And A Christmas Gift!

Every year Christmas finds me. This was the first year I remember sharing that experience with others. (See previous blog, “A Christmas Grief”) Maybe it’s because I shared it, but I can’t recall that moment arriving this year. 

Several small gifts caught my attention:

  • the young girl at church wearing “gum boots.” Her father took her out of the service, and she skipped along, those rubber galoshes galloping a smile across my face.
  • the elderly gentlemen who stood up during the Christmas Eve service to slowly wrap a coat around his wife, seated in a wheelchair beside him.
  • hearing my own self laugh out loud at Sven the reindeer in Frozen when his tongue got stuck to the ice bridge.

All in all, however, nothing jumped out as THE moment. Thinking through this and starting to feel sorry for myself, the Spirit brought to mind how Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19 NIV). She spent the first Christmas on an emotional roller coaster from terror and confusion to holiness and quiet space. My year resembles that ride in a tiny way, and maybe yours does as well.

  • I risked applying for a job in Colorado—exciting!
  • Flew to Colorado to interview for the job—terror!
  • Got the job—terror and joy!
  • Packed up the house—confusion and sadness!
  • Drove across country—(not to Bethlehem but almost felt like it)—freeing and tiring!
  • New job, new colleagues, new apartment…but no family and friends—happy and very sad!
  • Reminders that the Christ Who came so long ago lives within me and remains there without any plan to leave—worth treasuring and pondering!

So my experience of God’s Christmas gift this year was different but every bit as powerful as years gone by. Time by myself this Christmas has catapulted me into the heavens as I ponder the goodness and holiness of a Father God Who loved me (and you) so much, He sent His only Son to a very broken world to save us. 

What a treasured gift to ponder this year!

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A Christmas Grief

My Christmas tradition begins with the experience of grief. Year after year it makes its way into my heart like morning fog on the river. There are no deaths or traumas associated with the Christmas season, rather it’s a time when I long for the world to be mended. Every day, every month, every year I hear the groaning creation, and about the time red and green lights twinkle in the neighbor’s yard, I find myself simply unable to rock around the Christmas tree. The fog settles, and I grieve.

The creaking of trees as they sway under torrents of rain and wind;

The layers of black snow unable to fully melt into the earth;

Radiant skies hidden by masses of cloud and storm;

I feel these groanings in that place of longing in my soul.

The toddler in the doctor’s office fiery with fever and gasping every cough;

Consumers hell-bent for the next update in hopes that this time contentment will last beyond the first Game-Over;

Lonely wanderers unable to find community; 

I feel these aches for they are mine as well.

And I grieve. 

Will we ever be seen? 

Will we ever be known?

Will the long-Awaited One return?

And then that moment comes when Christmas arrives for me. This is part of the tradition. There I sit or stand and, for a brief second, Christ enters the groaning present, touches my shoulder, wraps His arms around me, and writes His words of hope on the empty paper of my life. 

One year He wrote in the tears of a disabled child.

Another season it was in the tapping of a red cardinal on the kitchen window.

A call comes from my sister who’s just in the mood to talk;

The homeless man makes eye contact, and we connect beyond the circumstances;

The kids, now grown, jump into my bed and giggle in playful mischief;

Words come together in ways that overpower my imagination.

His words and ways are endless but He always comes, pen in hand…

I see you, He writes. 

I know you, He signs. 

And my longing is met with peace on earth, good will to men.

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In Repentance and Rest (Subtitle: Crash and Burn)

The morning began yesterday at 4:30am and that makes me angry. I like sleep. The cat and I once again twisted, turned, and refused to give in and get up. That was followed by half a day sitting in the recliner with a bag of Chips a’Hoy chocolate chip cookies. The pity party was under way. Every second was filled with self contempt and shame; I should be productive right now. Sound familiar? Be honest.

The week had been filled with trips to care for a loved one in the hospital, a full counseling schedule at work, a publishing project deadline, very little exercise, typical life and family stressors…you get the picture. I pride myself in getting a lot done until my body refuses to cooperate and my mood follows. Again, sound familiar? Be honest.

Late in the afternoon I turned my computer on and saw a large sticky note on the screen. Isaiah 30:15 says, “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.’” Busted, right? 

After letting that verse sink in, I sank in to the recliner and put the cookies away. Shame loses its power when held in the light of God’s Word. Contempt no longer controls when compared to the kindness of Jesus. His kindness leads us to repentance, right? So I rested.

By evening I was ready for an intimate time with my most favorite friend, Jesus. We talked. We laughed. We cried. I repented. He raised my face to His and smiled. This morning, after a beautiful night of sleep I worship Him. His tender, firm, kind, unwavering love makes me wonder why I don’t rest and turn to Him sooner. Instead, I dance in the desert on hot sand until I fall to my knees and cry, knowing there’s an air conditioned tent right next to me. 

Oh, but when I do spend time in that tent I am refreshed and ready to stretch, step out, and be present with Christ for whatever the day holds. Will you join me today? Let’s give ourselves permission to enter the tent whenever we need to and not wait until we have to.

 

 

 

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A Dark Most Light

Birds used to wake me up every morning with their chirp, chirp. The sweet sounds were a gentle alarm and made me smile. Then we switched rooms. My bedroom is now at the opposite end of the house where birds don’t make their home or sing their song. They have now been replaced with something far better, which I didn’t think was possible.

Almost every morning daylight peeks under the curtain that covers the window just above my face. There’s a certain time when it makes an entrance and speaks love with an invitation to linger. Each morning when it speaks, I roll over, lean my face toward its call, and greet the Light of the World. We talk a bit until I’m ready to get up and face the day.

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Last night I experienced something quite different. The Light woke me as usual, but when I leaned toward it everything seemed off. The sky still carried the dark. Right in my line of sight, however, was the very Light that woke me. A large full moon. The Light not only came during the day when all was well, but it appeared most brilliant against a sky of thick darkness.

That darkness has been especially thick lately. The usual life-stuff we all experience is sometimes thickened by moments and events that clog our plans, deaden our motivation, and trap us inside ourselves. I tend to forget that the Light will come for me. With my head buried under layers of concern and stubbornness, I act like it is not there and will never care to find me again. But it does.

The Light still greeted me this morning when I woke. The sweetness was there, and I lingered. But my appreciation for Light was different. I was able to absorb the full-moon, dead-of-the-night Light and know I was wrapped in its Goodness, even while knowing the dark. Our Light is faithful even when it seems most dark.

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Silent Anxiety

bright-cardiac-cardiology-433267.jpgChest pain is no joke. Several years ago the internal pressure of life eked out in the form of breathtaking pain that radiated from my chest, upward through my neck, and onward to my arm. Being the intelligent being that I am, I did exactly what I’ve been taught to do. I ignored it.

Quite a few additional episodes convinced me to have it checked out. My doctor said everything inside looks fine from a physical perspective. “Any stress in your life?” Stress? I live for stress. Anxiety? I am not an anxious person. People have described me as peaceful and calm. He prescribed anti-anxiety medication four years ago that is now powder in the bottom of the bottle because I refuse to take medicine to treat something I do not have. Anxiety and stubbornness are a committed couple in our family’s tree.

Over the years, I have learned that anxiety presents itself in many ways. The typical racing heart, sweaty palms, shaky hands, and panic get a lot of attention. Silent anxiety not so much. Can anyone relate? The ball of fiery emotion stays contained in a deep place where it is examined, analyzed, poked at and prodded until it comes out by means of     1) list making; 2) driving for hours to think; 3) house cleaning; 4) organizing, even things previously organized; 5) more list making; and the list goes on.

The things closest to us are often the most difficult to see. On occasion I have judged others who struggle with anxiety and wished they could just “get over it,” not realizing I was in the same war different battle. Surrounded by lists and viewpoints that get set in concrete as each day passes is the same anxiety as the kind that comes out in others as sweat and fear.

You are not alone if anxiety keeps you stuck and afraid of change. Our brains are wired to protect us and our world is a dangerous place. So what can we do? The following is a meager start. OCD warning: this list contains 7 suggestions instead of five or ten.

  1. Let go of control. Admitting I am not God goes a long way.
  2. Let go of the opinion of others. Here is where I get stuck. I have stopped writing many times because I came to believe others can do it better.
  3. Embrace the present moment as if it were sacred.
  4. Accept help from others. Allowing others to assist us not only relieves personal anxiety but allows others to feel strengthened and needed as well.
  5. Connect spiritually. God waits for us to acknowledge His presence.
  6. Connect with nature. The earth is alive with the healing we need. Get out and interact with it.
  7. Go anyway. Fear diminishes when we confront it. 

A good counselor or friend can be irreplaceable, so find someone. Being alone and anxious is never a good combination. Anxiety, whether apparent or silent, does not have to define us. See ya outside.

Always feel free to share if you like the post. And your comments are appreciated!

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Marked for Life

242923_151704234970687_127038987_oIn Autumn of 2012, I walked into a local shop and purchased my ticket for hell. Actually, I just got a tattoo. I had grown up around the belief that marking myself in such a way would discount all the work of Christ in one painful art session. The decision to get a tattoo, then, was no impulsive act. 

Rather, I had prayed and ached over whether I should mark myself, and if so, what I should have imprinted into my skin. For me, it had to have significance, meaning. The words came at the end of a Story Workshop led by The Allender Center in Seattle, Washington. For four days I lived in a hostel shared with strangers and spent time immersed with another group of strangers on a guided tour through my story. The result? A tattoo that reads, “What if I should dance.” 

At the final workshop session, we were invited to dance in celebration of God’s story that engulfs our own. It was a fun, folksy, group dance. Instead, I left the room and enjoyed the hallway alone. Flashback. Picture a 7-year-old, fiery redhead in the kitchen with a wooden spoon for a mic, dancing to the Beach Boys’ rendition of Surfin’ USA. Now picture a weary mom who needed the dishes done. The scene didn’t end well. I vowed to never dance again. And I haven’t, at least not in that way. 

As I began to mourn my brokenness in this story, I saw it couched in my dear mother’s brokenness, nestled in her dear mother’s brokenness, and so on. A twinkle began to twitter inside, a distant spark that wanted to tango, waltz, jive, anything. 

I still haven’t managed to dance according to the traditional definition, but the tattoo on my forearm reminds me that I can dance in more ways than one. How do you dance? The music begins and I take to the floor when I write; when I linger at a coffee shop with a friend; when I crouch on the ground taking photos; when I crawl up a steep embankment while hiking. I dance when I teach and speak; when I laugh with my children.

How do you dance? Maybe its just a quick shuffle of the feet, but I know you dance. Do you sing? Do you garden? Do you work with children? Run? Read? Paint? Feel the sunrise? Fix a car? All of these are forms of dance.

Sorry, I have to go now…two, three, four, and a one, two….      I’d love for you to comment below and tell me how you dance!

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We All Carry Shovels

Magriculture-backyard-blur-296230any times I’ve thought that a source of good exercise would be to go out and dig a hole. After digging said hole, I’ve imagined filling that hole back up. Dig. Sweat. Fill. Repeat. Knowing myself well, I can also imagine a backyard filled with holes that never get filled. And empty holes in the ground can be dangerous; think twisted ankle, lost kitten, stagnant water for mosquito breeding. Holes attract and contain things and lead to their demise if not addressed. I believe our nation is in a hole right now.

Daily tragedies—shootings, sexual harassment, immigration policies or lack thereof, right down to road rage and family cut-offs—have become so commonplace that, as a nation, we appear to be regressing as a people. Our love for other has fallen into a hole.

As I see it, we have adopted a sentiment that others are the problem and thus, the ones I should hate. Many balk at the suggestion that they hate because that is not an acceptable term in their moral code. Let’s simply label the term hate for a moment. 

Hate is the heat we feel, the lack of understanding we sense, toward the “A-hole” that pulled out in front of me; the democrat that has an opinion not held by the president; that president who has an opinion not held by Congress; the women who are “only out to destroy men;” those men who are “only out to use women;” the cashier who talks too much; the person who dares to be born with darker skin; or lighter skin; the lesbian, transgender, or uncertain; the heterosexual; the Christian; the Muslim. The list goes on, and yes, we do hate.

Where does change begin? Ditch the generational, hate-informed labels, and choose to love. Only then will the hole begin to be filled. So let’s simply label love. Love is patient, kind, does not envy, doesn’t boast, is not proud, doesn’t dishonor others, is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil, rejoices in truth, always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres, and never fails (1 Corinthians 13 NIV).

Change begins with me and it starts with the situation and person in front of me. How can I love you? Allow me to step into your shoes for a moment. Let me imagine how your day has played out. I will hold my tongue. I will strive for what I believe, but I will not hate you in doing so.

My fear is that we will read this blog post and self-righteously agree that haters—everyone else—should certainly step up and begin to fill the hole of hate that others have created. But we all carry shovels. We all dig. We all create holes of hate. Now, how about we fill them back up . . . with love.

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Joy Changes Chaos

The call was incomplete. The perfectly executed pass spiraled into the hands of the receiver and then tumbled to the ground. It was a beautiful play, but the receiver couldn’t manage to pull the ball in tight enough before being pummeled by the defense. That’s how I feel about last weekGood News of Great Joy to ALL People’s post, Scary Angels and Un-Stable Christmas Cheer.

The emotional roller coaster happening in the lives of everyone involved in the Christmas story did occur. I have no doubt. One small element needs to be developed  however, for it to be the play of a lifetime. We must understand that joy changes chaos.

The fear, anxiety, worry, depression, and grief that waxed and waned throughout the nativity narrative was regularly interrupted by good news of great joy. Not once did the pronouncement of joy alter the reality of chaos, but it did change the experience of every troublesome emotion.

Bored shepherds suddenly terrified by angelic greetings were offered good news of great joy and their chaos became worship. Joseph, confused and broken by what seemed like marital infidelity, experienced life change when offered good news of great joy. Mary’s questions weren’t answered, but each day, affected by joy, her chaos included more bouts with wonder and delight than fear and confusion.

Anyone in the midst of chaos right now? All of us can affirm this is true as we live in the aftermath of Eden. How can we find support in the noise our minds create? It begins in the greatest news of extravagant joy that came with the birth of Christ. 

God came as a human not to hate us, label us, or even judge us. He came to save us; to reestablish the possibility of relationship with God. That’s good news of great joy that was announced for all people. 

So now, let’s surrender to that joy. Let’s see anxiety lessen knowing Christ is in control, and His desire is for our good. Let’s feel depression lift a little because Someone does know the depth of our heartache and loves us without question. And our grief, it can heal a bit more as the One Who bore our Sorrows takes on the load of our loss.

The roller coaster of chaos that we ride is one supported and guided by good news of great joy. And He is Christ the Lord. Yes, the pass is complete now. Good game!

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Scary Angels and Un-Stable Christmas Cheer

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How cool it would be to have a button that placed grief, depression, and anxiety on hold for the holiday season. The trouble with that thinking is that it assumes the original Christmas story was all good news and great joy, and that we are somehow supposed to experience two weeks of consistent happiness as a measure of mental success. Good news and joy were aspects of the first Christmas but not the overall normative mood. Given the circumstances, I don’t think a stable mood state (pardon the pun) would have been possible. 

The Christmas account found in the biblical book of Luke tells us that an angel of God appeared to the virgin Mary who was engaged to be married to Joseph. Engagement probably equaled joy. In a flash however, the angel comes, and joy becomes subordinate to fear. 

Luke tells us that Mary was afraid and immediately began thinking. He doesn’t say what she was thinking, but if God sent me his top angelic emissary I would be thinking, What have I done wrong? God must have heard that thought, that dream, those words. Every cognitive distortion in the book would become a part of my mental checklist. My life is over. I didn’t pray yesterday so God is here to punish me. I bet Joseph is up to no good. I’ll never get married. Enter anxiety, and the roller coaster of moods require us to buckle the seat belt and hold on. Prepare to be jostled in spirit and mind.

Mary is then told she would be pregnant. Baby equals joy, correct? Baby in days still calculated in terms of B.C. without a husband equals terror, loss of reputation, and most likely loss of groom. How in the world can I care for a baby? What will everyone think? I’m doomed. Aww, a baby. How sweet, I’m going to be a Mama. Oh my stars, I’m going to be a Mama! Can you hear the swirl of obsessive thinking?

But it’s Christmas, right? Things begin to work out. Joseph gets on board when an angel helps him understand his role in the drama, and joy creeps into this story of good news. All is well in heart and soul.

Then a government decree is issued, and everyone must return to their home of origin to be taxed. Good news and great joy? Hardly. The mood crashes again. Now add frustration over travel plans, anger over the oppression of taxes, and the shame of poverty. The family must find a donkey and gather supplies for a several day trip that includes a very pregnant young lady. 

The ups and downs continue even until now. As I experience a gamut of emotions this Christmas, I can smile as each change in mood reflects an aspect of the truest telling of the Christmas story. When the world tries to force the season into tinsel and mistletoe. . . . RELAX! 

The real experience of Christmas, both then and now, include:

  • face time with God, 
  • connection with others regardless of the mood state, and
  • faith that this long expected Jesus will one day say, “Peace, be still,” and our emotional pain, mood swings, grief, and over-reactions will respond without question. 

So, Merry Christmas! And may you know that the Babe Who came into a swirl of mental turmoil will one day return to create a stable place of peace, both external and internal.

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A Flash of Christmas Panic

Our daughter called with serious Christmas questions. When is everyone coming? What are we going to eat? Where will we all sleep? Where are all the stockings? Anxiety began to increase as I tried to calm what felt like Christmas panic. “Mom,” she said. “I’m not anxious. I just can’t wait!” In four words, Christmas arrived. 

IMG_2248.jpgIn a moment I remembered her 4-yr-old self, along with her sister and brother, as they danced through the house on Christmas morning to wake up the sleepy parents. They couldn’t wait then and they still can’t wait. Somewhere along the way, I fell into that role of sleepy parent and have too often remained there—until now. 

I remember the giddy joy of anticipation that used to bubble up in my own heart as Christmas neared. Flashes of disheveled hair, warm jammies, and enormous glowing tree lights dash through my mind, and I’m frozen in my stocking feet. Tomorrow I get to see our daughters. Saturday the rest of the family arrives. Sunday we celebrate Christmas and spend the afternoon hiking up Crowders Mountain. I’m so excited I can hardly breathe! 

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