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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Of Life and Loss, Part Two

Loss demands attention. Just yesterday I was busy making fajitas in the kitchen and listening to Christmas music when the strong arm of loss pinned me to the wall. Tears came unbidden, mixed with anger over what was. What had been whimsical holiday carols turned IMG_3336.JPGto mourning. The faces wouldn’t leave—little ones harmed, older ones trafficked, and all of us broken in this outside of Eden world in which we live. But a door appeared. A doorway of remembrance.

I remembered Rahel, Harag, and Meskerem. These glorious women, once prostituted in a foreign country, now dance with their Creator. Loss? Yes. Life? Also, yes. Rahel taught our children the rhythms of African drumbeats on a paint can in our back yard. Harag’s smile and passion for other women suffering abuses of the sex trade filled me with humility and fond memories. I then remembered speaking to a group gathered at Meskerem’s house before I left Africa. Rain tapped its song on the aluminum roof, and by candlelight I spoke of my heart for our Savior-the Light of the World. What a night.

Although I left Africa-a loss indeed, that place of community, spice, and warm embrace never left me. I boarded an airplane bound for Tennessee because I was pregnant with twins. Suddenly, loss is filled with newness and life. 

Things are never the same after a loss. Don’t let anyone convince you that one day you will “get over it” and settle back into whatever status quo existed before. Loss, simply labeled, is the death of normal. How grateful I am that there can, however, be a new normal filled with light and hope.

The new normal might also be hard to maneuver. When we abandon ourselves to beauty  and lose all thought of loss, the slightest scent, sound, or word, can send us spiraling into the valley of the shadow of death. Thus, we find ourselves holding back. To live with abandon is to risk the doorway to loss. The two are partners in this world. Loss will find us. Let’s live anyway.

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Of Life and Loss, Part One

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Life and loss are inseparable partners. The holidays now are without our mother who started planning for them each year in June. Our kids live in another state, so Christmas decorating was lifeless this season. A massive winter storm is moving around us. Snow is expected to fall everywhere, except the very wet Tennessee valley. I love snow, but live in a little pocket of winter loss.

Our losses are profound. When we rise each day, we might realize there is no significant other to do life with; or find we are still facing the loss of health that plagued us yesterday; maybe there are no children with whom we can dance and play, and we find the light of hope is missing. 

For some, we rise to silence where once there was joy; a parent, spouse, or child is no longer with us. And we grieve. How can we ever begin to imagine again, much less imagine life?

There is no predetermined, professionally-sanctioned way to grieve. Many techniques help us get emotionally unstuck, but grief is unique to every individual. We may express our loss by thinking and analyzing, feeling and crying, or even laughing. Some of us may want to talk and tell stories over and over again. I tend toward humor or move into silence. Still others work to find meaning. If we have known something or someone for 20+ years, why are we expected to move on one week after the loss? Maybe we’ve known them for a very short time but our experience together was deep. What then?

When losses are amplified, there is a doorway into life. At just the right time it will appear. The little doorway that cracks open is one of remembrance. As we feel loss, we remember. What do we remember? Life.

We recall the fun or the beauty that filled our days when we held our beloved warm and close. Each second of mindfulness becomes precious. As we grieve this holiday season, my prayer is that we can become intentional and present with our memories, and begin to see the life that remains around us. Life never really leaves. It moves in the darkness with us, in memories, meaning, and in hope. We must not be afraid to grieve. And we must not be afraid to live.

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Who’s Your Tribe?

I didn’t know I needed a tribe. Somewhere inside I guess I did. It’s a core desire for humans. When God placed His image in us, and particularly, placed eternity in our hearts, He instilled an irrefutable desire to be part of a tribe. We need each other. 

Part of my journey through this next stage of life included meeting with a registered dietician (RD). So earlier this week, I enjoyed a silent drive to Chattanooga to an eclectic sort of neighborhood. It was a cross between indie-culture, coffee-shop folk, southern family, and the ghetto. Five minutes into our appointment, the RD made me cry. Those who know me, know that I don’t cry much or well. Those who know me best, know that I’m a crier to the core of my being. This professional’s concluding recommendations included finding a tribe. She crossed a line. 

For most of my life, I have staunchly held a belief that I don’t need others. I don’t need a tribe. Labels I have long owned seem to have allowed me to pull away and wallow in my oddities, my brokenness. My tribe, I surmised, would have to include people:

-who are hopelessly unable to participate in small talk

-who can handle intense, long conversations

-who can drink a boat load of coffee

-who can bounce from one idea to the next covering at least a million different topics

-who can, who can.

Wait. I’ve labeled even the definition and function of tribe. Let’s peel that label up a bit. A tribe, simply labeled, is a human social group. We are human. We are social in one way or another. My tribe grows deep as I allow others to experience me as is, no warranty, no thirty day money back guarantee. I’ve had a tribe all along, I just don’t engage with it.

My tribe is you. With no expectations or judgments, if we meet, you are my tribe. Christian or not, married or not, straight or not, like me or not, we’re in this together, and the labels need to drop so we can experience and explore the creative diversity of compassion, of authentic life in the tribe.

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A Residue That Remains

Every Thanksgiving for many years we have played Taboo. This is a high-energy game where the volume gets turned up and only the relationally closest partners win, usually siblings in our family. The more you know about your game partner the better. This year I looked over the shoulder of my daughter as she began to describe her designated word. “Our whole family has this!”  she shouted. That was her clue. Her word was depression. We are still laughing about that one, sort of.

Labels get tossed around so much. This one in particular feels accurate. It seems to come in a one-size-fits-many variety. The trouble with labels is that they stick. Ever try to get one off your hardwood floor? The residue that remains collects dirt and actually becomes a new label, most often dirtier than the one before. 

As we look at the courageous task of examining our labels and beginning to peel them up a bit, even remove them, we must be aware of the residue. Depression can cover some pretty nasty secrets: trauma, failure, and shame. Peeling one label alone is not enough. Patience and compassion directed toward ourselves is needed as we look at each label and honor its place in our story.

Depression is far more than a label. Please don’t hear me further stigmatize what is already a disorder forced to lurk too long in private closets. What I am saying is that we tend to refer to depression as mine, my depression. That is when labels are affixed. We may struggle with the depression, but it is not who we are. 

Several years ago I learned that olive oil removes adhesive residue from floors. And it works. I find it interesting that gently anointing the residue with oil creates a clean surface. A healing oil of compassion, kindness, prayer, mindfulness, and attention causes the dirtiest parts of our sticky, label-gathering tendencies to dissolve and allow us to come to life again. So labels might help us win a Thanksgiving game, but they don’t have to be what defines who we are and what we are meant to become. 

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My Bored Self

(My story and thousands of others)

Over the past several months I have learned a lot about life with ADHD. As a therapist, this information is vital as I meet with many who battle the intricacies of a uniquely-wired prefrontal cortex. The brain is way complicated. For myself, the diagnosis didn’t officially come until this year. I’ve always teased that I had ADHD before those letters even existed, but not until this year have I begun to explore, and subsequently free myself from, the condemnation of symptomology.

Periods of dark mood have characterized many of my years on this planet and so have times that passed at joyful, lightning-like speed. I am super gifted at rejecting myself for you so you don’t have to make that call for yourself. For much of my life I’ve heard things like, “How do you get so much done?” and “Have you always been this scattered?”   I make poor food choices and after a day of eating way too much I can still squeeze in a fudge brownie. None of these things sound like ADHD do they? Well, in fact, they are; or at least they can be.

Those with ADHD are human. We make poor choices, hurt others with our words, and show up late just like everyone else, but the descriptors in paragraph two can also be underlying symptoms of a brain wired to live in the now. After an interesting conversation with a good doctor, I realized that the majority of my darker moods follow an intense sense of boredom. I need to be challenged. I ache for new things that offer a chemical boost in the moment. When that doesn’t happen all the time, (like really, ALL the time) I get depressed. Call me or offer a new idea to work on, and I am good to go in no time at all. Researchers are also now connecting a heightened experience of rejection with ADHD. It’s called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria and that certainly explains a lot.

And eating habits? My lifelong shame? Also explainable. Late one night last week, I was lamenting poor food choices and vowed in my head that I would never eat again. Two minutes later, my son walked in with two fudge brownies. He tossed me one, and captivated by the novelty, the shiny new thing that just landed in my lap, I scarfed it down before my brain had a nanosecond to evaluate the wisdom of such a thing. 

Don’t get me wrong. Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder is no excuse for poor decisions and behavior. But it sure accounts for why they seem to follow at a closer-than-kin distance. The wow in all of this is that deep labels once plastered over my heart are now lifting. Depressed. Rejected. Glutton. Over-committed. Under-committed. I’m carefully peeling them off now and looking at them from a new perspective. As they are removed one by one, I’m committed to making sure I take responsibility for myself, but I’m also working on replacing those labels with ones like Grace and Kindness.

Feel free to share this with those who might be interested.

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to Dance Again

 

Yesterday they laced on their ballet shoes. Both knew the sorrow of minor key dance, the music of fatigue composed in a lifetime of depression, stigma, and shame. And both decided to dance again anyway. Our ballet shoes were hiking boots and the trail ahead rated strenuous. Two miles up felt impossible. I groaned that I had forgotten the music, the dance steps, the passion of goodness on the trail beneath my feet. We went anyway.

As boulders drew us off the path, we began to explore textures, design, autumn Maple and Oak. At our own pace we moved upward. We stopped. We twirled. And once, we froze. Something, beyond our ability to see, gave us pause and we listened hard. Then she said, “It’s a breeze. It’s like a gentle monster through the trees.” The breeze began thousands of feet below and made its way toward us. To her, like a gentle monster. To me, an arpeggio. 

This was kindness. To get away for 3 hours in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week, seemed non-sensical, but the attraction, like a theatrical production somewhere inside us, made a definitive case for an afternoon of dance. For three hours, kindness removed us from the critic’s circles, and called us to dance to the summit.

Rugged chords of trail etched the cliff, some treble and some bass. Oh how the picture of life became clear. The depths of sorrow and pain, like jagged rocks at my feet, paled before the bigger picture. 

So focused on the rocks, we sometimes miss it. To see the spectacular expanse beyond the pain, we have to stop, grasp hold of something firm for balance, and look. The path remains, difficult and dangerous, but it was expertly crafted into a part of the greater symphony. And we dance, again.

At the top, we held our arms out wide, eyes closed, lost in an eternal moment of beauty. 

 

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A Painted Fog

 

This morning in Tennessee it was a cool 36*C. Just before 7am I rolled over, wrapped in softness and warmth, hoping to get a couple of extra hours of autumn sleep. Instead, I heard a whisper. Full disclosure compels me to let you in on a secret, no one else was home. The whisper came again, “Let’s go see the sunrise. We can leave now and catch it rise over the river.” The whisper was playful, gentle, a voice that knows the deepest parts of my heart where sunrises and rivers often mingle. God’s voice invited me to an impromptu morning of goodness, an early morning date. 

For once, I got up, threw on some old clothes, grabbed my camera and drove off in to the darkness. As I approached the river area, the sky that I hoped would be painted yellow and pink was hidden in a dense fog. When God invites you out, however, even the fog is captivating. 

Can the fog of our life be goodness as well? I thought back over the trials of previous months and years, my own and those of friends and family. There are so many moments when we lean forward, aching for a sunrise, when all we can see is fog: death, pain, hate, violence…thick, consuming fog.

There are times when all we see is fog. This morning as I ached in the fog, I turned a sharp corner and saw the palette before me, a painted fog. The picture was still unclear; the sun nowhere to be found. But there was enough light to identify color in the surrounding mist. Autumn yellows, rust, red, orange, leaves began calling me to examine the fog and find the goodness. 

There is a time for everything. Many days hold only fog and that’s okay. We need to be kind to ourselves then, and sit with compassion in the pain. With gratefulness this morning, however, I know that at times we also come to a place where the colors of goodness begin to settle in to our souls and give homage to the mourning process and the place where healing begins to whisper. 

A painted fog reminded me this morning of a good and kind Spirit that invites me to play, to mourn, to seek, and to be born once more in hope of the sunrise over the river. 

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Perpetually…Early?

So many times I have thought I must be God’s little stray, His orphan wild child; the one that shows up with mud stains and tear stains, her little shorts torn and unmatched socks sweaty and soiled. Certainly He must shake His head at me in wonder. 

Recently, at a retreat high in the mountains of Colorado, I learned to put words to many things in my life, one being the insignificant, but intensely awkward, habit of showing up early to everything. Being late usually is not on my radar. I know far more about stressing in the hushed, unease of earliness. 

The afternoon session was to begin at 1:00pm. Since distraction is my birthright, I gathered all I needed and left my room at 12:30 so as not to be late. I always think this will land me there right on time, but most of the time it does not. In three minutes, I wandered into the small meeting hall 27 minutes early. The speaker and worship leader were tuning in to a soul-connection with God. I entered and offered a half smile of “Please don’t admit you see me” that was met with a well-known, grace-filled pause. They began to pray for the upcoming session. 

Once again, I heard the familiar script in my head, “What are you doing here? You mess up everything.” I succumbed to the pressure to bolt and turned to face the door. 

The door. Does anyone know what lies on the other side of a door? Just beyond the wooden slab and brass knob is the reason for my perpetual earliness. If I dared open the door I knew what would happen. I knew what lurked just feet in front of me. That day it was Colorado. The whole state waited beyond that door. I walked outside in spite of myself to get away from the self-inflicted awkwardness. 

Then it happened. I saw a tree stump. Troubled water. A tiny bridge. Leaves. A quarter mile down the trail there was a bench. A single, yellowed aspen leaf lingered there. I had to touch it. Think about it. And the leaves covering the troubled water moved in slow motion as if stirred by the angel of the Lord. In seconds, I was clambering down close to the stirring for just the right view. 

An unknown amount of time passed before I was brought back to earth by the sound of women gathering for worship back at the meeting hall. There I sat, covered in dust, dirt stains on my knees. Who knows what the backside region was covered in as I had scooted over the ground like a millipede. 

My brain is simply wired for distraction. It’s not a disability. It’s an alternate way of being able. The ADHD label explains a lot, not because it refers to a diagnosis of something wrong, but because it explains a way of life that has too long been experienced as frustrating, heart-breaking, and isolating rather than creative, free-spirited, and beautifully full of desire.

Not once have I shown up at the right time for anything, but over time God has always shown up where I ended up. Did anyone else see that leaf He placed on the bench? Or the one tucked in the fork of the tree? Did anyone see His song in the twirl of leaves on the water? Did they think of the crippled man at the waters of Bethesda and long for Jesus to help them get in? I did.

So today, I lean in to that sprite of a wild child. Early? Late? On time? Does it always have to matter if the One Who made us knows when we are as much as who we are? I think I’ll open the door and check out Tennessee today. 

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To See or Not to See

Some things we simply cannot un-see. Consider the arachnid with two-inch legs that attached itself to my front door frame. She crawled through neurotoxic pesticide and dangled in front of me, grasping the door with three legs, leaving five to reach out for my neck. That image will stay with me for a while. Whether its freakish expressions of our personal phobias, doors we wish we had never opened as children, or sunsets painted by the divine hand of God, there are images, concepts, words, that will never leave us.

Four children in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia knew this too well. After great adventures in a secret land where they live life to the fullest as kings and queens, they are transported back to the mundane life of teenagers in London. But they can’t un-see what they have seen.

Frustrated and angry that he can no longer live that life, High King Peter wears hope deferred on his sleeve as he fights anyone willing to challenge him. After one particular gang brawl, his sister Susan asks, “Really, is it that hard just to walk away?” To which Peter replies, “I shouldn’t have to. I mean don’t you ever get tired of being treated like a kid?” His brother, Edward, then says, “Well, we are kids.” And Peter captures the ache of Eden in his response, “I wasn’t always [a kid]. It’s been a year. How long does he expect us to wait?”

How long does He expect us to wait? Tiny tastes of beauty. Pangs of desire to be met in glimpses. No. I want to see with an unveiled face. I want to breathe in the air of otherworldly fullness. I want to think and touch and listen as I connect with the Creator, satiated inside, and un-pressured in community.

Instead, we wait. We need each other, you know. When I’m wandering in a wilderness of fear that Eden never was, I need you to remind me of our true home. Help me remember. When you’re standing in the sand, thhorse-seae great walls of the red sea drawn up on either side and an army of insecurity behind you, well, you need me. You need me to walk beside you, quiet, hand-in-hand, taking the next step toward the land of promise.

We’ve known small moments when the curtain cracked open and all of heaven’s glory shot through. We could scarcely contain the fullness of who we really are and what is surely to come. We cannot un-see the cross, the Garden, love, redemption’s rowdy call to let go and fly.

I’m tempted today to squish up my eyes and press hard to un-see. The waiting is too heavy today. So let’s wait together and tell stories of battles won, oceans crossed, chains abandoned, and the eyes of Christ. Oh, His eyes…I cannot un-see what I have seen!

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