Letting the Mask Slip

I am good at maintaining the image that I have it all together.  I can do “pulled together and competent” all day long.

I, throughout my adult life, have crafted a shiny veneer that looked pretty good.  I dressed pretty well, didn’t go out of the house without having hair and makeup at least sort of done, kept my house at a certain level of clean and decorated appropriate to the season/holiday at hand (when was a slight chance people who don’t live there might see it), kept all the plates of life spinning in an organized fashion as dictated by my cute day planner, and was able to keep up the façade that I could handle all things ever.  I talked a good game, and often I bought it myself. 

Even as I did that tap-dance, transparency was not something I did with most people.  I liked “fine, thank you very much” mask that I wore most of the time, and aside from a few select people, that’s what most people got to see.  Was I fake?  No, because I really am blessed and a generally happy person.  Was I guarded?  Yes.  Was I reluctant to allow people to see the mess “behind the curtain?”  Oh. Yes.  Because that’s a scary and vulnerable place in the middle of my mess. 

I wandered closer to the edge of “realness” in the past few years, gradually opening up my life a bit, but still a bit unenthusiastic to really let the mask slip, so to speak.  And then I got sick.  And it changed everything. 

I can tell you, when the rug gets pulled out from under your whole life, you tend to re-examine a bit.  And it became abundantly clear that I DON’T have it all together, I CAN’T just handle everything, I’m NOT perfect (not that I or any of the people who live with me thought I was), and it’s really okay.  It took being pushed into a big place of humility to be okay sharing my struggles.  And share I have.    

As I’ve worked on setting up this new website and migrating my blog to this new shiny space, I looked at posts that were written before my illness.  Without hesitation I decided to leave them where they were.  Reading those showed me how far my heart has come from those days.  Everything was awesome in my early blogs, and I was annoyingly chipper about many things (my retroactive apologies), but I didn’t share much of what was hard in what was real. 

Since I became sick last spring I have felt the burden to blog about what I was encountering, but more importantly, what God was doing in and through my life.  And to do that I had to take off the mask.  I had to be honest about my fears, my hesitation, my sadness, my frustration, my confusion.  And you all blessed and encouraged me beyond what I would have ever thought or imagined.  Turns out people appreciate the messy real person that is me much more than the “superwoman” façade.  Thanks for that. 

In this year long process of breaking down and rebuilding, I have shifted my focus, opened my heart, and listened to what God was saying.  He had to stop me cold in my tracks before I would be ready to take a step on the path He was preparing for me, a path toward a life-long dream.  And here’s the step: I wrote a book.  Labored over with love these past months, started as a gift for my daughter’s high school graduation, this couldn’t have been written in the not-so-distant past, largely because I wouldn’t have been so open with my considerable faults and failures.  I wouldn’t have been able to trust my readers with some really hard personal stories, and would have probably just come off as preachy. 

Though this process of becoming more transparent has been a challenge for me, I encourage you to let the mask slip.  It’s scary, it’s really uncomfortable, it’s vulnerable and can make you wonder how people will receive it.  But it’s worth it.  When you aren’t so concerned with keeping up the appearances, you can be open to what God has for your next steps.

One year…

A year ago I was, unbeknownst to me, in the final week of my career at Wells Fargo Insurance.  I would spend the coming weekend in the hospital, and eventually be diagnosed with an illness that would change everything about how I did life.  Everything.  I never saw it coming.

As I look back at the past year, it is with some sadness, still, over what was lost, but also with great hope and anticipation.  Really!   As I look back I see a rough road that I walked, a lot of stillness, God’s great faithfulness, and a lot of work and attitude adjustment on my part.

I’m always amazed at the ways God connects what I’m experiencing with his Word.  I recently read a devotion about the Sabbath.  Not just the day of rest given every week, but the Sabbath year God gave to the Israelites as they were entering Canaan.   Take a look at this:

Leviticus 25: 3-7

“When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a Sabbath to the LORD.  For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops.  But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of Sabbath rest, a Sabbath to the LORD.  Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards.  Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines.  The land is to have a year of rest.  Whatever the land yields during the Sabbath year will be food for you- for yourself, your male and female servants, and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you, as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land.  Whatever the land produces may be eaten.”

After working hard in their fields for 6 years, they were to take a year to let their land lie fallow, not raising any crops, so the land could be more productive.  Just like taking a Sabbath day every week was designed to do for them.  They were to rest from their labor in the field- and allow the land to rest- to prepare for what was coming next.

Did they request this year?  No.  God gave it to them in His wisdom.  I imagine the whole idea was pretty scary, not raising food for an entire year.  When given this rule they must have wondered what they would eat.  But they had to rely fully on His provision; His plan was to grow their faith and to show His faithfulness.  And He did provide.

This Sabbath year was probably (at least initially) uncomfortable, odd to them.  Out of their routine and their familiar rhythm.  Out of their self-sufficient comfort zone.  This was a “Sabbath unto the LORD,” realigning their attention from themselves to what HE was doing.  Which is just where God wanted them.

Well.  This has very clearly been my Sabbath year.  My illness and eventual diagnosis necessitated rest that I didn’t ask for but desperately needed, total change of lifestyle for my whole family, and learning a more complete dependence on God.  Being still and waiting is against my very nature and miles away from my comfort zone. But waiting is not wasted with God.  This waiting was designed, much like the Israelites’ Sabbath year, to grow my faith and show His faithfulness.

Look back at the passage from Leviticus- “Whatever the land yields during the Sabbath year will be food for you.”  The things that have come through this time have definitely fed me.  I wasn’t out working, planting, sowing, tending, harvesting, and yet He has provided over and over again, physically, emotionally, financially, mentally, and spiritually. And much like the experience of the Israelites, this has been a “Sabbath unto the LORD,” realigning my attention from myself to what HE is doing.  I’ve felt so many times that I was accomplishing nothing (again SO not part of my nature!).  Now I can see that God has been accomplishing something.  He has been preparing the fields, after they’ve rested, for a new purpose, having now fed His wandering daughter on what “grew on its own.”

After this post, you will see my blog on a different site.  God is doing something here and I am eager to see what it looks like.  In this Sabbath year of preparation and rest He has led me to pursue writing and speaking (as health permits) in a more purposeful way, sharing what He is teaching me from the perspective of being a fellow traveler, not one who as arrived.

Adjusting my Lens (4/2/2016)

Have you ever flip-flopped between two extreme emotions in the space of a breath?  If you haven’t, I’m jealous and want to know your secret, but in the meantime I invite you to take a moment to peek into my crazy.  If you have, you should identify a bit with what I’m writing here.

 

Often I love social media.  Sometimes I hate it.  And that can change in a heartbeat.  It’s a double-edged sword for me and, I suspect, many, many other women.

I love the connections I have made and rekindled because of Facebook, the old friends from across the country I see almost daily, getting a glimpse into their lives and their families.  I am truly blessed by the encouragement I have received through this medium during this hard (and often very isolated) year of health issues and the loss of my dad.  I deeply appreciate the spiritual insights found in the posts of bloggers and ministries I follow.  I love that I can encourage and pray for friends and family members as they genuinely share their struggles or heartbreaks.  I look forward to the community interaction I have with women across the country who participate in an online Bible study I joined.  I love that it’s a platform on which I can share my random musings through my blog.  I love Facebook.

But.  This same source of encouragement and blessing can bring me to a place of unexpected, irrational knots in my stomach.  And that inexplicable dissatisfied feeling deep inside.  And occasionally tears.  I can be happily scrolling along and see freshly posted pictures of a group of people I know, all doing something fabulous together without me.  Or events I haven’t been invited to join.  Or pictures of holidays that look nothing like mine.  Or things they’re doing that I can’t do. And it all crashes down.  I hate Facebook.  And I hate that it brings this out in me.

Again, I was happy until I saw these things, but holding my life up to this lens, I find parts of it wanting.  I’m sure we’ve all been there.  But why?  Realizing this is an irrational response, I truly want to dig past the snarls of tangled emotion to the root, the cause of my gut reaction.

Honestly, my life is pretty great.  More than great.  Please don’t misunderstand me: I am not saying people shouldn’t post pictures of these kinds of things, recording the fun events of life.  I do it myself.  This issue is not with the people OR the pictures.   It’s with my view of the world, my lens, not the fun my friends are having.  Here’s the core of it:  to quote my dear friend and prayer partner of nearly 12 years, Dana Phillips, “Comparison kills contentment.”  So. True.  I’m comparing what I have – and love- to what I see on Facebook.  Yep, maturity abounding here.

However, (I am reminding myself, here, not just you) the lens of social media is a distorted one.  No one posts pictures of their messy laundry room, themselves sitting at home alone in yoga pants watching The Good Wife, or having a “spirited discussion” with one of their people who live with them.

We often see the best and happiest moments, without the pain that is an inevitable part of life.  Without the mess, the frustration, the loneliness.  The perfection that is so prevalent on Facebook and Pinterest (my two sites of choice) is, like all “perfection,” an illusion at best and a toxic lie at worst.

As I look at something a friend has or is doing, I have to ask myself, do I want everything that goes along with it?  Without even peeking behind the curtain of the smiles and beautiful pictures, I can say the answer is invariably, “No.”  I will take my own burdens, thank you very much, and my own joys. (There’s a glimpse of returning sanity!)  I am working on the contentment part.  And trying to see through the social media lens more realistically.

The apostle Paul knew a thing or two about this, having a life that was far from photo-friendly.  He wrote from prison and in deep want, in loneliness and pain, and often under threat of injury or arrest.

Here are just a couple of examples:

But godliness with contentment is great gain.  I Timothy 6:6

I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. Philippians 4:11b

If he could find godly contentment in his circumstances, surely I can.  Finding that contentment can make me less prone to flip-flop, less likely to take a seat on that emotional roller coaster of mine.  Contentment will remind me that my messy-beautiful life is so much more than what someone would see on Facebook.  And so is everyone else’s.  I have really come a long way toward learning these lessons in the past year, being open and accepting of what God has for me, content with where I am. I will continue to adjust my lens, refocus and recognize the blessing that is everywhere. But I still clearly have a long way to go.

Resurrection Sunday (3/26/2016)

I have been a bit down all day yesterday and today, struggling to put my finger on why.  And then I realized.  Tomorrow, Easter Sunday, will be the first time my extended family, my mom, local brothers and sister-in-law, niece, and nephew, has been together since my Dad’s funeral on December 30.  It will also be the first family gathering at my home since Dad’s passing. One of a calendar full of “the first time without Dad” moments and events.

It still seems surreal that he isn’t with us.  When asked today what we were doing for Easter Sunday, I caught myself telling my sister-in-law that my parents were coming.  It was like a weight was crushing down on my chest when I realized what I said.

Our table will be full tomorrow, thanks to lots of family and my niece’s and daughter’s boyfriends, all the chairs taken, but there will be a gaping space in my heart.

 

In preparation for tomorrow’s dinner, I decided to keep things really simple, just use paper plates, napkins, cups, disposable silverware.  Made a special trip to target to get something I liked.  But as I looked at the unopened packages on my dining room table, I stopped.  I couldn’t do it.  Paper was not enough.  Somehow it felt wrong.

Let me be clear, this is not about impressing anyone, and I’m all for simple and easy, something I’ve learned well over this past year of chronic illness.  But no.  Paper wasn’t…honoring.

Here’s the thing.  Easter has always been a holiday near and dear to my heart, for many reasons.  But it rings stronger, pulls deeper within me this year than others past.  Easter is hope of resurrection, life eternal, because of what happened that Sunday morning all those years ago.  And because of that hope, the hope to which I cling and the hope my Dad had, I can KNOW that I will see him again.  I can KNOW that he is with Jesus, celebrating Easter like never before in his Wranglers, cowboy boots, and suspenders.

So to honor that, to honor my King and to honor my Dad who is with him, I lay out my simple/beautiful white china.  And cloth napkins.  And silverware that won’t be in the trash by 4pm tomorrow.  I honor what Easter is, Who it is, and the difference it makes.  I miss my Dad.  I will the rest of my life, I’m sure.   But I know he’s saving a seat for me at the banquet table.

It is by His great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

I Peter 1:3

Fresh Eyes (3/25/2016)

It started out as a routine Sunday morning.  I woke up slightly earlier than I wanted to because that’s just the way it is, I rolled out of bed, made coffee, read a bit, made breakfast and ate with my husband while our young adults still slept.  Grateful for a later church service time, I went upstairs to do my usual yoga and take a shower (it was a hair washing/blowout day, so I had to factor in a lot more time for this process.  Can I get an amen?), and as I was moving through my routine I remembered with some excitement that it was the day I could put in a new set of contact lenses.  We have to take joy in the little things, people.

My contacts are monthly use multi-focal lenses, you see, and I love them.  They serve me well, but by the end of their 30-day life cycle, they start to become a little bit uncomfortable.  My eyes start to bother me.  The lenses don’t work as well as the month marches on, especially for reading, and I get annoyed on an unconscious level with the blurriness of my world.

It occurred to me as I was putting in my exciting new lenses: it was almost like getting a fresh pair of eyes every month.  Fresh view of the world, fresh perspective, new clarity, lifting of the weariness and discomfort I was feeling.

A fresh pair of eyes.  Oh, how I need this in my spirit as well as in my body.  What if there was a new way to see my world, see my people, see my ministry, see my place in this wonderful madness of life?  What if I look upon what is around me with fresh eyes, refracted through the lens of God’s work and Word in my life, His Spirit guiding me, Jesus’ love and grace as my example?

Perhaps then I would feel the weight and weariness of carrying regret, or jealousy, or a grudge lift away.  New clarity for my path and in my relationships.  Fresh perspective on issues that challenge me.  A fresh view of the world and how I fit into it.  And how God can change it through me.  With fresh eyes, I could perhaps shed that layer of unconscious annoyance, with the blurriness in my world clarified by a better perspective.  Think of what it could mean, fresh eyes.  A new perspective.

Where, though, can I get this?  It’s not like going to my optometrist and getting a new prescription, or going on the 1-800-CONTACTS website and ordering new boxes of lenses.  In truth t’s simple, though not easy:  I need to seek more time in God’s presence to see through His lens, more time in His word to bring my heart and my view in alignment with His heart, asking for His view, His focus.

Speaking to Ezekiel the prophet, God tells His people, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”  (Ezekiel 36:26)  When I go to God and seek a new perspective, He will happily, lovingly grant it to me.

 

But just like changing my contacts, changing my perspective is a choice.  I could decide to keep right on wearing the same pair of lenses, month after month, increasing my discomfort and the distortion through which I view the world.  I could continue to wear them, risking infection and, potentially, lasting damage to my vision.

By the same token, I could continue to view the world, the circumstances, and the people around me the same way, and become less and less satisfied with what I see.  I could choose that, thinking all the while, “Why should I change?  I’ve been fine with this way of seeing all along!  I’m comfortable.”  Even though I’m not.

I have to intentionally take the contacts I’ve worn for a month out of my eyes, walk to the small waste basket in my bathroom, and throw them out.

I have to surrender seeing things my way, the old way, through my tired lenses. And surrender is intentional.  I have to CHOOSE to take on God’s lens through which to view others, view hard situations, view His people, view circumstances.  I must deliberately throw those “lenses” in the trash.  And leave them there.

I would NEVER pull old contacts out of the trash and put them back into my eyes just because I was more accustomed to them.  I don’t even want to think about the infection that would cause.

Neither should I retrieve my old way of seeing someone or something, the way without God’s influence and grace, and put it back into my life, back to the familiar.  Think about how that would be toxic, damaging to my heart and my relationships.  Detrimental to my growth.

But isn’t that easier said than done?  I know I have often drifted back into old habits, old ways of seeing the world, even though the new ways were better.  It takes deliberate choice to change, and it takes deliberate choice to NOT return to the old way of seeing things.

Seeing through a new lens isn’t just intentional surrender, it’s ongoing surrender.

Fresh eyes.  And a renewed heart.  Thank God for contact lenses that help me see.  And thank God for His lenses that help me see His way..

Focus: Choosing where to Gaze (3/19/2016)

I recently heard a Christian speaker and writer, Karen Ehman, say that you can choose where you glance and where you gaze.  This really resonated with me, this description of choosing your focus in life. So let me share a story.

I used to hike.  A lot.  My husband and I went on some grand and somewhat hard-core adventures a few years back.  We enjoyed many beautiful high-altitude day hikes/climbs together in Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe and in Yosemite, eventually ascending the top of Half Dome.  Yep.  I did that.  Wasn’t my natural habitat, but it was glorious to be out in nature and doing something out of my comfort zone with my beloved.

However, I as recently recalled, when I first started doing some of these more challenging hikes, my tendency was to keep my eyes glued to the trail.  The rocky, unpredictable, steeply ascending path was fraught with potential rolled ankles and falls (in my then-inexperienced hiker brain), so I would spend literally hours looking down.  Making sure I was stepping where I needed to, fueled by fear of a misstep or of hurting myself in some way or hurtling off a cliff.

In all of these excursions I followed my more-experienced hiker/Eagle Scout husband and watched where he was stepping, doing my best to do what he was doing.  All the while asking myself why was this something people did with their time.

On one of many quick breathers/water breaks on one particularly hot California-in-July afternoon, I took a moment to look up.  And I was amazed.  The scenery around me was truly breathtaking.  Soaring pine trees, sheer granite, brilliant sunshine in lacy patterns filtered through tree branches.  None of which I had seen while staring intently at dirt and rocks.

All day I had I followed my guide, but didn’t see the beauty around me.  I labored along, without the joy of the journey.  I chose to gaze where I should have glanced. I don’t mean I should NEVER look at where I’m putting my feet, that would be dangerous and foolhardy, but neither should I do that exclusively and miss all the grandeur of my surroundings.

Glance at the dirt, gaze at the majesty of God’s creation: the lesson allowed me to truly LOVE hiking.

But isn’t it easy to do that in life?  We slog through our days, doing our best to follow Jesus, but our gaze is fixed on the ground, on the hard things in life, rather than the beautiful things with which God surrounds us.  But we have a choice.  We just have to choose to look up. And be amazed.

Even on the rockiest path, there is beauty and blessing to be found.   Glance at the hard things,  as we have to keep moving on, and gaze at the splendor God is putting in your life.

Sometimes, though, we don’t feel like we have a choice, that we are forced into our focus.  My sweet 87-year-old mom shared an experience with me recently.  She described a very elderly woman who came into a restaurant with a couple of her friends helping her.  She said this poor woman’s spine was so bent that her shoulders and head were practically a right angle from her torso, forcing her to look at the floor at all times.  The woman was not able to raise her head to look around her, and had to rely on her friends to get her to the table.

Have you ever felt stuck in your focus, unable to see anything but the dirt, the hard things in life?  Let me tell you, I have felt EXACTLY that way.  The woman in the restaurant physically had no choice but to gaze at her feet, at the ground, but sometimes I can feel so trapped in the overwhelming nature of the tough things of life, of my disappointment, of my pain, of my sadness, that I feel unable to look up, without a choice of where to focus, as though I can’t even begin to glance and see the good.

Psalm 121: 1-2 says “I lift up my eyes to the hills- where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

When you are oh-so-stuck, can’t seem to get your eyes off the dirt and rocks, don’t miss it.  Don’t miss the opportunity for the Maker of heaven and earth to show you more.  There is so much more that He has for you than the path, rocky as it is.  He is your help.  He surrounds us with beauty in the pain, we just have to look up.

Lift up your eyes; don’t give up.  Choose, as Karen Ehman writes, where to glance and where to gaze.

Taking the Leap: A February 29 Challenge

Waking up predawn today I found a train of thought lurching around my brain that I knew I’d have to let out today.  So here goes.  Leap year has always fascinated me on a couple of fronts.  First, it extended my birthday month by a whole day, so as a kid I thought that was cool.  Second,  I felt so sorry for people who were born on February 29, because they only got to have a birthday once every four years and couldn’t grow up very fast.  Until I met someone who was born on February 29 who patiently explained the got a year older EVERY year, had a birthday party EVERY year, and usually had an extra special celebration on leap years.  Again, I was a kid.

And I digress, this isn’t the topic of my blog or my insistent train of thought that pulled me out of sleep.

I have passed much of my adult life wishing I had more time, thinking that if only I had more hours in the day I would…you fill in in the blank.  I am certain, in the busy times that envelop us all, that most of those who are good enough to read my words experience the same thoughts.  So I ask myself (and you), what would you do with an extra day, with one day more, with a bonus 24 hours, with a true extra Leap Year Day?  Imagine you had 24 hours with no one else’s expectations, schedules, or any responsibilities.  What would you do?

Would you rest your body, mind, and soul, and pamper yourself, weary from life and all its demands?  Would you work on something that is your heart’s passion, losing all track of time because you are fully immersed in what gives your soul joy?  Would you spend every moment with someone dear to you, in conversation or just companionship, having that time to simply be with them that you never get because of life’s crazy pace?  Would you lose yourself in a great book?  Would you organize every space and thing in your home, clean out the old to prepare for a fresh start?  These are some of the things that came to my mind.  If I had 24 hours I would…

But you have 24 hours.  Every day.  Granted, it’s NOT free of commitments, work, and demands, but you get the same allotment every day.  So I challenge myself here, what am I spending my precious days on, this time I will never get back?  If I would do XYZ with 24 free hours, why aren’t I spending my days (and therefore my life) doing it right now?   If a relationship is important, I need to make it a priority, even if it just means shooting a quick text or email to the person I love.  If my heart’s passion is important, why don’t I carve out time to sit and write every day?  If caring for my body is important, why wouldn’t I do that in order to continue to make the most of my health?  If growing in my relationship with God is important to me, why wouldn’t I set aside even some small time every day to sit with Him and be quiet?

Simple answer: the tyranny of the urgent often trumps the truly important in our lives.  I’m as guilty as anyone else of this.  This condition of being bossed around by the urgent things in life conspires with the trivialities that can crowd every open second, the sheer noise of technology that permeates our society and every inch of our homes (mine included).  And so our days are not spent as we want our lives to be spent.

A movie scene shimmers in the back of my mind as I ruminate on these things.  Robin Williams leaning into a group of fresh faced 1950’s prep school boys looking at pictures of the past, whispering “Carpe diem!  Seize the day, boys!”  This still gives me chills.  He’s urging his young students to realize that today is the only guarantee we have, truly, and this sentiment, this Carpe Diem clarion, resonated deeply with my college student heart when I first saw the film in theaters.  (Disclaimer: if you have negative opinions of Dead Poet’s Society, you are free as an American citizen to have them, but please don’t share them with me as that’s what inspired me to be an English teacher.  Please and thank you). Williams’ character, Mr. Keating, urged his students to truly live life to the fullest, referencing one of my favorite quotes from Walden by Henry David Thoreau:

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die Discover that I had not lived.”

Focusing on the important over the urgent is hard.  Really hard.  Urgent is loud and shiny and often necessary, but it shouldn’t completely rule our lives.  If I let days, weeks, years slip by, what will I regret?  What will I feel as though I missed?  I am determined not to live a life of regret and am working hard to focus on what I can do, small steps every day, to use my 24 hours fully, to NOT get to death only to discover I haven’t lived. If we want to live deeply, as we would in that “extra day” promise of leap year, we must choose to do so in the here and now.  It is intentional and daily, this choice.  I’m getting better at some of these things.   Do I still watch reruns of The Good Wife while knitting on the couch?  Yep.  Is that “sucking the marrow out of life?”  Nope.  But I am getting better at choosing, “putting to rout all that is not life,” filling this limited precious time, this 24 hours I get every day with the things that matter most.

I invite you to join me in Taking the Leap, in choosing the journey to seizing the day, and intentionally living to the full.

“How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives,” -Annie Dillard

“Teach us to realize the brevity of life that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12, NLT

My Spot (2/15/2016)

Here it is.

couch

This is where the bulk of the past 9 ½ months of my life have been spent.  Not a bad place at all.  There has typically been a water or tea cup on the shelf next to me, my iPad and phone close at hand, occasionally my laptop.  Since August I’ve almost always had knitting in my hands or at least within easy reach (there’s my knitting bag, right at the foot of the couch, and the blanket on the couch is my handiwork).  And yes, it reclines.  There are remotes for the home theater (which this lovely red lap of luxury faces) next to me, and I’ve enjoyed lots of Netflix.  And Jane Austen movies.  And naps during both.  It’s darkish (blackout curtains since it’s the home theater zone), cocoon-like and cozy.  A wonderful place for my “hibernation” as I’ve come to think of it.  I’ve guarded my spot with a Sheldon Cooper-like ferocity, as this was one of the places in my home where I felt most comfortable.  Truly my comfort zone.

But things are shifting.  I am so grateful to see improvement in my energy and pain levels as a result of my complete diet overhaul and the pounds of supplements my specialist has me taking, and I now begin to realize my spot no longer suits me.  It wouldn’t be best to stay in this spot, this comfort zone.  I am ready to move on; my spot on the couch seems counterproductive in my recovery.

Spurring me on is my current Online Bible Study, which gave me some interesting insight.  Lysa TerKeurst (my writer girl crush, you need to read her if you don’t already) writes about how the fields of everyday life provide the perfect preparation for God to have me perfectly positioned within his will.  She uses the example of David being anointed king (no, that’s not my plan for the next gig, thank you very much) but then returning to the fields of a shepherd’s life, not moving immediately into the palace.  The time in the fields were the perfect preparation for David to meet and defeat Goliath, building his physical strength (he killed a lion AND a bear) and his reliance and communion with God.

So.  As I was reading this I began to recall all the eclectic array of daily life training grounds God has used to prepare me, perfectly and very uniquely, for each role to which He has led me.  Every change was a radical, jolting-me-out-of-my-spot, very unplanned (by me), tire-squealing left turn.  I truly didn’t know what was coming but could feel a restlessness in  my soul each time, and then God revealed the left turn, which always happened to be nowhere near my comfort zone.  Women’s ministry, substitute teaching, full time teaching, the finance industry.  And then my current situation.

What an odd place of quite these months have been after the left turn of chronic illness that came without the previously mentioned restlessness and completely without warning. And being still was all I COULD be for so long.  But now, as I am praising God for my slow but steady recovery, my mind is clear enough to wonder what is next.  I am actually feeling like I can DO something and I want to think through and plan and prepare and…

But I am reminded that my everyday life was the preparation ground for all the left turn life changes that came before.  Not the things I decided to do, but the ways God honed my gifts for the upcoming left turn that He was aware of, were what positioned me perfectly for what He had next.  All I needed to do was show up and obey.

So I will stay in the stillness of preparation.  And I have a new spot.

desk one desk two

My new spot is sun washed, light-drenched, rather than a cozy dark cocoon, and has me upright rather than reclined.  It is not a place of hibernation, but of waking up, facing the sun.  It has me thinking and using the stillness to pour out of myself.  I still need to go back to the couch some days (slow recovery, keep in mind), but more often than not I can be found upstairs in my pretty home office corner of our bedroom, looking out on the backyard.

I don’t feel the crush of restlessness as I did in the past.  I do feel a pull to write, to meditate on His word, to heal my body, to listen, and to bless my family.  This is preparation, too, I’m confident, for His divine Purpose, for the next left turn.

Art Imitates Life (2/10/2016)

One of the perks of my current chronic-illness life is tied closely to my lack of schedule. This has enabled me to tag along on several occasions with my awesome husband when he travels for business.  Which is what brought me to Seattle in January, not a typical time for tourists to flock to the Emerald City.  However, I loved every minute.  I was enjoying my second day of moderate sight-seeing (Uber saves my life, seriously) with a turn through the Chihuly Glass Museum, which features the most remarkable, enormous sculptures and installations, created by the native Northwestern artist, Dale Chihuly, all from blown glass.  I had wandered through many of the rooms filled with these exquisite creations, ready for some time off of my feet, when I happened upon this astonishing place.

chihuly

I sat in this beautiful glass house, custom made to showcase this incredible art installation.  I stopped to sit, taking time to drink this in (let’s be honest, I was tired, really needed to sit down, and needed to charge my phone almost as much as I wanted to enjoy the art), sheltered from a chilly Seattle afternoon, grey-skied and wintry.  As I gazed up at this 100-foot-long, 25-foot-high installation, I marveled at the size, but as I looked longer, looked closer, I began to notice the individual intricacy of each and every piece.  No two (of hundreds!) were exactly the same- different shapes, patterns, colors, gradations of clear and opaque- but the effect was stunning, harmonious.  Each piece was created to fit perfectly in its place and seamlessly complement the pieces around it.  Hand crafted and curated, crimson, marigold, tangerine, lovingly placed by the designer and creator.  Again, stunning.  Each shape and arc was unique, they bent and curved in their own way, not detracting from the beauty of their neighboring pieces, not minimizing, but enhancing.  They didn’t compete to be the center of attention, but in concert together each played an incredible role; the impact of the piece would be diminished with the lack of one.

Then.  A bolt of pure sunlight pierced the January clouds and shone through these glass pieces, setting them ablaze and they were transformed.  And my breath taken.   Liquid illumination infused the sculpture and it became even more, so much more, than it was.

We, my sweet friends who are good enough to read my ramblings, are these pieces of art.  Uniquely and intentionally formed, without duplication, precisely situated to serve a specific purpose, fill a hand-selected role.  Perfectly placed to enhance and magnify those around us and the One who formed and placed us.  Not to detract, not to compete, not to be the individual center, but gloriously beautiful on our own because of the care taken to individually craft us all with our own bent, our own color, our own gradations.  The whole suffers when one is not there; we are only called to be the unique, crazy-amazing piece we are without responsibility for the placement and beauty of the other pieces.  And we are all transformed when filled with the light of our Creator, making more from what was already there.  You are a masterpiece ready to be filled with light.  Be the beauty you were placed there to be, individually and as part of your whole.

Clouds covered the sun, and the Seattle sky washed over again steel grey.  I smile still at the memory of glass aglow.

Control (1/20/2016)

I am a girl who likes to steer the ship.  I like to have some say (okay a LOT of say) in what’s going on and I like to day-planner/project manage/to-do list/timeline my way through things.  So 2015 was a bit of an upending of every part of my nature.  I have learned, in no uncertain terms, that I am not in control.

My ship hit an enormous “perfect storm” this year, highlighting on every front how much I am not in control.  My chronic illness was beyond my control, unwilling to cooperate with my plans, timeline or agenda.  My dad’s health (and eventual passing) was out of my control, people’s behavior, choices, and decisions about their future were out of my control, the necessity of stepping away from a job I loved was out of my control.  Not okay with me.  But as I’ve gained some perspective that can only come with a bit of time and a lot of reflection and prayer, it’s okay that I’m not in control.

I still have that primal urge to grab the steering wheel back and try to determine direction, but I’m learning.  My best ideas aren’t nearly as good as His perfect ones.  This nearly puts me into a panic at times, worrying about the outcome of some of these things, but I have learned in multiple devotions I’ve encountered just since the beginning of this year (it takes me a while to catch on, so God has to keep pounding the message home for me) that it is on me to be obedient, and the outcome is up to God.  Again, his plans and timing are so much better than mine.  I’m not called to understand the “why” of each move, I am called upon to honor Him in the midst.  And sail on with a surrendered and grateful heart.

2015 was a storm for me, to say the least, a storm that frequently wrenched control of my ship from my hands, leaving me to feel rudderless and battered.  But I’m reminded of the chorus of a worship song from probably 15 years ago and am so grateful for the anchor that holds me solidly safe in the midst of the storm:

Sometimes He holds us close And lets the wind and waves go wild Sometimes He calms the storm And other times He calms His child