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.”

My broken snow globe holidays

In a matter of days they will arrive. You know, the cards with families full of mirthful expressions, the letters telling of orgasmic feats, exotic vacations, university degrees and oh-so-amazingly talented children.

Then there others that would like to send a card but can’t. They just buried a loved one and are clawing their way through grief, one torturous moment at a time. There’s the once happy family that was splintered when their rebellious child left everyone in the lurch with their choices. Then, there is the jobless family who could not fathom the frivolity of a holiday card, as they look at their dwindled bank account in worry.

Oh, it’s not like each of these can’t somehow muster a few “things I’m thankful for” to rattle off when asked. Rather, the crushing weight of current circumstances has shattered the idyllic holiday snow globe scene: shards of hopeful expectations or family traditions, broken, unable to be recaptured.

It’s that time of year, where all the things we might know about friends and family (but can blissfully ignore every other month), are lovingly and without malice, foisted right in our faces. These messages arrive in glitzy envelopes, picture cards that are downright movie set quality and letters listing feats of epic proportions. They come to us innocently. But the emotions they evoke are quite the opposite of the beauty they display.

Don’t tell me I’m just envious because that is not it. Don’t tell me to “rejoice with those who rejoice” or don’t rebuke me with some trite saying like “hey, you’re not dead yet.”

This isn’t self-pity or envy. This isn’t a sad miserable soul trying to garner attention and a tiny violin serenade. This is me admitting my globe broke and it hurts like a mother.

Let me hold the base of my broken snow globe and weep. Allow me to look longingly at the scene that will never be again. Help me by gently picking up the slivers of glass alongside me. Don’t offer to go buy another one. That would never make me feel better anyways. Just let the hollowness be. *

*Maybe you know a person like this. What can be done?

Invite me for a coffee. Wrap me in a warm hug. Drop a non-glitzy card in the mail just to say, “I’m thinking of you.” Be mindful of your message when you send out that card or letter. Most of all, don’t forget that not all of us will have a happy holidays this year (even if we might really like to). It may be your broken globe year one day.

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Lace up

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

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

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

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

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

This is life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ode to Depression

Lately, I’ve heard of so many women who are plagued with anxiety and depression.

I get it. I spent the better part of my adult life, being under the influence of that great, unshakeable, black cloud. I also had a fair share of hit you out of nowhere, heart-racing, palms-sweating anxiety.

Perhaps it is our curse or society’s creation of the noteworthy female- the perfect woman- super woman- who deals with her monthly roller coaster ride of hormones with finesse, who balances the growing and variegated demands of modern life with a perennially cool head, who gives and nurtures, asking nothing in return, who tends to her outward appearance with poise, who accomplishes lots and lots of stuff.

Whatever the cause, when this sadness or panic overtakes us, we feel helpless, possessed by it, even. Some of us hide it. Some of us self-medicate. Some of us try and struggle and fight against it- to seemingly little avail.

This ode is for all the women who understand the battle; all who wish it might be different and don’t give themselves permission to get rid of this demon on their back. And for those of you that don’t deal with either of these things- read this. You need to understand and have sympathy.

To hell with you, depression!

You can sink right back

Into the deep, dark hole that you are.

 

Heavy, my chest rises and falls

Like an incredible weight pressing down

That makes each intake a struggle.

 

I hate you, depression!

You steal days away from me

Like a languishing, wasting disease.

 

Slippery, I grasp to hold on to something,

Anything to climb up from the bottom

Of this dank, slimy pit.

 

Leave me alone, depression!

You hang over the top of me

Like a dark cloud that shrouds the sunlight.

 

Gripping, your tendrils have wrapped themselves

Around my legs and arms

Keeping me prisoner from movement.

 

You don’t own me, depression!

You try to trick me into believing

That I’ll never get through life without you.

 

Menacing, your influence lurks,

Like an invisible evil spirit

Whose black soul sucks the life from me.

 

I take my life back, depression!

Because I can and I will

Because I want to live free

Because there is more to life than this

Because a smile looks better than a frown

Because this is a fight I can win

Because bondage becomes no one

Because I am worth something

Because my strength outdoes yours

 

Because YOU DON’T DEFINE ME.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tempest Quieted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Ashes

I’m sitting in the ashes.

The grey char has dirtied my clothing and skin but I don’t care. I am content to be here. It’s my season.

We often fear the ashes. They feel unclean and our society balks against dirtiness. They leave indelible stains and we are all about removing those. Their particles permeate the air and our lungs must have only pure oxygen.

Now I sit, sometimes in silence, but only silence on the outside. Inside, there are scenes playing in rapid fire succession. Poignant moments. Warmth of embraces. Snippets of conversations. Compliments. Rebukes. Twinkling eyes. Silly jokes. Dinners, coffees, donuts. Hundreds of thousands of moments. Sweet but aching all at once.

Sometimes the ash is mingled with tears- copious amounts of them; tears of anger mixed with expletives like f**k cancer and “why don’t I have parents” questions. Then drops of anguish or fear come splashing out, fear of my own mortality (will I get cancer too?) and anguish- the crushing kind where your chest feels heavy from a broken heart.

I get up and walk away from the ashes because I have to. Life goes on around me- homework, work, bills, dinners, grocery shopping. Then I go back, not because I have to, but because I want to. It’s my season and it will soon be a distant memory, not forgotten, just moved past.

I am not afraid here. These ashes are a reminder- a sobering one- that life is like a mist but there is an eternity that awaits us; that a life lost is not a life forgotten. As the soot cannot be easily removed from anything it touches, so grief stains our entire being in a somber grey. But I will rise from the ashes a better person.

In the Valley of the Shadow of Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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.”

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.

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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.

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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.