Snapbacksandtutus - Musings on...
It is December, and the world feels too loud, too fast, and too demanding.
“Happy, Merry and Joyful” greet me at every turn, but in all honesty, the words and traditions associated with the Holidays often leave me wishing for a quiet place to hide until the advent of a new year. Time has undoubtedly muted the sharp sting of loss, but emotions are not governed by time and space. Someone is missing, and even the most joyful events are elementally complicated.
Almost five years after Keith’s death, I am learning that there is no roadmap. When someone we love dies, grief moves in. It sits at the kitchen table, and it hovers at family events. And though we attempt to crowd it out thinking that without space it will leave, grief will instead cram itself into corners and closets. The ache is no longer loud and constant. It is quieter, like a prickly sweater that, on occasion, chafes my skin. I work, I parent, I love, and I live productively, even in the shadow of new and emerging loss.
We have adopted a new normal of sorts, with new traditions and measured expectations sweetly seasoned with grace and hope. Still, there are no unique postures, times, limitations, or joyful seasons that restrict the impact of loss. Be gentle with those who grieve in the shadow of twinkling lights and merry wishes. They feel the weariness of life and death in this world. They needn’t be reminded to rejoice. Compassion means to suffer alongside. When we sit with people in their darkness, it's not so lonely there.
It seems paradoxical to so openly invite grief to the table during a time set aside to focus on the celebration of the birth of Christ. But there is more to the Christmas story than the baby in a manger, because nestled in the shadow of the cradle is the cross. The Christ of Bethlehem is of little value apart from the Christ of Calvary. It is the cross that gives meaning to Christmas.
Life is different today. I pay close attention to the memories stimulated by my senses as the holiday season begins, and rather than allow myself to be stuck in what was, I gently invite the Christmas that is. In my Christmas, there is room for anger and regret, for sadness and nostalgia, for humor and happy, for silence and rest, and merry and joy. By making room for grief, we have drawn it out of the darkness and into the light in the most beautiful, weary, and compelling way, much like the infant Savior in the shadow of the cross.
“How can we seek a compassion that can stand in awe of what ‘people’ have to carry, rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it?"
It was a Sunday morning, and I was, as is typical of most Sunday mornings, harried and rushed. By the time I wrestled open the heavy doors of the church, emotionally and physically spent from the morning's demands, I wanted nothing more than a quiet corner in which to sit and cry. As I made my way down the center aisle, I noticed her heading my way. Hopeful for an encouraging word and a compassionate ear from an older woman who I begged would understand my heart; I was taken aback by the furrow in her brow and the downturned pout on your lips. "Get that out of here!" she spat as she pointed at the cup of coffee in my hand. And without another word, she turned quickly on her heels in a superior huff.
My hands began to shake, and I turned in defeated retreat to find the nearest restroom. I slumped against the wall of a corner stall, a huddled mess on the cold tile of the bathroom floor, wearing my exhaustion and the weight of her words like an old winter coat slung across my shoulders. There was a circle of belonging, and though I could feel its warmth, it was beyond my reach.
When church becomes little more than a small club for the already convinced, when our methodology rests on power, and rules, and group identity, we separate ourselves from the very One we profess to serve. When a church becomes a dusty museum to the past, the likelihood of reaching generations to come diminishes. And when our organizations are heavily rooted in complex bureaucracy, driven by the evidence of our efficacy, courageous change becomes an impossible dream and we are blinded to the outcast and the marginalized, even those within our reach clinging tightly to a lukewarm cup of coffee.
Research indicates that people have an overwhelming need to feel included, heard and valued. When we are self- focused, on perceived needs and organizational preferences, it should be no surprise that those who fall outside of the circle of belonging, do not feel welcomed or valued. The mistakes that we will most profoundly regret are the ones that obscure the gospel and hurt the people under our influence by saying in effect, “You do not belong.”
Different is terrifying and strange, and beautiful. But it is something that not everyone knows how to love. And though most of us prefer a fairy-tale fashioned of pixie dust and enchanted forests, life, in reality, is forged out of dust and grime. Our tendency to judge the manner with which a human being carries defeat, suffering and loss stands boldly in the way of Christ-like compassion which begs us to step outside of the frame to take in, with wonder, the whole picture, the whole person. To limit a human being by what is perceived is to limit the growth and possibility that God has in store for a soul with a mission to fill. I am living, breathing proof that the hard things in life do not need to defeat or define, something that seems so difficult for bystanders to behold.
I am vulnerable, but I am not fragile, even on my worst days. And as I sat on the cold tile floor on that Sunday morning, God reminded me that vulnerable is brave. That morning, it was about letting my heart show in my face. There is not, as a matter of fact, a single act of courage that does not somehow involve vulnerability.
Judgment is a fool and nothing is ever as simple as it seems. At the edge of perception lies the opportunity to invite another being, errant coffee cup and all, out of the cold into the warmth of belonging. And in doing so, we become God's well-tuned instruments of peace, His gift to one another, each of us a miracle according to his strange and wonderful plan.
I love the early morning, that momentary gap, where the borders of day and night are ill-defined. The momentum of life is stilled, and the air is uncluttered with conversation. There is a quiet sense of something lost, and yet I know that in the deepest dark before dawn, God is preparing for the arrival of light.
I am intrigued by the gaps. In a world that values the rigid borders of black and white, I am at home in the unused corners, free to wrestle between pain and praise, between what is and what could be, and between where I am and where I wish to go.
My story has not been written in an ordered narrative. There have been many starts and stops. And in this particular season, the battle seems to have caught up with me. I wear it in my eyes these days, the grief, the regrets the mountains unmoved. There are dark purple circles and wrinkle wings along the edges. Hard things have interrupted the plot. It seems as if once I have decided the next chapter, something comes along that doesn't fit in with what came before or what comes after.
It has taken me a long time to realize that life is not as clearly defined as I once believed. I don’t have to be perpetually happy to have abounding joy, faith and fear can coexist, and gratitude and grief are not mutually exclusive. Some things cannot be fixed, cheered out of or corrected. They can only be carried in companionship.
I am not impressed by rigidity, position, and power. I am not inspired when being liked is more important than being honest and where perfection is the only respectable option. I don’t wish to be clever all the time. I am influenced by people who are vulnerable and real. I am inspired by moments of confession and compassion, and I long for a community that allows for hard questions and honest conversations. Transparency stirs up transformation. And isn’t transformation the point?
Life is interesting and complicated and beautiful. I am confounded by the demand for perfection, and the denial of paradox. In our need to over filter and soften reality, variety is lost, diversity is diminished, and creativity is repressed. One-dimensionality and inauthenticity are the enemies of connection. Life with Jesus is sweetly complex.
The most beautiful thing about broken is that in the midst of the mess is One who knows everything and loves me anyway. The One whose love for me runs deeper than any cultural difference, social standing, and sinful nature. A vessel many would have tossed away as trash He values as treasure. Life is tender and tenuous, but isn’t that a story we should tell? “Come and see the One who knows everything I’ve ever done” and loves me anyway.
Our human nature is to resist vulnerability. We work to filter and hide our frailty and failure from one another. But to share what we so desperately try to deny, is to break the cycle of shame and hiddenness that serves to separate us.
When we are tenderly broken in the wilderness, when we embrace those momentary gaps where the borders of day and night are ill-defined, when we fully admit our need for a Savior, we can finally trust that where our capabilities end, His begin.
God uses imperfection beautifully, it is the bright side of broken.
"Be gentle little thunderstorm; the world is just not ready" ~ A.J Lawless
On summer days beside the sea, there is a gentle rhythm to life. The tempo is lazy, and the timbre is mellow and mild. But as the oppressive heat of mid-day reaches its peak, the horizon begins to blush a bluish-black. A storm is on its way in from the ocean.
As the temperature drops and the wind picks up, the beryl sea surrenders to dark green, and the waves begin a restless dance. The low rumbling of thunder becomes a foreboding growl as the storm spreads its black veil over the ocean and the hiss of lightning flashes an ominous wink.
Life beside the ocean is a gentle life, but a coastal storm is anything but. It is a discordant event; a jarring experience.
There are days that I crave a good thunderstorm…the oddly reassuring thunder, the electricity in the air and the tang of salt on the wind that announces the beginning of a story. Because stories are like storms, you can sense them in the atmosphere. And when the onslaught quiets, there is a lingering bouquet of rain in the air, a muted humidity and a haze of steam rising off blacktop that has chafed all day in the oppresive heat. You see, thunderstorms can be as productive as the sun.
There are times when a feeling of expectancy comes to me, like a story after a storm. It is almost as if something is there, just beneath the surface of my comprehension, waiting for me to recognize it. I feel a bit of kinship in the restless nature of a summer storm because my soul is often impatient with itself. Revealed in measured layers, is a quiet discontent, a craving to throw myself into something extraordinary that I cannot yet name.
Humanity is, I suppose, restless by nature, and ambulant at heart. But what if, like the nature of a summer storm, a restless heart is not bad. What if it catalyzes a life lived that affects people like a clap of thunder. Suppose, for a moment, that it exists to engage hearts and minds with a breadth of vision and strength of conviction. Perhaps this longing is rooted in a relationship with the Creator. Maybe it is the very thing that pushes us forward, undaunted, toward the significant lives that were planned for us even as time began.
But many days, if I am to be honest, I feel small and invisible. Stretched-too-thin and all-used up. There are responsibilities and expectations that serve to suppress God-given desires and passions. And on most days, I am afraid. I clutch unnamed hopes and dreams to my chest because life is too hard and self-doubt is too heavy. But I cannot escape my mind, so maybe the gentle thunderstorm brewing within my soul is simply God telling my heart to catch up.
I want to be brave with my life. I long to live my story in the shadow of a creative God whose own spirit has dreams for me. Something deep within our souls is made for a story much bigger than our own. It is the story of a God still unknown to so many. And it is only in the light of the eternal story that we can reclaim the chapters so lovingly written for each of us.
And so perhaps, as life serves to build empathy from shame and grace from disappointment, I will live unbound by the stories of my life that someone else is telling. Because, as the temperature drops and the wind picks up, and as the beryl sea surrenders to dark green. As the waves begin a restless dance and the low rumbling of thunder becomes a foreboding growl. As the storm spreads its black veil over the ocean and a hiss of lightning flashes an ominous wink, just maybe God is taking pen in hand to write the rest of a glorious, shredded, pasted-back-together story. One in which no person, no moment in time, not even one whispered breath ever feels insignificant again.
“God can do anything, you know – far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.” ~ Ephesians 3:20-21 (MSG)
Resting on the roots of an old oak, I leaned back against its knotted trunk to consider the passing of time. I felt, in those moments of nostalgia, a small resurgence of my five-year-old self…a quiet little warrior of a girl, reminding me of who I was before time told me otherwise. My children, no longer small, came to mind in snapshots of their youth. The fiercely impish eyes and graham-crackery hands of my boys, and the magnetic smile and thick honey-kissed curls of my beautiful girl running wild among the flowering trees full of dreams and lilting laughs. On days like this, I would have given anything to keep them little. To freeze in time the days they ran, they touched, they learned, and they played. They have outgrown me far faster than I have outgrown them. And growing up is all about falling down.
Being an adolescent is such a compelling season of life. Teenage hearts are raw and new, fast and fierce, and they do not know their strength, nor do they know reason or restraint. It is an alluring place; you are old enough to make decisions that affect the rest of your life, yet at the same time too young to have acquired the judgment to make consistently sound choices.
And so, in this juncture of parenting, what I am finding is that failure is instructive. It isn't something to be guarded against at all cost, though my parental instinct says otherwise. So often in life what we perceive as an error or a failure is a gift. Down the road, though the cost can be great, we find that lessons learned from that discouraging experience prove indispensable. Even imposing losses are powerful lessons. And though the apple certainly does not fall far from the tree, every apple also holds seeds of its own.
My instinct as a mother is to keep my children safe at the water’s edge, timidly grasping at what happens to float by. But to allow a deliberate step into the unsettled water to wrangle great things to the shore is a far better choice. Growing up means learning what life is, and pain is an irksome part of being human. For so many years I believed that to live a happy life, everything needed to be perfect. But the vital privilege afforded to a less than perfect child is the deep understanding that despite the reckless abandon of adolescence, and the often costly consequences that follow, they are loved nonetheless. I have, in this tenuous and unpredictable parenting season, become a safe place to land.
I am tired. The weight of motherhood independent of a partner is heavy and cumbersome at times. There is no one to pass the baton to on particularly grueling days, nor is there another equally invested with which to share the great delights and triumphs of growing human beings. But there is always GRACE. I am my biggest critic. Before anyone else has criticized me, I have already criticized myself a thousand times over. But in the moments that I feel unequipped and ill-prepared, there is GRACE. When the ideals, standards, and dreams don't seem to line up with reality, there is GRACE. When I fall prey to comparison, as I so often do, there is GRACE. In the tumult of this adolescent season, I am learning to embrace this beautiful mess of a life with my children. No matter how hard it gets, I will continue to connect and guide with the knowledge that I too am prone to wander. And in spite of a gypsy spirit and a prodigal soul, God continues to seek me out. He is a safe place to land. I accept His GRACE in my weakness and offer to my children the same expression of unmerited favor that I find in the face of the Father.
Parenting emerging people is an adventure of marked significance. It is the age that they will be broken or built. I do not wish for them to fear change, to be satisfied with the pond that they are in. If they never venture out of it, they will never get a glimpse of the ocean. My job is to provide the right conditions for growth, to cultivate the ground, to plant the seeds, and to water the earth. And then I watch…covered in soil and dripping wet, as they navigate the sun and wind required to grow the grain.
"My GRACE is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
~2 Corinthians 12:9