My friend Renee suffered an excruciating and sudden tragedy last week. Those of us who know her are painfully aware this isn't her first time swimming through crashing waves of heartache and loss. I sat down this morning to write her something that would bring her comfort; something to soothe the cracks in her heart. I can't. That's the god-awful truth of the thing. We all know it.
You see, nothing is going to make this okay.
Doug and Renee's teenage daughter went to bed --- and woke up in heaven. No warning. Just like that. Gone.
Who am I to offer any kind of comfort to a family who is starting a new week without their girl? Let's be honest; even if God himself came down and gave them an explanation, it wouldn't be good enough. Lindsey is gone, and they didn't get to tell her goodbye or whisper love into her ear before she slipped away. It's not fair.
But here's the thing; even in the midst of her suffering, Renee sees light. Even in the dark crawlspace of her grief, she is fixing her eyes on Love. There's just something that compels her arms to open wide to her babies and her husband and she breathes, just breathes. She keeps the light close and her little ones closer.
She is in shock, she is withering, she is drowning slowly, but she continues to kick. Her heart continues to beat to the rhythm of her faith.
Renee is a safe place for many, because she has walked the dark path and survived it. I hate that this is true, but it is. She is beautiful and authentic and I have found breathtaking comfort in her presence. And today, as her friend, I will watch as she swims and struggles and kicks through wave after wave. I will be changed by it.
Hers is a heart that is scarred and beautiful. Love does that to us, you know. We live in a world that isn't fair. We live in a world that will cut us deeply if we choose to give our hearts away. The more we love, the more we are vulnerable to the scarring.
Complete Love always leaves scars. There is proof of this in Renee and in her children and in Doug and in the lives of others who have walked this path.
And there is proof in the wrists of God himself.
Love tells us to keep swimming, Love tells us to kick and breathe, Love tell us to keep the light close. And this morning I pray for Renee and Doug.
Anne dished up a few meatballs during the workshop. Many of her words were about writing. But some of them were about life. A quote I wrote down in my journal was this:
It reminded me of this picture. Just take 30 seconds and stare at it. Don't keep scrolling.
My phone keeps me connected with everyone I love and issues I care about. Some of my favorite memories are recorded in my phone. My parents are skilled in the emoji arts. My brother can wield a .gif like a superstar. Every morning I scroll through Facebook headlines to see what people are up to. Instagram inspires me. Pinterest tortures me.
But I must admit, I've been wondering lately about the effects of always having a phone in my pocket. Am I so busy capturing moments electronically that I miss the essence of the moment itself? Is my live tweet somehow diminishing my live experience?
I don't know.
A friend recently posted a selfie from her front porch that said, "Enjoying a quiet evening with my love, watching the sunset and focusing on each other".
Are we all so connected that we somehow become disconnected?
We live in an extraordinary time in history. Technology enables us to do things we could barely dream of when I was growing up. But sometimes I long for lazy conversations without a phone on the table.
I want to become as skilled at saving memories in my heart as I am at saving memories in my cloud.
We overload our senses by multitasking our experiences.
Some moments were meant to only be savored once, to live in the deepest parts of our hearts and minds. Sometimes what is seen with our eyes and heard with our ears is meant just for us. It's okay to lean up against the fence and drink in a moment that will never be seen again. It's really okay. Our human hearts were built to store these little gems.
On my deathbed I probably won't say, "Hurry honey, bring me my phone. I want to remember all the good times."
When we take our phones out of our pockets, when we silence them and put them away, we let the moment shape us in a different way. Our senses wake up. Our hearts make room for beauty.
In other words, it's a different kind of hike.
I should have warned them before letting them know my cheese was sliding off my cracker. Well they aren't stupid so I suppose they KNEW, they just didn't realize why. Sorry, Mom and Dad.
Anyway, here we are. Everyone knows I'm struggling to some degree. We may as well talk about it. Eventually we're going to talk about fear and awkward moments and fiddle lessons and PSA scores and cheetas (not Cheetos, which are delicious) and churchyness and depression and chewing with our mouths open. But first let's talk a little about God.
Honestly, I've been wrestling with the whole "God is good all the time" thing. I've been a Christian for as long as I can remember. There really isn't a time in which I have questioned the goodness of God, until now. But lately when I hear the sing-songy chant "God is good, all the time, all the time, God is good" I want to grab someone by their saggy throat skin and pinch. Hard.
I'm sure some people mean what they are saying. But my heart has been stretching and it makes me want to do and say bad things. Some days I'm a honeybadger. And it feels good.
Suffering happens around us every day. It might even happen within us every day. And we try to offer hope in the form of sing-songy chants, or we try to explain why it's for the best, or we might even try to make God look better. Did you hear that? We actually try to defend the actions (or inaction) of the Almighty.
We say things like "Everything happens for a reason" or "God is in control" or "He only gives us what we can handle". That's crap. Absolute crap.
Can I tell you a secret?
Because in my world, a 'good' father doesn't stand idly by and watch scalding water melt away his baby daughter's flesh. In my world, a 'good' God doesn't allow humans to be sold by the hour. In my world, when we say YES to him he pours blessing and joy and abundance into our life. He doesn't allow things to actually get excruciatingly hard when we surrender and step out in faith, does he? In my world, a good God prevents heartless bullying, he brings us decent presidential candidates, children don't die before their parents, and at the very least he keeps raisins out of any and every baked good.
Suffering. It takes many forms. It's universal. It drains us and leaves us feeling alone and helpless.
Should a good God allow suffering? I remember when my boys were little I did everything I could to keep suffering far from them. I like to think I was a good mother. (Hey, they survived didn't they?)
Here's the thing, my friend. When it comes to God, I don't think "good" means what we think it means. For a long time I told myself "God wouldn't act THAT way" or "God wouldn't say THAT" or "God wouldn't allow THAT unless he had a good reason". This way of thinking is safe and comfortable.
And it's just not working for me anymore.
Here's the thing: If I want to know God--like, REALLY KNOW HIM--I have to stop this way of thinking. I have to stop this way of living. I have to dive into truth. I have to choose between the red pill or the blue pill.
God is good. He is. But he is HIS DEFINITION of good, not mine. And I want to know Him. Would you like to come along?
"For everyone who listens with an open heart will receive progressively more revelation until he has more than enough. But those who don't listen with an open, teachable heart, even the understanding that they think they have will be taken from them." Matthew 13:12-13, The Passion Translation
I’ve told the story my whole life.
I started training for a 5k. WHAT?!
One dark, rainy night I downloaded an app on my phone and followed the optimistic, slightly grating female computer voice who told me when to briskly walk and when to jog. For 31 excruciating minutes. I didn't stop, and I didn't die.
You see, I've told myself my whole life:
- I'm just not athletic.
- I hate running.
- Runners are crazy.
- I look ridiculous when I run.
- I'm going to hurt myself and then die a slow, painful death.
But the truth is, I thought I couldn't do it. So I made fun of running. I made fun of myself.
A couple of weeks back, the Lumberjack and I sat down to plan our year. I said I wanted to do some tough things. I wanted to set some goals that have a small chance of being met; I didn't want to just pick things I KNEW I could do. I wanted to write down some things I probably wouldn't be able to do, but chasing them would make me grow.
When I said I wanted to be healthier, I tried to think of one measurable goal that, if met, would mean I was healthier. When I said "5k" out loud I laughed my head off. Because...well...RUNNING. The last time I ran was P.E. class---oh wait. I probably cut class that day.
But then I wrote it down on my list - Run a 5k.
As I got dressed for my first run, I realized something.
I didn't have everything I needed: new clothes, reflective gear, something to hold my phone while I ran, a cool playlist, fast running shoes, new socks, a new beanie, one of those cool headbands that hold your bangs out of your face, those blinky light thingies you clip to your shoes, new lipbalm...you get the idea.
Honestly, at this point, I was thinking I should just go shopping instead of running.
I mean, come on! I would be more successful if I had everything BEFORE I began, right?
So instead of waiting until I had everything I needed, instead of waiting until conditions were perfect, I set out on my run in 24 degree weather with sweatpants that were missing the string to hold them up. You can imagine. Wait...don't. Sorry about that.
But here's my point: I've learned to stop making excuses, and instead just get my caboose in gear.
Just write the book.
Just plan the menu.
Just make the call.
Just buy the ticket.
Just get my caboose moving.
So I did.
And it felt gooooood.
Will I actually run a 5k? I hope so. I'm training for it. But the point is, I'm not putting it off.
What are you waiting for? Get your caboose out there!
There's a decision to be made today;
not an earth shattering, life-altering decision, but an important decision about stepping into a new position of leadership.
I listen to her recite pro's and con's, and while she lists them I imagine how every fact and detail is written carefully at home in a notebook on her kitchen counter. She gets to the end of her list and takes a sip of her water.
I say nothing. I say nothing for a really. long. time.
She finally clunks her water down on the table and looks at me with tears in her eyes. I know of the grief she is walking through right now. I know that right now it's hard for her to get out of bed; hard to feel anything, hope for anything, see anything but the last few months.
Cancer is a thief, and it stole her Momma. Her young, vibrant, active Momma. 60 days from diagnosis to goodbye.
And now my friend is desperate to stumble into something, anything, that will keep her from sitting on the couch with a remote control in her hand. She is looking for something to wake her up.
"Why can't God just tell us what to do at times like this?"
I say nothing, because that's the wrong question.
The truth is, nothing will change the fact that her Momma is gone. Nothing will change the fact that she has to walk through the grief. She can walk through it busy, or she can walk through it barely moving.
But she must walk through it.
There is no list to check through this time. There are no pro's and con's.
This is life. And it's messy and it's beautiful and it's full of color and it's broken and sometimes it sucks.
And sometimes it's our job to just sit across the table and shut our mouths and let the questions come.
Sometimes questions are just questions. And sometimes they lead to more questions.
And somewhere in the asking, we will find what we're looking for.
I came across an unpublished draft today that stopped me in my tracks. It was from November of 2012.
I will not let awkwardness or fear drive my decisions. I will learn how to love urgently, extravagantly and invisibly.
That was it. I'm not sure why I wrote those words when I did, but I'm pretty sure it was after an epic failure of some sort. I'm feeling a little goosebumpy as I read them again today because somehow after I wrote them, I began to say them to myself and pray them and live them. I don't remember even writing them down, but I know I wanted to live more like Jesus and this was the best way I knew how.
Have you ever written down a goal list or a life statement or something important you wanted to accomplish? Like, really written it down and put it somewhere safe? Once about twenty years ago, the Lumberjack and I wrote down everything we wanted to accomplish by the end of the year. I found the list after the year was up and we both laughed our heads off because we were able to cross every single thing off of the list. (It probably wasn't a very ambitious list, but we were young. Ha!)
'My Decision' was powerful because it summed up what I was learning at the time.
I had been letting fear get in the driver's seat. It took me places I hated.
Was it the only important decision I made at that time? Nope. Have I still found myself making bad decisions? Pssht. Of course. But I'm making them less and less. And I'm focusing on the "I will" in my life more than the "I won't". I think that's progress.
What about you? Think back over the past several months. What are some times you would love a "do over"? What is at the core of the mess? For me it was fear. For you it will be something else.
Write down your own 'My Decision' today; something that you will say to yourself the next time you are faced with a choice. (P.S. I would LOVE to hear about it!) Write it down and pray it and begin to repeat it to yourself. You might just be surprised at how things will change. You might be surprised at how much it changes YOU.
It was a romantic notion, really; this jumping off into a place with no borders. When I decided to follow Jesus and leave behind beige living, I pictured myself doing something in vibrant color: I would be moving to a third world country, or starting a ground breaking non-profit, or maybe even becoming a famous writer. I would learn about fair trade and I would type my manuscripts on a vintage typewriter and I would take my vacations in Iceland or Uruguay, all while saving orphans and freeing slaves from a life of suffering. Oh, and I would have awesome abs. Because duh.
So I started doing things that scared me and I called it 'Jumping Into Awkward' because I thought that sounded compelling and super cool and even a bit risky.
Awkward was a nod to my misfit self; that part of me that doesn't really like to walk into conflict or tension of any kind. I should probably tell you that I'm married to a guy who pulls on his rubber boots and strides boldly into the center of conflict. He just clomps right into stinky, gross tension and says 'I see you and that green stuff between your teeth. Let's be friends'. And I'm the wife who stands on the edge of the muck, praying no one notices me and calls me out into the swamp and asks me to bring dental floss. Because, ew, I'm not going in there. I just scored these name-brand shoes for $12.99 at Ross and hurry up we have somewhere to be in half an hour. Get the picture?
But I was determined that if I stuck to the plan and embraced Awkward, I would finally arrive. I would arrive with my world traveler's tan and my passport full of stamps and a whole crop of new, interesting friends and stories.
So how's that little plan been working for me? Welp, I'm still living in Southern Oregon, I can't find my passport, my abs are not awesome, I still get pitty when I make myself talk to strangers, I'm whiter than Bill Clinton, I'm working in a beige cubicle every day and lately I've been neglecting this little blog. Say what? Hold up! Call Oprah and Grandma and John Tesh, 'cause that's a whole lot of awesomeness going on right there.
This journey through Awkward has looked nothing like I expected. So what does it really look like?
It looks like a 2:00 a.m. drive to a scary neighborhood to pick up someone who's probably lying to me. It looks like having to tell someone she can't get naked or smoke pot in my living room. It looks like sitting across from someone who just lost their mom, or someone who wants to kill herself, or someone who is leaving her drunk husband, or someone who is just pissed at God. It looks like swallowing my self righteous advice and saying "What do you need and how can I help?" It looks like giving up 'me time' so my daughter-in-law can have a break, it looks like endless stacks of dirty dishes that I didn't eat from, it looks like 6 gallons of baby puke on my white carpet. It looks like new wrinkles on my face and ugh-not-so-cute toenails. It looks like shining a flashlight on a path in the deep dark woods and shouting "Come on! I found it! Walk here!" It looks like sitting in my pajamas staring at an old computer screen, hoping my words mean something to you.
There's more, but let's stop for a second. Do you see the beautiful, broken mess? In all of my dysfunction and inadequacies I am following Jesus. It never looks how I think it will look; that's how I know I'm doing something right.
Awkwardness wrecked me for any other way of living.
....aaaaand this is where some of you will stop reading and move on with your day, if you haven't already. Honestly, I don't blame you. Go forth if you must, my friend.
BUT, if you're still reading, there are a few things you need to know before you jump.
I mean, if you're still reading I'm assuming it's because you've been thinking about jumping into Awkward with me. Ready? No? Good. Me neither. Or is it either? GAH!
1. CHASE THE TRUTH: In order to call out the best in people, I have to know who I am and why I'm here. I want to soak in scripture until the day I die because it reveals who I am and more importantly, who God is. Don't underestimate the importance of knowing God's word.
2. PUT FEAR IN THE CORNER WITH BABY: You are going to feel completely clueless and inadequate and stressed out. If you untangle it all, fear is in the center of it. Acknowledge the fear and the tension. Recognize that a healthy amount of fear and tension are needed to help you grow; just don't let them be the loudest voices in the room. And don't ever EVER let fear steer your decision making. (And by the way, if you grew up in the 80's, you will know that NO ONE puts Baby in a corner. So Fear will just have to sit there alone and pick his nose and sulk. See what I did there? Now go back and read #2 again because I know you were distracted by Baby being in the corner).
3. TRUST THE COUNCIL: Find a small 'council' of people you can share your journey with. My council meets once a week around a dinner table to work through life. The council speaks truth, holds me accountable and helps me dream. If that's not possible for you right now, make sure you have a few healthy friends you can count on. Honestly, I can't stress this one enough. So many of my friends are just treading water because they haven't cultivated a council. (I plan on writing more about how to do this later, because I have recognized this is a huge need around me right now).
Ok that's enough to get you started. May you find your stride today. May you walk in boldness and in all things messy and stinky and beautiful.
And may the God of all things Awkward delight in you today.
Which of the things above are hardest for you? Are there other things that help you live a compelling life? Please share with the class!
**photo courtesy of Natalie Rose Art. Visit her Etsy store and check out her amazing work!
It's the phone call every Momma fears the most.
And I ride, shaky and sick, up the elevator to the third floor and turn the corner and stand with my back against the wall outside ICU. I stare up at the cameras and I stare at the doors and I just stand there, staring, dumb and afraid.
And then that Momma, she comes slipping out of those doors carrying her phone and looking like she just swam the entire ocean and back again. And she says to me, "Hi".
And what do I say? What do I say when her boy is laying in that hospital bed with tubes sucking things out and forcing things back into his broken body? Everything that's rolling around in my mouth feels meaningless and flat. I'm just dumb. Dumb and shaking and afraid.
Me and this sweet Momma, we've poured our tears out over the years; when our boys were doing things they shouldn't, going places they shouldn't, smoking things they shouldn't. And we would just shake our heads at each other and smile through the tears, because no one hopes and dreams for a boy like his Momma. No one sees him like she does. No one aches and worries and prays through the night like her. And no one forgives, over and over, like a Momma. So over the years, Keri and I, we just kept hoping. Hoping and praying. Over and over.
And then one night Keri gets a call that could have just as easily come my way. And now there are things that can't be undone. There will be tough days ahead. Nothing I can say will change it or make it any less brutal.
Jakob's life was spared last night. He woke up today, and his body will eventually heal. Tonight, I pray over his life and his brokenness. I pray for his future. I pray for eyes that will not see just today, but a thousand and ten thousand days from now. I pray for discovery and grace. I pray for a life reborn.
Because no one loves and restores and relentlessly pursues us like our God. No one pours Himself out like He does. No one.
We sang in church tonight about how He makes beautiful things out of dust; about how He makes beautiful things out of us.
And I will keep on singing that. Because it's true.
My Mom's well-worn Bible sits on the coffee table in the living room, a testament to years of soaking in Gods word and petitioning the throne for her children. The Lumberjack swears that he's alive today because she prayed through many nights when, as a young dad, he regularly pushed his limits driving a big rig through icy mountain passes.
Momma, I hope your birthday is fabulous. Thank you for your kindness and loyalty and generosity. Thank you for teaching me about love. Thank you for laughing at my jokes and always encouraging me. Thank you for loving my Dad.
Happy Birthday, Marcie Jane. I love you so much. I'm so privileged to be your daughter.