Darkness cannot destroy me….

I wanted to get a tattoo that said “WARRIOR” but I decided that it might seem a little too Gladiator or  Braveheart which was NOT what I was going for. In fact, my husband would testify that those are the best movies ever and I would safely say they are awful.

When it comes down to it, here is what I am working with:

I get angry.  I am determined. I am not content to sit and watch the darkness creep in.

I have a creed I live by that goes something like this:

I will fight with those who are in the battle of overcoming. I will walk with those committed to the cause of finding their own freedom. I will not engage with people who want me to work harder at their lives than they do.

If we love by those standards the expectations are set and it simplifies life greatly.

I think of darkness in this way. You know that early morning fog that comes on you while you are driving on the interstate? At first it seems manageable but suddenly you realize you cannot see just feet in front of you? By the time you are in it that deep you don’t know what cars are around you and how long it will be before you get out of it because you are blinded by the fog.  You don’t know how you got there and you aren’t sure how long you will be stuck in it. That is how I see darkness.

When we walk in the light we can easily avoid dealing with the darkness most of the time. We can numb the reality of our own brokenness. We can shop, drink too much, watch tv, scroll through Facebook and never once think about our “stuff.” I know because I do it  too.

How can we give what we don’t have?

So if we are virtually unaware of our own issues of greed, selfishness, pride, lack of faith….we cannot possibly be available for anyone else in their time of need. Think about it- when you are going through something, do you call the person who lives in their own little box- insulated and protected with little insight? Of course not. You call the one who will get real and enter into that pain with you. I am not saying it is easy to do. It is so hard. It is exhausting. It is an opportunity to die to self which is almost impossible for us sometimes. But we are called to push through and dig deep and step into the pain alongside someone else.

I know how difficult it is. Last October I went to Haiti a week after the devastating hurricane. Crops and homes were completely destroyed. People were desperate for shelter and food. I was only there a brief time but what I saw changed me. I came home discouraged, undone. I went into a numb phase that I am barely pulling out of. I remember seeing my friend Courtney right after I got back and she told me she would pray that I could do the next thing.  At that point I was not even sure what that was. It took me a while to figure it out. I decided I did not want to go back to Haiti and have to face that kind of loss ever again. But I leave in a  few days and will have to face my fear of what I will see and how guilty I will feel that we have not done more. Everything in me says run and God says go. So it is a done deal.

When we say YES to God and  reach out to love people well, we make ourselves vulnerable….and then the potential to get hurt is pretty high. Ok let’s face it- pain is inevitable. We get our feelings hurt, we are misunderstood, and we are rejected. That is just reality. So who in their right mind would continue to try? It seems almost crazy to keep going back into the hurt and opening ourselves  up. But….there is a reason. And it’s an amazing reason. It is called fulfilling our PURPOSE. And it will make us come alive.

The “me” a few years ago would have taken about 5 seconds of being misunderstood and tapped out. Run as far away as possible and then be too hurt to put myself back out there.

The “me” now has a totally different understanding. I know without question that I do not serve man. If I did I would be crushed. Done. And the wall around my heart would get thicker and if anyone tried to look in to find me they would see me curled up in the corner. Meanwhile, I would justify why I got that way and begin to insulate my life more and more because that is what people in pain do- they run from anything else that will hurt them.

At least once a day someone asks me WHAT I do or WHY I do it. It really is simple. It is what the Bible calls us to do.
“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.” Proverbs 19:17

It is not my job to fix anything. God just says to show up and He is sufficient.

We recently took someone into our home, converted my office into a bedroom, threw a baby shower and made her a part of our family. After some time, she began to heap accusations on me that could not even possibly be true and the end of that arrangement came. How did I deal with that? People ask me all the time.  It is  like when Jesus hung on the cross and pronounced “It is finished.” We have to know with our boundaries in place when our role is finished and be ok with it. We cannot carry another person’s brokenness and when it gets to that point we have to lay it down. We can walk with them but  we cannot protect them from the demons that haunt them and their unwillingness to go deep and battle them.

I remind myself that I am not in the business of transforming people and change takes time.

We all want the story of the stripper who loves Jesus and never struggles again or the student who lives in poverty in the third world and makes it to law school. The reality is that those changes come over time, the obstacles are enormous, and learning an entirely new way of life is never easy.

I have watched women struggle and often return to their old ways. Back to the abusive boyfriends and back to the drugs.

I have watched children in Haiti excel in school one year and fail the next. I have seen healthy people get deathly ill with no explanation. I have seen parents pull their teenaged boys out of school to work the farm and we lose them forever.

Most people ask, “Isn’t that discouraging?” and the answer is a resounding YES but it is not an opportunity to quit. See….I am a fighter. A scrapper. I am not ok with injustice and I can’t tolerate people being victimized. I cannot sit and watch darkness take over even the smallest amount of light. The Jesus I serve calls me to be brave. In Creole it is Ou dwe brave- be brave. I live by those words.

In Matthew 25, God talks about the sheep and the goats. All week I have been telling God, “I don’t to be a goat!” This is what Jesus says to the goats (those who did not give to those in need):

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

YIKES!!

So here is the good news…..

There is hope! The Ashleys, the Ambers, the Veronicas. The Willems, the Vilias, the Jelins. God working in the moments when no one is looking. God providing when it all seems hopeless.  The decision to go to school in Haiti when they have not eaten for a day or two. The choice to not darken the door of a strip club and allow men to be abusive to make a few bucks.

As long as there is darkness, we will be called to it.

John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

We have the light. Light in a lit room is not needed.  Face your own brokenness. Dig deep.  You will come alive. And God will give you opportunities to love people and you will never be the same.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Weary from the Battle

DSC_0055
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.