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.

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.

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.

 

Mantras to Live By

I grew up in a house of idioms. No, not IDIOTS! Idioms- catchy, sometimes pithy sayings meant to convey life application, but sometimes equally as baffling, crass and just plain ol’ unhelpful.

You see, I’m not quite sure if was a generational thing or a cultural thing (or perhaps my parents just had a way with words), but they were adept at throwing an idiom at any situation. It is said that there are 25,000 such expressions in the English language. I easily heard at least 5,000 growing up.

So maybe this scarred me. I can only retain short one-liners because frankly, I spent much longer than I should have trying to decipher what these words ACTUALLY meant. Or maybe this helped me become the lover of words that I am today; these deeply, meaningful brain-twisters made me dig under the surface for meaning (which I’m pretty certain only left weird mental pictures).

At any rate, I do currently subscribe to living by mantras, not in a Buddhist meditative kind of way, but as a simple implementation tool for my mind. The truth of its strong message can hold sway over the negative thoughts that come too easily. Here’s my list of favorites:

La Vita e Bella– or Life is Beautiful (in Italian)- When I saw the 1998 movie with this name, I was struck with profound emotion. (If you have not seen the movie, do and watch it in Italian with English subtitles.) This was also the year my mom passed away, which compounded the message home to me that: each day is a gift, life is too short to be lived in the doldrums, and if I live it beautifully, I can rise above the ugly.

God is everything. I am nothing. – Now before you get your feathers ruffled, let me say that I know this is contra to what our Western culture espouses. And this is the very thing I fight against every day. After years of misguided expectations for myself and unrealistic “putting on a pedestal” of people or things, I realized that humbling myself was the very place I would find true happiness. By acknowledging that God is the pinnacle from which all else is divinely appointed in my life, I finally have rest. This does NOT mean that I sit emo-ishly in a corner with a self-abasing razor strap held to my back. It does mean that I submit myself wholly to the GREAT POWER that is God, not from a needy weakness but from a willful whole-minded humility that admits my utter ineptness to be the master of my own destiny.

Everyone has a story- none of which you know and most of which you wouldn’t understand. This mantra came on the heels of the previous one- to be humble and to recognize that humanity in general is a beautifully messy business. This means every aggressive driver that flips you the bird, every grumpy waiter or waitress, every cross cashier, every holier than thou church member, every overly hormonal know it all young adult, every cantankerous older person- they all have a story, written over decades by every person and circumstance that has been part of their cosmos. Give that person grace & mercy because you know what they say- “Humans are like snowflakes- no two are alike.” 🙂 Your story isn’t theirs.

Words mean something. – You are probably saying, “Duh” and making a face while reading this. Shame on you!  This mantra, though simple, is one I tell my children and myself over and over and over again. I have this little problem of being, oh, let’s say, slightly venomous with my words. I let my emotion bubble and foam up over the very essence of what I should have said and boy does it make a mess- (think boiled over sugar mixture on a hot stove). Our words really DO have powerful sway, they really can’t be retracted and they showcase what’s in our heart. The book of James says it best:  It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell.

These are my “basic mantras”- the simple profound truths I repeat everyday because they MEAN SOMETHING.

What mantras do you live by?

Beautiful Brokenness

Sometimes, for what seems like no apparent reason, a theme weaves itself intrinsically into my life. That has happened to me a lot over these last few weeks. Over and over again it plays like a song, with a few variable notes.

 

There is beauty in brokenness because what comes with it is: an irreplaceable sense of dependence (on God) and a complete emptying of self-reliance.

 

I have watched it unfold in my friend’s life as she deals with the pain of a daughter who has spurned the family. I have experienced it when my son makes a choice that shames us and goes against everything we have tried to teach him. I have friends whose family is being torn apart by divorce. I have seen several kids who are walking away from the faith and into a lifestyle of drug abuse or sexual exploitation.

The notes may be different, but the chorus is the same: all around me are lives bruised and battered by poor choices or grief from poor choices those we love are making.

We like things neat and tidy. We like obedient children. We like comforts and harmonious relationships. We like things and stuff and baubles. We like people who smell nice and act nice; people who are like us and people who like us.

But then, people mess up. They reject us. They give up on us. They let us down. They put us down. They get all stupid on us.

We mess up. We get in a funk. We succumb to worry, anxiety or despondency . We don’t love how we should. We get caught up in the pursuit of meaningless things.

We get broken. Sometimes we get down right shattered to pieces when problems come like falling dominos.

And, you know what? It’s alright. Truly, it is.

We are like rocks in a tumbler. Did you know that it takes between 3-5 weeks to tumble a rough, ugly rock into a lovely polished gem? It is a several step process that involves abrasion of several kinds and being cut as well. Bad things have to happen for these rocks to become a lovelier version of themselves.

So it is with us. Coming to the end of ourselves, the end of our expectations, the end of our selfishness, the end of our solutions for solving a problem, the end of hoping to make someone be something they are not, is precisely the climate that cultivates change. The abrasions, nicks and grittiness have their purpose.

The beauty comes when we can cling to nothing else except God. He is the constant that remains unchanged when we are shattered. He will mend what’s been broken.  He will transform us into something lovelier.

An old Puritan said it best:

“Adversity is the diamond dust Heaven polishes its jewels with.”- Robert Leightonweb-tumbled rock