Snapbacksandtutus - Musings on...
I am afraid of snakes but it isn’t quite that elementary. Were my consternation solely focused on elongated limbless reptiles, life would be far less complicated. Sadly, however, there are spiders, in whom every unknown terror in the world is fused into wriggling, poison-jawed horror, and menacing sea creatures who roam the depths of ocean playgrounds giving life to hideous anxiety even as the sea calls out to me from the shore. I am fearful, and this propensity forces a steely focused amplification of threats both real and perceived, at every turn. All it takes is the rumor of danger, the peril itself is irrelevant.
In recent days I was once again called upon to relent the security of the city for the trappings of nature. Nestled in among the rolling foothills of Appalachia on the Kentucky-Tennessee border, Camp Paradise Valley is home to summer camps, retreats, celebrations, and for this girl, the untenable taunting forces of nature veiled in rich verdant landscapes. I watched with interest as others seemed to move effortlessly through the stunningly crafted minefields of creation. While I, in stark contrast, remained on high alert for the intrusion of stealthily slithering reptiles and other noxious vermin.
As night fell and my vision became further obscured, my instinct was to quickly retreat indoors as to not test my anxiety any further, but mothering called and I was summoned into the elements once again, lured from four walls into the cool dark night by the sound of my son. The dogs needed to be walked and my sweet boy wanted my company, a rarity among the adolescent set in these tender days. With a little coaxing I obliged and tiptoed out the door, stepping gingerly from stone to stone. Distracted by my fear and feeling hurried and a bit frantic, I paid little attention to anything other than my fumbling feet. Watching, waiting, testing…certain of the snares and pitfalls that left me unnerved.
Stuck in fear’s arsenal of threats and worries, I had failed to hear the urgent pleading of my child’s voice. “Mom, Mom! MOM!” he implored, breaking my steely focus. “Just…look…UP”. And so I did. Even as a little boy, my son had preferred night to day. He could sit out in the yard after sunset, soothed by the darkness. It softened the rough edges of the world and toned down the overload of colors that seemed to assault his mind. And sensing my anxiety he was inviting me in to share what he had long ago discovered.
I tilted my head back and took a deep breath allowing the light to fall over me like a deep balm. It was a clear, cloudless night, and after too many nights of looking down, the sight of the sky was dizzying. This is what I had been thirsting for after the minutia of the day, the magnitude and enormity of a night full of stars, each one hung with great intention by the same God who knows my name.
What I had never understood about night and nature was that just above my terror was a mural of stars that crafted a story. There were stars everywhere. The most stunning flashes of light that I had, in the trappings of fear and insecurity, taken for granted night after night. I had been so downward focused, that I hadn’t bothered to look up.
My forehead is a maze of anxious little grooves, from seasons of worry that lasted far too long. And after the experience of loss, self-preservation seems to go onto permanent alert, as if danger exists at every turn. There is an undefinable untethering that accompanies grief. It is both disorienting and terrifying forcing us into a world without orientation. We put one foot in front of the other, holding the hand of fear until we remember to look up. Until we are quietly convinced to stop clinching our fists around precious people and things, relenting their care to a God who is able.
What I am learning to embrace today is the reality of my own insignificance in the light of an Almighty God who simply begs my trust. And when I find myself looking down, consenting to anxiety and fear, He gently cradles my quivering chin and lifts it heavenward. Nothing happens, not a hair falls from our heads without His intention. And though there may be times we find Him sleeping in the boat in a tempest tossed sea, He is there nonetheless.
I have yet to fully navigate my disdain for menacing creatures. I have panicked unnecessarily in the air, on land and sea, but I am learning to navigate the complexity that my circumstances often present with my heart open and my head up casting all my anxieties on Him knowing the ocean depths of His unbounding love for me.
Keith loved the weather. He could innately discern the distant mutter of an approaching storm and his senses were inexplicably keen to the faint suggestion of rain in a misfit breeze. He would often, with the expectancy of a child on Christmas morning, stand outside, his face gently turned upward, watching the icy grey sky. He always knew when another storm was coming, snowstorms, windstorms, sandstorms and firestorms, some fierce and others small, always keeping an eye on what may be brewing unexpectedly from a fickle sky.
While Keith felt most at home under clouds dragged down by heavy rain held in delicate frames, I do not. I call the sea and the sun home. I much prefer equilibrium and balance to the disorientated chaos of skittish weather.
Most of humanity does not live with the anticipation that the rug may be yanked out from underneath them at any given time. Life changing events do not typically announce themselves. But the experience of loss profoundly changes this tendency, forcing those within its reach to live with the unflinching reality of vulnerability at all times. A by-product of grief I suppose, is the knowledge that sometimes pain, like an unannounced storm, can come out of nowhere.
Studies suggest that the top five most stressful life events include the death of a loved one, divorce, job change and major illness or injury. The experience of just one of which valiantly disrupts equilibrium and balance. Living in the shadow of four out of five is an avalanche of sorts, in which every sense is maxed out and every muscle working beyond intended capacity to simply remain upright. While instinct and intuition offer the faint suggestion of an approaching storm, they offer little preparation for the feeling of rootlessness that follows an upending life event.
Transition is nothing new to this girl. Having grown up a vagabond of sorts I delight in the exploration of new landscapes both physical and personal. But I was ill prepared for this most recent shift, for you see, grief alters even the most indomitable gypsy spirit. When the call came in April announcing new horizons and fresh ministry opportunities for our family I was not taken by surprise. I, like Keith with an approaching storm, was keen to the faint suggestion of instability on the horizon, but I was ill prepared for the collateral damage that would occur as a result. You see, while I was certainly open to new horizons and the opportunity to spread my wings if you will, I miscalculated the toll on my children, whose experience with brokenness is once again evident in the anger, confusion, sadness and frustration that now mark the tenuous moments of our days…and this mama’s heart is bone weary.
Were I to explain in great detail the logistical hurdles of settling five adolescents into their respective nests, leaving my own half empty, were I to impress upon you the implications of a transition as a solo parent in a sea of partners, were I to express the depth of my conflicting emotions as the sun rises and sets on new you might think me grumbling. That quite simply is not the case, for the expression and admission of struggle is not rooted in hopelessness and complaint. It would be far simpler to disguise the import of this experience to those around me, to be disingenuous of expression as to ease the burden bearing of others. But to do so would be to risk becoming unrecognizable to myself. The admission of human frailty without ambiguity is instead the announcement of yet another hurdle in an arduous climb toward the promise of a stunning summit. Clearly grief and belief in the resurrection are not an either or proposition. Jesus himself shows us that they are a both, and. We can feel the sorrow and the pain of loss with gut wrenching clarity and still possess unflinching faith.
And so I live in a place of authenticity, expressing the depth of my experience to avoid the wounding of silence. Jesus came to bring healing. He longed for all of humanity to be whole. He longed for us to experience abundance in life. To be open to the whole range of human experience and emotion. This is strength, staying open to life even with all the pleasures that fade and the pain that sticks around for too long.
It will take time for the emotional dust to settle as we adjust to the new and the now. These times are hard, but I won’t walk away jaded, darker or different. This wasn’t my plan A, B or even Z but I am upright even so. And one day, in spite of this treacherous mountain, I will rise in wonder at what the Lord has revealed of me. The dark, the captivating, the untamed, the secret, the light. For I live split wide open to tell a story of redemption, mercy and grace. I have seen the violent turbulence of the strongest storm stilled by the quiet promises of God, and better storms than this haven’t taken us down yet. Today nothing remains as it was, and so this tender heart will begin again, in relentless pursuit of joy in the uprooting. One day I am certain to wake up to find that it all made sense. I am sure to discover that the prayers so tangled in worry were carefully wrapped with great intention in the grip of grace. And now, even before I am certain that the storm will lift quickly, I know that God can be trusted, and He will not waste the rain.
“…I have come
that they may have live, and have it to the full.” ~ John 10:10
I have the soul of a wanderer I suppose. My heart is keenly convinced that wonder does not live in cold, predictable and tidy. It is almost as if nostalgia for me is forward facing. I recognize it as the strange longing for that which has yet to be explored.
I have often pondered the origin of this strange gypsy spirit, supposing that it was birthed in the somewhat nomadic experiences of my childhood. Perhaps it has been even more firmly rooted in adulthood, as my calling to ministry requires a certain level of comfort with transition. And though I may not be able to boldly define its genesis, I understand that I am inexplicably drawn to endings and beginnings.
But though I love to wander beautiful places to which I’ve never been, suspicion is the nature of humanity when it comes to change. Moving is filled with stark contrast in its symbolism. The hope for new beginnings is often coupled with what might be crushing disappointments, loss anxiety and fear, for after all, there is the heartbreakingly exquisite tender weight of being human. There is always the danger that in a move to new horizons and far-away places that the very first thing that may rise to greet our arrival is loneliness. There is deep anxiety when we feel as if we are abandoning a safe harbor for the menacing sea. And our new destination, looks at us through unknown eyes with very little to say.
I write for a multitude of reasons. I write to find courage and to unearth the person that is at times hidden deeply within an often misunderstood exterior. I write, although frequently with fear and trepidation, to be seen and heard. I write to remember and I write to forget. I write because my words speak not of who I am on the outside, but of my heart, tender like a bruise longing to reach out to soothe another struggling soul. I write because someone needs to tell the tales of battles fought and won and lost. And I write because stories nurture our connection to one another, for one of the most profound gifts of the Father is the ability to let others know that they are not alone.
This is the turning of the year for so many with whom I partner in ministry. When the days wind down and when our souls nest somewhere between chaos and shape preparing some to march out again. And while the tangled emotions of promise and dread may be guiding our uncertain footing for now, today may simply be a time of sitting still and waiting. It may be a day for which we are to stop in our tracks to admire what is now without the consumption of what is to come. Perhaps to see in this place at this very moment, that which we have taken for granted on preceding days, wasting nothing, for it is all of value. It is an invitation to hold still, to tease back the layers and to embrace the tension between now and then.
We have no idea what lies ahead on any given day really. In life we will come and go often. We may leave an assignment, a city, and a home, but the people that inhabited those places do not leave us. They follow us, like shadows of sorts, until we happen upon them again at another time and another place.
The most beautiful things in life often come wrapped in a crown of thorns. We can have regret from yesterday and fear for tomorrow but today there is only peace as we tie ourselves to an unchanging and unquestionably loving God, who knows with unflinching clarity what doors of potentiality lie ahead. All is unknown to us, but life giving, as He writes yet another chapter in each of our stories. And I am utterly convinced that the Master of the wind and waves will calm unsettled seas and quiet restless hearts. For He will hasten our safe passage from here to next.
For the adolescents in my nest everything seems too big. There is no context or perspective, only borderless heartache and unrestrained delight. Through the lens of midlife, I understand fully that experience will eventually come to their rescue, but for now there are only extremes. I have experienced undeniable seasons of both wildness and settledness, but adolescence is a season of neither. The intent of the emerging human is quite simply, to become. It is a place between who they have been and who they are about to be, and I suspect that quite often it feels like no place at all.
My babies are becoming. They no longer fall asleep in my eager limbs, their warm breath on my face, the rhythm of their heartbeats tangled with mine. They are leaving me, growing up and inching away. I often reach to sweep back wisps of blond from their foreheads, whispering just under my breath, stay little ones, stay. But each one of these beings, vibrating with potential, are standing on the cusp of becoming someone. And though they are nowhere close to knowing what and who they would like to be, my wild little warriors with a hint gypsy in their veins certainly deserve the chance to find out. Change is messy, like a windblown room, and standing in its midst I recognize that I have been so focused on building butterflies that I have pondered very little their eventual release. There is a poignant wrenching of a mother’s heart in the awareness of her children’s tenuous steps into an anxious and unsettling world.
Transitions are unnerving at best. In times of flux I often find myself desperately gathering the pieces of life’s puzzle, working urgently to unearth the big picture. What I am learning in this season, however, is that not every puzzle is intended to be immediately solved. In transition there is great value in stillness, in patience, time and sweet ambiguity, but I have yet to master still. Hurry is my wheelhouse. I can often be found searching for next without fully entering now, leaving a thousand broken and missed things in the minefield of my haste. On the cusp of this transition, however, under a sky full of surprises, I am suspended in mid-air, trusting the Creator for all I have yet to see.
Change is not to be feared. Gained from the experience of my own deep longing for a perfect ending that was not to be, is the perspective of something beautiful behind a blank canvas. In the nothingness of new beginnings lies breathtaking possibility. It is the artist’s measured strokes that create the story. Life is uncertain…boldly, wildly, beautifully, imperfectly full of delicious tension. And though my intellect longs for clarity and certainty, my spirit knows that the fullness of joy and the fascination of uncertainty is discovered only in surrender.
What I am learning in loving my emerging tribe is that parents seldom let go of their children. It is children who let go first. And though endings are famously bittersweet, there is something to look forward to on the other side. Life on earth is lived in bits and pieces, but the Father in Heaven has unmatched depth and breadth of perspective. Deep faith simply means noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort of uncertainty, and embracing change in the light of an unchanging God. As one chapter is accomplished, the pen is cautiously inking up in anticipation of the next. It is the sufficiency and fullness of Jesus that builds the capacity for delight in the obscurity of an unfinished story.
There are holes in my walls, rounded fist sized holes, not an easy admission for one who so owns the preference of order and perfection.
I can recall in those burgeoning first weeks of motherhood, being so off put by the absolute chaos created by the nine pound cherub who had wrenched from my hands any level of systemic organization that I had so strived to create in the nesting phase of gestation. The appearance of mountains of clothing spilling over laundry baskets taunted my very being, and the unused infant gear that I so insisted upon for the very survival of my son, threatened me from every inch of our closet-sized family room. Armed with a degree in Child Development and fresh from a child-centered career, I was absolutely unprepared for the idea that every well intentioned purchase, every scrubbed toilet and every inch of carpet covered flooring would be subject to the sticky hands, sour stomach and the well intentioned creative side of my new little muse.
While motherhood came with sweet instinct to me, the birth of five children in as many years introduced me to the world of imperfection in ways for which I was not prepared. For much of my life I relied heavily upon the thoughts of others to define me. If I presented the picture of perfection before the rest of the world I would be deemed worthy and accomplished, two things that I had yet to find within my own spirit. My children, in public, would be polished and carefully coordinated as to give no indication that life was anything other than ordered. But life behind well-tended exterior walls was far less tidy. In those very early years of parenting, order was a dream replaced by five gloriously needy, messy little beings who, though certainly without the effort of intention, began to teach me the value of chaos and the danger of order.
As my view from the front lines began to shift, so did my appreciation of sticky appliances, Lego scattered rooms, and even the tyranny of a crimson cheeked toddler in the throes of a power struggle, but I continued to grapple with the quizzical assumptions and perceptions of those on the outside looking in, leaving me unarmed and exposed. I came to the understanding that although I was drawn to glimpses of raw truth and openness in others, I was terrified to share my own life in much the same way, certain that without being edited and filtered, my truth was not enough.
I have traveled many miles on this journey, and as much as I would like to have conquered the tension and cultivated a self whose desire is to be deeply seen and known, there are holes in my walls and with that admission comes shame, and insecurity, reinforcing the idea that I cannot afford to disappoint and I cannot afford to trust. Writing is a deep act of falling open vulnerability. To share with ragged, naked honesty is to be split open in essence. But to live without the provision of anonymity afforded by pen and paper is threatening.
The holes in my walls, as deftly as I might attempt to conceal them, are chapters in my story, and though owning the grit and grime of those pages is gut wrenching, it is not nearly as challenging as spending the whole of my life running from them. Today, in the musings poured freely upon the pages of this little blog, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if women were to tell the truth about the whole of their lives. There is a great need in our fractured society for the voices of those who have survived mistakes, tragedies, and trials. The world needs women to let go of shame and comparison in order to cultivate a sense of community and connection that only begins with showing up and being seen in all of our vulnerability and imperfection. I own the holes in my walls.
When I think about vulnerability, I cannot help but picture the Messiah, naked, beaten and bleeding on a cross at the collision between power and vulnerability. Throughout Scripture, Jesus was always willing to put Himself at risk. His heart was split open, interminably vulnerable to rejection and pain. He held nothing back, though His divinity would have allowed a much easier path. He chose vulnerability so that we might know the fellowship of pain and suffering.
When we build walls around those things that make us real, we begin to believe that we are alone, dissonant and isolated. When we begin to share the truth of our lives with split open hearts, we find almost at once that we are the same. I am in the pursuit of crazy, passionate vulnerability, but I have yet to call it home. I long to set down those lists of who I am supposed to be and to put aside those words that are so often used to define success and worth.
In so many ways I have had the opportunity to grow up with my children. And although I have yet to fully surrender my need for order, they have shown me that their security and endearment is not based upon my perfection nor is my vast love for them based upon theirs. Oh that they might know the value of the holes in their walls, because beautiful things break, that is how you know they are real.