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.

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!

throw down the trophy

3445f_Starlet_TrophyThe faux golden bauble stood admiringly on the shelf. The pride swelled in my heart and I gave myself a little proverbial pat on the shoulder. I had worked so hard for that thing! In fact it had been pretty much a relentless 24/7 job earning it. Thankless, tiring and consuming as it seemed, I now had this symbol displayed for all to see. And why not? It represented the blood, sweat and tears, my personal achievement monument…

I picked it up, took one last prideful gaze and threw it on the concrete with every ounce of force I could muster. It shattered and splintered into bits, unrecognizable as anything it was before.

Man, that felt good! A wave of awareness washed over me- it felt strangely like relief; like the sigh that comes at the end of a hard work out session. My striving was over, the expectation to live up to what that trophy represented was gone now. I was liberated from the pressure of my prize and pride!

   ~~~~~~~~~

Our children can become our trophies: set up as an enduring symbol of our hard work, our push for achievements, our endless hours of driving all over for classes or lessons, our relentless and tireless pursuit of the right education, our sacrifice for the “right stuff”, etc.

We want them to shine like stars (and of course they do in our universe), but that isn’t quite good enough. We gotta have some recognition, some “Ooo’s and Ahh’s” from people, especially other parents.

Here’s the lie : IT IS NOT EVEN ABOUT THEM IN THE END, IT’S ABOUT US. It is a self-seeking venture to garner attention for our own achievement. I mean, everyone knows that a kid like THAT HAD to come from great parents!

And here’s the antithesis of that lie: another lie, that if they don’t turn out as a crowning achievement, amazing student, upstanding citizen, destined for fame or fortune, WE ARE THE FAILURES. We are at fault. We did something terribly wrong. Our trophy never arrived.

This is the most damaging, beguiling lie of all.

So, dear reader, maybe you have that bauble already set on a shelf (because, dang, your kids turned out alright) or perhaps you are already eyeing the wall for a display case you know you’ll need soon. Conversely, you may have anger, resentment, profound disappointment or dashed hopes because well, frankly, your prize is tarnished, damaged, misshapen. You have nothing to show for all your labors.

Throw down the mentality that your kids are yours to behold. Give them wholeheartedly to One who created them. Yes, work with all your might to teach them right from wrong, shape their thinking. And love them no matter what. Then remember that God is molding them and they may look very different from what you’d imagined.

My Heart Belongs To…

Identity.

As I watch my teenaged kids grapple and claw at this concept, I am reminded of my own struggle: ten steps behind the popular chick, never quite the 4.0 dork nerd, not even close to the jock girl, always wishing I could embody the dark, emo girl, but sadly, I was none of those.

Everywhere I searched, I was rejected: never quite “bad” enough or “good” enough or “pretty” enough or “weird” enough (although some would argue with that last one).

The quest is tangible yet elusive. It starts somewhere around the age of self-awareness and resides within us (although less so- hopefully) until we draw our last breath. We want to belong somewhere with people who understand us. In 80’s speak, we want homies.

Whether we do it intentionally or not, we seek out others who are like us and there we find it- identity. Once found, we smile a little more. It’s like an inner sigh of relief that, finally, we can be totally accepted, at home, at peace, ourselves.

But it doesn’t last long- ever. Life emerges beyond high school and lo and behold, we become collegiates or spouses or parents or party animals. One set of groups is left behind and whole new set of them appears. Funny enough, our identity morphs like the changing vibrant colors of a fall leaf- again and again and again.

With all this hullabaloo about Valentines Day and the focus on love, romance, sex, etc, I recognize the very human desire to “belong” to a significant other and in an earthly sense, that’s a good thing because belonging also carries with it commitment, loyalty, and an “I got your back” mentality. We don’t say, “BE MINE” for nothing.

Trust me, I’ve tried adhering my identity to lots of things and people- spouse, children, hobbies, groups, religiosity. None of it works, for long. My heart has been broken by everyone just a little- even myself. With each fracture, my identity crumbles and the search begins anew- to find that entity who will love and accept – NO MATTER WHAT.

I am certain of this: the ONE PERSON our heart can be given to in completeness, totality and surrender is Jesus. He will not abandon us: leave us when lose our coolness factor, ignore us when we become vulnerable, discard us when we are “used up”. He is the one safe place where our identity can be trusted unequivocally, irrevocably, eternally.

My life (identity) is hidden with God through Jesus Christ. No one, no change in circumstance or station in life can ever take that away. He is mine and I am His, much better than any Valentine.

Broken, Not Crushed

For weeks now, something I read in the gospel of Matthew, has been washing over me time and time again. It says (and I paraphrase):

If you fall on Jesus, you will be broken; but if Jesus falls on you, you’ll be crushed.

Sounds weird and harsh and demeaning; so contra to the world’s philosophy  that we gotta be loving ourselves and continually becoming more fulfilled, complete and privileged, certainly never broken and especially not by some God.

Sometimes life breaks us: people we trusted betray or hurt us, children we love shun us, money vanishes and we are destitute, we lose a job we love or have to do a job we hate, death takes someone away and a hole is left, illness pervades our body or our spirit is crushed by a series of “bad luck”. It is real, painful, heart rending, gut wrenching stuff.

But this is different. This brokenness is actually a GOOD thing- good because, once broken, God tends our wounds. The God of the universe comes to us with balm, bandages, gentle, loving hands, comforting, empathetic words and the perfect healing formula- Jesus Himself, who was broken unto death, so that ours might be a temporary wound. 

A broken, humble, transparent heart and spirit can be mended, a crushed heart cannot. Our pieces will be sewn together with Jesus’s ever flowing love; a heart hardened and crushed is beyond repair, the pieces scattered far and wide, destined for a scrap heap.

The great truth is: we must choose to remain broken, malleable, mendable, trusting not in ourselves to heal and bind the wound, but in the true Life Giver and Heart Healer to do it for us.

earthquake thoughts

As I stood waiting, for what seemed an extraordinarily long time, at Starbucks this week, I listened. I was privy to several personal exchanges between not only friends, but total strangers as well.

Everyone had a story to tell.

Each one was unique, yet the common theme was obvious: we had all experienced the trauma of the earth giving way beneath us. (Admittedly, I grew up in LA, so I’ve lived through worse earthquakes.)

Glass broke. Furniture splintered. TVs toppled.

The ear splitting sound was overwhelming. The unpleasant bouncing and jolting actually caused me to become motion sick. Each person searched for their loved ones in a frantic dash, urgent text or middle of the night phone call.

Most of us some how were safe- at least bodily. Yet our minds and emotions were far from “safe”.

We were numb, stressed, hysterical, frazzled, shocked, jolted, overwhelmed, distraught, grieved.

I’d say, the vast majority are still coming out of a “post afternoon nap” type haze.My recurring ambivalent thoughts are like: “I want to run away from this chaos” then, “I want to stay home, close to my family”. The world feels a bit scary. I keep imagining phantom aftershocks that I know are not really happening.

Then, last evening after my first venture out to the local banged up Target, I rounded my street corner to five police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck. Two doors down a young man took his life. I stood at the window and stared, not in a nosy gawking kind of way, but in an incredulous “why did he do this” kind of way.… I did not know the family. But as I watched the coroner enter the house, I was reminded of the power of human emotion.

What a paramount, driving force our fears or sadness can have over our bodies. Our heart and mind truly are command central for what motivates us or holds us captive in this life.

I am humbled as I look across the street at their house, wondering what they must be going through today- pain unutterable, vacuous loss, unanswerable confusion.

I remember the earth revolting under me six days ago, my broken dishes and table, my raw and shattered nerves. Those are nothing compared to the searing loss of a child.

My stuff can be replaced this week. This week, they will lay their son to rest.

 

Beware the Poison

Perfectionism is not only a trap, but a lie- a trap because it is a place you cannot get out of and a lie because it is unattainable. This self-made standard pervades and poisons our thinking, work and worth.

I know this first hand. I lived most of my adult life under the guise of perfectionism- expecting, particularly from myself, a certain standard, really a made up grading system. I got a score of perfect when: my house was 100% clean, my laundry all done, my children looked tidy and obedient, my marriage oozed over with love, my church people thought I had it all together.

But here’s the funny thing- I rarely, if ever scored that high. I worked and worked to attain “it”, but was left to feel inadequate, frustrated, and hollow. For whatever I appeared on the outside, I knew the real me- the me with flaws, the me with fears, the me with failures- and I was never 100% anything!

You see, this invisible yet powerful force causes us to suffer needlessly. The sway it has to make us feel worthwhile or like a failure is devastating.

So if you suffer from this (even in just a few areas of life): GET RID OF IT! Ditch the perfectionism and your life will suddenly feel free. Your chains will be loosed and you will begin to embrace yourself truly. If you have a spouse or kids, release them from this invisible grading system. They will never measure up anyways and it will only deprecate a healthy relationship.

There is NO SUCH THING AS PERFECTION (except God).

This is especially true in the realm of spiritual life: the more you realize you can’t attain to some arbitrary standard (usually set up by faulty man himself), the freer you are to embrace the God of perfection. Jesus is your perfection. He stands in your place. Don’t allow man made constraints to lay a burden on your back that you and I were never meant to bear.