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.”

Cheap Optimism

Last week, I heard a message about the hope of Christmas and how we look both forward and back to fully grasp it.

During that message, two words resounded and I have mulled them over all week:

cheap optimism

The truth is, I have, over a number of years changed from a self-proclaimed pessimist to an optimist. The reasons are varied and how I accomplished this is too much to discuss here. The simple fact is: I see beauty, potential, and grace in people or situations that were before only dismal, twisted and hopeless.

Still, something about the words “cheap” and “optimism” together stuck me because this is a concept that totally consumes our culture. We want cheap thrills, quick fixes, casual sex, instant gratification, likes and loves on social media, or hope in the form of some political, athletic or celebrity savior. In short, we want a watered down version of lasting optimism. We want hope that just might get us through the next 24 hours but not much beyond. We want the promise of sunny future without any present cost.

These words seem a juxtaposition since cheap connotes negative while optimism brims with positivity. Yet together, they convey a strong message: hope without longevity and a solid infrastructure will fade.

Optimism is possible. No, not even just possible; it is tangibly within each person’s grasp. Because at it’s core it begins with hoping in someone- a being so transcending time and space, so divine and yet strangely human, so outside the temporary, cheap thrills that tantalize- the person of Christmas, Jesus himself.

This optimism won’t dissolve like a vapor. It won’t disappoint like an ill-conceived gift. It won’t wear out like twenty something beauty or fade like yesterdays on trend fashion.

This optimism carries us till the end- in the darkest of seasons and the loveliest of times, in the ups and downs and in and outs of life. We can remain truly hopeful because this is no cheap optimism. It came at the cost of a human life, sacrificed some 2,000 years ago for us.

This is my foundational truth that allows me to see beauty in the broken, feel hope for tomorrow and see light, joy and potential in my dark, lurking doubts.

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.

Just your average tableware

I really want to be fine china- the kind you have to put on a bridal registry and wealthy relatives can only afford a couple place settings or the kind you have to hand wash because of the exquisite gold rim.

Instead, I’m pretty certain I’ll be your average, every day tableware. Dishwasher and microwave safe too.

To find out how this terrible mistake happened, let’s rewind a bit.

The wheel spun in front of me with a low murmur. Having mastered (or so I thought), just the right amount of pressure, the clay inched slowly up the wheel. Too much pressure and a hole would have punctured, too little and the clay would slump down in unattractive blobs. Patience and precision brought the smooth glistening texture and shape I was hoping for. Something extraordinary and valuable was being fashioned, to my great satisfaction.

Or so I thought.

I can’t say exactly when or how, but my wheel came to a screeching halt. Who was I fooling? It wasn’t me sitting there to begin with.

I WAS the lump of cold, malleable clay- moist and earthy.

There was someone at the wheel though. Not just any old potter, but a Master- one so skilled, that no piece He crafts has ever been discarded. With hands of perfect precision, He applies pressure, molding the clay into shape.

Depending on the day, the design changes. There are days when the wheel’s friction causes an uncomfortable heat. Sometimes it’s a slow, steady spin. No matter what, the Master never leaves. Ever. His presence is constant. His touch is purposeful. His plan for the finished product? Common tableware.

And me? That ugly lump of clay? I acquiesce to being worked on, always trying to stay formable and susceptible to the Master’s touch. Some days though I am, honestly pretty sick of it. Can he just hurry up and be done already?

Until completion, I strive to rest and trust for however long this process endures. This is no easy task for a control freak like me. But I can say with confidence: fine china is not happening.

pottery *Image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/26167782@N06/7959118388

 

 

 

 

When Fire Marries Gasoline*

This marriage should have caution tape around it.

Yeah. It’s sometimes a bit hazardous over here at my house.

What if I told you there were a few times in 23 years I drove off in my car and plotted leaving but just couldn’t find the nerve?

Marriage isn’t a subject that I often write about. Not because I don’t know stuff. It just feels weird because marriage (lived out) is about as variegated as the number of plant species in the world over- far too many ways and means and methods for any type of rubber stamp approach. Let’s face it, whether you’ve been married 2 months or 4 decades, it remains a bit of a mystery how 2 individuals unite as one unit and (mostly) cohesively live life together.

Now add into the mix two driven, high strung, high energy, “perfectionistas” and crap- it gets kinda messy at moments.

Some days I find it nothing short of a miracle that we’ve made it this far intact (and IT IS a miracle of God’s grace and mercy).

Picture this- a nice intense crackling fire. Close by sits a red can full of gasoline, almost near enough to combust at any moment. That’s us- fire and gasoline.

“You cannot settle something without fighting about it.” That is what I said when we were first married. I’m fairly certain he thought, “Oh no, what have I gotten myself into?!”

And so, for the first portion of our marriage we did a fair share of that. Equally head strong and heart strong with a splash of misconstrued marital bliss and a dash of young naivety.

Then somewhere half way in, I changed God changed me in some pretty huge ways. It was slow and excruciatingly painful. Yet it morphed all of me, including the wife part.

So there I was, far from where we had begun, in new uncharted territory, getting a kind of “relationship do-over”. It felt exhilarating and frightening all at once.

Without any pretense or know-it-all-ness, I can tell you it is possible to live within combustion range. What is equally crucial are both separate time and together time; time to pursue things we love and time to pursue our love.

To differ vehemently also takes the bigness to embrace the differences; “fight” hard and fight to preserve the treasure you’ve been given. Prize clear, honest communication above all else.

I got married for life. When I signed my name on that certificate, I really signed my name before God to do everything I (rather mechanically) said in those vows.

And I’ve learned that as complex and challenging as it is to live near combustion, fire and gasoline are equally beneficial to each other. Uniting one substance to the other creates a better, hotter, sustainable fire.

That’s us- better together, even with an occasional need for caution tape.

*This title was inspired by the Sia song, “Fire Meet Gasoline”.

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.

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)

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.

30 Days Without

 

sugarspoon-5ee1d9cf2615c976d34480051e0cba6762f7cf81-s6-c30I did IT! I really did not believe I could, but I did AND I LIVED to tell about it :).

For a variety of health related issues, I decided to do something radical (for me):

Cut out all forms of sugar- yes, even honey, agave, stevia, et al. Cut out all white things- rice, flour (wheat and white). Cut out all dairy- my beloved cheese and even butter. Cut out all alcohol- yes, I live in NAPA after all.

Here are my take aways from 30 Days Without:

~ Week One… was pure torture- genuine bona fide food withdrawal hell. I went sulking around, feeling sorry for myself, questioning why on earth I would decide to do such an absurd thing!! I wasn’t trying to get in touch with my Neanderthal relatives by eating paleo (as if I could even do that- I choke most meat down as it is). I drug myself around with zero energy and a hungry tummy. My family shook their heads at me. Opening the pantry, I’m pretty sure the chocolate chips would whisper my name sometimes.

~ The second week was better. I went to Peet’s Coffee and ordered an almond milk latte’ and it was delicious. (NO, I refused to give up my beloved cup of coffee.) I began to notice how sweet ordinary things tasted- lettuce, peas, carrots. I felt less deprived, but still craved a piece of bread- just one little whole grain piece with just a wee bit of butter perhaps. SIGH… I finally figured out how to feed myself alternatives and I cannot tell you how copious my almond and cashew intake was. Raw almond butter was my everyday rave.

~ Week three- I kind of hate to say it out loud, but I felt good and pretty darn proud of myself (although you can’t know how many times I wanted to just grab a spoon, pour some honey in it, and savor the pure ecstasy). The big test came- baking chocolate chip cookies for my dad, who had come for a visit. I solemnly do swear that I did not have a granule of the dough or cookies. (I might have snuck a lick from the spatula of the peanut butter pie I made though- SHHHH.)

~ At the beginning of the fourth week, I finally discovered there are alternatives for “baking”. After a run to Trader Joes for coconut flour and flaxseed meal, I whipped up my own banana bars, using NO sugar. Although the texture was not a satisfying buttery baked goodie, the taste was surprisingly sweet. Even my oldest son partook and thought it was decent. This week found me resolved and steadfast- and UBER SICK OF SALADS WITH VEGAN DRESSING. Ok, but truth be told, I was not missing the cheese, or wine or butter any longer.

I was an addict going through a sort of detox. After the initial feeling like I might die, and the looking longingly into the bag of chocolate chips, I dug in mentally (See, stubbornness IS good for something!)

Then, the 30 days was over and I ate my first chocolate chip cookie. I wasn’t that impressed. In fact, I kind of thought, “What’s the big deal?”

And I thought of a parable for life: We often think we want something. Maybe do this one thing or get this other thing because we think we deserve it or it makes our lives better. It turns out to be not that great after all. It takes our focus away from something much, much better.

Do I intend to eat this way forever? Heck, no. But I learned a thing or two about will power and the bewitching affect something like sugar can have in the mind and body.

I’m actually looking forward to baking up some healthy vegan muffins AND sinking my teeth into a decadent chocolate brownie topped with sea salted caramel from time to time!

At 40

It’s no secret and I‘m not ashamed to say it- I turned 40 this year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m feeling it some days, mentally and physically. Every once in a while, I catch a look at my reflection and think, “Ay Carumba, I’m getting the gizzard neck!” Time for more Oil of Olay Night Firming Cream (as if that does anything for the inevitable) or sometimes I might just be an itty, bitty tad forgetful.

But I am not writing to play a sad song on my pity violin about the woes of aging. Instead, am celebrating 40! I mean isn’t it cool, the catch phrase we can now assuage ourselves with at the turn of each new decade: 40 is the new 30, 60 is the new 50 et al.? It makes no sense but it sure makes us feel better!

So, six months into this phase called “MIDDLE AGE”, I think I’ve learned a thing or two. While I know I have yet to arrive at some upper echelon of enlightenment, I do think that a few lights have come on (even if they are just night light bulb sized). So, at 40:

  • I wear what I want, what makes me feel comfortable, what I think looks good. High heels are hellish and I refuse to wear them. If someone thinks I dress “too young”, too bad. I still want a pair of Converse in every color and sometimes, I even wear my daughter’s clothes. It’s not like I am going around in a crop top for the entire world to see my lovely stretch marks that crept up my sides when I was pregnant.
  •  My friendships are deliberate and meaningful, deep and loyal. Life is short, so why waste time on some, whiny, over dramatic, manipulative woman that adds nothing to my life but another pain in the A? I love the fact that I have a variety of friends in all age groups, walks of life and religious persuasions. I’m done with overly zealous, backbiting gossips, quick to judge people.
  • Parenting is the most DIFFICULT job in the world. I went into it blindly and naively, depending on the opinions of others instead of God and my own good common sense. I was dead wrong about a lot of things, right about a few and still down on my face in prayer about most things. Every stage and phase brings a new set of challenges. This I am sure of- your parenting won’t look like mine and vice versa. If your kids turn out A-OK, PLEASE do not break your arm patting yourself on the back or smear it in my face. Likewise, if they turn out “different than expected”, don’t razor strap yourself with a burden of guilt. These are people with a will of their own, not a piece of Jell-O that I mold just how I want and they stay like that for life.
  • Marriage is a strange beast. I went into it with a textbook mentality and I am here to say- THROW THE TEXTBOOK TO THE WALL! (No, I do not literally think marriage books are not helpful.) My marriage has taken twists and turns that were wholly unexpected. Nothing could have prepared me or warned me of the issues we would have to duke out. Yet, my marriage is, this side of heaven, the pinnacle of delight in my life. At the risk of sounding cliché, I do consider my husband, my best friend and confidante. Yet, I speak my mind to him as he does to me and sometimes this does not bode well. Such is life. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
  •  I am unapologetic about my faith. It is the sum total of why I do what I do, how, when and where. I do not bow to the whims and fancies of man’s theological ideals. I do not ascribe to mere rules taught by other Christians. I think for myself with an abiding sense of awe for God’s word, holding to this as my highest authority; not because I am a weak-minded zealot but because I am convinced that if not for God being LORD of me, I would be dead or at very least in a shambley mess of a life (messier than the one I’m in).

At 40, there are a good many things I’ve learned, a good many things I hope to learn and a constant sense of keeping my fingers on my own pulse. I’m smarter than I was in my 20’s and more confidant than I was in my 30’s.

I’m not dead yet. In fact, I’m feeling rather invigorated, happy and ready to fight the next monster that comes around the corner called inevitable.