Sunday, February 18, 2018

I Want to Die Gambling

I attended my sixth annual silent retreat last weekend.  When challenged to boil three days of silence into one word, "gambler" was the one that rose to the top for me.  28 women circled up and went around in turn, sharing our word.  I was last.  The ladies before me chose words like love, trust, Father, serenity, remember, and silence.  When I said "gambler", everyone laughed.  Until I explained...

At one point, the priest leading the retreat described God as a gambler - one who knowingly takes risks.  Giving free will for the possibility of love was risky.  God did it anyway.  Love has to be freely given to be true.  Loving first with no guarantee of being loved in return is risky.  But, we're called to do it anyway.  I want to be a gambler.  Not ignorant, or in denial of the risks involved, but fully aware and choosing to love - without reservation, anyway.

If my love isn't received or returned, I have my explanation standing ready.  "It could have gone either way.  I knew it was risky."

I recently attended a funeral for a gentleman I've gotten to know over the last several months.  His wife told me once that she was a "fool for love" after sharing some of what she had suffered in her marriage, and yet she stayed - until death do us part.  I admire her foolishness.

During the service, a family member got up to speak, "We come from a long line of slaves and sharecroppers..."

I hope my face didn't reveal the shockwaves I felt within.  I've never heard words like these directly, nor been anywhere this was true for most of the people in the room, nor been anywhere I was the only white person, and yet, there I was - Stopped cold by the hard truth and the stark differences between our stories, our skin color, and our ability to worship without restraint.  Every worship service I've attended prior to this one is pale by comparison.  (I don't know where that phrase came from, but I have a new appreciation for it, for sure.)

No matter our skin color and our earthly heritage, our spiritual heritage is identical.  We were created to love and be loved, freely and fully.  If we are slaves for love, it is because we've freely chosen it.  We've come from the Father and are returning to the Father, just like Christ.  As we were reminded on retreat, this is our foundation, and an unshakeable one.  Our identity and our security is in Who we belong to.  Can I get an Amen?!

I came from the Father and have come into the world; again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father.                                      -John 16:28

In between this coming into and leaving the world, we pray.  Sometimes more.  Sometimes less.  Sometimes, we even write these prayers down.  And more often, we forget that we've ever prayed them.  But, every once in a while, we rediscover them, and realize that our forgotten prayers have been answered, at least in part.  And we thank God.

Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
And if I should die before I wake, 
I pray a gambler of me you make.  

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Free to be Fearless

I've had a lot of incredible conversations, lately.  Conversations that skip the inanity of what the weather has done or is going to do, what's happening at work, or how the kids are doing in school.  Conversations that happen right inside the door none of us want to open.  Inside the door that fear and shame beg us to leave shut tight and locked up. 

When we are alone, the room behind this door is the coldest, darkest, and loneliest room we will ever inhabit.  It's the room where we sit with all of the lies we believe, chief amongst them being, "I'm not enough." and in some cases, "I'm too much."

These are confusing beliefs if you also believe that you are a child of God and created in His image.  "I am something other than what I should be" doesn't really seem like an idea God would build into His people.  So, did we learn it somewhere?  Where did we learn that? 

Most of us don't have to look far to find potential, probable, or unmistakable places and times these loud-mouthed, lying seeds were planted in very fertile soil.  I don't like to give the devil credit for much, but it seems he got around and didn't bother getting creative with the message.

Regardless of why or how those seeds took root and grew into patterns of thinking and ways of relating, they've become part of us.  We will often do anything in our power to keep people from discovering the truth about the lies we believe, wrestle with, or operate out of.

Since opening up about my struggle with insecurity and fear of abandonment in my marriage, I've had the comfort of hearing a lot of "me toos".  Sometimes, it looks exactly the same, sometimes different.  But, whatever the particulars are, fear and shame are at the root of it. 

Because my conversations keep circling back to the same things, because of the silent and devastating nature of the lies we believe, and because of our ever-increasing inability to get to places of honesty, vulnerability, and understanding, I want to invite you in and ask you to consider who you would like to invite in, as well.

That cold, dark, and lonely room is transformed by an open door, the light in the hall, and the presence of another. 

As a guest in my room, I want you not only to know my fears, but to know what helps me live with and conquer them, too.

I believe God created us to be FREE.  Free to choose thoughts, words, and actions.  

Free to be fearless.  

I believe that God has allowed the circumstances, which have fortified my imperfection.  My imperfection/brokenness/weakness, is no longer something for me to fix, but a springboard to the One who can fix it, if He so chooses.  I finally see my struggle as part of His Will and not something outside of it

I have noticed something about the saints.  Their prayers always boil down to the same thing.  They want to love God, love His Will, and quite often, to love suffering. 

So, I'm pretending to be a saint.  I've copied a page out of their prayer book and am praying like they prayed.  Lord, please grant me the grace to love You, Your Will, and to love suffering.  Amen.

I cannot convey how dumbfounded I am by the results. Is it really possible that three simple prayers can transform a life?  I think so... 

I say this tentatively, as I'm only about a month in practice.  I've been tried several times, but only mildly.  I cannot remember the last time I've felt so fearless and free.  If I could actually love suffering, I would no longer fear suffering, which means I could use all of the energy I spend to protect myself from suffering, to love others.  And that sounds heavenly.

For the first time in my life, I am treating my insecurity like the spiritual battle it is.  I am no longer asking for it to be removed or healed, but accept that it might be here to stay.  God's will be done. 

Any time I start down a road I don't want to be on or get stuck in a vortex of negativity, which looks like doubt, fear, suspicion, jealousy, resentfulness, worthlessness, etc... I call on Christ.  I remind myself that feelings of fear and of being bound are contrary to what God desires for me, and it is time to suit up and step forward.  I name what I'm feeling, renounce (refuse to recognize or abide by any longer), rebuke, and reject it in the name of Jesus, and cast it to the foot of the Cross, reclaiming the victory that has already been won over it.  I don't have to do anything, but claim what has already been done.   

In these moments, I see myself as a little girl wrapped around my Father's leg and clinging to it for dear life, pleading not for one more ride around the living room, but for peace and love for all that is good.  I mean, have you ever tried to shake a kid off of your leg that is determined to take one more ride?  It's like that...

And I'm okay with this.  

Running away doesn't work.  Looking back doesn't work.  Introspection doesn't work.  Ignoring it doesn't work.  And looking to your spouse certainly doesn't work.  

Looking up works.  Clinging works.  And once this sinks in...oh, man I hope this is sinking seems like maybe, just maybe, Somebody has been trying to tell me this all along.  

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.
Matthew 6:33 

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  
Matthew 11:28

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Hanging Chickens and Hope

There is a day left of 2017 and I'm thinking about hope.  Mainly, because a few days ago, a well-bundled woman approached me as I sat in my very warm car in a parking lot, finishing some last-minute mascara application.  As she walked by, I couldn't escape her searching eyes, nor overlook her hood and bulky scarf, which indicated her plans to be out much longer than I.  I wondered if she was going to circle back to my car.  And she did. 

"I have to walk a long way to get my bike and I just wondered if you had any money or change for snacks or something to eat."

While I was looking in my wallet I heard her say, "I don't know your name, but God knows."  And I was thinking to myself, "Yeah, God knows."  He also knows that I gave her most, but not all of my money.  Maybe enough for a couple of value meals.  Maybe.  And lest you think I was having a "widow's mite" moment, I wasn't.  Embarassingly,  I kept my last two dollars. 

She thanked me enthusiastically and said things were looking up...She just got a new job hanging chickens for $12.43 an hour!

I congratulated her, walked into my work, and have thought about her every day since. 

I am in awe that her hope lies in a job that I could only cry at the thought of, much less do.

The apparent ease with which she asked for what she needed reminded me that blessed are the poor in spirit - probably aware of every blessing because receiving so often necesitates asking.

How many catastrophes I would have to endure to be so humble!

After long awaiting and receiving the Christ child in the temple, Simeon said, "Lord, now let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled..."

And I wonder to myself, "Will I ever be at a similar place in my life?  A place where all promises have been fulfilled and my only earthly desire is to leave it?"  I hope so.  It seems like death by contentment.

Interestingly, I read Simeon's passage to a small group of nursing home residents during our weekly communion service.  I asked them if they ever imagined they would still be alive in the year 2018.  They all said no.

I wonder what it feels like to live longer than you ever thought you would?  As one widow with Stage 4 cancer said, "I believe if I had an On/Off button, I would push it now."  But, in her hard-earned wisdom, she admits that it is good we don't have such a button,.  We would all push it way too soon.

Hope is that invisible force that keeps pulling us through life, when we'd just rather not.  For a long time, I wondered what it was that kept people going after unspeakable tragedies and horrific losses.  I figured it was something other than great advice, although Winston Churchill ranks highly in my book, with his "When you're going through hell, just keep going."

I've often imagined what I now know to be hope, as a little God-fueled motor propelling us forward, in spite of any desire to move in such a direction.  Or any direction, for that matter.  I've seen it in the poor, sick and very sick, grieving and dying.  I've seen it in all who labor in the skin of humanity, and most recently, in the well-bundled and newly employed.

If you have labored your fair share, it is good to know that hope can be forged.

...knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.   Romans 5:3-5

We can have a hope for a particular experience or outcome, a moment or a day, a lifetime or an eternity.  And we can have them all at the same time.

Simeon's earthly hope rested in the fulfillment of God's promise that "he should not see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord."  My hope lies in this same God Who has brought me to where I am - in a town, far away from my birthplace and from where I met the man I would spend the rest of my life with, holding a job I couldn't have dreamed of, sharing a couch with children whose existence was dependent upon the meeting of those two strangers in the hill country, surrounded by a persevering people that keep me circling back, wondering what keeps them going.  I certainly couldn't have stumbled this far on my own, groping in the dark.

Let us not move one inch from our position of hope, be it hanging chickens, a happy death, or any place in between.

The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.  
1 Thessalonians 5:24

Friday, December 8, 2017

A Bit of Loneliness

I don't remember much in the way of loneliness throughout my life.  Certainly not after being at home with little ones for years on end.  My greatest fantasy was being alone.

My husband and I used to barter to be the first one out of the door on Saturday for "me" time.  In the end, I had to go first.  My sanity depended on it.  I used to wonder how long I could be in utter isolation (ideally, in some beautiful wilderness, rather than in some cell in Siberia), before I would actually feel lonely.  I guessed it would take a month or so.

This seems pretty heroic at the moment, because I'm coming off a week of feeling pretty crappy (and I think a bit lonely, if I'm being honest).  Some stubborn virus, I guess.  Mostly a week at home and off of work.  Between naps and movies and eating and drinking coffee to make myself feel better and getting on Facebook to make myself feel worse - Sheesh!  Do you have friends who celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas?  Some candy in shoes doesn't seem that hard to pull off, so I'm not sure why I can't quite get it together...  Anyhoo, I think lonely might be a pretty apt description of how I felt along with not feeling well, in general.  Fortunately, this never lasted longer than a school day at a time.

This makes me grateful for having kids at home, and think of those who haven't had the reprieve of a "school day" in fifty years or so.  In the world of my "work", I visit the moms, dads, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles that live in nursing homes.  They are bereft of any feeling that they are important anymore, that anyone is on their way, or will be coming soon.  They wonder why God is waiting so long to come for them.  And yet, they never complain about the time between my visits.  It is often many weeks, and they're simply grateful.  I think waiting and pride have a special relationship. 

Just a little empty waiting put my pride in its rightful place...

I had a little miscommunication with my husband when he said he was going to bring my medicine home at lunch time.  I told him a few hours wouldn't make any difference and he didn't need to make a special trip, which was true.  But, at the end of our conversation, I thought he was still coming.  And so, I waited, in and out of sleep, with one ear to the door.  After two hours passed, the tear that slipped out betrayed my big-girl-self. 

I felt so pathetic.  It was such a little, tiny thing.  But, then I remembered all of the times that my patients/friends tell me to wake them up when I come.  They're just sleeping because they have nothing else to do, they tell me.  And I don't.  I can't.  Even when I try, I slip in, whisper their name, oh so quietly, hoping not to actually wake them, and I slip out.  It's like some primordial instinct from my early motherhood, which quietly, but forcefully insists, "Never wake a sleeping baby."

I imagine myself being awakened by a well-intentioned person who wants to know how things are going.  Blech.  Fine.  Go away.  I'm trying to sleep.  

Why on God's green earth would I do that?!

But, that's me.  A person in the world, who is busy.  Busy giving love and busy receiving love and busy doing all of the stuff that means.  Busy in a world where the shortage is not love, but time (and sleep). 

They don't live in that world.  They live in the other one.  Where time and sleep are abundant and everything else is scarce.

The gift of this week is a resolution.  A very counter-intuitive one, but nevertheless.  Wake the sleeping.  There are no school days in nursing homes.

Advent is a time of waiting and seeking.  Feeling lonely isn't my favorite, but it is fruitful.  And for those of us who are waiting, let's remember that waiting implies hope.  If nothing is ahead, there is nothing to wait for.  In the meantime, as depicted in The Life of the Mystic Luisa Piccarreta, I've been enjoying thoughts of God the Father as Fire, Jesus Christ as Light, and the Holy Spirit as Heat.

If I am always anything, I am always moving toward light and heat.  Now, I know why.  Care to join me?

Image result for fireplace

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Meet Mr. Griffin

Meet Mr. Robert Griffin.

Mr. Griffin is retired from the United States Navy and has been inspiring me for two and a half years.  I had the pleasure of visiting with him today, and a few sentences into our conversation it dawned on me... I wish you could be there.  To see what I see.  To hear what I hear.  To reap what he sows.  

So, I proposed the idea, and he agreed to meet you, too.

Mr. Griffin was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1987, which was probably 5-10 years after the onset of his initial symptoms.  He has been a nursing home resident for "a little over nine years".  He relinquished his driver's license on his 63rd birthday, and he lives as gracefully and gratefully as anyone I've ever known.

When I asked how he was getting along, he replied that things were the same, and God is good.  And then he said, I mean...
I wish... I could still walk...

 I wish...I could roll over in bed on my side, like I used to...

I wish... I could still go to my church.  I always feel loved, but there, it was something special.  They were my extended family.

And as he talked, I realized I have his wishes in spades.  I carry out his top three wishes hourly and daily and weekly and monthly and yearly and am rarely even conscious that I'm doing them, much less grateful for this same fact.  

I park as close as I can to wherever I'm going, so I have to walk less.  I'm annoyed if I'm rolling over in bed because it means I'm uncomfortable and awake enough to make a decision of any kind.  I enjoy going to church, but that doesn't mean I don't grumble about changing clothes or routinely explain to my precious offspring that they don't "have" to go to church, they "get" to.  

Mr. Griffin doesn't chastise me for my cluelessness or ingratitude.  He doesn't have to.  I'm immediately and painfully aware in his presence.  It is one of his many gifts to me.  

I asked him if there was anything else he wanted you to know and I wrote it down as he was saying it...

God is good, every day.

He is the same yesterday as He will be tomorrow.   

He has never given up on me, so I will never give up on Him.

I feel blessed, in a way, for how long it took from my initial diagnosis to going to a nursing home, because I know people who went from being diagnosed to becoming a quadriplegic in 2.5-3 months.  Everybody with MS is different.  I'm not sure why that is, but if it wasn't for my belief in God, I probably wouldn't be here now.  

Because if you don't have something to pin your hopes to, you'll give up...
And hope is what we've got.

Hope, that when we leave this earth, there is a God who will take care of us and restore our bodies.  

One day, I will be able to walk, and maybe run, 
jump, clap my hands, and praise God.  

Like in Amazing Grace, when we've been there for 10,000 years, it will be like an instant.  Because there is never enough time to praise God.

And to all of this, I say...Thank you, Mr. Griffin.  Thank you for being you.  Thank you for having your perspective and sharing it.  Thank you for being the face of perseverance, gratitude, and hope, as I (and now we) count our blessings this Thanksgiving.  May God continue to bless you and yours in abundance, as He blesses us through you.  Amen.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

In It To Win It

We made it!  

Today is our 15th wedding anniversary!  Where are the stickers and t-shirts?!  My runner friends call it swag.  Seriously, where can I find a 15.0 sticker?  I want one.

Not being a runner in the well-understood sense, I know marriage will be the longest race I will ever run.  I'm pretty sure it is a marathon on steroids.  You know the particulars of your own marriage and you know the particulars of mine, because I've shared them with the you.

I want to apologize if I have burdened you with the nuances of my emotional landscape.  As one who lives and works in the world of feelings and as a writer, it is my pleasure, privilege, and duty to attach words to things that can be difficult to explain and more difficult to admit.  The intention behind my transparency is always to instruct, encourage, accompany, and glorify God in the reality and dailiness of it all.   

Since writing last, I've heard from many people who are concerned for me and my marriage.  A sincere thank you.  You have been a great comfort and remind me of this...

2 Corinthians 1:3-5, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort, too.

I would like to comfort you, as well.  Brett and I have been married for 15 years.  What feels fleeting is not.  What feels irreparable is not.  What feels like loss is gain.  This month in the deep, in the desert, in the woods, or whatever you want to call it, has produced more fruit for me (and hopefully, us) than years combined.  I know my husband and myself better now than ever before.

I am in awe of that.  When you're a human being and married, life always comes one day at a time.  It is easy to believe that everything we believe, feel, and understand comes gradually.  This is simply not true.  Things can change in an instant, and they do all of the time.  The drop of a name, an eyeroll, a hint of ingratitude or contempt, a new baby,  a terminal diagnosis, a death, an unexpected gift or word of praise.  You name it...

All of my writings have been "blessed and approved" by my husband.  I love this about him.  It takes enviable confidence and incredible trust to give blanket permission to  another person, who knows you better than anyone else, to disclose whatever seems relevant to the thought for the day.  He can do this because he knows "we" are not going anywhere.  And I can write freely about all of the ups and downs, devastations and joys, because I know "we" are not going anywhere, either.

In the past month, I've watched a young couple make their vows and start their life together.  I've stumbled  around somewhere in the middle of  winning, losing, surviving, and thriving.  I've met people in the "sickness" part of their promise, where their own need becomes exclusively that of meeting the needs of their other.  All other needs, which once held a place of high regard and importance for them are left behind, and they do not see anything heroic about this.  I've attended a grief group for my work, where a dozen women shared the trials of continuing to live after their spouse has died, and how burning a candle in their place at the table might be a comfort to them this Thanksgiving.

I realize flames of hope come in as many ways as people, places, and times.  I am grateful for the journey of being married, for my fearless husband, and all of the people who walk with us in the adventure called life.  My new favorite quote, as shared with me by a dear friend, reminds me of the goal of it all.  Intimacy.

"Intimacy requires a clear self, relentless self-focus, open communication, and a profound respect for differences."                                  -Harriet Lerner

Saturday, November 4, 2017

In and Out of the Woods

My aunt sent me this great quote this morning. 

"Wear your heart on the page, and people will read to find out how you solved being alive."
-Gordon Lish

And that was just the push I needed to write from "the woods", since I am not out of them, yet.  As such, the stakes for writing (and everything else) feel a lot higher. 

If you've been traveling with me on this fear of abandonment stuff, you know the backstory.  If not, here it is on a bumper sticker.  There is some "trauma" from childhood that shows up in my adult life, specifically in marriage.  It is a fear reaction, and it is reflexive.  All I've been able to do is limp through it once it is triggered, and pray that I (and my husband) can recover before it happens again.

I put trauma in quotes, because I've never thought of my childhood as traumatic.  I have not been sexually or physically abused.  Emotionally and verbally, yes, but that is a late admission, as well.  The trauma I speak of, as best as my 40-year-old conscious brain can tell and a professional counselor can affirm, is experiencing an early divorce and 11 subsequent years of painful, tearful separations from my Dad whom I adored, after visiting him every weekend. 

This recurring pain was more than a 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15-year-old could process.  So, the thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and physical reactions that went with the pain got "stuck" in my brain.  Twenty five years have passed and it is still there, largely unchanged.

There are diagnoses that name this very thing and physiological treatments for "moving" the stuff into a conscious place where it can be processed.  I am looking into that and will keep you posted.  This is a new and exciting revelation for me.

Since visiting a counselor twice by myself and once with my husband, I have written a pain narrative, realized I am 100% responsible for regulating my own emotions, explored restoration therapy, made a plan, and decided I would work on detachment as a part of that plan. 

I felt more sure of this after reading an excerpt from Deep Is the Hunger by Howard Thurman...

"The basis of one's inner togetherness, one's sense of inner authority, must never be at the mercy of factors in one's environment, however significant they may be.  Nothing from outside a man can destroy him until he opens the door and lets it in."

I've read much on this idea, and know there's some truth in it.  So, I thought I would try it.  I closed the door on my husband.  He is the trigger for the old stuff, so I reasoned that if I didn't let him in, I would be safe.  And it felt safe.  But, it also felt unfulfilling, sterile, and not sustainable. 

Today is my first day of being less attached to the idea of being fully detached.  It doesn't work. 

So, I'm back in the ring.  

Leaving is not an option, but thinking about it is a friend that I like to keep close.  She reminds me that I don't want to leave.  I want to love and be loved.  Know and be known.  Understand and be fully understood.  Patience and perseverance.  We celebrate our fifteenth wedding anniversary in less than a week.  The woods are home to many a lovely creature.  And, right now, I am one of them.