much more frequently these days.) I still have a strong spirit and a tongue that can be venomous; a hard head and a willful way, but now I (mostly) fight for the good – for joy and peace, for strength and beauty, for making each day count. I fight to accept the frowns of God, knowing His kindness and love are far greater.

Does this make me weak? No, I don’t think so. Vulnerable? Yes, in a sense. Yet it is the very softening that enlarges my faith, causing me lean into the arms of a benevolent Father and say: “Whatever my lot, you have taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.”

This Brick Road

The great unknown lay before me, like Dorothy and the yellow brick road. My foot instinctively touched the first brick then I quickly pulled it back, like something unseen had coerced me.

The trepidation was strong, not because I was actually scared though. I was beyond that point. Life had taken me down so many other unexpected, labored and shrouded paths, I was confident yet not without a dutiful sense of caution. To be anything else would be foolish.

Could it be that I was wiser? That I had learned things that forever changed my approach to the great unknown? I think so. Yet I am still a cautious traveler because two things I recognized whole heartedly- always expect the unexpected and pride will lead to falling and falling hard.

I took a deep breath and exhaled out my inhibitions (well, as much as I could muster anyways). I knew there would be demons ahead, no, not the scary impish creatures with long claw-like nails and horns. These would be unseen demons, the kind that attack you from the inside. These come at you with their proverbial pitchfork, digging at your insides with the lurking evil of doubt, telling you that you’re a worthless loser and that your past mistakes define you.

Then, there would be inclement weather- storms of epic proportions that would obscure visibility to the point of stopping you dead in your tracks. They would dump a heaping helping of guilt, sickness, fear, financial insecurity, job loss, marital strife and other sludge, making the road unsafe and moving forward temporarily impossible. Those seasons brought life to a standstill and I would have to regain my footing to confidently carry on.

I knew too that some other traveler might give me a crushing blow and try to knock me completely off the path- and that person might be someone I love. Or an attack might come from a totally unfamiliar source, injuring me to the point of profound helplessness and almost beyond hope. I’d heard it said: “Time heals all wounds.” That is a lie. Time only changes wounds. The scars remain. I knew that resuming my journey after that, would be a slow, tedious process.

But just as I was certain of all these things, I was just as certain of others.

Just as there would be demons, there would be angels, ministering to me after the demons had done their work. They would come to me in the smile of a stranger, the prayers of a fellow traveler, the comforting, assuring words of a friend. They would be the confidantes who could look into my soul and know just the balm to apply to my wound.

Just as there would be storms, there would be warmth, sunshine, rainbows, pleasant breezes and the inexplicably sweet aroma of freshly watered earth. From the moisture would come new life- tiny shoots of promise that bigger, better and more beautiful things would soon spring up- the colorful delicate flower or vibrant verdant would bring delight after the darkness.

Just as there would be injuries, there would be also be countless joys, splendid accomplishments, moments of pure bliss. Others would sprinkle hidden gems waiting for me to discover. These would be the moments when a deep sigh was heaved, not out of anguish, but from the contented feeling of satisfied love.

Best of all, I knew that my journey was watched over, not by some dreaded cosmic force or unseen great and powerful keeper of fates. Quite the opposite, my journey is watched over by the Divine, the One who holds my world together, the One who guides my footing when it was slippery and vaporous.

I choose to trust Him for the here and now and the hereafter. I am not going to The Emerald City. I am journeying to a place far lovelier, where all are happy and whole. And my brick road is in His jurisdiction.

Shattered Illusion

This is not your typical Mother’s Day blog post, but hang with me.

 The illusion of control…

It’s a concept I have been battling with for several years now. Sometimes the illusion has been broken and I accept it. Most other times though, I’ve fought it with both fists drawn. This invisible force seemed to be working against me at every turn- cruel fate was dealing me a crappy hand and I was not having it.

Recently, I watched a video that compared the safety of driving an automobile to riding in an airplane. By a long shot, riding in the airplane is much safer than driving your car anywhere, BUT why do we feel safer driving and more apprehensive flying? The illusion of control. Behind the wheel, we control our every move. When we fly, we are continuously at the mercy and trust of the pilot. We do not like this, not one little bit.

You see, we fancy ourselves masters of our universe, holding our puppet strings. If we are mothers, we think we are holding our children’s destiny in our very capable mother hands. In marriage, we balk against feeling like our partner controls us (thus why many marriages where men are controlling or women are strong willed, fail.) It chaffs against our very nature. And so, we accept the illusion that we surround ourselves with, convince ourselves with really- that we control us and if we are mothers, we are pretty darn comfortable controlling our kids too.

As of late, I am more and more comfortable outside the illusion. I’ve tried being the one who spins all the plates without dropping them. I’ve tried being the strong, hard ass type who doesn’t let my guard down or ever be vulnerable. I’ve tried controlling my kids’ every move in hopes of churning out successful, motivated, educated, people (who happen to think just like me). Guess what? I failed at everything. And maybe that was the intention; the magician revealed the trickery and spoiled the show. I was undeceived at my ability to be god of my destiny and though at first it unsettled me, slowly, I began to accept it.

This left a void and then I was forced to acquiesce to what I knew deep down all along: faith was the essence of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen. Try as I might, I let me down. My illusion to control myself, those I loved, and my circumstances broke indefinitely.

Only one thing was left- faith in One greater, wiser, better, more loving, more kind, more fulfilling. God knows the secrets I could never begin to understand. He knows me before and behind. He loves me totally and more importantly, He loves those I love even more than I could ever love them.

The shattered illusion has left me happier and more at peace than I could have ever imagined because what was never intended to be mine in the first place was “put back” into the hands of the God more capable than I ever could be anyways.

The Day Between

My heart wrenches with a sadness so heavy, it is difficult to breathe. Yesterday, I had to witness the death of my firstborn Son at the hands of evil men; something a mother should never have to endure. His was no ordinary death. This was murder- execution by crucifixion.

Thirty-three years ago, my divine journey began. Engaged to be married to a wonderful man, I looked forward to my future with delighted anticipation. Then just before it unfolded according to plan, my life was transformed forever. An angel appeared to me. He called me, “you who are highly favored” and told me that I, an insignificant Jewish girl, had found favor with God. His words still ring in my ears, especially today as grief overtakes me. I was to bear a Son, while still a virgin, and He would be the Messiah- the One the Jews had waited for so many, many years. As strange and impossible as it sounded, my faith was made stronger to accept this God-sent message with humble honor.

Normally, this is the day of the week I look forward to most- the Sabbath- our day of worshipful rest, a solace from the work and toil of other days. Today is different though. Physically, I am resting but inside my heart and soul, I am in a state of great unrest. The events that took place yesterday replay over and over again in my mind. My tear stained, dusty cheeks remain unwashed. My hands still emanate the fragrance of the burial spices I’d prepared. What seemed to be an incredulous event so many years ago- the birth of my firstborn- had ended in the most violent, cruel death. I could never have imagined this intense grief would be mine to bear.

~~~~

As I stood at a distance with the other women, I could scarcely look up at the cross. My son hung there so seemingly helpless. He, who had always obeyed, always helped, always loved, was exposed, naked. Bloody, beaten and mocked He was. I can still hear them shouting jeers at Him: “So you call yourself the King of the Jews! He can save others, but He can’t save Himself! Come down off the cross if you are who you say you are!”

Jesus had told us this day was coming. In my heart, I knew He was right. I understood from the Old Testament teachings that just as a Messiah would come, He would also suffer and die. But this Messiah was also my Son and nothing prepared me for this motherly pain. My heart felt near the point of breaking. I wept in anguish.

John and I stood together, his arm draped around my waist for support. Jesus looked down on us with compassion. In His own suffering, He saw mine. “Dear woman,” He said, “here is your son.” Then he said likewise to John, giving him the responsibility to care for me as his own mother.

Dying a very human death, writhing in agony for each breath drawn, he was thirsty. Even this request was fulfilled with hatred and mockery. Instead of a refreshing drink of water, sour vinegar was offered to Him and he received the gall. When His body could stand no more, “It is finished,” were His final words.

~~~~

So, I wait grieved. Rest eludes my soul today. Although I feel a sense of anticipation, I cannot go to the place they have laid His body. Tomorrow, I will awaken before the first rays of sunlight and see if what He said will come to pass. I believe, yet my heart is weak, for I am not like my Son. I am a just a mother who has tasted the bitterness of her child’s death.

This Sabbath day will be forever in my memory as I reflect on the life Jesus lived; first as a baby at my breast and finally as a Man rejected, condemned to the death any common criminal might die. My hope is not quelled by my sadness though, for I hang onto the words He spoke about His resurrection on the third day. My heart wants so badly to believe that I will see my Son alive again! Had Jesus ever given me reason to doubt His words?

As evening draws to a close, John and I eat supper together along with a few others. The silence is deafening. Our grief hangs heavy in the air. Yet, each of us hold fast to eager expectation. Tomorrow will bring fulfillment to those prophetic words spoken ages ago. He will rise again and in doing so, complete the work of redemption, not only for my people but for the whole world. My Son, Jesus, and my Savior will do what He said.

Breathless

There are moments in life that take your breath away: some for good, some for bad.

When it happens in a bad way, nothing can prepare you for that, neither strength of character nor faith. Neither mental preparedness nor emotional stability.

I had that kind of moment just a few weeks ago when my husband called to tell me he’d been fired from his job of two months. (It only helped a little knowing that it happened because he had stood up against injustice and unethical behavior.)

No, it’s not like a family member announcing they have stage 4 cancer. It’s not even like living through a stomach churning 6 point earthquake. It is more like a kick in the stomach or somebody yanking the rug right out from under you. At which moment, you’d like to yell some choice profanity!

Just like dental work, the numbness of bad news wears off slowly and pain is left in its place. But instead of feeling better over time, this pain often creeps over your heart like thorny tendrils of bitterness. I knew this from experience. They would have to be clipped quickly!

Some days, I was unwilling. The injustice of it all set in. My husband’s reputation was called to question and maligned. I was angry and rightfully so. I love him. He’s a hard worker and labors with fastidious ethics.

It was all so disturbing, confusing, maddening, unjust.

As I shared the story with friends near and far, they were just as baffled as I was. Yet, in the days and weeks that followed, an incredible series of snapshots began to unfurl into a bigger, grander picture- one so wholly unexpected and complex, even I was left speechless.

The picture became clearer and so did my faith.

What man meant for evil, God truly meant for good. What we cling to as security in this life is often nothing more than a vaporous bauble. We feel safe in a title or an income bracket when, really, we should only ever feel safe in the arms of Jesus.

Yeah, I could feel happy because the ending is good (my husband has a new job, four miles from home in a much more peaceful environment). I could feel happy that his name was cleared a little and we can breathe easier now. But I don’t.

I feel happy that my breath was taken away. I feel glad that God stripped away false securities. I am thrilled that our struggle has brought such encouragement and joy to others.

Am I ready for the next breathless moment, either good or bad? No, probably not. But I know God has my back and I know He acts in His good will because I have a lot to learn. My Potter sits faithfully at His wheel, molding this hard headed and hearted piece of clay until He makes something beautiful. For that, I am truly thankful!

I Don’t Want No Stinking Band Aid ®

I’ll never forget the Sunday. Passing through the church lobby, a book on a small table caught my eye. The title: “Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology”. I turned away disgusted. (In all fairness, I haven’t read the book. It might be helpful or truthful.) I was ready to go see a therapist myself after months of dealing with the reality that someone I loved was a substance abuser. It was an exorable grief, coursing through my veins on a daily basis.

This opened a can of stinking rotten worms in my head. Reminded me of a time when I too, thought I could give a hurting someone a bible verse band aid and make it “all better”.

A flood of incidences came to me, like the time I mentioned yoga as one of my fave forms of exercise in a bible study and getting “lovingly rebuked” that this was a no-no. (She said), “Do you know what Namaste’ means? You have to be careful because this is tied to eastern mysticism.” Made me want to downward dog right there!

Or the time that I mentioned a personal problem that one of my kids was having, suggesting that I might take them to see a psychiatrist. You should have seen the narrowed eyes on this sister! “You need to be wary of those worldly philosophies,” she admonished in a lowered tone. Translation: treat this as a spiritual problem and go seek some counseling at church.

Don’t get me started on the stuff people have told me about my struggle with depression. Let’s just say that posting 25 3×5 cards with Bible verses all over my house was not doing the trick.

Before you go all Bible thumping on me, you gotta understand something: I love the Bible. I think it is the very breathed out words of the living God, without error or unable to be added to or subtracted from. It is my most cherished book and the Psalms speak volumes about the plight of human emotion.

BUT, I also strongly hold to the fact that LOTS of other things can help us when we are in the doldrums: like the calming poses of yoga, the trained words and methods of a psychologist or therapist, recovery groups, self-hypnosis (yes, I’ve used this one with great success), rhythmic breathing patterns, friends with open minds and hearts, journal writing, heck, even a great cup of coffee or a relaxing glass of wine.

I will never again just offer the bible verse band aid. It’s no solution to the wound, only a temporary cover-up. Underneath the gash remains, festering, like the continual grief I was weighed down by that Sunday.

Instead, I will offer a listening ear then perhaps a truthful word, soft with empathy and flavored with the salve of hope of Jesus Christ. I will offer arms to hold or hug, eyes to see solutions beyond the obvious, and feet to walk along the path they are walking on until a brighter way comes into view.