An Unexpected Sabbatical

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“I am as good as dead,
     like a strong man with no strength left.
They have left me among the dead,
     and I lie like a corpse in a grave.
I am forgotten,
     cut off from your care.
You have thrown me into the lowest pit,
     into the darkest depths.” (Psalm 88:4-6, NLT)

I published my last post over a year ago. I didn’t expect to go silent. I fully expected to continue with a series about anger and healing. Instead, life happened and flung us into a rollercoaster that crashed into an abyss.

And I lay there.

For about a year.

In silence.

Alone.

A traumatic death brought our son and 2 large dogs back home. Months of trying to re-home 2 other dogs. Inheriting a cat from a 95-year-old friend who had to move.

Empty nesting, then full-housing. And inadequately helping our son move through grief and put some pieces of life back together.

While the puzzle of our life is starting to take shape, I am only now starting to look around the abyss for a way out.

I don’t know yet how often I’ll be writing; but I know I must write. It’s my ‘safe place.’ My processing place. My refuge. And in sharing, I find hope and community. Connections with people who feel the same, but may not have words.

I have words. It’s one of my gifts.

Then others share their gifts with me, because I gave them words.

While this short post only cracks the door as I begin to search for sunlight and slowly examine how damaged my heart is and do I have the stamina to begin the arduous journey upward, I must begin.

Will you begin again with me? 

Have you experienced levels of trauma you didn’t know existed? Has your life taken a toll on you, and you wondered if you would ever recover? Let’s explore baby steps together!

I welcome comments! Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Prayer Vigil For 9 Martyrs

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The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us. –John 17:21

This week, I was going to process through some thoughts on anger that I’m pondering.  However, that was before a young man brought a gun into a church and gunned down 9 people.

I’m still wrestling with my own ‘white privilege,’ racism in America, ‘black lives matter’, how we can still be struggling for equality in the 21st century, and how far we still have to go in looking past people’s skin tones as a judgement on their character.  

For this post, I simply want to give some space for solidarity, unity, and lamenting.  On Friday night, I attended a prayer vigil at a local AME church.  Several leaders from the community, other congregations, other faith traditions spoke about how Sunday morning continues to be the most segregated time of the week in America.  How every Sunday should look like that gathering–men and women leading, black and white intermingling, all being welcomed.

The joy and fervency of the AME congregation, as well as the other ‘black’ congregations represented, expressed conviction that they (the black Christian community) would rise victorious because they ‘had been here before.’  People spoke of Selma, Juneteenth, Ferguson, and more recent events.  My eyes began to flood.  They spoke of forgiveness, of needing the white people to act, of wanting true equality–not separate equality–in their lifetimes.  My eyes could no longer hold the tears.

Others spoke.  A Jewish rabbi.  A Baha’i leader.  A Buddhist leader.  An Anglican priest.  A Baptist preacher.  The head of the local NAACP.  Another Jewish leader.  Men.  Women.  Black.  White.  All united in wanting our world to be better.  More tears.

Then came the roll call of the 9 people who died.  ‘It Is Well With My Soul’ sung in a hushed hum.

(‘When peace, like a river, attendeth my way)

Clementa Pinckney

(‘When sorrows like sea billows roll’)

Tywanza Sanders

(‘Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say’)

DePayne Middleton-Doctor

(‘It is well, it is well with my soul’)

Cynthia Hurd

(‘It is well’)

Sharonda Coleman-Singleton

(‘With my soul’)

Susie Jackson

(‘It is well’)

Ethel Lance

(‘It is well’)

Daniel L. Simmons, Sr.

(‘With my soul’)

Myra Thompson

Then, in resounding and swelling volume, we all sang in unison the chorus again.  I felt the Holy Spirit in that gathering.  It felt like how ‘church’ is supposed to be.  And the call that we can’t let this be a one-off event.  We need more gatherings like this one.  I believe other churches are planning on having gatherings like this once a month in my area.  I plan on attending those efforts.

I left with a bittersweet feeling.  I couldn’t shake the sulphuric taste in my soul that it took the martyrdom of 9 people to get us to integrate a congregation for one night.  We can’t wait for other martyrs to continue integrating.  We just can’t!  The time was 150 years ago.  The time was 50 years ago. The time is NOW!  Will we continue to pass on this separation to future generations? Or will we finally say, “ENOUGH ALREADY,” and actually do something to change our corner of the world?

What can we do?  Well, glad you asked:

  1. We can intentionally attend a church or meeting of people who are not our skin color.
  2. We can ask our pastors and leaders to work with congregations and organizations of people who are not our skin color–and support those efforts with our presence, money, time.
  3. We can support community events that celebrate all our skin colors.
  4. We can have conversations over coffee, over lunch, at our dinner tables about racial injustice in our own nation.
  5. We can admit to our own prejudices (not necessarily racial), discomforts, fears, and hopes publicly and privately.
  6. We can vote for candidates that have a track record of taking injustices (not just racial) seriously and have pledged to use their influence to enact change in our country.
  7. We can get to know our neighbors, of any color, and build community again in our towns.
  8. We can support Emanuel AME church with donations, or find a church or organization in our communities who struggle because they are made up of minorities and don’t have the resources that more privileged organizations enjoy.

I’m sure there are many other ideas.  Please share them with me!  Because I don’t want to go to bed another night weeping because more lives have been lost due to hate or in the name of ‘purity.’

We don’t have the luxury of getting tired of these conversations and ignoring the Facebook posts and news articles.  Lives are at stake.  Our country is at stake.  Our humanity is at stake.  Our souls are at stake.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Waiting For Resurrection

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After the Sabbath, as the light of the next day, the first day of the week, crept over Palestine, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to the tomb to keep vigil. Earlier there had been an earthquake. A messenger of the Lord had come down from heaven and had gone to the grave. He rolled away the stone and sat down on top of it. He veritably glowed. He was vibrating with light. His clothes were light, white like transfiguration, like fresh snow. The soldiers guarding the tomb were terrified. They froze like stone. –Matthew 28:1-4

I used to love Easter sunrise services in Arizona.  As a teenager, many from our youth group would gather in the church parking lot and climb ‘A’ Mountain (the little hill with a giant ‘A’ embedded in it for ASU–Arizona State University).  We would sit in silence facing east, waiting for the sun to rise.  We each reflected on our own thoughts.  I’m sure some thought, ‘Why did I get up so freakin’ early?!’  I’m sure I thought that at least one year.

But most of the time, my thoughts on Easter reflected how much I knew God loved us.  The gratitude inside me would well up to almost bursting and coincided with the sunrise.

I miss those Easter sunrises.  Here in Colorado, the warmth of the blankets usually keeps me snuggled and asleep at dawn.  I miss the camaraderie, the community, the connection between ‘us’ and God.  In recent years, I haven’t felt very ‘together’ with other church-goers.  Instead, I’ve felt disconnected, and at times betrayed.

Isolated and ignored. 

Dead and buried.

Our American evangelical church-system hasn’t figured out yet how to encourage once-mighty-leaders and allow us to question and expand our Sunday-school-answer view of God.  We haven’t learned how to walk alongside people and keep them company as they live their journey of faith.  In my experience, our best solution has involved putting people in their own corners and telling them that ‘we’ll be over here when you’re done with your time-out.’  

*sigh*

The disciples must have felt similarly.  When Jesus died, they must have felt a part of them died.  The part that believed like children believe in magical endings.  The part that hoped for a fulfillment of all the stories they’d heard in their childhood about God and saviors and finally putting the world right (with them on top).  The part that believed all things were possible, like Jesus told them.  The part that kept them connected to each other.

It took them less than a day to disperse and disconnect from each other.  Only the women remained together, united at the tomb, sharing their grief.  

Then, the angel at the tomb said, “He is risen.  Just as He said.”  And in a moment’s flash, hope was restored.  Mary encounters Jesus, and He tells her to gather all the disciples.  They experience Christ’s resurrection, and their own resurrection of soul.  They spend many days together before Christ’s ascension.  It’s a glorious ending to the Gospel accounts!

An ending worthy of celebration!

I didn’t go to church this Easter morning.  The thought of celebrating resurrection weighed heavy on my heart when I feel like my spirit is still waiting for the stone to be rolled away.  Faith growing-pains are arduous and take more than a few days to complete.  I see glimpses that resurrection will come.  And I wait with anticipation in the midst of fear and grieving that the poignancy of the old ways have tarnished and rusted.  Because they need to give way to a faith that’s deeper than youth’s naive heart.  Because they don’t contain the profound wisdom that comes with growing older with God.  Because Christ’s resurrection gives us maturity to be peers with Him instead of constantly expecting Him to take sole responsibility for our spiritual hunger and entertainment.

The benefits of growing up definitely outweigh the benefits of remaining as a child.  The more we choose to accept the process, the more freedom we experience.  Children think they have freedom; but their parents (if they are wise and good) keep strong boundaries so that when the children are old, they will know how and when to expand those boundaries.  

So, I wait by the tomb.

I wait for my spirit to expand enough to contain Christ’s resurrection for this season of my life.

I wait with those who no longer find their childhood church systems fulfilling.

I wait in expectation to hear ‘just as He said’ and receive the fulfilled-promise of new life, renewed joy, restored equality in Christ for everyone.

I wait for Easter morning to come.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Celebrating Life!

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So since we stand surrounded by all those who have gone before, an enormous cloud of witnesses, let us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us and slackens our pace, and let us run with endurance the long race set before us. –Hebrews 12:1 (The Voice version)

I’m not there yet, nor have I become perfect; but I am charging on to gain anything and everything the Anointed One, Jesus, has in store for me—and nothing will stand in my way because He has grabbed me and won’t let me go. –Philippians 3:12 (The Voice version)

This past week, I went to the funeral of one of my mom’s dearest friends.  I used to babysit for him and his wife before they moved out of the Phoenix area.  While my mom kept up with them–through fairly consistent weekly phone calls with his wife–I only heard bits and pieces of news from my mom through the years.  Missions trips, marriages, birth of a baby for the now-grown children; and retirement, travel and spiritual epiphanies for her friends.  Traveling to the funeral, memories from childhood to adolescence flooded my heart.

Funerals gather an interesting assortment of people–people who knew the person from all aspects of his life.  My mom’s friends had started attending a church with Messianic influences several years ago (I don’t know if it’s an official ‘Messianic Jewish’ congregation or not).  They had studied Hebrew and travelled to Israel.  I didn’t know them in this context.  As photos of them and their family scrolled on an overhead, I didn’t recognize the later pictures of their life.  Then, the earlier pictures repeated.  Ah, there was the man I knew.  There were the kids I remembered.  There was his wife whose laugh always sounded so musical.  There was the family I went to the drive-in with during a rainstorm and ate popcorn while watching The Cat From Outer Space.

As people told stories of his influence in their lives, almost all of them (except for his children’s stories) came from people who only knew him in recent years.  They described a man who sounded bigger than life.  A great man.  An encouraging man.  A giving  and selfless man.  His daughter finally spoke and reminded everyone that he was human–with faults and insecurities.

That was the man I knew:  the human one.  Not that he wasn’t a great guy when I knew him; but he hadn’t yet matured into the man these people knew.  He still had edges that needed softening.  His God-given gifts needed some humility and training.  His life in Christ was new and uncultivated.  I recognized a piece of the man his friends described–his best qualities had been well-seasoned with humility over the years.

I thought of another death of a family friend from long ago.  I remember my mom and dad talking about his funeral.  I knew him from a child’s perspective and loved him.  He asked my mom if she would call me ‘Maggie.’  (‘No’ was the answer.  I had to wait until I moved out of the house to take on that nickname.  Another story for another time…)  He was loud, funny and wore bow ties.  At his funeral, his first wife came and said, “You all act like you really liked him.”  She knew him as an unkind alcoholic.  We knew the person he became, and he looked precious little like his former self.

I reflected that night on the conversation my parents had about their other friend’s death, and the conversations I had with family and friends at this recent funeral.  I knew the man he was becoming.  His friends from later years knew the man he became.  I got to see some of the hard-work-of-his-soul.  They experienced the fruit of his journey with Christ.  Together, our memories contained a fullness of his total person.  I began to feel so much joy from the knowledge that he continued to mature and didn’t stay static–even though in my mind he remained a young father.  That joy overflowed through my being as I realized we all have the opportunity to change.  No season of our lives, no event in our lives, no person in our lives has to define our identity.  We can grow.  We can change.  We can become our best selves.  In my belief system, we need the presence of God and the Holy Spirit to develop that identity and constantly revise our thinking to become more like Christ.  We need God to remind us what His image looks like and that all of us carry His imprint. I appreciate the reminder to once again celebrate the people we once were, the people we are now, and the people God has yet to reveal in us.

I grieve my mom’s loss of a friend, his wife’s loss of her beloved husband, his children’s loss of their honored father, his community’s loss of his wisdom and generous spirit.  I rejoice that he now stands with the cloud of witnesses, having run his race well.  I pray we can all live our lives in similar fashion–with integrity, humility, wonder, and reverence–leaving a legacy worthy of celebration!

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

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Do-Overs

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I am re-posting this one in honor of National Mental Illness Awareness Week.  If you or someone you love suffers from any mental/emotional health issues, please seek help and learn to risk opening up about the struggles.  We need to learn to support both those suffering with and those suffering with them through this hell.

‘I admit how broken I am in body and spirit, but God is my strength, and He will be mine forever’  ~~Psalm 73:26 (The Voice).

Remember, as kids, asking for a ‘do-over’ when you missed a shot or messed up a move in a game?  The older we got, the less likely requests for do-overs got positive responses.  As adults, how often would we like a do-over?  We say things we wish we hadn’t, we do things that hurt people, we don’t think far enough ahead to realize consequences.  As an extrovert, I pretty much live life out loud and wishing for do-overs.  I’ve become an expert apologizer and often internally berate myself for my words and actions.

So, when I got the news that Robin Williams died this week, I wondered what I always wonder when I hear of suicides:  Did he wish for a do-over just a little too late?  Lots of my favorite actors have died–Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Judy Garland (do you see a musical trend?).  Oh, and how could I forget Cary Grant?!  But death by suicide brings a deeper sadness with life-changing and life-lasting effects for those left dealing with the aftermath.  Life becomes more real, more sober, more heavy.  Always waking from stressful dreams.

Like chasing in vain to stop something from going over a cliff.

Like wanting desperately to stop talking so you don’t say what you know will change a relationship forever and you can’t take it back.

Like when we were young and called a ‘do-over’ in a game, only to have your friends deny the request.

Robin Williams’ suicide this week spotlighted the tragedy of mental illness. Many articles and blogs detail how depression, anxiety, and other debilitating diseases and disorders leave a life in constant chaos. I’ve watched friends, loved ones, and loved ones of loved ones exist in the trenches of the mental health war.  Part of the sorrow I feel over his death is my own helplessness and inability to change lives.  I’ve known personally at least 4 people in my life who committed suicide.  I’ve watched and held countless other sobbing friends (3 in the last year) live with the shock of loved ones who died by their own hands.

While much is written on depression/anxiety disorders, I haven’t found much encouragement for those of us who have to live with and watch those we love suffering from that anguish.  Needing to process all that’s going on in my soul right now, I dedicate this post to myself and to others who need to acknowledge what they rarely, if ever, admit:

If someone we love attempts suicide, but lives through the attempt:

  • We. Thank. God. Every. Day. For. Their. Life.  But we may never sleep restfully again.  Every ring of the phone, every noise at night in a silent house becomes heart-stopping for us–even though we may appear calm, happy, or to have recovered from the shock.  The elephant in the room remains.  And we’re afraid to address it.
  • We remain vigilant of where you go, how you’re doing, and are always nervous when you don’t pick up the phone.  But we try to sound ‘breezy’ and nonchalant.
  • We feel insecure with our own limits to help, fix, empathize, support.  Some of these feelings spur us on to grow and mature.  Many times the feelings incapacitate us from intimacy with you because we’re afraid of creating waves that may drown you.  We need to recognize that it’s no one’s responsibility to make someone ‘happy.’  We can’t live well with that pressure; but accepting that we aren’t big enough to absorb your pain is equally daunting.

When someone doesn’t live through a suicide attempt:

  • Guilt, shame, questions never go away.  We constantly second-guess what we could have done, could have said, could have been to you, and relive every minute detail of every last encounter with you … for years.
  • Our questions will never have answers.  You cannot assure us that it wasn’t our fault.  And believing that your death reflects how we didn’t show enough how much we loved you, shames us.
  • We cannot erase the image of you in death.  That death image is what we remember.  Even if we didn’t find you, we know how you died and our imagination fills in the sordid picture emblazoned in our heads.  It’s the last, and therefore, strongest memory we have.
  • We cannot confront you with our anger over the hell you’ve thrust upon us.  You don’t have to see the consequences of your actions; but we have to live with them every day.

So how do we blend the two worlds of people who suffer with chronic illnesses (physical, emotional, mental) and those of us who love them?  We have to live vulnerably and without shame with each other.  We have to network and create support systems.  We must de-stigmatize chronic illnesses–especially the ones that have no physical attributes.  How often have I heard people say to friends with internal challenges, “Well, you don’t look sick.”  To the people hearing those words, they feel dismissed, because if you can’t see the challenge then it doesn’t exist.  It may not be what we’re trying to communicate; but it’s what they hear.  Instead, let’s have some open communication and address the elephant in the room.

We may not be able to ‘fix’ ____ (depression, anxiety, chronic pain, recovery, etc.); but we can sit with you in it.  We have to learn how to support those we love and cherish in the midst of their struggles–read books on what they deal with, go to counseling sessions with them, just listen … patiently … endlessly.  Does it get old?  Yes.  But it’s not about our comfort or convenience, it’s about the ones we love–remember, their lives may depend on our support.  Let us into your hell and help you fight the demons.  We may make mistakes and insensitive remarks, but tell us when we do!  Don’t close off when we fail–teach us how to love you in your language.  We want desperately to learn!

Take some time for self-care and soul-care.  Loving someone with chronic issues exhausts even the best and strongest of us.  Talk to a trusted counselor, friend, pastor or priest.  Take a vacation.  I take a personal retreat every year for 4 days in the mountains.  So refreshing and rejuvenating!  Find at least one daily activity that you can do for your own joy–paint your nails, read for 30 minutes, walk a trail, finger paint, write.  Find God within and without.  Meditate on Scripture, pray, sit in quietness and feel God’s presence.  Connect with friends for coffee, meals.  Sometimes, I make a coffee date with a long-distance friend.  Even 15 minutes can lift my spirit.

And don’t forget that people are not defined by what challenges their lives.  Don’t let the challenges define the relationship.  Remember to have fun!  Remember to laugh!  Remember to enjoy the presence of each other!

Because, we don’t ever want to stand over your grave wishing for a do-over.

If you or someone you love is struggling, please get help.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always available:  1-800-273-8255.  

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

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Remembering The Fallen

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‘Come, gaze, fix your eyes on what the Eternal can do.  Amazing, He has worked desolation here on this battlefield, earth.  God can stop wars anywhere in the world.  He can make scrap of all weapons: snap bows, shatter spears, and burn shields.  “Be still, be calm, see, and understand I am the True God”‘  –Psalm 46:8-10.

Having lived the military life for most of our marriage, we have seen our share of people and families who ‘paid the ultimate price.’  I think on a few of them during Memorial Day weekend.

Bob, and a couple of others, introduced Jud to Jesus and discipled him during his Air Force Academy days.  Jud asked him to be his best man at our wedding; but Bob had commitments overseas and couldn’t make it.  Shortly after we married, we got word that Bob had the honor of going to Red Flag (an elite air-to-air combat training).  His plane hit a ridge on a blind turn.  His funeral introduced me to the reality of military service.  Seeing the folding of our nation’s flag that had rested on his coffin in slow-motion tenderness and honor by other Air Force men took my breath away and reduced me to sobbing.  I prayed for his girlfriend for years, knowing from Jud that Bob would have probably proposed to her had he lived.

Mark, the son of a general, married his Air Force Academy sweetheart right after graduation.  Both he and his wife graduated with Jud.  I got to meet them in Germany when we all attended the same home fellowship for church.  His wife and I forged a friendship while our children played at parks or in our homes together.  We prayed for her and through her house when Mark was away on a mission and she had some odd happenings.  We found that in countries with long histories and longer memories, many odd occurrences disrupted daily routines.  Sometimes I think the liminal space between earthly and spiritual realms is thinner in places like that.  When they moved to Italy and we to Alabama, all of us had hopes of the future!  When I got the phone call from another friend that Mark’s plane had gone down in a fireball over the Adriatic Sea, I prayed through my sobbing that God would send a miracle and allow Mark to actually live.  When no miracle came, I mourned with his widow and children.

We know others who didn’t physically die, but have emotionally and mentally paid the highest price.  My cousin who fought in Vietnam and kept the nightmares and horrors to himself with more prescriptions and pill bottles than my mom had ever seen, until he couldn’t keep his demons at bay any longer and eventually took his life.  Others who suffer from PTSD, amputated limbs, memories of comrades who died, and prayed for death themselves.  I think of my grandfather who fought in WWI.  He lived through the war; but he was gassed in the trenches and developed stomach cancer when he returned home.  He died when my father was a child.

I don’t want this post to make anyone depressed; but I do hope you will take a sober moment this weekend as we bar-b-que and enjoy camping, time with family or great shopping deals to remember the price paid by many in the military and their families for our county’s freedom and standing in our world.

Pray for them.  Ask God to lead you to families who have lost through death or damage husbands/wives/fathers/mothers and offer your service to them in yard work, childcare or just a listening ear of friendship.

Pray for our world.  Ask God to raise up nation leaders who will commit to diplomacy and broader thinking than their own selfish desires.

Pray that we will figure out a way to live peacefully with others and we won’t have to remember new names on the white headstones in the national cemeteries in the coming years.

I’d love to hear from you!!  Who do you remember on Memorial Day? 

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Life Poetry

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‘The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.’ –Psalm 34:18

My daughter has a close friend who found her brother’s body several months ago.  He committed suicide.  I often see on Facebook that she’s having a tough day–trying so hard to be strong and keep her faith; but, having a hard time processing horrific life circumstances at 21 or 22.  My heart aches for her heartache.

I cringe at times when I hear people say, ‘Time heals all wounds.’  In my experience, time heals nothing.  Time distances us from circumstances, but cannot guarantee healing.  I suppose it depends on how we define ‘healing.’  I define it as being without hardness and callouses–but we may limp, figuratively.  Often when we expect time to heal our hearts, we become hardened, cynical and calloused.  I do pray for my daughter’s friend that she gives her heart time for healing–makes space in her life to feel completely the spectrum of emotions without shame, trusting God to heal the brokenness.

I love the book of Psalms.  I love the raw honesty of emotions in its poetry–the joyful passion of praise and thanksgiving, the expressions of anger at injustices, blaming God for circumstances and not acting the in a desired way, the unabashed worship, the stillness of a resolute heart clinging to faith.  I love that the people who canonized the Bible recognized that God can consider poetry holy.  In these poems, we experience the life they lived from their perspective, even though they lived thousands of years ago.  I love seeing that the human heart hasn’t evolved much in thousands of years–we still feel deeply all the heartbreak when life doesn’t live up to our expectations, soaring joy and invincibility when things go well, deep awe and reverence when something in nature stops us in our tracks.  I remember my grandma saying that when she saw a plane in the sky for the first time, she whispered, ‘And I will shew wonders in heaven above’ (Acts 2:19, KJV).  She stood awestruck that God would allow such a miracle.

I love that having this holy book of poetry means that emotions cannot condemn us–no matter how long it takes for perspective to come.  Perspective can come.

I’ve written a few of my own psalms throughout life–some more ‘raw’ than others–and have discovered that the writing can release the power of the emotion more quickly than stewing over whatever creates the emotion in me.  I’ve burned a few as a symbolic act of letting go of the things beyond my control and allowing them to lift and float to God.  I’ve ripped a few to shreds in anger.  I’ve kept a few that still make me weep because the wound that caused the emotion hasn’t quite closed yet.

I have learned that we don’t have to write a poem to create a psalm.  Sometimes our lives become living psalms when our heartache is public.  My daughter’s friend creates a living psalm when I watch a few tears silently roll down her cheek in church before she brushes them away and breathes in new composure.  How many ‘psalms’ do we miss each day as we focus on our agendas?  How many opportunities do we miss to hear someone’s exuberant excitement, painful heartache, glorious revelation about life or love or God?  Will I learn to open myself to others’ vulnerable story and view their poetic life as holy?  Can that simple act begin to bring peace to our neighbors?  Our cities?  Our nation?  Our world?  Selfless understanding can create a bond of unity.  I wonder if that type of understanding could facilitate negotiation in governments?  But, the government shutdown is for another day, another post.

Today, my heart breaks for Eleah.  Today, I pray that the labyrinth of grief, with all its twists and turns, will give her peace as she continues to put one foot in front of the other and follow the path that has dead-ends and u-turns and seems to have no end.  Today, I pray for people to walk that path with her, at her pace and  join in her heart cry.  Today, I pray that all of us will find others on the labyrinth path of life who will help us turn our eyes to God and feel God’s presence in the midst of our own grief, joy, anger, peace, confusion–even when those emotions come simultaneously.

What is on your heart today?  What type of ‘psalm’ are you living?

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Where Beauty Blooms

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“I have seen the burden God has placed on us all.  Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time.  He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end”  Ecclesiastes 3:10-11.

Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus.  Three women bonded for life.  Only they know the incomprehensible 11 years they survived.  I can’t imagine the courage they mustered to face Ariel Castro at his sentencing hearing this week.  The last victims of the Boston Marathon bombings have left the hospital.  Strangers bonding over survival and physical therapies that only they comprehend.  Soldiers returning from various conflicts in the Middle East with military honors and PTSD form a brotherhood of experience that their families don’t quite grasp.

We think of these people and their stories and laud them as heroes for surviving inhumanity at its worst.  I wonder how many of them feel heroic?  How many of them wish they felt as heroic as people hold them up to be?  How many of them want to scream, “That’s not me!  I’m scared!  Confused!  Broken!”?  While I haven’t experienced the level of trauma that these people face, I have my own ugly stories of trauma that may offer a little hope.

I remember telling my best friend from high school about the trauma of a 5 year abusive church relationship and that one good thing that came from it is that it forced me into counseling.  I had finally reached the end of me and my abilities to cope.  Humbled, traumatized and having a thyroid that gave out because of the stress necessitated professional intervention.  At my first appointment, denial filled me.  I thought I’d go in there, tell my story, have my counselor validate me and all would be well.  About half way through my sobbing and probably unintelligible rant, an epiphany washed over me.  In horror, I stopped crying and cried, “Oh, dear God, I have to come back!”  My counselor incredulously looked over her glasses at me and calmly replied, “Oh, Honey.  Yes.”

Going each week to my appointment, I fought back panic attacks.  Most of the time, the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme mocked me, “Humpty Dumpty sat a on a wall.  Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.  All the king’s horses and all the king’s men, couldn’t put Humpty together again.”  I knew I would never recover.  No one could save me.

Then, it happened.  About 6 months into my recovery, the mocking rhyme repeating over and over in my head, I practically screamed in my car for God to throw me a bone.  Okay, I actually screamed … and begged … and tried to cut a deal.  I hadn’t felt the presence of God in years.  I had disconnected from wanting to hear His voice.  But in my desperation, a tiny crack opened in my heart and I heard so softly, “The King can put you back together.”  That’s where my hope sprouted.  Maybe no human could save me, but God could.  He may use people to accomplish the healing; but the healing came from Him.  He planted eternity in my heart that day.  Oh, not gonna lie, all was not well after that.  Five years of intense work with my counselor and Jud ensued.  But, the hope began.  The forgiveness began.  Now, two years post-counseling, I can say I am at peace while I continue the journey.  I carry the scars.  I will always carry the scars.  The scars contain my healing, my wholeness.  Had the story ended eight years ago, I would have descended into fatalism.  My scars remind me to look on people with tenderness.  My scars remind me of human frailty.  My scars create compassion and empathy in me toward those just coming out of their ugly stories and those just entering them.

It takes a lot of work to turn a landfill into a garden.  The three women who must begin to pick up the shattered pieces, the bombing victims who must find it in themselves to rebuild new lives with limitations, the soldiers with PTSD who have to make peace with the nightmares, the adult who tries to make sense of childhood abuse all live over emotional and spiritual landfills.  But, their stories, our stories, don’t have to end in the decay of the garbage heaps.  We can allow God to set eternity in our hearts and wait for our story to unfold, believing that God’s ending is more beautiful than the hell we have endured.

I pray strength, courage and hope for all as they embark toward healing and wholeness.  May none of us ever settle for ‘good enough’ or a patch job.  Clearing the landfill of our hearts, planting seeds of hope in a future and tending that garden daily for blooms to appear are worth the effort.  Those hurting in our world are worth the effort.  YOU are worth the effort!

Where have you found hope to go on in the midst of your life’s tragedies?

 

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Remembering Jane: A Tribute

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The church I attended from birth to high school graduation received Dr. Jane Tews as an Associate Minister around 1978 or 1979.  As the first female Methodist minister in the Phoenix area (perhaps the first official female minister in AZ; but I don’t remember the statistics from so long ago), she challenged stereotypes and created opportunities for women in the church.  I learned she had a massive stroke while I lunched with a dear friend, who had been in youth group with me.  The following is my tribute to this pioneering woman.

Dear Jane–

I know you’ll never read this note.  I had lunch with Jennie while my family visited my parents in Phoenix.  She told me about the stroke you’ve had and that you are not expected to live. I’m sorry for all of those you currently minister to and those of us you mentored in the past.  We will miss you.
I remember when you came to the United Methodist Church near Arizona State University.  You were fresh out of seminary and the first woman minister I had ever seen.  I remember the newspaper article about you.  Being a female minister was a BIG deal back then.  I think I was in 7th or 8th grade when you arrived for your new position.
I wonder if you knew how important you were to us girls in the late 1970s?  The women’s movement had gained much; but most of us didn’t have real-life role models of what it looked like to have a woman in a leadership role.  Thank you for letting us watch you and learn how to navigate through ‘a man’s world’ and make it our own.  Thank you for showing us that we didn’t have to sacrifice faith in order to have an intelligent voice in our world.  Thank you for showing us how, as women, Jesus lived through us.  Thank you for modeling how necessary women are in leadership positions and not just support positions.
Thank you for pioneering the way for us to believe that we really could embrace whatever calling God had for us and never had to believe that we had to conform that calling to gender stereotypes.
I’ve thought of you over the years and what it must have been like for you to be a lone woman in a traditionally male position.  To our eyes, you seemed so natural and confident.  I’m sure it wasn’t easy at times.  You and a few other women in my life developed my confidence to know that I am not lower than men.  In 2013, it sounds silly to even think that was once a common belief about women.  But, I and others remember the late 1970s/early 1980s, and know how ground-breaking having a woman in a leadership role was.  I remember how young teens desperately needed role models to understand not just our culture’s changes, but to understand how to live out what Jesus offers to ALL believers.
Thank you, Jane, for being that role model.  Thank you for your life.  May you know fully God’s joy as you pass into His tangible presence, as you have been fully known by Him in this life.
Sincerely,
maggie
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Memorials

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In about a month, I will go cat-sit for my parents while they travel to Texas for my aunt’s memorial service.  Aunt Vivienne grew up in northern England.  Being 11 years older, she treated my dad more like a doll or plaything.  My dad remembers as a small child his sister and her friend sticking pins in him–they wanted to be nurses and practiced giving shots on my dad.  Ah, youth….

My dad remembers charmingly fun times in his town outside of Manchester.  He has always declared that there is no finer place to be than England at Christmastime.  After living in Germany for 3 years, I have to admit that European Christmases  transported me back to childhood.  But, those idyllic times intersperse with surreal ugly times.  My grandfather died when my dad was about 8.  He had been gassed in the trenches during WWI and doctors believe that’s where his stomach cancer originated.  The men of the town spoke to my dad in reverence about my grandfather.  Whatever my grandfather did during WWI to evoke that respect will never come to light.  Then WWII came and Manchester received the second most bombings next to London.

My dad remembers ‘double-daylight-savings’.  The factory workers needed light when they got off work to tend their gardens–without that produce, they would have starved.  He remembers bombs exploding and air raid sirens.  He remembers being thrown from his bed when a bomb exploded about 2 blocks from his house–he has tinnitus in his ears from that event.  He remembers after the trauma of war, being sent away to boarding school because my grandma didn’t have enough food for him and figured if there was food in England, the government would see to it that the children got it.  He remembers and the memory haunts his sleep with nightmares that he doesn’t share.

Aunt Vivienne married an American soldier whom she met at a USO dance, and she moved to Texas with my Uncle Harry.  Devastated in England, my dad and grandma eventually emigrated to America and joined Aunt Vivienne and Uncle Harry in Texas.  My dad was 17.  He’s never been back to England.  But his gratitude for my aunt and uncle, my uncle’s family who gave him a job and took him in as their own family and all the people who made his transition to America joy-filled and community-loving remains constantly in his heart and life toward others–part of my heritage.

So with the passing of my 91 year old aunt, I reflect on legacy and lifespans.  She saw so much history in her life.  She kept so many thoughts on those events sealed in her heart.

All of us do.  We have life events that many may know; but how we process through those things, very few experience with us.  Part of my dad’s grief is that Aunt Vivienne’s death closes a chapter of my dad’s childhood.  The last person who experienced (or was allowed to experience through memory and sharing) that part of his life is gone, and she took with her the piece of my dad’s memory that she shared with him.  He lost his sister and his last connection to his childhood in England.

The three years that Jesus spent with his disciples must have felt so full of life.  Good times, bad times, mundane times as they walked all over and lived life together.  And not just any life–Kingdom Life.  God’s life coming down.  The glorious entry into Jerusalem.  Shared story.  WOW!  And then he was gone.  Yes, he resurrected, but then he ascended.  As they waited for the Holy Spirit to come to them, I wonder if they grieved Jesus not being with them physically?  They remembered.  They had each other.  They remembered together–and perhaps the remembering sustained them. Then, the Holy Spirit came, they finally got Jesus’ message and the world changed forever.  Now that’s a legacy!!  But what if they had kept all that memory sealed up in their hearts or only shared amongst themselves?  What if they hadn’t understood that sharing the remembrances would propel faith in others and light a fire of expectation that the kingdom of God really could be here and now?

I take my friends for granted…often.  I don’t always fully appreciate sharing life with each other.  I overlook opportunities to reveal my heart.  I don’t want to remember times past when that sharing took place.  I want to learn by failure and success how to open up more of myself–thus starting the blog.  I don’t want to memorialize around a grave.  I want today to celebrate life, love, relationship and shared stories of God at work in our lives!

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