New Year 2018: Confessions of a Planner

I adore Christmas.  Every. Single. Part.

And I don’t typically experience a big “letdown” afterwards because I love the New Year almost as much.

I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions (anymore), but I become giddy at the thought of a New Year, all the potential stretching out before me, all blank planner pages, wide open calendars, and possibilities.

My daughter and I strolled through Target and Michaels earlier today, part of some typical errand-running.  I nearly swooned at the sight of all the organizational items- bins, racks, baskets, drawers- and all the planners. These items ALWAYS lure me in, wooing me with the promise of what a new year can look like, sleek, streamlined, organized, under control. My life, sleek, streamlined, organized, under control. *sigh* Some of these items may have made it into the cart. Who can resist?

You see, I am a planner girl. Sitting next to me as I write this is my brand new 2018 planner. Not a single stroke of ink written anywhere within, just waiting for what will be written. I’ve tried multiple times to switch completely to electronic calendaring and planning, but I always wander back to the beauty of paper. I love the texture of paper under my fingertips and the ritual of writing things out longhand, making my plans and musings real and concrete in a way typing on my laptop or entering them on my phone just won’t satisfy. *sigh* I may have just ordered special self-adhesive leather tabs from Amazon for my shiny new planner. And some colorful gel pens.

I’m a girl who loves to plan. When we have something coming up, say Christmas or a friend’s visit to Texas, I am all lists and calendar, thinking through details, mapping out my strategy, preparing menus and shopping lists, considering different outings and making reservations, trying to be prepared and flexible and spontaneous all at the same time, a knife’s-edge dance to be sure. I truly love this process, this writing of my story, thinking through special things to do with those we love, making sure everything is in place to make it all work.

I’m a girl who wants her plan to be followed. When I was younger and things in real life didn’t line up with the picture in my head, it really threw me for a loop. I had a hard time adapting and learning to roll with changes. I’ve gotten better. But when I have put in the work and research, I really love to execute what I’ve worked on. And it’s hard when it doesn’t happen.

In the past few years I’ve been girl who’s learned her plan is not always the best plan and that her (carefully laid and near to her heart) plan can be bypassed, amended, and straight-up kicked to the curb without her consent or input. It was never part of my plan to lose my health not quite 3 years ago. And it certainly wasn’t my plan to leave my career because of my chronic illness, to move 1400 miles away from all I knew, or to leave a daughter behind in college in California. But this girl with a planner has learned that the One who planned me, created me, and purposed me in this life has a far better, far-reaching, far-seeing plan that I need to seek above my own. And I’m here to tell you that there’s great freedom in that. And I’m here to tell you that each one of those very hard not-part-of-my-plan things have resulted in blessing, in one form or another.

It’s become clear to me that my late-December/early-January gravitational pull towards planners and organizational items pours directly from my desire to control my life, to write my own story, to have things run a certain way.

And in some ways those are really good things. But those desires also beg the question of who really IS in control here? And is my story more important that the story God desires to write within me? Again, this is freedom. Not having to pretend I’m in control because I’m so not in control.

Does that mean I will bluster blindly through 2018? Absolutely not. I will be intentional. I will plan. But I will hold those plans loosely, ready to abridge, abandon or do a total 180 from said plans if needed. Take a moment to look at this passage with some fresh eyes:

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”   Jeremiah 29:11-13

We see the first part of this verse on all kinds of items in the Christian world. But it doesn’t end there; the rest of the passage rings loudly in my ears. Yes, He has a great plan for me, but part of that plan is for me to call out to Him. He will listen, He (and His great plan) will be found as I seek. So at the dawn of a new year, of 2018, I sit down to plan. I sit down not to make lists of resolutions, but to think about my year differently. To ask some questions rather than just making lists. To seek God’s plan, not only my plan. To set aside all the “shoulds” that threaten to crowd my brain for the path that God wants me to walk in this coming year.  To embrace the freedom of following the Planner’s plan rather than just my own.

 

Eighth Graders and Whispers of Christmastime

As I have stepped back into substitute teaching this fall I’m amazed at how very easily I returned to the rhythm, the systems, the words I used all the time as a middle school English teacher, though it’s been 4 ½ years since I was in the classroom full time.

This week I subbed in middle school English, and found myself patrolling around the work tables of 8th graders, heads bowed over their iPads, supervising their work, making sure they were on-task and working on their assignment. Predictably, 13-year-olds do not always remain on-task, and may not always make the assignment given by their teacher their #1 mission in life. And so the same words I used so often returned to my lips without a thought:

“Use your time wisely.”

“Make sure you’re spending your time on what’s really important.”

“Complete your assignment.”

My breath caught in my throat mid-way through one of these sentences. The words that slipped so easily from my lips focused a searchlight on what God is reflecting back to me this Christmas season: Spend your time wisely, Kathleen. Pour yourself into what is really important. Complete your assignment.

Though it will come as no surprise to those who know me, I’m a girl who loves Christmastime with a near-insane fervor. You better believe my halls are decked (I did start in November, I’ll admit it), that holiday dinners are planned, Christmas carols have been playing in my car for a while already, and that I just spent an insane amount to ship a lot of boxes to people I love in California.  We add another layer with my daughter’s arrival home from college next week, taking time to prepare for that, excitedly getting the guest room ready, and planning fun activities. Love Christmas. And there’s not a single thing wrong with any of those preparations.

But, God is beckoning me to not just all the trappings of Christmas, but to truly “use my time wisely,” to intentionally turn my heart to Bethlehem, back to the GIFT not just the gifts I’m giving. Back to intentionally see Jesus (Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace) in the midst of all of this. To sit in stillness at the manger, not just allow my natural flurry of activity- that’s only magnified this time of year- to take me away.

He gently reminds me to “make sure I’m spending my time on what’s really important,” to intentionally bless my sisters in my small groups, to send that text, to make that call, to sit across the breakfast table with my 22 year old son and look into his eyes and hear him, to love my husband and love him well, to seek out the whispers of Jesus around every corner this time of year.

And He wants me to “complete my assignment.” All the students in that 8th grade classroom had the same assignment, but my assignment for Christmas won’t look exactly like yours. The Lord is urging me to make my home a place of welcome, not a place of perfection, but a place for people to sit and be loved and be at home. My assignment is to welcome, to invite, to love and to love well, just as Jesus loves so well. Just as He welcomes, just as He invites.

As you walk through this Christmastime, pause for a moment. I invite you to lean in to hear a teacher’s heart who is doing her best to listen to her Father’s heart.

Use your time wisely- starting with time with Him.

Make sure your spending your time/money/life/self/resources on what’s really important- by seeing and loving those God has put in your life.

Complete YOUR assignment- listen and hear where He is calling you to love as He loves.

 

 

 

Am I OK?: School Pictures and Flashbacks

Funny how witnessing something in students can take you immediately back to that exact pin-point emotional place in your heart, in your life.

During a recent substitute teaching assignment, I witnessed  a greatly anticipated/dreaded day in the hearts and lives of teenage girls.  One I remember well. The day school pictures arrive. (cue dramatic music: dun dun DUN!!!)

I was working an assigned lunch duty in the cafeteria as the high school students were receiving their school pictures, so I had the opportunity to watch and listen without seeming like a creepy stranger stalker lady. Or at least not too much.

The boys (as I remember in my own experience) didn’t seem to care much about their pictures, photos that were pretty much purchased solely at the insistence of their parents.

But these young ladies: all coltish long legs, early attempts at glamour with a smear of lipgloss sheen, hair pulled back and falling over one shoulder, animated voices and whispered confidences. Oh my.

I could hear the common theme that rang so familiar as I listened in, catching scraps of conversations as they peeked at their images. Each insisting to her friends, “No, this is a horrible picture of me! You can’t see them! I’m getting re-takes! I want to burn these! My hair looks so dumb! I look so fat in this! Why did I wear that?”

As I patrolled around the cafeteria tables, a half smile playing over my face, I could hear myself and my friends saying the exact same words as teenagers, as we hid the oversize envelopes that contained the offending images against the fronts of our Members Only jackets.

Masked in these evasive words are these heart-cries that echo through generations of school-picture carrying girls: I don’t want to show you, but I want you to insist upon seeing the pictures so you will tell me what I oh-so-desperately need to hear. That the pictures are beautiful. That I’m beautiful. That you see me and accept me and I’m OK. I want you to do every last thing in your power to refute what my heart whispers to me: that I’m less than, not OK, not accepted, not enough, not beautiful.

Blooming in the back of my mind as I heard these young girls were all the emotions attached to the teenage not-enough that sometimes still bubbles beneath the surface: me with my awkward braces and red hair, sure everyone else was taller, prettier, smarter, WAY more popular, more talented, and more-liked by certain boys with feathered hair and velour v-necks, and later one in particular wearing English Leather cologne and flipped-collar polo shirts (though I married that one).

Oh, the power of those pictures. And the power of these conversations. And the gut-level power of that need.

That need is pervasive, not just in these wide-eyed, fresh-faced teenage girls, standing tip-toe on the edges of their futures, of adulthood, of finding their paths, but in the women I see around me every day. The woman in the mirror, long-past being a teenage girl and almost past mothering a teenage girl. In the women in my small groups, in every store I go to (which are many, this time of year). I’ve heard this need echoed in the words and off-hand comments of women who seem to be the most talented, even well-known and confident-seeming, beautiful people. And in the eyes of the rest of us. Us “regular” gals who just want to know we’re okay.

We all want to hear those same words, to have someone come along and affirm us. We. All. Need. So much.

And yet all that we need is just a whisper away, a heartbeat-length prayer under our breath.

God has a deep well of answer for this deep place of need. As you lean in, He assures:

“You are altogether beautiful, my darling, there is no flaw in you.”

Song of Solomon 4:7

Sit with that. And let your high-school-yearbook-picture-questioning inner teenager sit with that for a moment, too. If our creator, the One who knows us best and knows WHAT’S best for us, sees us as beautiful, sees no flaw in who He created us to be, can’t we? Allow that He who loves you most sees you, sees your value, and sees you as way more than just OK. You are accepted. You are beautiful. You are enough.

We will never hear it enough, but we are heard. AND we can be women who hear that need in others and respond to it- one of the precious and impacting ways we can participate with God. My sweet friend, Becky, refers to it as “sistering.” We will never get enough affirmation on this world, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to give it when we can. We can encourage, we can bless, we can assure our sweet sisters (whether we know them or not) that they are indeed OK. Enough. Beautiful. Beloved.

Because they are. You are. We are. High school pictures notwithstanding.

 

 

Funny how witnessing something in students can take you immediately back to an exact pin-point emotional place in your heart, in your life.

During a recent substitute teaching assignment, I found myself in the midst of a greatly anticipated/dreaded day in the hearts and lives of teenage girls.  One I remember well. The day school pictures arrive. (cue dramatic music: dun dun DUN!!!)

On lunch duty in the cafeteria as the high school students were receiving their school pictures, I had the opportunity to watch and listen without seeming like a creepy stranger stalker lady. Or at least not too much.

The boys (as I remember in my own experience) didn’t seem to care much about their pictures, photos that were pretty much solely purchased at the insistence of their parents.

But these young ladies: all coltish long legs, early attempts at glamour with a smear of lipgloss sheen, hair pulled back and falling over one shoulder, animated voices and whispered confidences. Oh my.

Each insisting to her friends, “No, this is a horrible picture of me! You can’t see them! I want to burn them! I’m getting re-takes! My hair looks so bad! I look so fat in this! Why did I wear that?”

As I patrolled around the cafeteria tables, a half smile playing over my face, I could hear so clearly the voices of myself and my friends saying the exact same words as teenagers, as we hid the oversize envelopes that contained the offending images against the fronts of our Members Only jackets.

Masked in evasive words uttered by these young ladies are these heart-cries that echo through generations of school-picture carrying girls: I don’t want to show you, but I want you to insist upon seeing the pictures so you will tell me what I oh-so-desperately need to hear. That the pictures are beautiful. That I’m beautiful. That you see me and accept me and I’m OK. I want you to do every last thing in your power to refute what my heart whispers to me: that I’m less than, not OK, not accepted, not enough, not beautiful.

Blooming in the back of my mind as I heard these young girls were all the emotions attached to the teenage not-enough that sometimes still bubbles beneath the surface: me with my awkward braces and red hair, sure everyone else was taller, prettier, smarter, more talented, and more-liked by certain boys with feathered hair and velour v-necks, and later those wearing English Leather cologne and flipped-collar polo shirts (though I married that one).

 

Oh, the power of those pictures. And the power of these conversations. And the gut-level power of that need.

 

That need, not just in these wide-eyed, fresh-faced teenage girls, standing tip-toe on the edges of their futures, of adulthood, of finding their paths, but in the women I see every day. The woman in the mirror, long-past being a teenage girl and almost past mothering a teenage girl. In the women in my small groups, in every store I go to (which are many, this time of year). I’ve heard this need echoed in the words and off-hand comments of women who seem to be the most talented, even well-known and confident-seeming, beautiful people. And in the eyes of the rest of us. Us “regular” gals who just want to know we’re okay.

 

We all want to hear those same words, to have someone come along and affirm us. We. All. Need. So much.

 

And yet all that we need is just a whisper away, a heartbeat-length prayer under our breath.

 

God has a deep well of answer for this deep place of need. As you lean in, He assures:

 

You are altogether beautiful, my darling, there is no flaw in you.

Song of Solomon 4:7

 

Sit with that. And let your high-school-yearbook-picture-questioning inner teenager sit with that for a moment. If our creator, the One who knows us best and knows WHAT’S best for us, sees us as beautiful, sees no flaw in who He created us to be, can’t we? Allow that He who loves you most sees you, sees your value, and sees you as way more than just OK. You are accepted. You are beautiful. You are enough.

 

We will never hear it enough, but we are heard. AND we can be women who hear that need in others and respond to it- one of the precious and impacting ways we can participate with God. My sweet friend, Becky, refers to it as “sistering.” We will never get enough affirmation on this world, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to give it when we can. We can encourage, we can bless, we can assure our sweet sisters (whether we know them or not) that they are indeed OK. Enough. Beautiful. Beloved.

 

Because they are. You are. We are. High school pictures notwithstanding.

 

 

Humiliation in Hobby Lobby

I have hesitated for a while as I considered writing about this. For, like, two years.  Almost exactly.  But as I pursue my call to live out loud, this is what I need to share: one of the turning points of my recent years.

Just about two years ago, slightly more, I was in one of the hardest places of my life. Ever. No exaggeration.  I was about six months into the shiny new world of health “challenges,” struggling deeply with my as-yet-undiagnosed chronic illness, fatigued to the bone, weak (couldn’t stand for more than a few moments), in pain, and fighting hard with the fear that threatened to choke me out.  Add to that an ailing elderly parent and a teenage daughter making colorful choices and you have what I was at that moment. A bit of a train wreck.

It had been a couple of weeks since I’d felt able to venture out on my own.  At that point, I couldn’t drive a lot, so I usually had my daughter, my son, or my husband (when he was in town) drive me to where I needed to go.  I didn’t get out much. But one day, feeling extra adventurous, I set forth to our local Hobby Lobby. Alone.

It was grey and a little drizzly, perfect fall afternoon. My objective was to replenish my yarn supply so I could continue my most recent obsession, knitting. I parked as close as I could and grabbed my cane/stool that went everywhere with me, just in case I needed to sit down mid-browse.  Cart acquired, I set forth to the yarn, found more than I needed and, feeling a bit over-confident, I thought I’d stroll through the beautiful fall decorations and take a few minutes to savor just being out.

I navigated my cart up and down a couple of aisles and my body made it clear that, in no uncertain terms, I needed to sit down. Now. So I pulled the cane/stool (his name is Sit-izen Cane, BTW) I’d so wisely brought along for just such an occasion from the cart, unfolded it, and started to sit down to take a much-needed pause. Except the pause ended in a crash. Unbeknownst to me, one of the screws in my stool had fallen out and the whole thing collapsed as I fell full weight into a display of ceramic pumpkins. Awesome.

Alerted by my ruckus, an old lady with a walker rounded the corner and asked me if I needed help. Awesome again. As if this sweet walker-wielding granny could help me get up. I was scraped, bruised and so, so embarrassed.  Pumpkin fragments at my feet and tears on my face, I insisted I was okay, I would be fine.

Then the manager/cavalry rides up, apologizing to me, asking if I need help, calling for cleanup on aisle 5. More awesomeness.

All I wanted was to melt into the linoleum floor and disappear. All I could think was “I’m NOT this girl! I’m the super competent career girl! I’m the girl who climbed Half Dome! I’m not this weak, not this needy, not the woman who crashes into pumpkin displays and calls attention to the fact that she’s not who she used to be.”

Mr. Manager insisted on pushing my cart, insisted I didn’t need to pay for the broken pumpkins that lay scattered on the floor next to my shattered pride, insisted on checking out my yarn purchase himself and escorting me to the car.

Once there, once alone, I turned the corner from the trying-to-hold-it-together-in-a-public-place-where-I’ve-humiliated-myself-enough-for-one-day-thank-you-very-much-cry to full-on-ugly-cry. I sat in that parking lot, tears pouring, raging- at this illness for taking so much from me, even the ability to do something so simple, at God for not consulting me on this whole illness thing to begin with, at the manager for being so stinking nice (never said I made sense)- and mourning- at the loss of independence, at the loss of my sense of self, at the loss of all my former plans.  The words “God, I don’t WANT to be disabled,” wrenched themselves out in between sobs, “I don’t want to have to depend on everyone else.”  I waited for an answer. It felt as if my raging, mourning, and cries bounced back off the ceiling of my car as the rain poured down outside.

I got it together enough to drive myself home, still snuffling, still stung, still straining to hear God in the midst of this mess.

And I did.

I’ve got you, and I’ve got this, He told me. Trust me, He whispered, it’s for your good. I can use this. In that moment I had to choose to trust or not.

I took a deep breath as I climbed out of my car, walked into our home, and I knew. I knew I could depend on Him. On His purpose. On His timing. Even through the raging and the bruised body and pride, He had me.

Two years later and two time zones away, he still has me. I recently walked through our local Hobby Lobby, mindful of where God has brought me and how different everything looks.  He’s taken me a long way from that pile of shattered pumpkins and the spate of parking lot ugly-crying.

I am daily grateful for the way He has blessed my life and family, led me to a better doctor, given me a new church home, and given me an oh-so-appreciated measure of physical recovery. I will likely never be completely free of fibromyalgia, but God has given me ways to manage it to the point that allows me to do most normal person things much of the time on many of my days (interspersed with rest).  He has been steadfast and faithful, in all the hard things and all the good things.

But don’t miss this piece. Even still, I need to focus daily on what I CAN do, not what I CAN’T do.  God doesn’t ask me to do what I can’t do. He asks me to do what I CAN, through His strength and blessing, do.  Chronic illness or not. He does the same with you.  He never demands that you do what you can’t do.  He calls you do do what you can with His help.

I am not disabled, I am ENABLED by my God to do what He is calling me to do. And so are you.

Acts 2:25 I saw the LORD ever before me, because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Unstuck

It’s been a while since I sat down to write.  I could blame it on traveling (which I did) or on preparing for my mother in law coming to stay with us this weekend as she’s moving into her new place a few miles away (which she is) or I could blame it on preparing to go back to work part time (which I am). Valid excuses, all.

But.  There’s more to it. I get stuck, you see. Inside my head. It’s a carnival of crazy in there sometimes. I get stuck in overthinking what I “should” be as a writer instead of just writing. And so the spiral begins that gets me paralyzed, stuck in the should and not doing anything about it. I would literally rather clean out my fridge than try to write. (and I may have done that this morning) Because that next step is just to scary.  What if I get it wrong? What if I pour out my soul on a page yet again and it doesn’t make a difference? What if no one reads it? What if, what if what if…

I am convinced (with the help of a good friend who knows me oh so well) that this is one of the major tools Satan uses to keep me from doing what God is asking of me.  Which is to live out loud. Which is to speak my truth. Which is to share with you what He’s teaching me without getting caught up in what a blog “should” be. Which is to just be real.

Does any of this sound familiar? Can I get an Amen? Do you ever feel this place of “stuck”? Tell me I’m not the only one.  I doubt, I worry, I wonder if it matters. But it does. What I do matters and what you do matters. God put each of us on this planet with a specific voice, a specific set of one-of-a-kind gifts, a specific set of not-always-easy experiences and that curious amalgam is what we need to walk out, however that looks according to His perfect plan and timing. And Satan doesn’t want any piece of this to happen. He wants to stymie our voice when God wants us to shout. He wants us (me) to stay stuck in the second-guessing instead of just doing the simple next thing in front of us.

My knows-me-oh-so-well friend, in this same pep talk, gave me an awesome analogy: We all have a microphone. It’s up to God to adjust the volume.

Wow. Yeah. That’s it.  I need to speak into this world what He has put inside me, and maybe you do, too, whether that’s through writing or loving your family or reaching out to someone who’s hurting. The reach, the influence, the scope, that’s all in God’s hands.

So my microphone and I refuse to stay stuck. And I’ll trust God to adjust the volume to His liking.

One Year as an Intentional Texan

We close our eyes and the world has turned around again,
We close our eyes and another year has come and gone,
We close our eyes and the world has turned around again,
We close our eyes and dream…
     -Oingo Boingo
One year. More song lyrics spring to mind, but I’ll spare you.
We recently returned from a trip to California (helping our daughter move into her dorm for her sophomore year of college). As we landed at DFW airport, it struck me full force that it was the anniversary of the first time I landed there, when I stepped off the plane into the unknown of my new life. I might add here that my arrival last September I opened a text I received in-flight, my new down the street neighbor (now a very dear friend) warning me about snakes in my backyard.  Oh. My. Goodness. It’s a wonder I didn’t turn on my heel and walk right back onto that airplane.
But back to my California interlude. I wandered my old hometown while visiting sweet family and friends, but things have shifted. As they do. The place hadn’t changed dramatically, things were still familiar, but didn’t seem like home. It was strange, but I felt no pull to drive on autopilot to our house of 16 years. Hit by the surreal nature of the experience, I pondered as I drove through town, “I don’t live here. Home is somewhere else.”  And it was ok.
Really truly better than ok. I love our Texas life, though I miss my people in California, but I have been intentional in embracing my new home.  I intentionally set out to find my people and my places. I intentionally looked for beauty all around me (and found it!). When God led us to a wonderful new church family, I intentionally plugged in, joined a small group (or two) and started leading a small group in our home. I intentionally bought cowboy boots.  They’re black and really cute and very comfortable and go with more than you’d think. I intentionally looked for a doctor who would be able to help me and God led me to someone wonderful who DID help me. (read this if you haven’t already) I intentionally explored and fell in love with Fort Worth and all our small towns surrounding it.
However. This whole moving-to-Texas-thing has been one of the toughest things I’ve done.  Don’t let all my intentionality lead you to think otherwise.  It was SO. HARD. Hard to leave, to walk out in faith, going to a place I’d never seen far from everyone (except my husband and son) and everything I’d known for 49 years, leaving my friends, my family (including my tiny baby daughter at college in California), my church home, my doctors, my safe places.
But walk out we did. And tears were shed. And loneliness crushed down sometimes and I would forget to breathe for a moment. And I kept getting up, kept making our Texas house a home, kept reaching out to people here and people in California, my tribe old and new. Kept finding ways to embrace where we were and choose to love my life. Kept being intentional. Home, you see, isn’t just a place, but a gradual process, a thousand little steps, sometimes hard-won. It’s not overnight but it is worth the effort.
You’ll always find what you’re looking for, someone once told me.  If you’re looking for the good, there it is right in front of you. If you’re looking for the worst in every situation, it will be there, staring you in the face.
But as a year has passed we have learned so much. You can choose your home and what home feels like. You can choose to move forward instead of being stuck looking back; you hold onto the precious things you already have and carry them into a new season, a new place. I’m told by some of my Californians that I have developed a bit of an accent, which makes me laugh. Sure, I’ll embrace it.
I haven’t written a lot about the move itself and our whole transition, largely because it felt too raw and too much in flux, but the thread of God’s leading and His blessing has run throughout.  The logistics of the move were so smooth, our deals to sell and buy houses went without a hitch, and we all got back here safe and sound, as did our stuff. It was the thousand degrees of letting go that were so hard and kept sneaking back in to remind me of what was lost. But not really lost, is it? Those who were dear to me still are. And those dear to me in Texas would remain unknown, as would the joys of so many things purely Texan, if I hadn’t trusted God’s leading and walked through the doors He opened.
Be intentional wherever God has you and make home where He directs.

Leaving Home and Going Home

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: Beginnings and Endings

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…

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 and Trusting God in the “No”

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.”