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.”

Lil’ bit gypsy, nun, feminist

Well, that’s an odd combination, you say. True. I am pretty odd :).

I thought it would be fun to expound a bit on my weird self. Not in a narcissistic kind of way, but in a relatable kind of way. Because like I like to say, we are not so very different after all.

I grew up in two houses and only one I actually remember. My parents built their country dream home and we moved in when I was six years old. It was idyllic- close enough to LA to enjoy the good stuff like cool LA beaches, yet far enough from the gangs and graffiti that I was cushioned from the urban decay.

Constant– it’s the word I use to describe my childhood. Dad works at the same job for 30 years, I live in the same town (until I marry at 19, GULP), mom stays home and is there every day to take care of everything.

Fast forward 25 years. I have moved 13 times, once moving out of and back into the same house. The reasons are vast, varied and would take a volume in itself to tell. But THIS is why I am a lil’ bit gypsy. God thought it was a good idea to s t r e –  t   c   h me, to take my rigid, constant world and turn it upside down. While it isn’t ideal (and it’s really sucked for our kids somewhat), it has made me who I am today- a much more flexible person, able to appreciate and love all the friends I’ve made, and not a lover of “stuff”. (You do a lot of purging when you move this much!)

A lil’ bit nun– that’s an easy one. Remember that I said I grew up “cushioned”? One rule was NO MOVIES at the theater. Why? Because movie theaters are evil, don’t you know… I also double pierced my ears on my honeymoon because, don’t you know, I would have been kicked out for doing it while living under my parent’s roof. Definitely, no two piece bathing suits! Yeah, we went kind of heavy on the rules at my house.

Dirty secret- I’ve never owned or worn a bikini. I go to the beach in shorts and a tank top. And just in case you’re all feeling sorry for my daughter, she owns and wears a bikini. I’m just not into the whole body bearing in public scene and I feel very strongly that this is sadly one of the ways that females unknowingly exploit themselves. (But that is a post for another day and obviously, I have very solid rationale for it.)

A lil’ bit feminist because I spent far too many years with my head wrapped up in the doctrines of MEN who like to write books about being the head of the home (while making the woman the tail) and being king of the castle (while making the woman his vassal, instead of his queen).

It took me way too long to understand my value and see myself as equal, just with a different and unique role. The deprecation and devaluing of women the world over breaks my heart and angers me. If I can bear and nurture a child, without which the world would cease to exist, I am invaluable. My ideas are not inferior, just feminine. My body is not weaker, just feminine.

My husband and I are both strong, type A personalities and trust me, we have had to WORK REALLY HARD to compromise and be cohesive and not step all over each other. But it’s beautifully worth it.

So, there, nothing like a complicated mess who ambles through life with a bit of baggage. (Don’t we all?) But it is this very stuff that has woven the complicated pattern of who I am today and what makes me tick as a person. To use the cliché’: God isn’t finished with me yet and he won’t be until my last breath is drawn.

If you had to use only 3 words to define yourself, what would they be?

 

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.

My Public Confession and Declaration (about parenting)

I’m sitting here feeling (a little) sorry for myself. At least I’m woman enough to admit it. For that past seventeen years my life has been bereft of my mother and my dad, who tried beautifully to fill both shoes left me almost 5 months ago. So, yeah.

Then there’s the fact that motherhood represents the great cataclysmic change in my life that has brought out my absolute worst and but sometimes best sides. So, I decided I’d turn flip the script a bit. Instead of my kids giving me some schmaltzy accolades (which they did ‘cause they’re awesome), I’d write a public declarations and confessions post.

First, the confessions:

#1 I didn’t love being a mother at first. In fact, I think it took me a number of months to even like it. Thanks to post-partum depression that assailed me like a ton of bricks after each birth, I was in the doldrums while everyone told me I should be flying over the moon.

#2 I yelled too much. I dug in mentally, said I was going to win every argument and shouted to prove it. Ugly, harsh words that if I had the breaths of a lifetime, could not suck it all back in. Also, I still lost a lot of arguments.

#3 We actually thought spanking was the best way to discipline. How absurd! I am indelibly sorry for spanking you- ever. If we still had it, I would personally build the bon fire in which to burn that stupid “whacker” we used to administer corporal punishment.

#4 I diluted your juice waaayyy beyond when I should have  and I made you go to bed too early for too long (which I said was because of science proving kids need good sleep, but was really because I was just “done” by 8 pm).

#5 I was a mediocre teacher who fumbled around trying to pretend I knew what I was doing, too hard-nosed and demanding. But kudos to me, you can all read, write and think relatively well.

#6 I listened to other people’s opinions too much and played the great “how-do-my-kids-stack-up-against-yours-academically-physically-spiritually” game, instead of looking at each of you as unique individuals, gifts perfectly designed to be raised by me (and your dad). (By the way, we came in at 44,786th place. Not bad.)

And lastly, #7 For too long I was afraid, very afraid that I would mess up and you’d turn out horrible, so I tried to create a bubble world I thought would protect you. Then the bubble burst and guess what? It’s okay because I am outside the bubble with you and more than that, so is God.

There’s that. Now on to part two: the declarations.

#1 I love you- NO MATTER WHAT! My mama heart is yours through the tears and rages of young adulthood, through the bad and good decisions you make, through the experimentation years and ignoring me years and the years of trying to figure out just who the heck you are.

#2 I admire you in innumerable ways and I need to get better at reminding you of that everyday: your courage, your intelligence, your creativity, your strength, your determination, your tenacity, your sensitivity, your humor, your beauty, to name a few.

#3 I will give you a good verbal whoop up every now and then because if mom can’t get in your face time to time, you need to toughen up.

#4 I will continue to annoy you, no I will in fact seek to annoy you at times, just to make sure you know who is boss and not take life too seriously.

#5 I will keep telling you to swim against the tide, to be yourself, to go after something if you want it, to not follow the crowd in doing wrong, to get a grip, to do unto others as you’d want done to you, to go to college, to look for beauty everyday and you’ll find it, to remember that God is writing your story, etc.

#6 I will keep listening- always- about your hurts and hopes, about your crazy and brilliant ideas, about your loves and lost loves, about your fears and struggles (Even if it’s the middle of the night.)

#7 I will always make the best chocolate chip cookies. You can count on that.

#8 I will always pray for you.

Happy Mother’s Day 2016

Life is Like an Unfinished Painting

I used to dabble in art, but if I was being honest, I probably got less than 5% of any artistic genetics (okay maybe more like 2%).

Yesterday, my son went to one of those “learn to paint in an afternoon” places. His entire class painted the same scene (Does this seem healthy for an 8th grader’s self-esteem?) and let me tell you, the results were stunning- in good and bad ways. Clearly, art is one of those things – you either “have it” or you don’t.

Seeing this masterpiece my son painted reminded me that I have not done a “Life is like…” post in awhile. So, you guessed it: Life is like an unfinished painting. Unfinished because we never to get see the end result so to speak.

I do know just a tad about painting. You have brushes, oil paints, an easel, a smock (what a weird word), oh and a canvas- a pristine, vibrant white canvas. That is how we start out in this world.

Then little by little color is added, shapes appear. Different brushes are used to create smaller or larger swaths of color. The brushstrokes begin to fade and the beginnings of a picture emerge.

Sometimes the mood is foreboding, the dusky shadows are added- black, grey or brown, then softer hues add a splash of highlight- a brilliance that wasn’t present before comes alive.

Each person we interact with paints using their own technique upon our canvas, some for beauty, (hopefully most), and some for distastefulness.

The choices we make and roads we amble down add a depth and texture, like when the thickness of the paint comes off the canvas in dimensions.

God paints whether you think He does or not. As divine creator He has a picture planned from eternity past- and His brushstrokes are transcendent but not always good, seemingly. He sees the finished work unlike anyone else does.

With time, the picture looks like something. Layer upon layer the colors mingle and definitive lines resemble what it was meant to be. Everyone a distinct picture. No two alike.

In different lighting, it can take on a new perspective, as does the distance one stands from the canvas.

And it goes on like that until, the very last inhale and exhale of life. Then our canvas is filled and only those who live on after us see the final product.

Let us strive for a masterpiece, a legacy for those who gaze upon it, a picture worth admiration and emulation.

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.

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)

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.