Another page in the story of our family was turned this week, but a familiar one.
This week we put our tiny baby girl (who is, in actuality, a smart, confident, 19 1/2 year old young woman) on an airplane to return to California for her sophomore year of college at University of the Pacific, my husband’s alma mater.
We were blessed to have her with us in Texas for the summer (OUR first Texas summer, incidentally) and though we knew it was just for three months, we slipped into that all-four-of-us-under-one-roof-normal so easily. I felt much as it always did, all of us living together, our family united.
She was introduced to the joys of summer storms and the brilliance of Texas summer sky. She learned to love Kolaches for breakfast and embraced gorgeous walks in the Fort Worth Botanic Gardens.
But. Then she went back to school. Getting a bit teary in the airport watching her walk away from me I was reminded that she doesn’t really live with me anymore.
She visits. She spends time. But she is moving forward with her life, as she should.
I spent the last day or so cleaning the guest room where she stayed and the adjacent bathroom. While some of her stuff lives in the closet and in the nightstand, she doesn’t live here. It’s a stopping place.
She is so welcome and we are so grateful for her time with us. But she lives for real somewhere else as she charts the path she needs to follow.
As this rolled around in my head, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my home. Not my California former home, not my Texas home. But my true home.
Once heaven is our home in our hearts, this place, regardless of how much we are loved here and how blessed our time here is, shifts into being a stopping place. Our stuff may be here, we may store it in the closet, but this isn’t our permanent address.
It’s hard to remember that some days, when things here are all-consuming and you can’t seem to get your head above water. It’s in those times I need to remember that my “light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT.
It’s not all troubles and hardship, by any means. I need to be joyful in my current place, as my daughter did during her humid but lovely Texas summer, while knowing that this place is temporary. This phase is a season. And that my job here is to find all joy in that season. And to be a blessing to all I can bless during this time, this stopover on my way to home.
I saw my daughter bless many during her Texas summer.
I watched her choose to look for beauty.
I observed her choosing joy.
I saw her reach out to those who aren’t like her and form wonderful bonds.
I need to do the same- I choose to do the same. Without losing sight of where I’m going.
August always seems like a time of beginning and ending, a change of season when one doesn’t actually exist.
I think this is largely because our kids’ school has always started in August, and because for many years as I taught, it was back to school/work for me as well. And I love that feeling, that shift to a new page, a new “year,” often involving a new planner of some sort, which makes things extra wonderful. Ahem.
August feels like a time of ending as well: end of summer, end of that more-relaxed season, end of our kids at home (both of ours went away for their Freshman year of college during August, leaving for real for the first time). Endings and beginnings, packing up and starting anew.
This was especially true last summer, beginnings endings interwoven, and much of that has been running around my brain these past weeks.
A year ago we were packing up. Everything. Our house in California had sold, our new house (which I had yet to see) was purchased two time zones away in Texas, and we were embroiled in sorting out every stinkin’ thing we owned, deciding what to keep and move 1400 miles, what to sell/donate, and what to toss, sure that no one would want it. It was overwhelming. Ending our time in our home of 16 years, beginning a totally new chapter in a new place.
A dear friend just went through this dance a month and a half ago, sorting, packing, selling, moving. Ugh. Brought back memories. I was tired just thinking about it.
In any case, we weren’t just packing ourselves last August, but our daughter, our youngest kid, was going away to college for the first time and she was forced to decide what to take with her, what to send to Texas with us, and what really didn’t matter enough to keep. I was so impressed with her ability to distill that so quickly: Decide what bore keeping, what as essential, and what she could let go.
Such a vital skill, the more I think about it. Not just in the event of moving everything you own into a tiny dorm room, but in life. One thing this move has taught me is that traveling light through this world is essential to traveling well. If we try to drag everything along with us, we are weighed down and the journey is just so much harder. If we keep hauling everything that’s ending, we have no space for what’s beginning.
So as we walk on, we need to leave behind the stuff, not just physical but mental and spiritual, that weighs us down. We need to decide what parts of what’s ending bears keeping. We need to decide- in every season of life- what is most essential, what we need to decide what to bring forward to the new beginning. And we need to have the courage to discard what is of no value as we begin the next season.
In all of this process, I’ve seen the value of learning to walk on with grace and openness. The freedom in leaving behind the blame and bitterness, and bringing forward the people and relationships that help us grow and become.
I am reminded again of a post from over a year ago, back in another season of life. Take a look at it here: http://kathleentysinger.com/2016/06/13/gardens-and-suitcases
I encourage you, sweet friends, to travel light through this world. In this season of ending and beginning, don’t allow the burdens of what has ended pull you down from what’s beginning.
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make any sound?
It always annoyed me, that old philosophical question. Seemingly deep but mostly reduced to a cliché, trite and shallow from overuse. Well. Then it suddenly applies.
I have spent a lot of time wondering about the things I do all day long, the things no one sees, the things that seem to make zero difference in the world at large. If I do them and nobody sees, does it make any difference? Do I make any real noise? After most of 2 years being fairly isolated due to the wonderful world of fibromyalgia, this question has resonated in my heart. When confronted with the idea that I might never return to the “outside world” or workforce, what then do I contribute within my four walls?
It’s a bigger question, reaching beyond those working life around chronic illness. I’ve talked to two of my very dear friends this week who echoed these thoughts.
Though in different seasons, both women wondered aloud to me whether what they were doing inside their four walls mattered. Social girls, both, now navigating a season of solitary work for different reasons. One friend is the homeschooling mom of 4, her oldest about to launch into the military. One friend is another homeschooling mom who is also the full-time caregiver for her elderly mother.
Both women work behind the scenes, without recognition, without most people even knowing what they do. But they put their all into it. And then they get up the next day and do it again. They each voiced to me the burden of the everyday, the sameness, the hard pieces of this season of in-between. And they wonder if they make any sound in this world.
But this is Holy work. Truly. I remind myself as I reminded them. This behind-the-scenes-daily-sameness is what keeps life going. This is the underpinning of it all; without these sacred routines of service and love, their loved ones’ lives would not work. Nor would my loved ones’ lives.
In Matthew 23, Jesus calls the Pharisees out on their desire to do everything to impress other people, more concerned with the opinions of those around them than with truly pleasing God and serving others. This is the opposite of the heart my sweet friends carry, these warrior women who love and serve God and their families fiercely. But I know so many who understand this feeling of invisibility, myself included. Know you aren’t invisible. Know God sees and knows. The work done within our own four walls is done not to be seen by society, but is done to bless those we love.
We make our own sounds, sometimes only heard by those at closest range to us and by our Creator. In serving them, we serve Him. In loving behind the scenes, in doing this Holy work, we bless His heart.
Whatever our season, we need to (meaning I need to) keep foremost in our mind the audience of One we truly serve, whether our voices and our noises echo outside our four walls or not. They echo in eternity.
Facebook memories are interesting reminders. You know, those notifications that pop up and show you what you were doing that date however many years ago? Odd what they dredge up in our brains. This week couldn’t have been a more diverse spread of past experiences, these landmarks showing up on my feed, these reminders greeting me first thing in the morning.
Five years ago last week I was in peak physical condition and hiked/climbed to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite with my husband and some stalwart and hardy hiking friends. I remember that grueling day, hot and dry, 13 hours of constant physical exertion, spanning 20 miles of up and down, boasting a 5,000-foot elevation gain. I had trained for months to be able to do that hike and felt an enormous sense of elation and accomplishment after finishing. And exhaustion. Let’s not forget the exhaustion. But my life felt so full of “yes.” Yes, I made it. Yes, I trained hard and I did this hard-core thing. Yes, I could do other hard things. Yes.
Two years ago last week I resigned from a job I loved because my then-new chronic illness had removed my ability to function in a normal way, removed my ability to do little more than be on the couch, and certainly removed the ability to keep up my busy and demanding job with its 45 minute commute on each end of each day. Riding home from that meeting with my boss, one had I had dreaded yet accepted as something that must be, I remember feeling betrayed by my body and adrift as to what my life would mean going forward. And my life felt so very much like it was full of “no.” No more career. No more being surrounded by people all day. No more achievement. No more strength to do even the basic things. No answers or healing. No.
One year ago last week I was at the She Speaks conference in Charlotte, North Carolina along with 800 or so other hopeful Christian women speakers, writers, bloggers, and leaders. What an experience! I loved meeting these other amazing women from all over the country, hearing their stories, learning at the feet of some of the most genuine and successful speakers and writers in the business. I left with a full heart but no book deal. Which was okay. But in the moment felt like a whole lot of “no.” No, thanks, you don’t have enough followers. No, this market is very hard to crack. No, your heart bled out on a page isn’t quite what we’re looking for. No.
But I’ve learned, and been reminded by these Facebook notifications, that what feels like “no” isn’t really always a “no” in God’s view. Often it’s a “this isn’t the right time,” or “I have something else in mind, something that’s a better fit,” or “let’s go this direction instead,” or “not with this book,” or “not with these people.”
What feels like “no” is really God making space for a different “yes.” Making space usually means getting rid of what was or setting aside what we want or have, both difficult things. But “no” frees up space whereas “yes” tends to fill it up.
As I walk through this life, God shows me over and over that a walk of faith, one that is focused on trusting Him more than getting the outcome I expected, is a walk of “yes.” Yes, I will keep my eyes fixed on Jesus, author and perfecter of my faith. Yes, I will go where He wants me. Yes, I will move to Texas and watch what He does with it.
Everyone has these elated, mountaintop (pun intended) experiences, those big “Life Is Yes” moments, and that’s amazing. Keep those as milestones in your mind, tuck them into your heart, those things you can point back to, showing what God has already done. (And yes, He did help me with that climb. I’m still alive, aren’t I?)
But in those times when life seems to be made up of nothing but “NO,” that is when your faith gets real. Really real. When you’re not aglow with achievement and gloriously-met goals, when instead you feel the chilly shadow of things not looking like you thought they would, THAT, more than any other time, is when we learn to trust. And you can see beyond the immediate to the possible.
Because with God, all things are possible. And His “no” leads to His best-for-me “yes.”
I sit across from him, this burly, bearded man on the airport rental car shuttle, as I’m homeward bound from a tagging-along-with-James-on-a-work-trip adventure. His baseball hat caught my attention: #beholder. Curiosity piqued, I debated with myself whether to ask what it meant, need-to-know gal that I am. Beholder of WHAT? One’s mind reels with the possibilities.
Approaching the terminal, knowing the question burning in my mind may go unanswered if I don’t act quickly, I blurt, “So what’s the story behind your hat? What does it mean?” He blinked, surprised, and looked at me. Chuckling, with a half-smile nearly obscured by his impressive beard, he replied, “It’s a fictional creature in Dungeons and Dragons. You don’t want to run into that guy…” and he proceeded to describe the floating one-eyed, tentacled demon creature who can wipe out all your hit points in one fell swoop. Ok. Not what I expected to hear from bearded burly guy. He’s cordial, chats a bit more about a bunch of successful adult men getting together the play Dungeons and Dragons, wishes us a good trip, and swings his bag over the shoulder as he exits the shuttle, #beholder hat and all.
True to form, my mind kept going as we ride on to our terminal stop. After getting through security I sat, waiting to board our flight back home, trying to put down in words what that random guy’s hashtag on a hat sparked in me. Not visions a floating eye demon, but a way of thinking about myself. As a beholder.
The dictionary defines behold as follows:
See or observe (a thing or person, especially a remarkable or impressive one)
Synonyms: watch, survey, witness, regard, contemplate.
This is not a routine glance at a mundane thing. Throughout the Bible, “behold” almost always precedes something amazing or terrifying. Something God wanted His people to really focus on. Look hard. See what I’m doing. Pay attention. Sit up and take notice.
I see. I witness. I bear witness. I behold what is blessed, what is hard, what is beautiful all around me. I behold the unfolding of God’s purpose. I behold the good- no, the best- in the people around me. I behold God’s faithfulness in the face of my struggles. I am a beholder of miracles, of growth, of joy, of the deepest sorrow and pain. I am a beholder of family and loneliness, of connection and drifting, not only in my own life but those around me. I sit up and take notice.
So what? you might ask. Everyone sees all that. Yes, true statement. But. What do I do with it? What do you do with it? That’s the difference. “Behold” is the first part; there’s always an invitation that’s tacked onto that beholding, something we are to do with what we see.
As we go through this world “beholding,” may we listen for where God wants us to get involved with what He’s calling our attention to, these remarkable people and situations. May we be faithful in the next steps, not just seeing and walking away, but being willing to behold and then enter in and take up our part, whether that’s through action, encouragement, celebration, weeping, or praying for someone.
I challenge you this week to keep eyes open wide. Be a #beholder (again, not the kind with the tentacles, thank you very much), then step in as God leads you. Participate in what He is up to right in front of you. Maybe we should make a hat to go with that…
A trip to the dentist office with my daughter is typically not going to be a big inspiration for writing, but you never know when something beautiful is going to land in your world.
We sat in the waiting room as a very elderly woman came in with the assistance of her companion. She was bent over, frail, using a walker with shuffling careful steps, silver haired, soft spoken. She settled into the chair quietly and accepted the magazine her companion offered to pass the time until the appointment. She had a slight expression of confusion on her face, seeming to not quite know what to make of being in the waiting room surrounded by unfamiliar people.
The receptionist called the elderly woman back to the exam room and she, her companion at her elbow, carefully made her way down the hall.
As my daughter was called and we began our journey down the same hallway, this amazing voice began to emanate from an exam room out of my eyeline. A rich velvety alto voice, strong and full, poured forth from seemingly nowhere. Rivaling Rosemary Clooney at her best, this voice, unabashedly and with perfect pitch, navigated lines from old standards and torch songs.
As I got further down the hall, to my great surprise I saw that this robust voice was pouring out of it the elderly woman from the waiting room. In the waiting room she had been near-silent and doddering, but there she was, sharing this incredible gift at the request of the staff who knew this unexpected beauty she possessed inside.
I sat in the exam room with my daughter, my brain spinning, as the a cappella concert continued. The little old lady ended her “set” from down the hall with The Star Spangled Banner and it was all I could to NOT cry.
My daughter laughed at me as she saw me digging out my notebook to capture in words what I had seen and heard. “That’s going to be a blog post, isn’t it, Mom?” Yep.
This little old lady and her songs stuck with me, hovering in the back of my mind. She was unaware of how her gift, coming from such an unlikely source, blessed total strangers within her hearing, just because she was willing to share. Just because she let her beautiful come out.
How often do we forget to tap into the unexpected beauty within us? Sometimes all it takes is an invitation and we are ready to let this treasure pour forth. Sometimes we forget it’s even there, or it remains undiscovered.
There’s beauty all around us and beauty God placed within us, just waiting to be discovered and shared. You have it inside you. I have it inside me.
Today, I challenge you to be that unexpected beauty in someone’s life, that surprise that they aren’t expecting, that sparkle that will change their whole perspective. Sing that song, write that poem, paint that image, dance!
It’s just waiting to be released. And you never know who you’re going to bless.
Let your beautiful come out!
Looking at a blinking cursor, an empty screen, I take a deep breath, trying to contain my excitement.
I shared in last week’s blog that my health is improving under the care of my new doctor and I am now looking at options that seemed to be completely out of the question not so long ago.
It’s been, in many ways, like climbing a mountain. (I know of which I speak, because I used climb actual mountains.) I feel like I’ve been living in a smoggy valley, hazy and indistinct, for so long. And now as I climb, as I work through the new treatments and new supplements, new lifestyle changes, it seems that I am gaining altitude, rising above the smog and muck. I feel like I’m drawing clean, clear, unpolluted mountain air into my lungs after inhaling sludge for what seems like forever, breathing deeply and fully for the first time in a long while. I am beyond grateful.
But. Why now? I’ll take it, of course, with deepest, humblest thanksgiving. But the questions still nibbles at the back of my brain: why now? What does that mean for us?
There’s a phrase that resonates over and over in scripture: “At just the right time, God…” Throughout the Old and New Testaments, God acts, He does something, at just the right time. Not early, not late, and not according to human ideas of good timing. But at just the right time.
At just the right time, God allowed my health to remove a stressful (but beloved) career from my life. At just the right time, God allowed us to move to new place. At just the right time, God sent me to a new doctor, one who would put me on the path to physical recovery, a thing I didn’t expect at all. Because so many doctors had told me there was nothing to be done. That this was my life.
But at just the right time, God had other plans. And I trust that this next wacky left-turn, one of many that has marked my life, is actually turning me back to a place I’ve seen before. Not like taking a step back, but like reuniting with an old friend.
The huge number of possibilities, the ways I could spend myself and my energy threatened to spin me out entirely. But after praying over the next steps since the very day it occurred to me (post caffeine withdrawal headache) that I was feeling better, REALLY better, I may see a glimmer of what the next piece might look like.
At just the right time, 12 years ago, mama of a 5th grader and 2nd grader, I began substitute teaching. And at just the right time, recovering from a chronic illness and needing flexibility, mom of a gainfully employed young adult and a college sophomore, I will start substitute teaching part time this fall, two time zones from where I started, but so very excited to pour into young people again.
At just the right time, God. I take a deep breath and smile. His best is reflected in His timing. Something I am learning more and more.
Living out loud is so important to me, particularly on this blog. I want to be real and authentic with what I’m experiencing, what God is teaching me, and how life and faith collide in my Texas world. So, here’s the latest.
I’m better. Really. Better.
I was quite sure I would never be writing that.
Because I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. Because I’ve spent the past two years learning to live with said chronic illness and how to best manage my symptoms while still having a life, friends, a loving marriage, young adult kids, and a peaceful home.
Career, gone. Mobility, iffy. Energy, very limited. But I found joy.
I changed my diet and embraced a regimen of supplements (vitamins and minerals) which made some improvements, moved to a climate that’s better for my illness, reduced my stress levels, and was experiencing more good days than I used to. But I was still very clearly a gal whose life was limited by this illness of mine.
Then things began to shift.
I was skeptical as I walked out of my first appointment with my shiny new doctor a couple of weeks ago, expanded supplement regimen in hand, more dietary restrictions listed. Seriously? No caffeine and no wine? I’m not a barbarian! But I was willing to try. So, I carved back my food list even further. And I started the new supplements. And I made friends with Apple Cider Vinegar and Kombucha 3 times a day.
And I feel as though I’m waking up for the first time in 2 years.
Remember a time when you had the flu, sick for a couple of weeks, weighed down with fatigue, aching and miserable, wondering if you’d ever be well? And then you woke up one morning feeling more like yourself. Feeling better. Well. Imagine a flu that lasted 2 years, and waking up one day feeling more like the you that you used to be. That’s my story.
Tears of gratitude on my face, I lay in my bed last week, praising God that I could do things, that reasonable activity expectations for a day weren’t “one and done,” that I could actually do SEVERAL errands and still have some energy around the house in the evening. My brain was buzzing with all the things I could accomplish, all the possibilities.
Here’s the thing: I could focus on the things I’ve had to give up. No red meat, no sugar, no gluten, no white potatoes, no dairy, no fried foods- the list goes on. But I can confidently say, balanced against what I’ve gained in the process, it’s worth it.
Far better to focus on what I’ve gained. It’s hard to describe what it feels like to see the light at the end of this incredibly difficult tunnel, one I never thought I’d see. And I may not climb Half Dome again (which is fine with me, by the way, once was good), but I could feel normal-ish again. Which means more than you can know unless you’ve had seasons of canes and wheelchairs, confinement to a couch, isolation, and crushing fatigue that were part of my world.
I can choose to eat the way I used to and feel terrible. Or I can choose to gratefully submit to this new program and begin to feel good again. Easy choice. What am I willing to give up? A lot.
I don’t know if the changes and improvements are permanent, and I have a long way to go, but I am cautiously optimistic. It’s like waking up, as I said before. Not just my body but my mind and my heart as well. I feel like myself more than I have in so very long, like there are possibilities I hadn’t imagined. Or that I had set aside, sure they were not part of my future.
I’ve had people tell me “Oh, I could NEVER give up (fill in the blank)!” But you can. If it will change your life, the way you feel, the way you are able to function and love your family and contribute to this world you can absolutely 100% give it up, whatever it is. You can. We choose, and we live out the consequences, positive or negative, of those choices.
So, this leads me to ask: What are you willing to give up? What are you holding up as an “I could never give up” that is keeping you from God’s best for you? From better health? From better relationships? From better living? Is it worth it?
Hanging onto things that aren’t your best, even if you love them and will suffer without them (ask me about my four-day caffeine withdrawal headache) isn’t something you HAVE to do. It’s what you choose to do.
I’ve learned so much about what I can do without, even when it’s really hard. I’ve done without so much during this time of illness- activities, outings, time with people I love, hiking, exploring, walks, my career- because of my limitations. I am trading limitations, I realize, but these are changes I choose to accept because the help and health far outweigh the loss. It is worthwhile to make these changes if I want to have energy and a pain-free life again. So, I choose. It’s tough when everyone else is sitting down to a burger and fries and I have my, um, bun-less beef-less fry-less alternative. It’s hard. But I choose.
Maybe this is a bit like what we are asked to change, to give up, to rethink in our walk with God. He gives us a pretty clear idea of what an abundant life in Him could look like. Steered by love, looking out for others, living out our faith in a real way rather than just a Sunday type of deal.
But if we follow His way, we have to give up a few things. Like being motivated by ambition, or holding onto bitterness and past hurt, like seeing everything through our own flawed lens instead of through God’s eyes. It means giving up striving and being willing to trust Him and walk in His Grace. It means giving up pride and self-sufficiency, surrendering MY way to His.
These are so. very. challenging. to give up if this is the way we are used to living. But. It is so worthwhile to lay these burdens down at the altar, leaving them there to go up in flames, rather than carrying their burden any further. Worth it to walk through life lighter, free-er, happier, more joyful. I don’t want to over-simplify here, but it some ways, it is simple. Just not easy. The struggle of letting go of long-held habits and hurts are worse than my four-day caffeine withdrawal headache. I get it.
But you get to choose.
What are YOU willing to give up?
If I needed to come all the way to Texas to find this doctor, I am grateful beyond the telling that I came here and I found her. She is an answer to prayers spoken across this country, putting me on the path to restored wellness. Thank you, truly, for your prayers as I’ve walked through this season.