Breathless

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The picture became clearer and so did my faith.

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

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

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

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

I Don’t Want No Stinking Band Aid ®

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

Yield

I live surrounded by acres and acres of vineyards. Each year, I watch with great interest as the workers go out among the barren vines, braving the February chill. At first, this seemed odd- there was clearly nothing growing and it was still freezing at night.

Yet, each season without fail, a month or so after this pruning, I began to notice the tender shoots of green, then more and more until an explosion of verdant leaves filled the once bare cables and posts. It dawned on me that the preparation pruning was crucial to ensure the optimal growth of the grapes and in turn, yield the results the farmers’ long for- perfect grapes for a wine that delights the taste buds.

This brought a vivid word picture to mind: We are pruned each day and year for greater productivity and here’s the best part- the One holding the shears is The Master Gardener.

Now, don’t get me wrong: it is downright painful and I’m not advocating a love of affliction here. In fact, it is safe to say that for the better part of my life, I have held a tightly clenched fist so to speak. I have muttered scathingly under my breath, “Why, God?” or “Not this, God, please!” I balked badly at the shears and would pine away for the lost branches, even though they were clearly brown and dry.

Yet, these past few years a striking pattern has emerged- upon reflection, I see a purpose in the pruning- a grand design like nothing a mere landscaper could imagine. Sometimes, I have seen what I thought were even healthy branches tweezed off. This I know is no mistake.

You see, I trust a good God, a gentle God, a kind God, a loving God, a knowing God. He has the plan of my life exquisitely laid out before him. I am ignorant of it though so when I feel the shears snip, trim, lop off or tie up a branch, I chaff against it sometimes. But I am learning- learning to trust and lean and surrender, fully, humbly, peaceably, into the arms of a Savior who trims me faithfully and lovingly.

His master plan will make something beautiful, productive and flourishing, if only I yield to the shears.

one sure thing- an allegory

The water keeps coming. Waves drench me in succession. Over the sides of my small craft, they forcefully enter, unwanted. I am not sinking, although it feels eminent.

The storm has reduced visibility to next to nothing. Heavy fog has reached its tendrils into every space previously bathed in scintillating sun rays.

Frigid drops pluck away at my skin and head. My once dry layers of clothing are now drenched. The rain comes in sheets, then lightens, but the stinging never quits.

There is a driving wind. When a forceful gust comes, it envelops my already soggy clothes. Where they cling to me, I experience sharp dagger-like pains over every inch of me.

Then there is the surging; the continual up and down motion of the storm induced current. It is sickening. I am sure I’ll vomit. I want to in fact.

My thinking is muddled and fuzzy. Everything that seemed certain and unchangeable escaped me when this storm began. I am enveloped: mentally, physically, emotionally. My knowledge of sailing seems lost. Nothing makes sense; all the instruments that once made direction certain- my compass, maps and charts- are useless now.

These waters are uncharted.

There is one thing– one single surety in this deluge. I have an anchor holding my craft. Down in the murkiness, beneath the fog, it holds fast off the bow. Although I can’t see it or feel it, I still know it is there. One thing.

It feels like sanity right now. As I lapse in and out of utter despair, the anchor is hope– hope that I won’t be totally destroyed or blown off course, lost at sea forever.

There is nothing to do now but wait. Nightfall has made what already was difficult to see, impossible. The inky black steals into every inch of scenery.

I curl up in fetal position. It is my attempt to stave off the cold and shield my body from the driving elements. Suddenly a familiar tune, very faint, comes straining into the haze of my mind. The words finally come too.

When darkness veils His lovely face,

I rest on His unchanging grace;

In every high and stormy gale

My anchor holds within the veil.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;

All other ground is sinking sand.

 

Soaked, chilled, deliriously worn and trepidatious, I am strangely calmed by this song. It assures me to hope in what I know, despite my current state. It reminds me that something (or rather Someone) greater than myself holds me. The storm will dissipate and the sun will shine once more.

anchornew

why?

You know how toddlers cutely, inquisitively and annoyingly ask, “Why?” one hundred fifty times everyday? Yeah. Well, sometimes my inner toddler just won’t quit. It queries all day long like a song on repeat.

Fortunately for you, dear readers, these questions have a bit more depth than a 3 year-old but can be equally perplexing (if not even unanswerable).

Here’s what’s been bobbling around my head (and this is just today)! {Do you ever wonder these things? Or am I the only one with this intense toddler like curiosity?}

– Why is it that when a celebrity succumbs to reckless or naughty behavior, we fiendishly mock, ridicule and scoff at their downfall? Stupid people do stupid arrest worthy things everyday. Shame on us for delighting in it. It shows what man worshippers we can be.

– Why do those over shared “you’re gonna bawl your eyes out”, “watch this with a box of tissues”, “I dare you to get through this without crying” videos NEVER even make me tear up? Am I some cold hearted, non-emotional creature that feels no connection to cute babies, animals or sappy love stories? My heart strings are not easily tugged apparently.

– Why do some of my friends continue to have Mount Everest amounts of crap happening in their lives right now? Again and again. Over and over, dealing with pain, suffering, sadness, disappointment. I wish I could take a Mount McKinley sized piece of it from them. Lighten their load. Make them breathe easier. Find an easy cure or magical potion to make it all better.

– Why do things really break in triplicate? Or why do car repair places always find additional repairs to recommend while fixing the original issue- as if the costs were not already making you bleed out?

– Why are teenagers walking oxymorons whose ideas wax and wane more than the phases of the moon; whose emotions yin and yang more than all the 80’s surf shirts still in existence? And WHY oh why do do they eat so strangely, have such filthy mouths and sleep either like a hibernating bear or like an always prowling cat?

– Why are some days just ethereal in nature and I find myself subconsciously saying: La Vita y Bella, smiling at the silliness of my children’s antics, fondly recalling the dashing bravery of my husband to go out and face the world for us everyday? When, why on other days (and for no apparent reason at’all), I feel a dark force hanging like a rain cloud around me, weighing down the very core of my being and making me mope around like Eeyore?

– Why do people seem to weave in and out of my life for different seasons? Or why does it seem so hard to make lasting friendships at this age, when as a kid, you could make a best friend in 5 minutes?

What bobbles around your head? Do tell.

The Great Masquerade

I am already hot. Sweat beads into the fabric around my armpits and torso. My legs already feel wobbly from these stupid high heals I have on. Something is poking around in my perfectly coiffed hair- a bobby pin must have lost its end. Darn it. My intricate mask, adorned with peacock feathers, is itchy and distracting, making it a bit hard to see. 

I’ve turned a few heads with my entrance and I know that I look good. The dress I chose is heavy and rich, a deep purple with just the right amount of beading detail, and a splash of sex appeal.

On the outside I am picture perfect, ready for the masquerade ball to commence- a bit of a show stopper if I do say so myself.  On the inside though, I am rather unsteady- a mixed up girl with nothing but a shallow outward confidence and a pretty made up face.

Tonight, I am incognito. Veiled behind my mask and concealed under my dazzling dress, I can be who I want to be- and no one will know the difference.

This is who we are- all of us sometimes. We hide behind a mask, our dressed-to-impress clothes or our ability to fake it till we make it, while deep down we are a mess.  {Read this to understand what I mean by the word mess.}

Why? Why do we feel this need to masquerade as beautiful, have-it-all-together people? Are we afraid of letting the world (and in particular the church) see us for who we are- especially THE CHURCH? It is a CRYING SHAME!

The other day, my sweet friend, who is dealing with daily, debilitating panic attacks (amongst other things) said to me, “Everyone wants the answer, ‘I’m fine’ when they ask how you are doing. It’s like the Christian F word!”

It seems that genuine, care and concern are a kind of taboo. Maybe we go to church for more of a fashion show, no?!  I have witnessed the procession my whole life-  snazzy collared shirts, slacks, fancy-schmancy dresses, sling back heals, fine jewelry- and this is just the attire. Plastered on smiles are acceptable too.

Are we so busy with our production of church or reaching out to lost souls (which is obviously important), that we are missing the hollow, grief-laden folks right there, sitting in the chair or pew next to us? Or maybe we have become so adept at the cover-up we have fooled even ourselves? Do you want to give someone a “Jesus band-aid” and be done?

Maybe it is time to strip away the finery, take off the ornate mask and see the real YOU, ME, THEM, US. Maybe it is time to quit shunning the rebels in the youth group who are walking away from truth. Maybe it’s time to cry with a woman you know says her marriage is crumbling to pieces or she actually thought about suicide.

The ability to masquerade AND the propensity towards turning a blind eye or deaf ear to the hurting- I have participated in both- for shame. BUT I am desperately trying to change that.

Here is a beautiful story that illustrates what God thinks of the messy people (illustrated perfectly as Shepherd and sheep):

 The Lord and King says, “I myself will search for my sheep. I will look after them. A shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them. And I will look after my sheep. I will save them from all of the places where they were scattered on a dark and cloudy day.

 “I will bring them out from among the nations. I will gather them together from other countries. I will bring them into their own land. They will eat grass on the mountains of Israel. I will also let them eat in the valleys and in all of the places in the land where people live.  I will take care of them in the best grasslands. They will eat grass on the high mountains of Israel. There they will lie down in the finest grasslands. They will eat grass in the best places on Israel’s mountains.

“I myself will take care of my sheep. I will let them lie down in safety,” announces the Lord and King.  “I will search for the lost. I will bring back those that have wandered away. I will bandage the ones that are hurt. I will make the weak ones stronger. But I will destroy those that are fat and strong. I will take good care of my sheep. I will treat them fairly.”

Jesus resonates this when He, in Luke 15, tells the story of the lost sheep. The outwardly masqueraded Pharisees and teachers of the law are miffed because Jesus EATS WITH SINNERS AND WELCOMES THEM! Gasp! Then Jesus, in truly perfect God-Man fashion sets them straight with a series of  “lost and found” stories (including the one about the prodigal son).

So I say: let’s take off our masks, be willing to bend down and help someone pick up the pieces of their broken life, not afraid to get messy.

chic-black-silver-gold-mask

Prose For a Prodigal

Every once in a while, writing is just not enough and I have to turn to poetry to express what’s on my heart. Here is something I wrote this morning as therapy for my aching soul over a child that has turned to his own way. My prayer is that if you know someone whose heart might be touched by it, you would share it with them. May God be glorified in my pain!

I look across the room,
Your eyes stare back at me.
They are the very same ones,
That were born wild and free.

Eyes wide open,
Ready to explore,
Eager to learn
And find out what’s in store.

Those same eyes,
Used to build and race cars,
Started reading and learning,
Reaching for the stars.

Then came the days,
Of timidity and fright,
“What’s real or fake?”
“What’s wrong or right?”

We showed those eyes,
The words of the Bible,
Reading and teaching,
Until the age you are liable.

Those same eyes,
Our faith did observe,
Faulty and weak at times,
But by grace preserved.

We’ve warned those eyes,
To watch with care,
For the Enemies lies,
Can trick us unaware.

Then those eyes,
Turned and subverted,
The truth traded,
The wisdom perverted.

As I look at those eyes,
My, how they’ve changed.
My heart feels broken,
Your priorities rearranged.

But God sees your eyes,
They are known by Him,
All your ways and sins,
Even those hidden deep within.

He loves those eyes,
And wants them to look,
To the grace and salvation,
Why His Son’s life he took.

So turn your eyes heavenward, son,
There true life begins,
Until then I will pray,
That your soul Jesus wins.

unraveling…

unraveling….

Like a loosely woven skein of yarn, some days I come undone.

It can be nothing in particular sometime. I just wake up feeling as if little devilish imps are tugging yards out of me. (Do they come in the night to torment me all day?)

Or some days, it is the rebellious taunt made by my son that he is moving out at 12:01 the day of his 18th birthday- a fresh twist of the proverbial rebel’s knife and my emotions well up, uncontrollably.

Even other days, it is the thought that I have NO IDEA WHAT THE FUTRUE HOLDS FOR OUR FAMILY. Will we move again for the 11th time in 20 years? (Long story for another post, I promise). The gypsy lifestyle runs so CONTRA to my personal bents. Yet, it would seem to be God’s comical way of keeping me supple, humble, detached from the material “stuff” of life and even people if you will.

I sometimes think, “OK, God, am I REALLY that hard headed, that you need to keep driving the SAME lessons home to me?”

~ Here’s a “need to know” about me: I used to cry almost daily. I have also struggled majorly with depression in the past (yes, another post about this one too). But, as I have been worked like taffy in a “puller”, God has seen fit to stabilize my emotional roller coaster a bit. For that, I am truly humbled and thankful every day.~

Despite this, the unraveling is SO unpleasant. And it’s not like I sit by idly watching it happen! I fight it. I pray. I dig in mentally and remember the words of God that He does not give me more than I am able to bear or that He never leaves me or forsakes me. I cast my cares on Him and wait. And some days honestly, I feel nothing. Is this all a big joke? Doesn’t He (or anyone for that matter) see what’s happening to me?

Maybe it is God Himself wrenching out pieces of me – a purposeful discomfort, a test of my control freakish nature- to make me into someone different, better??

I am conflicted. For if my beautiful yarn were being woven into a lovely shawl or intricate blanket, I would feel satisfied, happy even. But I DO NOT see the string’s end! All I feel is the tug. I don’t comprehend the purpose!

This is the essence of my faith-  “Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is being certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

However it is being yanked from me, I conclude that all I can do is trust the elusive picture I cannot see. If I balk and try to tuck it’s length back in, I will fail. You know you can never wind the yarn back the way it was. If I let it go, even allow the extraction to happen, I have to rest in God’s providential work, however painful the process.

He is the skilled weaver and can make the gnarled, knotted, yards of string into something beautiful in His time.

unraveling for a purpose…

May (in a nutshell)

This month has been a strange mixture of very good and very bad.

First, the very good:

My Love and I celebrated 20 years of marriage- a feat in this modern day world- a world that tries to make marriage look a like fairy tale, but when the magic wears off, the spouses move on to the next chapter in the story.

Our celebration was comprised of a few lovely dinners, a two-day get away sans kids and a bouquet of red roses and white carnations. We were able to spend many moments reflecting on our lives together- the not-so-pretty days, the precious, beautiful days, as well as our future together. I was humbled and awed remembering all that God has brought us through. Looking forward to 20 more years walking hand in hand with my best friend by my side.

But as you know: Life can change in a moment.

{Think of all the people whose lives have forever been altered just this week by the horrendous tornados. They had only 15 minutes warning. That’s it.}

I had no warning for my bad news.

It was dropped on me like a bomb: one of my children had been deceiving me for months. It was like the world stood still and in a few moments, scenes from this child’s life flashed before me like clips from a movie. Stunned. Incredulous. Hurt. Angry. All the emotions washed over me in a nano-second.

It’s pretty much been a living hell- not going to lie.

So as we have been sifting through, the garbage heap left behind the lies, I have experienced what I consider an astounding amount of self-realization. Maybe, just maybe if I share, you will be able to relate. (Or maybe this is just a cheap form of therapy for me J)

 – I have spent too many years self-deluded about parenting- seeing it as some sort of chess game, where I am the player, moving the pawns (aka- my children) exactly where I wanted and they’ve stayed. Now all of a sudden, they are able to move themselves, taking initiative, make decisions independent of me. I don’t like it. Not one bit. Sad to say, I have reacted like that poor sport, the one who, in a fit of rage, takes the board and topples it over, upsetting the entire game.

– My brain turns to mush when I am under great duress. I have truly had scary moments when I felt that I had been struck with an early onset of dementia. I have forgotten more than I’ve remembered these past few weeks. Quite disturbing actually.

– I am and always will be a hopeless mess without Jesus to hang on to.  I am messy enough WITH Him.  He is my SALVATION- rescuing me not only from myself, but also from the wrath that I deserve when I let my messy, sinfulness take over. He is my ROCK- when the ground all around me turns to quicksand, waiting to devour me heart and soul. He is my FORTRESS- my protection against the enemy’s wily schemes to destroy the very faith that makes me who I am. So, so incredibly thankful for this one unmovable, constant relationship!

– I have a few great friends in my life who love me enough to suspend judgment, give me a listening ear, pray for me, bear the struggles with me and point me to hope.  I have been blessed beyond measure in this area.

Although I am not at the end of the difficulty, I am confident in the future because I am sure of this: I am loved and cared for by God Himself. Psalm 17:8 “Take good care of me, just as you would your own eyes. Hide me in the shadow of your wings.”