Imagination

At the end of the fall, my family and I took a much-needed break and retreated to the beach for a couple of days.  After a long summer with no respite from our normal routine, and then immediately rolling into the rigors of fall, we were all weary and looking for some rest.  This first year of grief has found me shying away from large crowds of people and the beach at the end of October is the perfect place to go if you are in search of a quiet, deserted retreat.  I think the whole three days we were there I saw only five people on the beach.  It was glorious!

I love the quiet pace of life at the beach because it always affords me time and space to steal away by myself and meet with God.  Our annual escape to the seaside puts me in a posture to listen and hear things about myself and my life that the noise of everyday life chokes out.  This year was no different as I would wake up early each morning before my husband and kids, slip into a cozy sweatshirt and sneakers and sneak out the door before I could disturb anyone.  I would sit on the sand and wait, listening, watching, wondering where God would show up and how I would meet him.

The first morning I decided to start taking a walk in search of the sunrise.  It was a gray, cloudy day but I was hoping that the sun would break through.  The farther I walked though, all I was met with was rolling, billowing clouds.  Then something said, turn around and this is what I was saw.

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I immediately turned around, a wide grin plastered on my face and my heart racing in sight of such beauty.  I was like a moth drawn to light as I eagerly walked down the beach in pursuit of that break in the gray and that sunlight pouring out.  As my feet began to walk, my mind began to meander as well, as my imagination took hold of me and I began to wonder, what’s happening beyond that spot in the clouds?  If I could peek around the corner, what would I see and hear?  You see, my imagination and creative pursuits was a new form of spiritual discipline in my life and I was beginning to fan the flame of my encounter with God.

At the end of 2016, I felt in my heart of hearts that God was telling me to start writing.  I found this odd as writing for pleasure was something foreign to me.  I wrote back in my school days because I had to and I kept a prayer journal off and on over the years but I never wrote as a means of communicating and publishing.  I did, however, love to teach and saw my platform as a verbal, real-life exchange with my audience.  There were times in my past when I’d need to write a letter or some other document and was told that I had a way with words but I never thought much of it.  I had considered for many years taking thoughts in my head and starting a blog but lacked the motivation and confidence to pursue it.

Something was different inside me this time I heard God speak though and I decided what would it hurt to try and so I started to write.  And the more I wrote, the more ideas kept coming to me.  It was so strange to me.  I saw writing as something creative people did and I never really felt very creative in my life, but I knew I didn’t want to stop.  I had heard once before that to become a better writer one needed to become a better reader so I began to read anything and everything that drew my fancy.  It started with books about learning more about God but eventually took a turn into classic fiction books as well as I soaked up the imagery and storylines to find connections in my own life.  Each book I read and each piece I wrote felt like I was transforming more and more into the person I was meant to become, my true self and that I was understanding things about God I had never comprehended before.

I had a few trusted friends that began to walk on this journey with me to encourage me and offer me guidance.  One friend shared a book with me that was challenging her and told me to get a copy for myself.  The book was, “Waking Up Grey,” by Jennie Schut and has become a field book of sorts to me on this journey.  The summed up premise of the book is that our creativity is a deeply spiritual matter.  That if we find ourselves in a creative slump than we find ourselves also in a relationship stump with God and vice versa.  We are all image bearers of God and he is the most creative being ever.  To deny our creativity is to deny part our very being that connects us to God and breathes life into our lungs.  I had already begun pursuing these thoughts on my own and upon reading Jennie’s words it was like scales falling from my eyes.

The reason I was finding myself and God more and more as I pursued reading and writing was that I was finally tapping into the creativity that I was hardwired for but had mostly been denying and shutting off most of my life.  As I tapped into it I found myself becoming fully alive and I didn’t want it to stop.  I started getting art books out of the library and found myself drawn to the Impressionist time period.  I would spend quiet afternoons outside after I got my kids settled for their naps and quiet times, soaking in the sunshine and these beautiful works of art.  I was reading classic fiction books that had always been on my “to read someday” list that lead to new authors and new books.  I took in poetry and music of all varieties.  I also discovered what I have deemed my “Garden of Eden” a private park near my home where I would go with my books and my journals and my ears attentively listening as I would walk with God in the cool of the day.  The more I fanned my creativity the more I wanted to soak in more and more.  It was like I was waking up the grey parts of my life, just as my new field book was entitled.

It was in the middle of all this that I found myself on the beach that morning with that sunrise.  Before I would have just looked at it and thought how beautiful it was and maybe it would take my breath away but this time I let it take me one step further and I began to imagine.  I was currently reading the time quintet by the fabulous Madeleine L’Engle and I just couldn’t help myself from thinking otherworldly images.  As I “peeked” behind the clouds I imagined this throng of cheribum singing and swaying as one.  Later I wrote in my journal, “With bated breath and flutter of heart you anticipate with excitement what you might find in this gateway to beyond.  It’s the heavenly host, all come out to rejoice.  They are dancing in the beautiful dance, flowing in rhythm and time to the beat of the Creator.  Their arms flow, their hips twist, their feet delicately prance back and forth in a giant circle.  Their movements create almost waves of light streaking across the atmosphere.  Their eyes closed, they don’t need to see, they simply can feel.  Joy has filled this place and your heart.”  And then all I could do on that deserted beach in that moment was sing, loud and clear;

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Praise him all creatures here below.

Praise him above thee, heavenly host.

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.”

The words just flowed from me, and so did the tears.  I met God their that morning because I was finally unafraid to tap into my creative self and let my imagination run wild, straight into the arms of my Beloved.

 

Christmas Ponderings

Star-of-Bethlehem

So this is what I’ve been pondering this Christmas season.  My understanding of Jesus’ times on earth was that life revolved around the family, the extended family.  Everyone lived close by, aunts, uncles, cousins, generations all together.  The family took care of one another.

My other observation as I read the Christmas account was that all people had to travel to their father’s birthplace to counted for the census.  Joseph and Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem because Joseph was from the family line of David.  So here’s where my pondering starts, didn’t everyone from Joseph’s family line travel to Bethlehem too?

In all the retellings of this story Mary and Joseph are always traveling the long road to Bethlehem by themselves, all out there alone for the thousands of miles trek.  But I’m wondering if they were really alone?  What about the extended family, the in-laws, aunts, uncles, and cousins that would have been traveling too?  Wouldn’t they have been all together?

Then they actually make it to Bethlehem and there’s no room for them to stay because of the thousands of out of town folks also there for the census.  Again, the pictures all show Joseph and Mary knocking door to door by themselves.  After they find the stable to stay in, Mary gives birth by herself with only her husband and the animals present.

Here’s where I’ve been wondering more again.  My understanding of Jewish custom was that males would not have been present for birthing for fear of making themselves unclean.  Birthing was woman’s work and the new mother would have been surrounded by all those extended female family members to be with her, coaching and attending to her every need.  I’m speculating here again but I’m beginning to wonder if Joseph wasn’t really there for this holy night, or at least not right there beside his wife and that they weren’t just left off on their own but were surrounded by the love of community and family to welcome their holy child.

How much of our understanding of the Christmas story has been shaped by our culture today and our lack of knowledge and understanding of the culture then?  (Even my own ponderings above are probably skewed because of the lenses I looked through).  The Scripture passages that give us an account of the story don’t give many details and where there is ambiguity we’ve painted our own details.  I’ve noticed this specifically in all the children’s book retellings.  Mary, Joseph, and Jesus have a smile on their face.  The stable is tidy and the animals are silently looking on.  It all has a rosy glow to it.  I’ve given birth three times, nothing about it is tidy and glowing.  Though I believe if need be my husband and I alone could have gotten the job done, I know we’re both thankful for the team, the community around us that helped us usher in our children to the world.

How much of a disservice do we do ourselves and the world by making God’s coming to the world look so unnatural?  Granted God coming down to be with us is quite extraordinary but by making it something uncommon to how we live our everyday lives we make God someone we hold at a distance from the very beginning of his coming.  Part of God’s goal was to make himself like one of us so we could know deep within us that he understood who we are and what we face because he faced the same during his time on earth.  If his birth was different than ours than that sets us up to believe that his whole time on earth was always more divine than human and therefore unrelatable.  We would always keep God at a distance when the gift of Christmas is that we can bring God close because he had come close.

I have always been drawn to the humanness of Jesus.  God tangibly in a form here on Earth makes me feel at peace.  I imagine him as a child, learning to walk and stumbling and falling down, and later when he’s older playing with his friends.  I imagine him growing into a teenager faced with possibilities of growing up, taking up his father’s trade, what thoughts ran through his mind?  When he walked and worked in the hot sun he got stinky, he felt hunger, he fell down and cut open his knee and bled.  He felt our emotions too, sadness over the death of a friend, perhaps loneliness, but joy and excitement over celebrations and thankfulness at the richness of everyday life.  I want to put my faith in a God who is real.  He needs to be holy, set apart and big enough to create everything, hold it all together, love it all.  But I also must be able to grasp him, to hold onto him in order to feel the safety of his being so I can walk with courage into the vastness of who he his.

At Christmas time I can feel both.  God slipped into this world both humbly and humanly, as an infant surrounded by the love of community, his mother and father, crying out for his first breath of earthly air, just like us.  But he also came in all his splendor and mystery that is God, conceived by the Holy Spirit, announced by angels and set apart from the very beginning as God’s own Son.  Yes, the gift of Christmas is that we can have a God who is both/and, not just either/or and that makes him real, and to me, a God worth pursuing with my whole being.

Conduit

I’ve been turning over in my mind lately the idea of how we serve God, or maybe it’s how God works through us.  Or maybe something else altogether, I’m not sure yet.  It’s this idea of when I feel so in tune with God that I just know that in my very being that he is speaking or working through me in that moment and everything in life just clicks.

I feel it most acutely when I’m communicating with others.  I’ve felt it in the past but am more able through this year of deeper self-discovery to start to pinpoint these moments when I’m talking with someone, or now in this case writing to whoever might be reading out there, where I step out of the way and somehow God steps in my place and I begin to share words that I don’t even know where they come from.  The best way I can explain it is speaking in tongues, but the kind everyone in the room can understand.

And I know it happens because while I’m sharing, the person on the receiving end will have this look in their eyes where whatever I’m sharing is clicking somewhere inside of them.  Sometimes they even begin scrawling down notes on a piece of paper.  And from my end, I become increasingly self-aware that the words that are coming from me are in all actuality just flowing from me, from a deep place, and all I need to do in that moment is open the floodgates and pour forth whatever wisdom is meant to come out.

I’ve been calling it a conduit because it’s the best picture I can have in my mind for this.  Somewhere, somehow God and I have a connection in a moment and he decides that in that moment he wants to connect also with whomever I am with.  I sit and I listen, to the other and to the Spirit and I ask graciously, what needs to happen here?  What invitation needs to be made?

What a privilege it is that the work of God that we do doesn’t come from our own hands.  The great Creator, and in my medium the creator of words, chooses to shape my words and articulate them in a way that transforms the kingdom around me.  So instead of thinking that I must perform, or I must conjure up something profound from my self and offer it up to him to then judge and manipulate into something worthy to share with the masses what if it’s actually being a living sacrifice, offering nothing but myself on the altar to make a peace and reconciliation between God and his people because he is going to work through me.

I have to admit that though I feel fully alive in these moments and don’t ever want them to end, they also are quite scary.  Because here’s the thing, we don’t serve a tame and safe God.  I remember the childhood classic, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” by CS Lewis where the children are learning about Aslan and that he is the rescuer but he’s also a lion and I believe it’s Lucy who inquires, “is he a tame lion?” because of course the thought of a lion conjures up a power and fierceness that is frightening and the beavers answer is, “of course not, but he is good.”  Is God tame, oh no my friends he is not but is he good?  He is the only good that exists.  So when we enter into the service of our Creator he is going to invite us into these incredible, not safe things, that will put our necks out on the line.  But if we are this conduit that is a bridge between God and here that will transform not only ourselves but the world around us, how can we say no.

I’ve said no, I say no a lot.  Because I go back to that thinking that the work I do must come from me and then I get in the way of God’s best intentions.  A few years ago I was singing a song to God in corporate worship on Sunday morning and sang the line, “And if our God is for us then who could ever stop us.  And if our God is with us then what could stand against,” which comes from a passage of Paul’s letters to the Romans (8:31).  God’s voice spoke to me as I sang those words out, “you Kelly, you are what stops you and in turn stops me from doing the work I want to do.”  It stopped me dead in my tracks and choked the words in my throat.  I am the one who holds me back and shuts down the conduit that God wants to move through.  My fear, my laziness, my inner critic that says what if I mess up so it’s better to just not try at all and play it safe, my lack of awareness to the presence of God in the moment by moment of my life.  What if I died to self, to that fear and lived for Christ?  What awesome things could God and I do?

So friends, where are you a conduit for God?  When are the moments that your life clicks and you are so aware of the presence of God and what he is doing in you and through you that you feel fully alive?  Is it painting a picture or baking a cake?  Is it writing a computer program or a business proposal?  Is it teaching others or healing the wounds of the broken?  God has work for all of us to do in his kingdom, the question is will you step out of your own way to let him do it?

New Creation

So in my attempt to approach life differently these days I’ve also started approaching reading Scripture again in a new light.  After reading a passage from 2 Corinthians in a devotional I thought maybe there was some more wisdom to glean from this letter so one afternoon I opened it up and started reading.  I started at the beginning and didn’t stop till I reached the end.  Now normally I would have read a section and left it at that and pulled out my journal and willed myself to find some application to my life, but this time felt different.

I’ve probably read through the whole Bible at this point in my life.  I’ve had this desire for as long as I can remember to learn the original languages of the Bible.  I don’t know what it is but over the years reading the Bible and then teaching it to others has been my happy place in life and when I’m not doing it, everything feels out of joint.  One thing that rubs me the wrong way is when we take Scripture passages and dissect them out of their natural context to suit whatever point we’re trying to make in life.  This is not why the Bible was given to us.

So that day I picked up 2 Corinthians I thought how would the original recipients of this letter have received it.  They wouldn’t have dissected it, they would have listened from beginning to end wondering what their mentor and father of faith Paul had to say to them.  They would have been eager to get to hear from him, except maybe the people he chastises, and they would have listened to the whole thing and the completeness of what Paul was sharing about life.

Well, I have to say that I felt like I was reading these words for the first time in my life.  I found the pithy quotes we so often pull out but they took on new meaning and I realized that one of the things I abhor is exactly what I’ve done to these words of wisdom, manipulated them for my own benefit.  Sure, I was maybe reading the letter differently because I was different and because words take on new meaning depending on the lens we are looking through at the time, but this new lens was more than just me, it was about the Word I was reading and what it was revealing to me.

The passage that has left an imprint on me all these months later still comes at the beginning-ish in the fifth chapter.  (I must admit I really don’t like chapter and verse numbers when reading, it’s so distracting and helps too much with the dissecting I think).  Written there is this little gem that gets pulled out so often to make us feel better about ourselves, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  Well, of course, it gets quoted all the time, it’s a tenant essential to our faith, but I believe after reading the whole letter, it’s a line not about you at all.

Here’s the deal that we American Christians must face up to, our faith, isn’t about us.  Jesus isn’t here just for you.  My faith is not some personal, self-help, feel better about me thing.  To believe it’s about us continues to pervert the idea of grace and prolong the lie that started in the Garden that we could be like God.  Our faith, our relationship with God is a gift given, something we were created for because here’s the thing, we are the creation, not the creator.  Anything we have is because of God and so his words are not meant to make us feel better but are meant to glorify him and transform us so that we can, in turn, glorify him.  So when we read the Bible and wonder what am I suppose to get out of this, we miss the point from the very beginning.

So back to Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.  He’s laying out the gospel again to the people, he’s compelling them to understand what the words he preached to them meant, that Christ came to reconcile a people, not a person and he, Christ died so that we would no longer live for ourselves, patting ourselves on the back but that we should live for God.  And then he says this line, “that we no longer view anyone from a worldly perspective, but that we view them from as a new creation in Christ, the old is gone, the new has come!” (forgive my paraphrasing in there).

 My mind was blown.  All this time I kept regarding myself as a new creation, but what about everyone else I came in contact with?  What about my husband, my friends, my neighbors.  What about the people I don’t get along with.  They are a new creation too and even though I might be regarding them from a worldly perspective, how they’ve hurt me or sinned against another, guess what, in Christ, they are a new creation and because of that, I don’t get to view them how I want to anymore, if I’m a new creation too.

Now understanding these words as they are illuminating my mind in a whole new way, how will I look to others?  Will I see them through eyes of compassion, regarding them as Jesus does first extending grace?  Will I regard people on how they can best serve me, make me feel better about myself, or will I think first how to love my neighbor, therefore loving God and fulfilling all the law and prophets?  When someone hurts me, and let’s be honest we all hurt each other on a continual basis, what will be my first reaction?  Or my second reaction?  Or my seventy times seven reaction?  Am I willing to push my ego aside and view others as a new creation in Christ?

This is hard friends, and it is uprooting those sins that are deep.  But don’t you have hope?  Because that’s what else I see in this letter from Paul.  If reconciling the whole world to himself is possible and because of that I get to be included in this new creation well then sign me up, because Paul also talks a lot about momentary suffering and that this road in this life will be marked by it.  I believe that this suffering has everything to do with our transformation and so we set our eyes on what is unseen, that which is eternal.

The Day a Houseplant Made Me Cry

I wrote this back in June before I started my blog.  It’s a writing that I keep coming back to and felt the urging to share.

Just when I thought things were going ok and this grief thing was just looming over at the side, it came down on me like a ton of bricks this morning.  Looking back at my week I can see now how it was getting closer and closer without me realizing it.  My anger and frustration had been mounting over the last few days.  I was short with everyone, even my sweet little one-year-old, snapping and raising my voice at the slightest infraction.  My poor daughter kept asking, “Why are you so angry Mommy?” in her four-year-old innocence.  Each of my kids was calling me out and my poor husband was walking on eggshells.  I chalked it up to my “time of the month” and surging hormones and decided to wait for things to pass soon.

I felt the frustration mounting this morning.  My oldest son was trying to pull me into his power struggle but I refused to bite.  I thought once I got him out the door and onto the bus all would be well.  Then my one-year-old, that dear, sweet, chubby-cheeked, curious boy pulled one of my houseplants right out of its pot.  The floodgates opened and the ugly cry began.  My daughter and son stood in disbelief that their mother was crying over a houseplant.  And as I was crying it dawned on me, I really miss my dad.

I bought a couple of houseplants shortly after dad died.  My dad loved growing plants of all varieties, inside and outside the house.  When I was very little my parents had a huge garden in our backyard with corn and tomatoes and strawberries and all kinds of things.  There was a houseplant in every room, ferns, violets, a ficus tree.  Being immersed in his gardening growing up rubbed off on me.  My indoor plants weren’t looking so good so after he passed I went out to buy some new ones so that I could feel close to him and remember him and maybe pass on this love to the next generation.

My new houseplant, that was really more than just a plant, let’s be honest, all of a sudden lay all over my kitchen floor, roots straggling out and soil everywhere.  I don’t know why but in that moment I felt so out of control of my life.  I remembered my dad, lying dead in his hospital bed.  As I scooped up dirt, I thought, nothing is going to bring my dad back now.  I can’t scoop his life back.  Why didn’t he take better care of himself in this life and why did his life need to end this way?

I calmed myself down enough to usher the kids into the living room.  My daughter went into action right away.  She wanted to know how she could help.  At four she already has such a caring and compassionate soul.  Many will know the love of God because of my daughter.  I asked her to watch her brother and then I went to work cleaning up.

As I scooped and swept I realized that grief was going to come hit me out of nowhere, at any moment and I couldn’t stop it.  Everyone was warning me that it would and it was something that I needed to experience and learn.  Instead of fighting it I let the tears continue to come.  I didn’t want to hold them back any longer for fear of the scary, angry lady coming back again.

I’ve said through this process, that I’m realizing more and more will be the rest of my life, that I’m going to give myself the grace and patience and time to get through it.  This was one of those times.  I don’t want to hold anything back or hide it and now I know to better listen to my anger as a sign.  I always heard that anger was a sign of grief, but I had just assumed that it meant anger towards the loved one or the way in which they died.  Apparently, it comes and disguises itself as normal everyday aggression as well.

Another thing about this process is I don’t want to hide it from my kids.  I decided in the days after dad’s death that I had a choice to make, to try and protect their childhood innocence and cry behind closed doors, or grieve right beside them, walking and explaining each step together.  My choice years ago to stay at home with my kids was a choice to do life together, and grief is life.  The most loving thing I could do for them was to share my grief because someday I’m going to die and how they see me grieve is going to shape the way they grieve.

When I was done cleaning up I walked into the living room where they were playing.  Tears still welling in my eyes, I explained that I wasn’t crying over the plant, I was crying because I missed their Pappy.  My daughter asked for clarification again, “Pappy will be in heaven forever now?”

“Yes sweetie, he will be, and I’ll get to see him again when I get to heaven but I sure do miss him a lot now.”

“Mommy, you don’t need to be sad, we love you.”

“I love you too, very much and you make me very happy.  It’s okay for Mommy to be happy and sad at the same time.”

And then we hugged.  A wonderful, strong, loving embrace.  I wanted them to feel safe and secure.  My dad always made me feel that way every time he hugged me.  It’s one of the things I miss most about him right now.  It’s another gift I can give my kids and pass along to the next generation.  Even though my life is out of my control, there are still a few things I can grasp onto that will not waiver.  And my houseplant, it’s sitting pretty, back in its spot on the window ledge, to bring peace, comfort, and beauty for another day.

Houseplant

Shifting Perspective

“Be joyful always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:9

Gratefulness changes our perspective.  Our eyes shift their gaze from ourselves onto God.  Suddenly instead of “woe is me,” or “look at me,” no matter what our circumstance we can find God.

In our culture, really our human state, we seek comfort, we hate the tension.  But God exists in our suffering, in our hard times, stressful times.  He is a God of suffering after all.  And right before he entered the suffering, Jesus gave thanks at the Last Supper.  His focus was on God.  From there he could enter deep communion with God in prayer in the garden, bringing his full self, his true self, with all the emotions that burdened him to the heart of God.  In that moment of weakness that he was brave to admit, he drew on the strength that only comes from God (2 Corinthians 12:10).

It was out of this strength he could walk the path of suffering that would lead to death.  Just because he gave thanks and immersed himself in God didn’t mean the suffering would go away.  No, quite the opposite, it made the suffering in its complete form become possible to lead to true transformation.  We must all suffer.  We must all die.  We must all cry out to God, why have you forsaken me?

Because Jesus was focused on God he was living in hope and knowledge that his suffering and death would not end there.  On the other side of death, the stone will be rolled away and new life will emerge.  It is the only way, the way of the cross, the way of the people of the redeemed.

In our own lives, we will all have to walk in the way of the suffering.  What if we were brave to sit in our emotion and in our circumstance and instead of praying them away, give thanks and shift our gaze to him, the one who we will draw our strength from.  Because God isn’t just on the other side of suffering, he is in it with us.  Why do we limit God?  We are not him and we do not know his ways.  God exists in all places, we need merely look for him.  Afterall we’ve been promised, “seek and ye shall find,” because the kingdom of God, where he exists in all of his glory and where we are meant to live is always at hand.

But don’t give thanks in just the suffering, but in the good as well, lest our pride is puffed up and we think all this comes from our hand.  No, even in the good our perspective must shift.  So whether it would be thanks for the little or for the great we know that God is for us and not against us.  I think we take these opportunities to know God, to root ourselves in him, then when the suffering must come we draw on that truth to bravely step forward, to learn more about God and his character and more about ourselves and our identity.

The Gift of Grief?

So it’s been a rough week.  Some of my best friends were packing up their house and heading out of town off on a new adventure.  This will be about the sixth set of friends we’ll be saying goodbye to this year, but probably the hardest for me.  These were the kind of friends who become like family over the years shared together.  As I was over helping them put all their belongings in boxes, laughing and making some last memories, the weight of the anticipated goodbye hung heavy over me.

The day after our “sappy” goodbye, with all the last minute important things said I was a big weepy mess.  I kept wondering what is going on with me?  Sure these were good friends, but why such a basket case Kelly?  Get it together girl.  I couldn’t sleep so I listened to the voice that told me to start writing and start exploring these feelings. That’s when I realized, the subconscious will always work it’s way to the surface, the question is, will you recognize it?

What I finally began to recognize was that my dad is dead and that this will be our first holiday season without him.  Not only that, but the Monday after Thanksgiving marks the one year anniversary of discovering that his cancer had spread and knowing that our lives would not be same.  Sure I was missing my friends, but really, I’m missing my dad.

Grief is an interesting beast to explore.  It’s been unpredictable which I’ve learned from others is the only predictable thing about it.  I never know what will trigger my sadness or how long it will decide to stick around.  But despite that crappiness of it all, I’ve also learned that it can be a gift.

I’ve been learning to let the hole that was left in the wake of my dad’s death be filled with something new.  We all fill the grief hole with something; busyness, food, stuff, isolation, etc. and trust me I’ve filled my hole up with some of those idols too.  But luckily God and I had already started a journey a few months prior to saying goodbye to dad and my hole propelled me deeper onto that journey.

I’ve learned that sometimes we need to lose things in order to make room for something different.  Don’t twist my thinking here, God does not cause deaths to happen on purpose, but he is a God of redemption, he is a God of walking the suffering path, he is a God who rolls away stones so that new life can emerge.  Will we walk the suffering to reach the new?

On this journey, I’ve learned about what means to be hidden in Christ.  The same as being clothed in Christ.  The same as living into my true self.   I miss my dad terribly but I’m also really enjoying getting to live into my new self and getting to live deeper into my identity in God.

Bandages or Scars?

In life, we all deal with broken relationships.  Things get messy and feelings are hurt, sometimes very deeply.  My default way of handling situations like these that are too tricky or uncomfortable is to ignore them. Ignore the person through phone, in person, but still think of the situation over and over again in my mind.   That constant ruminating has never been good for my mind.

The question is why, why ignore when you can deal with things and move on with life? It might actually have a positive outcome that ends with reconciliation and a renewal of the relationship. I guess there’s fear of hurt and pain and reliving with that person directly the hurt that was caused, not just on my part, but their part as well.

Am I willing to take ownership of the parts that I’ve had to play in a relationship going sour? In my head I am, and that’s what I would tell someone else. But in these scenarios I still come out on top, I’m still right and can feed my arrogance and pride. To confess in person to the other party and be open and willing to listen to their side of the story will not always have me feeling great about myself at the end of the day.

It will require a great deal of vulnerability, which is one thing that is hard to handle. Even the act of confessing my hurt is an act of opening those hurt places again and having them exposed, being willing to experience those feelings again. And in hearing the grievances of others might end in new wounds for me. Again, why relive that pain?

But unconfessed all that hurt lies under a band-aid of sorts left there to keep things hidden and safe and out of view. To rip off the band-aid would result in exposure. But I’ve learned enough from physical wounds that sometimes you need to take a bandage off to expose it to the air to really get full healing. Then the scab will come, the body’s natural way of healing (perhaps in this metaphor, the reconciliation that happens after the conversation?) and eventually that even heals and the skin will close over.

There are scars leftover though, at the end of the healing, the wounded will never be the exact same again. It’s those scars that we learn from and remind us what has happened. We can choose to do things differently next time in how we interact. We can choose to ignore them and keep going through life doing the same things over and over again. We can lift those scars and bandages up and play a victim, still staying hidden behind our protection and not risk getting vulnerable again.

How would God have us act? Well, I know that God only exists in the light, not in the darkness. He can only operate his truth there and his healing. I know that after the Fall is when we became self-conscious and unable to share our vulnerability with others and ourself, for fear of hurt and pain and rejection. So as much as I want to stay hidden and ignore I know I cannot.

Because then I wouldn’t be transformed into the person God has created me to be. I stay impotent in the sinful shell. To expose to the light will only cause growth. In this life, we are not meant to stay as we are but are to become a reflection of and an image-bearer of our Creator. I can’t do that by ignoring life but by embracing life and moving forward.

I wonder what it was like for Paul after his conversion? There were a lot of people he had to face and reconcile with, including himself. What did his conversations look like? There was a lot of arrogance and pride on his part that had to be exposed and healed so that he could transform and step into the life God had for him. I can only believe that he did that hard work of reconciliation because of the great work he did for God. There is no way a man full of bandages and unhealed wounds could walk around speaking so powerfully for God. But there is a way for a man full of scars and humbled by his past and the grace that has abounded in his life to be vulnerable and let others in, to share his story so that others might believe and begin their own transformation as well.

So what do I want my life to be marked by, unhealed wounds hidden and covered up, or scars? They’re both hard, but one will lead to new life and more mobility and one will not. Instead of ignoring the next phone call, I need to pick it up. I have a scenario in my head of what I’ll be met with on the other side but I don’t know for sure till I step into the path and see where it leads. This path will tell it’s own story, not one from before. There’s new characters at play, even myself. I’m not the same person walking into this hurt that I was before. Do I trust my temporary hurt and pain more than I trust the God of the universe?

 

Ambition

I’m tired this morning but can’t sleep anymore. I feel it in my muscles and with each yawn. My eyes aren’t quite awake yet enough to take in and focus on life yet. My brain has started going though. My brain is always going it seems. So I’ll start writing for the day and see where it takes me.

I described myself as not an ambitious person. As someone who’s content to stay in my lane. When I look at others who achieve these big dreams and goals and go around the world, I look at my own life and think, well that’s just not me. But not everyone is meant to be them and that’s okay. I’m meant to be me.

But why do the desire and longing still exist? A friend spelled out that that desire is actually the ambition. I’ve been calling myself not ambitious but in all actuality, I am quite ambitious. The question comes down to what to do with the ambition, will it cause me to act towards my desire?

I didn’t grow up in a house that talked a lot about ambition. We didn’t give it a name or identify it much. I wasn’t pushed toward action often unless it was a deadline for school. I flew under the radar at school. I did just enough to get by and achieve good grades, but never the top of the class. I wasn’t ever winning any awards.

I remember becoming aware of this in high school right around my junior year I think. My grades had qualified me for National Honor Society. My friends and I all filled out our applications and I just assumed I would be accepted, and then I wasn’t. To get into NHS you needed activities, both in school and out of school, where you were applying yourself and serving and bettering the community. The Vice Principal of the school pulled me into the office and told me my application just missed the mark. How could I apply myself more and push myself? He said I just needed one or two more things. So I did just one or two more things and made it in my senior year.

I played field hockey in high school. I wasn’t very “athletic” growing up. The only other sport I had done was a few years of gymnastics when I was very young. Everyone made the team and my neighbor played so I thought it might be something cool and fun to do. I liked the team atmosphere and being part of the group. But I was never the star. I chalked it up to not being very “athletic” and that it was okay, but when all my friends were being picked to move up to the varsity team by junior year and was left back by myself on JV I was crushed. I thought the coach was playing favorites.

One afternoon practice during warm-ups, I had just finished my mile. For the last 100 yards, we always sprinted seeing who would get in first. As I zoomed in the coach was there and pulled me aside. She asked why didn’t I have that kind speed and focus on the field? If I applied myself, then I probably would have made it up a level. I was dumbfounded. I hadn’t seen any difference in my performance on or off the field, but apparently, she did. We never talked about it again and I continued to play JV for the rest of the season.

By my senior year of high school I was ready to achieve different goals in life. I formulated it in my head that I wanted to do what I wanted to do, not what I felt everyone else expected me to do. I had a hunger and thirst to find out what life was made of because my pursuits up until this point were leaving me feeling less than. I quit hockey and used the time to join yearbook instead and had a blast. My skills as a leader began to take shape and I flourished better in that team environment. I was tired of always being in the chorus for the stage musicals at school so I decided to try something new and went backstage to learn a new skill at the spotlight. I was nervous about the responsibility but it was such a fun time. And through it all, I made new friends. Not the ones that were “popular” in high school terms, but ones that were authentic and genuine. I stopped caring what everyone else thought of me and began to live my life.

The other huge shift during this time was my pursuit of God. I had grown up going to church every Sunday morning. My parents were involved there, serving on different committees and with the Sunday School program, but the church and my pursuit of God existed only in that building. I don’t remember talking much about God in our home growing up. I thought that to be a Christian meant you went to church every Sunday, you believed in God, there was something about Jesus on Christmas and Easter but I couldn’t quite explain why that was important and I had no clue who the “Holy Ghost” was we recited about in the Apostles Creed.

When I began to pursue this new life I’m grateful that I also pursued God. One of the new groups I started attending at school was the Christian one. I heard new things about God and saw a group of people living a different sort of life. And I wanted that life. One that was living for someone’s approval and ideals that wasn’t my peers and meant so much more. This was the beginning of my journey that I’m still on, transforming into a new being.

And it seems like that transformation is coming full circle again in my life.  Tired of my old pursuits and ready to try out this thing I’m finally calling what it is, ambition to pursue deep longings and try new things that have for a long time been stirring deep inside my soul but I lacked the courage beyond the ambition to take the next step.  The fear will never change but my response to it and my indifference toward life can, one small step at a time.

True Beauty

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“So don’t be afraid, to let them show. Your true colors. Your true colors are beautiful.”

There was something that told me to stand there next to the mirror as my daughter looked at herself last night. With a huge beaming smile on her face, I wanted to tell her she was beautiful. I wanted it to soak down deep into her very being so that she would never forget how beautiful she was. Someday when she would doubt it, or someone would tell her otherwise, I wanted her to go back to this moment and remember that she is beautiful.

I wanted her to know why she was beautiful. Not because of what she looked like. “My darling, you are beautiful because you are a daughter of God. You are lovely because he made you that way.” Our beauty comes not because of human standards and what others tell is beautiful. Not based on what we grasp as the standards of beauty. Our beauty is rooted in our Creator, someone who’s standard never changes. Who knows us better than anyone because he was the one that created the fabric of our being and breathed life into our lungs.

His standard of beauty is more than skin deep because God cares more about the inside of our cup, our heart, than our whitewashed tombs of the outside. So I went on to tell her what made her beautiful, those inside qualities that God desires. I told her she was kind and compassionate. How she puts the needs of others before her own.

I remembered back to when she first started preschool last year. It’s always sad to let our kids go for the first time, but she was beyond ready to be in a classroom with her peers, to play and explore in new ways. I knew her extroverted self was going to thrive in this environment. After a few weeks, her teacher pulled me aside to check in. She said what a lovely daughter we had and that she was the “classroom mom”. Whenever she saw a friend who was off by themselves playing, she made a point of going over and sitting with them so they wouldn’t feel alone. That when a friend had a hard time standing in line and following directions she would hold their hand and bring them along with her. Tears welled in my eyes, and still do. That, that was what I was trying to instill in her the last four years, but she already had it in her. This is who God made her to be and it was beautiful.

From an early age, my daughter was an observer of people. Whenever she interacted with people she was keenly aware of how they were feeling. “Mommy’s face is happy.” “Daddy’s face is sad.” She would describe not the features of what they looked like on the outside, but what the features told her about what they were feeling on the inside. Now that she has more words, she is still describing our moods, in greater detail, based on body language and tone and verbiage. “Why you so angry Mommy?” She keeps me in check.

So maybe I don’t need to worry so much about her because she already gets it. She is already looking into a person’s heart to see who they truly are. There are going to be people that come along though that try to sow seeds of doubt and maybe that’s what my messages are, a repellant to guard against them.

I had a dad who told me I was beautiful all the time, from a very early age. His little princess. I was loved beyond measure and it made me feel secure. When I entered my teenage years and didn’t get attention reciprocated by my peers to validate if I met their standards of beauty it was hard. I still remember standing in front of a mirror at home staring at myself and trying to speak louder than the voices of doubt, “No, you are beautiful. Dad tells you all the time.”

Well, of course, I still doubted a little bit, after all, I had no longterm boyfriend in high school which would have been the ultimate validation, but I think that security and truth that I stood on took me farther than I realized or ever will realize. Sure I didn’t have a boyfriend, but I never let my true value come from there. I confidently walked into each day ready to take on whatever lay in store.

Then entering my senior year I did begin to throw off the chains of the standards that everyone else was throwing my way. God began to take hold of my life and suddenly I started listening to the voice inside me. I did and said what I wanted to not screening it first off of what others would think. I tried new things and new experiences that I would have held myself back from before. And I think it’s all because I had been told, you are beautiful, from a young age, before any doubt from the outside world could creep in.

I suppose that’s the gift I want to give my daughter. Someday when she’s looking in the mirror, I want her to shout above the lies, “No, I’m beautiful, not because of what you say, but because of what God says.” My beauty wasn’t built initially on the rock of my heavenly father, but my earthly one, but luckily I have been able to transfer it. What if she realizes this from a very early age and builds that foundation of who she is on her Creator, who knit together her inmost being and has amazing things planned just for her.

Her “life verse” that I was lead to when I was pregnant with her was Ephesians 2:8-10 that I thought described the essence of what I wanted her to take through life. “Now it is by grace you have been saved, not by works so that anyone can boast. It is a gift from God. You are God’s masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus to do amazing things that he has prepared in advance for only you to do.” May my precious daughter continue to go through this world noticing people for how they truly feel and be the friend that they need in that moment. May she share her beauty with all those around her and remember that she is beautiful.