Getting Off My High Horse

christmas christmas ornament decorate decoration

I have been thinking non-stop about the call of Christians to love—and to do so because it is one of Jesus’ primary commands.  In His context, though, love isn’t an emotion. It’s entering into relationship with our neighbors, being a part of their lives, and serving them with no agenda other than love.

The problem is that we Christians are so ‘concerned’ about the lifestyles and choices of the people around us that we either insulate ourselves from them—or shout our opinions from platforms like Facebook or the media.  We proudly blast off letters to our politicians decrying what they’ve supported or rant about our weakening rights as Christians in the face of an increasingly liberal society.  And we get so wrapped up in sharing our own views on everything–health, diets, medicine, politics, Christian ideologies—that we turn people off.

Principles and opinions are fine.  But if expressing ourselves takes the focus off our relationship with Him—or alienates us from the real people we are in contact with every day who can only see Jesus as He moves within us– then this is not love.  It’s a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

I’ve been there.  And I’m grieving the relationships that have been wasted because of my indignant adherence to issues instead of people. So I’ve stepped off my high horse.

And I’ve found there’s nothing better than a quieter, more person-centered life.  I’m learning to invest in the community of people around me—to be friends with those who lifestyles and opinions and economic standing is vastly different than mine.   I’m not setting out to convict anyone of sin…the Bible says that’s God’s job (John 16:8).

But I am talking about Jesus.  And for once, it’s not because of some agenda I have to save the lost, but because He’s the biggest part of who I am and I’d be a broken mess of shame without all He’s done for me.

 

Unsticking Creativity

blank paper with pen and coffee cup on wood table

In recent years, I’ve had spells where I’ve been completely uninspired when it comes to writing.  Like lately.  I’ve been stuck at word #1 for months, disinterested in all forward movement.

It isn’t that I’m absent of creativity altogether—I’ve used it in landscaping, home design, and painting furniture. Firing up that ‘spark’ is easier for me in those areas because it’s somewhat mindless.  My hands just move without needing my brain to engage too much.  Deep down though, those projects don’t fulfill my artist’s angst: I long for the soul connection that is released when I pick up my pen or start tapping on my keyboard.

I’ve learned my interest—and even ability—to write disappears when I’m under stress or am just too busy-minded to allow words to morph into meaning.  I’ve tried a number of times to ‘just do it,’ but it’s a little like sticking my finger down my throat.  Nothing good comes out.

This week, something broke loose in me.  I’ve been teaching a creative writing class to high school students this year.  This past week, I assigned a simple fill-in-the-blank poem intended to help them understand what ‘heart message’ or theme they wanted to use to develop the short story they will each write this semester. I explained they shouldn’t sit for hours and think—but simply close their eyes and let their heart dictate what comes out. The day after the assignment was given, one of my students texted hers to me. (Note that I provided the words in italics—and asked them to fill in the rest. They were also instructed to repeat the first line three times.)

I am honest and determined.

I wonder where humanity is going from here.

I hear brewing storms of chaos

I see rippling rivers of reality

I want to go back.

I am honest and determined.

I pretend the storm has passed.

I feel consumed by the flames of society.

I touch the sun without regret.

I worry they won’t resurface.

I cry for those who still drown.

I am honest and determined.

I understand the past is unchangeable

I say the future is unforeseeable

I dream for a better tomorrow.

I try not to lose faith.

I hope others will see that too.

I am honest and determined.

The assignment was also a means of teaching my students about brainstorming—and I mentioned how creativity is often freed up through using writing prompts such as the “I Am” poem.  So—teacher instruct thyself—I tried my hand at it.  What came out in 3 minutes flat was quite revealing.  But the best thing about it is that I’m writing again!

I am always moving and intense.

I wonder if there’s value in slowing down.

I hear the wind whisper: Hurry! Hurry!

I want to be able to write, to sing, to create.

I am always moving and intense.

I pretend to be calm—

But I feel rushed and purpose-driven. Always.

I touch the past—

And I worry that it still drives me.

I cry when I remember.

I am always moving and intense.

I understand some things never change.

But I say I can.

I dream I will.

I try—with an open mind and a ready heart.

I hope that I can somehow, some way, change the fact

That I am always moving and intense.

Calendar Pain

personal organizer and pink flowers on desk

I’ve been out of sorts this past week—felt myself tunneling into a dark cave.  Though I struggle with anxiety, I’m not prone to depression.  And no matter how much I searched for the cause, I came up empty.  Admittedly, there’s not much I should be this down in the dumps about. Externally, my life is sailing along quite smoothly at the moment.

That fact alone makes me feel worse!

This morning, I realized what it is.  It took looking back 4 years to the only period in my life when depression surged in and towed me under.  That time, however, there was cause: I had been crippled by a six-month string of intense loss and major life change–culminating in the death of my father from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).  Because of the journey he and I had been on together, my relationship with my dad had become one of the most treasured gifts in my life. Losing him was agonizing.  But more than just that loss, his passing was when all the trauma I’d gone through in the previous months broke open and poured out.

Situational depression like I walked through four years ago makes complete sense to me.  But what I realized today was that many people experience a very pronounced darkness on the anniversary of a distressing event.  It even has a name: The Anniversary Reaction.  Apparently my brain is seared with an emotional datebook that packs a major wallop in September.

Rather than wallow around aimlessly next year wondering what’s wrong, this is what I plan to do when September rolls around again:

  1. Mark my calendar so I don’t beat myself up over unexpected or ‘unwarranted’ depression. This may be something that happens every year, so rather than fight it, I can prepare to accept it for what it is.
  2. Talk about my emotions (or confusion) with a good friend or counselor, paying attention that I not play the role of ‘victim’ or try to force people to feel sorry for me.
  3. Take better care of myself. I may not be able to be Miss Congenialty, but rather than isolate, I’m going to make that hair appointment, go out with my husband on a date, or maybe schedule a get-away in order to make new memories that will balance out the sadness of loss.
  4. Journal—or write a blog! Writing, for me, is a great way to process and heal.

 

 

 

Dream Small

animal arachnid blur close up

I’ve been assaulted lately with the uneasy truth that for most of my life, I reached too high.  Typing those words feels somehow…heretical. Especially in light of the fact that, like most people my age, I’ve been brainwashed with: Follow Your Dreams!  Anything is Possible!  You Were Created For Great Things!

I wonder, though, were those who touted these philosophies aware they might trigger a generation of burnt out subscribers?  And, even more concerning– did they realize that setting our sights on ‘changing the world’ demanded a focus that actually left the world behind as we pursued those dreams?

Think about it.  I did… and I’m disturbed at my blindness.

In my case, I somehow bought into the Christian concept that to be the best ‘me’ possible, and responsibly use the gifts I’d been given, I needed to play a big role in some programmatic form of ‘Ministry.’  All I did for years was work toward that BIG,  ethereal purpose that was entirely suited to who I am.  The ultimate goal: I was going to change lives.

Both my husband and I made sure we were educated and funded and experienced so that when that somewhat mystical, future calling was revealed, we would boldly step forward and begin to act in benevolence and wisdom befitting that calling.  And thus, impact the world for Christ.

In the process, however, we passed by the homeless man sleeping on the street right down from our house. Over and over and over again.  We had far too much on our plate, of course, to invite that single mom and her kids to dinner—or truly get to know the couple around the corner who were struggling to pay their rent. And we reasoned someone else would comfort the friend who just lost her dog or chat with the neighbor who rarely came out of her house.

We had to finish our degrees, get trained, and save our pennies and prepare so we could REALLY help.

Of course, we also accepted without question that it wasn’t safe to do such things alone in a sue-crazy world.  We needed our Ministry to hide behind. And good insurance. What if they took advantage of us?  What if they got hurt on our property?  What if they came back for more? And worse yet—what if they brought their friends!

The whole thing makes me nauseous.  I’m done.  There is no Ministry with a capital M. There is no some day.  There is only now.  And the people God uniquely brings to me each day.

I was heading over to my daughter’s house this weekend and the song, Dream Small, by Josh Wilson brought it home for me:

“Dream small, don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all.

Just let Jesus use you where you are, one day at a time.

Live well, loving God and others as yourself.

Find little ways where only you can help…

 It’s visiting the widow down the street, or dancing on a Friday with your friend with special needs.

These simple moments change the world.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with bigger dreams

Just don’t miss the minutes on your way to bigger things—

Cuz these simple moments change the world.”

When A Child Walks Away

Jace Blog

Someone asked me last week if I enjoy the blogging experience.  This question came after she’d finished all the entries I’ve written since I started this blog site.  She kindly begged for more, citing that I haven’t contributed anything for over a month.

I excused myself with an apologetic nod to busyness and promised I’d be back at it soon.

I have to confess though, it was a lame excuse.  The truth is that I’ve faced some challenges lately that have poked a little more painfully at old hurts than I was prepared for.  And when emotions are raw, it’s tempting to vomit all over the internet.  I simply saw wisdom in processing offline first.

I do realize, however, that there is great value in sharing our struggles…especially when doing so may help others.  I’ve come to see how true this is in one major area I’ve walked  through over these past few years: estrangement from one of my adult children.  His birthday is tomorrow and my emotions have been all over the map, as they always are during times when my life would naturally gravitate toward him.

What I’ve learned, though, is that this ‘thing’ with my son is surprisingly common—and that parents in this situation are closed-mouth.  I know why:  We’ve learned to keep it to ourselves because too many people simply pat us on the back and tell us to ‘let go and let God’ bring them back.  Or worse, we pick up on the subtle blame that often slips past the lips of friends or family who think they get it. That old adage ‘where there’s smoke, there’s fire’ might as well be hanging above our heads.  Believe me, we know we weren’t perfect!  Fault is rarely one-sided.  But estrangement is all too often an angry door slam that leaves parents with no way to facilitate healing.

This year, as part of my processing, I wrote a birthday letter to my son.   He’s blocked all my  communication channels so it will never be sent—but this was far from a useless exercise.  It brought me to a incredibly sweet place in my heart.  And just maybe my public processing will help some other estranged parent get through one of those really painful days of missing their child.

My dearest Son,

On this day, 24 years ago, I held your tiny, already-squirming-for-freedom body in my arms for the very first time.  And when you opened your eyes and locked them on mine, mother-love pushed the rest of the world aside.  Since that moment, you’ve been in my heart.

Like every mother looking at her newborn, I wondered and dreamed…worried and hoped.  I imagined you as a toddler, a preschooler, in kindergarten—and beyond.  Would you excel in school or struggle?  Would you be creative, mechanical, a lover of numbers, or pursue all things philosophic?  Would people like you… or would friendship be difficult? How could I best train you to love God and follow Him and not walk away when the world tempts you to believe the lie that you are your own god? 

Today, as I think about you, I admit I am still haunted by a deep sense of parental failure. I haven’t seen you for nearly five years… not since you walked away from relationship with me, citing reasons I don’t completely understand, but ones I long to fight through together in order to bring about healing for us both. 

When you told me you never wanted to see me again, I lost all creativity, my sense of direction eluded me, and I struggled with conversation as if wading through wet concrete.  

In the first 2-3 years of losing you, I worked obsessively to identify every possible point of failure I’ve had with respect to you along the way hoping to lay them all out before you. Then I questioned how much of your own anger could be chalked off to misunderstanding, misplaced anger, or shame.  And I slammed it all around in my head as a form of self-punishment—not knowing for sure which one thing to examine more deeply or which one mattered not at all.

There is tremendous grace that this sort of life-sapping grief loses potency over time.  Maybe I realized that accepting your departure was my only option.  I slowly learned to live around the vacant space in my world– but never excised from my heart.  And instead of long phone calls and visits, I accepted the alternative: I could keep you close by praying for you every time you came to mind.  

On days like today,  I miss you more than ever– and I welcome the tears for the reminder they are of love.  More than that, for just this one day, I will close my eyes allow myself just a little bit of hope that maybe… someday…

In my mind, I see you by the sea—your brown eyes scanning the water, dreaming of tomorrow and how you will change the world around you.  You are so much taller and stronger than you were—a man now. Capable and courageous.  The set of your shoulders suggests you haven’t entirely lost that old angry streak… but I imagine, in your maturity, that it now fuels a passion for the underdog that you’ve had since boyhood.

As I walk up to you, standing close enough to breathe in your still-familiar scent–I put my arms around you, feeling the past melt away.  For a split second, I can almost feel the weight of your newborn body pressing into my arms.  But then my memory explodes into shards of joy—as you pick me up and swing me around and around, laughing the whole time.  When you finally set me back down on the sand—our eyes are filled with unshed tears. And hope.

“Happy Birthday, honey,” I say.  “I’ve missed you so much.”

 

 

 

 

Grow Old Along With Me…

Grow Old Along With Me

Sixteen years ago, when my daughter was 4 years old, she sang for my mom’s second wedding.  My mom was just past sixty at the time, and chose the John Lennon song, Grow Old Along With Me, The Best Is Yet To Be, because of the beautiful hope it expressed.  I sat with Natalee on the stage, holding the microphone for her—as she boldly locked eyes with her Nana and sang her heart out.   There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.

However, the older I’ve grown, the less confidence I have in the surface- level sentiment behind those lyrics. It definitely didn’t pan out for John Lennon.  And my mom would certainly admit that, as she’s grown older, Lennon’s brand of ‘best’ has up and gone.  Age always robs away more than it gives—whether it’s our hair, our finances, our mobility, or the life of a loved one.

But yet… above the desk where I work I’ve hung a little picture that declares: Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be.  At fifty-plus years—with all my youthful naivete not-so-gracefully departed—I can honestly say I am confident that my future will be world’s better than anything I could ever plan or imagine.

For me, though, it has nothing to do with how good things might get for my husband and myself if we play our cards right.  It is far more than seeking happiness through strong relationships, a healthy financial portfolio, adventure, kindness, or even (say it ain’t so!) healthy living. It’s all gonna end one way or another. (Even if I never touch sugar again!)

What it is about, though, is what is promised to me through what Christ did on the cross.  I’ll never push it on anyone—because He didn’t push it on me.  But neither can I keep silent about my thankfulness for the unspeakably beautiful eternity that His sacrifice bought for broken old me. Despite growing older by the day and looking down the line at all the difficulties life will inevitably throw my way, He restored my belief that the best is yet to be.

 

The Flow… and Ebb of Friendship

woman walking on pathway while strolling luggage
Photo by Oleksandr Pidvalnyi on Pexels.com

I struggled for a good part of my life with investing emotional energy into friendships.  An introvert by nature (or perhaps by the ‘nurture’ of past wounds), I never was one to seek a lot of activity or adventure.  More often than not, I am content to read a book or spend time with my husband.  And though I enjoy it, it’s not my first choice to hang out with a girlfriend or another couple.

However, when I have taken time to develop those external relationships, I’ve expected them to last a lifetime.  Maybe it was all those Hallmark movies and best friend TV shows I watched in my 20s!  The truth is that, though I do have a select few people who are in that category, the vast majority of my friendships have been transitory.  And for a long time that made me question my own value and it’s subtly affected my willingness to befriend anyone.

Recently, I’ve learned something surprising: I’m not alone in this whole transitory thing.  A not-so-recent statistic claims that half of all friendships will change every 5-7 years. Simply put, relationships come and many of them, after a while, just go.  And it isn’t necessarily a sign that something is wrong.

I guess it makes sense.  Friendships are most often founded on shared experiences.  It’s natural to move toward people who are going through the same things we are.  But what happens when situations change over time—a new job, a move, or altered responsibilities that take up the space we’d formerly reserved for each other?  A week goes by, then two before getting together.  Before long, those magic moments become strangely awkward.  For me, if things eventually slowed to a stop, my temptation had been to silently grieve and question and condemn myself.

But sometimes, the only thing that really happened was… life.

Making space for beauty in my daily life has encouraged me to look at what’s in front of me through an untarnished lens.  In this case, it means allowing for the natural ebb and flow in relationship.  It’s invited me to offer grace for those friendships that never quite became what I expected—to look back upon them fondly, not with angst.  More than that, I am learning to invest more richly in my family and in those dearest of friends who, whether near or far, are just a phone call or a hug away.

 

 

Life Lessons At The Car Wash

car wash

It’s been a month since I’ve cleaned my car.  Last week, too lazy to do it myself, I broke down and went to a full-service car wash.  After I’d relinquished my Camry to a guy out back, I made my way to the the waiting area. The girl at the service counter–who was maybe 18 or 19 years old– was just finishing up with a customer.  So I numbly watched cars on the conveyor belt get sprayed with fushia soap and dragged into a sea of giant black and red swishers.

Quite evidently, the man at the counter was not at all pleased with his experience.

“That’s just the way it is so I guess it’s your problem to deal with!”  replied the girl, matching his abrasive tone.

Without a word, he slammed out of the door, leaving it rattling in his wake.  I did my best to keep watching the pink cars roll by.

“I really love this job,” she said quietly.  I looked up expecting sarcasm, not the pleasant smile that greeted me.  “Really I do.  It’s so great!  Every other place I’ve worked makes us do that customer-is-always-right thing.  Not here!  My boss says if someone treats you like crap, you can give it right back to them.”

I should have just nodded and looked back at the cars.  But no, not me.  It’s nearly impossible for me to keep my mouth shut when I’m invited in.

“Really?  I would think he’d be worried about losing business?”  I stood up to pay.  “This isn’t the only car wash around.  I can’t imagine people will come back if they aren’t treated nicely.”

She shrugged.  “I’m nice to most people.  But why should I be nice when they aren’t?”

“Kill them with kindness?” I suggested.  I handed her my credit card and watched as she rang up the service.

“What’s that mean?”

Frankly, I was shocked not only by her ignorance but by her continued interest in conversation.  “My dad used to say that.  It means that you get a lot further with a difficult situation—maybe even ‘kill’ their bad mood and calm an escalating situation—when you treat people kindly.”

“Guess it kinda makes sense,” she said.

The door jingled again and an older couple walked in, followed by the car-dryer-off guy who let me know my car was ready.  “Have a good day,” I said to the girl.

“You too.  Maybe I’ll see if it works,” she said.  “You know, the killing people thing you said to do.”

I can’t imagine that went over well with the couple now at the counter paying for their wash.  But oh well.

“Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Colossians 3:12

 

 

 

 

Grief > Joy?

Melville quote

Why, you may ask, on a website dedicated to making space for a beautiful life do I feature a quote that glorifies grief?  Isn’t living beautifully about seeking out the best opportunities—about doing and experiencing the things that bring joy to our daily lives?

Yes.  And no.

A vast difference exists between the pursuit of pleasure—and the experience of joy.  There is nothing wrong with living life to its fullest.  I love a great meal, impeccable architecture, lush landscape, rich colors, great fiction, conversation, a fun party.  The problem, however, is that those things terminate upon themselves; and without a continual influx of pleasure, the end result is either boredom or frustration.

If those things simply whitewash a dark reality I’m avoiding or I pursue them in order to numb myself from the ‘bad stuff’, something is off kilter.  After all, aren’t personal struggles and tragic situations redeemable or even purposeful for my growth?  Isn’t there beauty to be found in the ashes?

Melville implies that grief is where real beauty begins—especially for those of us who call ourselves Christians.  I believe he is right in asserting that our civilized practices of personal fulfillment camouflage an ugly mentality that keeps us ignorant to the ‘real world.’

Sometimes, we invite or cause our own hardship—other times, however, it is thrust upon us.  It’s those real-world gut punches that build true character.

Three of our close relatives, all in their 40s, are newly (or soon-to-be) widowed. And every one of those women, despite the heartache, are impacting people around them with amazing empathy and strength that reflects beauty. As I watched my dad succumb to the ravages of ALS—my siblings and our families were forever changed by his spiritual growth and solid grasp of eternity in the final months of his life.  Every day, my brother and sister-in-law wade through the countless unspoken and endless challenges of making a life for their family while raising a severely disabled child.  They are exhausted and empty most days, but somehow, they keep going and keep learning.  That list of hurting people changed by circumstance goes on and on.

Maybe the key thing about hardship and grief is that it forces reality upon us.  It holds us captive to something other than personal pursuit—and gives us an eye for others.

I spent the day at the beach with my husband yesterday.  It was utterly enjoyable.  When we got home, we set to making dinner… full of lazy, sun-baked peace.  Just as things were starting to bubble on the stove, our cottage guests, a single mom and her 11-year-old son visiting from the Midwest, asked for help getting the kayaks in the water so they could experience their first sunset on the Gulf.

I have to admit that my willingness to drop everything in order to help was not exactly present.  But afterward, I watched (humbled) from the front porch as the evening sun was beginning its course downward, purpling the clouds and leaving a trail of pink in its wake.  I saw it through their eyes, not my own—and was filled with something richer than mere relaxation.

When ten thousand joys are lived in a vacuum of self, it’s a dead-end.  But grief will heighten our compassion and teach us to be about more than our own pleasure.  And in the end, the resulting beauty will impact the way we see all of life.

“Sorrow is better than laughter; for by the sadness of countenance the heart is made glad.” Ecclesiastes 7:3

 

Rule of Thumb

person doing thumbs up
Photo by Donald Tong on Pexels.com

I saw an interesting graphic on Facebook today.  It was the little, blue, thumbs-down Facebook insignia floating behind the words: “Don’t worry about being ignored, worry why you are thinking about it.”

I venture to say that no matter how grown-up we are, if we are on Facebook, we have those friends (even close friends or family members) who respond regularly to everyone’s posts but ours.  And it doesn’t feel good.

Social media has completely altered the way we relate to others—arguably for the worse.  So, because being ignored is just something that happens, it’s highly unlikely that we’d discuss our angst with the offender.  It’s more common to silently entertain our ‘miffed’ feelings and get over it.

Or not.  Sometimes the cut is deeper than we want to admit.

That ‘or not’ is why the above quote is so apropos.  In two short sentences, it restores balance and points that thumb back at ‘me’.

So rather than be angry or wounded that a certain friend never comments or ‘likes’ my posts, I need to figure out why I’m so worried about it.  What part of me needs validation?  Where are those thoughts coming from?  And ultimately, why am I wasting my emotional energy on superficial connection when my real relationships are right in front of me, waiting for investment?

In the quest to live intentionally, social media can be a great tool to keep in touch with people.  Until it isn’t.  We were created to live out loud in the presence of people—not behind the screen of a computer with our thumbs settling someone’s momentary fate.  Here’s a novel idea: Maybe it’s time to pick up the phone… and use our voice and ears more regularly than our thumbs.