Freedom From the Chains

It felt like an old pattern repeating, I recognized the set of unhealthy steps each of us were taking. The best of intentions began the sequence, the middle is where things get muddled and messy. I realized where we were but didn’t know the right next move to change the progression, every option seemingly creating hurt. Stand up for myself and get honest about my hurt feelings could be reasonable options but when attempted in the past have furthered the problem. Remaining quiet and going along felt wrong as well, just another step in the unhealthy dance. I picked option three which was to let the hurt swallow me up and glue me to my couch, rob me of energy and thoughts about anything other than old pains and disappointments. Still more of the pattern. Then Sunday rolled around bringing church and I had to go because Chef needed me to bring him something and all my efforts to avoid were thwarted.

I walked in to the welcome area and this beautiful woman sitting behind a table jumped up and hugged me, even though she was in the middle of conversation with someone else. She doesn’t usually greet me that way, I don’t give off a “hug me” vibe. She stood up, reached out her arms and I went. Right inside the doors, barely made it two steps in.  A gift of acceptance that asked nothing in return.  I moved on to the sanctuary, found another friend who was busy scribbling notes. She shared that one of the songs from the morning felt like a prayer, she was preparing for the next service, said it was so powerful. I took it as a warning, the music is dangerous for a wall builder like me. Dropping my purse at my seat I went in search of another friend, one who could help with behind the scenes wedding food, one who doesn’t expect me to smile or carry on witty conversation when I am hurting. She gives me that gift while we serve, I asked for her help. I asked for help. A new thing for me. She immediately agreed, a 3 minute conversation with little details shared. She is a doer, someone who shows up and digs in. She understands brokenness, she understands that coming back is so much of the battle.

Services began, Chef was late as usual, too many people to talk to outside in the common area. He doesn’t avoid real conversation like I do. I sat alone as the music began, looking around for Janet, my touchstone when I am feeling lost. I remembered she was out of town, I considered what she would tell me. She would be proud of me that I came to church when I didn’t want to, she would make some comment about me talking to people. She would smile and mouth hello from her spot a few rows back. My ritual of looking for the safe friends around me, those who bolster me up and share their courage was another pattern. These are the healthy choices, the ones that can’t fix the other problems but change who I am and what I need. I had found other touchstones, more “Janets” in the women who worship around me.

The music began, that song surrounded me and entered my soul. I didn’t have a defense strong enough to ward off the message, God was determined to speak to me. I managed to hold off my tears, I made it through. Then my friend led us in prayer and one of our gifted musicians who oozes the Holy Spirit from his guitar and sweet voice began to gently sing parts of the song again. The tears began and I lost control. I sobbed in my seat, Chef held me, no idea what was going on. I cried, a catharsis finally. I opened my wounds at the altar, I allowed God to see into what I had been trying to cover up. I heard His promises. New pieces of a pattern began to emerge. After the service another friend rushed up to hug me, a sweet embrace to transfer some of my hurt, an acknowledgment that we carry the burdens of our sisters in this congregation. We are never alone here.

I am often a slow learner, I find myself hearing the lesson repeated but it doesn’t sink in until I am ready. Today I heard that I have a choice to feel victimized by the actions of others, that I can feel hurt or just know this is their dance. I can do the cha cha while they tango. I learned again that Jesus is with me in the hurt, beside me in my pain and He alone will heal me. These others in my life are not responsible for my feelings, not responsible for changing the patterns with me. Jesus will work on them as well, maybe one day we will dance together but not today.  Right now it is enough that I stepped away, came back to my foundation and allowed the grace of my faith community to minister to me in so many unique ways.  When I consider how to share the gospel, I think about the real meaning of that word, good news. I can’t ruminate on the bad news around me when I am surrounded by the light and grace of Jesus lived out in this faith community. The good news is that I have a savior who pursues me, stands beside me in the fire, heals me.  That saying, “Dance with the one that brought ya,” just might be biblical. Swaying to this song today, praising God for His faithfulness and His children who share their gifts with me. I walked into church hurting, I left rejoicing. Pattern broken.

Jesus by Chris Tomlin and Ed Cash 

There is a truth older than the ages
There is a promise of things yet to come
There is one born for our salvation
There is a light that overwhelms the darkness
There is a kingdom that forever reigns
There is freedom from the chains that bind us
Who walks on the waters
Who speaks to the sea
Who stands in the fire beside me
He roars like a lion
He bled as the Lamb
He carries my healing in His hands
Verse 2
There is a name I call in times of trouble
There is a song that comforts in the night
There is a voice that calms the storm that rages
He is Jesus, Jesus
My Savior
There is power in Your name
You’re my rock and my Redeemer
There is power in Your name
In Your name
Chorus 2
You walk on the waters
You speak to the sea
You stand in the fire beside me
You roar like a lion
You bled as the lamb
You carry my healing in your hands

Happy Birthday Plum

We were asked in our final small group meeting to answer the big question, “Why are you a Christian?”  As someone whose life is littered with messes and filled with hurts, my answer was that I just couldn’t live without my faith. My belief in God, in His redemption, in His grace, that gets me out of bed when I want to wallow, when I want to give in and give up. I keep seeking joy, finding my blessings in the midst of the pain because they are there, sometimes as difficult to spot as Waldo but my job is to keep hunting them out among the distractions. I am a Christian because my life would have absolutely no meaning, I would have no hope without the promises of God.

As I pondered my role as a believer, I began to see the similarities to my role as grandma. Without my sweet joy bringer, my Plum, I would linger on the couch, no need to make dinner or cookies or find the vinegar and baking soda for another experiment. My Plum carries the weight of my hope, I carry his as well. We delight in each other much as God must delight in His children. My whole body gains energy when I know it is time for Plum to be here, like I am coming our of hibernation. After too much “me” time ruminating on hurts, I rush to the bus stop to find purpose. He brings a flurry of his own activity and energy, rapid changes with each visit. Reading and math are becoming so easy, still we sneak in our pretend games when no one is around. I plan for Lego play, he has a handful of Pokemon cards we have to discuss. Next time I plan for Pokemon and he has his eye on the Play-doh, something he hasn’t touched in years. I can no longer anticipate where he will take us. I just follow and sneak in a kiss when I can.  I accept my role as snack provider, back up voice to characters he doesn’t want to be, and listener.

Six years ago today Mama’s water broke right upstairs from where I write these words. Stella was here, she was meant to be the birth coach. Chef ran around for garbage bags to put on the car seats, he needed a task. I drove Mama and Stella to the hospital, Chef took another car to go pick up Arrow.  We converged on the hospital, all ready to meet the one, the child who would unite this family, bind us all together. Mama had an unexpected C-section, nothing went quite as we planned, that is certainly the case since. Arrow and Stella have scattered, Mama struggled for a while to find her way, leaving the parenting of this babe to Chef and I for extended periods. We have stepped in and back so many times,  a real life hokey-pokey fraught with pain and distrust, wrong moves. We also keep asking for a fresh start, offering one. We are big on fresh starts. I think Jesus calls that forgiveness.

Loving my Plum has taken all of me, the nights we had to retrain him to sleep, the horrible times we have had to send him back when he was begging to stay. Many days  I don’t want to play mud, I don’t want to clean up the house again from another experiment. Then I flash to his delight and the mess making commences.  More recently his fascination with battling games where I am always assigned the bad guy and I always lose, even as I restructure the game to include my more peaceful philosophy, I am challenged to find that sweet baby that I held and sang to, rocked and looked at, always just looking at him. I still just watch him, he is so very expressive, I wait for his gaze to land on me, one of his knowing smiles to seek me out. I feel like God smiles at me in those moments, my soul rejoices. I hear the Hallelujah chorus, I know these moments are the point of it all, the reminder that grace and hope are sitting right here at my table. I keep learning that loving people, real people, is hard. It takes everything I have most days to be as forgiving as God wants me to be, to be as selfless as He asks. Plum reminds me it is worth the effort, the pay out is that singing chorus, the joyful soul when God says He is pleased with me.

Plum’s eyes shine when he smiles, those blue eyes that were my mother’s, his father’s, mine and now his. I looked into those eyes when they were my moms, seeking love and approval. I was disappointed. She looked back with her own brokenness, unable to give what I needed. I looked into those eyes of my son, his brokenness matching my own, we are connected so deeply that all efforts of his to reject it fail. I have looked into those eyes in the mirror, often seeing shame back. God has given me another chance to see us all through those same eyes, to see us as a long line of people who have hurt each other but loved still. People who can never be perfect but can show the love of God to each other with fresh starts and willingness to play even when we want to stay on the couch. This is our chance to see God’s redemption through those blue eyes. I accept.

Today is my Plum’s 6th birthday. He will have a party, get gifts, blow out candles.  One day he may realize he has always been the greatest gift to me. I am blessed to be his Gran. Thank God we still get to snuggle for book time at the end of the evening, that he still climbs on my lap occasionally. I crave those times when he surrenders into my embrace, when he allows me to just feel the warmth of him, smell his little boy scent as we ease into the night. Those are the times I remember the babe I gently put in the crib and then stared at, unable to look away from the miracle before me. I celebrate my joy bringer today and pray he never stops asking me to play even when I have to be the bad guy.  He knows my imperfections and loves me still, reminds me to surrender into the arms of my God who delights in my smile and watches with me adoration even when I have made a mess of the day.  He offers me a fresh start. He brought this child into my life, a joy bringer, my Plum, the greatest gift I have ever received, a child of grace. Happy birthday Plum. You are my favorite. I love you so very very much.

Loving Who God Brings

I found this post I wrote 6 years ago about loving and leaving, filled with worry but also trust in God that the future would work itself out.  Looking back on those years, I see how we struggled in mighty ways, how we relied on our faith and the prayers of our community relentlessly. The following is that story, from November 9, 2010.


Several years ago, Chef and I went to visit a home that advertised a Border Collie mix in the paper.  We already had one who was hyper and we thought, wrongly, that getting another would give her someone to play with and burn some energy.  As we circled the area downtown, I became skeptical, it was getting rougher by the block.  What were we getting into?  When we found the house and approached the door, we were startled to see a mangy, dirty mutt tied up out front, eating rocks and barking frantically.  We tried to talk to the owner but she had no care or concern about the dog, couldn’t tell us much beyond the fact it was 10 months old and had been in 5 homes already.  This woman never got off of her phone.  Her small, dirty-faced, raggedy-clothed children wandered aimlessly through the duplex, unattended.  It wasn’t the dog we wanted but we knew we couldn’t leave it there either.  Without even a second glance from the owner, we untied her and put her in our car.  She shivered and shook, looked at us with distrustful eyes the entire ride home.  Chef dropped us off and went to work, probably feeling a bit relieved to have an escape from what was clearly a mess.  I just kept looking at this dog and at our other, oh so beautiful full-blooded one and thought, “Well, I can give you a home I guess but I just don’t really love you…I don’t even like you.  Your coat is ugly, it is so dirty and you are smelly.”

I set to work.  I bathed her and fed her and let her sleep.  We let her create a safe place just for her so the other dog didn’t bother her.  She began to fill out and we discovered that her hair shone, really sparkled.  I have never seen that on a real animal but it does.  She flourished in this safe place, knowing her food was steady, her bed was secure. She clung to me, followed me everywhere, I was proud to show her off.  One day we realized we loved her as much as the other dog, that all the nurturing back to health was falling in love time.   

Our story with Mama is much the same.  It just isn’t over yet.  We took her in for a night and she stayed for 10 months. She came with a just backpack, as she left it took 2 trucks and 2 cars to remove all of her belongings.  She came to us emaciated, broken down, scared and depressed.  We love her and when you love your children, you have to say no as often or more than you ever get to say yes.  I look forward to the day of saying yes, you can come back, we love you.

I have been blessed to love many pets but there will never be another like that one we rescued. I miss her still, my shadow, my sweet snuggler. I have two new beasts that I adore but my heart still belongs to that girl who needed so much nurturing to come into who she was and then gave back all that she had. Our friends and family have watched me invest the same amount of nurturing into Mama. They question the wisdom of getting involved again, many times I do as well. There are days when I am sure that I hate this child, I am so full of resentment, anger, frustration that I pray to never have to see her again. God ignores those prayers. He brought her into my life as surely as he brought my favorite pet. People aren’t so easily convinced that we have their best interests in mind, people don’t trust just because you give food and shelter. People just aren’t always lovable. I know this because I am so often not. Yet despite any efforts to protect my heart, I love this girl. The nurturing time long ago was falling in love time.

This young woman needs a mother, I long for my daughter. Neither of us are the one we would choose. We are each who God has provided. This week I am helping her plan a quick courthouse wedding, I am making food for the after party. Twenty excited phone calls a day asking about details, several lamenting the lack of interest from her mother, I can’t help but be reminded of Stella’s wedding that I was not included in. I am careful to ensure Mama’s mom has her rightful place, mine is very much behind the scenes. I know the hurt that comes from snap decisions about forever memories. Still, God just keeps throwing this young woman and me together, the seeds were planted almost 7 years ago. I look at how she has grown into a woman who truly sacrifices for her child, who tries so very hard to be the best mom. I see her doing it, all the hard stuff, telling him no as much or more than she tells my Plum yes. I see that she is maintaining her own home, feeding her child, attending parent-teacher conferences and acting as a real advocate for her son.

I don’t mean to compare Mama to a canine in any pejorative sense. I love dogs. And damnit, I love her. I let my actions tell her, I keep showing up with food and support, giving her a safe place for her emotions. I am trusting that God only asks that I love who He brings, He will handle the transformation into something beautiful. After all, I know He is still working on me. I am forever grateful for those who set aside frustration and anger and let me come back, time and again, as I grow into my own beautiful coat, shining with the love of Christ.

Dirty Word

I’ve been hearing a dirty word a great deal lately, in our church, even in the worship service.  A word that makes many of us so uncomfortable we look down, away, maybe chuckle nervously, seek out our coffee, something to do with our hands. We don’t want to meet anyone’s eyes. I attend a wonderful Methodist church in a university town, the members are skewed towards the highly educated and self-aware. We have been looking at our personal gifts, what we have been given by God to share with the world to build His Kingdom and bring glory to His name. But this word is cropping up and we don’t really like it. We can give money, make food for potlucks, teach Sunday school, but seriously, please don’t ask a bunch of introverts to become EVANGELISTS.  Yikes.  Might as well be cussing.

The concept of evangelism has been taken over in my mind to include the pushy judgey Christians who leave a card telling how to find salvation instead of a tip for the waitress who brought them their Sunday lunch and 20 sweet tea refills. It conjures up the image of the men on street corners telling passersby they are going to hell if they don’t repent. It makes me think of the elders who interviewed a young couple to see if they were worthy of attending that church, elders who said no and left these two young people so hurt they didn’t attend church for many many years. Evangelism feels like hurting others. I would rather cook for the potluck.

What I am learning is that the word has been coopted by a movement, twisted, distorted, surely the devil’s hand is in this. What greater delight could Satan have than to take the very tool to bring believers to God and make it so ugly and distasteful that God’s people recoil?  If I really dig into what it means to become an evangelist, I know that I am already fulfilling that role, I can’t escape it. My very life and actions are either bringing people to or away from God, my words can heal or do damage. This is not a choice, rather the very essence of every child of Christ. The fact that some push others away just makes my job more critical. I won’t be picking up any bullhorns, I am not printing up cards for restaurant distribution. I am becoming more aware of opportunities to invite others to meet my friends who worship with me, great people who are sinners and accept that there is room in the church for those who are struggling and seeking answers. We have space in my row for others who mess up every day and just keep trying.

While I have been inspired by the stories of John Wesley and the true evangelical nature of his faith, it is really a witness much closer to home that has convinced me to act. This week my Plum chose not to attend Sunday school, feeling shy again. He took up his place in the front row with me instead of working at the art table in the back. He declined my offer of one of the wonderful bags assembled for children full of coloring pages, books and crayons. He just wanted to fiddle with his Play-doh and hang out with gran. Pastor Joseph’s sermon on reaching out to our friends, inviting them to our church, didn’t fall on deaf ears.

A special event was held Sunday evening, Holy Halloween in which kids trick-or-treat to biblical characters. My plum had been returned to mama, we met up at church for the dinner before the fun stuff began. Once we began the tour of the rooms, mama pointed out a little girl from their apartment complex.  I was surprised to see her there, they do not attend our church.  When I asked how they knew of the event, she said Plum invited her.  I leaned down and whispered in Plum’s ear that I was proud of him, it was so nice of him to invite his friend. He looked at me a bit oddly and replied, “Pastor Joseph said to do that.” It was just that simple.

Maybe I have too many years of negative connotations with this one word, maybe I can’t overcome the anxiety that builds as I imagine some door-to-door preaching. What I do know is I can follow the example of an almost 6 year old and simply INVITE. I don’t have to make it harder than it is. Listen to the Pastor, do it. So, umm, err, hey, what are you doing next Sunday? I have room in my row. Come as you are, I’ll meet you there, as will the love of Jesus.

Practice, I need practice. Like anything, the more I invest in this the better I will get at it. Hope to see you Sunday, any Sunday. Also, Jesus and little kids rock. Just ask my Plum.

It Feels Like a Hat Day

I wonder if I can wear a hat in church today? I mean, we no longer hold to fancy dresses and suits, do we still need to adhere to that rule as well? Isn’t it time to reevaluate some customs to see if they are pertinent? Maybe it just takes one person, me, to start the revolution, to wear a very tasteful hat into church today, to not remove it as I enter the sanctuary,to worship with my head covered, sing and pray and give my offering all with my hat on.  I think it is time someone takes up this cause, I feel called to move on it.

On a side note, I got a bit close to the bonfire last night and singed my hair and eyebrows. I didn’t even realize it until Plum and I went inside for s’mores supplies and I brushed my hand across the top of my head and former pieces of my hair fluttered around us like a sudden snow storm. At first I thought it was ashes, then realization hit as more and more “snow” fell and the distinct odor of fried hair filled my nostrils. As I quietly explained the situation to Plum, something along the lines of ,”Oh shit, Plum, I think I burnt my hair,” he shared my fear and concern with fits of laughter. Finally controlling his worry, he looked closer and added that I had also gotten my eyebrows, which led him back to more empathic hilarity.

I struggle to see without my glasses so my hair cut is a bit rough.I went back over it throughout the evening, the scissors ever at the ready when I found a bit that seemed longer than the rest. Have you ever tried to cut the back of your hair while assuring a 6 year old that it will grow back and appearance isn’t everything?  I didn’t talk about eyebrows which I have heard don’t really return as easily. This is actually a scientific experiment for us. Research if you will. We will chart the growth patterns of the fifty-something eyebrow, the ability to regenerate after a devastating loss.

Chef was out of town visiting his mother which is why I got to light the fire in the first place. I didn’t mention our adventure when he called on his way home. We have so many fun times with Plum this one just slipped my mind. Already in bed, huddled fully under the covers when he got here, we didn’t discuss any more about our day. Really who can remember every little detail?  Apparently almost 6 year olds. His first words to me this morning were not,”good morning my wonderful loving gran, who I adore, who makes me hot chocolate and plays battle games for an entire weekend even though she dislikes battling.”  No, he said, “Can I go wake up Grandpa and tell him about your hair?”  He is sometimes not that cute.

Anyway, I have this cute new hat that I am dying to wear and it is getting so chilly out and I need to protect my health and I think it is time to challenge some customs and I just need to figure out how to buy off this kid so he doesn’t go blabbing his mouth to the entire congregation. Also I have to find an eyebrow pencil.  All in all, nothing to write about today.

Mindless Patterns

Against my better judgement I downloaded one of those mindless games on my phone. Normally I play a round or two of Sudoku when I wake up with my coffee, a boost to the caffeine to get my brain going. Lately though I haven’t been able to complete the puzzles, my processing powers a bit foggy as a result of my neurological issues. Knowing this time will pass, I sought solace in a game of arranging tiles in a pattern to make them disappear. If only I could arrange my problems so efficiently.

I have gotten really good at this game, according to my survey of myself. I have no opponents, I don’t invite anyone else to send me extra pieces or super disappearing rounds. I just sit on the couch and play. Selections of tiles appear, I move them to the grid, they disappear. Over and over. I feel no smarter when the game ends, no more alert. I just start again. This is not healthy. This is escapism and I have gotten sucked in. Certainly I have practiced worst avoidance techniques. Years ago I played games on my laptop like one where I arranged a snake to gobble up something, I see the theme. I would make deals with myself, one more round and then do the dishes. One more round and then clean a closet. I stuck to my contracts pretty well back then, my house was spotless. I am not even making promises this time around, I think I have run out of cares.

We got slammed hard in July, the campaign has taken a toll on my mental health, I feel fragile these days. I need a win.  I need some tiles to line up, I want to create a pattern that works. I know I won’t really find it on my phone. When it seems like life just keeps delivering more hits, a high score feels good. Fleeting, but good.  Just like happiness, it doesn’t last. I know as a follower of Jesus, I have no promise of happiness. The prosperity gospel is not biblical teaching, I have no guarantee of financial security just by believing in Christ. I can’t send up my list of wants to God like Plum’s list to Santa, one we strive to deliver. God isn’t going to fix all the wrongs, deliver a job, bring back my daughter, pay off the mortgage, all with big red bows attached.

I am promised peace, peace that surpasses all understanding. I am promised joy. I am promised life everlasting. I am not promised a high score. Soon my foggy brain will clear, I will get back to real puzzles. I will be better able to see my joy, the deep lasting gifts that surround me. Today I am extending grace to myself, allowing a bit more time to arrange tiles. Until the fog clears, until the election is over, I will be on the couch moving tiles to grid. This season of mindlessness will pass, just as these troubles will be behind me. I trust God will forgive His child for resting up, taking a pass at the real world. He would surely rather I was immersed in scripture, lining up texts in patterns to save my soul. But let’s be honest, no one would want those to disappear.

Wallowing Wednesday Is Over

I can’t think of anything more annoying than needing to be at church when I am crabby. Unable to cast off my commitment, I had to show up when I wanted to stay on the couch, under the blanket and watch reruns of the Office. My day started out poorly and went downhill with each passing moment. I was reminded of a favorite children’s book, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good , Very Bad Day” that I read to my kids and now to Plum when a day has just been rough. Alexander wants to move to Australia, the solution to everything going wrong from the moment he gets out of bed. Australia was looking realy good to me yesterday.

After receiving unwelcome news, I wallowed in self-pity, familiar territory where little was required of me, anger and bitterness could fester.  The dishes stayed dirty, the floor didn’t get swept. I sat and stewed until I finally ran out of time and had to get to church. Loading up my car with all the makings for the evening meal proved Herculean, the pork chops Chef had cut the evening before had leaked all over my fridge, the box stuck to the shelf. One crock pot didn’t ever get turned on, the apples weren’t cooked for the applesauce. At the church, the grill wouldn’t light. A local group was using our site for a meeting all week, they had their stuff in my way. I snuck outside to smoke one last cigarette before beginning, trying to find some peace. The only spot away from everyone was the preschool playground, the enclosed area with only a sliver of shelter from the rain. As I exited the building the door slipped from my grasp and I was locked out, fenced in, smoking on the playground. Royally pissed at the world, myself and even God who clearly had nothing to door with my bad habit, I had to climb the fence and walk around the building to gain entrance again. Maybe that was my chance to come in with a better attitude. I missed it.

One hundred and fifty chops had to be cooked inside with 10 minutes to go before service. I    was frustrated with Chef who had no control over the grill that wouldn’t light. I was irritated by all these people who came in with smiles and words of encouragement. Could they not sense that I was trying to wallow? No, they chose to eat the dinner, forgive the delay, compliment the macaroni and cheese, continue bringing smiles to my frown. What is wrong with these people? This is exactly why I didn’t want to be there. How can I possibly hold on to self-pity, how can I focus on everything that is wrong when these people insist on surrounding me? At the end of our class when we shared prayer concerns, I stated that it had been a rough week. One gentleman suggested I was ready for a blessing. Damnit. Straight to my soul. How could I sit among these people and not acknowledge how blessed I am? Because I AM so very blessed in big and small ways every day, even bad days.

At almost 53, I was still able to climb that fence. The dinner was cooked, the fridge will get cleaned. I have more hurdles ahead, so much unknown. If this group of people accept me on my crabby days, refuse to let go of a sister who is hurting and lashing out, what else do I really need? Maybe if I just keep showing up the rest will become clear. Yesterday was the day the Lord made, I did little rejoicing. Some days are just like that. God gave me a new day, another chance to be glad and work on my attitude. Wallowing Wednesday is over. Thankful Thursday has arrived. I am grateful no one witnessed me trying to climb that fence, that I didn’t rip my jeans. I am thankful Wednesday is behind me. I’m glad I have hot coffee, a warm home, a loving husband, and friends who show me grace. I am not researching ticket prices to Australia just yet.