Finding Freedom

**make sure to watch both videos in sequence.

We struggle under the weight.
The failed relationships.
The strained marriages.
The wayward children.
The painful life not quite left behind.
The job we hate.
The words we can’t take back.
The words we can’t forget.
The sorrow of letting go either through death or circumstances.
The forever tight finances.
The hounding health issues.
Sometimes, we shove all of it, all the burdens, into our briefcases or purses or backpacks and lug them around.
We become accustomed to their mass and bulk.
Even comfortable under the load.
We don’t see that after a while, they don’t just burden us, but everyone around us.
Failure.
Disappointment.
Unmet expectations.
Unfulfilled dreams.
Past mistakes haunt.
Past abuses cling.
Careless, painful words echo.
Fear hangs.
We weave our tortuous way along life’s path with burdens strapped to us like extra appendages.
Or tumors.
We hide.
We fight.
We run.
We labor.
Eventually, we will buckle under the weight.

Is there hope?
As Easter approaches, I’m reminded that yes, Hope exists and my belief is renewed.

Writing about Jesus, the prophet Isaiah brings Hope:
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all.

Then a few chapters later, he wrote more about Jesus:

He has sent me to tell those who mourn    
that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,
and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.
To all who mourn in Israel,  
he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning,    
festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks    
that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins,    
repairing cities destroyed long ago. They will revive them,    
though they have been deserted for many generations.

We do not have to live, breathe and move with our burdens defining us and disfiguring us. 
There is Hope.

A Quieter Grief

Subtle, nagging, tugging, I felt the grief pulling at my heart all day. Through worship, memories, sights, and sounds, I felt his absence.  Tears threatened and spilled over and I cried for the missing and the longing.

It’s been a big year in the life of my family–engagements, graduations, jobs, marriages, moves– and we didn’t get to share it with him. It’s not like he feels like he’s missing anything–he’s in Glory experiencing ultimate joy and complete rest. For the last three years, he’s understood an eternal perspective that I can only grasp at like a child chasing a bubble.

So I didn’t cry for him today. I cried for me. I cried for the missing and the longing.

Quiet grief blanketed me today as I remembered.  And that’s ok. Quiet, private, intimate memories trickled into my consciousness. The beautiful legacy of love and grace that he left behind gently washed over my soul. I reveled in the exclusiveness and privacy of my grief. That may sound strange, but God brought His healing balm as I walked this quiet grief-road primarily alone.

I don’t know what loss you’ve experienced. I have no idea how far along you are in your journey of grief. Maybe it’s fresh and new and your pain is public. Maybe people are starting to forget even as your own longing ache intensifies. I pray, no matter your surroundings and circumstances along the way, you’ll take comfort in the One who always walks beside you.

Lasting Legacy“Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.” -Jesus 

Healing balm

I just finished reading The Hunger Games at school with a few sophomore students. Two times, Katniss faces injury and needs medical help, once for herself and once for her partner, Peeta. In both instances, help arrives just in time. Both times, she’s provided with a goopy balm that brings both relief and healing. Both times she knew she needed help. She knew the situation was beyond her and both times she had no choice but to wait for someone to show mercy.

It’s been a whirlwind week and weekend. Graduation, parties, wedding stuff, end of the school year busyness and daily life kept us all on our toes and living moment to moment. We made it. We celebrated milestones and enjoyed it all. But honestly, most of the time, I was one step away from a wreck. Trying to hold it together emotionally and stay on top of home life and work and all the extras felt overwhelming. At each moment when I didn’t think I’d make it to the next without a meltdown, help arrived. Not in the form a beeping, parachuted tin of balm like Katniss received, but  in the form of people. Calming words, reassuring hugs, and surprise guests eased my burdens. My kids and friends and family stepped up and stepped in and provided an amazing graduation party for our daughter. My sisters and sisters-in-law threw a spectacular shower for my other daughter. My sweet mom did my laundry and dishes and held things down on the homefront. They were all a healing balm to my weary soul and I’m beyond grateful. I could not have walked through the last week without them.

And then, in the middle of it, we got the late-night call every parent dreads.  Our son and his girlfriend were in a car accident. Thankfully, mercifully, both my son and his lovely friend were miraculously unharmed but somewhere on CR 38 is a concussed deer who got the better of the 2005 Honda. In the dark, rainy night, Brad and I drove N & C back home and in the midst of relief, I worried. Although they were safe and sound, I could tell they were both shaken and my son was beating himself up over the accident. I tried to speak reassuring words. I tried to bring comfort, but it was still fresh and scary. Then, when we arrived home and walked in the door shortly before midnight, all his siblings were waiting to give hugs and listen to the stories. They provided relief that I could not. As a parent, it was an absolute joy to see and hear them surround their brother and friend with love and support and laughter. They were healing balm to an injured spirit and it was beautiful.

IMG_7078Paul says to the Roman people “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other.”  The entire weekend was a beautiful picture of community. At every turn, friends and family were sharing our joy, lightening our load and comforting us in our pains, insecurities, and shortcomings. We experienced servanthood and mercy and generosity and grace upon grace upon grace. Thank you, you beautiful souls, who lived life with us this weekend. Thank you for your selfless giving of time and talent and resources. Thank you for setting up and taking down and serving food and cleaning up and filling in the gaps and taking photos and making runs to the grocery store and planting flowers and giving hugs and speaking wisdom and for bringing joy. Thank you, my own dear children, for being there for one another and for providing a healing balm to one another in a fallen world. I love you all and thank God for you.

And to those reading, let this be an encouragement to show up for people. Be community for others. Share their burdens. Lighten their loads. Be generous with your gifts. Be a healing balm to a weary soul today.

time

Where does it go? Every minute has 60 seconds, every hour 60 minutes every day 24 hours and on and on. Each increment of time stays the same. Time’s a funny thing isn’t it? A day or week can drag on and seem an eternity but a year can fly by. When I think back over my life I’m struck by the fact that there are entire decades that are a blur. How did I get from age 18 to 49? My kids are practically grown and I know I didn’t miss their growing up, but there’s a lot of it I simply don’t remember. How can this be? I don’t want to forget life. I don’t want to forget this time–this busy time of graduations and weddings and kids moving out and back and out again. I don’t want to forget people and places I’m experiencing. I’d like time to slow down, please.

This picture of my dad & me from three years ago popped up this morning in the “On This Day” feature on Facebook. There’s so much about Facebook that bugs me, and yet, this is what I love about it. This brief moment in time from three years ago, brought back to me today.

Padre

Three short and long years ago I heard his voice. Three short and long years ago I could hold his hand and smell his cologne and see his million-dollar smile. Three short and long years ago he still drew breath from his tumor-ridden lungs. Three short and long years ago he and mom could sit, side by side, in sweet harmony, a complete pair. Three short and long years ago he still graced this earth. Three short and long years ago, he and mom could have made the trip to Iowa for graduations and concerts and presentations and life events. I know he’s not really missing anything–I mean who would trade the glory of heaven for the stuff of earth? No one. He wouldn’t come back if he could and that’s ok. But, I miss him and wish he could be here to share life with us.I miss talking to him–we were so alike in many ways that he often understood things I couldn’t articulate well. I miss his intellect and depth. I miss the way he could knowlegibly converse on any topic at any time. I miss how he used to stand right in the middle of whereever you needed to be and not realize he was in the way. I miss his quick wit, movie quotes, and bear hugs. I miss that he’d be so proud of his grandsons and granddaughters and he’d love meeting the beautiful souls their choosing as their life-partners.  I miss him. We miss him.

I keep trying to figure out how to end this post, some way to make it more universal (although grief is universal). But really, all I feel today is sad and a deep longing to simultaniously turnback and speed up time.

It’s the little things.

it’s waking up on a Friday after a challenging week
it’s knowing that in just a few hours the house will be full again
it’s the smell of coffee–it’s always the smell of coffee
it’s the 3 am snap-chats from the kids on the road
it’s experiencing shared joys and little triumphs with students
it’s meaningful conversations
it’s possessing the ability to express gratitude
it’s the crazy squirrel perched on the deck providing entertainment
it’s beauty in seeing prayers answered
it’s the gentle forgiveness offered and received
it’s listening to Christmas music
it’s the privilege of bearing one another’s burdens
it’s the reassurance that the dark days will eventually end
it’s the hope and reality of Dawn
it’s everyday reminders that we’re not alone…
and there is a God…
and He does love us…
it’s grace in the little things and as well as the big.

It’s the little things

it’s climbing into a toasty bed on a cold, damp night
it’s the smell of fresh-baked brownies mingled with the sound of my daughter’s laugh
it’s early morning texts from a far-away friend
it’s long, slow conversations about everything and nothing
it’s purpose-filled work
it’s finding scraps of paper etched with handwriting and wisdom from a beloved
it’s the privilege and strength to pray for hurting souls
it’s soul-feeding words found in unlikely places
it’s the hope and anticipation of seeing loved ones
it’s laughter in the midst of pain
it’s creamed, blueberry honey on a big bowl of oatmeal
it’s gradual peace in letting go of past hurts
it’s knowing your dear ones sleep in safety
it’s the unexpected gift of grieving
it’s typed messages on What’s App from Costa Rica
it’s being enshrouded and enfolded by a Love I cannot fully comprehend
it’s everyday reminders that we’re not alone…
and there is a God…
and He does love us…
it’s grace in the little things and as well as the big.

 

Walls

Thick cinderblock 521walls lined each narrow, meandering street. Topped with barbed wire and broken glass they shouted a clear message of stay out. Iron bars covered every window and door. Heavy gates, either of solid wood or black metal, completed each mini fortress. Walking out of our simple guest house into the courtyard each morning, hearing the noises of a city waking up, yet only seeing cement walls and metal gates saddened me. A long history of government corruption, instability, and violence led to the walled, barred and gated atmosphere in Nicaragua.

It felt disconcerting to be on either side of the wall. When we were safe inside the fortresses, there was peace accompanied by a sense of loss. Lush trees, vibrant flowers, beautiful birds, and even more beautiful people lived in abundance on the other side, yet couldn’t be seen from within. When on the outside, we saw the immense beauty, but we also lived with a heightened sense of our surroundings, cognizant of the real dangers we faced on the street. Constant tension existed between experiencing relative safety and beholding abundant beauty.

90 down the mt

But if we never ventured outside the walls of Quinta Emily or Hotel Rosario, we would have missed meeting Moeses and Ricardo and we would never have seen the beauty of Mombachito or Somoto or Laguna de Apoyo. We may have experienced comfort and safety but at what cost? We went to Nicaragua to experience Nicaragua. We went to see the natural beauty, to experience a different culture, to practice another language, and to observe what God is doing through His people in other places. We didn’t go to stay safe behind walls in a sanitzed  environment.

One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies is “There’s a wall there.” (Kronk speaking of Eyzma’s reluctance to share emotionally in Emperor’s New Groove) It’s a funny part of the movie because it’s true. We’ve all built walls in our lives.

In an attempt at self-preservation and protection, we build our own emotional fortresses. Some walls we erect to keep our inner life hidden, our emotions in check and our faults and secrets safely vaulted. Others we construct clearly to keep danger at bay. Block by block, we wall ourselves in, trying to insulate our lives from pain, hurt, disappointment and failure. We hide behind our walls of bitterness, envy, anger, shame, and judgment both confused and fearful of the reality on the other side. Regardless of why we build our walls or what they’re comprised of, the result is the same: we hold others at bay and hide. We don’t fully engage in the beauty on the other side of our walls and we don’t allow anyone to see our true beauty. Living inside our fortress makes it difficult to accept or give love, encouragement, and grace. We each have a unique beauty to offer this world and when we hunker down, drawing our knees up to our chest and keeping our head down, no one sees or benefits from what we could offer.

For we are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives, created in the Anointed, Jesus, to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago. ~Paul to the Ephesians

When we stay hidden behind our walls, either paralyzed by fear or too comfortable with apathy, it’s impossible to give the unique gifts we possess. Living in solitary worlds behind walls deprives everyone of the beauty that is you and prohibits you from fully experiencing what others can offer.

Personally, I know I don’t always realize when I’ve built walls until they’re so high I can’t see over. Brick by brick, I build them…shame, doubt, anger, jealousy, discontententment and pride mortered together with fear. Tearing down the fortress is hard. It wasn’t built in a day, it won’t come down in a day. And sometimes, I don’t want to pull them down. I’m used to these walls and there’s a perverted comfort living within them. But it’s a false sense of security that doesn’t bring actual peace; it only adds to loneliness and isolation. It’s a risk to tear down the wall. It’s a risk to venture beyond the gates. It’s a risk to love, to share, to give and recieve grace. But in the risk, also comes a freedom and a deep sense of living the way we were created to live: in mutually beneficial community.

A friend introduced me to this song not long ago and I love it. Even though the metaphor is light and darkness, the message is the same: we weren’t created to hide.

With years of keeping secrets safe
Wondering if I could change
‘Cause when you’re hiding all alone
Your heart can turn into a stone
And that’s not the way I want to go

So I walk out of the darkness and into the light
From fear of shame into the hope of life
Mercy called my name and made a way to fly
Out of the darkness and into the light

Read more: Ellie Holcomb – Marvelous Light Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Hand-me-downs and leftovers

I’m all about hand-me-downs and leftovers. The youngest of three girls, I grew up in my sister’s clothes and, in general, loved it. Even today, I still benefit from my generous (and incredibly stylish) sister. And leftovers? They’re my friend. Chicken chili or lasagna the next day? Even better than the first time!

But hand-me-downs or leftovers in a relationship? No, thank you. No one wants to feel like they’re getting leftover time, money, affection or attention. No child wants to feel like they come second to work or church or siblings. No friend wants someone who only calls when it’s a crisis or they need something. No spouse wants to feel the leftover energy or affection or love from their significant other. Hand-me-downs and leftovers leave us feeling like we don’t deserve any better. We don’t just feel loved less, we feel unloved, un-cared for and ultimately rejected.

To recap…

hand-me-downs from your stylish sister that save you money–good; hand-me-downs of affection–bad.

leftover food–good; leftover time, energy or love–bad.

Apply that to a spiritual relationship and it magnifies the feelings of worthlessness. If you think you get God’s leftovers or His crumbs, then you constantly feel like the kid with dirty shoes who can come in but needs to wipe their feet and stand in the corner. No warm welcome or seat at the grown-up table for you. No sir. Be quiet and wait until someone more important offers you what’s left. Be happy with hand-me-downs and leftovers from God’s children who are well-behaved, more faithful and frankly, just better than you.

Yeah. That’s how I’ve felt lately. I’m not gonna lie (and believe me, I wish I could), September was a crappy month. Many times I wished someone would wake me up when it was over– just like the Green Day song. Saying goodbye to kids (real, grown-up goodbyes), grieving both old and new losses, coming to terms with past hurts, dealing with physical illness, and enduring depressing thoughts left me cold, sad and tired. To be brutally honest, the cumulative effect of all this gunk, is thinking, feeling and believing that all I get or deserve from God is hand-me-downs and leftovers. Why should I get anything else?

But here’s just one of the many problems with thinking and living this way: if you live thinking you’re impoverished, you believe you have nothing to offer. You either believe what you could offer isn’t good enough or you believe that you don’t have enough resources. And then, perhaps, you get some weird self-pitying pride mixed in there and the whole thing turns into an ugly mess of self-accusations and self-defamation and a faulty, dangerous view of God and self. Brutal.

So how do I (we, if you can identify with anything I’ve written) interrupt the cycle? One way to start is by remembering and believing Truth.

If we believe we’re children of God, then here’s the Truth:

We’re not given hand-me-down rags; we’re dressed in the King’s own robes. 

We’re not invited to a rickety table of leftovers; we’re invited to a feast.

Because of God’s love and Jesus sacrificial gift of his own life, we’re invited to share in His bounty and sit at his table.

“Is anyone thirsty?
    Come and drink—
    even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk—
    it’s all free!
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
    Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
    You will enjoy the finest food.

“Come to me with your ears wide open.
    Listen, and you will find life.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you.
    I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David…”

Seek the Lord while you can find him.
    Call on him now while he is near. ~Isaiah 55 1-6

I know when you’re struggling it’s difficult to see Truth, let alone believe it, but I pray these words bring hope and encouragement to your mind and heart today, friend.

It’s the little things

it’s seeing the morning star each day as I stumble down my stairs in the dark
it’s the kind smile of a stranger
it’s celebrating milestone birthdays with loved ones
it’s the surprise gift of chocolate from a thoughtful co-worker
it’s the thank you received after helping a kid succeed
it’s the faithful prayers of a loving spouse
it’s the bright smile and sweet laugh of my favorite 18-year-old
it’s hot coffee on a chilly morning
it’s cold water on a warm afternoon
it’s night-time walks with the one I love
it’s the fields, golden and ripe for harvest
it’s the way you know the sun is still shining even behind the clouds
it’s the soul-calming knowledge that this world is not all there is
it’s everyday reminders that we’re not alone…
and there is a God…
and He does love us…
it’s grace in the little things and as well as the big.

 

Always seek peace

Walk away from the evil things in the worldjust leave them behind, and do what is right, and always seek peace and pursue it. 1 Peter 3:11

Quoting Psalm 34, Peter wrote this advice to the early scattered Church. It strikes me as both humorous and ironic that the hot head Peter–who cut a guy’s ear off— preaches to “do what’s right and always seek peace…”. I guess Peter learned throughout his life to practice what he preached. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get tired of always striving to do what’s right and always seeking and pursuing peace. Sometimes, in my heart, I want war. Like Jo in Little Women, “I crave violence” (not really–but you get it). Sometimes, I’m so hurt or angry or disillusioned that I just want to tell somebody off or be a hot head like Peter and draw my proverbial sword.  But just as I get ready to take my best shot, verses like the one above shoot through my mind and heart and I’m stopped in my tracks.

We’re wired to defend ourselves aren’t we? It’s our instinct to protect ourselves and our loved ones. We don’t want to wait for God’s salvation or His vindication. As moms, wives, sisters and friends we want to protect and shield the ones we love. And we certainly want to defend ourselves or at the very least, be understood. But I learned years ago during an especially difficult bout with depression, that we have to be willing to be misunderstood. We can’t possibly explain to everyone our reasons or rationale behind every decision and even if we could, would it matter? Would simply explaining ourselves mean that people then understood us? No, we could expend copious amounts of precious energy explaining our lives and decisions to anyone and everyone who would listen and we would still feel misunderstood on some level. But I digress…back to the anger issue…

In the book Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculeé Ilibagiza, she shares her personal faith journey during the genocide of 1994. Her story is gripping both for the real drama played out in her life, but also for the way she dealt with the people who murdered her family and ripped her homeland apart. One passage in particular struck me:

I knew that my heart and mind would always be tempted to feel anger–to find blame and hate. But I resolved that when the negative feelings came upon me, I wouldn’t wait for them to grow or fester. I would always turn immediately to the Source of all true power: I would turn to God and let His love and forgiveness protect and save me.

“I would turn to God and let His love and forgiveness protect and save me.” She lived Peter’s words. She sought peace and pursued it even when it the world would have given her permission to vindicate. I found her life and example inspiring; I want to live Peter’s words as well as these from Paul:

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.  Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.  Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.  When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,

“I will take revenge;
    I will pay them back,”
    says the Lord.

Instead,

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
    If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
    burning coals of shame on their heads.”

 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. ~Romans 12

 I don’t know what pains you today. I don’t know what anger or bitterness or sadness you carry. I don’t know who hurt you or your loved one. I know my own hurts. I know my own seeds of pain, buried deep in my heart. I know the people who’ve caused pain–the ones I don’t want to love or seek peace with. But I know the only way to live a full life of mercy, grace and love is to forgive and forgive and forgive. And I know the only way for a peaceful heart is to love others as I love myself and trust God for vindication–if He deems it necessary. I pray for a forgiving and peaceful heart for you as well, friend. Whatever struggles you’re in the midst of, I pray God’s peace to rule your heart.