The Plate, the Healing and the Peace

The home in Willow, NY has been in my paternal family for 5 generations. Five. 5. Yes, five. Since I was a little girl it has been a place of memories, respite, and family connection. I remember throughout my childhood watching my grandmother cooking at the stove wearing her pearl earrings, Lily skirt and apron and thinking I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. She was sophisticated and warm, not conceited and stuffy. I loved her parties and outings and of course her dinners on the warmed Blue Willow plates. The plates from England that proudly displayed the willow tree which symbolized for us the home in Willow, NY.

So many memories….I can go back in time and immediately feel like I am sitting there  eating grapefruit halves with the little spoons with the sharp edges and watching my grandfather section out each piece and eat it with his toast and marmalade jelly.  They were the only ones on my father’s side of the family who made me feel safe. Loved. Protected.When they died I lost a really important connection.  My father and I had never been close and my memories were less than favorable  but I tried to have some kind of a relationship with him over the years.  Kenny (my husband) and I started going to Willow when we were newlyweds and  continued to visit during the the summers.  We enjoyed so many walks along the creek and drives through the Catskill Mountains. Fresh mountain air. A home full of heritage and a place that connected me to my grandparents and those before them.

As our children were growing up, they all made memories in Willow as well. Tubing, catching snakes, playing in the field, planting flowers….it was their favorite place to go every summer. Throughout elementary school our 2 older children wrote essays and papers about Willow any time they could  fit it into a writing prompt. My oldest son wrote a heart filled paper in high school about his summer memories that brought his teacher to tears. To them it was the most amazing place on earth.

My father never really interacted with us on these trips and when he did he was often condescending and lashed out but for the sake of the good memories, I tried to smooth things over and ignore the harshness.

One trip years ago I could no longer overlook how he treated us and there was a painful discussion where he looked at me and said, “I don’t even feel like you are my daughter.”  I fell on the ground into the fetal position and have very few memories of that night except getting up and running down a dark road sobbing while my husband ran behind me.

The next day we left the house where we had put down deep roots and never went back. I fell into a deep depression after that trip and began intensive counseling. I had so much healing to do. So much baggage and brokenness. At times I felt the pain would never go away….that it would fester inside me forever. But with a lot of prayer and counsel,  the darkness began to lift and a slow process of mending began. It finally started to feel less like a life sentence and more like a part of my story that was making me stronger, braver, and more compassionate toward other people.

Fast forward to 3 months ago….. I was at a yard sale and a man was selling the same Blue Willow plates I remembered from all those summers ago. The price was right and I bought them. I put them on a shelf in the garage and glanced at them occasionally and usually was flooded with feelings of heartbreak and loss. I could not even bring them in the house because of the painful reminder of the fractured family tree. Even though I had healed a lot, the wounds had left scars and they had left lingering pain.

A few weeks ago I finally picked one of the plates off the shelf as I was headed to Madison for a Light Breaks Through conference. I decided to use one for a demonstration. I honestly wasn’t entirely sure how I would work it in to my talk but my friend had suggested  that I could make the plates into a mosaic so it had me thinking about the mosaic of our lives. While I was speaking at the conference  about the pain and loss I had experienced, I threw the plate down and watched it shatter into many pieces. There was a kind of freedom watching the plate break- as it represented so much hurt and a letting go of what once was.


…our lives may have shattered pieces but when put together they can make the most beautiful mosaic. The pieces will still be broken and the edges sharp. They can never be made back into the original piece but they can be arranged into something that is uniquely stunning.

So when I got home from the conference I took those broken pieces and made my first mosaic. Pieces of the plate, glass beads and grout and a wonderful friend to guide me through the process.  I could feel God healing me from the inside out. I just prayed that I could make peace with the pieces. Could be ok with the reality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few days later I picked up my mosaic from my friend and I was so proud! I sat it in the kitchen and  before I knew it  I had knocked it over and it broke into even more pieces all over the floor. The broken pieces of the mosaic were broken still. WHAT? The look on my husband’s face when it happened was priceless. His eyes widened and he immediately said, “ARE YOU OK?” And I was. God had already been working. The symbolism of the pieces no longer defined me or my emotions. The work had been done in the creating.

A few days after the dropping of the mosaic I was at another yard sale (my total happy place picking through other people’s throw aways) and found a box and on top was a Blue Willow plate made into a clock. Underneath it was an entire set of Willow dishes neatly wrapped one by one. I unveiled the first one and wrapped it back up as quickly as possible and headed to put it in my pile of yard sale goodies. I was so ecstatic and walking so fast the lady stopped me because she thought I was stealing them.

My reaction to the dishes this time was total nostalgia. Great memories of hammocks and fireflies. My kids swimming in the creeks and having my friend Kristen and her family over for hat parties and collecting rocks.  God had done the work. I was becoming more free from the pain and the rejection. The dishes now remind me of freshly snapped green beans and my grandmother’s plates of cookies.

  

 

 

 

 

 

The plates are currently in the dishwasher and heading to my shelves. They will be eaten on until my precious family breaks them all and I find another set at a yard sale.  God is setting me free.  I find joy again- embracing the good memories while I realize how I was changed for the better by the harsh edges of the broken places and the loss and grief I have felt.

There is a bush we have that grows flowers that change colors over 3 days. The first day is brilliant purple and then the next is lavender and finally white.  I went to the back porch to write when I noticed the bush and was amazed by the symbolism.

The original  plate and the pieces of the past.  The brilliant purple of the flowers represents the beginning. The process has started.

The mosaic pieces are the beginning of the healing and the bright purple is fading into lavender.

The new plate and the purifying that God has done. White. Cleansing.

There will be more hurt and disappointment but now I will approach it differently. I will be able to come at it  knowing I am not defined by the rejection and the abandonment.

Only God. Only with loved ones around me supporting me while it took place. Only with a therapist who walked with through my darkest days. Only with a husband who has listened to years of sadness and gallons of tears shed.  Only with children who miss Willow terribly but have come to understand.

Maybe we will get to go back one day. Maybe there will be restoration and relationship. Maybe there will be change. That would be amazing…..but I have to say no matter what…..it is well with my soul.

 

 

 

 

The Process of Stripping

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In the past five years,  everything about me has changed (most significantly in the past two). Some have called it “mid life crisis” but since it is not a crisis, it was “transition.”  I have been called a hoarder, crazy cat lady, insane, and often given no words because people are speechless. I really don’t seek out these descriptions or even like them; however, they are all true.

It has really been a process of stripping. Stripping me of insecurities, Feelings of inferiority. Fear of being a nobody. Enslaved to other people’s standards.

My whole life I wanted to fit in, but my whole life I didn’t want to fit in. I wasn’t “in” and I wasn’t “out.” I knew that I did not fit. I was not categorizable. In high school I tried everything on for size and it was either too baggy or too snug. I struggled with who I was. I went to college unprepared for the other students with sorority pedigrees, limitless credit cards paid by daddy, and extravagant semester long debutante engagements in their hometowns. I knew that did not fit. My senior year I became a Christian and was semi-invited into that crowd but I was too late to the game for those who had been friends all four years of college. I knew that did not fit. I returned home from college and worked as a nanny to a little boy I adored while all my Vanderbilt classmates were either getting master’s degrees or corporate positions. I avoided the calls from the alumni association asking me for my updated career information for their records.

I knew I did not fit.

Then I got married to Kenny who was like no one I had ever dated. We really did not experience anything similar growing up but I was intrigued by how genuine he was. I had decided I needed to find out who I was and whether he fit into my not-yet-determined persona. That was a daunting task!  So I had one major test that I felt determined if he was the one…..Kenny drove a beat up car with issues. MAJOR issues. I loved it. The ceiling hung down so it was pinned up with push pins and every time he went in reverse and switched to drive it let out a horrible sound. Like “EEEEEKKKKKKK!!!!!!” There was no pretending it did not happen-you just had to wait for it and laugh. I thought it was hilarious but Kenny did not find it all funny. So the test was to see if he would drive it down to the Yacht Club when we went to play tennis. If he was too ashamed to drive it there, I was out. If he was confident enough to own the sounds, the exhaust and the overall ghettoness of it, then I was in. I guess you know he passed that test.

When we got married we lived in a one bedroom duplex for $300 a month and even that rent was stretching us. He was a middle school youth pastor and I was a preschool teacher. We barely made rent every month but I was the most content I had been in years…..but still had no clue who I was. Still searching. Living in a very poor neighborhood with regular robberies and gun shots going off and also joining the Junior League and serving hors d’ouevres at the elite museum gatherings when I could barely buy groceries for myself- trying them both on for size. Again neither one fit…..but Kenny was with me through all of it and I learned to draw strength through his confidence because I did not own it for myself.

As a mom at 28, 30, and 34 and then adopting at 38, I suddenly had a house full of boys….and I loved them, cherished them, and adored them but NEWS FLASH….I was not one of them. I did not like mud fights or wrestling or know the rules of baseball. I did not fit. That does not mean I did not enjoy motherhood or find purpose in being their mom but it was one more reminder that I was not like them in a lot of ways. Sometimes I felt like an outsider to the world of boys. I prayed so hard for a girl to come into our lives and even our first dog and cat were boys. Seriously??

I always wanted to be just enough- not too much or not too little. Not too loud or too quiet. Not too thin or too heavy. Not too overbearing or too laid back. I wanted to be JUST RIGHT. And I never was….so I kept trying.

Kenny has been in ministry since we started dating- so that is the 23 years we have been together. Youth pastor, church planter, seminary student, associate pastor…..and I have been his wife. For those who did not know me then, I was a great follower. NO LIE. When he took a new job in a church, I trusted him wholeheartedly that it was what was best for our family and I went. And I loved it. I still had no idea who I was. Did I want to be in the big, beautiful church or the small community of believers where we barely got paid? I had no idea and I did not want to figure it out so I went where Kenny was called and I made myself at home wherever we were. Those were amazing years for us but I still was so confused as to who I was created to be.

In all the years I have been on my own, my house has been predictable. I would buy a beautiful new picture from Kirkland’s to hang in my living room only to find out four of my friends had the same picture. I wanted everything clean, undamaged, and picture perfect. My kids, my house, and my life needed to fit in a pretty box with a big bow because that is where I felt safe. When things were not in order, I fell apart. Even when we moved into a 50 year old home, I wanted to tear out anything that looked old and make it new. I had no appreciation for anything that did not come out of a box from Lowe’s.

I always envied the hippy girls in college who pulled it off beautifully. I wanted to be the girl who went out without makeup. I admired the moms who felt that they could be a mess. I longed to be someone who had confidence and did not take everything personally. But it just did not come. I waited for something magical….I waited a long time.

My forties hit me and I started to feel free. I realized that time was short and I needed to figure myself out. Kenny graduated from seminary and I had been telling him that was going to be my chance to figure out ME. I had no idea where to start but eventually I realized I loved to write, take pictures, talk to people and walk with them through hard times, and I wanted to be a voice for those who have been forced into silence.  But what does that all mean? I was NOT a writer. I was NOT a photographer. I was NOT a mentor. I was just ME. But suddenly being me started to feel a little bit like it fit. And as I sought God and His path of healing for wounds I had carried my whole life, the burden became a little lighter. My identity began to form around who God had created me to be…..not who I had been told I was my whole life. I began to feel free. Alive. Whole. But God still had some stripping to do….

As a little girl, I distinctly remember telling people I wanted to be a garbage picker when I grew up. WHO says THAT? Apparently I did…..but it never fit into my life plan so I never thought anything of it. I learned when I was no longer that little girl that other people’s garbage by the side of the road is gross and dirty so why would anyone pick it??

Over the past five years, I have started to slow down and admire other people’s junk on the side of the road. I have plopped my kids in a chair down the street to save it until I could come back with the truck. I have stopped right outside Lakeland High School to get a table and been yelled at by my high schooler to PLEASE leave the junk just this once (and that one time I did). I started to think other people’s throw aways were pretty cool. I wasn’t always sure what to do with what I found because I was still stuck in the shiny, new stuff but I was intrigued. I wanted to put an old chair in the middle of my floor but…..no. Too risky. I wanted to hang my own photography in my house but I settled for professional prints because they were safe. I wanted to write my own story but other people’s words were much easier to hide behind.

Then a few years ago I wrote my story (still being written and I will one day write a book). Then I started a nonprofit with a close friend of mine that means I speak at women’s encounters about my own faith journey and my own brokenness. Then I quit my job to work full time for CPI Haiti and not have an hourly salary to depend on.  I began to see myself emerging and it did open my eyes to who I was becoming but there were still gaping holes of insecurity in the fiber of who I was.

Then I decided that I wanted to pierce my nose and get a tattoo. Who does that in their forties? Apparently I do. I began to feel free. No longer confined to what I thought others would think was acceptable for me. I decided I could do something even if I was the only one who liked it. . Of course this has little to do with actual ink and piercings and everything to do with who I was becoming.

I suddenly became obsessed with yard sales. Getting other people’s castaways. I started shopping on half price Wednesdays at Salvation Army for all of our clothes. I no longer needed new with tags and nice, neat aisles to walk down. I found great pleasure in trying on other people’s donated clothing and walking out without spending more than $10. Saturdays I got up at 6 AM while everyone was sleeping and hit as many yard sales as I could- looking for anything to take to Haiti or to give away. I still had to tell people I was obviously not shopping for myself when I went to their nice homes and they gave me funny looks that I was one of “those people.” Still could not own my personal love for yard sales- it was just what a good nonprofit person does for needy children.

Then this year I had a breakthrough of sorts. I hung the photography I had taken in Haiti in Mitchell’s (after periodic breakdowns that my work would be seen and judged by others for a whole month) and survived. Survival was not a given at that point. Then Alison and Amber asked me to do the artwork for an event called Red Tent. Also terrifying. My hidden insecurities started oozing out everywhere and I felt exposed. I was in this event with a bunch of hipster, cool artsy people and the ink of my tattoo was still fresh and I was still figuring it all out.  I wanted to own ME but ME was still morphing. So I just started to take portraits for the artwork of the event. And I felt alive. I needed to make frames and I stressed about it for over a month. I could not afford anything fancy and for the Mitchell’s pictures I did them all brown because that was safe. This time they wanted COLOR- fun colors. NOOOOOOO……I don’t know how to paint, do fun, make it work. And then I met one of the most spectacular people EVER….Kimberly. She agreed to help me paint fun, colorful frames. I was so nervous that day. I showed up with no confidence that I could do it. And she showed me that holding a can of hot pink spray paint could be life changing. Why? Because you can make something that looks amazing- even if it is only amazing to you. And if you make a mistake? You paint over it. Nothing is final and everything is a work in progress.

I went to Ace Hardware that night and bought cans and cans of paint…..I also got glaze, sandpaper, brushes, etc. and I went back the next day to learn more. And the next day. Before I knew it my entire back porch was covered in tarps, paint supplies and old, thrown away frames. I had fallen in love with creating something beautiful out of something not worth looking at. I felt free. Free to create. I came home and made a sign that has a quote by Henri Matisse that says, “Creativity takes courage.” And that day I gained courage.

And then I discovered my love for anything old and started going to yard sales because I am ok being one of those crazies who fights traffic and talks you down from $2 to $1 for something I think is a treasure. I get the eye rolls from the family for the “junk” I bring home but I see the potential that will come with some polish and some love. It took a lot of polish and love for me to emerge and I guess I see that same potential in old silver and splintered wood.

One yard sale day I bought a beat up old patio table that was not selling so they practically gave it to me. As we left I told Cooper that it was my favorite piece of furniture I had ever bought. He said, “Mom, you like old stuff, don’t you? I think it is because it tells a story.” YES! I had never realized it until my 12 year old figured it out for me. I love old because it tells a story. I see the jar and I wonder who used it to can peaches and where they were living and how it got to me.  So much more interesting than a new jar from Target that was made 3 weeks ago.

Mid life is INCREDIBLE. A time of discovery. Freedom. And most of all acceptance for who God knew I was going to be when He put it in my heart to be a “garbage picker.” It does not get better than that.

 

 

 

Loving without agenda

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We all want to love and be loved….we were created to cherish healthy relationships. The ones that make us feel safe, secure, and worthy.

But what about those who cannot love because their past keeps them trapped? Entangled in bitterness. They have witnessed too much disappointment. Betrayal. Too much loss.  Many hold their hearts at a distance because love is too good to be true. For them love is vulnerable and can be used as a dagger pulled out of someone’s arsenal at any moment.

To my dear friends who feel this way, accepting and giving love just is not possible. If you have ever watched someone try to love you but can’t, you know what complete helplessness feels like. You can hear their hearts screaming, “When are you going to leave too? When are you going to take advantage of me? Why would you love ME?” and they push you away, sabotage the relationship, and heap anger on you for all the other people who have hurt them and are not around to take the lashes. In these relationships, we are called to love deeply…..just as we love those who reciprocate. If we don’t, who will break down the walls? Who will chip away at the hardened heart?

We want to sit and wait to be APPRECIATED. We want our love to be accepted, nurtured, and returned. But what about those who cannot? The children in foster care who have been taught by life that being loved is not possible EVER. The children who were raped and are now prostitutes because they were taught that sex is all they have to offer and continue to be beat by their pimps and johns. The children who were given crack for their tenth birthdays by their drug dealer parents and have learned that if your parents won’t protect you, who will? The moms raising special needs children who have been shunned by the playgroup because “that kid” throws too many tantrums and “that mom” is too needy and now she drinks too much and turns off her phone. The shallow, materialistic prima donna  who degrades the manicurist and the grocery store clerk out of her own brokenness because she knows her husband is cheating on her but she won’t walk away because it would be an end to her extravagant lifestyle. The teacher who went from encouraging and uplifting to mean and stern in one year because she is taking care of her dying husband and resents her job because she has to stay to keep her insurance. The child sitting at his mom’s bedside while she takes her final breaths and is screaming inside  that God sucks and this is too hard. The CEO who was told by his dad his whole life that he was worthless and now takes advantage of people to make lots of money and earn the respect of his father and who is repeating the cycle with his own children.

What about them? Do you run the other way? Do you refuse to look them in the eye? Do you gossip about them with your acceptable friends?

The kind of love that Jesus talks about is sacrificial, often painful, and always inconvenient.

And how do we continue to give and not grow weary of rejection? How do we not take it “personally” when we feel attacked? We cry out to God and He hears us. We stop making it about us and realize that the other person’s heart is more important than our own need to be accepted. We love like Jesus loved and expect nothing in return. And we decide that we will do it all again tomorrow. And the next day. Jesus will so fill our emotional tanks that the constant withdrawals by others won’t deplete the resources. Our cups will overflow because of what HE has done. And when people tell us we do too much and that we need to rest and take care of ourselves, we will smile inside because we know where our strength comes from and who the Giver of Grace is. We will know that if we are connected to the Source of our strength, we are unstoppable.

And once we have loved like that, we will never be the same. The gift is not in the giving but in how it changes us.

“Weeping can stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning. ”  Psalm 30:5

 

Weary from the Battle

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Writing has been too difficult lately. How much do I tell? I am a transparent person but lately I have wanted to hide….hide from myself, hard truths, life, and everyone else. Why? Disappointment, shame, depression, fear. Some days the weight has felt unbearable like shackles around my ankles and others it has lifted like the early morning fog. Some days I have gone between the two extremes all day long depending on the circumstances. To say that it has been confusing and exhausting would not begin to define this state of struggle. Even as I write this, I want to quit. Walk away from the computer and yell, “F*** you!” But I need to push through for me and for you. For me to work on healing and for you to know you are not alone.

We have raised our children the best we know how. Mistakes along the way. Never believing that a formula would produce godly children- I think we have been pretty realistic and held our children loosely knowing God’s plan is ultimate…..but deep down we thought our children would be leaders in their faith and stand for righteousness no matter the cost. It has not happened.  Nothing prepared us for the struggles of watching our teenagers waver and fall. Curfews, apps to know where they are, becoming semi-professional investigators, and regular confrontations has left me tired. Tired from the worry. The unknown. And tired from the self-condemnation that I don’t trust God enough to know that each of my children must walk out this journey and find his own faith.

I am a self-blamer every time. Did we make a mistake with their schooling? Their friend choices? Were we too sheltering? Not enough? Did we bombard them with faith so now they resent it? As my mind reels from this self-talk insanity, I just want to go to sleep. And when I put my head on the pillow sleep hardly ever comes. I toss and turn, get up, lay down….the ritual of my nights. And when I sleep I often have those anxiety dreams where I am watching someone’s child and go out to lunch forgetting that he is asleep in the crib. I wake up believing the voice in my head that says I am not a good enough mom to be trusted with someone’s child. Not the brightest way to start the day, I guess,  but it happens.

Every day I get the privilege to take medication to my friend who is dying. She was an addict for 35 years and cannot keep the morphine or anxiety medications in her house so I take them every day to her. Because of her lifestyle, she did not raise any of her children. Living on the streets, doing drugs and prostituting did not make her a suitable mom. Oh- except the one that she had after her father impregnated her when she was 12 years old who was automatically adopted by a relative.  She has never even seen that child. She was sold  for sex to support her parents’  drug habit starting at five years old while they gave her cocaine and heroin to numb her pain. When her parents were having sex with her, she developed multiple personality disorder because the emotional trauma was so intense she had to leave her own body. Today she told me she is just too tired to keep fighting and she knows death is imminent. We cried together and then I went home to unload my groceries. Somehow the sadness does not leave me when I walk out the door. I grieve what was stolen from her by selfish, sick people but I know she has faith in Christ and she knows that she will see Jesus face to face soon. I do take rest in knowing this but I also cry heavy tears for the life she did not have.

Relationships. They are so hard. Family ones, friend ones, ministry ones….none are easy……and not because I am perfect and no one else is. Because I am imperfect and struggle with being a good friend. Lately I have not had much to invest. My hollowness has given me the sense that I don’t have much to give away. Everywhere I look I see parents who are not struggling like I am…people not burdened by the depravity of the world and carrying that weight…..peers who seem to be able to maintain friendships for decades…women who have the best dads while I have none…..and I wonder what is wrong with me. Why is life so hard for me? Am I jealous? No, just confused. Trying to figure out why I can’t turn off my emotions and my heart ache for the world’s suffering. Sometimes I just want to be able to go to the gym for a few hours with my personal trainer, eat at Crispers, go shopping, get a weekly pedicure while someone else cleans my house and picks up my kids…..because it seems to be working for A LOT of people. I wish that shoe fit me.

Churches and nonprofits are full of imperfect people and some of them are desperately broken. I don’t know why this catches me off guard sometimes because I know it is true….but it creeps up on me and it feels like a punch right to the face. Pastors (not mine) who are not fully disclosing of the truth and sit in their private quarters untouched by human brokenness…..ministry leaders who fall, remain unrepentant and take others down with them. Meanwhile, others are left to clean up the big, sloppy mess. Blows my mind.

Loving addicts and strippers is always life changing because I learn so much about myself from people who have overcome so much. But it can also be disappointing, lonely, and heartbreaking.  Having an 18 year old come into our home, we adopt her like a daughter, and months later she returns to the drugs, stripping and abusive relationships that she was escaping when she came to us in the first place.  Other women who have worked so hard to get sober find themselves relapsing and losing their children to the child welfare system forever. The addiction is greater than any other love and I have to see it, accept it, and continue to pray for a breakthrough that can only come from a life of surrender.

Somehow in this huge, sticky, messy life there is hope. Why? Because God is still good and I am still loved by Him. Even when I am untrusting, arrogant, self-dependent, and live like He never existed at all.  Some days there is only a speck of hope in me because I cannot look past my failures, disappointments and the hard road in front of me. In those moments I am trying to turn to prayer and devotion to my Creator instead of giving into the voices in my head screaming, “You are not enough.” I don’t do that most of the time but I have hope that I will get better and that I will once again find that peace that passes understanding that I once knew.

I am praying that Light will break through my hurting heart and my grieving spirit. I know the beauty of God’s light and I talk about it all the time. It just seems lately that the world is darker and my light is dimmer. I am praying for a breakthrough.

Entering into the darkness….

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We spend a lot of our lives thriving for “success.”  We brag about successful children. Successful husbands. Successful businesses. But what is success really?

Many Americans have sold out to the idea of “success” as looking a certain way on the outside, regardless of how it looks on the inside. Monetary and superficial standards dictate where someone or something falls on our “success continuum.”

Successful=========================Unsuccessful                pretty, rich, follows social rules            unattractive, poor, outsider

We gravitate toward the successful and try to emulate them for many reasons. To make ourselves look better by association. To gain something. To feel acceptable.

What if we were drawn less to the powerful and more to the powerless? Isn’t that what Jesus did?

We like to watch shows that depict darkness- don’t all the Disney movies have some sort of dark side? What about CSI? Batman? Very few forms of entertainment lack a good/evil theme. And we pay to see it. But then we look at Scripture and realize that God calls us to live in a way that shines a light in the REAL darkness and what do we do? Flip on the TV, grab a bag of chips, and watch another episode of Criminal Minds.

I challenge you with this idea……you will find more “success” in the seemingly “unsuccessful” than anywhere in the Fortune 500s or the beautiful people on Wall Street.

But first we have to define “success” in a true and authentic way.  I believe that where we have gone wrong is to think that “success” is ever really achieved. In the world of ministry where seemingly spiritual people enter into the lives of people who have been broken by drugs and domestic violence, we count them a success when we can parade them around cleaned up, oh-so-spiritual and what appears to be a life void of problems. That is not success- that is a lie. Life is messy and every day brings challenges and temptations. I know it does for me and for the mom who has years of prostitution, drugs, and domestic violence.

If we judge people as acceptable when they “get it all together” we give them no room to fall. As a result, they prop themselves up to please us and not themselves or they lie to us so that the image we have of them is not shattered and they have to face FAILURE. I have seen many churches parade around their new Christian as some kind of poster child of spiritual perfection- like a before and after that leaves no room for failure.  At times, the church has prostituted people the way pimps do on the streets.

The reason I know? I struggle with it. I want to believe if I offer and addict or a stripper or a foster child a beautiful home, a family, and a stable life that they will fall down in gratitude and realize what they had been missing all their lives. Unfortunately that does not happen. Why? Because change is slow and difficult.

So what do I think the answer is?

I have learned to cherish the small wins. The daily victories.

In the past 3 days, two people who were both in my life for different reasons went back to a way of life that is familiar- drug use, abuse, and all that comes with that lifestyle. Am I discouraged? No. Am I hopeful?Yes. Is it well with my soul? Absolutely. Why? Because I know that a person’s choices are not a reflection of how “good” I was at loving that person. I know people go back to what they know until they are ready. And I definitely know that a childhood full of egregious abuse causes a person to struggle to cope with life’s challenges.

In the last three days,  I have also met with women who are being reunited with their children after really hard work, dedication, and grit when it all seemed impossible. They live day to day knowing that life is fragile and temptati
on is real. I know to embrace them during their victories and embrace them during their struggles.  I cannot have a barometer of “success” and “failure” because all of us face daily doses of both…..at least if we are honest with ourselves and others.

DSC_1317To say I am proud of the overcomers is an understatement. To say I deeply love the ones who have fallen is more than the truth.

Love does.

Beauty in the Brokenness

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I have learned more in the past month than I have my whole life. I thought I understood and embodied words like “overcomer,” “brave,” “courageous,” and “survivor.” I am pretty sure I had no idea what they meant until I sat across from women who told me their stories. Stories of unimaginable abuse, rejection, abandonment and being taken extreme advantage of when they were little girls.  Finally tonight I let the tears flow that have been accumulating for weeks.

I worked for DCF in foster care/adoptions for 4 years, worked as a Guardian Ad Litem for years, and adopted a child who lived 9 years in foster care. As a result of these experiences, I had very little compassion for birth mothers and the pain they brought on their children. I have always been very indignant, angry, and relentless in my resentment toward the damage that parents can inflict on helpless children.

As I sat today and listened to stories of moms struggling to get sober and learning to live clean, I have seen the bravest of women. For most of them it is all they know. All they have ever seen in life. Given drugs by their own moms, their bodies sold to support their mothers’ addictions, and raising themselves and their siblings while mom is passed out on the couch. I understand drugs are a choice. I don’t think anyone struggles to believe that…..but before today I never really heard about how many of them got there and when I did it was overwhelming.

I am not sure what to do with that. Right now, I just sit, completely broken. I am sad, feeling guilty that I never felt compassion before today, and asking myself how the church is reaching these women. Where have we been? Most of us have probably been just like me- arrogant, self-righteous, and unwilling to look them in the eye. Why? Because we might actually feel compassion if we actually SEE them. And then we might have to do something. And most of us don’t want to do anything. Let’s be honest…..entering into someone else’s struggle is exhausting and inconvenient. So we don’t SEE them. We just judge them. It is easier.

I bought the new Natalie Grant album that came out yesterday, knowing nothing about it. When I sat down to write I started listening to it and the first song is “Be One.” Here are the lyrics:

We don’t feel ready, we don’t feel steady
Question what we really have to give

Stay where it’s safer, claim faith but waiver
Is this how we’re really meant to live

We pray but never move
We say but never do

Chorus
It’s time to get our hands dirty
oh oh, oh oh
Be love – there’s a whole lot of hurting
oh oh, oh oh
Calling all hearts, Calling all hands
Calling all feet to take a stand
Why sit around and wait for a miracle to come
When we can be one, When we can be one , When we can be one

A little somethin’ might feel like nothin’
But in His hands it’s all we’ll ever need

To speak life to the broken
Watch the blind eyes open
It’s who He’s calling you and me to be

We can be the change – be the hope
We can be the arms that don’t let go
We can be a light in the dark
We are we are where it starts

Chorus

We can be the light in the dark
We can be the arms that don’t let go

WOW. I have to ask the question…..do we “speak life to the broken?” Are we the change and the hope that God has called us to be? Are we light in this dark world? Or do we just use our light as a flashlight to illuminate our own path and let the rest of the world figure it out for themselves?

We are a very self-consumed country. It is time to rise up and enter the hurt and the pain with people. This is not my idea- God came up with it. But most of us want to be comfortable, safe, and “happy.” Meanwhile, women are all around us, desperate for truth, love, and just someone to listen.

We feel often like we have nothing to offer. I get that. I was talking to my friend Carol not long ago. I told her I felt like I had nothing to offer because I have lived differently…..no drugs, abuse, etc. And she told me, “God will use you because you are willing to learn.” Isn’t that all it takes? A willingness? Saying YES to God?

Isaiah 61:1 says, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”

Is this us? I pray it will be, church.

 

Morning thoughts about purpose…..

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The house is a WRECK- I have not unpacked from the weekend, the litter box is toxic, and my office is even a nightmare to a hoarder, but I had to sit and write.

 

 

When God is prompting I have learned to listen because the filth and clutter can wait and it will be back tomorrow anyway.

Thursday night was the Zoe’s Journey fundraiser banquet, Saturday was our second Light Breaks Through Women’s Encounter in Madison, FL and in a week I leave for Haiti. Am I exhausted? Absolutely. Is my to-do list long? Yep. Am I right where God wants me to be? Without a doubt.

How did I end up helping facilitate two non profits and beginning to volunteer at another? People ask me constantly, “How do you have time?” My answer- how do I NOT have time? To serve women who need to hear grace, mercy and that they are worthy and to serve hundreds of children in Haiti who would not have a school if we were not there……how do I not respond to that call on my life?

“But you have a family! Your husband is a pastor! You need to take time for yourself. You need balance in your life. You can’t do it all.” This is usually how the conversation goes. All of those are completely accurate and I would not disagree. But there is one argument I would make…..

I just decided that when God calls me to hard places I will say YES. I am actually very, very particular in how I use my time. I don’t do big non profits with huge budgets and a lot of wasted money,  bogged down by an endless amount of committees and boards- too much work for me. I don’t get on board with flashy, here-today-gone-tomorrow justice fads or dramatic, religious, overnight poster children for Jesus. That is not me. But I do get behind a vision. A dream. Someone’s pain turned purpose. And for this reason I go to the trenches with people like me, who are not too good to stack chairs, dig a ditch, or pray with the kitchen staff at an event.

In the past week, God has reminded me that He has gifted me with quirky, messy, oddballs like me who want to say yes……Shelly, Carol, Jerriann. And this weekend he added a few more. I am not alone.

There is kingdom work to be done and in my crazy brain, here is the motivation: life is very, very short, our time is valuable, God will make me enough, and sleep is overrated. Period. I get up everyday and these are the four ideas that immediately come to me.

It is ok to be different. It is ok to be a little (or a lot) manic about what you are passionate about. And it is ok to be exhausted and realize you can get up tomorrow and do it all over again. That is what LOVE DOES.

This is not a plea or call for anyone else’s life. I promise- not a guilt trip, conviction notice, or a statement of “rise up and conquer, people!” I just woke up this morning and needed to share my heart. I am sure my motives are not completely pure because when are they ever? But I am at the point in my life where I want to be known- even the parts of me that seem socially unacceptable and not-so-much-like-Jesus…..because I struggle too. I struggle A LOT with pride, insecurity, and masks of perfection. And I pray that the rest of my life I will commit to sharing my story and encouraging others to do the same so that we can get real with each other and dig that trench together…right where God called us to be.

Self-constructed walls and lives that scream “STOP!”

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As as I sit at Disney World (because that is what I do here while my husband naps and my kids entertain themselves on rides and check back for food and drink), I am reading an intriguing book. My favorite quote so far is: “I often think that the effort we put into trying to pretend something  about us is true-that we are less than we are  or more than we are or that one aspect of ourselves is the whole story-is based in a fear of being really known, of being truly seen, as we actually are.” Nadia Bolz-Weber

A few minutes ago, I got up from my reading and was taking pictures of fountains and flowers and encountered these walls…..

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They are covering up construction sites that are meant to stay out of sight. That is, unless you are me and climb up to see what is really behind them.

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But my intrigue had little to do with Disney’s next project and everything to do with our hearts. What is the condition of our hearts most of the time? Guarded. Barricaded by walls. Tucked behind thick fences of protection.  We are terrified to let people see our flaws, vulnerable places of weakness, and desperately don’t want anyone to think we are…..NEEDY.  When we even say that word, we use a tone of disgust because it is the last word any of us wants to be used to describe us. We can’t fathom others seeing the construction being done in our lives, our hearts, our raw places. So like Disney, we erect the facade, all clean and neat.

The inevitable result of the self-constructed walls is shallow, superficial relationships where we are never known. We either become whoever other people want us to be or we shut down and stop trying…..and we stop truly living and just start to survive.

True community begins with being vulnerable, raw, honest, and REAL. I have come to the place in life where fake and  superficial is exhausting. I pray God takes me to the depths with people- even those I just meet because that is where life happens. Real life. Not the fake reality of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Those are not real, people. And if we believe the lie that other people’s lives look that good all the time we will continue to hide our “junk” and fall deeper and deeper into the well of self-condemnation and insecurity.

I have lived with insecurity all my life. As I sit here today at 45 years old,  I still struggle….but the healing for me has happened when I decided to be honest with  God, my friends, and myself. When I began to realize that being a mess is ok and is actually comforting to other people who are bombarded with images of others “having it all together.” When I stopped playing the game of life and started living it, I was set amazingly free. Free to be me. Free to make mistakes and free to not have all the answers. Now that is to truly live.

I wonder who else is ready to stop playing church, stop with the never-ending images of perfection, and be with other people who want to be seen and known.  I have found that community with a group of women who make me brave everyday. Women who are going to get up this Saturday at a women’s event and hold up a poster board with words that describe their stories and their past that are not pretty and can’t be put in a pretty little box with a bow, all safe and secure. Words like “drug addict, ” “rape,” “multiple divorces,” and “sex at the age of 13.”

I know we all have wounds that grow deep from betrayal, abandonment, and shame. I get that. But it is time that we stop letting those hurts define us and keep us from finding people who want to do life together and be the body of Christ for each other.  It is not pretty or perfect- it is ugly and messy sometimes…..but that is where God wants us. He calls us to the the trenches,  sharing each other’s burdens and loving the unlovely parts of each other.

That, my friends, is REAL LIFE. A life of abundance and a life of freedom.